Pancakes? Yes, Please!

It’s almost time for my favorite holiday of the year: Pancake Day. Tomorrow gets more buzz as Mardi Gras or even Shrove Tuesday, but this leaven-using, pre-Lenten blowout is best observed by eating pancakes.

Some celebrate by participating in pancake flipping races–Olney, England claims to have originated this tradition in 1455 and now competes against flippers in Liberal, Kansas (“The Pancake Hub of the Universe,” with its own International Pancake Day Hall of Fame). While I hope to one day make it to one of these cities to see aproned individuals run down the street with their frying pans, I’m pretty satisfied for the time being to eat pancakes for at least one meal. At least.

Yes, whipped cream

I like to think that Leslie Knope would share my enthusiasm for the snack-based holiday, considering that we both love s’mores, whipped cream, and waffles. As such, I’m using that as a weak transition to talk for one second about Amy Poehler’s book, Yes, Please! Yes, Please! is a delight. Filled with photos, notes, and letters, Poehler’s memoir is easily the heaviest book I toted around last year. Luckily, it was also one of the quickest to read. A hilarious look back on her childhood and time spent in the improv trenches, what struck me most about Poehler’s book is how humble and grateful she is for her achievements. They are never described as something she deserved; rather, they are the product of extreme hard work and support and collaborative efforts of friends. She never stops appreciating what she has, and I loved that. Fans of her work or those trying to break into the industry will undoubtedly get a kick out of reading about her failures and successes, as will women who are after some refreshing lady inspiration. For those of you who would rather not carry around the dense hardcover, the audio version boasts an all-star cast and a starred review over at BooklistFrankly, I have a feeling both formats are worth experiencing. Yes, Please! certainly isn’t a life-changing book, but it’s one I came away from liking people a lot more. It’s an honest dose of humanity that could do most people good. I can also say, that Amy Poehler is someone I would like to eat pancakes (or waffles) with one day. See that? I brought it around full circle.

And to wrap up, I’ll mention my two current favorite cookbooks, in case you’re in need of a pancake recipe.

cookbooks

Coming in at polar opposites, are Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook (Eat Like You Give a F*ck) and Quirk Books’ Little Old Lady RecipesIf Irvine Welsh were to write a cookbook, it would be Thug Kitchen. Vegan recipes made edgy with ridiculously filthy language, this book is as entertaining as it is awesome, and it contains an easy recipe for whole wheat banana pancakes. Equally entertaining, but a bit more prim and proper, is Little Old Lady Recipes, which thumbs its nose at cooking shows and foodie culture by getting back to basics and a liberal use of lard. Pictures of little old ladies, both sweet and sassy, are paired with the recipes they’ve contributed, including classic pancakes for those who’d rather not go the vegan route. If you’re in Chicago, I got this quaint cookbook added to the public library’s collection. Don’t even worry about it.

Happy Pancake Day! Go eat some pancakes!

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The Tiniest News Flash Amid the Rambles

Good golly, where do I even begin?  Happy New Year?  Needless to say, I’m a bit late sending out those wishes, but I mean them with the utmost sincerity.  I’m pretty jazzed to be done with 2014, which I have dubbed My Worst Year So Far.  I made myself a bullet point list of all the things that went awry, and it stretched past the one-page mark.  I typed it in pink font.  This helped highlight its absurdity and the fact that it’s over now (thank goodness), and I’d post it here if I wasn’t worried it might make my mom sad.  I started reading Strong Lady books and paying attention to feminist discussions for the first time.  Hermione’s on board, so why not see what it’s about, right?  Just kidding.  I tried reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist* but put it down after she bored me with her Scrabble essay.  I already know how to play competitive Scrabble, Roxane, and that is why no one will play with me anymore.  My brother informs me that it might have more to do with the way I refer to other players as “opponents” rather than “friends.”  I don’t see why these terms have to be mutually exclusive, but I sense the root of the problem lies somewhere in that statement.  I digress, though.  All this should help explain why the last two adult books I did read were How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler, which I will hopefully create posts for in the near future.

