Monday, September 28, 2009

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

There was no doubt about it. I had to get my hands on this book.

In August, I saw the movie Julie & Julia with a couple of friends. I vowed to get the cookbook Julia Child is writing in the movie, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, her first cookbook, co-authored with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, published in 1961. I'd decided to borrow it from the library, but not surprisingly, it was already checked out, so I was put on the waiting list. Today I went to the library to pick it up--it was in at last! The book I brought home is actually Volume Two, which was originally published in 1970. I was pleased to bring home a beautiful copy of this book. In fact, it looks new. I was also pleased to see that the library has some new check-out machines. I guess they have some money, after all. But back to the cookbook.

"Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere, with the right instruction."
~Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

There's no need to be intimidated. Although French cooking has a reputation for being complicated and out of reach for most people, this book explains things clearly and makes it seem almost easy. The authors adapt French cuisine to what's available in American supermarkets, describe cooking techniques in simple language, suggest which dishes and wines complement each other, and include some helpful illustrations. These recipes do not seem terribly difficult or fussy--I'll attempt some of them; even the soufflé au chocolat seems possible (and isn't that what cookbooks are all about--possibilities?). Julia Child's friendly, down-to-earth personality and joie de vivre shine throughout the book. I think this would be a terrific cookbook for someone who's about to start their own household, or for someone with an interest in French cuisine or Julia Child's cooking career.

Here are seven sundry facts and ideas I gathered while leafing through this cookbook:
  • The French do not eat much broccoli. They prefer turnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and other vegetables.
  • The essential rule of the French technique for vegetables: Do not overcook.
  • A very savory way of serving tomatoes is à la Provençal, tomatoes stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, and garlic.
  • Fluted mushroom caps add a nice professional touch to your cooking. (I will try this!)
  • Never stir cooked rice with anything other than a wooden fork or chopstick, and be gentle.
  • In a true sauté, cut-up chicken is cooked only in butter or butter and oil, and seasonings, without any liquid, until the very end, for poulet sauté.
  • You can judge the quality of a chef or a restaurant by the quality of their roast chicken (unless you're a vegetarian).
Soon after the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child starred in a series on public TV called The French Chef, which made her a national celebrity and the first female celebrity chef.

Kudos to Rebecca Reid for hosting the delectable Spice of Life: A Reading Challenge.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kitchen(キッチン)

Whether large or small, modern or old-fashioned, cluttered or organized, the kitchen represents the heart of the home for many of us. It's the place where we gather with others to eat, cook, and share parts of our day.

Kitchen is also a novel by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto, a critically acclaimed example of contemporary Japanese literature, published in 1988, and translated into English in 1993 by Megan Backus. Kitchens in Japan are called Daidokoro (台所; lit. "kitchen", notice the little house symbol). Until the Meiji era, a kitchen was also called kamado (かまど; lit. "stove"), which was considered to be the symbol of a house; the term could even be used to mean "family" or "household", similar to the English word "hearth".

In this novel, a young Japanese woman, Mikage Sakurai, has just lost her grandmother, her last living relative, with whom she has lived for several years. Grief-stricken and on her own, Mikage is invited to the home of one of her grandmother's friends, a young man, Yuichi Tanabe, and ends up staying with him and his transsexual mother, Eriko. After Mikage's arrival at their apartment she inspects the kitchen and starts to feel at home. Mikage has always been enchanted by kitchens, which seem to nurture and comfort her. She quickly falls in love with the kitchen at the Tanabe's home.

"Lit by a small fluorescent lamp, all kinds of plates silently awaited their turns, glasses sparkled. It was clear that in spite of the disorder everything was of the finest quality, There were things with special uses, like . . . porcelain bowls, gratin dishes, gigantic platters, two beer steins. Somehow it was all very satisfying. I even opened the refrigerator (Yuichi said it was okay)--everything was neatly organized, nothing just 'left'.

I looked around, nodding and murmuring approvingly, 'Mmm, mmm.' It was a good kitchen. I fell in love with it at first sight."
~Kitchen, Banana Yoshimoto

Mikage feels lost and lonely after the death of her grandmother. However, with the help of Yuichi and his mother, and through her cooking and job as a culinary teacher's assistant, she begins the healing process. There's also a budding romance in this book, which is a lovely treat.













