Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Facing The Frozen Ocean - Bear Grylls

Facing The Frozen Ocean
Bear Grylls
Pan Macmillan
Copyright: 2005

The product description:
Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award 2004, this is the compelling account of the most recent adventure of the bestselling author of "Facing Up". It started out as a carefully calculated attempt to complete the first unassisted crossing of the frozen north Atlantic in an open rigid inflatable boat, but it became a terrifying battle against storm-force winds, crashing waves and icebergs as large as cathedrals. Starting from the remote north Canadian coastline, Grylls and his crew crossed the infamous Labrador Sea, pushed on through ice-strewn waters to Greenland and then found themselves isolated in a perfect storm 400 miles from Iceland.
I've been enjoying Bear Gryll's show, Man Vs. Wild for a good part of the last year, and branched out into his books now too. Previously, I reviewed his book Living Wild, one of the survival guides he's written. Facing the Frozen Ocean is somewhat different from that previous book though, as this time he's recounting one of his adventures.

What an adventure - trying to cross the northern  Atlantic ocean in an open, rigid inflatable boat. There were times when I read this book that I was wondering how they were going to survive, it was that grim. And the conditions they were living under? Yikes. And yet, for all of the dire situations, Facing The Frozen Ocean is filled with moments to make you laugh.

Bear writes with personality and vividness, and the book is also full of the recollections of the other members of the team, and Bear's wife along with other people, chronicling their experiences during this trip as well.

This was definitely a book I couldn't put down! I started reading it on Monday, and ended up finishing it last night. I just had to know how they were going to survive.

Topping off the vivid words are two inserts of colour photos which really bring home the scale of what these men were trying to do and how they were living for those days - not to mention the kinds of weather they went through.

I can't wait until I can read Facing Up, Bear's other book on his experience climbing Mount Everest. From what I'm hearing, that one's just as good as this one, if not better.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaser Tuseday - November 29

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My Teasers:
There had been many days where the expedition seemed unlikely to get off the ground, but now we were here on the docks. The next time I would see her would be in a very different harbour, thousands of miles away and further north, on the remote Nova Scotia coastline.
Facing The Frozen Ocean by Bear Grylls,  page 74

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - November 28th

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted each week over at One Person's Journey Through A World Of Books. Thanks Sheila for keeping us all on track with our reading each week.

It's actually been an unusually good week for reading, at least partially inspired by the death of Anne McCaffrey, but I got several books read. Not to mention, getting inspired to get back into cooking once more.

Last week I read:
Restoree by Anne McCaffrey. Fiction, Science Fiction. Restoree was Anne McCaffrey's first novel, and to be honest, it's not one of my favourites of hers, but still it's an interesting read, and I hadn't realized that it was her first novel until this read.

Black Horses For the King by Anne McCaffrey. Fiction, Children's, Historical Fiction. Definitely a different take on the story of King Arthur, I'd have to say this was my favourite read of the week. She's integrated a fascinating mix of Celtic and Roman cultures, suited for the setting and period, and then taken a very different character's perspective on the story - that of a young boy who loves horses. Then, to top things off, she's made the story about the invention of horseshoes rather than directly about King Arthur. All in all, this story works. Perfect if you're looking for a quick and intriguing read which makes you wish you could find out more.

Get Off The Unicorn by Anne McCaffrey. Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Stories. Another book which is perhaps not one of my favourites, but it's still a good read. Besides, it's neat to see where some of her stories originated, and how long ago that was.

I'm currently reading:
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey. Fiction, Science Fiction. An omnibus edition of Dragonflight, Dragonquest and The White Dragon. I'm actually not sure if I'm going to complete this book at this time - I may have overdone my Anne McCaffrey reading at the moment.

Ring Of Words: Tolkien And The Oxford English Dictionary by Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall and Edmund Weiner. Non Fiction. This is kind of weird. I thought I knew what this book was going to be about, but it's turning out to be something completely different. Still interesting - perhaps even more interesting for all of that. I'd thought it was going to be a more detailed biography of Tolkien's years during which he was working on the OED, but instead it's turned out to be about the words he edited. Neat!

As usual. I'm not sure what I'm going to be reading next.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Get Off The Unicorn - Anne McCaffrey

Get Off The Unicorn
Anne McCaffrey
Del Rey
Copyright: 1977

The product description:
Open these pages and discover 14 remarkable stories of fantasy by a grand master of the genre. A wonderful writer, as well as successful and beloved by fans across the world, Anne McCaffrey has created an exciting collection of telepaths, secret gifts, dangerous missions, dragonriders, and more.
As an introduction to the various series and world that Anne McCaffrey's written in, Get Off The Unicorn does fairly well. There's The Littlest Dragonboy, which is the only story set in the world of the Dragonriders of Pern, and it's also possibly my favourite story in this book. There's two stories set in the world of The Rowan, and one set during the two Pegasus books (which are really the same world, just two different time periods). There's a story that introduces the Freedom series too - Thorns of Barevi.

