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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lambrusco by Ellen Cooney

From the Cover:
     The year is 1943. The Nazis have invaded Italy; American troops have landed. At Aldo's restaurant on the Adriatic coast, Lucia Fantini, wife of the late Aldo, has entertained customers for years with her marvelous opera singing, but normal operations have ceased; the restaurant has been seized by nazifascisti, and a Resistance squad of waiters and local tradesmen have been formed, led by Lucia's son, Beppino. When he disappears after acting on his own to destroy a German truck, Lucia asks, "What kind of a partisan are you, blowing something up without telling your mother?" and sets off to look for him.
     Lucia is aided in her efforts by a richly drawn cast of characters, including Annmarie Malone, the U.S. Army Intelligence officer who was a professional golfer back home; Tito Rocuzzi, the butcher who taught neighborhood dogs to pee on Fascists' boots; Etto Renzetti, the factory owner who scoffs at Dante; and Ugo Fantini, Aldo's physician cousin, who has reasons of his own for wanting to be near Lucia.
     Lucia's journey across war-devastated Italy is operatic in scope and intensity. Ellen Cooney has drawn on her heritage as a third-generation Italian American  to invoke not only a country in crisis but also its literature, its moods, and most of all, its music. This is a tale of lyrical grace and an effervescent comic spirit to match the wine that nourishes them all- Lambrusco.

My Ponderings:
     I had not heard of this book prior to purchasing it. The lovely cover art is what first intrigued me. I love to read a book that draws me into a different culture. Lambrusco by Ellen Cooney is an immersion into WWII Italy. The days are bleak as the lead character and narrator, Lucia Fantini, takes the reader on a heart-wrenching tour of the country as she unsuccessfully tries to locate her missing son and find her voice along the way.
     Along the way, we discover the cost innocent civilians pay as their cities and country become occupied by the enemy, and the tragedies which occur not only to Italians but to the land itself. Although the setting is dark, it is a story about rebuilding- a widow learning how to create a new life for herself and a country determined to survive and keep its heritage alive.
     Often written in a stream of consciousness narration, the reader experiences each scene through Lucia's thoughts and recollections, even encountering her hallucinations after a head injury. Through the numerous characters, one sees how war leaves no life untouched. We travel along with them in a story set to musical composition. Underlying each memory and event is opera, the music of Italian legends.
     A beloved opera singer herself, Lucia discovers that her quest is not only to find her son, but to find herself- the courage to own her voice and use it to proclaim the love that she has remained silent about for far too long.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Wonderful World of Blogging

Last week I won a giveaway from Lynne at Dreams on 34th Street and it arrived today!

Tucked inside the latest Somerset Life were all sorts of lovely goodies! I can't wait to curl up this weekend with this gorgeous book. Perhaps with a hot cup of tea and the Lemon Cookies she so graciously sent. Lynne definitely knows how to make her readers feel special. If you have not visited her blog, Dreams on 34th Street, you must do so! Be prepared to be inspired!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wine and Books: A Lovely Combination

"Read as you taste fruit or savor wine, or enjoy friendship, love or life."
~ George Herbert, English Poet and Clergyman (1593-1633)

The trademark rooster of Watts Roost Vineyard in Lewisburg, W.Va.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Watts Roost Vineyard in Lewisburg, W.Va., and it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The vineyard was established in 1998 and is situated on nine acres. Enjoying a glass of wine is the perfect complement to a good book.

The vineyard provides a gorgeous backdrop for wine tasting.
Enjoying the fruits of the vineyard at home.
Books are a great way to learn more about wine. Wine Savvy: The Simple Guide to Buying and Enjoying Wine Anytime, Anywhere by Heidi Yorkshire is a great resource for discovering the differences among grape varieties and how to select the wine that best suits your taste. Wine, Food & Friends by Karen MacNeil is one of my favorite cookbooks. The photographs are beautiful and it is categorized by seasons offering wine selections for each recipe.

Treat yourself to an evening of relaxation and curl up with a glass of your favorite vino and a book.
Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Italian Adventure

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
"It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a meme hosted by Sheila from Book Journey where readers share what they are currently reading, recently read, or plan to read next.

I am currently reading "Lambrusco" by Ellen Cooney, author of "A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies."
From inside the cover: "The extraordinary Resistance movement of the Italian people during the Second World War is brought to life in a captivating, deeply moving story of a mother's search for her son."

I recently finished reading Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express." This was my book club's latest selection and it was marvelous! I definitely plan to read more of Christie if I can ever get through the stack of books I already have.

Book Giveaway

My new giveaway is a hardcover copy of "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" by Melissa BankFrom Hailed by critics as the debut of a major literary voice, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing has captivated readers and dominated bestseller lists. Generous-hearted and wickedly insightful, it maps the progress of Jane Rosenal as she sets out on a personal and spirited expedition through the perilous terrain of sex, love, relationships, and the treacherous waters of the workplace. With an unforgettable comic touch, Bank skillfully teases out universal issues, puts a clever, new spin on the mating dance, and captures in perfect pitch what it's like to be a young woman coming of age in America today.

*** To enter, simply state in your comment that you are interested in this giveaway. The deadline to enter is Sunday, Aug. 19.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

"A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors."  ~ Charles Baudelaire

     Having only started gardening in the last few years, I am still a beginner gardener with much to learn and improve on. The first place I turn to when I need inspiration is to books. In today's excess of technology, sometimes it is nice to just unwind with an old-fashioned book to lead you in the right direction and inspire you to create something wonderful.

