Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book 98: Plum Pudding Murder

Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke was a different book for me. I've never read a book that was really part mystery novel and part cookbook before. It was a fun book that was full of light reading.

I will admit I've been waiting for the right time to read this book. Had to wait for Thanksgiving to really pass before reading a Christmas themed murder myster. Just like I'm holding onto a short story collection related to A Darcy Christmas for mid-December (or my roadtip to Philly). Reading Christmas stuff too early ruins the theme and you can get jaded quick. I actually read a few chapters back in September or so but I just couldn't get into a Christmas story just then, so I waited for the holiday season to arrive.

This is the 13th book in the Hannah Swenson series. It was easy to just jump into the series but in many ways I woudln't have thought it was that far into series. It seemed like it was a book 4 or so. Many of the characters were developed but not so developed that they coudln't grow more.

Basically this book is about Hannah who is a cookie shop owner that happens to stumble upon murder victims and her own curiousity creates a desire to find out who was the murder. But it's also about the interpersonal relationships she has especially since she's almost romantically involved with two guys but won't pick either. The murder itself doesn't happen until half way through the book. So it really starts to set up the triggers in the plot.

The story was rather straight forward. There were few real plot twists or red herrings in the novel. Okay there were was the whole thing where Hannah and Norman were trying to figure out what Carrie (Norman's mom and Hannah's mom's best friend) was up to.  But that took you way from the real plot of the Crazy Elf plotline all together fror the most part.  I would have liked this to be a bit more like a Murder She Wrote episode or more like Agatha Christie book where you are given enough to solve the murder on your own but it wasn't spoon fed.

The real gems in this book is that it's has gotten the cooking bug in me and I will be trying out two cookie recipes for my friend. There were some exciting and unusual recipes in there. I'm not a big recipe person. Even when I'm in my most foodie mindset (which doesn't always happen since there are days I do skip meals), I don't scour cookbooks for new recipes and I can't remember the last time I truly baked anything. Every so often I will cut up a cookie roll curtesy of my mom or I will ice gingerbread men at Christmas but that's about it for baking. Just not my thing.  So it's rather amazing that this weekend, I will be making two cookie recipes from this book (White Chocolate Pumpkin Dreams and Orange Julius Cookies). So hopefully these will be as tasty as they sounded in the book and be fabulous when I share with my friends and co-workers.

Plum Pudding Murder got me talking about the book. I will admit the recipes that featured the end of most chapters were probably more exciting then the mystery part of the book. But the mystery was still good. I would recommend this to my friends as something fun and different.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book 97: The Day the Falls Stood Still

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan was a book that I just finished up thanks to a loan from my friend. It was a book I was warned was only okay to poor in quality from both the friend who loaned it to me and by my friend who helps to co-write the blog a Novel Idea. I will have to say I agree completely. The book was underwhelming even though it had a neat setting and premise.

The Day the Falls Stood Still is a historical fiction book that takes place in the early 1900s in Niagara Falls. It’s suppose to be both a location based book and character driven just like Moloka’i. The book is loosely based on the life of William Red Hill through the character of Thomas Cole. The book is actually through his wife’s point of view and explains how she went from privilege upbringing to a lower class where she has to work just as much as Thomas Cole does.  The book also interweaves some mock newspaper clippings that are almost entirely based on the real life accounts.  It also brings up some great points about how the electric plants along the river could affect the general wildlife in the area.

If I didn’t read Moloka’i right before hand, I think my biggest complaint was the fact the book was really predictable. Ever major event, you knew it would happen. You want an author to lead you by the hand, but not to the point where there is no surprise in the novel.

But I did read Moloka’I right before hand. Since these books mirrored each other in some major way, the flaws were really highlighted in my mind. They were both historical fiction books that have an alluring setting, similar timelines and are character driven.  The Day The Falls Stood Still never came to life the all-encompassing setting like the leper colony did.  Part of that was due to the fact there were lacking details of daily life that felt real and genuine. I also never fully connected with Bess so it makes it tough to want to continue reading the book when it’s character driven. There was something about her that made it that I didn’t like which is odd since normally I am drawn to strong women characters who aren’t afraid of working for a living and supporting her family like Bess did.