What's kind of neat (I could be wrong in some of these cases, no longer owning copies of the books in question) is that several of the stories in Get Off The Unicorn predate the books. For The Thorns of Barevi  that dating is definite, as I remember when the book, Freedom's Landing, first came out, and that had to be in the nineties. The introduction to Lady In The Tower suggests the same. I know that Thorns of Barevi was incorporated into the later novel, and I think the same thing is true for Lady in the Tower and The Rowan.

There are also a number of stories that stand alone - somewhere between half and two thirds of the book. Of those, my favourites are the two Nora Fenn stories, which I think might have made for a really neat full-length novel. Still, they, like a fair number of other stories in here had something of a dated feel - though they weren't the worst for that. That, unfortunately ended up being the story Apple, which is set in the world of To Ride Pegasus and Pegasus in Flight. There's nothing too dated that I remember about this story in particular, but the thing is, I know that the two books are set in the mid 1990's. It was rather weird reading them a few years ago, and knowing that that time had past with nothing like the stories progress.

All of these stories were written between 1959 and 1973, so some of the basic attitudes are explained away simply by when the books were written.

Of course, with any book of short stories, there's going to be a few that you like more than others, and some that just don't work, at least for that particular read. So, to be honest, I'm going to have to say I either skimmed or skipped reading: Weather on Welladay, Honeymoon (which I think under normal circumstances I'd really like, but it's been too long since I read The Ship Who Sang, and so I couldn't remember anything about the characters), and The Great Canine Chorus. Besides, even for the stories I didn't especially care for, the author's notes are both interesting and entertaining.

Definitely a book for any true Anne McCaffrey fan, even with my grumbling and grousing. There's definitely no way I'm going to sell this one on anytime soon, considering the trouble I had finding it in the first place!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Five Cookbooks

I've said it a few times, but I love cooking, and in the past few years my collection of cookbooks has grown exponentially (I'm not kidding here, either - about three years ago, I owned four, two of which were kids cookbooks). However, even with two shelves of cookbooks, there are about five that I keep coming back to on a regular basis (and I'm not even counting the recipes I've memorized). These five are the ones I now consider to be kitchen essentials:

#1 Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How To Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals
Jamie Oliver

Tied into the show Jamie's Food Ministry, if I'm not mistaken, this cookbook is filled with great recipes using every-day ingredients. I've had the book since the middle of 2009 and there's still recipes I want to try doing. My favourite recipes from here though are the:
  1. Cheat's Fresh Pasta With Cherry Tomato Sauce - pages 54-55
  2. Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake - pages 48-49
  3. Chicken Fajitas - pages 38-39 (just made these again the other day)
I've made or tasted the fruit smoothies many times too, and I'm now using Jamie's methods for scrambling eggs too. So far, only one of the recipes didn't work out quite as I expected - the tomato soup, but I think I didn't care for it as much because I'm used to making the tomato soup from Mark Bittman's recipes. Besides, with a modification or two (more onion and some ground beef) it made a wonderful spaghetti sauce!

The illustrations in Jamie's Food Revolution are really well done - every recipe has it's illustration(s), as the various steps are shown, as well as the final result. I have to say, they really do inspire me to try some of the recipes.

#2 How To Cook Everything: 2000 Simple Recipes For Great Food, Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition
Mark Bittman
I just call this one the red book, and I'm using it all the time. From just looking something up, for example, to see what capers are (you get an explanation, some recipes to use it in, and how to choose good ones and keep them), to getting inspiration for a meal, to great recipes. To date, only one recipe hasn't worked out, and that's probably more my fault than anything (attempting to make bread for the first time). There's breakfast, lunch or dinner recipes, not to mention dessert, dips and all kinds of odds and ends such as flavoured butter too. Ever thought of making your own cheese? It's in here and it's so simple to do - I've done it twice now. Some of my favourites from this book include:
  1. Cheese Quesadillas - page 109
  2. Tomato Soup - pages 130-131
  3. Beef Barley Soup - page 127
There's also the previous version, which I call the yellow book.  Yes, I do have and use both books in this case. This was actually the first cookbook I bought myself and started using on a regular basis. I still keep this book because, although most of the recipes are duplicated in the red book above, there are a few that I like which are not. Not to mention, the layout is a bit different, and I prefer that for some recipes, such as the turkey.

My favourite recipes from the yellow book are:
  1. Rice Pilaf with Onions, Raisins and Pine Nuts (The first variation) - page 202
  2. Salmon Filet Roasted In Butter - page 305
  3. Roast Turkey and Gravy Without Stuffing - pages 403-404
  4. Buttermilk Pancakes (variation) - page 748
  5. Baked Pumpkin Slices - page 600
Both of these books are unusual in my library in that they are not lavishly illustrated. There are line drawings that illustrate various techniques - knife skills, folding, shaping etc, but no photos. The entirety of the recipe is conveyed through the text.

Regardless of that difference, this is a wonderful resource which for me has taken the place of that kitchen classic, The Joy of Cooking.

#3 The Best of Chef At Home
Michael Smith

This is one of the more recent additions to my collection, inspired by watching the Chef At Home T.V. show on the Food Network. The first episode I saw all the way through was the baked Chicken episode and I just had to try the recipe. As with most of my other cookbooks, every recipe has an absolutely delicious photo included, and that just makes me want to try the recipe.

Admittedly, I haven't tried too many of the recipes here yet, but my favourites so far are the:
  1. Macaroni and Cheese - pages 158-159
  2. Classic Chicken Stew - pages 90-91
  3. Grilled Chicken Ten Ways - pages 96-97
The neatest thing about this book though is that you're really getting twice the recipes you think you are, because each one has a "Freestyle Variation" which you can try as well. Different herbs, cheeses or spices and the effect they have on the cooking and the flavours.

I've only tried a few recipes to date, but there are some other ones that I really want to try in the future, like some of the other pastas, particularly the Fettuccine Alfredo. I have this thing about raw eggs in things, and this is the first recipe for this that I've seen that doesn't include an egg yolk in the sauce. Then there's the fruit crumble recipe and the mushroom stew recipes to try.

Michael Smith's style comes through in the writing of the recipes too - each of the descriptions is amusing, entertaining and inspires me to want to try the recipe.

#4 Jamie Oliver's Meals In Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach To Cooking Good Food Fast
Jamie Oliver

The most recent cookbook to join my collection, and also the one with the most different approach to the other ones - Meals in Minutes doesn't just have you making one dish at a time, but a whole meal: main dish, dessert, salads. To be honest, when I first looked at this book, I found it downright intimidating. I'm used to doing one major dish and maybe something simple like frozen vegetables or rice. Now, it's teaching me how to time things to do several dishes at one.

I have to admit that I've been encouraged in using the Meals In Minutes book by watching the 30 Minute Meals show that's on the Food Network. It really does help to see the recipe, then do it from the book. Still, I've done three of the full meals, plus a couple of the different individual dishes. The starring dish so far has been the Fish Tray Bake from pages 168-171. However, the Sausage Cassoulet and the Wonky Summer Pasta meals were both delicious as well.

In terms of the individual dishes, to date I've tried two of the frozen yogourt desserts and they've both been good. As has also the Tuscan Tomato Salad.

The neatest thing about this cookbook is the way it's gotten me trying new things: capers and anchovies both come to mind, as do a whole host of new recipes and types of food. I'm going to say that I suspect that Meals in Minutes is likely to move it's way up my favourites list.

#5 Everyday Food Great Food Fast: 250 Recipes For Easy Delicious Meals All Year Long
From The Kitchens Of Martha Stewart Living

How many recipes do you generally use from any one cookbook regularly? Three? Four? More? I seem to find that it's generally about three. This book though, is the exception. To date I've tried at least six, and half of those have made their way into my regular use category. Some, I tend to save for specific circumstances, but they've all been delicious. And, there's more that I want to try. My favourites are:
  1. Pasta With Easy Italian Meat Sauce - pages 242-243
  2. Sloppy Joes - pages 216-217
  3. Grilled Peaches With Sweetened Sour Cream - pages 174-175
  4. Rhubarb Crisp - pages 88-89
I love the approach they've taken with this book, splitting it up by seasons, so the recipes suit the weather. Not that you're limited to following those seasons, but generally, they're what you'll want to eat at that time of the year, or the ingredients are more seasonal - for example, rhubarb (spring) or peaches (summer).

This is one of those cookbooks where the presentation constantly inspires me to try something new, and also where every single recipe I've tried has turned out wonderfully.

Of course, I have other favourite cookbooks, and limiting this post to just five was a real challenge, and that's with sneaking in a sixth by combining the two Mark Bittman books into one. Besides, this doesn't even begin to cover the fun you can have by modifying recipes or inventing your own.

I'm always on the lookout for new cookbooks, so tell me what your favourites are too. I love recommendations!

    The Lord of the Rings Read Along - Final Part

    My response to this week's instalment of The Lord of the Rings Read-Along. I have to be honest though and say that I'm not currently reading any part of The Lord Of The Rings, although I've read the whole thing many times before. The whole thing is being hosted over at Little Red Reviewer and Geek Daddy.

    The final questions are:
    1. What do you think Gandalf was going to speak with Tom Bombadil about?
      That, I think is going to be one of the unsolved mysteries of The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps the news of the destruction of the Ring (and all of the Rings of Power). Maybe something to do with the Barrow-Downs? After all, the wights there were believed to have been introduced by the Witch-King of Angmar, so maybe Sauron's destruction would have had an effect on them. Perhaps, it's just that Gandalf now has the time for a nice long chat - after all he did say that where Bombadil was a moss-gatherer, where he himself was a rolling stone. Presumably, now he no longer has a task to do, Gandalf can now just sit and relax - and who better to do it with. Especially given some of the theories I've heard about Bombadil.
    2. What did you think of the two weddings? Do you think Eowyn will eventually find happiness with Faramir?
      I thought they were really nice, and I certainly hope she does, although I'm not sure how well the two know each other at the point where they married. Really it was just the period of time they were in the Houses of Healing that the got to know each other, so only a few week. Still, historically that kind of thing was pretty common, so it hopefully will work out.
    3. What did you think of their meeting with Saruman on the road home?  I was half expecting someone to just kill Saruman.
      It's been so long now, that I don't remember my first reaction to the meeting with Saruman, but I have to say now that it makes for a wonderful tension builder.
    4. Holy Cow I was not expecting the scouring of the shire.  If this is your first time reading, were you surprised? And if this isn't your first time reading, does the shock get a little easier to swallow on re-read?
      Kind of, as you know it's going to happen. I think it's a horrible thing to have happened, but at the same time, it's kind of needed. There's no way that the hobbits would have been understood or appreciated without it, as sad as that sounds. I also wonder if there was any other way to really get the Shire to reconnect with the outside world as it were.
    5. What did you think of the very end, of the departure of the Havens?
      Incredibly beautiful and sad. Every time I read it I get a lump in my throat, and if I'm listening to in in the BBC radio play, I often end up with tears in my eyes. Of course, some of that could be the inclusion of the poem Bilbo's Last Song, which has become one of my favourite pieces of Tolkien's poetry.
    6. Characters are supposed to change and develop during a story, right?  Who changed more, Sam or Frodo?
      This is a hard one to answer, but I'm going to say Frodo. He's just been through so many things that have left their mark on him - the Morgul-Knife, torture, Shelob's bite, even losing the Ring, that there's not much left - and there's nothing really tying him to the Shire any more. And yet, I feel like I should say Sam, as he evolved from a servant, to someone who's respected as a leader. I really don't know which to say, so I'm going to say they both changed equally, though in different ways.
    This really has been lots of fun to participate in. Thanks Andrea for inviting me along for the ride.

    Saturday Snapshot - November 26th

    Saturday Snapshot is a fun way to end the week - posting a photo that you or someone in your family has taken. And it doesn't even have to have been taken in the previous week - something that I'm going to take advantage of this week. Thanks for hosting this each week, Alyce. The round-up is always at Alyce's blog At Home With Books.

    This one was taken some years ago now, just after I got my first digital camera, and I was playing with the different settings. Somehow I found the sepia mode and figured these two old-style garden chairs were perfect for the experiment.

    Black Horses for the King - Anne McCaffrey

    Black Horses For The King
    Anne McCaffrey
    Del Rey
    Copyright: 2006

    The product description:
    Lord Artos--later to rule as the legendary King Arthur--knew he could defeat the Saxon invaders if only he could find a race of horses swift and strong enough to carry warriors in full regalia fast and far. And so he set out for the Continent, in search of the famed horses of the desert.

    The key to Lord Artos' plan was the young runaway Galwyn Varianus, whose gift for horse-trading was second only to his skill with horses. What no one expected was how crucial Galwyn would be to the upcoming battles--as he mastered the secrets of the iron shoes that would protect the desert horses' delicate hooves . . .

    This fast-moving historical fantasy by bestselling author Anne McCaffrey--the story of King Arthur as it has never been told before--is about the beginnings of the British cavalry, as recounted by a boy growing up in exciting and perilous times.
    Black Horses For The King is quite a departure from Anne McCaffrey's usual style of books, being a historical fiction novel rather than science fiction or romance (she does have a few of those, including Three Women, The Lady etc.

    It's also one of the most different Arthurian stories I've read, and those range a bit, including such gems as Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit, by Mercedes Lackey, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and the Skystone/Dream of Eagles Cycle by Jack Whyte. Where in each of those stories, the main character is one that is a known an major part of the general Arthurian story, such as Merlin or Morgan Le Fay, this time the character is an unknown.

    Anne McCaffrey's love of horses shows through in the writing of Black Horses For The King, to the point where the focus of the story is on the horses, and the invention of iron horseshoes, which she has set to the same time. It's neat, seeing the evolution of that through trial and error, and all of the little details.

    Seeing King Arthur's (or Lord Artos, as he's called in this book) court through the eyes of Galwyn, who has his own worries and problems is a very refreshing change, for he's not involved in the decision-making in any way, but just goes where he's ordered, and does his best to care for the horses the Companions need.

    Actually, one of the neatest bits of this book - it's a shorter book, written for young adults, is the author's note at the beginning of the story, about the history of horseshoes, and some little bits of trivia about King Arthur and Great Britain.

    I remember looking forward to this book and waiting for it to come out back in 1996 - I think I'd just started reading the Pern books around then too, and I've read it a couple of time since. I was inspired to read the book again now, because of Anne McCaffrey's death earlier this week.

