Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Docket: A Monster Calls

Some of us may still be working on our last book club pick of The Name of the Wind (and acceptably so—it is over 700 pages after all!), but we decided it’s time to move on and unveil our next pick for the month of March. As the third month of 2014 comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, we’ll be reading and discussing A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Here’s the plot blurb from Goodreads:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

And since that was a little on the vague side, here’s the slightly more straightforward blurb from Amazon:
An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting-- he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth. From the final idea of award-winning author Siobhan Dowd-- whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself-- Patrick Ness has spun a haunting and darkly funny novel of mischief, loss, and monsters both real and imagined.

It’s a short read, clocking in at only 224 pages (and S may in fact have already finished reading it!). It looks to have some shiny gold medallions on the cover, though Amazon won’t let us zoom in and see what awards they are. At any rate, A is definitely excited to be reading her first book from this author, and, in a slight spoiler for our Reading Bingo recap for February coming soon to a screen near you, S has apparently MET him! More to come on that in the future, hopefully. Please join us in reading and chatting!

Will you read A Monster Calls with us this month? Have you read any of Patrick Ness’ other books? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Haul: VNSA Book Sale Treasures

I have already covered my children’s book rescues and my sci-fi/fantasy adoptions from this year’s VNSA book sale, so all that remains is what I unearthed in the rare and unusual books section. It’s like the Department of Mysteries, only BETTER! (No fragile prophecies lying around that I saw, anyway.) It’s the only part of the sale that isn’t half off on Sunday, and there is usually some pretty interesting and/or weird stuff lurking there. Last year we found a book from the ‘60s or ‘70s about playing tennis. Normal, right? NO. All the models demonstrating the strokes and movement were naked. Who comes up with this stuff?? Though I can think of many people in my life who would appreciate receiving such a book mailed to them in an anonymous, unmarked package, I did not purchase it. I did, however, find an autographed copy of a book by famed Japan scholar Donald Keene, along with a program sheet from a presentation he made at Columbia University tucked inside. Completely unexpected, but a very cool surprise!

I hoped to find some similarly unexpected treasures this year, and I was not disappointed. My first discovery was this cute little book from 1966:

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Pineapple Golden Layer Cake

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Inspired by my recent reading of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook and my desire to eat something sweet and springy (for it is indeed springy in this part of the world, believe it or not!), I decided the next recipe to appear here at RTET would be this delectably tropical pound cake, an heirloom dessert from my own family. This is one from my maternal grandmother, in all likelihood adopted from the label on a can of pineapple back in the ‘60s, but it is SO much more delicious than a glance at the ingredients would lead you to believe. On top of that, it is fast and simple to make. Like the Baked Manhattan recipe in the abovementioned cookbook, this one is more about assembly than actual cooking, resulting in a tasty and impressive dessert ready to be nommed in record time. The pound cake is buttery without being heavy, somehow, and the Cool Whip creates an icing substitute that is light and fluffy. Pretty to look at, delicious with tea or milk…you’ll be hard-pressed to stop at just one slice.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Haul: VNSA Book Sale, Part the Second

Ah, used books. Having already gleefully shown off my myriad discoveries in the Children’s Books section of Ye Olde VNSA Book Sale, it may surprise you to find out that that wasn’t even half of my overall take. Or maybe not. You may know me, and know I have a book problem.

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A very big problem indeed.

After a thorough combing of the kids' section, I headed a couple tables over to the science fiction and fantasy area, where I scrounged up most of the contents of that there box. I think some old-school SFF geek must’ve cleaned out their stash this year, because there was a lot of really cool stuff—WAY more than I remember from my brief perusal of the section last year. Among all the books and authors I was unfamiliar with, I found quite a few keepers, such as this lovely collection of Douglas Adams books:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Haul: VNSA Book Sale, Part the First

In Phoenix, on one weekend in February every year, the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association has a huge book sale. There are drop boxes located around the city to collect donations of books for the sale throughout the year, and people can arrange to have donations picked up from their homes. The profits from the sale go to charities, so you can pick up a few new books and help out some worthy organizations at the same time! I’d heard about the sale a lot when I was growing up, but the timing was never right for me to attend until last year. Now that I’ve been, it will be something I always look forward to—used book heaven! The VNSA sale is truly massive (they hold it at the state fair grounds), and you never know what will turn up there. And if that’s not enough, it’s all dirt cheap! Like $.50 - $1 for paperbacks, $4 for hardbacks. VERY CHEAP. To sweeten the deal even further, on Sunday everything is half-price. Madness! The exhibition hall, still smelling faintly of farm animals from the fair, is full of tables labeled with any and all sorts of book topics, ranging from the general (“children”) to the strangely specific (“secret societies”). Last year I only managed to plumb the depths of the cookbook section before getting overloaded by all the books and people, but this year, I and my book-nerds-in-crime (my mom and a friend) had more strategy—we arrived right at the opening time of 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, hoping to beat the crowds and have a better selection, AND we brought a rolly cart for transporting our finds. Genius.

And boy did we adopt some homeless books! I didn’t spend much time in the cookbooks this year, as I’m still cooking my way through all the ones I picked up last year, but I did manage to trawl through WAY more sections than I did previously (but still probably not even 1/4 of what was on offer!). My mother and I have a bit of an obsession with old children’s books, so I spent an inordinate amount of time in that area. I love the funny titles, the cover design, the cool art inside…they just make me smile. Here are some of the ones we picked up as we burrowed through the kids’ book stacks this year:

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Cute drawings!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: Poets Translate Poets

Title: Poets Translate Poets
Editors: Mark Jarman and Paula Deitz
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Read: January 2014
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Poetry
Rating: 4 Stars

As two people whose academic pursuits involved both poetry and translation (one of us focused on classics and the epic tradition, the other with a thesis actually about translating poetry), this book was definitely something we were interested in when we saw it come up on NetGalley for review. The premise is pretty much summed up in the title: It is a collection of poetry that has appeared in The Hudson Review, translated into English by other poets, with the idea being that, a) who is better to translate poetry than real live poets, and b) when a poem is translated, it becomes as much, if not more, a creation of the translator as of the original poet. Speaking for myself, as I went into reading this book I had a list of things in my head that I think are important when it comes to translating poetry, and I was very happy to see all my concerns addressed in the foreword and prologue to the book.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cookery Bookery: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

Title: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook: 100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden
Author: Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Brent Ridge, & Sandy Gluck
Publisher: Rodale Books
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Read: February 2014
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 3.75 Rocky Road Potstickers

This charming dessert cookbook, written by two New Yorkers who left the city and moved upstate to run a farm/restaurant/I’m-not-really-sure-what in Sharon Springs, is sweet vintage eye candy. “Beekman 1802” is apparently the name of authors Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge’s farm, not a year or a family name, and the seasonality of life there is a big part of their offerings in this book. As they explain in their introduction, they believe an heirloom recipe is not simply one that has been passed down through generations, but one that has its own sort of mythological place in the imagination and family history. For me, an example would be the Watergate Salad of my grandmother’s that evokes so many memories of holidays spent around her big dining room table. As you read this, maybe you’re thinking of some similar types of treats that you associate with family, friends, and contentedness. This book seeks to gather heirloom desserts from the authors’ own memories, along with some new ones they’ve created, to pass on to readers and hopefully aid in creating more food-memories around the table to be passed down to future generations. Pretty neat.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: The Antiques Magpie

Title: The Antiques Magpie: A Fascinating Compendium of Absorbing History, Stories, Facts and Anecdotes from the World of Antiques
Author: Marc Allum
Publisher: Icon Books
Publication Date: September 5th, 2013
Read: October - December 2013
Where It Came From: eARC from publisher via NetGalley*
Genre: Nonfiction
Rating: 3.5 Dusty Treasures Found in a Pile of Junk at a Yard Sale

Old things are neat. Forget simple yard sale picking—I harbor fantasies of appearing on the Antiques Roadshow. I enjoy trawling through antique stores and Goodwills and yard sales and markets and bazaars, hoping to come across a hidden treasure. And when I come across something truly unique, it’s exciting to wonder is it worth something? I love the thrill of investigating and exploring and discovering something that speaks to me, whether it is valuable in a monetary sense or not. I love the hunt. So when I saw this book on NetGalley, written by someone from the BBC Antiques Roadshow, I pounced. (Disclaimer: It looks like this is published in hard copy only in the UK and the Commonwealth, but it is available for Kindle on Amazon.)

