Weekend Roundup

February 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Part I of Return of the King: Extended Edition over peanutty noodles on Thursday night, continued skirmishes with the rats; a lively exchange of ideas with the boss and a few new library books on Friday, continued skirmishes with the rats; plans to see Coraline on Saturday, dashed by a non-starting car. Oh, then it snowed. It’s lucky we live on a hill so Richard could tuck it in a little closer to the curb for the plough. The rats were quiet.

An appreciation of what might have been.

Today I’d like to make a lasagna, but there’s no ricotta within walking distance. Boo.

Living Through the Radio

November 28, 2007 § 2 Comments

Somehow I’ve so far neglected to mention the highlight of my week. Last Sunday was the first half of a two-part interview Eleanor Wachtel did with Philip Pullman last month in Toronto. If I had known he was going to cross the ocean (he vowed never to do so again) I probably would have sold both my kidney and my first-born to get there. Anyway, he was headlining a conference hosted by Trinity College (ingratiating) entitled Particles of Narrative.

According to my own Literary Pantheon, Pullman reigns supreme in the flying buttresses, lawn-bowling with Dahl and Nesbit. I constantly refer to The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife when I’m working on my own novel, and I always come away inspired and awe-struck.

Anyway, you can listen to the interview here, for a few months at least, or if you subscribe to the podcast, you can keep it and listen to it forevermore.

The second half airs on Sunday afternoon.

Book Reviews

October 26, 2007 Comments Off on Book Reviews

Now time for that semi-regular feature: half-assed book reviews.

Gathering Blue
Lois Lowry; Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Nicely rendered sequel to The Giver, Lowry’s trilogy centers or three different visions of post-apocalyptic human society. The Giver focuses on Jonas’ village, where equality, convention, and respect for authority are valued above all. We read The Giver in our eighth grade Utopia unit— wherein the class came to the conclusion that Utopia is a naive fantasy. It was a sad day.

The village in Gathering Blue is much different. Kira’s society is much more primitive than Jonas’. While everyone works together for survival, there is no community spirit or goodwill, even within families, and while there is more personal freedom, there’s also much more violence and open hostility. Kira, born with a twisted leg, should have been exposed at birth, according to the community’s traditions. But Kira is gifted with needle and thread, and when her mother dies, she is taken into the government building to serve the Council with other gifted youth (whose parents also **SPOILER** died mysteriously).

I also liked the hints here about previous civilization, both in the the ceremonial song, and the clues in the landscape; the government building. Lowry subtly describes the people’s bewilderment at such lost knowledge, much like people in the Middle Ages must have marveled over aqueducts and Roman ruins.

A quick read, expertly executed. It brought me right back to eighth grade Humanities class.


The Princess and Curdie
George MacDonald; Penguin Classics
George MacDonald was reportedly the favorite author of a very young JRR Tolkien, so perhaps he can be described as the grandfather of modern fantasy. First published in 1882, The Princess and Curdie is the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, a true fairy tale, complete with fairy grandmothers, goblins, and a young pure hero, in the form of Curdie, the son of a miner, and a miner himself, who rescues the innocent Princess Irene who’s been kidnapped and held hostage in the middle of a mountain by scheming goblins. The simple moral is to be open to believing without seeing.

In this book, set a year after the previous volume, Curdie has lost some of his purity, and the fairy grandmother, whom he couldn’t see in the first book, sets a shamed Curdie on a quest to save his king and kingdom. The message is more complex this time. While it’s still about faith and trust in something greater than oneself, it’s also about recognizing who is worthy of faith and trust.

Some of the language is archaic and there’s some religion here and there (MacDonald was an Anglican ministerbefore his superiors realized he wasn’t proclaiming their message with proper respect for convention), this is a largely unknown classic that deserves more attention. Of particular note is the goddess-like characterization of the great-great grandmother.


More to come: At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, Becoming Rosemary, and Fairest! Maybe. I only seem to do these reviews once every eight months, so I won’t promise anything.

“If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!”

October 22, 2007 § Leave a comment

Holy Mother of Pearl, how is it I didn’t know until this morning? There was a day when Mugglenet was my homepage… *sniff*

I can’t claim presience as some do, though. I’m a longtime Dumbledore/Pomfrey shipper. In fact, I may have been the only one in that boat.

Warm and Safe

October 16, 2007 § 2 Comments

Autumn has arrived in full force here, and as we were at the beach gathering rocks this evening, I felt it was finally time to drag out my hat. Now I’m sitting in our drafty study wishing mightily for a fireplace, or at least a cubby in the wall where I could toss a few handfuls of crumpled red tissue paper for a cosy pretend.

We finally got around to listening to the Penguin Podcast from last November wherein they highlighted children’s audiobooks for Christmas 2006. One of the selections was Patricia Routledge reading Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice who ruin the dolls’ house in a rage when they discover that all the food in the dollhouse is pretend. It prompted me to draw up (silently, you understand) a complex theory about the differences in how live animals who live in the wild— though not in a very harsh wild— and “live” toys, who are both manufactured and cared for by humans, perceive reality in Beatrix Potter.

…But none of that is what I meant to say today. What I meant to say was:

Here are two book orders that arrived in our mailbox today. Can you guess which belong to me and which are Richard’s? And who works harder to coordinate with the bedspread?


Book Talk

September 30, 2007 § 5 Comments

Here’s an old article from the Atlantic Monthly that’s long, but worth a read. I enjoyed The Shipping News, but it might have been because the strange sentence structure and repitious, adjective-heavy prose made me feel I was reading a revolutionary new form of Literature. On the other hand I couldn’t stand Snow Falling on Cedars (get… on… with… it… Guterson?). Anyway, you should at least peruse it, especially if you’re a writer.

Kid*Lit(erary) is pretty much my dream blog, with a focus on the sort of children’s literature every aspiring YA writer pores over. A few weeks ago, Laurel focused on the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, which my first-grade teacher read to us during storytime in January-February 1988. My brother had pneumonia (again) that winter and was quite lethargic, so I entertained both of us by reading ahead in the books. In class, the accuracy of my predictions for “what happens next” drastically improved.

via Heidi: Cooked Books, a blog by Rebecca Federman, explores The New York Public Library’s culinary collection. Recent entries have featured recipes for Jacques Pepin’s Fromage Fort and The Lily, a cocktail comprised of Lillet, gin, and Creme de Noyau (possibly my three favorite things).

Other Goodies

Highlights For Children‘s Hidden Pictures

Masterpiece Theatre’s The Railway Children (also available to locals here)


All Disjointed Like a Bonsai Kitten

August 28, 2007 § Leave a comment

I’m reading A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond, and I’m having some trouble with the Welsh. Does anyone out there have a quick-and-dirty pronunciation guide for me? I have no desire to learn Welsh, but the word cwm, for example, keeps popping up and I’d like some idea of how it’s said.

I read How Green Was My Valley in Summer 1996, so I have a smidgen of understanding— “dd” being pronounced “th”— but what about something like Tre’r-ddôl?


Also, journalists! Like Richard, I am concerned with the dilution of the English language, and I especially hate over-using milquetoast words when the language is so illustrative.

Don’t just say he’s an embattled former Attorney General. Beleaguered is better, but what about fraught, bedeviled, besieged, harried, or plagued?

Vivid language, please!


While we were in Maine, Richard and I ate at DuckFat, a restaurant run by Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh. Evans was a Food & Wine Best New Chef 2004, and runs Hugo’s, which has been lavishly praised by Gourmet Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, et al. DuckFat is the cheaper little brother, but its menu is still quite sophisticated, and our meal was sublime start to finish. Two-thirds of it was French Belgian fries. Frankly, it’s the perfect neighborhood restaurant.

Anyway, Richard ordered one of their housemade lemon verbena sodas, and it was so sprightly and tingly and zesty and fun that I wanted to try it on a smaller scale at home. Till now, all my fresh-herb drinks were better in conception than execution*, but the lemon verbena almost-kind-of-worked. I’d still double or triple the amount, but till then, here’s a quick-and-dirty recipe.

Lemon Verbena Lemonade Concentrate
In this recipe I’ve tripled the lemon verbena I used this afternoon, so don’t triple it again. Also, this is a recipe for concentrate, to be mixed with sparkling water, or tap water, or water and vodka; whatever you like. But don’t drink it straight.

Six fresh lemons, rolled and juiced (about 2 cups juice)
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup sugar
6 large sprigs (10-15 leaves each) lemon verbena

For the simple syrup
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar with ½ cup water and four sprigs lemon verbena and zest. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally until sugar completely dissolves. Don’t let the sugar stick to the bottom, but don’t stir too vigorously either, or the sugar will crystallize up the sides of the pot. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat. Cool and discard lemon verbena and zest.

For the concentrate
Pluck the leaves from remaining sprigs of lemon verbena and slice into thin ribbons. Chiffonade it, if you’re being a fancy-pants.

Once cool, combine the syrup, juice and lemon verbena. Shake or stir to combine throughly. Chill.

To finish
Pour 1-2 finger widths of concentrate into a pretty glass, and top with the water of your choice. Add ice and serve.

*An experiment executed many times with negligible results. Three cups of mint later, my tisane’s flavor was vaguely vegetal, if you concentrated on it with your eyes closed. Fresh lavender simple syrup tasted… like simple syrup. Dried lavender was much better

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