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Restoree - Anne McCaffrey

    Anne McCafrey
    Del Rey
    Copyright: 1967

    The teaser from the copy I have:
    She was walking in Central Park when it happened...
    And afterwards...after it was over...she found she had a new and beautiful body...a new and beautiful face. She was apparently a nurse in a "home" controlled by guards, doctors, drugs and barred windows. But Sara knew she was not a nurse, and that the man was not an idiot. In fact, he was Harlan, Regent of Lothar...

    But what - and where - was Lothar?
    According to the io9 obituary for Anne McCaffrey who died earlier this week, Restoree was her first novel - one of the reasons I picked the book to re-read now. I have to say, I ended up with mixed feelings about the book. I think, that was at least in part due to how long ago it was originally published, but still some of the assumptions the characters make rather had me cringing. For example, near the beginning of the book, Sara's mother dismisses her feelings with "She's ill." and her father blames it all on "too much education".

    On the other hand, this is a novel that is still in print, almost fifty years later now. Although, the current cover is not, perhaps, the greatest. There's something about it that makes me think "Romance novel" rather than science fiction. Not that the cover on my copy is too much better. But, I was lucky enough to find it one day in a thrift store in the U.K.

    Still, if you're looking for a quick read, and willing to close your eyes to some issues that rather date the book, Restoree is a good one. I've read it before, and I'm absolutely certain that I will end up reading it again at some point.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey

    Anne McCaffrey died on Monday at age 85. The io9 Obituary has some wonderful anecdotes. and the msnbc article has the most information.

    I really can't believe this piece of news. On the other hand, I can, she's been a fixture of my science fiction reading for so long that it's not really surprising. I kind of think that one of her books might have been the first true science fiction novel I read.

    If my memory serves, it was The Dolphins of Pern, and a friend had left it in the car, so I picked it up and started to read it. Pretty quickly I was hooked - and getting scolded for not reading the series in order. Apparently, I should have started with Dragonflight and Dragonquest.

    Since then though, Anne McCaffrey has been one of my favourite science fiction and fantasy authors - sharing that space with Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Elizabeth Moon.

    The Pern novels weren't Anne McCaffrey's only series. She also wrote (with co-writers sometimes) the Petaybee books (Power Lines, Power Play and The Powers that Be), the Brainships series, which included The Ship Who Sang (co-written with Mercedes Lackey) and The Ship Who Searched among other books in the series, plus a whole lot of individual books.

    Thank you for so many years of wonderful books and reading.

    Book Rambling: Re-reading and Reviewing

    In the years since I started reviewing books here at All Booked Up, I've tended to review the books I've re-read. Sometimes, the reviews stay mostly the same, but other times, I may have noticed something different about the book, or been reading it from a different perspective or emphasis, and that changes the review.

    I've been thinking about it, though, and I haven't really noticed repeat reviews of the same book on other blogs I read. Is it that you don't re-read a book as often? That's certainly something I can understand, as there are times I feel a big guilty for re-reading when I have books I've been sent to read waiting, and there's so many other books out there to be read, or is it just because if it's already been reviewed once, there's no real point to repeating a review?

    For myself, one other good reason for reviewing rereads is that without that review, there's going to be an even longer gap between posts and reviews. Sometimes that gap is far too long as it is.

    If I'm reviewing a book that I've already reviewed, I will always make a point of mentioning that fact and linking the previous review. On the other hand, a lot of the books that are getting reviewed for the first time are books that I've read before, at some point before I started this blog back in 2008.

    I'm just curious, because I can see reasons for choosing either way, and I wouldn't mind knowing what other people think. If perhaps there's something more interesting about a review for a book that's been read for the first time than there is for a book that you know already.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    It's Monday! What Are You Reading? November 21

    It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted over at One Person's Journey Through A World Of Books every week. It's lots of fun to see what people are reading at any time, and a great way to get more book recommendations (like we need more of those some of the time :) ).

    I've been having a few weeks where I'm more likely to pick up a new book than to finish a read. On the other hand, I have managed to read a couple of books in the last week:

    Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. Fantasy, Children's, Fiction. This is a charming little book where the letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children in the guise of Father Christmas are collected. Lavishly and beautifully illustrated with the facsimiles of the letters, pictures, and even the envelopes that Tolkien created. Great for both kids and adults.

    Star Wars: The Jedi Path by Daniel Wallace. Fiction, Science Fiction. Another rather neat book. I found that it was the "annotations" that really made the book an experience.

    I'm currently reading:
    Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Fiction, Historical Fiction. I've read this book before, and loved it then. This re-read was inspired by watching the movie.

    The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan. Fiction, Historical Fiction. Set in India, which I quite like when the mood strikes, this was a book that was recommended to me a year or more ago. So far, the start was quite good, but I haven't been completely grabbed by the book.

    Red Land Black Land by Barbara Mertz. Non Fiction, History. A book about daily life in ancient Egypt. Barbara Mertz also writes as Elizabeth Peters, which means that the writing of the book should be engaging. So far, it is. My only issue is how old the book turned out to be - it's been revised in 1978. How many discoveries are there that will have made the conclusions drawn here inaccurate? Still, it's a good read to date.

