My kids have had an advantage I didn’t have when it comes to enjoying J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books — I had to wait for each new book in the series to be written … waiting a year or more before I could get my next dose of magic. I guess I’m showing my age here
Last January (2012), we decided that our then 7-year-old was ready to enter the world of Hogwarts. We thought that the reading would be a stretch for him, but that he’d enjoy being “in the know” with his siblings.
We started them as read-alouds — I’d read a chapter a night, asking him to chime in with a paragraph or two each evening. After we finished the first book, he got to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (kind of my rule of thumb – always read the book first!).
And so it went … until we stalled on Book Five. Gosh, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a loooong book. We set it aside for several months. More than once. I’m happy to report that we’re over the hump, and onto Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
In February we took a family vacation to Orlando and visited Universal Studios. First stop was The Wizarding World of Harry Potter … alongs with hundreds (thousands?) of others who were escaping the frigid northern winter.
We waited in line about 50 minutes for the main attraction – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. The wait was fairly pleasant, with lots of thematic decor – take note of the greenhouse (Professor Sprout) and the Fat Lady’s portrait.
The ride itself was a lot of fun! You’re strapped into a “bench” (a broomstick?) that sits four across – then you’re off! A combination of movement (not wild like a roller coaster, but enhanced by visuals that make you feel like you’re reaaaaaally moving fast) and awesome graphics make for one wild ride! We were asked to help Hagrid find his dragon, attacked by the whomping willow, escaped dementors, and played a quidditch match — a pretty good afternoon for a muggle!
Our greatest tip for those visiting – the single rider line! After we rode it once and confirmed that the younger kids were comfortable (not scared) with the ride, we circled back to the front and got in the super short “single rider” line. And rode it again. And again …. and again!
After getting our feet back on the ground, we visited the rest of Hogsmeade, drank butterbeer at Hog’s Head, bought candy from Honeydukes, and, yes, we let the younger kids buy wands at Ollivander’s (as my husband says of the $37 souvenirs, “there’s a lot of margin in that molded resin!”).
So, if you’ve made it this far in my narrative, let me ask you a question — what would you suggest for our next engaging read-aloud?
Several on twitter and Facebook have asked about the modified Human Rights Campaign symbol I posted.
Here is the bookcase before:
and after its digital enhancement:
You’re welcome to use/share the image; proper credit is appreciated!
Today’s Spotlight on Bookstores post is written by Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners (my review is here), and the forthcoming The Lost Art of Mixing (January 2013) … which is a wonderful sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients!
Yes, readers will once again spend time with Lillian, getting to know the people who come in and out of her restaurant, and in and out of her life. The Lost Art of Mixing has been called “a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.” yum!
You can learn more about the author and her books by visiting Erica Bauermeister’s website – which has “extras” such as discussion guides and recipes; and “liking” Erica Bauermeister on Facebook.
And read below for a “taste” of Erica’s writing. This lovely guest post pays homage to a very special independent bookstore and the atmosphere created for Erica’s author event. Enticing atmosphere, home-cooked food, creativity, a little bit of ‘magic,’ and a very big heart; Rakestraw Books reflected the qualities shown through Lillian in Erica’s first novel — I’m sure their booksellers and customers are anxious for the ‘second course’ in The Lost Art of Mixing!
(note from Dawn: the photo of Rakestraw Books is their former location – they moved just a few doors down the street this past week; we’ll update the photo when a new one is available).
My first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients told the story of eight students and their teacher in a cooking school set in a restaurant kitchen. Lillian’s restaurant is a magical place, and over the years many readers have asked where they can find it. I tell them that Lillian’s is not one place – Lillian’s exists in that dinner when everything works, sunlight fading into candlelight, your first bite stopping time as you marvel at the flavors, the conversation around the table relaxing into pure enjoyment and friendship. I have experienced those dinners in restaurants, at a picnic in Griffith Park, and even in my own dining room.
But the best one ever was in a bookstore.
Rakestraw Books in Danville, California is set on a quiet little street of picture-perfect stores. It’s the kind of street you want to walk down rather than drive, because you might miss the moments of individuality that happen in small, locally-owned stores, where the merchandise isn’t always what you expect. And Rakestraw fits right in – filled with warm light and big wooden tables piled with books carefully selected by booksellers who read, read, read and then excitedly put those books in the hands of the readers who will love them.
What I didn’t expect was magic. Michael, the owner, had told me he wanted to do a dinner as part of my reading, but I didn’t honestly know what that meant. I arrived at the bookstore and encountered what felt like the set change in a theatrical production. Books were disappearing from the tables, which were then rapidly covered with white cloths and surrounded by chairs. Michael was bustling in and out, carrying foil-covered trays of food – a full, three-course gourmet meal for 70 people that he had cooked in a friend’s kitchen a few doors down. A musical trio played in the background and the notes of a flute reached out to welcome the customers who arrived, sparkling in anticipation, bringing bottles of wine, glasses, plates and silverware, and staking their claims on seats.
In my memory there are candles, although it’s hard to imagine that in a store filled with paper. Perhaps it only felt that way, as the evening softened and one course gave way to another, flavors playing off each other with assurance and whimsy. Strangers met each other across the tables and stories were shared along with wine bottles. At one point everyone sang happy 40th birthday to a woman whose blushing face taught us all something about beauty.
I read that night, and Lillian and her students came out of the book and met new readers – but the heart of the book was already there in the generosity and creativity of Michael and his staff at Rakestraw. Because that, dear reader, is how you find Lillian’s restaurant.
Thanks for sharing this, Erica! What a magical evening, indeed (and, I do hope the candles were only in your imagination!).
Readers, to learn more about The Lost Art of Mixing, follow Erica on her TLC Book Tour. In December, there will be giveaways of this forthcoming novel – stay tuned!
In the meantime, if your or your book group haven’t already read The School of Essential Ingredients, pick it up and meet Lillian and her friends; you’ll be ready for The Lost Art of Mixing come January.
- Friday, November 2nd: Life in the Thumb
- Monday, November 5th: Savvy Verse and Wit
- Tuesday, November 6th: Stephanie’s Written World
- Wednesday, November 7th: Book Chatter
- Thursday, November 8th: Books and Movies
- Friday, November 9th: Book Club Classics!
- Monday, November 12th: Peeking Between the Pages
- Tuesday, November 13th: girlichef
- Wednesday, November 14th: Library of Clean Reads
- Thursday, November 15th: 2 Kids and Tired
- Friday, November 16th: Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
- Monday, November 19th: WV Stitcher
- Tuesday, November 20th: Joyfully Retired
- Wednesday, November 21st: Silver and Grace
- Friday, November 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
- Monday, November 26th: Diary of an Eccentric
- Tuesday, November 27th: Mom in Love with Fiction
- Wednesday, November 28th: Book Dilettante
- Thursday, November 29th: Southern Girl Reads
- Friday, November 30th: Peppermint Ph.D.
- Monday, December 3rd: Just Joanna
- Tuesday, December 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
- Wednesday, December 5th: HopefulLeigh
- Thursday, December 6th: Sidewalk Shoes
- Friday, December 7th: Book Addiction
- Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 17, 2012)
- ISBN-13: 978-0316211338
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their ‘real lives’: Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.
Soon the gilt begins to crack. [Adolescents] discover the victim of a brutal murder, [and] the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.
Where and when does it take place: The novel opens in Cambridge in the mid-1940s, and quickly moves to Florida (when Hughes is in the service); we also visit Hollywood. The majority of Tigers in Red Weather takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard – we spend time with the family in the 1940s through 1960s. In fact, the chapter headings are dates (i.e. 1959: August), which made it easy to keep track of the passage of time.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: Yes, I read another book about people who use summer as a verb! It’s fun escapism during vacation, especially when one (that is, “I”) is vacationing near the scene of the crime.
I really liked the format of Tigers in Red Weather – it’s told in large chunks (not interwoven) from the point of view of five characters. This was a very effective way to spool out the mystery (a dead body!) and the way various people may have interacted with the victim, knowingly or not.
It was not, however, a mystery. The novel isn’t about the murder victim as much as it’s about the members of this decidedly dysfunctional family and the “summer set” they spend time with.
There wasn’t any character I was especially drawn to, no one who stood out as deserving of sympathy (OK, except for that murder victim!). They were pretty much spoiled rich kids, no matter the age.
Nick and Hughes had their problems; Helena and her husband Avery had secrets, too … these only multiplied in the next generation.
But, I was interested in the outcome. I wanted to see the final piece fall into place as I read the story from that fifth character’s point of view.
Because there was such a similarity in the background of the characters (not completely alike, but they all seemed to feel both entitled and somehow wronged), I’m not sure that it would make a deep discussion book.
In the end, though, it’s engaging enough for summer reading. Since summer is nearly over, you might want to wait for the paperback (spring 2013? I don’t see it on the line-up yet).
Why did I read it: It’s set on Martha’s Vineyard! It’s got a wonderful cover image! And … the author is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville.
A favorite passage: This excerpt, beginning on page 142 (emphasis is mine, I just loved this quote!):
“Darling,” her mother took Daisy’s face in her hands, “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to tell you this because someday it may be very important for you to remember.” Her mother’s face was serious, he big green eyes like snake skin. “If there’s one thing you can be sure about in this life, it’s that you won’t always be kissing the right person.”
From page 163, a bit about a particular relationship:
… Women and men alike seemed to lean towards him when he spoke, the way plants lean toward a sunny window. He always knew the right thing to say, the right compliment or tease, and, just when she would start to think he had forgotten her, he would catch her eye, give her a special smile, let her know that they were in it together.
And, although the author didn’t originate this expression, she inserts it in the novel after a young girl has finally beat her nemesis during a tennis match. Other translations (yes, I had to google it; a 3rd century Greek philosopher said it!), use “justice” instead of gods, and it perfectly suits the novel as a whole:
The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
What else can I add: Did you catch where I told you that the author is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Herman Melville? I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to have that legacy behind you – how it influenced the author’s writing, expectations, etc.
updated 8/29/12 – I just read a review of this novel over at BookingMama. Julie fully explained the reasons you should read this book, and readily captured the many discussion points; read her review here.
- Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (June 12, 2012)
- ISBN-13: 978-0307599469
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): An irresistible social satire, set on an exclusive New England island over a wedding weekend in June, Seating Arrangements provides a deliciously biting glimpse into the lives of the well-bred and ill-behaved.
Winn Van Meter is heading for his family’s retreat on the pristine New England island of Waskeke. Normally a haven of calm, for the next three days this sanctuary will be overrun by tipsy revelers as Winn prepares for the marriage of his daughter Daphne to the affable young scion Greyson Duff. Winn’s wife, Biddy, has planned the wedding with military precision, but arrangements are sideswept by a storm of salacious misbehavior and intractable lust; the bride and groom find themselves presiding over a spectacle of misplaced desire, marital infidelity, and monumental loss of faith in the rituals of American life.
Where and when does it take place: Seating Arrangements is set in the early 2000s on a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts. I don’t know if “Waskeke” is modeled on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard (or a hybrid of the two); in either case, Shipstead takes the stereotypical and hones it to a sharp and stinging perfection.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: The first 40 pages or so of Seating Arrangements had me thinking “this is over the top – this is truly a farce, exaggerating every weakness and show of poor behavior.”
And then, it clicked. I got it. By focusing on these oversimplified characters – caricatures, really – Shipstead allows us to laugh at their foibles while we observe their hidden motives, their weaknesses and insecurities.
The protagonist, Winn Van Meter, is a social climber — yes, he comes from “old money,” but not as much of it as he would like. He doesn’t fit in with the true Blue Bloods, despite his attempts to look and act “entitled.” Van Meter’s silver spoon may be a bit tarnished, or it may simply be silver plate. The other WASPy characters – with in-character names like Biddy, Greyson, and Sterling – have their own demons to fight.
A friend of the bride’s is a refreshing change of pace. Because the boarding school she attended with Daphne was far from her home, Dominique was taken under the Van Meter wing as a child. Ditching the Pappagallos and matching headbands shortly after graduation, Dominique’s sense of self and authenticity is a grounding feature of the novel.
Why did I read it: We highlighted this novel in a bookshop newsletter when it was published mid-June, but I’ve only now had the chance to read it, during our vacation on Cape Cod (which included a day trip to Nantucket; I spotted a lot of Winn Van Meter’s acquaintances — whale pants, seersucker, and Lily Pulitzer abound!). It was the perfect setting in which to read Seating Arrangements, but Shipstead’s detailed descriptions of character and place will take you away to Waskeke whether you read it on the beach, in the city, or during a snowstorm.
A favorite passage: This excerpt, beginning on page 78, Dominique (who is both an observer of the Van Meter mishaps and the type of friend who would hold your hair back when you’re getting sick instead of saying “I told you so”), muses about her relationship with the Van Meters. It’s like she’s the only one who can see that the emperor has no clothes:
The Van Meters were so charming at first. … Years had to pass before Dominique could see the strain they placed on themselves or, rather, what their grand goal was. They wanted to be aristocrats in a country that was not supposed to have an aristocracy … Lots of the kids Dominique knew at Deerfield came from families dedicated to perpetuating some moldy, half-understood code of conduct passed along by generations of impostors. But, she supposed, people who believe themselves to be well bred wouldn’t want to give up their invented castes because then they might be left with nothing, no one to appreciate their special clubs, their family trees, their tricky manners, their threadbare wealth.
What else can I add: The theme of “public persona vs. personal truth” is popping up in several books I’m reading lately. Is it a trend? Is it just one theme of many in the book, but I’m somehow more receptive to it? Hmm, Dr. Freud, let me lie hear on the couch and you can analyze it ….
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (June 5, 2012)
- ISBN-13: 978-0307588364
What the book is about (back-of-the-book blurb): Marriage can be a real killer. One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents — Nick parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller.
The Quiz: You hear of a HOT novel (number one on the New York Times bestseller list this week), that “everyone” is reading. Do you:
- Read every online review you can find, scour the internet for online discussions, and engage in conversations on twitter. You want to do your research to make sure this book is really a good fit for you.
- Stop reading this review (and any other) now. Start reading Gone Girl instead; don’t even read the jacket flap. Go!
The answer is 2! Trust me.
What else can I add: Are you still here? You must have already read the novel, and likely agree that it truly is a masterful work of suspense, clever plotting, and narration that simply hums. I’ve just handed my copy of Gone Girl to my husband — I can’t wait to discuss it with him!
- The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0385343831
What the book is about (back-of-the-book blurb): In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: Oh, boy … sigh. I feel like I’m in the minority here, but this is one of those books where I just don’t get the hype. The Tiger’s Wife was a finalist for the National Book Award, a NYT bestseller, and selected as a ‘top 10 book of the year’ by dozens of publications and reviewers.
I liked it well enough – the writing is very strong, and the author is INCREDIBLY young (which is impressive!) – 25 when the book was published. In fact, I had first read Obreht’s work in 20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker, a collection of, well, 20 young writers (my thoughts, here).
The Tiger’s Wife read more like a collection of linked short stories than a novel, but, it has been forced into a container called “novel,” and it it didn’t work for me. Obreht’s goes off on marvelous tangents to explore characters and defining incidents (whether these are offshoots of true Balkan folk tales, or lore she has completely created, I’m not sure), but the return to the main story is choppy, and not fully integrated.
The novel begins in the early 2000s, as Natalia and a friend (and medical colleague) travel to inoculate children in a remote war-torn village. At a border checkpoint, she uses a pay phone to return a page from her grandmother. Natalia learns that her grandfather has taken ill and died while away from home; ostensibly visiting Natalia! Natalia’s grandmother accuses her of keeping secrets (true), and tells her that her grandfather’s belongings have disappeared from the hospital where the grandfather died.
Natalia continues to keep secrets – not sharing the news of her grandfather’s death with her friend, and scheming to discover not only what he was doing away from home, but also to find his personal belongings, which include that well-loved edition of The Jungle Book. Her quest leads her through a maze of folklore, tradition, and hearsay.
Having just ‘copy and paste’d the book’s synopsis (above), I have to say I’m stymied. I learned the stories of the tiger’s wife as I read the novel, and it never occurred to me that Natalia was also learning them for the first time. I have to decide if I have enough curiosity to look through the book to find the source of the stories; I’m not sure I do.
Why did I read it: I purchased a signed copy of The Tiger’s Wife when it was first published in March 2011, but hadn’t yet had the opportunity to read it (this happens often with big ‘buzz’ books – I put them on the shelf until some of the hype has died down). I’m often reading pre-publication galleys, or reading ahead for author events; this summer, I made an effort to read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelves.
What else can I add: Have you read The Tiger’s Wife? If you “got it” more clearly than I did, please leave a link to your review/thoughts. I really admire Obreht’s imagination and the way she crafted the stories-within-the-story. Although this wasn’t a top pick for me, I’ll look forward to reading more of her work.
We held a baby shower for my nephew’s wife (my niece-in-law?) last weekend; chocolate-dipped strawberries were on the menu!
I turned to my go-to source for recipes, the Cook’s Illustrated member website. Some of the content is available to all who visit the site, but many of the resources – including recipes, tests of kitchen equipment and ingredients, and how-to tutorials – are password-protected and available only to those who’ve purchased an online membership. The cost of an annual membership is currently $34.95; I feel it’s well worth it, as this is about the cost of a nice hardcover cookbook.
Back to the strawberries … they were so easy to make! I used the ingredients suggested by Cook’s Illustrated (did you know – white chocolate chips don’t melt properly, they get “chalky” … use baking chocolate instead); melted the chocolate CAREFULLY in the microwave (15 seconds at a time, stir, then return for another zap); and dipped. After the dark chocolate layer had cooled, I melted the white chocolate and drizzled it on top.
Have I mentioned —> Yum!
And, don’t they look elegant!?
Back in this post, I wrote about signing up for the Cook’s Illustrated Cooking School, and promised I’d report back on my progress. I have to say, it’s a great program – intense, step-by-step instructions for techniques, recipes, and general information that will help the home cook as he or she progresses. However, I found the cost of $19.95 per month put too much pressure on me to make the most of the service – I was watching videos, taking notes, cooking as fast as I could. I discontinued the program after 3 months; it simply wasn’t a good fit for my lifestyle.
Any questions about the strawberries? the Cook’s Illustrated programs? the cute baby gear the mother-to-be opened at the shower? Let’s chat!
For more Weekend Cooking, visit Beth Fish Reads; you’ll find links to cookbook reviews, recipes from novels, kitchen tips and tricks, maybe even a food-centric movie review.
- Costa Rica Travel Guide and Map by Rowland Mead
- Publisher: Globetrotter; Fifth edition (March 20, 2012)
- ISBN-13: 978-1780090177
Back-of-the-book blurb: The handy pocket-size guide is packed with useful information, tips and recommendations, accompanied by color photographs, charts and maps for the first-time traveler who wants to experience the major highlights that Costa Rica has to offer. The fold-out map of Costa Rica is ideal for tourists and visitors.
She Is Too Fond of Books‘ thoughts: We recently traveled to Costa Rica for the wedding of J’s sister – we were on the Pacific coast, near Manuel Antonio National Park. Coming from Boston, we routed via Miami to San José International Airport – a 3+ hour drive along narrow twisty mountain roads to our final destination.
We knew we were in for an adventure, and had recently been alerted (via this front page article in the Wall St. Journal) that in Costa Rica many street names are unmarked or nonexistent, and that directions tend to be given in relation to landmarks and other buildings.
“Maybe a map would come in handy” said my spouse – both the voice of reason and redundancy.
Why did we choose this guide? Even though it touches on the entire country, not just the region we were visiting, we thought the photos, sidebars, and easy-to-read text would appeal to the kids (we were right!). The set is packaged in a plastic wallet (like a sealed dust jacket), with the guide in the front pocket, and the fold-out map in the rear. I love this feature! Such a simple touch, but so smart for a little guide that’s getting pulled in and out of the backpack (with sunscreen, wet hands, etc.).
Did we use the guide? Yes, to a point. It was passed around on the flights down to San José (while J and I hummed along the old Dionne Warwick song of the same name. If you don’t know what I’m talking about … well, I’m showing my age!). We used the map to show the kids where we were going in relation to where we landed (“How much longer ’til we get there?!”), and in relation to the rest of the country and its neighbors.
I don’t think we gave it a fair test, as we were staying in one village the five nights we were in the country. It was great to read when planning/anticipating the trip, and I do believe that plastic wallet is brilliant!
Globetrotter Guides are published by New Holland Publishers (London) and distributed by The Globe Pequot Press in the US. They have an interesting assortment of destinations, including Malaysia, Riga, the Baltic States, Crete, Japan, and Namibia.
Of course, no brief review of a travel guide would be complete without gratuitous photos of us enjoying the trip:
The TFOB family, plus "Uncle Matt" and our guide. White water rafting was a blast!
The Pacific in the distance - the water is SO warm! (compare to our Cape Cod beaches ... brrr!)
It looks like a set from a movie, doesn't it?!
The bride and groom
I could have stayed in Manuel Antonio Natl Park all day, watching the monkeys move in the trees around us!
Like The Barenaked Ladies sing, "Haven't you always wanted a monkey!?"