This novel centers around food and its preparation. I must admit that while reading this book, I started to crave Japanese food (I adore miso soup and bento boxes), especially the katsudon--even though I rarely eat pork--because it sounds so delicious in the book. Influenced by my reading but unable to head to my neighborhood Japanese restaurant, I went to the kitchen and made some ramen noodles with onion and scallion for lunch.

I've read some criticism of this short novel, and this book is certainly not for everyone. As for me, I'm interested in modern Japanese culture, food, and fiction, and was intrigued by this book. Yoshimoto uses words sparingly, yet deals with large themes such as death, isolation and loneliness, love, and food. She captures the essence of what she writes about with a clear and simple elegance. At first I was startled by the descriptions of Eriko's radiant physical beauty (she used to be a man, Yuichi's father), but soon I appreciated the unconventional aspect of this. These unlikely housemates form a new family, a new home, their own "kitchen". I really enjoyed this short book.

My edition of Kitchen also includes a novella, Moonlight Shadow, a much shorter story about love and loss and healing, with a touch of the supernatural, which is also quite engaging.

Special thanks to Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 3 and Rebecca Reid's Spice of Life Reading Challenge, which motivate me to read books that I probably would neglect otherwise!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Have a Little Faith

Have you read Tuesdays with Morrie? Just about everyone has read it. Or The Five People You Meet in Heaven? Or how about For One More Day? I've read all three of these books by Mitch Albom, so when an ARC of Have a Little Faith: A True Story arrived in the mail, I was euphoric. I felt lucky to have been chosen to review Mitch Albom's newest book before it's released to the public on Sept. 29, 2009. Soon enough, though, the doubts started. Would it be as good, as touching, as his other books? And this one sounded religious--would I enjoy a book about a rabbi and a pastor--and a eulogy? Would I find this "true story" worthwhile?


Have a Little Faith
is about true events and people in the author's life. When Mitch Albom is asked by Albert Lewis, the rabbi of the temple Albom attended growing up in a suburb of New Jersey, to do his eulogy when the time comes, he's unsure but agrees. He attempts to get to know Albert Lewis (called "the Reb") better, so that his words will be more meaningful. He also gets to know Henry Covington, the pastor of an inner-city church in Detroit (Albom's current home), a former convict who has turned his life around and now dedicates himself to helping the homeless. Of different races, religions, and backgrounds, the rabbi and the pastor couldn't be more different, yet they share something stronger than their differences, a faith which is strong and resilient and convincing.

Usually, I don't "gush" about the books I review. It's not my style. I try to look for the positive, but I don't gush. Well, maybe I do, once in a while, but not too often and hopefully not too much, because it seems too simplistic to say, "I loved this book--read it!". But sometimes that's the best way to convey your enthusiasm. So I won't beat around the bush here. Have a Little Faith is an outstanding book, the best Mitch Albom book I've read so far (unless I've forgotten how I felt while reading his other books--it has been a while). I loved this book. It's called "inspirational" for good reason. It's a wonderful book to read, whatever your faith or religion or beliefs. It will leave you feeling good (or better) about humankind and give you hope for the future. And, like Mitch Albom, I am in love with hope.

Special thanks to Mitch Albom, Hyperion Books, and Library Thing for sending me this book.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Winner, Other Giveaways, and Some Bookish Quotes



The winner of the $25 Amazon.com gift card, randomly chosen, is (drum roll, please):


Congratulations, Martha! I will contact you by email and your prize will be on its way soon.

If you didn't win, don't despair! There are other giveaways on the right side of my blog. To enter them, simply click on the books or the underlined words (links).


