Friday, January 28, 2011

You had me at Nutella.

Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito have released their second cookbook, Baked Explorations, a follow-up to their popular cookbook, Baked. While Baked is a beautiful, drool-inducing book, I didn't have the greatest results with the two recipes I tried, so I wasn't planning on picking up the new book. But then someone mentioned that it has a recipe for pumpkin cheddar muffins. I was intrigued. Forget the pumpkin cheddar muffins though, they have a recipe for Nutella scones! Say no more, I'm giving Matt and Renato a second chance. They have a bunch of recipes I'm just dying to try besides the scones and pumpkin muffins: sweet and salty brownies, whoopie pies, burnt sugar bundt cake with caramel rum frosting. Should I continue? They also have recipes for some of my favorite things to bake, including mint grasshopper bars, buckeyes, and pecan tassies, so I'm interested to see how their recipes will differ from mine. Even if I don't make anything from this book though, it's a great book just to read and look at the pictures. Pure food porn. My only criticism is that there aren't photographs of every recipe. Stay tuned for the results of my baked exploration.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All My Amish Children?

Turns out, Amish fiction is a bit "sudsier" than I expected.  A bit of background--I am part of a group for librarians in the north suburbs that try to expand our knowledge of genre reading in order to help patrons.  Because of this, I read one book a month that tends to be part of a genre I have never read before.  For February, we were asked to read a book in the popular new "Bonnet Fiction" genre.  What is bonnet fiction you ask?  Bonnet fiction is Christian fiction that focuses specifically on the Amish community.  You didn't know this was popular??  Well, it is shockingly popular!  I don't know ANYTHING about the popular authors in this subgenre, so I did a little research and grabbed a couple books off the shelf.  I ended up choosing the book The Choice by Suzanne Woods Fisher.  Honestly, I chose it partly because of it's nice cover. 

The Choice is about an Amish girl named Carrie who is pretty, smart, sensible and madly in love with the Amish rebel.  As most loves often do, this first romance takes a rough turn and Carrie is left behind in the community to figure out what to do with her life.  Without giving away too much,  Carrie deals with death of family and encounters no less than three potential loves through the course of the book.  I hate that I can't say much more than that but this book has more twists than your daytime soap opera! There is romance, lust (toned down of course), mystery, evil backstabbing stepmothers, saucy Englishers (those people outside of the Amish community), death, and Pennsylvanian Dutch! 

I'll admit, I wasn't too excited about reading this.  I don't tend to enjoy the "cozy" books and I also shy away from books that talk about God.  The Choice managed to have a softer tone but still keep my attention with the "who is she going to love?!?!" thoughts and include talk about God without being preachy.  I flew through this book! I'm actually debating reading another one to see if it's just as entertaining!

If they ever want to make a movie about The Choice, I'm recommending the cast of All My Children...I've got it all planned out...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did you know...

That Today Show weatherman and Smuckers birthday announcer Willard Scott was the original Ronald McDonald? Me either!

Willard Scott played Bozo the Clown in a local Washington D. C. TV show, Bozo's Circus, in the early 1960s. When the show was canceled, a local McDonald's hired Scott to create a new clown that would make appearances at local McDonald's. A costume was designed and Scott came up with the name Ronald McDonald. When McDonald's decided to take Ronald throughout the U.S., they fired Scott because he was considered too overweight to play Ronald. They wanted someone thinner to hock their fattening foods.

I picked up this tidbit of trivia from Eric Schlosser's Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. Schlosser repeats much from his earlier book, Fast Food Nation, but there are some interesting personal stories of people whose lives have been affected by fast food. One story I found particularly disturbing is the rampant tooth decay found among the Eskimo population. Many Eskimos drink copious amounts of soda. The soda, combined with a lack of access to dental care, has resulted in a large number of Eskimos who are toothless. Doctors have also found "baby bottle syndrome" quite common among Eskimos. Mothers put soda into their babies' bottles, the babies fall asleep with the bottles in their mouths, which creates a breading ground for tooth decay. As a result, many babies' upper teeth rot away into black nubs. You would think that if Coca-Cola is flying in cargo planes full of pop, they could make room to bring in a few dentists as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

May I Introduce....

