A Reading Holiday

I'm often told I read too fast. I'm not sure how that's a problem, but there it is. Or another version I hear is: "How do you read so many books?" Answer: See the first sentence.
But even a speed-reader like me needs a holiday to catch up. I read because I like to read. If it becomes a chore, or if it feels too much like work, then there is no point to doing it anymore.
So I will take two reading vacations each year. One will be during the traditional winter holiday season, and one in the summer.
That will allow me to recharge my reading batteries and to catch up on books I've been setting aside for months (see the photo for a small part of my stack). This will be my last post until Jan. 2. I'm looking forward to seeing my family, to cooking a big Christmas Day lunch, and to reading, reading, reading.
And since many of you ask me what I'm reading on any given day, here is my list of books that I'm ready to dive into:
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan (thanks, Leslie!)
  • The Devil's Star, by Jo Nesbo 
  • The Fig Eater, by Jody Shields
  • The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke
  • The Tudors, by GJ Meyer
  • Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens (getting ready for the 200th birthday event in Feb)
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen
  • Miss Timmins School for Girls, by Nayana Currimbhoy
  • Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See (this will be reviewed in 2012 with an author recipe!)
Enjoy your own holiday with your loved ones ― and your books.
See you in 2012!

Total Sensory Reading

Have you heard of Booktrack? It's a new technology that synchronizes music with the copy in a book, allowing for music swells when the action heats up, quiet tunes for contemplative points, and romantic songs for the love scenes. It's a soundtrack for your favorite reads.
Booktrack launched last summer, and is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android. It's become a media darling, with Huffington Post declaring it "revolutionary," and many book publishers jumping in line to have books linked with music.
So far, the offerings are thin and include mostly classics like Alice in Wonderland and The Selfish Giant. Many well-known authors are also clamoring to be involved. A short story from Salman Rushdie is in the works, as well as a piece from Jay McInerney.
I'm fascinated by the whole idea of music synced to the action in a book. It works so well with movies. For example, if I heard The Immigrant Song while reading Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (as heard on a recent trailer for the movie), I know it would have put me right into the zone.
On the other hand, I've noticed that my "monkey brain" can be distracted by the lyrics in a song when I'm reading, as if there are only so many words I can take in at once.
That won't stop me from trying Booktrack. They just need to add more books before I jump on board.

What the Dickens?

Charles Dickens had the power to shape history and to change behavior. His classic A Christmas Carol helped revive Christmas traditions and to usher in new ones (for the time) like Christmas trees and holiday cards.
He also inspired a renewed interest in charitable giving and in helping other less-fortunate people. A Christmas Carol has become such a beloved holiday tale that it has not been out of print since it was first published in December 1843.
It's probably the most well-known of Dickens' works, and it is definitely my favorite.
I feel very protective of the story. Although I'm not a traditionalist in most things, for some reason I want the story of Ebenezer Scrooge told in all its Victorian glory. Don't change a holly twig or a "Bah, humbug," or I'll become the spirit of Christmas crackdown.
I don't feel that way about other classic literature. I'm a big fan of Clueless (based on Jane Austen's Emma)O Brother, Where Art Thou? (based on The Odyssey), or even West Side Story (Romeo & Juliet). But don't touch A Christmas Carol. I'm talking to you Bill Murray.
There is a production of the story playing locally, with a Jamaican woman narrating the play. Sigh. And why? A viewer is jarringly taken out of the dark and spooky Victorian era every time the poor woman speaks. It isn't her fault, it's just the high (or dare I say great) expectations of the story.
I'm not the only one who can find herself in a high dudgeon over Dickens. New productions of his books are in the works, all in preparation for the upcoming 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth in February. Evidently, the BBC has decided to change the ending of Great Expectations and has written an ending for the previously-unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood (click here for the article).
I'll reserve my judgement of those two until after I see them. Meanwhile, I'll finish reading A Christmas Carol for probably the 100th time. And I'll say of Dickens, as Scrooge did of old Fezziwig, "The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune."

A Book That Changed (Family) History

We're doing something a little different with this post. Today there won't be a recipe, and this isn't your normal "review." This is going to be a more personal story about a shocker of a book at least it was a shocker to my family.
All my life, I've been fascinated by a woman that my family saw as a kind of godmother, a woman who became an extension of our family and who was beloved by the small community my mother grew up in.
Her name was Flora Beatrice Farnham. She led (we thought) a quiet existence. That doesn't mean she wasn't interesting...she definitely was. She had traveled all over the world, she was an accomplished painter and sculptor whose work is displayed in various buildings around the country, and she gave a lot of her wealth to the Catholic church.
She loved to inspire young girls to "make something" of themselves, and even helped my mother through college. She painted a mural in the church where my grandparents worshipped, and became a part of the rural Virginia community. And Miss Bea (that's how I always think of her) lived to be 103. I'll never forget how she took part in the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976 as if it was her own birthday party. And in a way, it was. She turned 100 that year.
Interesting? Yes. Earth shattering. Maybe not.
And then I heard the news about a book called John Otto: Trials and Trails. The author, Alan Kania, called my family to find out if the Beatrice Farnham in his book was the same woman that we knew.
When we heard his story, we thought there was no way they could be the same person. But we were wrong. So now, here is what I know about "my" Bea Farnham from his book (and trust me, we're all in shock):
  1. We were always told that Miss Bea never married and that she was once engaged to a Navy lieutenant who died in the Spanish-American Civil War. But evidently, she was married to John Otto, a famous eccentric who forged trails in the wilds of Colorado, and even named Independence Monument and Liberty Cap.
  2. People speculated that Otto and Bea only met once or twice before they married in 1911 at the foot of Independence Monument. He always maintained that they had known each other in California.
  3. Bea was ahead of her time because she and Otto requested that the word "obey" be removed from the wedding vows, which turned out to be a sign of things to come.
  4. Bea became famous around the country, with newspapers referring to her as a renowned artist and philanthropist who was disgusted with modern society and had gone West to live a more civilized and sane life.
  5. One month after the wedding, Bea went back to her hometown in Massachusetts, supposedly to close up her estate and to return in six weeks. She never went back. She said later, "I tried hard to live his way, but I could not do it."
  6. Within a few years, Otto finally filed for divorce and was rewarded an alimony of $2,000 from Bea. See the newspaper article below from the 1914 Pittsburgh Press. It shows an amazing photo of Bea in her Western regalia.
  7. By March 1915, Bea was married again (!), this time to a cowboy and ranch foreman named Dallas Benson. Evidently, she went to the ranch to paint Western scenes and cowboys and ended up falling in love. She and Benson performed tricks on horses together, including one called "chasing the bride" that had Bea leaping from her horse and landing in Benson's arms.
Okay, at this point, I can tell you my family was beyond flabbergasted.
Many of the facts completely sync up. For example, Bea was an accomplished artist who painted many frescoes, including those that covered the walls of her small home hidden in the woods near my grandparents' house.
She was originally from Massachusetts and she did live with her mother for a time in California. One of my favorite paintings that she created was of the swallows returning to Capistrano.
And then compare the photos below. Hmmmm.
There are just too many similarities between the two Beas for them not to be (sorry) the same person.
The strange history of Bea Farnham in the book John Otto ends with her cowboy adventure. But how did she get from that ranch in Kansas to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia? When did the Catholic church become so important to her? And why was she so secretive about it all?
Those are mysteries that I'll have to dig into over the coming months. Stay tuned...
Bea Farnham and John Otto at their wedding ceremony, held at the base of Independence Monument in Colorado. Bea is wearing her grandmother's wedding dress, veil, and scarf.

Pittsburgh Press, 1914

The obituary card for "my" Bea Farnham.

Celebrating Jane

Tomorrow is Jane Austen's 236th birthday. She looks good for her age, no?
I am a big fan of Jane's. I like the humor and sarcasm in her writing, and her unabashed examination of women's roles during England's Regency period.
There are those who like to dismiss her as a romance writer, but she was much more than that.
Other fans have banded together to celebrate the birthday in a big way. Bloggers and writers are hosting Austen's Birthday Soiree, an online "blog hop" that will offer readings and a look at Jane's life and times.
You can visit any of the 32 blogs to win prizes like books about Jane or DVDs of movies inspired by her books.
More information, and a full list of participants, can be found at the Austenprose blog.
Just click here.

Even More Pie!