The other reason I bring up last year’s nonsense is to emphasize how incredible 2015 has been in contrast: I’ve gotten an amazing new job.  Hurray!  I’m so pleased to announce that I have just finished my first week at Booklist as their new Associate Editor of Books for Youth.  Hurray again!  I can’t wait to figure out this means, but in general I will be reading, writing, reviewing, editing, and meeting people in the book biz.  What could be better?  The only negative I’ve found so far is that there is no good coffee near the office.  Luckily, my window ledge can comfortably hold a pour over bar.  So, yes, I’m thrilled and overwhelmed and have no idea what direction this blog is about take.  Don’t worry, it will still be book focused, but I may have to play around with the types of posts I’m doing as I settle in to my new life in this lovely new year.

*I think Roxane Gay is great and people should absolutely read her book. If you’d like a glimpse of her style, pop on over to The Toast, where she is editor of The Butter.

Excited for Fall

I can’t believe I’m writing about fall already, but I also can’t wait for it to get here because there are so many great writers putting out books.  Here are the ones I am most excited for!

Adult Books

MitchellThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, Release: Sept. 2, 2014

My favorite author!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’m ignoring all reviews until I have this book in my hands.  It’s a big one and he can be dense, so it will probably be a couple of months before I’m ready to write a review of my own.  I can’t wait, though!

 

 

WolfWolf in White Van by John Darnielle, Release: Sept. 19, 2014

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, one of my all-time favorite bands, has written his first ever novel.  Eee!  Here’s a nice little write-up by his editor.

“John Darnielle’s novel moves through the mind like a dark-windowed car through a sleepy neighborhood: quiet, mysterious, menacing, taking you places you will never, never get out of your head.” —Daniel Handler

YA Books

A.S. KingGlory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, Release: Oct. 14, 2014

The incredible A.S. King’s latest has garnered a starred review from Kirkuswhich describes it as “An indictment of our times with a soupçon of magical realism,” and School Library Journal describes it as “Handmaid’s Tale-esque” and “beautifully strange.” I’ll read anything King writes and suggest you do, too.  Just a note: Reality Boy sees its paperback release Sept. 23, 2014.

500500 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Smith is fast-gaining a reputation as an amazing and original writer of YA, though he remains slightly under the radar of the reading public at large.  Author of titles such as The Marbury Lens, Winger, and Grasshopper JungleSmith is sure to create a story you’ve never read the likes of before.

 

 

In the meantime

MurakamiI’m finishing up the new Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageI’m enjoying it so far.  My mood of late has been a bit sullen, so this book has complemented it perfectly.  It’s a quiet and reflective story of a man searching for answers about an event in his past.  He travels and talks to people along the way, hearing their stories as he pursues his own.  It hasn’t taken a bizarre turn yet, but you never can tell where Murakami will take things.

 

CarsickAnd if you aren’t quite ready to embrace fall, one of the best books I read this summer was John Waters’ Carsick.  It’s fast, fun, funny, and occasionally crude; in short, a perfect summer read.  Part fiction, part personal essay, Carsick is the story of Waters’ endeavor to hitchhike across the country from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.  The book is divided into three sections that are essentially novellas: the first, his imagined best case scenario for this trip; the second, the worst case scenario; and the third, the trip as it actually happened.  You don’t have to be a die-hard Waters fan to enjoy this book, though fans of his films will pounce on the myriad references throughout.  He even provides readers with a soundtrack, because what road trip would be complete without a mix tape?  I followed up Carsick with the I Am Divine documentary on Netflix, which was great and a pairing I wholeheartedly recommend.

Alternative Reading

I’ve been struggling to work in a bit of reading for myself on top of my review books for Booklist and Shelf Awareness. Needless to say, it’s not going very well.  I stubbornly check out stacks of books from the library and wistfully stare at them until it’s time to return them. I have found moderate success, however, with audiobooks and–dare I say it?–ebooks.  I know, I know!  I started this blog vehamently decrying ebooks and here I am reading them–sort of.  The first thing that popped into my head as I prepared to confess this was Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, when he considers marrying Beatrice after being the bachelor’s strongest and most vociferous advocate (you can skip straight to 4:55 or treat yourself to the whole scene):

Let me take a moment to explain.  As a CyberNavigator, I get the occasional question about downloading library ebooks and felt I should actually try downloading one myself so I could better help patrons.  I don’t have an iPad or ereader, but I do have an iPhone, so I dutifully got the App and picked out a book from the catalog.  The whole process was surprisingly easy.  That’s when the unthinkable happened.  I found there were occasions that I preferred reading the book on my phone.

Ebooks Are Actually Nice:

1) When standing on a dark train platform at 5:45 a.m., en route to open the coffee shop

2) When standing on a windy train platform

3) When standing on a train platform during a polar vortex, while wearing magical touchscreen gloves

4) When going out and your book won’t fit in your purse (this is why I carry a messenger bag 98% of the time)

5) When sitting in a dimly lit bar too far from the nearest candle

As soon as I started reading that ebook I thought, This is a slippery slope.  And I was right.  I have since checked out more ebooks, though I have yet to buy one.  However, I have never read a book entirely in ebook form either.  I can’t bring myself to read that way at home.  I’m more connected to my phone than I’d like to be anyway, so I have absolutely no desire to curl up on the couch and Read on that tiny screen.  Maybe if I had another device it would be different, but, as of right now, I need tandem formats. Ebook and real book.  Ebook and audiobook. Something like that.  The only caveat I have for audiobooks, aside from the unknown quality of the readers, is that my attention is more likely to be distracted from the story because I’m always doing something else while listening.  I never feel I’ve gotten everything that a book has to offer when I’ve only listened.  Again, this is where the added format comes in handy.  Anyway, here are a few things I’ve absorbed lately:

AUDIOBOOKS 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. (Adult Fiction).Rosie

I found this book utterly delightful.  Set in Australia, the story revolves around a man, who in all likelihood has undiagnosed aspergers, and struggles with the social aspects of life, particularly the dating world.  He is highly intelligent and logical, however, and when he devises a survey to find a suitable mate as part of his “wife project,” a friend throws a wildcard into the mix (Rosie), who throws his orderly world into disarray.  It’s hilarious and heartfelt with wonderful characters, and if you choose to listen, the reader (Dan O’Grady) is fantastic.  Worthwhile in any format, if you’re on the lookout for a good summer read, this is it.

 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Alan Bradley Audiobookflavia2Flavia de Luce is my new favorite mystery series.  My mother told me ages ago I had to read them and they’ve been stuck in the doldrums of my mental reading list until very recently.  Since I never have the time for the reading I want to be doing, I decided give the audiobooks a try.  They are the best ever! Written by Alan Bradley and read amazingly by Jayne Entwistle, these are light mysteries (for adults) solved by a precocious 11-year-old girl who loves chemistry, most especially poisons.  I believe there are 6 in the series with another due out this year and rumors of a TV series this year, as well.  I’ve only listened to two thus far, but it’s enough to make me enthusiastically recommend them all!

Insurgent

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Second in the Divergent series, I listened to this while attempting to re-caulk my bathtub, which was a lot more work than I expected!  Emma Galvin reads it and does quite a good job.  I didn’t like this one nearly as well as Divergent, which I’m not sure is a result of having actually read that one or its being the “middle child” of a trilogy.  Middle books nearly always read as stepping stones to me–necessary but not as gripping.  There’s a lot of traveling broken up with fight sequences and I got a little bored at times. Still, I’ll definitely continue on to Allegiant at some point, hopefully soon. In the spirit of alternative reading, I will say that I saw the Divergent movie and enjoyed it very much.  I think there’s an added bonus of living in Chicago and having been so many of the places where they filmed.

eBOOKS +

after-funeral-hercule-poirot-mystery-agatha-christie-paperback-cover-artAfter the Funeral by Agatha Christie

Formats: eBook + Real Book

Status: Completed

As I mentioned before, this was my World Book Night book to give.  I’ve been a longtime Agatha Christie fan, particularly of her Poirot mysteries.  I found this one to be a little odd, though.  It’s an older Poirot–taking a case after retirement–and he is largely absent from the book.  The story follows various family members who would have benefitted by the recent death of a certain family member.  Poirot is called to investigate his death, which is only deemed questionable following the funeral when a flighty sister remarks how it was obviously murder.  The book shifts around from person to person, revealing possible motives, untruths, and alibis, until it finally swings back to Poirot for one of his patented reveals.  Not bad, but I prefer my Poirots with more Poirot.

FarFarAwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal

Formats: eBook + Audiobook

Status: In Progress

Audience: Middle Grade/YA

National Book Award Finalist (2013), Far Far Away garnered much acclaim last year, yet somehow passed me by until now.  It is an eerie tale of a boy haunted by the benevolent ghost of Jacob Grimm–yes, of the brothers Grimm–who narrates the story.  An evil force, called The Finder of Occasions, is nearby yet unknown to both the narrator and the boy, and the reader knows it is only a matter of time before it starts causing trouble for them. That’s about all I can say at this point because I’m not very far into it yet. I’m enjoying the audio version, which is read by W. Morgan Sheppard.  The story is highly atmospheric and definitely carries the feel of old fairytales, but the versions before they were altered for children.

Mr. LemoncelloEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Format: eBook

Status: In Progress

Audience: Elementary

Eccentric and wealthy game-designer Mr. Lemoncello designs a town’s new library and invites 12 12-year-olds to spend the night and compete in a challenge to escape from the building using only their wits and the library’s resources.  This book falls somewhere between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chasing Vermeer, and The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  It celebrates libraries and the intelligence of children to form a fun adventure filled with quirk and puzzles.

It’s World Book Night!

WBN2014 LogoNoBkgd

Happy World Book Night, everyone! For those of you who don’t know, World Book Night (WBN) is a celebration begun in the U.K., where volunteers (“book givers”) go out into their communities to hand out free books with the mission to connect to others–particularly non-readers–through stories and promote a love of reading.  Pretty awesome, right?  The organization is nonprofit and prints 500,000 special WBN edition books.  Titles are chosen by a panel of independent booksellers and librarians and are a mix of genres, contemporary offerings, as well as classics. Authors waive their royalties, so that these books can be printed for free, making this night a true team effort.

Books2014_POSTER_8.5x14

This is my second year as a book giver, and I must confess to being both excited and anxious.  How could I not be thrilled about participating in such an amazing event?  The only sticking point for me is that I hate approaching strangers and my already small voice grows even smaller as I take to the streets with the mission of an extrovert.  I’ll happily chat with someone I don’t know about books if they come up to me; however approaching commuters locked onto their phones is an incredibly intimidating prospect.  Last year I was mistaken for a Scientologist as I tried to entice people into taking a free copy of The Phantom Tollbooth.  I eventually had to call a friend to help me empty my box of books.  It would be a lot easier if I had my dream basset hound, who could wander with me wearing a “Free Books!” sign, and bring the strangers to me instead of vice versa.  Oh well, I guess I just have to buck-up for reading.  Or go borrow a basset.

after-funeral-hercule-poirot-mystery-agatha-christie-paperback-cover-art

This year I’m giving out Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral, a Hercule Poirot mystery that kicks of with a bloody axe murder and the attacks just keep coming.  Who wouldn’t want to end up with a free copy of that?!  This year, WBN has also put together a free eBook story collection.  Just head over to eworldbooknight.org to download your copy.

So, read a book, give a book, and be nice if someone walks up to you tonight, arm outstretched, story in hand.

The True Spirit of Valentine’s Day

Is everyone in the Valentine’s Day spirit?  Here are some things that might help.

HISTORY

Atlas

Atlas Obscura ran an interesting article this week, filled with fun facts about the saint and the origins of Valentine’s Day, complete with pictures of his skull bits.  I definitely suggest checking it out.