Myself! My name is Madeline and I'm one of the trusty reference librarians at Deerfield Public Library.  Evidently I've forced enough "Hey have you read..." and "What did you think of.." conversations on Melissa that she's offered to let me post on the blog! Yippee for me! (and hopefully you)  Let's get this ball rollin...

I recently encouraged/challenged my friends and family to join me in trying to read 50 books this year.  It's something I have attempted in the past and, sadly, never accomplished.  So far, I'm on pace by having had read 3 books!  I thought that in order to try and keep myself in line with this goal, I'm going to try and blog about the books as I finish them.  Which means I need to give you a quick update on the 3 books I've read in January! 

Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell.
Flawless details the planning and execution of the heist of over $500 million dollars worth of diamonds from the Antwerp Diamond Center.  I could NOT put this book down.  It was Oceans 11 with a bit less sex appeal and a lot more "SERIOUSLY?!?".  The scale of this heist, the ridiculous amounts of luck involved, and the level to which diamonds are vulnerable make this a fascinating read.  I highly recommend it.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Peterson
This story is a bit difficult to sum up.  The best I can explain is that it's set in a slightly updated future where body parts and organs are able to be replicated using synthetic materials.  The title character, Jenna Fox, has awakened from a coma and struggles to make sense of her surroundings and memories.  Let's just say that these two storylines are intertwined in a way that is explained as the story moves along.  This book is intended for a young adult audience and I would say that's pretty appropriate.  I didn't find myself too engaged in the storyline or characters but I found the bioethical questions it raised to be interesting.  On a side note, it seems like young adult novels these days have two themes: slightly sci-fy/paranormal themes or totally overindulged snotty rich kids??  Has that always been the case and I just don't remember?

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
Mee and his extended family come together to purchase a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside.  With none of them being particularly knowledgable in the workings of a zoo or its inhabitants, this becomes large project.  There is actually a movie featuring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and Dakota Fanning scheduled to be released next December.  You would think in a book about family and a zoo, there would be a lot of talk about family and animals?  Evidently, Ben Mee found it more interesting to discuss the general reconstruction of the zoo buildings for a lot of the book.  I found his stories of the animals absolutely entertaining and I wanted to hear more about his family but that wasn't what happened.  The cover of the book said "The amazing true story of a young family, a broken down zoo, and the 200 wild animals that changed their lives forever.  I'm not sure I get how that happened but I'm hoping the movie will fill me in....

On to my next book!

Da Bears!

Get fired up for the Chicago Bears' smackdown against the Packers this weekend with a little Bears' history. Check out our books on the Monsters of the Midway!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why Holmes?

The Conan Doyle estate has commissioned Anthony Horowitz a new novel starring Sherlock Holmes. Horowitz is the well-known author of the popular Alex Rider children's series, but the Holmes novel will be for adults. The novel is set to be released in Britain in September.

On Holmes' birthday last week I mentioned that despite being over 100 years old, Holmes remains as popular as ever. Why do you think that is? What is it about this character that continues to draw readers (and moviegoers)? Why Holmes?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

National Book Disappointments

After 90 pages of the National Book Award winner Lord of Misrule, I'm giving up. I think I decided to read it more because it's about horseracing rather than because it is the NBA winner. But I've been plugging along for over a week now and am just not enjoying it. This is not a fast-paced, inspiring Seabiscuit-type of story. The story takes place in West Virginia at a rundown racetrack with broken horses and scheming owners. The language is difficult, so reading it really does require a concentrated effort. Most of the characters are not particularly interesting or likeable except for one: Medicine Ed is a poor, old, illiterate, African American groomer, who worries about where he will live out his remaining days. He is a compelling character and I enjoyed his voice, but overall the story left me with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness which I don't particularly need during these dark days of winter.