=============================================

~BOOKISH QUOTES
~

Several of you suggested bookish quotes for my blog. I really appreciate the thought that went into these quotes that I collected from readers during the contest:

"Books may well be the only true magic."
~Alice Hoffman
Submitted by Ally in WA

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."
~Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Submitted by Shooting Stars Mag

"When I start on a printed page, I tend to eat it down like a peppermint stick."
~Preacher's Boy, Katherine Paterson
Submitted by Becky

"I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book."
~Groucho Marx
Submitted by Serena

"We are pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them."
~Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Submitted by Mee

"When you learn how to die, you learn how to live."
~Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
Submitted by Mee

"Woe be to him who reads but one book."
~George Herbert
Submitted by Jezebelsk

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."
~Mark Twain
Submitted by Renee

"What makes the desert beautiful", says the little prince, "is that somewhere it hides a well."
~The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Submitted by Windycindy

"It's such a big world. Something is always happening somewhere."
~For One More Day, Mitch Albom
Submitted by Michelle

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away."
~Unknown author
Submitted by Cheryl C.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend; inside a dog is too dark to read."
~Groucho Marx
Submitted by Kaye

"You can never be too thin, too rich, or have too many books."
~Carter Burden
Submitted by Angie

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
~Mark Twain
Submitted by MarthaE

Aren't these wonderful? Special thanks to each of you for submitting them. They'll be featured on my blog in the future.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Farewell Summer

"To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
True Poems flee."
~Emily Dickinson

Summertime. I picture myself reading in a hammock or at the beach with a book under a colorful umbrella, sipping iced tea. Although moments like that are actually rare for me, summer symbolizes a time of relaxation, of enjoying the outdoors and some sunshine, of being more carefree.

In early June, during the unofficial start of summer, I read and reviewed Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I'd always associated this author solely with science fiction, until I was introduced to Dandelion Wineon Christie's blog, Belly Acre Farms, which led me to learn more about this book. After reading Dandelion Wine, I vowed to read the sequel, Farewell Summer, at the summer's end.

And here we are. A new season is about to begin. The autumnal equinox is on Sept. 22. And although we may still have some hot weather in Southern California, the changes are becoming evident. The days are getting shorter. The kids are back in school. The leaves are beginning to change colors (we do see the burnished colors of fall here, although not as dramatically as elsewhere). And somehow, everything seems a bit more somber, moody even.
"Clouds passed over the lawn. And when the sun came out, in the pantry, Grandma almost whispered, Summer, farewell. "
~Farewell Summer, Ray Bradbury
Published in 2006, after a nearly fifty year gap, Farewell Summer is the sequel to Dandelion Wine, which was published in 1957. The story in Farewell Summer takes place in 1929, set during an Indian summer in fictitious Green Town, Illinois (based on Waukegan, Ill.). In the book the summer is actually lingering into October--an Indian summer--but Douglas Spaulding and his friends know that it won't last much longer. Douglas, now 14, and his cohorts, have waged a civil war against the old timers in the neighborhood, especially Mr. Quartermain from the school board. This book takes place two years after Dandelion Wine, and the boys are at the height of their youthful exuberance, full of mischief and prone to pranks. They do not want to get old like Quartermain--or to have the responsibilities of the adult world, which loom on the horizon. The boys think that if they stop the clock atop the courthouse they can extend the summer, by literally stopping time. But time marches on; it can't be stopped.

Or can it? I wonder if, in a way, Ray Bradbury does successfully stop time, or at least slow its passage. By waiting nearly half a century between the two books, he does, in a sense, freeze time. This book takes up where the other one left off. I'm sure Bradbury could have finished the sequel sooner--was such a long pause intentional? And maybe the idea is also that our internal and eternal memories, of the summer or any other time, make us ageless. We still have our childhood, our youth, inside of us, to be summoned at will, to be remembered, to make us smile, to give us more time, like an everlasting summer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Ghoulish Giveaway: Nightmares and Dreamscapes



I scream,
you scream,
we all scream
for . . .


Stephen King. And Stephen King, the king of horror fiction, makes us scream. In honor of Carl V.'s R.I.P. IV, I'm giving away a new copy of Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes, a collection of haunting stories guaranteed to inspire more than a few goosebumps. Along with this paperback book, the winner will also win two sheets of Ghoulish Glam and Mistress of Darkness face and body tattoos, perfect for Halloween time.



To enter this ghoulish giveaway, simply leave a comment. Please include your email address. For an additional chance, become a follower of this blog and let me know. For a third chance, post about this giveaway on your blog or Twitter.

Contest ends on Sunday, October 11, at 5 PM PDT. The winner will be announced on Monday, October 12.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Giveaway and Some Awards

Last month, I interviewed author Linda Weaver Clarke, a prolific author of historical fiction. Now she's hosting a special giveaway on her blog. Here are the details directly from this author:
"Hello everyone! My last book in this series, Elena, Woman of Courage, has just been released. As a celebration, I'm having a free book give-away for the first book in this series: Melinda and the Wild West. This book was a Semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” Go to my blog and leave a comment on the Elena, Woman of Courage Press Release along with your e-mail address. I will announce the winner on my birthday: Oct 2nd."
Good luck!



I received the Let's Be Friends award from Velvet of vvb32 reads--thank you so much! Here's the description of the award:

"Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers."
Since it's BBAW, I will abide by the rules (more or less) and give out several of these to fellow book bloggers. Some of you probably have gotten this award already, maybe even multiple times. Nevertheless, we read the same books. Or plan to. We bump into each other on book blog tours. We join the same challenges. We leave comments on each others' blogs. So let's be friends:

Amanda from The Zen Leaf
Becky from Becky's Book Reviews
Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings (I can picture this on his blog--LOL!)
Kathy from Bermudaonion's Weblog
Laura from Laura's Reviews
Mee from Books of Mee
Naida from The bookworm
Stephanie from Stephanie's Written Word
Veens from Giving. . . Reading - A Chance...!!!

Congratulations to each of you! I hope you're enjoying BBAW. Don't forget to visit Linda Weaver Clarke's blog to enter her book giveaway!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hail To The Chief


With great inspiration and imagination, Robert A. Stovall, Ph.D wrote Hail to the Chief: A Tribute to President Obama. I was excited to receive a copy of this book signed by the author in the mail! Published in 2009, the book has an unusual format; it presents an imaginary dialogue with Barack Obama during the primary and general election. "The Voice" asks "Mr. O" penetrating questions, which President Obama, our first African American president, answers with his usual intelligence and eloquence.

We also hear fictional comments from people of the past (historical figures) and present, such as John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, and many others. Hail To The Chief is serious in tone but has touches of humor. For example, we hear the imaginary reactions of past presidents:

Ronald Reagan says to Barack Obama, "Well I guess it's alright - but, but I just don't know what to say to Nancy", and Richard Nixon says, "You 'tricked' them, didn't you? Tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky!!!!".
And from singers:
Singer Marvin Gaye says, "What's going on? Somebody please tell me what's going on?" and The Temptations say (or sing) "We have got sunshine on a cloudy day".

I think this would be an especially engaging book for students, which would lead to a lot of discussion, or anyone with an interest in great leaders. It's enjoyable to read, but at the same time it says a lot about racism, civil rights, and the hopes and dreams of the present and future.

Dr. Stovall grew up in rural Mississippi and was a Los Angeles educator for thirty years. He's the founder and president of the Stovall Educational Uplift Foundation, a non-profit organization. Proceeds from this book will benefit the Stovall Foundation's Scholarship Fund.

Special thanks to Robert A. Stovall, Ph.D and Bostick Communications for sending me this book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Interview with Amanda from The Zen Leaf






1) Welcome, Amanda! You have an intriguing blog and I'm honored to have been paired with you for interviews during BBAW. The Zen Leaf has a striking design, and it's a pleasure to interview you. Please tell us a bit about your background, and why you decided to blog.

Amanda: First off, thank you for the welcome. I'm glad to get to know you better! As for my background, I'm a stay at home mom of three little boys. I've been blogging for about three years now in various places. I started on my MySpace profile, and moved to Blogger in February of 2008. The blog I created, The Ramblings of a Hopeful Artist, was more of a personal and writing blog. Periodically, I'd do a book review. When the book reviews grew too many, I started a group review blog called 5-Squared. Over the next year, 5-Squared grew much bigger than I ever expected. By then, I'd discovered the book blogging community and gotten much more active in it. In May of this year, I decided to move my reviews off 5-Squared to my own book blog, and thus The Zen Leaf was born. I like blogging because it gives me an opportunity to socialize with like-minded people. As a stay at home mom, that opportunity is greatly appreciated.

2) This blog is named after your short story, The Zen Leaf. Tell us a bit about that story. How can we read your work?