I’m glad that my friend loaned me this book. At times it’s was an interesting book. I learned a lot about Niagara Falls.  But in the end, I didn’t care for the book. I can see why this was part of her summer of bad book endings and I wish I read this book at a different time this year so some of the flaws didn’t seem so glaring.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book 96: Moloka'i

Moloka’i was an amazing book by Alan Brennert about leprosy in Hawai’i at the turn of the century.  It was amazing. It’s rare that I could be entranced by a world I know little about so I’m learned as I went and at the same time I loved the characters and plot.

Moloka’i has a sad past. It was the home of the leper colony of Hawai’i. First off, I didn’t realize that there was a leper colony in the states (or at least a territory of the states for part of the history) let alone it went on until 1969. Well technically there are still people living in Kalaupapa with the disease but it’s not forced inhabitation like it was before. But that was the tip of the iceberg of things I was learning about in this book. I learned that Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London would visit and write about their impressions.

The book focuses on the early 1900s and focused on Rachel’s saga of living with the disease. She went from small child separated from her family at about age. Since she was a young girl alone, she was sent to Bishop Home to be raised by nuns (since her Uncle Pono was deemed to be unfit/unmoral to raise his favorite niece).  She then grew up around a world where friends and family died, making new family on the island and watching her hope being taken away by a positive scrape.  It was moving to see her ability to grow up and thrive on the island while being around death and disease.

One of the things I loved about this book was how it blended fiction with nonfiction. I’m so glad that there is a bibliography at the end of the book. I now want to read more books about the island. I even want to visit the national park and see the real life places in this book. Even the characters were based on real people that wrote letters from the island or made it to the diaries from Jack London. There is an incredible blend of events.

I can’t wait to share this book with a few people. The tricky part is who to loan it to first. But I have a couple days to decide that one. It’s rare to have books you are entranced by the storyline and characters while learning about history. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Product 46: Low Country Luxe Beau Candle

Schiller’s got in Low Country Luxe Candles for the holidays. The aromas were so to die for that I had to treat myself to one of these candles if only to change up my sense of hygge. I settled on treating myself to Beau and I am in love.

Low Country Luxe create great candles that really embody the traditions of the South. Many of the candles are wrapped in a linen fabric that keeps your candle safe from the air when you aren’t using it. Plus the names of the scents take on that creole flavor.

While I love all the scents, Beau was the most intriquing to me. It has a combination of tobacco flower, bergamot, lemon and juniper berries. I literally never smelt anything quite like it. It is both soft and delicate while at the same time woody and exotic. I’ve been teasing some of friends who smoke that their bad habits helped to entice me to this candle but in all honesty, I probably would have been drawn to the candle due to its juniper berries and lemon flavors that work in conjunction with a woody scent. It’s not too sweet, woody or any one note flavor.

The candle itself burns wonderfully and the scent lingers for hours even after blowing out the candle. I love how the candle aroma lingers in the air. It’s not overwhelming to the nose but gives the impression of a lived in home that is comforting. This is the perfect candle for creating hygge (ie the Danish word for the comforting live-in feeling that is inviting). 

While Schiller’s has so many beautiful new gifting ideas, this is definitely one of my favorite new items in stock. It’s sophisticated, different and wonderful yet inviting and simple. 

Book 95: Jack of Kinrowan

 Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint was the fun and final book on loan from my friend who let me dip into the realms of fantasy from her personal collection.  This book actually contains two different novellas involving Jacky, Kate and Finn who try to make their way through Faerie which just happen to be right in the middle of Ottawa but only seen by special people who can enter into Middle Earth.

I love how this book combines everything I enjoy about urban fantasy. It takes the creatures from classic fairytales and folklore and then combines it in an urban environment in a way that makes sense. It’s surprising that it took me so long to stumble upon this classic book in the genre. But admittedly if it wasn’t for Miriam, it may be much longer since the cover of the book doesn’t have an image of that classic strong urban woman and is so similar all of fantasy books that I fell out of love with.

