Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jane Austen Challenge

I usually don't participate in the many reading challenges I see around because I have my own interests and certain areas I want to explore, but the Jane Austen challenge is extremely easy and will help me complete a goal I've had for a while. The challenge is to read or watch (beginning July 1) a combination of six Austen books (or Austen-inspired books) and movies. I have yet to read Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Lady Susan by Austen, so there's an easy three. I have an entire collection of the BBC version of Austen's novels, so the challenge will be complete. For more information about the Jane Austen challenge, or just for interesting information about the world of Jane Austen, visit here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Creative Life

I believe in living the creative life. Whether I am choosing books to read, blogging, decorating my home, preparing for the holidays, or just simply planning everyday activities with my family and friends, I thoroughly enjoy going the extra mile to make things special. While I am not an artist and couldn't draw a decent picture if my life depended on it, I do think of myself as being creative. I love to choose colors and textures and accents around my home to make it cozy and inviting, and you'll always be greeted with the scent of a candle burning to welcome you with fragrance. (Yankee candles are my choice --autumn wreath, a spicy apple/cinnamon flavor, is year-round in my kitchen. Check out their yummy seasonal scents here.) I enjoy scrapbooking as a hobby, as well, and love to create home decor with the some of my favorite photos. For example, here is a scrapbook page that I made for my daughter's album, and I loved it so much I decided not to store it away in an album. I framed it and it now hangs in my scrapbook office so I can enjoy her sweetness every single day. (The caption on the page reads,"You're Always in my Heart.") You can click on the photo images for greater details.

My son brought home this painting that he had done in art class, and I was tempted to place it with all his other school memorabilia. On second thought, I decided to frame it so we could all enjoy it, and it now hangs in my office for all to see.

My most recent creative project was completed right before I left for the beach last week. Every summer, a group of my friends head to the beach for a week of fun and relaxation. We each bring a gift bag of goodies, and we open our presents on the first night. Here are the beach scrapbooks I made for each person, and inside were a few photos from last year's trip. When we get our latest photos developed, they can add those photos as well.

Some of my favorite books and magazines on creative living are:
Martha Stewart Living magazine
Veranda magazine
Southern Living magazine
Creating a Beautiful Home by Alexandra Stoddard
Simple Abundance by Sara Ban Breathnach
Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard

What do you do to make life interesting and creative? Please feel free to share!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

Book description:

"An impetuous young lady and a fugitive nobleman...When spirited Eustacie stumbles into a band of smugglers, she is delighted to be having an adventure at last. Their leader, young heir Ludovic Lavenham, is in hiding, falsely accused of murder. Pursued by the law, Eustacie and Ludovic find refuge at an unassuming country inn.

And the delightfully sensible couple who try to keep them out of trouble...The resourceful Miss Sarah Thane and the clear-thinking Sir Tristram Shield gamely endeavor to prevent Ludovic's arrest and Eustacie's ruin as the four conspire to recover the missing talisman ring that will clear Ludovic's name."

My thoughts:

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer, (known as the Queen
of Regency Romances) is a fun, rollicking read that is part romance, part mystery, and part detective/adventure story. If you enjoy Regency period details, as I do, Heyer is a treat. (You'll especially enjoy her meticulous research on foppish fashions.) If you can get past some of Eustacie's inane comments and impetuous behavior, you will find an enjoyable double romance with a few laughs along the way. You will also enjoy picking up Regency era slang in Georgette Heyer's books; I found this reference guide to Regency slang that might prove to be useful if you want to read more of Heyer's books. Check out the site here.

On a related note, the book was originally printed in 1936. The new paperback editions of Georgette Heyer's work by Sourcebook, Inc. are absolutely beautiful. I am guilty of judging a book by its cover, and I was drawn to the gorgeous covers in the bookstore. I am looking forward to having an opportunity to read more of Heyer's Regency romances, historical fiction, and mysteries now in new editions.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Book description:

"Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave." These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.


"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."
And so begins the delightful novel, Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn.

A truly enjoyable book which kept me engaged from the first two sentences of the book (hooks you right from the start) until the last page (lots of twisty turns in the plot and a few surprises that I didn't see coming). While the book is in essence a Victorian murder mystery, the formal working relationship between Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane takes an interesting turn and she is attracted to the mysterious Brisbane... but discovers that he has a dark and dangerous side to his personality. Is he battling a physical illness, a psychological warfare, or something even more sinister? We are given a few insights into Brisbane's life and past, but there is still much to learn about this interesting character. A wonderful mixture of period details, a good bit of detective work, and scandalous revelations in the prim and proper London home of Lady Julia.


Also by Deanna Raybourn: Silent in the Sanctuary, Silent on the Moor

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Getting ready to head to the beach for a glorious vacation with the best, funniest, craziest (in a good way) friends in the world. Looking forward to the sounds of the surf, the scent of Coppertone, and the refreshing taste of a margarita (with salt) on the rocks.

"If life gives you limes, make margaritas." Jimmy Buffet

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Silent in the Grave

Well, I'm slow, that's all. My head has been in the world of kiddie lit and teaching reading for so long that I haven't had time to explore authors for my own enjoyment. But all that is about to change........