Amanda: Ooh, hard to describe...Hmm. My short story, The Zen Leaf, is a surreal, dream-like romance involving a teashop with no customers except a cat, a baby, and four characters at a single table. It juxtaposes a past event with the present, and goes over the idea that two people can dance around each other all their lives without ever realizing the other person is dancing. As of right now, The Zen Leaf is unpublished. I'm very young in my publishing career. I've published two short stories and one poem, the latest of which went into a national literary journal called Whiskey Island. I'm currently shopping for an agent for my dystopian novel, MatchMakers Incorporated, and hope one day everyone will have to chance to read that. :)

3) Among other genres, you like to read and review YA fiction--which I also find enjoyable. In fact, I think a lot of adults today are reading YA fiction. Who are some of your favorite authors of YA? Do you aspire to write YA fiction?

Amanda: I just started reading YA fiction this year. Back when I was a teen, YA just wasn't very good, but in the last decade or so, it's gotten so much better. So far, my favorite authors are Scott Westerfeld, Deb Caletti, and Maureen Johnson. I've read several of each of their books and they've been consistently good. So far, I have not written any YA, but I imagine I might at some point in the future.


4) You seem to love reading challenges and have taken on quite a few! What have you enjoyed most about these challenges? I recently joined my first two challenges, so I'm very interested in hearing about your experiences.

Amanda: Really, my challenge obsession marks me as a complete dork. My favorite part about challenges is making the lists. I love lists. I love finding the most efficient way to complete my challenges. Most of the time, I don't even stick with my original list because I love remaking them...yeah. Total dork. Seriously, though, I really joined too many challenges this year. It was my first year for challenges and I just got overexcited. I haven't failed any, but I've taken them way too seriously. Instead of spreading them out for their entire time period, I finish them as fast as possible. With smaller challenges, that's okay, but I joined some pretty large ones, and that put me into a bit of a reading slump for awhile. I'm determined to be more moderate with challenges in the future!

(You've inspired me to sign up for some challenges--thank you!)


5) What have been some of the highlights of your blogging career?

Amanda: I really love when an author contacts me to tell me they loved my review of their work. I've gotten several of those emails, and they always brighten my day. It's also been nice to connect to so many new friends. Recently, I even got to meet one of them in person - Eva from A Striped Armchair. I hope I get to meet more of my fellow bloggers in the future.


6) Your posts get a lot of comments! What advice would you give to someone just starting a blog who wants to get comments? Do you have any blogging secrets to share?

Amanda: Thank you! Honestly, I'm pretty surprised at how many comments I get sometimes! I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing to get them. It probably helps that I love going out to other peoples' blogs and leaving comments. I love having conversations with people, either on their blogs or on mine. I'm not into blogging for any sort of popularity, but for friendship and connection, so it's important to me to get to know the bloggers who visit me, and to keep talking to the ones whose blogs I love. That's probably the advice I would give a beginning blogger, too - just go out and participate in the community. Go figure out which blogs you love and make sure their owners know you love them. Friendship breeds comments? ;)


7) I was astonished by the number of books you read, Amanda. Obviously, you love reading! Were you always an avid reader, or did this passion develop later in life?

Amanda: I was an avid reader as a child, but stopped reading early in my teenage years because I was disappointed with all the books I found. When I got married and had my first son, I spent a year reading the classics in my husband's library, and that rekindled my love for reading. Once I started book-blogging, my reading numbers went way up. I wouldn't read anywhere near this much if it weren't for blogging, but I'm okay with that. I love doing this.


8) Do you have specific goals for this blog, just "go with the flow", or a combination of both?

Amanda: It's very go with the flow. My only desires are to socialize, talk about what I read, and finish my challenges. More recently, I became a little more serious and goal-oriented in starting the GLBT Challenge. I couldn't believe there was nothing out there like that, and had to do something about the gap. I hope to continue to host that annually.


9) If you were "stranded on a desert island", and could bring only three books with you, what would they be?

Amanda: Ah! I don't think I can answer this question! I don't know how I could possibly narrow it down to three. Sorry!!

I couldn't choose only three books, either. Thank you so much, Amanda. I enjoyed interviewing you for BBAW. Your blog is thought-provoking and I've already learned a lot from you in a short time!

You can read Amanda's interview with me at The Zen Leaf. Comments are welcomed!

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Miscellaneous Musings



Book Blogger Appreciation Week begins! Why not leave some appreciative comments on other book blogs and let them know how much you enjoy their blogs? I know I will!

Many book bloggers are listing the book blogs they enjoy which didn't make the official BBAW shortlist. My own "shortlist" would probably be my blogroll, which includes the blogs I visit regularly and leave comments on, although some of these blogs are on the BBAW shortlist. I know that there are many more excellent book blogs out there that I haven't discovered.

Mel from The Reading Life honored me with some very kind words. Thank you, Mel! What's special about his own blog is that it focuses on reading and books within books themselves, a unique and intriguing angle for a book blog. And I can't read it without adding more books to my TBR stacks!



Cathy from One eyed stuffed bunny and... gave me another award. Thank you, Cathy! (Bloggers, please feel free to "steal" this award and spread the love!)




Here's my version of Mailbox Monday: I'm getting more books in the mail to review! As if that weren't enough, I won another book, The Heretic Queen from Giving...Reading- A Chance...!!! Thank you very much!

I also received something else in the mail. Because they know I'm interested in health matters, Janny and Jeff from POM Wonderful sent me a care package of POMx Antioxidant Super Tea to try. Previously they sent me pomegranate juice, which I loved. This time, they sent me four varieties of iced tea: Pomegranate Lychee Green Tea, Pomegranate Blackberry Tea, Light Pomegranate Wildberry White Tea, and Light Pomegranate Hibiscus Tea. My daughter and I have been enjoying them a lot. Delicious on ice or straight from the bottle, I like them because they're aren't overly sweet; I don't like sugary tea (although I'll try sweet tea when I venture to the south someday). Not only do these teas taste good, but they also have numerous health benefits from the tea as well as the concentrated pomegranate extract. My favorite flavor is the Light Pomegranate Hibiscus Green Tea. Many of you already know that I love tea (formerly I was a coffee drinker), so this tea care package was perfect for me. Thanks, Janny and Jeff!

Please stop by tomorrow for my interview with Amanda from The Zen Leaf. Remember to enter my giveaway for a $25 Amazon.com gift card if you haven't yet done so. Here's to a great BBAW!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cracking the $$ Code

“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.”
~Helen Gurley Brown
Money. We may have mixed feelings about it, but most if not all of us want more of it. Attorney Patricia M. Annino has written a book for women, Cracking the $$ Code: What Successful Men Know And You Don't (Yet), which reveals some of the ways women can become more financially successful in the workplace. In this slim, easy-to-read book,which was published in 2009, she talks about the importance of valuing yourself and your time, and not selling yourself short. The author says it that it took her "a long time to realize that financial success required more than brains and hard work, and that men seemed to have an inside track." She suggests that successful men naturally employ tactics which are not instinctive to women. Women, says Annino, are often caregivers to others, and we need to learn to take care of our own needs and give ourselves permission to succeed (something men don't have to do); she also tells us to be persistent and to be responsible for setting and achieving our goals. Through her successful career as a lawyer, Annino has learned these secrets to financial success and presents them as practical lessons.

At the end of each chapter, she sums up strategies to "crack the $ code", which reinforce the contents of the chapter. Here are a few examples, from the first chapter, Code No. 1: Know Your Worth:
  • Go for the "A" and earn what you are worth.
  • Understand your value; Do not undervalue your services or contribution.
  • Ask for it! Getting what you want and what you are worth is your responsibilty--no one else's.
As soon as I started reading it, I realized that I needed some help with certain things, and this book has already changed my thinking. Cracking the $$ Code offers priceless advice and tips. It's an inspiring book, which I'm sure I'll refer to often and add to my shelf of valuable self-help books.

Special thanks to Patricia M. Annino and Bostick Communications for sending me this book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Crow Boy

This book spoke to my inner child.

Crow Boy by Taro Yashima is a Caldecott Honor Book for children, my second book for Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge 3. Bellezza wrote a beautiful review of it, and I do not wish to compete with her, but I decided to post on this charming book because I was equally entranced by the storyline and pictures. In this story a young school boy in Japan called Chibi, which means tiny boy, is taunted by the other kids who call him "stupid" and "slowpoke" because he's different and because they don't understand him. He's quiet and doesn't fit in, and keeps to himself most of the time. It's not until he's in the sixth grade and has a kind and perceptive teacher that things begin to change for him.

Through colorful pictures and simple prose, Crow Boy illustrates that many children lack the maturity to think for themselves, and are often cruel to those who don't fit in. I have three children, and have heard the meanest things said to them by other children--and it makes my blood boil. (Thankfully I've also experienced the opposite, and have been astonished by the kind words and acts of their peers.) When I was a young child, other children would make fun of me for being skinny, which was dreadful. It's never easy being a child. Luckily the tiny boy in the story is able to nurture his own gifts in nature, and when these unique gifts are finally recognized and acknowledged, it's that much sweeter.

I'll share this book with my children. If I were an elementary school teacher, I'd read this to my students on the first day of school like Bellezza does.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What I Love--and Hate--About Being a Book Blogger

It seems like an appropriate time to post my true thoughts about being a book blogger, because it's almost Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Sept. 14 - Sept. 18.



Here are twenty things I love--and hate--about being a book blogger, in no particular order. Many of these could apply to other types of blogging as well.

  • I love to read and to write.
  • I love to discover new books and blogs worth reading.
  • I love the sense of community. In reality, it took me a long while to connect and link to other book bloggers, and to join reading challenges, but once I did, it made a tremendous difference. I now consider myself a real blogivert (one who connects to many other bloggers).
  • I hate when I write a post, and then wait nervously for my first comment. Waiting for that first comment can be grueling. (Am I taking this too seriously? Perhaps.) When I am lucky enough to interview an author then I worry that the interview will not get many comments. That's the worst, because I worry about the feelings of the author. I guess I've been lucky in this regard so far.
  • I love the surprises blogging brings, the free books and other perks, and the wonderful friends that I've made online. And they are friends. There's definitely a connection.
  • I hate when people assume that every blog is narcissistic.
  • I love when others link to my blog or specific posts, or tweet about my posts.
  • I hate when I publish a post and then notice a typo, or two, or three. (Luckily it's possible and easy to edit after posting, and I take advantage of this.)
  • I love when someone compliments or follows my blog, or does both.
  • I love receiving awards.
  • I hate Spam or mean comments, and delete them.
  • I hate the fact that sometimes I blog so much that I don't spend enough time reading. I'm a book blogger, right? (Get thee to a bookery!)
  • I hate when people don't take the time to carefully read my reviews or posts. I know some of them are long. I know there aren't enough hours in the day. But my ideal reader has some time, a cup of coffee or tea in hand, and wants to read. I try to make my writing worthwhile.
  • I love that my blog's international. I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.
  • I hate when the internet goes out and I can't check my email or blog.
  • I hate when I spend too much time trying to fix the layout of a post, when I have problems arranging images and texts in posts. This takes up precious time. I wish the Blogger rectangle that I type into were a bit larger so I wouldn't have to preview my work as often.
  • I love when others read the same books as me or want to. Or see the same movies, which are often based on books.
  • I love the give and take of blogs, the spontaneity and interactivity.
  • I hate when I simply waste too much time on my blog.
  • I love questions and comments, consider them carefully, and am thankful for them.
What about you? Leave your comments about what you love and hate about being a book blogger. Or post your own list on your blog as a meme, and let me know.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Goodbye Tsugumi


Confession time. I have an ugly secret. A few months ago, I read a post on a book blog and I made a stupid comment. I suggested that perhaps the most notable thing about Banana Yoshimoto was her name. Almost immediately, I regretted posting this comment, and because I couldn't delete it, soon posted another comment, saying that I'd been unfair, having never read her work. Time passed. I still felt bad about my foolish remark (and still do). I've since read some glowing reviews of Banana Yoshimoto's work. The moment I signed up for Bellezza's third Japanese Literature Challenge, I knew I had to read a novel by Banana Yoshimoto. This challenge compelled me to finally get one of her books and read it.























Goodbye Tsugumiwas published in 1998 in Japan, and translated into English by Michael Emmerich in 2002. Banana Yoshimoto is actually the pen name for Mahoko Yoshimoto, the author of several novels popular in Japan and many other countries.
This short novel tells the story of two cousins, Maria, 19 years old, and Tsugumi, 18 years old, who are very different from each other. Maria is kind and compassionate, whereas Tsugumi is often unpleasant to others, downright mean and nasty. She's described by Maria in the first few pages of the book:

"She was malicious, she was rude, she had a foul mouth, she was selfish, she was horribly spoiled, and to top it all off she was brilliantly sneaky. The obnoxious smirk that always appeared on her face after she'd said the one thing that everyone presently didn't want to hear--and said it at the most exquisitely wrong time, using the most unmistakably clear language and speaking in the ugliest, most disagreeable tone--made her seem exactly like the devil."
~Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto

Tsugumi is, in a word, obnoxious. She's also been frail and sickly since birth, prone to fevers, and not expected to live a long life. The narrator of the story, Maria, has spent her childhood at the seaside Yamamoto Inn (which is owned by Tsugumi's family), with her mother and Tsugumi's family, and feels most at home here with them by the ocean. When Maria moves to Tokyo with her parents she longs for the ocean, and Tsugumi invites her to spend one last summer at the inn, which will be closed down in the spring. It is during this particular summer that Maria and Tsugumi grow closer. Maria not only puts up with her cousin's behavior, she actually loves her deeply. I, too, began to care about Tsugumi, in spite of her difficult personality. Although in poor health, Tsugumi shows considerable strength, as well as spirit and spunk, and is lively companion to her cousin.

The fleeting nature of time, specifically of the summer, is an important theme in the book, bringing to mind the season's ephemeral sandcastles, and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, which I've read, and Farewell Summer, which I'll read closer to the summer's end. Yoshimoto captures many sparkling moments, made even more poignant by the shadow of death which hovers near Tsugumi.

"I wanted to hold on to the particular feeling of languor that I got as I walked the streets of this town, the town of my past, which I would lose when summer ended."
~Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto

I felt the same way about this book: I did not want it to end. Yoshimoto's writing is sharp, clear, concise, striking. I wanted to hold onto this book longer, to savor it; I'm sure I'll reread it. I'll definitely read more books by this author!

In 1990, Goodbye Tsugumi was made into a movie, directed by Jun Ichikawa. I'd like to see it if it's available here.

For another review of Goodbye Tsugumi, please visit The Reading Life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Miscellanous Musings














Last month, I was honored by two new awards from fellow book bloggers. Cathy from One eyed stuffed bunny and. . . gave me a B-I-N-G-O Award, while Mel from The Reading Life gave me a Lemonade Award. Thanks, Cathy and Mel! I'm honored by these awards and display them on my blog (at least for the time being--if I get many more, I may need to keep them in a separate post). I'm not distributing any awards today because I know far too many deserving blogs, but please feel free to "steal" these awards and give them out if you desire.

Today I found out that I won a copy of The Blue Star from Laura's Reviews. Many thanks to Laura and the Hatchette Book Group--I can't wait to read this book!

Until late August, I'd resisted joining any organized reading challenges. I noticed that several bloggers, including Amanda from The Zen Leaf, Mel from The Reading Life, and Mee from Books of Mee, seemed to do a lot of challenges. To make up for lost time, I joined four reading challenges: Rebecca's Spice of Life, Belleza's third Japanese Literature Challenge, Carl V.'s R.I.P. IV, and Jennie's China Challenge. These challenges are not overly ambitious for me. I've already completed the Spice of Life challenge at the level of A Taste.

My friend, Laura, just started a blog about the process of writing a screenplay, called aptly, Screenplay 101. Please stop by her blog to welcome her when you have a moment!


Update, 5:00 PM: Laura from Laura's Reviews just gave me three more awards, which now adorn my blog: a Super Comments Award, a Superior Scribbler Award, and a Zombie Chicken Award.














Wow! I am triply honored! Amanda from The Zen Leaf commented that the Zombie Chicken Award is too cool to not give to others. Nor do I wish to risk the wrath of zombie chickens by not not sharing this grand award, officially described below:
"The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken-- excellence, grace, and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all."
I hereby bestow this prestigious award upon the following blogs:


Congratulations to each of you!

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
in exchange for my honest reviews.