I will have to say for me, Jack the Giant Killer was the stronger of the two novellas in the book. It was so full of life, adventure and characters that you could relate too and wanted to see through the story. I was hooked by how Jacky entered the Middle Kingdom of Faerie and was relating to things by the names in Ottawa while learning the new names of things. She turns to her best friend and the two of them try to make their way through an adventure to do the right thing and help save the Laird’s princess that was kidnapped.

Drink Down the Moon was weaker for me. In this adventure there was the lost of one of my favorite characters from the first story Eilian (but there were some mention of him but it was mostly off handed comments). Plus I just didn’t fully connect to the new characters who were inserted in this story. Things just felt less natural and a little too convenient to move along the plot.

While the second novella was weaker, I still highly enjoyed the two stories. I would recommend this book for those who enjoy the urban fantasy genre. I love the Celtic and English flair the story takes on. The tales were easy to read. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book 94: Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings

     My latest book was Meditations and Other Metaphysics Writings by Rene Descartes. It’s one of those foundation works that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I’m glad that I actually read it and give it the proper time meant for it. 

     Over the years, I’ve read portions of Mediations in my study of philosophy. I’ve always enjoyed his viewpoint presented in Mediations-mainly I think therefore I am. But for some reason I was hesitant on reading the actual source material.  I wanted to continue with my learning for a bit until reading Mediations for myself that way I had a foundation to think about things. After reading the introduction, I find that was what Rene Descartes wanted in a way. He wrote his philosophical works in Latin instead of the more accessible French so it would be for learned readers only.

     Mediations and other Metaphysical Writings was actually a joy to read. It wasn’t written in a way where his ideas were too hard to understand. It was easy to see how the idea that if I’m thinking, I must exist in that moment. But the idea that I was drawn towards more was the duality of mind-body. It’s something that is a little hard to understand but it makes sense for me but there are things that exist in only the minds, things that exist in the body and there are times when they work together. 

     One of the things I never expected to find in this work was how willing he was to defend and explain his ideas to his objectors or to really have dialogue with people about his ideas. It was nice to see how he was willing to revise his works or just rework them.  The manifesto at the end where he takes on a misguided reader and try to steer him to his way of thinking.

     The only thing that I didn’t fully get was how these mediations proved God. Everything was so purposeful and interesting yet he would negate some of his ideas or put special difference when it came to God. I just thought that was the weak by him. But at the same time, I do agree with many of his assumptions.

     I am so glad I read Mediations when I did. Hopefully next week I can continue some of quick reading so I can devote solid amount of time to philosophy.  Rene Descartes continues to thrill me. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Letters 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98

Letter 91-96: Halloween love to a few friends

Letter 97: A special Halloween card that was also sending some birthday wishes

Letter 98: One last Halloween card for my friend

Can't tell that I love Halloween and I love to share that fun with a few of my friends. It's one of the most fun holidays of the year.

Book 93: The Help

The Help is probably one of the trendier books that Ive read this year. Although I did read it in that lull period where the movie isnt in the theaters but not yet on DVD. Its a very provocative book that discusses racial ideas and even social divides between the help and society ladies of Jackson, Mississippi during the mid-sixties.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett was her debut book. And it couldnt have been better, except with a few less liberties with history.   The movie helped to raise the profile of the book. This book was sold out a few local stores while I was trying to locate it for my mom because of the popularity to the book. But the book has also brought out a lawsuit by her brothers maid, divided her family and people in Jackson, Mississippi were less then happy by this book.

The Help takes the point of view of saintly Aibileen and outspoken Minny as the black help who clean and even raise the kids of Skeeter, Hilly and Elizabeth. Skeeter was trying to figure out her path and stumbled upon an idea to write a book about what its like to be the help for white society.  This idea isnt without any danger in volatile Mississippi. But contrary to the movie trailers would like you to believe, this book is much more about the writing of the book and actually what it is like to be the help. The books release and effects on the town really only happen in the last hundred pages or so.

This book was good. Now everyone was warning me it was a little slow in the beginning. I never found that. I found myself instead being enveloped in the atmosphere. You could feel the south in many ways. By having the more ethinic slang/dialect, it just helped to set the tone. It really helped to make the story.  The pacing was pretty solid. Everything was developed and placed although I did find myself at times going : I wonder what’s happening to Celia or Skeeter or Aibileen only to see that the next chapter or maybe two at the most before the perspective switched and went to the people I were wondering about.

