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mmm… book check!

June 19, 2011

Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check is a way for us to share what we are reading at the moment, no matter how brilliant, menial, or embarrassing.


My book situation is somewhat complicated this week. I’ve just finished Uncommon Issue by Mercedes Lackey. The book is part of Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, which follows mages whose magic is based on the elements (earth, air, fire, water). The series is set in England, and this particular novel is set primarily in Yorkshire on the eve and early days of WWI, with the occasional foray into London and France. The main character is Susanne, a young Elemental Earth Master with a very special teacher and an unusual upbringing. Along with several other Elemental Masters, she fights against a necromancer…who just happens to also be her father. Add in a little love triangle and some very enjoyable characters, and the plot in this book really moves along. While this isn’t Lackey’s best work, I liked it a lot.

As far as my other books go, I’m partially through Carol Berg’s The Spirit Lens – I confess that I picked it largely because the main character is a librarian. It’s reading very much like a magical mystery so far. I’m also starting The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Hopefully it will live up to the buzz!


Having finished Game of Thrones, I immediately threw myself into A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series. About halfway through, I needed a break from the swords and sorcery (and the incest), and a friend had lent me the first book in The Sisters Grimm series (so many series). The Fairytale Detectives introduces us to sisters Sabrina, 11, and Daphne, 7. The two have bounced around foster care since their parents disappeared a year ago, and they are now going to live with their Grandmother, who they thought was dead. Fairly quickly we come into contact with magical creatures, such as pixies and giants, who live in the town of Ferryport Landing. It turns out, the sisters are direct descendants of The Brothers Grimm and the magical creatures in their fairytales actual exist. The Grimms are charged with protecting the everafters, as they call them, from outside sources and themselves.

The story, told from Sabrina’s point of view, moves quickly. We’re introduced to the young protagonists, the fact that their parents disappeared, that they’re going to live with their grandmother, and that there are magical creatures within the first 20 pages of the book. I was initially concerned that Sabrina would be too whiny, she’s constantly trying to escape because she doesn’t trust this kooky grandmother who just popped into their lives, but she gets over it quickly. All in all, it’s a great distraction from A Clash of Kings, and I’m glad to see good YA fiction that introduces fantasy and magical elements in a non-threatening and fun way.


Being the book lover that I am, I have at least partially started four different books (of varying quality and reputability).  Unfortunately, I have yet to get very deep into any of them, so I will talk about the most respectable of the bunch: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.  At only two chapters in, I can’t give a great overview of the plot or depth of the book, but already that biting Waugh (Waughsian? Waughvesque?) satirical sharpness is showing through.  The novel begins at a boys college, during an “annual conference” that is only held every three or four years because each time it’s held events get so raucous that the event and its members are banned from the school.  Of course, upper crust Britishism eventually overrides things, and the cycle continues.  I really do love my British wit, almost as much as I love the 1920s, so I have very high hopes for this amalgam by a respected author.  I must also say that the only reason I picked up the book to begin with (actually picking it up, rather than adding it to the neverending “must read someday” list), was because comedian David Mitchell chose it as the one book he would choose to take with him to a desert island (Sidenote: Desert Island Discs is a great radio show).  And, if David Mitchell, captain of hilarious intelligent rants and all around English adorableness, said it was that good, there must be something to it.  I might just be slightly fixated on British comedy, but there are worse things in the world, especially if I get good book recommendations out of it.


how to make candyI’m reading two books at the moment. One is  Game of Thrones, and Emily did a great job giving the low-down on that one last time, so I won’t rehash it. The second book is one that I picked up at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest called How to Make Candy by Walter W. Chenoweth. It’s a first edition from 1936 and is in excellent condition. It has no dust cover, and even Google Books doesn’t have a cover picture, so you’ll have to make due with a modern image for chocolate-dipped beer marshmallows. As the title suggests, it is 212 pages worth of instruction on how to make various kinds of candies from fondant, fudges, and caramels to hard candies like butterscotch, toffee, and brittle. It even has a chapter each on candies made from maple syrup and honey, an excellent resource for this Midwesterner with a local honey connection. The tone of the book is just as you’d expect from a title like How to Make Candy – straight-forward and no-nonsense. The book doesn’t dumb down the process of candy-making and is a great source for the actual food science behind why a candy works and why it doesn’t. I picked up this book because I can’t think of a recent publication that deals with candy making without resorting to scare tactics. Candy making is supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to fail more often than not. It’s supposed to take an advanced degree and knowledge imparted by the gods of sugar. Vintage books like this aren’t into hand holding. This practical approach is reflected in the contents of this book. A significant portion of the books is about techniques for each kind of candy. The recipes themselves are extremely short. I appreciate this pared down and straight forward approach. The recipes also offer variations, throwing hot sugar into the face of chefs who caution that candy-making requires a slavish devotion to the exact list of ingredients and method in the chefs’ special recipes. You won’t find any slavish devotion here, but you will find a detailed explanation of what will happen if you omit the corn syrup and why it would be a good idea if you left it in. I can’t vouch for any of the recipes yet, but I can say that after reading this book, I’m unafraid to try any kind of candy making. On the list of things to try for this winter is a candy rather unappetizingly called “Maple Wax” but sounds exactly like the maple candy hardened in snow consumed by Laura in the Big Woods.

What’s on your coffee table?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynn Aho permalink
    June 26, 2011 3:11 pm

    Hello, Informative Foursome,

    This mid-month Monday I was reading “Fugitives of Chaos”, the middle book of John C. Wright’s “The Chronicles of Chaos” trilogy, on recommendation of my son, who studies philosophy. I’m now on the third book, and grateful to have had all four on hand, since the first and second volume end in cliff-hangers. In the trilogy, Chaos refers not to entropy or disorder, but to systems of laws of nature alternative to earth’s Cosmos, which is ruled primarily by the ancient Greek pantheon. The Greek gods have taken hostages from realms of Chaos, forced them to assume the forms of human infants, and are keeping them in an English orphanage or boarding school. This disguise is too good, though, and although their rate of maturity is much slower than usual, the children grow up. Meanwhile, Zeus, ruler of the Olympians has died, and a struggle for succession ensues. As the orphans of chaos reach maturity, the Olympian factions compete to control them or to kill them, which would trigger a war between Cosmos and Chaos which would destroy Earth. Along with the action and adventure plot line, the books are replete with speculation about the nature of reality, meaning, and morality. The story is appealingly told in first person from the perspective of one of the orphans, Amelia, lending immediacy to the coming-of-age themes in the novels.

    My current audio book is “Sweetgrass” by Mary Alice Monroe, a family novel set in the low country of South Carolina, which uses sweetgrass basketmaking as an ongoing metaphor for the interwoven relationships surrounding Sweetgrass Plantation. As the story begins, the present-day patriarch of the Blakely family, Preston Blakely is distressed by a tax bill many times higher than prior assessments and pressure to sell Sweetgrass from his sister and son-in-law, who are real estate developers. He argues with his wife of many years, Mary June. After she withdraws, he attempts to call his estranged son, but only manages to leave a confused voice message on his son’s answering machine. Then, he suffers a devastating stroke, which brings dramatic changes for the family and everyone associated with Sweetgrass. I am only in the early chapters of the book, but already the themes of conflicting family loyalties, generational change and continuity, and finding lasting love are beginning to unfold. The book promises significant depth and substance, and has already delivered a generous helping of Southern charm.

    p.s. Oh, woe! The comment box won’t accept either italics or underlining. But this is my third try, so it will have to be as it is.


  1. mmm…book check! « metamayhem

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