Rather than an overview of the world of antiques or a guide on how to get started collecting, the book is more of a collection of anecdotes and mini-essays on topics and tangents ranging from one corner of the world of antiques and collecting to the other, from the author’s personal stories of working in that world, to broader topics such as copyright, to practical information for an antiquer (a gold purity percentage chart, for example), to the truly strange, such as a story about a museum of taxidermied animals arranged in tableaux depicting them engaged in very human pursuits, like birthday parties (more on that later).

I thought the book was fun! The short stories and conversational tone make it a quick read, like you’re listening to a friend in the industry tell you tales of their experiences over tea or a couple beers. It’s the kind of thing I think would be ideal to keep in your bag and read on the train, on your lunch break, while waiting at the doctor’s office, etc. since you can easily finish a section or more in that time, avoiding the annoyance of being interrupted in the middle of something longer. Images, quotations, and little blurbs about related topics are interspersed throughout the text to add a little extra oomph. I would’ve liked even more images (visual learner that I am), but now I have a list of things to Google for further information and pictures.

The array of topics covered in the book is truly impressive. For instance, you can learn about the rarity of the 1933 British penny (who knew?). You can also discover the wonders of “crude and often inappropriate” British seaside postcards. Appetite for antiques knowledge still not satiated? Try exploring the world of chair design! You can even plumb the depths of the world of gnome collecting—gnomery has more history than you might imagine. In addition to the main text, there are helpful appendices with a timeline of British and French monarchs and a rundown of the different periods and styles of art/architecture/furniture/what-have-you (useful info for would-be antiquers!). Upon perusing the bibliography I was a little nonplussed at seeing Wikipedia listed, but I was glad to see a nice listing of books as well (there’s also a long list of websites that were sources for specific entries in the book). The inclusion of some links to useful trade and industry websites was a neat idea, too.

“The Death and Burial of Cock Robin”

But I promised you a story about taxidermied animals throwing birthday parties! (When I flipped back to that section, it turned out birthday parties were not actually among the tableaux listed. Sorry!) During the Victorian era, there was apparently a man named Walter Potter who was a self-taught taxidermist (dare I ask…?) who specialized in dioramas of animals dressed like humans doing human things, “back in the days when stuffing animals was an acceptable pastime for young boys.” He had them displayed near his home, but as more and more visitors came to see them, he ended up making a sort of museum of them that became a major tourist attraction. He based some of the displays on nursery rhymes, and some of the more famous dioramas include “The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” (a funeral scene including 98 birds, with a rook as the parson and an owl as the grave digger), “The Rabbits’ Village School” (48 young rabbits sitting at desks or engaged in educational pursuits), “The Kittens’ Tea and Croquet Party” (self-explanatory, featuring a horrifying 37 kittens), and "Athletic Toads” (18 toads doing various exercises in a park).

While such a thing might have been acceptable to the Victorians, as sensibilities changed after Potter’s death in 1918, the museum had to face claims of animal cruelty and eventually close in the 1970s. It still must’ve somehow captured the mind of the public, though, because the “Kitten’s Wedding” tableau was featured in a 2003 exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The collection was eventually put up for auction and despite attempts to keep it intact, it ended up being broken up and sold off—“The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” went for £23,500 with the sale total for the collection being over half a million pounds. Macabre, a little nauseating, yet oddly fascinating…for me, this was definitely the strangest, weirdly intriguing-est story in the book. Can’t make this stuff up. Overall, The Antiques Magpie was an interesting read with many strange-but-true stories that would be amusing for Antiques Roadshow enthusiasts, and could also reel in newcomers to the world of antiques and collecting.

Do you like to go antiquing? Have any unique (hopefully not stuffed-kitten-unique) collections? Hit the comments and let us know!

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Bingo Update: January

January saw Alyssa (green) pull ahead of Susan (red) in our Connect Six (or as many as we can) version of the game, having read from a full four of the categories while Susan mustered only two. To summarize:



Because we are quite sporting, here is a brief, ESPN-style look at the strategy on display so far. Alyssa read Poets Translate Poets, an erudite collection of translated poetry originally published in the Hudson Review, and thus had a qualifying entry for two separate squares (volume of poetry and literary salon read), and possibly three (depending on her interpretation of "Book originally written in another language"). Her choice to take the literary salon square instead of the volume of poetry suggests that she is making a move on the fifth row, where she has also completed a picture book. Susan's strategy so far seems to be to block anything having to do with "The Most Dangerous Game." Probably because Book Bingo is the most dangerous game of all.

How about you? How is your bingo coming along? Any recommendations for our remaining squares?

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