Sunday, December 21, 2014

All You Can Dream Buffet

I found a new author!  I just finished Barbara O'Neal's latest, All You Can Dream Buffet and it was a feast I could sink my teeth into.

Now I am a sucker for reads about women finding themselves, especially since I feel I am on that same journey myself.  But when a book not only combines the search-for-self, but blogging, photography, food and lavender, it doesn't get much better than that.

Lavender, who just happens to run an organic lavender farm in Oregon, is turning 85.  And she doesn't want the farm falling into her nephews' hands.  So she invites three fellow bloggers she has gotten to know over the past few years.  Each of them are at a crossroads in their life.

Ruby, mid-twenties and pregnant, is needing a place for her and her baby, but she is not sure where that will be.  Valerie, and her teenage daughter, are still coping with the deaths two years earlier of her husband and other two daughters.  And Ginger, after twenty years of marriage, is realizing maybe small town Kansas with people not wanting her to rock the boat with her cake blog and photography, isn't where she wants to be.

Throw in some cute little Airstream trailers, chickens and bees and it is a recipe to savor.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mighty Ugly is a Pretty Good Read

I have been reading a lot of what some people might call 'self-help' books recently.  And books on writing and creativity.  One of the books I came across is Make It Mighty Ugly by Kim Piper Werker.

The thing which grabbed me from the start was Werker stating "Nothing makes me want books to drown more than cheerleading and hand-waving."  Coming from the corporate world, where every couple of years we had to sit through the latest 'rah-rah' fad, I was completely in agreement with her.

The introduction starts out by telling you this isn't a rah-rah, cheery book on being creative.  This book is about acknowledging it isn't easy and we all have demons to overcome.  Except her demons are kind of cute.  The first part of the book has you naming and facing your demons - and we all have them.  Whether you are a writer, artist, business person (or all three), we all have demons in our lives which stop us from doing the things we really want to do.

In one of the first exercises she has you do is to make a list of Things I Am Good At.  Anything and everything.  Form being a super tooth flosser to preparing a meal for four in 30 minutes.  Everything! She goes on to say:

"Your strengths are qualities that make you feel good and maybe even make others feel good."

From a talent to an achievement you have worked hard for, all your strengths.  I sat down to try make my list.  It's hard to think about what we are good at doing and make a list.

The second step is to look for themes to those things you are good at doing.  Organization could be an overriding theme.  It could be one or many themes.  For myself, it was 'ideas', 'planning' and 'making things' and 'art'.  The last step is to write down "The Heart of What I'm Good At" - writing it big and loud - write it proud and use it to fight your demons.  For me - IDEAS and CREATING.  Werker leads you through naming the villains and demons your fight with your hero qualities. 

One of the best take aways from the book is what she calls "Productive Procrastination".  This struck a chord with me because is procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medal contender every time.  She says to embrace your procrastination by being a creative or productive procrastinator.  Instead of playing games on Facebook (as I am likely to do), I should -

  • Work on another project
  • Read
  • Knit
  • Exercise
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Run a load of laundry
(Note:  writing this post is my productive procrastination from doing my homework assignments.)

Werker states, "As long as I can keep myself from falling into a rut that's utterly unproductive, I can keep the procrastination demons from derailing my creative life."

Since I have so many projects to work on, clothes to fold, books to read and dogs to walk, I figure productive procrastination is for me!

After a small section on "Making Stuff" and a few exercises to go along with that, the final part "Keep On Making Stuff" has some really interesting ideas.

The first section seemed like a no-brainer to me - "Establish a Regular Practice" and in it she has an exercise of taking 3 pictures a day.

  • Day One - Take 3 pictures by the end of the day
  • Day Two - Take 3 pictures of red things
  • Day Three - Take 3 pictures of living things
  • Day Four - Take 3 pictures of moving things
  • Day Five - Take 3 pictures of yourself
  • Day Six - Take 3 pictures of surprises
  • Day Seven - Take 3 pictures by the end of the day
One of the purposes of this is to deal with constraints and working without constraints and to see how you feel about it.   She also goes on to advocate a daily project, whether for 30 days or a whole year.  Right now I have already signed up for A Documented Life - 2015, as well as a 30 day journaling class starting in January, Flow, with Lisa Sonora.

Then she gets into an area which is where I am now - "Show and Tell".  In other words, put yourself out there.  In my case, actually acknowledging and claiming and SHOWING I'm an artist and writer.

Section 3 involves "The Continuing Battle" and the first exercise is something I have on my to-do list - "Try Something New".  In my case, a fused glass class and dragging a couple of friends into a monthly crafting session on different items.

"Sustenance" is the fourth and final section of the book, or as Werker calls it, "The Rinse, Repeat Cycle".  She urges collaboration and 'finding your people' - whether in your town or on the internet.  Once again - deja vu - I'm looking at starting a writing group locally and working on the above mentioned projects online.

If it's not evident, I enjoyed this book.  On one hand it is a quick and easy read.  But then you get pulled into the exercises and thinking about your demons and how to overcome them and how to do the things you want to do and the read isn't so quick and easy.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in expanding their creativity. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Lestat Returns

I can remember when Interview With The Vampire came out in 1976.  I had graduated high school the year before and was now a 'worldly' college student.  And this book was a real departure from everything else out there.  Over the years I read most of the Vampire Chronicles as they were released.  Then Anne Rice found Jesus. Then I found A. R. Roquelaure.  And recently there came the  werewolves (which is a great series by the way).  Now Rice has gone back to her 'roots', so to speak, and picked up on the story of Lestat.

Her current novel has all the original characters culled from the Vampire Chronicles.  Louis, Armand, Marcus...the whole cast and crew.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a 'voice' which is telling the vampires to kill each other.  Resting places around the world are going up in flames, killing young vampires by the dozens.  And no one knows where this Voice is coming from or what it really wants.

Told from different points of view throughout the book, the old vampires must come together to solve this puzzle and the 'Brat Prince' is now looked to as the head of the vampires, the new Prince Lestat.

A good read, especially since you are getting the story told from all different points of view and experiences.  However, this is a book you really need to have read some of the earlier works in order to understand just who is who and what their past relationships really were. 

The only thing this book makes me want to do is to go back and start from the beginning again.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Skin Game - Jim Butcher

I'm in love, or maybe it's just lust.  I feel replete for now, but know I will be hungry for more.  In fact, on my drive to Arizona in a few weeks, I'll probably listen to several of the books on audio.  Just to get my "Dresden" on.

I fell for Harry Dresden a few years ago when I stumbled across the TV series, "The Dresden Files".  I immediately had the hots for Paul Blackthorne/Harry Dresden.  And Bob.  Can't forget about Bob.  In fact, I have looked at skulls several times with the thought of placing one on my dresser, just in case he dropped by.

Once again, I have fought by Harry's side as he battles the forces of evil, black magic, those who want to hurt others.  This time it involves going to hell and back, literally.  Mab send Harry on a job to assist the bad guy on a trip to the Underworld to rob Hades.  And that's not half the story.

The story is great.  The twists and turns are worth biting your nails over.  That faith triumphs over evil does something for this lapsed Methodist.  And that Butters gets his day, other than just patching up Harry.

So now I'm exhausted after my journey through hell and back.  I think I will go watch a few episodes on TV.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A New Respect for Cooks

I seem to be on a roll with 'cooking' books recently.  First, Kitchen Confidential, then Delicious! and now Sous Chef.  Needless to say, I have gone from hungry to exhausted and have a whole new respect for what goes on behind the scenes in a kitchen.

Michael Gibney condenses his life of working various kitchens into a 24-hour, minute-by-minute, read of what it's like to be a sous chef.  And frankly, I am ready for a nice sandwich and a nap. At 214 pages, the intensity and relentless pace propels you along.  Working a kitchen isn't necessarily sexy or cozy.  It's pressure, non-stop, from the moment they step in the door, to when the last plate is washed and put away to start another day.  Frankly, while I think being a 'chef' would be great and exciting, there is no way I could do the job necessary to be successful.  But it makes for a fast-paced read.  Just be sure to go out for a good meal afterwards and send your thanks to all the kitchen staff!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Delicious! is Delectable

When I first starting nibbling on this book, I almost put it down.  It was good, but not sure I wanted to spend my limited reading time on it.  Then I picked it up for a second bite and was soon devouring it. 

Billie has arrived in New York City, a little California girl with a nose and palate for cooking which is beyond ordinary - to everyone but her.  After the decades old magazine she is working for closes and she is left answering customer complaints about the recipes, she finds a letter which leads to another, which leads to a great story.

In between Billie's search for Lulu in the convoluted filing system of the late librarian, Bertie, she discovers she has a bounty of new friends.  Sammy, another writer let go from the magazine.  Sal, who owns and runs Fontanari's, a family owned Italian market.  Mr. Complainer, a customer, who becomes more than just a pain to wait on.

Billie's search for Lulu, and her relationship in writing with the legendary James Beard, is echoed by Billie's discovery of just who she is.  Several mysteries about herself slowly unfold to those around her.

Delicious! is layer upon layer of savory goodness and now I must go and see what else Reichl has cooked up. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No Longer "Burned"

I think I have finally broken my curse of 'bad' books.  I certainly didn't get 'burned' with Frost Burned.

Continuing the story of Mercy, a shape shifter/walker, who is a mechanic and coyote and a very capable woman in her own right.  Throw in a sexy, werewolf/mate/Alpha in the form of Adam and you have a great pairing.  But in this book, Adam is kidnapped, along with most of the pack and it is up to Mercy to figure out where they are and why they were taken.

Throw in some supportive humans, fae and a vampire or two and you have an action packed page turner as Mercy discovers even more things she can do with her ever growing abilities.

The downside to reading Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson want to go back and start at the beginning again and reread all the books.  Unfortunately, mine are in storage still.  But there is always the library!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Empty Mansions Equals Empty Reading

I was intrigued by the premise of the book.  After all, I'm scraping together money to make it to payday and here was someone with several empty mansions around the country.  And palatial ones at that.   Empty Mansions is the story of Huguette Clark, who actually has connections with Montana.  So I was doubly inspired to read the book.  And a hefty one at that.  

The book starts out following the life of her father, W. A. Clark, who was old enough to be her grandfather when she was born in France.  It follows his colorful life from Pennsylvania to Montana, the amassing of his fortune (at one time he was one of the richest, if not the richest, men in the world) and his need to become a senator at all costs - literally.  And between all of that, building some of the most expensive houses and art collections around.  What was interesting about him was that in a time when the 'robber barons' could care less about his workers, W. A. was actually paying decent wages and had fairly good work rules in place, especially for the time.  With little Huguette quietly in the background with her sister and reclusive mother.

I plowed through pages on W. A. and was almost relieved when he finally passed away.  There are only so many scandals and payoffs that I can take in.  Then the book focuses on Huguette.  I made it through her failed marriage in her early 20's (one that was probably unconsummated) and as her life was slowly being revealed in all it's million of dollars glory - well, who cares.  I found it hard to be in the least bit sympathetic to her life in all it's crazy misery.  It's like being upset because Paris Hilton might have to spend a night in jail for drunk driving.  This was one girl who needed some serious counseling.

Maybe it was because I was getting upset with all the millions and millions of dollars which were being spent (and I'm trying not to spend anything except on groceries and bills this month).  Maybe it was because I didn't find her a very likable or interesting person.  Maybe it's a phase I am going through, because yet again I have closed a book halfway through out of boredom.  

I think I need 'trashy' reading for a bit to jar me out of my rut.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Longbourn or Long-Bored

I picked this up of the shelving cart as a possible interesting read.  After all, the premise is a parallel story of the characters of Pride and Prejudice as seen from the servants side of events.

In the background you have the Bennett family going about their business with the Bingley's and Mr. Darcy and Wickham.  It shows the chaos that Mr. Collins unexpected visit to the house causes.  And just what is the background of the new footman, James?  Most of the story is about Sarah, the maid.  All her duties and trials and tribulations.  Her fetching and hair curling and chilblains. Throw in Mr. Bingley's colored servant, Ptolemy, which fascinates Sarah.   Does she get with James?  Or does she take a daring risk and run off with Ptolemy?  Or is she destined to stay as a maid to the Bennett's forever?  And it is still not a sufficiently interesting read for me to really care what does or does not happen to Sarah.   So about halfway through and I'm calling it quit.  So long, Sarah.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Widow's Tears by Susan Wittig Albert

I have followed Susan Wittig Albert for over a decade now, anticipating every new China Bayles adventure.  I had not read this one yet (it had slipped by me in the move) and when it came across the counter at work, I grabbed it up.  I know a SWA book is a quick read, because you can't put it down and she has another book coming out shortly (in April). 

This one didn't disappoint,.  However, it is a bit different from her other China Bayles books.  For one thing, China figures very little in this book.  It is mainly about Ruby.  

Widow's Tears has the past meeting the present in a very disturbing way.  September 8, 1900 was the day of the hurricane which destroyed Galveston and left almost 10,000 people dead (most of the city at the time).  Flash forward to 2013 and Ruby is helping her old friend Claire discover what a ghost in a house Claire inherited wants so that Claire can use the old, strange house as a bed and breakfast.

As past and present intertwine, a disturbing story of that sad day in history unfolds.  In fact, being a mother myself, I found the story a bit unsettling.  In fact, so much so that it wasn't quite as quick a read as I was expecting.  I have been inland for a handful of hurricanes in North Carolina.  I know the crack of pine trees as they fall victim to the wind and rain.  I have had power loss for almost a week and roads cut off for a couple of days due to trees down across the road.  And yet, even in these days we can still experience the devastation similar to Galveston (take New Orleans).  So there was a bit of empathy for Rachel's experience in Galveston.  It takes Ruby's empathy and psyhic ability to finally understand after a century what Rachel really wants.  China's no-nonsense strengths can't help here.

I have also picked my share of widow's tears, growing wild.  The tiny purple/blue flowers are lovely and each chapter starts with a tidbit on the language of flowers.  I regret we have lost the need to 'speak our message' with flowers.  

This is another book which will join the other China Bayles' mysteries on my shelf to read and re-read over and over again. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Home To Big Stone Gap

How can you not read a book when a friend tells you they are listening to an audio recording of it and the narrator has an accent like you do.  Therefore, they feel that you are reading the book to them.  At the same time, I came across a give-away book and asked "is this the book you're reading"?  Seems like something or someone was telling me I needed to read it.

Set in the rural section of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Adriana Trigiani follows the life of Ave Maria as she readjusts her life to her daughter moving to Italy and getting married, as well as the health scare with her husband.  In her mid fifties, her life is changing in ways she had not anticipated. Even long time friends seem to have secrets and are evolving differently than what she imagined.

This book appealed to me on many levels.  First, it was set in an area of the country I know well.  I know what these really small towns are like and how friendship and families go back decades.  How everyone knows everything about everybody, or at least they think they do.  There is nothing like living in an area where people know who is traveling down the road just by the car that goes by.

Secondly, Ave Maria is in her fifties and is encountering changes she had not anticipated.  That's where I am in my life, in my fifties and making changes I had not thought I would be making.  Her confusion and resistance to these twists hit home.

From the large gatherings centered around food (recipes included in the book) to discovering hidden secrets about her best friend and her husband's 'to-do' list, Ave Maria copes with a world which is moving down a different path than what she felt she was walking.

Home to Big Stone Gap is book number four in the series, which I didn't know when I was reading the book.  It stands alone enough you can skip the first three and still have a very good read.  Now I want to go back and read the first three books.