I'm very particular about the novels I read, and when I find an author I enjoy, I go on a reading spree. Since finding Diana Gabaldon's terrific Outlander series several years ago, I've become very spoiled. She's a difficult writer to top -- and many authors that I have high hopes for fall short. However, I may have just stumbled across someone who may turn out to be another favorite. The author is Deanna Raybourn, and her Lady Julia Gray series, at present, is a trilogy. (Silent in the Grave, Silent on the Moor, and Silent in the Sanctuary). I might be wrong, but she seems to be influenced by Diana Gabaldon -- I've read her blog (check it out here) and her blog posts begin with "In which we....." (very reminiscent of DG). Of course, I'm comparing apples and oranges here; Diana's "thing" is time-travel and Scottish Highlanders, and Deanna Raybourn's novels are Victorian mysteries. Anyway, it's been a while since I've enjoyed someone's writing so much. Here are two trailers to tempt you:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Super- Quick Recipes

There's only one time out of the year that I love spending hours in the kitchen -- that's on Thanksgiving Day. The other 364 days of the year, I'm happy to throw some chicken in the oven and call it done. I'm always on the lookout for super quick, super easy recipes that pack the flavor and get me out of a cooking rut. Here's one of my favorite easy recipes for tasty "Southwestern Chicken."

You need: (feeds family of 4)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
l jar salsa (I like mild, but if you prefer hot and spicy, go for it)
l small can kernel corn (drained)
1 small can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (any kind is good - cheddar, pepperjack, whatever you have on hand or prefer)
seasoning for the chicken breasts (I usually season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder)

Cooking Directions:
l. Arrange chicken breasts in baking dish (use non-stick spray)
2. Season to taste - bake chicken breasts as usual at 400 degrees until almost done; remove from oven and top each chicken breast with salsa; mix the beans and corn together and spoon on top of salsa; top with cheese. Put back in oven and continue cooking until topping is warmed through and chicken in done. (approx. 10-15 minutes more)

Serve with yellow rice and a green salad.

Strawberries and "cheesecake" dip

You need:
1 pint fresh strawberries
4 ounces lowfat cream cheese (softened)
1 (approx. 4-6 oz size) container lowfat vanilla yogurt
1/4 tsp. almond extract
crushed graham cracker crumbs

Mix softened cream cheese, vanilla yogurt, and almond extract until smooth. Put graham cracker crumbs in small serving bowl, and cream cheese mixture in a separate serving bowl. Dip strawberry in cream cheese mixture first, then in graham cracker crumbs. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Books to Movies

While browsing a few book blogs recently, I came across an interesting challenge that was posted. The challenge was to read a book (or use one that you had already read) and then watch the movie version to compare. I began thinking about some of the books I have enjoyed reading that had either a movie or miniseries based on the novel, and whether or not I liked the movie interpretation. In some cases, I thought the movie version did justice to the book, but in other cases, the interpretations did not match mine or the original plot was altered too much to my liking. For example, I loved reading The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough and have watched the miniseries several times; I thought the book was closely followed and I cry a river of tears every time I watch the miniseries. Another book I read, The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston LeRoux was made into one of my absolute favorite movies. Obviously, the music score by Andrew Lloyd Webber for the stage translated beautifully on screen and enhanced the story tremendously. On the other hand, I did not care for the movie version of Toni Morrison's Beloved; her writing is richly layered prose with symbolism and allusion which does not translate well to a movie version. I have to laugh whenever I think of the movie version of another favorite book of mine: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. The town was buzzing in 1993 when we learned that filming would begin in New Orleans for the celebrated novel, and we were all horrified, including Anne Rice, when Tom Cruise was cast for the lead role of the vampire, Lestat. Tom Cruise??!! Anne Rice was not amused -- Lestat was her beloved undead creation, and Cruise was NOT her vision and she was quite vocal about her doubts. Some of the scenes were filmed in a plantation home just around the corner from where I lived at the time, and I found myself walking my dog more than usual trying to get a glimpse of either Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, the two most unlikely actors, in the majority's opinion, for these roles. However, when the movie was finally in theatres, most agreed that the two actors had done justice to their characters, and even Anne Rice said she was pleased, so all was well. Gotta love the ending of the movie -- "Sympathy for the Devil." (see playlist at right -- click pop-out)

Click here to find a compilation of over one thousand novels, short stories, and plays that have been made into movies since 1980.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Waiting for New Moon

Monday, June 1, 2009

Replacing lost books

Anyone who knows me, knows I've never been materialistic. I've been a teacher most of my life, and goodness knows, I've never met a wealthy educator. Aside from my family, which are my real treasures, the only material things in life that have any value to me are my photos and my books. I have lost dolls and games and toys from childhood, but I still have my copy of The Ugly Duckling,a collection of fairy tales, and many paperbacks that I ordered from Arrow Book Club and Tab Book Club in school (remember those?) Unfortunately, though, when Katrina hit, I only had time to pack some clothes and load up the trunk with as many photo albums and scrapbooks as would fit. When we locked the front door and drove away, I knew with absolute certainty that I had everything in the world that mattered right there with me. When we returned weeks later, we found out that we were one of the few very lucky ones. We had a home, much worse for the wear, to return to. The waters had only flooded a portion of the house where we had containers stored. And in those containers books. (The ones inside the house on high shelves were spared.) Now, I can never go back and replace all those lost books, and I really don't want to; I can't even remember all the titles that I had from my teen years up to 2005. Many books are now out of print and hard to find. But there were a few that I despaired about losing and not being able to order again because they are out of print. I have found ebay to be a safe bet, but even there some titles weren't available and you can lose out with not being high bidder. I found and located two very hard-to-find titles on their site. I took a chance and ordered just two books (each one cost $l.00) to see if the shopping experience was a safe and efficient one, and I'm happy to report the books came as promised and in very good condition for paperbacks printed in the 1980's. (I'll tell you what those two books are in a future post.) But for now, check out the website if you have a title that you can't seem to locate...of course, prices vary, but the price was right for me!

"Books are the treasured wealth of the world...." Henry David Thoreau

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »