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21 Dec Book Shopping, Day Twenty-One

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale[I invited our beautiful eldest granddaughter Bella K. to guest-blog about a YA book she’d give as a gift. Here’s the delightful result.]

Hello, granddaughter of the Broadcasting Legend™ and the Time Traveler here to tell you about a fairytale first written by Grimm but twisted by one of my favorite Newbery-Honor-winning authors, Shannon Hale.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love fairy tales; I have princess dresses of every size from all ages. As my dress size got larger I started to see the unjustifiable bias against the fairer sex. The guys always got to be the heroes in fairy tales so I began to wonder… What would happen if the girls got to be the heroes? I was elated to discover the realm of twisted fairy tales where girls stepped forth as adventurers. Regrettably, the boys became… how shall I say it… less than Mr. Darcy. [LOL! —Elizabeth] Finally, I stumbled upon Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. At last, a story void of a single weak character! A daring princess, murderers, an unyielding prince, betrayers, evil impostors, heroic animal keepers, rescuers, and just a tad of romance. It blew my mind!

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee was born Crown Princess of Kildenree but after the death of her father, life takes a desperately wrong turn. First, her brother usurps her place of succession, becoming Crown Prince as she is sent away to marry the prince of the neighboring country, Bayern. Unfortunately, her lady-in-waiting Selia is not content to be a lady-in-waiting, and soon there is an evil revolt among the camp. In an instant, life is changed for Isi (as her true friends call her). She must hide her beautiful blonde hair to disguise herself from Selia’s evil guards in the dark-haired land of Bayern, while her impostor threatens the throne. When she is designated caretaker of the Bayern king’s geese, she is welcomed into an unpretentious world she never knew. Isi must learn who to trust and who to forgive if she is going to save the Kildenree from a deadly danger that could wipe out the entire country.

This small summary has just scratched the surface of what this book has to offer. Shannon Hale doesn’t just create a story, she creates a world that swallows you up and you never want to leave. The characters become your friends and you are genuinely worried about where their predicaments will lead them.

No matter how many times I’ve read Shannon Hale’s books, I always find myself in a place where I just can’t stop reading. The Goose Girl is only the first of what I hope will be a long series called the Books of Bayern, followed by Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Shannon’s newest creation Forest Born. These books are good for anyone on your list, big or small. Nothing beats a well-written book with fabulous characters and a plot so complex even I couldn’t guess the ending.

Find The Goose Girl and all Shannon Hale’s books at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. Buy in person at your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore to have your books in time for Christmas!

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20 Dec Book Shopping, Day Twenty

Ross Poldark by Winston GrahamRoss Poldark by Winston Graham is back, in new trade-sized reprints with gorgeous new covers. I have crumbling mass-market paperbacks (which were originally issued as tie-ins with the BBC television series, I think) and I think it’s time to update. If you—or someone on your gift list, of course—haven’t met Ross Poldark you have an unforgettable experience ahead of you with the saga of the Poldarks of Nampara, played out over twelve novels.

As an aside, I always envy the people who haven’t yet read the books I love. Gone with the Wind. The whole Angélique series by Sergeanne Golon. The Crawford of Lymond novels by the incomparable Dorothy Dunnett. Spangle and The Journeyer by Gary Jennings. The early Saint-Germain novels by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Shogun by James Clavell. Oh, I could go on and on. I re-read them, and re-reading is a wonderful thing, but it’s not quite the same as that breathless first reading.

Anyway. Back to Ross Poldark. Ross is an Englishman, a soldier on the losing side of the war in America, come home in 1783 to a derelict estate in copper-mining Cornwall. He finds the woman he’s loved with peculiar intensity all through the years of war and separation preparing to marry to his cousin. And from there the story rockets on. There’s a teeming, colorful cast of characters, sharply drawn (I love whiskery old Aunt Agatha and the crop-tailed mongrel dog of “unimaginable parentage,” Garrick), from which eventually emerges the grubby, spitfire urchin Demelza Carne, first Ross’s kitchenmaid, ultimately his wife in the teeth of society’s disapproval.

There are various printings of the Poldark books—the one shown here is simply the newest in a long line. They’re well worth collecting, whether the covers match or not. (And for that matter, whether they’re new or not.) Search for “Ross Poldark” at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and of course at your favorite independent bookstore. In these last few days before Christmas shop a nearby brick-and-mortar bookstore to avoid expedited shipping charges.

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19 Dec Book Shopping, Day Nineteen

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite HenryOnce again I’m returning to one of my own favorite childhood books as a gift idea for the young readers on your list—Marguerite Henry’s beloved Misty of Chincoteague. Winner of the Newbery Honor in 1948 yet just as heartwarming and gripping today, Misty tells a tale of the wild ponies of Assateague Island (perhaps descended from survivors of a wrecked Spanish galleon in the 1600s—once again there is that touch of romantic history), of a mysterious and magical mare called The Phantom with a white map of the United States over her withers, and of the Phantom’s foal Misty, named because “she came up out of the sea.”

Young readers will read Misty for themselves, and even younger ones will delight in having the exciting story read to them. Will the plucky Paul and Maureen Beebe earn enough money to buy the Phantom and Misty? For me it never, never tires. And even today I thrill to the moment when the Phantom flies to meet the Pied Piper at the end. (I think I always loved the Phantom almost more than little Misty.)

The wonderful drawings of Wesley Dennis are as much a part of Misty as the story. He and Marguerite Henry had a fruitful partnership through the years, and I collected and treasured many of their books—not only Misty but Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, and Album of Horses.

Misty of Chincoteague is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. In these last few days before Christmas shop a nearby brick-and-mortar bookstore to avoid expedited shipping charges.

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18 Dec Book Shopping, Day Eighteen

New Classic Family Dinners by Mark PeelNew Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel jumped into my shopping cart for the cover photo alone—just look at that delectable little chicken pot pie! The most comforting of comfort foods, yet executed with elegance and restraint. And gorgeously photographed.

Mark Peel is the chef/owner of Campanile, an award-winning restaurant in Los Angeles. In this book he takes traditional, best-loved family dishes (meat loaf, barbecued ribs, hamburgers, pork chops, macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, chocolate pudding) and realizes them in a beautifully polished style—not so much “re-imagined” with a bunch of fancy additions, as made into the most perfect, most refined version of the simple original dish. That’s what makes this book a fabulous gift for plain home cooks (like me) as well as more ambitious foodies.

Peel’s voice is friendly and accessible and the photographs are simply stunning—this is not only a book to cook from but a book to curl up with on a rainy Saturday afternoon. For example, when he’s writing about his chocolate pudding he says “If Jell-O Pudding could fantasize about becoming something great, this would be it. Lighter and less intense than pots de crème, the creamy, comforting pudding with a whisper of mint added to the chocolate is very popular at the restaurant. We serve it in whiskey glasses. Note how little peppermint extract is needed here. You have to use this ingredient with caution. Mint is delicious right up to the point where it turns awful.” Heh. Now that is my kind of chef.

New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel, with contributions by Martha Rose Schulman and photographs by Lucy Schaeffer, is available at Books-a-Million, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. For these last few days before Christmas, shop in a brick-and-mortar bookstore to save expedited shipping charges.

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17 Dec Book Shopping, Day Seventeen

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler and Dirk CusslerHello, the Broadcasting Legend™ here, weighing in on book gift ideas for guys.

I like thrillers and I’ve enjoyed Clive Cussler since I read Raise the Titanic back in whenever. This guy can tell a story and that’s what I like—I read on airplanes and a book like this sure helps me forget the hassles and indignities of air travel today. Anyway.

In Arctic Drift, Cussler and his son (I can’t believe he actually named him “Dirk,” but that’s another story) collaborate on a yarn set in the near future, with the U.S. and Canada all set to go to war over global warming and the price of gas. Well, sometimes I feel like I’m ready to go to war over global warming and the price of gas, but still, Canada? It does sound weird but Cussler père et fils make it work. Suspension of disbelief, people. Add in an artificial photosynthesis process that could eliminate the threat of global warming (and hopefully bring down the price of gas), a couple of spooky Victorian ships (appropriately named the Erebus and the Terror) wrecked during an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage and frozen into Arctic ice [Note from Elizabeth: a nifty touch for history-lovers], a rare element called ruthenium (which I thought was made up because it sounds like it’s named after somebody’s maiden aunt, but which turns out to be real) and something called the Devil’s Breath, which supposedly according to Haisla of British Columbia is “a cold white breath of death that [kills a man] and everything around him.” I researched this a little and although the Haisla are real, I think the Cusslers made up the Devil’s Breath. More power to them—it’s still pretty cool. No pun intended.

I liked this book. I think other guys would like this book. And with that, I’ll turn the blog back over to Elizabeth to add the cover image and the links.

Arctic Drift by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore. For these last few days before Christmas, shop in a brick-and-mortar bookstore to save expedited shipping charges!

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16 Dec Book Shopping, Day Sixteen

Spice The History of a Temptation by Jack TurnerThis is one of those serendipitous books. You know how it happens—you’re browsing for one thing, and you happen across something else so intriguing you must have it now. Here it is—Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner.

In Roman and medieval times people believed spices came from Paradise, that misty garden of Adam and Eve somewhere far away to the east, and that is part of what made the flavors and scents of spices so precious, costly and mysterious. No, they weren’t really used to make rancid meat edible—fresh meat was less expensive and more readily available than spices were. But they were used with meats (and every other possible kind of foodstuff) to show off one’s wealth and social position. They were also mixed with wine, incorporated into magical potions, and used in sumptuous perfumes and unguents.

Let me just quote a bit from Publisher’s Weekly: “Turner’s lively and wide-ranging account begins with the voyages of discovery, but demonstrates that, even in ancient times, spices from distant India and Indonesia made their way west and fueled the European imagination. Romans and medieval Europeans alike used Asian pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace to liven their palates, treat their maladies, enhance their sex lives and mediate between the human and the divine.”

Spice is based on painstaking research and scholarship, but it’s shot through with such fascinating anecdotes and written with such wit and style that even casual readers will find it to their, well, taste. Find Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and of course your favorite independent bookstore.

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15 Dec Book Shopping, Day Fifteen

The Last Queen by C.W. GortnerThe Last Queen by C.W. Gortner joined my towering to-be-read pile because Juana of Castile, the last queen of the title (she was the last monarch of the house of Trastámara) was my own Barbara of Austria’s grandmother. Who would not be curious about this intriguing woman, sister of the better-known Catherine of Aragon, wife of Philip the Fair of Austria (who could ever trust a man who is called “Philip the Fair,” anyway?), and ultimately in her own right Juana I of Castile, Juana la Loca, Joanna the Mad?

We enter into Juana’s life when she is just thirteen, an exquisite child at a Spanish court which for her lifetime has been little more than a series of military camps while her parents, Fernando and Isabel, drove the Moors out of Spain and created a united nation. She is married off to the Habsburg archduke Philip sight unseen, for political advantage—the usual fate of princesses at the time—but falls passionately and jealously in love with him. Poor Juana. Philip proves to be a philanderer, which is bad enough. (Supposedly Juana attacked one of his mistresses with a pair of scissors, slashing her face and cutting her hair.) Worse, he wants her throne for himself. Gortner’s Juana is proud, willful, high-hearted, and trapped—not so much mad as understandably driven to extremes of love and hate.

Royal secrets, opulent intrigue (the best kind), passions and poisons, love and death—this is my favorite sort of book. The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner is available at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon, and of course your favorite independent bookstore.

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14 Dec Book Shopping, Day Fourteen

Wild Strawberries by Angela ThirkellToday I’m going to recommend something a little different—not necessarily Wild Strawberries (although it’s a striking cover, which is why I chose it, and a very good book in its own right) but any one (or two or three or a dozen) of the Barsetshire novels you can find by Angela Thirkell.

Not all of them are in print—you may have to try used book stores or sites to find some of them. (Here’s a complete list from the Angela Thirkell Society in North America.) But oh, do they repay the effort! In brief, Thirkell takes the English county of Barsetshire originally created by Anthony Trollope (dear Anthony Trollope! He is my hero when it comes to productivity) and updates it to the England of the thirties, forties and fifties. She peoples it with amusing and colorful characters (some of whom are descendants of Trollope’s original Barsetshireans), and with a deliciously light, wry, self-deprecating touch she sends up village ways, aristocratic follies, and (horrors!) middle-class aspirations.

Thirkell is one of my personal writing sages, and whenever I am blue or overwhelmed by the complexity of modern-day life I retreat to Barsetshire, to Winter Overcotes and Worsted, Pomfret Hall and Little Misfit, Gatherum Castle (home, of course, to the Duke of Omnium) and Pooker’s Piece.

Search for “Angela Thirkell” and choose whatever strikes your fancy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Abebooks, Alibris, and of course your favorite independent bookstore.

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13 Dec Book Shopping, Day Thirteen

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla TharpDo you have a writer on your Christmas list? A musician, a painter, a sculptor, a dancer, an actor, a weaver or embroiderer, any kind of creative artist? Give that person this wonderful book. Do you have a businessperson, a teacher, a homemaker, a parent, a medical services provider? Those are creative professions as well. Give those people this wonderful book, too. Oh, heck, just give it to everybody! In case you haven’t already guessed, I love this book.

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is an honest, plain-spoken handbook to a creative life, from what Tharp calls “scratching” for ideas, through finding the “spine” of the idea you choose and getting into the “groove” of productivity. She’s blunt about the need for good old-fashioned virtues like preparation, routine, discipline and perseverance. Whether you’re choreographing a dance, writing a novel, designing a dress, creating a PowerPoint presentation of the last quarter’s sales figures, or whipping up a soufflé à la vanille (mmmm! And of course you always use good vanilla), Tharp’s brisk and engaging philosophy of the creative life will get you on the right track and keep you there. She even includes exercises to get your imaginative blood flowing and your artistic muscles limbered up.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is available at Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and of course your favorite independent bookseller.

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12 Dec Book Shopping, Day Twelve

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss GlasserI love Fancy Nancy (despite the fact that I am a bit older than four) and follow all her adventures faithfully. Here is a delicious new Fancy Nancy book, just in time for the holidays—and of course it is called Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. What better opportunity for fancyness, after all, than Christmas?

Here’s the alluring copy from the book jacket: “Presents with elegant wrapping paper, festive decorations, Christmas cookies with sprinkles—and who could forget the tree? After all, there is no such thing as too much tinsel. Ooh la la! This year, Nancy is especially excited about decorating the Christmas tree. She bought a brand-new sparkly tree topper with her own money and has been waiting for Christmas to come. But when things don’t turn out the way Nancy planned, will Christmas still be splendiferous?”

Sprinkles! I have a special affinity for sprinkles myself, and that just makes this book all the more scrumptious to me. The illustration of Nancy and her sister putting sprinkles on the cookies is wonderful. (Well, actually all the illustrations are wonderful.) This book is a splendiferous choice for children four to eight, and I know any number of fanciful adults who would be charmed by it as well.

Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser is available at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon, and of course from your favorite independent bookstore.