This book did a better job of shifting perspectives compared to some books that I’ve read lately that had multiple perspectives. It helped that the three girls had three well defined personalities that could just shine through and they were distinct personalities. So I liked knowing just by the attitude, spoken words and etc who was the speaking.

The book was deeply layered.  I loved that.  It wasn’t just a quick easy read that talked about race. It was deeper then that. It was about learning about yourself and doing something unexpected, it was about learning how lines in society can feel both concrete and yet nonexistent all at the same time, and it’s about the civil rights history. 

I really liked The Help. It was a great book that was easy. It was my way to relax as I tried to get my allergies under control after dusting too much at work. It was a rich book that had so much to it. I would highly recommend this book and I’m glad to pass the book off to my sister.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book 92: Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou was a good book to help me feel more comfortable with my totals and with myself. It’s a quick short read filled with lots of good things to think about to improve your outlook about life and in some cases about diversity and race.

I’ve been both holding onto the Maya Angelou book and wanting to read it. It came from a mixture of knowing that it was likely to be an easy, quick read and I enjoy her. So I wanted to save it for a week for where I spent more time reading a book then I probably should have.  This week seemed as good as any (while I enjoyed  Spindle’s End, it’s just not comfortable to start a book on a Friday night).

I will have to say I misjudged Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. I glanced at the book and just assumed that it was another poetry book by Maya Angelou since besides her autobiography I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings, she’s known for her poetry.  I wasn’t disappointed to see it was short essays filled talking about morality, manners, and even diversity.

Most the essays, I loved. It was good to see her talking about things I care about. There are many circumstances that she discussed that I thought were timeless and can help everyone just to remember the simple truths.

I’m not always a fan of using the race card. There were a few essays where Maya Angelou was great at saying we need to revel in diversity and realize that races are different but good.  As the essays when on, there were a few moments when it became a little too much about race where it becomes more of a line in the sand without true understanding.  I’m not sure if it’s because in the end I don’t see race but I do see social/cultural differences thanks to years of travel and moving or if it’s just a generational thing since Maya Angelou was raised when race was a much larger issue then it is today. In some ways, the gay/lesbian/transgender debate is replacing the race debate from previous decades.

 But overall, this book gave me some things to think about and it was fun to read. So I would recommend this book. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Book 91: Spindle's End

I got to take a fun foray into twists upon fairy tales with the book Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley. It was a fun book which reminded me why I used to love the subsection of the genre. It was both extremely familiar and creative all at the same time. If you read a twist on one of your favorite fairy tales, it has to be done right.

Needless to say, I hate a couple books that used Snow White as a basis but the book failed. It was actually after reading a twist on Snow White that I hated so much, I stopped reading books based on fairy tales for a good long time and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t jumped at reading the third book in the Wicked series (but that’s also in part due to how I loved Wicked but disliked the second book). After some dabbling in the twisting of fairy tales in the early 2000s, I never explored my other favorite fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty (I did read a couple related to Snow White which is the traditional favorite). I’m so glad that the friend that loaned me Moon Called and Neverwhere also had this book in the collection she set aside for me. It was just a fun book.

I thought that Spindle’s End did a great job of merging the traditional elements of Sleeping Beauty, the romantic features that comes emanate from the ballet and yet it created something new. I love how McKinley set the story first. It was an inviting atmosphere and it really took you away from the world and you could just enjoy reading. It allowed for magic and fairies to exist.

 The ending made me so satisfied. I won’t spoil it for people. But given the characters of Rosie and Peony, this was the ending that made the most sense. It was great. It allowed for the traditional happily ever after but not the way you would have thought going into the book.

 The only downside to the book was it took me longer to read then I would have liked. It wasn’t a quick read. Highly enjoyable. My work schedule has gotten heavier as the holiday season starts to kick into high gear and I am working on my NaNoWriMo project as well. So my limited free time is now getting chipped away by yet another activity.

 Spindle’s End was fun book. So incredibly grateful for the loan and a chance to read it. It was a great slip into an old favorite genre that I felt like I had to give up on after a few misses. I’m glad.