    As usual, I'm not entirely certain what I'm going to read next. Guess I'll just have to see what strikes my fancy as the week goes by.

    Star Wars: The Jedi Path - Daniel Wallace

    Star Wars: The Jedi Path
    Daniel Wallace
    Chronicle Books
    Copyright: September 7, 2011

    The product description:
    Passed down from Master to apprentice, The Jedi Path is an ancient training manual that has educated and enlightened generations of Jedi. Within its pages, the Jedi-intraining will discover the history and lore of the Jedi Order, the ways of the Force and how to wield it, the subtle nuances of lightsaber combat, and the dangers of the Dark Side. The only remaining copy in existence, this hallowed tome features handwritten annotated notes by Yoda, Luke Skywalker, Count Dooku, and Darth Sidious, among many others. Created in collaboration with Lucasfilm along with an acclaimed Star Wars author and revered Star Wars illustrators this volume also introduces never-before-seen ships, creatures, characters, and details about the Star Wars galaxy.
    I thought the idea of this book was intriguing, as a window into the world of Star Wars, but for me it was the annotations that really made the book. They also make this one of those books that I just can't see as an e-book - at least not on any e-ink type screens.

    Those annotations seem to range through Yoda's life-span until Luke's new Jedi Academy, but the history covered is much greater. I have to admit, I'm not overly familiar with a lot of the early material discussed - I haven't read any of that material, nor have I played any of the computer games that I suspect are being referenced. On the other hand, the personalities of the various characters shines through clearly - especially Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. But, they're not the only annotators there, there's also the Emperor's thoughts shown too. Some of those annotations are almost like a conversation.

    The other thing that makes The Jedi Path into a gorgeous book is the way it's illustrated. Nearly every page has lavish illustrations, both in black and white and in colour. The latter are in watercolour, and I really like the chosen colour range, which is fairly subdued and suits the material and apparent age of the book.

    Definitely a neat little book for any Star Wars fan, and one that I found left me intrigued and wishing there was more information.

    Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Saturday Snapshot - November 19th

    Saturday Snapshots is a fun meme hosted each week over at Alyce's blog, At Home with Books. The idea is to post a snapshot or photo taken by you or someone in your family. The photos doesn't have to have been taken in the past week, it can come from any time.

    My choice for this week is an older one:
    If my memory's not playing tricks on me, this is a photo I took just after I got my first digital camera and I was still playing around with the different settings. Of course, seeing as I can't find the original anymore (just the stored smaller version on ImageShack, I can't be sure. I also know I was playing around with my current camera at the same friend's place at a later date. Either way, I believe this photo is at least a couple of years old.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Booking Through Thursday - Categories

    Booking Through Thursday is a fun weekly meme that's usually about books or reading in various ways. I don't participate every week, but I do try to most of the time. This week is one of the ones I'm going to answer:
    Of the books you own, what’s the biggest category/genre?
    Is this also the category that you actually read the most?

    My book collection is actually split in two for the most part, and to be honest, I'm not sure which is the bigger: There's the science fiction and fantasy side of things, which is also the section I tend to revisit the most: Tolkien (these could almost be considered their own section as proven by the Tolkien collection list post, and the fact that a lot of the books are about Tolkien and his works), Mercedes Lackey, L.E. Modesitt, Elizabeth Moon, Jo Graham etc.

    The other section may actually be bigger though: Non fiction history books - the more academic the better: These are mostly split between books about the Classical World (Romans and Greek), and those about the Medieval World, although there are a few on Egypt, mythology and the like as well. A lot of these are a legacy of a BA degree in history, but I keep adding to the collection as well. Thing is, I buy the books, but I don't seem to read them that often. Possibly because for these books I feel like I need to have a pencil and paper out at the same time. Despite not reading the history books, I'm always on the lookout for a new book to add to the collection for some funny reason.

    I really don't know which book category is the bigger.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    The Top Ten Books on My TBR Pile

    This is a meme from The Broke and the Bookish that looked really neat - and given my TBR pile, fairly appropriate.