Two weeks ago, I posted about my favorite dessert pie. An astute reader keyed in on my statement that I am currently in love with the little pocket pie molds that you can get at specialty stores. That reader (who now gets a major gold star) sent me another awesome pie book: Handheld Pies. This just takes my pie obsession to a whole new level.
Like the Perfect Pies book I reviewed before, there are plenty of sweet and savory recipes included here, but they are in the cutest little pie-packages ever. See how obsessed I am?
The bulk of the Handheld Pies recipes are split into two categories: Structured Pies (usually made with some sort of mold and with a larger proportion of filling compared to crust) and Free-Form Pies (which should be fairly self-explanatory).
Structured Pie recipes that stood out for me were Buttermilk-Whiskey Pie and Farmer Cheese Pie. Cheese and crust  a match made in foodie heaven.
In Free-Form Pies, there is even a recipe for creating your own pop tarts. My husband will love that.
Also included in Handheld Pies is an idea that never occurred to me making pies in jars. I don't think I've ever heard of that, but I'm definitely going to try it, particularly the Vanilla Malt Pie in a Jar.
I also think I've found my new motto in the book's introduction: "The sooner you [start baking], the sooner you'll have pie in hand, pie in mouth. And in our experience, there's no better way to be."
I'm getting that on a T-shirt.
Handheld Pies was just published last month by Chronicle Books.

Making Money Is in Vogue

Say what you will about Anna Wintour, she and her crew know how to make a buck. In a day when magazines have been winnowed down to the strongest survivors, she always seems to make headlines (and bottom lines).
This week, every time I turn around I see another newsbreaking item about Vogue. On CBS' Sunday Morning, Anna and Company were interviewed about the new Vogue archives, where you can access every single page of every issue in the magazine's 120-year history. Click here to see more. There is just one catch: You'll need to pay $1,575 to access the archive vault. Wow.
Then there is the new book, Vogue: The Covers from Abrams. The $50 tome showcases 300 iconic covers from 1892 to today. My favorites are posted below, but you can see more here.
Finally, just in case that wasn't enough, there's the Meryl Streep cover. Evidently, the actress is the oldest cover girl in Vogue's history. Savvy move, Ms. Wintour. Streep has street cred with the younger crowd, thanks to roles in movies like Mama Mia and Julie & Julia, and she is definitely a hit with (ahem) more seasoned folks. We'll see if the January issue becomes one of the top-sellers for Vogue; but regardless of that, the many extensions of the magazine's brand should help keep the fashion book (and La Wintour) in the forefront for years to come.




Faulkner on HBO

David Milch, the man behind NYPD Blue and Deadwood has signed an agreement to produce William Faulkner's work for broadcast on HBO, according to the New York Times. Now this could be fun.
You may quibble about whether you like Faulkner's more experimental writing, but his plots are as complicated, surprising, and as full of dark comedy as anything you've ever seen on HBO. I can't wait to see As I Lay Dying brought to life. I suspect the producers may start with that one.
I went through a serious love affair with Faulkner in my early 20s when I read every single thing that he wrote. Yes, I even slogged through the tough-to-read The Sound and the Fury. Whenever someone tells me they don't like Faulkner, I point out that if they only read it in high school, then they should start a new relationship with him. In fact, I think you need some life experience behind you to truly appreciate the battles, and the scars, that many of his characters face.
But the one Faulkner book that I'd like to see on the screen?

Light in August
I don't know why this particular book struck such a chord with me, but it is my very favorite of the Faulkner novels. The story centers on three characters, including a pregnant young girl named Lena who walks hundreds of miles to find Lucas Burch, the father of her child. Burch may also be a murderer; he was found inside a burning house with the body of Joanna Burden. Joanna's family were all abolitionists and before she died, she was entangled with the secretive Joe Christmas, a man who finds it hard to confront his mixed-race heritage.
Like many of Faulkner's books, the storylines jump back and forth through time, and each of the characters is allowed to tell part of the story. But this book is worth the effort.

Review and Recipe

Review: A Toast to Bargain Wines
In this holiday season, many will be giving (and receiving) bottles of wine. They are the perfect hostess gift when you're attending parties. Buying wine can also be an expensive proposition, and for those of us who are not sommeliers, finding an inexpensive but tasty wine can be a chore. According to author George Taber, though, even the Queen of England serves inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc and basic Bordeaux to the majority of her guests.
Taber gives a fascinating history of the wine business in this book, including some Embarrassing Moments in Wine History (the title of the first chapter), and a look at the ups and downs of the global wine business. The wine business has shifted dramatically in recent years, refocusing away from the its traditional home in France and moving into new territories across the U.S. and in Chile, New Zealand, and Argentina, with a lot of booms and busts along the way.
He also describes the movers and shakers who have changed the wine industry, including Tim Hanni, one of the first two Americans to be recognized as a Master of Wine. Included in this book is Hanni's Taste Sensitivity Assessment that helps determine the types of wine that you may like. According to the test, I am "Sensitive," and therefore more adventurous with my choices. True.
A Toast also describes how historic and traditional vineyards are faring today, and examines the newer upstart companies like Australia's Yellow Tail. Rumor has it that owner John Casella based the taste of his wine on Coke so the American drinker would take to it. He says he actually just wanted to create a "friendly wine."
Now that's just the first half of the book. The second half gets to the heart of the matter, with Taber's guide to the very best buys in wine. He offers the advice to experiment and find the wine that best suits your tastes, rather than fretting over whether you're drinking the "right" wine.
His easy-to-use lists are classified by varietal, and then are separated into his favorite bargains and his splurges. Even the splurges come in under $25, though, so there's nothing here that should break the bank. Taber also offers suggestions of food pairings to help even the most novice wine drinker.
When I finish reading most books, they go onto my shelves in the living room. This book, however, is now stored with my cookbooks, ready to be referenced at a moment's notice. I've already used its handy guide to stock up for the holidays. Salut! (2011 - Scribner)

Recipe: Red Wine Cake
Years ago, the office where I worked had spectacular pot-lucks for the holidays, and a friend brought this cake. Within seconds, every crumb was gone and she was passing around the recipe. It's incredibly moist, with just a hint of the taste of wine. I love the taste of chocolate with a glass of red wine, so this recipe makes a perfect pairing.
2 sticks of softened butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups red wine
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and then butter and flour a bundt pan. In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in between. Add the vanilla and beat for another minute or two. Add the cocoa, baking soda and salt, mixing them well into the batter. Then alternate the red wine and the flour, adding half of each at a time and mixing well in between additions. Spoon into the bundt pan, being sure to distribute the batter evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out of the cake cleanly. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a plate. You can serve it warm with ice cream, or allow it to cool and serve it with whipped cream.

Top Holiday Covers

For my ongoing holiday week posts, I started gathering up my favorite magazine covers for December. Having been a magazine editor myself in the past, I can tell you that holiday covers can be the bane of any publication. You have to walk the line between all of the religions that celebrate in some way this month, while also avoiding as much cliche as possible. And, even if you are tired of the topics yourself, it is almost a requirement that you have articles on gift ideas, decorating tips, and holiday recipes.
Here are a few of my favorites this month.

Martha Stewart Living
There are two things I love about this cover. First, it is so clean and has such a beautiful photo that you would almost want to frame it. Second, this is not one of those over-the-top Martha projects that looks deceptively simple, but is impossible to reproduce. It's just a lot of lights on a bare tree. Lovely.
I have a little love/hate thing with Ms. Stewart, so it takes a lot for me to admit that I love the cover. You see, there was once an incident with me and a cranberry wreath that was supposed to be a "Good Thing," but turned into many bloody fingertips, a scary temper tantrum, and cranberries all over my front yard. Enough said.

Better Homes and Gardens
Okay, there's a dog. And he's the cutest dog in the world. He even looks like he's reading the cover lines.
Add in the red door and a stunningly abundant garland, and you've got yourself a winner.
I also like the position of the type and the typefaces used. Nice job.

Woman's Day
I have to admit that I am not a regular reader of this magazine, but the cover stopped me in my tracks.
The wreath is adorable, and then I read that it's made of paper straws. Genius.
The red-and-white palette is also a winner (and seems to be the most popular for magazines), and the photo also shows the type of decor that even a klutz like me could achieve.

Real Simple
Wrapping the cover has been done before, but this one is done very well. The idea that the ribbon has been wrapped over the title gives it a little 3D effect.
The clever "Open Me" tag is my favorite part.
I also appreciate that the editors understand that not everyone may have a "happy" holiday, but they do it in a gentle way with "inspiring stories" that give a nod to tough times.

Southern Living
I'm a sucker for the holiday recipe guides, I'll admit it. Southern Living usually has a good one, and they seem to always have cake on the holiday cover. Who doesn't love cake? The only way it could be better is if it was a pie (see previous posting last week).
I also love the idea that there are 50 gift ideas that "every Southerner will love."
The photo isn't as visually arresting as some of the others, but there's a big chocolate bomb right in the middle to distract you from the fussy decorations.

A Few of My Favorite Things

As promised, and in time for your holiday gifting needs, here is a quick list of some of my favorite books. Not all of these were published in 2011, so many of these could be found in budget-friendly paperback versions.
Since this is the season of sharing, send me lists of your favorite books, too. My New Year's resolution is to read more, and I'll need all the suggestions I can get!

Favorite Fictions 
(in no particular order)
The Eight, by Katherine Neville ― Forget Dan Brown, this book from 1988 crackles with intrigue, with a woman in search of hidden chess pieces that give the players unbelievable power.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel ― Thomas Cromwell walked a tightrope of power in the 1520s between Henry VIII and everyone who wanted Cromwell's position and power. This incredible book tells Cromwell's story in an entirely fresh way.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield A young woman is invited to the atmospheric and gloomy Yorkshire countryside to interview a famous, but reclusive, author. A dark and Gothic tale ensues.

Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman This was my pick for the Man Booker Prize, with a captivating story of a young boy trying to navigate a violent life. Read my full review here.

Deception on His Mind, by Elizabeth George My favorite of the outstanding series of Detective Inspector Lynley mysteries by George, this edition focuses on Lynley's partner, Detective Sergeant Havers, who finds herself tangled up in tricky relationships and race issues while trying to solve the murder of a young woman.

Non-Fiction Notables
The Wave, by Susan Casey The spellbinding story of massive rogue waves, the super-surfers who chase them, the scientists that study them, and the ships that battle them.

The Sisters, by Mary S. Lovell A duchess, a Communist, a fascist, an obsessive, and a novelist...those are the eccentric Mitford sisters who blazed their own paths through British society in the early 20th century.

In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson Larson has a true knack for telling a historical tale. In this book, he tackles the story of William Dodd, the mild-mannered U.S. ambassador to Germany in the early days of the Third Reich. See my earlier review here.

Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts Although their husbands and sons garnered most of the glory, the women behind the scenes were notable in their own right. They ran businesses and farms while their husbands formed a new country, fended off the Redcoats in their own homes, and influenced the ideas and politics of the young United States.

The Perfect Summer, by Juliet Nicolson In 1911, England had a new king, the aristocratic set was on a non-stop whirlwind of parties, and the summer was suffused with a happy glow. Then the cracks began to appear as the summer heat took a sinister turn and the world began to spin out of control. This amazing book is told from the diaries and letters of people who lived on the cusp of WWI.

Teen Books You Need to Read
Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss This is an illustrated biography of Marie Curie, the first person to win two Nobel prizes for her work on radioactivity. Rather than just focusing on the science, Redniss brings Marie herself to life in a gorgeously detailed book.

Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater Every November, a group of youths ride the dangerous water horses in a race that is often to the death. When a girl enters for the first time to save her family, the game takes a new twist.

Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins ― In the first book of a trilogy, the government maintains tight control by demanding a harsh tribute of two children chosen by lottery from each territory who will fight in a televised gladiator game. Read my full review here.

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks I realize that a book about the plague could be a downer, but this book is ultimately uplifting as a young girl deals with the disintegration of her village when the plague hits in 1666.

Belle Prater's Boy, by Ruth White In a Virginia coal town in 1953, Belle Prater disappears. Her niece Gypsy is determined to discover what happened to Belle. As she digs deeper into family secrets with the help of Belle's son Woodrow, Gypsy also begins to deal with the loss of her own parent.

It's That Time of Year

It's that time of year again, when various publications and outlets tout the "best books" of the year. I do like reading the lists and checking off books I may have missed. I sometimes think that the lists include books that are over-hyped and under-whelming, but overall I always enjoy looking them over. If you need any gift ideas, these lists will help you make your choices.
My favorite of the list-makers is NPR. I enjoy how they categorize their top picks, with headlines like Sherlockian Mysteries and Books That Stick. Click here for that list.
This weekend, I settled in front of the fire for a nice long read of the 2011 100 Notable Books List from the New York Times. I look forward to this one every year, because it inevitably fills up my own wish list for Christmas. This year's version reminded me, for the 10th time, that I want to read The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Definitely adding that to my holiday vacation reading stack. Click here for that list.
Finally, Barnes and Noble has its own list of the top 2011 books. Yes, I take this one with a grain of salt (are they pushing certain books that need sales help?), but I agree with many of the selections. In the category of Quirky, Beautiful, Different, for example, is one of my favorite books of the year - Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton. Stunning. Click here for that list.
I will also give you some gift guides for the holidays. However, my lists will contain books that were not necessarily published in 2011. Rather, I'll give you a guide to my absolute favorite books from each genre, regardless of their age. First list coming up tomorrow!

Review and (Author) Recipe

Review: Explosive Eighteen
I like books that feature smart and sassy women. Being a smart-sassy (say it fast and you'll know what I mean) person myself, I like whip-crack humor and strong character. Anyone who thinks Jane Austen was writing quaint drawing-room love stories, for example, should go back and re-read Pride and Prejudice, which features some of the best sarcasm in literature.
Add a good dose of humor to that mix, and you've got a winning combination.
Enter Stephanie Plum, the protagonist of Janet Evanovich's uber-popular "numbered" series. In One for the Money (the first in the series, obviously), Stephanie appears as a down-on-her-luck Jersey girl who takes a job at her cousin's bail bonds office.
Her experience for the job of bounty hunter includes the ability to wear her hair big, to eat any amount of cake and pizza at the drop of a hat, and a knack for attracting all kinds of trouble. A perfect resume.
Through the series, Stephanie has also had her "man issues," alternating between childhood crush Joe Morelli and tall, dark, and handsome Ranger.
The 18th book in the series (!) features a slightly more seasoned Stephanie. She knows how to use a taser now, when she remembers to charge it. And she has the bounty hunting routine down pat, although that doesn't always mean things go according to plan.
The book opens with Stephanie returning from a Hawaiian holiday of sorts. The initial mystery is who she was in Hawaii with, and why both Ranger and Morelli are sporting wounds from a fight. The troubles just keep multiplying as the bail bonds office deals with construction delays and a slight rat problem, Stephanie's partner (and former 'ho') Lula finds herself in love with a fugitive after drinking a strange potion, and Stephanie ends up rooming with her hated enemy Joyce Barnhardt.
But the central mystery is about a photo that was slipped into Stephanie's bag on the flight from Hawaii. The man that originally had the photo is dead, and now Stephanie is being followed by two fake FBI agents and one very real thug with a knife and a weird accent.
This is a fun romp in a series that feels far from old-hat. The same ingredients are there, but this brew just gets richer with time.
I'm also very interested in seeing how this plays out on film, with One for the Money debuting in theaters in early 2012. I'll have to get over the fact that Katherine Heigl plays Stephanie. I always wanted the role to go to Debi Mazar, one of my favorite NY-Jersey Girls. (2011 - Random House).

Recipe from Janet Evanovich:
Helen's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
My sincere thanks to Janet Evanovich for sharing this recipe. And it's the perfect accompaniment to Explosive Eighteen for two reasons. First, it's a recipe for a cake often made by Stephanie Plum's mom Helen, an expert at bribing people with food. Second, it's the type of treat that should be gobbled down quickly, just like any Plum book. Read Evanovich's own instructions below if you don't believe me.
3 eggs
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons unsweetened pineapple juice
5 Tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
Unsweetened slices of pineapple
Melt the butter in a nine-inch pie plate. Dump brown sugar into the plate and mash with a fork until it's all mixed with the melted butter and covers the bottom of the plate. Arrange pineapple slices on bottom of plate in a single layer. Mix eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder, and pineapple juice by hand in a small bowl until smooth. Pour mixture over pineapple slices. Bake in a 350-degree oven until a pick comes out clean (maybe 30-45 min.). Remove cake from oven and set on rack for a couple minutes. Put cake plate over the hot cake in the pie plate and CAREFULLY but quickly turn the pie plate upside down. Remove pie plate and let cake cool to room temperature. Pineapple slices should be on top! (If you let the cake cool in the pie plate, you'll NEVER get it out). When cool, spread lots of globs of whipped cream on it...the real stuff, none of that fake stuff in a can! Eat too much. (Recipe courtesy of Janet Evanovich)

NaNoWriMo Is a No-Go

Well I tried. I joined the National Novel Writing Month campaign with over 200,000 others, all of us trying to write a novel from start to finish in the 30 days that hath November.
I failed.
But, on the bright side, I did write about 30,000 words. That's more than half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words. So I've got that going for me.
And I did it in a month in which I also moved house. There was even a point where I couldn't find my laptop, a pen, paper, or anything else that would allow me to write.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Lots of excuses. I do have to say it was fun, even if I didn't finish by the deadline. I liked the idea of thousands of others hunched over keyboards with me, trying to get thoughts into some sort of order.
I also enjoyed the emails of encouragement and the hints to unblock my brain. So I will keep writing, just like I always have. But I'll do it now with a bigger sense of all the others out there who are trying to keep their creative muse happy, too.
Now for a sneak peek at tomorrow's post ― I'll have a review of the new Janet Evanovich book, accompanied by a recipe sent to me by Ms. Evanovich herself. Stay tuned!