For more violence and paganism, take a look at Psychology Today’s piece, “Valentine’s Day: Its Gory, Unromantic Secret History.”  I particularly enjoyed learning more about the origin of valentines:

Rituals emerged in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s to divine future spouses on Valentine’s Day. Some young people went to churchyards at midnight to await an omen, but drawing lots was the most common practice of divination. Clergyman Henry Bourne explained in 1725, “it is aceremony, …to draw Lots, which they term Valentines….The names of a select number of one Sex, are by an equal Number of the other put into some Vessel; and, after that, every one draws a Name, which for the present is called their Valentine, and is also look’d upon as good Omen of their Man and Wife afterwards.”

VALENTINES

cardcollage2

Buzz Feed put together an amazing collection of creepy, vintage valentines, which is slightly frightening and completely baffling when you think about how these actually made it to the shop card racks.

riggs1If you now feel inspired to send a creepy, weird valentine of your own, Quirk Books is offering some stellar Hollow City e-cards that should do the trick.

DIVINATION

Since divination was entwined with the holiday’s history, I thought it appropriate to mention it in this post.

Planchettes

The latest issue of The Week has a good article entitled, “The Secret of the Ouija Board.”  My favorite takeaway was that the name “Ouija” most likely was inspired by a women’s rights activist named “Ouida,” not from combining the French and German words for yes, “Oui” and “Ja.”

The above image was taken from the Museum of Talking Boards, where you can learn more about this form of divination, see antique boards, and even play online. Now’s your chance to ask the spirits your romantic queries.

tarotIf Ouija isn’t your style, there are countless online tarot sites, like TarotGoddess.com, which specifically offers a reading called “The Lover’s Path.”  Want to perform the reading yourself? Tarot Girl Next Door has links to her 6 favorite tarot spreads pertaining to love and relationships.

MOOD MUSIC

69

Me, I’ll probably be listening to The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs and eating some chocolate.

1. Absolutely Cuckoo

2. All My Little Words

3. Washington D.C.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cocktails, Mystery, & Murder in the 1920s

essie“Intelligent women do have their uses, Inspector.”

If there’s ever been a day to curl up with a book or to binge-watch Netflix, this is it.  Last I heard it’s -15 here in Chicago with a windchill of -35.  These are not numbers I understand.  I am immensely grateful that serendipity has landed this arctic freeze on my day off.  If you, like me, are holing-up for the next day or three, might I suggest checking out my latest obsession: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. 

Miss Phryne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher is a chic lady detective solving crimes in 1920s Melbourne. Based on a book series by Kerry Greenwood, Miss Fisher is an Australian television series starring Essie Davis, who does an excellent job of bringing Phryne’s glamour and smarts to the screen.

Phryne Fisher has moxie, which is term I love but rarely get to use, and is of the same ilk as Amelia Peabody Emerson, wielding a pistol rather than a parasol.  Her outfits are divine, but she is not afraid to sully them in back alleys or by diving into a fray. She is a champion of women’s rights, the life of the party, intelligent, and head-strong. I think Essie Davis’s own description of the spirited heroine says it best,

“I guess Phryne Fisher is the female answer to James Bond, Indiana Jones or a combination of both. She’s an incredibly independent woman from the 1920′s, who was born in poverty and inherited great wealth. She’s incredibly skilled, she lives life to the fullest and is a woman who never wants to get married but loves life and loves men. She’s an advocate for women’s rights and the rights of the less privileged in the world and she’s got a knack for sleuthing and finding out ‘whodunit’. She’s both a mystery and a bit of a romp.” Tellyspotting, ‘Q&A with Essie Davis’

Beneath the glitz of cocktail parties and jazz clubs, Miss Fisher has a darker, more serious side.  Plagued by the childhood disappearance of her younger sister, this more personal mystery becomes a through line that gains prominence as the series progresses, making it all the more compelling.  Having finished the 13 episodes that are available on Netflix–that’s all we Americans get right now–I am tracking down a few of the books and eagerly awaiting season 2’s arrival.

Blum

For those of you who can’t get enough of 1920s murder, PBS has adapted Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New Yorkwhich is airing tomorrow night, January 7.  I listened to the audio of this book a few years ago and found it fascinating, so I will definitely be checking it.

However you choose to weather this weather, I hope you stay warm, safe, and entertained!