    The idea for this meme is to list the top ten books that you have, but haven't read yet. For me, maybe this is the kick I need to actually get one or more of them off the shelf and read.
    1. The Forest Laird by Jack Whyte
      The first book in his series about William Wallace. I've read and enjoyed a number of Jack Whyte's other books and series, such as The Skystone, the first book in his Roman Britain series.
    2. A Breath of Snow And Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
      Book six in the Outlander series, the sequel to The Fiery Cross. I've had this one on the shelves since it first came out (in hardcover). As much as I enjoy these books, at the same time, there's a real time commitment to reading one of them - two weeks or more per book. That's a period where there won't be other book reviews here, so I keep putting the book off, as well as the sequel An Echo In The Bone.
    3. The Annotated Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Douglas A. Anderson
      This is one I really have to get to. I've started it several times, but never actually finished. The two column layout is wonderful, the way that all the possible sources are given, as well as excerpts from Tolkien's letters, and all of the different variants of the text that there are. I'm actually slightly ashamed to admit it, but I've had this book for probably at least five years, maybe ten or so now.
    4. Stray by Rachel Vincent
      Enough people have recommended this one to me that I ended up buying it for my Kobo last year. I really should get to reading it.
    5. Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
      There is actually something of a genuine stumbling block for reading this book, though I should probably do something about it given the way Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has become one of my favourite reads. Basically, I don't have Shanghai Girls yet, and Dreams of Joy is the sequel.
    6. The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
      Another one of those books that everyone says I should read.
    7. The Axe and the Oath by Robert Fossier
      Non fiction about the Middle Ages. Will have to wait until I'm finished reading the history of the Church in the Middle Ages, but this is definitely one that I want to get to soon!
    8. The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
      Another book I've heard a lot of good things about. I was given this copy by a co-worker who got it at a publisher event.
    9. Making a Living in the Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
      Another non-fiction book on the Middle Ages. These are the kind of book that I will only read one at a time though, as I like to be taking notes as I read them. Part of the reason I read these so slowly too.
    10. The Art of Medieval Hunting by John Cummins
      Was recommended to me by a friend, and I really had to hunt to find this book. Now I just need to read it.
    In making out this list, I was somewhat surprised at what I found - most of these books are books that I really have to be in the right mood to tackle. Maybe that's part of the reason they've stayed on my TBR list so long.

      Letters From Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien

      Letters from Father Christmas
      J.R.R. Tolkien
      Mariner Books
      Copyright: 2004

      The product description:
      Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or painting. The letters were from Father Christmas.
      They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house into the dining room; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house, and many more.
      No reader, young or old, can fail to be charmed by Tolkien’s inventiveness in this classic holiday treat.
      We all know of J.R.R. Tolkien's main books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (formed of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King), but this little book is a neat reminder of one of Tolkien's other talents: artwork, both drawing and painting.

      The letters started arriving for Tolkien's eldest son, John when he was only three years old, in 1920, and continued until 1943, throughout the childhoods of all of the author's children. The letters are charming, telling the story of life at the North Pole over the years.

      Each letter is lavishly done, with different writing styles for the different people writing the letters - Father Christmas' hand is very shaky and elaborate, while the Polar Bear's is most definitely bold, and interestingly spelled. Nearly all of the letters are fully reproduced in all their glory, and the letters are also typeset for easier reading, although the different writers are differentiated by use of bold, italics etc. As well, the various details are reproduced on the plain pages: illuminated letterings, doodles, etc

      In addition to all of the details of the writing, there are also a good number of full page pictures depicting the events described in the letters, all done in different media. There's pencil crayon, watercolour and others that I can't clearly identify, but they are all absolutely spectacular!

      There are some intriguing moments in the letters, especially those from the 1930's and later, at least from my perspective - that's where there are some vague hints from Tolkien's other writings appearing: Ilbereth, the goblins, and even a mention of Tolkien's book The Hobbit. Really though, the Letters From Father Christmas stands independent from his other writings.

      Overall, I found Letters from Father Christmas to be a charming read, both the first time I read it several years ago, and again this time, and it makes for a great gift to find under the tree, both for kids and for adults. There's something about the writing styles of the letters that just reignites the sense of wonder that is Christmas.

      This edition in particular is absolutely spectacular, with all of the illustrations as well as the text of the letters and all of the rich colour. A great gift for Tolkien fans, and a wonderful read for the upcoming holiday season.

      Saturday, November 12, 2011

      Saturday Snapshot - November 12

      Saturday Snapshot is hosted each week over at Alyce's blog At Home With Books. It's a chance to show off a snapshot/photo that you or a member of your family has taken. I find it lots of fun now to participate in.

      This week I'm posting two of my photos, both taken from the camera on my phone.

      I was helping some friends with their move last week, and one of them pointed these out to me on one trip to the car. At the time, it was after dark, and we were navigating by flashlight. I really didn't expect the photo to work, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. I'm most definitely impressed by the flash on that camera! The mushrooms were about the size of my hand, or at least the largest specimens were.

      My Madeline, or more normally, Maddie. I caught her sitting on the cable-box by the TV with her tongue sticking out, and she left it there long enough for me to get several photos. This was the best one.

      Thursday, November 10, 2011

      Gone Reading - A Whole Range of Neat Gifts

      First off, I should say that I was e-mailed and asked to spread the word on this organization, Gone Reading. Looking at what they do, I'm glad to have found out about them, as I might not have otherwise.

      Gone Reading is an organization that is trying to spread access to books and reading throughout the developing world, an idea I think is a great one. According to the Our Story page and the founder of Gone Reading, Brad Wirz,
      ”I had spent 20 years of my life helping to build some of the biggest consumers brands in the world: American Express, Coca-Cola, Corona Beer, the Academy Awards.  I was in the perfect position to create products, gifts for readers, gifts for book lovers, that large numbers of people would want to buy.  That’s what led to GoneReading.”
      The profits from all of these items goes to various organizations which help to promote reading and libraries in the Developing World. I have to say, there's some neat Christmas gift ideas on this site - I like the aprons especially.

      Also neat is the Gone Reading blog. I've like the entries there that I've seen to date.

      Booking Through Thursday - E-volution

      Booking Through Thursday is a neat little meme about books and reading. I'm not a regular participant, it just depends on the question being asked each week, but this one looks neat.

      The question this week has to do with e-readers:
      E-readers like the Kindle and iPad are sweeping the nation … do you have one? Do you like it? Do you find it changes your reading/buying habits? If you don’t have one, do you plan to?
      (And yes, e-readers and e-books do come up periodically, and yes, we’ve had similar questions in the past, but things change so quickly … it’s worth revisiting.) 
       I do have an e-reader, the Kobo WiFi edition to be specific and I love it. Although, I'm beginning to think I'd like to upgrade to the newest edition of the Kobo, the Vox. I love the battery life - long enough that I can read between three and five books typically and there's no glare to the screen so I can read outside too.

      In terms of buying books, I don't think it's changed my habits too much - I'm something of a collector, so those series I already have in hardcopy I'm continuing to buy in actual paper: Mercedes Lackey for example, or Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson series. Other series, such as the Midnight Breed series by Lara Adrian I'm buying for the Kobo.

      Basically, I'm still buying a lot of books in paper form - those are an experience I'm not willing to give up - on the other hand, the convenience of the e-reader for travel is unparalleled.

      I used to say that the e-reader was really only good for reading fiction, but now they've added (to the later models: the Touch and the Vox) the ability to jump to a footnote or an endnote and back to the text, and also to make your own notes. That change opens up so much more reading options in the non-fiction field, and is my primary reason for wanting to upgrade at some point in the future.

      Saturday, November 5, 2011

      Saturday Snapshot - November 5th

      I'm posting so late that it's technically Saturday, but to me it's still Friday. I just have the feeling that tomorrow is going to be one of those super busy days, where I'm not going to have the chance for even a post like this one. If so, I'll respond to comments some time later in the evening.

      Saturday Snapshots is hosted each week by Alyce of the blog At Home With Books. Its a fun, non-book-related meme and it's always neat to see what photos people are taking each week, or at some points in their past.

      Lightning Strikes
      I took this one a couple of years ago now and I'm still fairly impressed with my luck. I've never been able to get one like it again - we just don't get thunderstorms like that very often. The lighting was coming down so often that I was able to just point the camera at one place and keep shooting. This was one of about five hundred shots taken in less than an hour. Simply blind luck.

      Friday, November 4, 2011

      Blue Dragon - Kylie Chan

      Blue Dragon (Dark Heavens book three)

      By Kylie Chan
      Release Date: October 25th 2011

      The product description:
      Martial arts, magic, demons and science
      The forces of Hell are poised to strike . . .
      When Emma’s relatives come to visit her, they are totally freaked out by what they learn . . . Emma’s beloved, John Chen, is a 3,000-year-old Chinese god. Not only that, John is becoming weaker by the day. Demons pursue him relentlessly, hoping to use Emma and his child, Simone, as bargaining tools against him.
      Emma battles to defend Simone as John’s energy is drained by the effort of both living in the mortal world and protecting them. While Emma is nagged by doubts about her own nature, she must find the courage to go on . . . 

      Blue Dragon is the spectacular sequel to White Tiger and Red Phoenix, and ties up the Dark Heavens trilogy very well. I know I was looking forward to reading this one after finishing the previous two books, and I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.  The only slightly frustrating part is it's clear that Kylie Chan has more books planned (and written) for after this one, but I have no idea when they're going to become available for me. I suspect that they might be available in Australia, but not North America yet. And no idea when, either. I may have to see if I know anyone in Australia...

      Anyway, aside from all that, Blue Dragon picks up where Red Phoenix left off, with Simon Wong attacking Emma, John and Simone in ever greater numbers and strength, while they are weakening in their ability to fight him off. On top of that problem, Emma's parents are finding out about the life she's been leading, causing more friction. We see more of Louise and April, from the first book, although there are definitely some mysteries there - and what has Kitty Kwok been up to? More details are being discovered all the time, and none of them are pleasant! I really don't want to say too much in case I spoil the book or the previous books for other readers.

      The everlasting question involving these books is "what on earth is Emma?" I certainly don't know, and I'm getting the feeling that we won't be finding out for a few more books either.

      I'm really enjoying this series for several reasons: The characters are engaging and interesting, for one thing. Secondly, the setting is so very different from most of the urban fantasy I've read - being based around eastern mythologies rather than the typical vampires and werewolves and fae of Europe and North America. That just makes it refreshing to say the least. And, you don't have to be familiar with the eastern set-up or geography. I'm not, and the books explain enough as you go along that it's possible to figure things out - an d there's a thorough glossary at the end of the book.

      Most definitely a five star read. I know I'm going to be re-reading this series again, and probably fairly soon.


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