     One of my favorite little gardening books to peruse is In the French Kitchen Garden: The Joys of Cultivating a Potager by Georgeanne Brennan and Melissa Sweet. This charmingly illustrated book outlines each season, highlighting crops that can flourish if climate permits along with stories from the author's time in the French countryside where she first discovered the luxury of having a year-round kitchen garden. It is a lovely book to settle down with when you begin to plan your own garden.

     Cookbooks offer additional guidance for garden planning. If you find a particular vegetable that you think you would enjoy, add it to your planting list. The Farm to Table Cookbook: discover the joys of seasonal organic cooking by Parragon organizes recipes based on each season so that you are aware of which items have recently been harvested and are ready to devour. With this categorization, you can garner ideas for your own seasonal planting or for your shopping at your local farmers' market. Farm to Table offers elegant seasonal recipes to impress your guests.

     Where to start? Burpee: The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener: A Guide to Growing Your Garden Organically is an essential resource for the beginner gardener, providing details for each plant such as desired climate, growth time, potential disease, and much more. It is a book that you will return to often for planting advice or ideas on new varieties you would like to try to grow.

     Books can lead us on journeys to create a new way of living, teaching us that if we are merely willing to open our minds, we too shall grow.

Happy Reading!


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pizzas on the Grill

Gwyneth Paltrow's 'My Father's Daughter'

I know what you were thinking when you first started seeing the publicity for Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook, My Father's Daughter. I know because it was my first thought also- another celebrity who employees a full-time chef putting their name on some recipes and deeming that they have wrote a cookbook.

I'm glad that I moved past my initial thought and ordered this one! It really does feature some great (yet simple) recipes for everyday meals as well as beautiful photography. My recent pastime has been making homemade pizza dough. This always seemed to time-consuming and complicated to me but once I gave it a try, I have been eating a lot of pizza! I compared several recipes for pizza dough and this one from Paltrow's cookbook was the winner. It had simple, easy to follow directions. Although Paltrow makes her pizzas on a wood-burning oven, I have no such luxury in my backyard so I went with the old, stand-by grill and the result was exceptionally good. The secret is King Arthur's Bread Flour.

Here are the basics from My Father's Daughter:

For the dough, whisk together 3/4 cup warm water, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, and three packages (or 2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon dry active yeast) in a large bowl and let stand until surface has a few little bubbles and is creamy, about five minutes. Add 1/2 cups water, 3 and 3/4 cup flour, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and 1 tablespoon course salt, and stir until smooth. White stirring, gradually add up to another cup of flour until the dough starts to pull itself from the edges of the bowl.
Knead the dough on a generously floured surface until elastic and smooth- it will take about 8 minutes of hard work. Dust the surface with flour as you go- you don't want the dough to stick. From the kneaded dough into a ball, dust with flour, and gently place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let ruse in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 and 1/2 hours. (You can let it sit up to a couple of hours or even overnight in the refrigerator.)

Tandoori Chicken Pizza- for this pizza, we marinated chicken in tandoori sauce and grilled prior, then added to the dough green and yellow bell peppers, a jalapeno pepper, cherry tomatoes, and smoked Gouda cheese.

The "Blythe's Blueberry Muffins" recipe is another one of our favorites which we have made several times. It just goes to show that you can't always judge a book by its cover.

Happy Reading (and Cooking)!

This post is linked up to Weekend Cooking, a weekly meme hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

My Prodigal Summer

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
"It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a meme hosted by Sheila from Book Journey where readers share what they are currently reading, recently read, or plan to read next.

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. Such a beautiful book! I loved how the characters lives intertwined as the story progressed. It is definitely a book that I would recommend and one that will stay with me for a while. We have been having gorgeous weather here in West Virginia but a massive storm recently hit our region, leaving thousands to experience a long-term power outage. We were fortunate that our electricity was only out for one day. The heat remains and can be stifling at times but I can't remember summers with weather this nice since I was child. I have been trying to focus more on being in the present and taking the time to stop for a minute and enjoy nature's beauty. Prodigal Summer was a wonderful reminder of why I love living here and am so blessed to call it home.

A doe coming out from the woods in my backyard
This photo was taken at Barboursville Park in Barboursville, W.Va. where we regularly walk our Sheltie.
Barboursville Park
Chloe on a trail at Barboursville Park
A Carolina Wren on my teacup birdfeeder in my backyard
Flowers in the rock garden off of my back patio
Looking Up: A view of some treetops in my backyard
Up next I am reading:

My book club just selected Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express as our next book pick. I love being a part of a reading group because you are often reading material that you wouldn't initially select for yourself. Our last pick was Fifty Shades of Grey- from erotica to a classic murder mystery. The variety of genres is a good challenge for creating a well-rounded reader.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Girl Talk: Discussing Fifty Shades

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James was my book club's recent selection. This book has definitely been the blockbuster of the summer with whispers at water coolers everywhere. I was curious to read this because of all of the hype and media attention it was receiving. Prior to reading it, I had several friends who described their experience with the book as they secretly turned the pages in private, fearing that their significant others were going to discover that they were reading such provocative material (even being dubbed female pornography).

Personally, I think these ladies need to loosen up and read some D. H. Lawrence. Neither Christian nor Anastasia were particularly likable characters and the story line did read like a bad porn movie. Demure girl walks into office of overly sexed, attractive male. A brief game of cat and mouse ensues before attraction is too great for either to resist. Girl finds herself in a bad script and enjoys the scene.

I wasn't offended by the material. If anything, it has created a platform for women to speak more openly about their sexuality and the bravado to own it.

The members of my group who had finished all three books let the rest of us in on how the relationship develops and I was disappointed to learn that the ending completely played into the stereotype of a female's notion of a happy ending - stripping all of the power that author could have given to a new generation of independent women.

It is worth reading so that you too can participate in the whispered discussions about this book that keeps popping up everywhere.

Laters, baby.


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