I haven't had much luck with the NBA books this year. I attempted to read two of the NBA nominees and quit both of those as well. I tried to listen to the audiobook versions of both Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America and Nicole Krauss's Great House. Both sounded like books I would enjoy, but neither captured my attention. Perhaps I just don't have the attention span right now to fully engage and appreciate these works. I think I'm going to try some of the Alex Award winners, which might be easier reads.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Author Visits!

There are quite a few exciting authors making appearances in the Chicagoland area this month. Check it out:

Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City, will be making several appearances in the area to promote her new book American Rose : The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee. I loved her first and I can't wait to read this one!
Sunday, January 9th at 2pm at the Barrington Public Library
Tuesday, January 11th at 7pm at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville
Wednesday, January 12th at an 11:30 luncheon sponsored by the Lake Forest Bookstore at Lovell's of Lake Forest (cost is $39 and registration is required).
Thursday, January 13th at a 12pm luncheon sponsored by the Winnetka Bookstall at the University Club (there is a fee and registration is required).

Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, will be at the Oak Brook Borders on January 11th at 7pm to sign her new novel, The Lake of Dreams.

Melanie Benjamin, author of the historical novel Alice I Have Been, will be appearing on Thursday, January 13th at 7pm at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville.

Sharon Fiffer, author of the cozy mystery series featuring antique "picker" Jane Wheel, will be signing her new book, Backstage Stuff at the Bookstall in Winnetka on Friday, January 14th at 6:30pm.

Rebecca Johns, author of The Countess, will be signing her book on Thursday, January 20th at 6:30pm at the Bookstall in Winnetka. I loved this one!

Christian Lander, author of the hilarious book Stuff White People Like, will be promoting his new book Whiter Shades of Pale: The Stuff White People Like, Coast to Coast, from Seattle's Sweaters to Maine's Microbrews at the Book Cellar in Chicago on January 20th.

Brad Meltzer will be reading and signing his new book, The Inner Circle, at the State Street Borders in Chicago on January 21st at 12pm.

Robert Crais will sign his latest crime novel, The Sentry, at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville on Saturday, January 22nd at 2pm.

Heidi Durrow will discuss and sign her novel, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville on Tuesday, January 25th at 7pm.

Amy Greene, author of the novel Bloodroot, will be at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville on January 27th at 7pm.

Deborah Rodriguez, author of Kabul Beauty School, will discuss her new novel A Cup of Friendship at the Bookstall in Winnetka on January 28th at 7pm.

The Bookstall in Winnetka will be presenting one of my favorite historical fiction writers, Susan Vreeland as part of their Women Writers Series on January 31st. (there is a fee and registration is required).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"It is my business to know what other people don't know."

Today is the birthday of the famous fictional character, British detective Sherlock Holmes. Some place Holmes's birth year at 1854, although others argue that it is more likely 1861. Holmes made his debut in 1887 in A Study in Scarlet, which was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual. The author, Arthur Conan Doyle received $25 for the story. Conan Doyle initially named his hero Sherringford Hope, but at his wife's urging, he renamed him after his favorite violinist Alfred Sherlock and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had recently published a book on criminal psychology. Holmes was a huge success with readers, but Conan Doyle made the bold move of killing the hero off in 1893 in the story The Final Problem. As a result, 20,000 readers cancelled their subscriptions to the The Strand magazine, which carried Holmes's stories. After he was offered a nice financial incentive, Doyle resurrected Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes has appeared in 56 short stories and four novels.

Despite being over 100 years old, Sherlock Holmes still remains popular. Aside from the original stories, new authors have taken up Sherlock Holmes, inventing new cases and adventures. Movies and television shows are still being made: last year's blockbuster starring Robert Downey Jr. and the BBC's new television series featuring a modern day Sherlock are just a few. If you've never read any of the Holmes canon (or even if you have), a good place to start is The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which has wonderful background information on Holmes and Doyle, as well as great insight into the stories.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Discovery of Witches

I love vampire fiction. The problem is, it seems that so much of what comes out these days, is silly vampire fiction. While this can be fun, I appreciate a well-written, intelligent vampire novel and this seems much harder to come by. Deborah Harkness's soon-to-be-published debut novel, A Discovery of Witches fits the bill.

Diana Bishop is a descendant of Bridget Bishop, the first witch hung in Salem. Although Diana has inherited the Bishop powers, she refuses to use them and instead has become a well-known scholar. When she discovers a long-lost manuscript with magical powers in the Oxford library, she immediately catches the attention of other witches, as well as vampires and daemons. One particular vampire, Matthew de Clermont takes an interest in Diana and is determined to protect her from the other creatures who are willing to do anything to get their hands on the book and Diana, whose powers are stronger than she realizes. The two quickly begin a romantic relationship but are threatened by the Congregation, the ruling body of all creatures, which will stop at nothing to prevent a relationship between a witch and a vampire. The two are determined to fight the Congregation and unlock the secrets of the mysterious manuscript, despite the threat of starting a war between all creatures.

This was an enjoyable story with an intriguing plot, fast pace, and a sizzling romance. Harkness includes an interesting storyline on the genetics and genealogy/history of witches and vampires which I really liked. My only criticism is that the book is a tad long. I could have done with about 100 less pages, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The unresolved ending leads me to hope that there may be a sequel.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Ah, Starbucks. I have a love/hate affair with Starbucks. I love its deliciously comforting beverages, but I hate that I'm paying $5 for what is essentially a cup of coffee. Nonetheless, I am a frequent Starbucks customer and a fan. But after reading Taylor Clark's Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture, I've started thinking a little more critically about this business that passes itself off as a virtuous, enlightened community establishment.

My favorite line from the movie Best in Show is from the yuppie couple: "We met at Starbucks. Not at the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other." It turns out that is actually true. When Howard Schultz bought the fledgling coffee company, the most profitable cafe was located at a busy intersection and was so busy that the lines were endless. To everyone's surprise, Schultz opened another Starbucks across the street. It quickly became the second-best performing store in the chain. These clusters are now quite common.

Clark traces the beginnings of Starbucks and its rise to fame and fortune and explores the ways that it has insinuated itself into our culture and convinced us that it's a good thing. Think about it: how is Starbucks really any different from Wal-Mart, or even McDonalds? All three are enormous chains that are responsible for putting local businesses out of business and homogenizing our country. All have been accused of exploiting its workers, as well as the producers of the products they sell. Many people refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, or at least feel guilty when they do. Many people also try to avoid fast food chains like McDonalds. Or at least they don't brag about eating there. But there doesn't seem to be the same stigma attached to Starbucks. How do they do that? The history of the company is interesting, but Clark's examination of the negative aspects of Starbucks and his refusal to be swayed by the caffeinated temptress makes good food (ha!) for thought.

Love it:
"Thinking of the coffeehouse as a haven for intellectual discourse is difficult when the one in question operates thousands of clones, wants to sell you the latest Coldplay album, and serves five-dollar milkshakes for adults."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Anyone know where can I find a pattern for this chicken poncho?

I think I've just found my next knitting project: Chicken Ponchos!!

Seriously, how cute is that? And I know so many chickens that are in need of ponchos right now since the weather has gotten so cold. Now, if only I could find the pattern....
Etsy is a great site, with all kinds of wonderful handmade, crafty products. But there are some people who just should not craft. Ever. April Winchell's Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF captures some of the most heinous offenders. From Birch bark purses to crocheted childbirth education dolls, it is truly frightening. Fortunately, (or in these cases, unfortunately), Etsy has new products popping up every day. Since Winchell couldn't possibly include all of them in her new book, check out her website,, to view all the latest and greatest crafting achievements.
Here are a few more of my favorites...
Fish in a Squirrel Suit Taxidermy:

Christmas Nativity Meerkats: