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Friday, January 31, 2014

Review: My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

Title: My Beloved World
Author: Sonia Sotomayor
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Knopf (Audio by Random House)
Publish Date: January 2013
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.

Here is the story of a precarious childhood, with an alcoholic father (who would die when she was nine) and a devoted but overburdened mother, and of the refuge a little girl took from the turmoil at home with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. But it was when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes that the precocious Sonia recognized she must ultimately depend on herself.  She would learn to give herself the insulin shots she needed to survive and soon imagined a path to a different life. With only television characters for her professional role models, and little understanding of what was involved, she determined to become a lawyer, a dream that would sustain her on an unlikely course, from valedictorian of her high school class to the highest honors at Princeton, Yale Law School, the New York County District Attorney’s office, private practice, and appointment to the Federal District Court before the age of forty. Along the way we see how she was shaped by her invaluable mentors, a failed marriage, and the modern version of extended family she has created from cherished friends and their children. Through her still-astonished eyes, America’s infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-invention and self-discovery."


My Two Cents:

Before reading this book or rather listening to this book as it were, I really did not know much about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's background at all. This book is Justice Sotomayor's memoir of her childhood and her entrance into the world of law. The book doesn't cover up to the present day and really does not even talk about how she became a Supreme Court Justice but this memoir is so rich and Sotomayor's early life is so fascinating that you don't even miss that she doesn't talk about the more recent years of her life.

Sotomayor really has a fascinating and amazing life. She grew up poor in the Bronx with two immigrant parents, an alcoholic father and a mother who was incredibly supportive of Sotomayor and her brother and truly helped to drive them forward. Sotomayor is perfectly candid about what her life was like during this time. The candor is just a part of what makes this book really special. Her life was hard and it is amazing to see how she was able to rise above the conditions that would have stopped or stymied so many other people in order to go on to have a truly amazing career. So few people become Supreme Court Justices and even fewer women have become Supreme Court Justice.

I really love reading stories of truly inspirational people. Sotomayor never brags in this book. She seems so down to earth. In the foreword of the book, she says something along the lines of how she wants to show people who have come from a background where they believe that they aren't going to be able to climb that ladder and get to the point where they are able to achieve really amazing things. Even though I really enjoyed this book, part of me would love to see a sequel of sorts where Sotomayor talks more about her recent life, including her time on the Supreme Court.


 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Monuments Men

I don't know about you guys but I am really, really excited to see The Monuments Men when it comes out. I had no idea that the story was a real story or that the movie was based on a book (truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!!!). In honor of this movie, I'm excited to have Elizabeth Eckhart here to talk about some other famous WWII books. 


The Monuments Men (2014) Poster

Given America’s ongoing fascination with World War II, it’s hard to believe that new books and films are still able to entertain and educate audiences nearly 70 years after the fact. But as many historians and authors have discovered, it’s not always the major, well-known plotlines that are the most well-received — in fact, those details soon became faded in the years following the war. It’s the unheard-of heroes, and tales of those who fought the smaller battles, such as a simple foot soldier, a child left behind or one of the many Jews who feared for their lives, that will never get old. World War II provides the perfect canvas to explore all emotional aspects that make up the human condition: fear, hatred, love, happiness, bravery, despair and more. It’s no surprise then, that books like The Monuments Men, are still able to profoundly move audiences. Below, you’ll find a list of some of the top World War II books, with options for both fiction and nonfiction readers:

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel (2009)

The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from 13 different nations who saw the possible threat of Hitler’s reign of terror beyond solely the loss of lives. Through overseas informants, the Monuments Men learned that Hitler was intent on hoarding the world’s greatest art for himself, and had already begun raiding museums with collections he desired. Behind this knowledge was the awareness that if he failed with his ultimate goal of ruling an empire, or was jeopardized in his mission to possess the art for himself, he would destroy multiple culture’s entire artistic past. The Monuments Men’s stories often include risking their lives in order to protect art’s history, which for many, held the essence of humanity. It’s no surprise then that George Clooney has decided to turn this 2009 bestseller into a film (released Feb. 7, 2014).

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer (1965)

Despite debates on the accuracy of the book, “The Forgotten Soldier” is an interesting and compelling Eastern Front memoir, which is a welcome look at the other side’s tale. Questions of authenticity aside, the novel is still a devastating first-hand story of a German soldier in World War II. The novel describes the bitter cold of Russian winter, which the German’s were entirely unprepared for, and the merciless training procedures. Like many German tales, Sajer at first romanticizes his soon-to-be adventure, but as life as a soldier becomes increasingly difficult, his opinions begin to shift.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A fictional story narrated by Death, who is an actual being, this novel was originally intended for a younger audience and is often (regrettably) placed in the children’s section of bookstores. Yet another that has recently been made into a film, The Book Thief follows a young German girl named Liesel, who is on her way to be fostered when her brother dies. Her foster family, the Hubermanns, are poor but loving, and manage to make ends meet even after taking in a Jewish runaway. The book is a tearjerker, and might even be too much for young children who aren’t yet ready to read about the horrors of death.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006)

Yet another story following a young German child, this is one is viewed as highly improbable, but still is well-renowned for its ability to depict the absolute innocence of a child. The story follows the naive friendship of two young boys, one inside a death camp and one out, as they struggle to understand what, besides a fence, separates them.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)

Though well-known, Anne Frank’s diary always deserves a second look. It is a wonderful insight into the human ability to create bonds and friendships in the worst of times. Anne describes being hidden in the sealed upper rooms of her father’s offices in the same tone she admits that she is often considered a chatterbox.

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (1982)

While Spielberg used this text to inspire the majorly successful film, it is still worth a read after you’ve viewed the film. In the story, Oskar Schindler, a fictional Nazi Party member, has a change of heart and chooses to save 1,200 Jews in Poland and Germany from the fate of the concentration camps.

Commander in Chief by Eric Larrabee (1987)

Larrabee’s book stands apart from the others due to its unique form. The novel is a tale of American participation in World War II, but it is delivered through a series of individual biographies. Somehow, Larrabee connects the tale flawlessly, moving from FDR to General George Marshall and even General Curtis LeMay, who stood over the ashes in Japan. This is one of the few books available that paints accurate and examining pictures of the wartime leadership and the consequences of each man’s decision during World War II.

Author bio: Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment and film blogger for Directstartv.com, who finds nothing more compelling than a good story, no matter its medium.

Review: Flora by Gail Godwin

Title: Flora
Author: Gail Godwin
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publish Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Library





Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like coming of age stories.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Ten-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen's decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II.At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died.A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories.Flora, her late mother's twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen.Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.

This darkly beautiful novel about a child and a caretaker in isolation evokes shades of The Turn of the Screw and also harks back to Godwin's memorable novel of growing up, The Finishing School. With its house on top of a mountain and a child who may be a bomb that will one day go off, Flora tells a story of love, regret, and the things we can't undo.It will stay with readers long after the last page is turned."


My Two Cents:

"Flora" follows Helen as she is cared for by her super-sensitive older cousin, Flora. It's a historical-fiction book that takes place during the last days of World War II. Helen's father is doing top secret work at the infamous Oak Ridge facility. Cut off from the rest of the world due to the ongoing polio epidemic, it's just Helen and Flora together. This is Helen's coming of age story told from her own perspective as an older woman.

Helen was a difficult character for me to really find common ground with. That being said, I don't think it's the author's intention that we, the readers, really like her. She's very intelligent for her age but she is also very bratty, often because of her feelings of superiority and the realization of her intelligence compared to other people. It's through this story and Helen's summer with Flora that we begin to see that Helen is aware that her haughtiness really doesn't win her any friends. She sees herself as being smarter than Flora and shows it, which gets her into trouble.

This book is sort of quiet. It's by no means a happy book and that's okay. I think it has a lot of good lessons. Who hasn't felt superior to someone else in some way before? We judge a lot of people when they don't fit into the molds we think that they should and it can be quite hurtful. This book was a good reminder that we have to seek to appreciate those that are different than us. Different doesn't necessarily mean better or worse. Helen eventually realizes that she shouldn't judge Flora for just simply being good hearted but it may have come too late!


 

 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Calling All Historical Fiction Fans!

 



 What are you doing tomorrow, my fellow hist-fic lovers? Stephanie Dray, author of Daughters of the Nile (and Lily of the Nile and Song of the Nile), is holding a Facebook party January 30th from 12pm to 10pm EST in celebration of Daughters of the Nile. There will be tons of hist-fic authors hanging out and tons of prizes to be won! 

Here's the line-up right now:
Stephanie Dray 12pm-10pm
Jeannie Lin at 12pm
M.m. Bennetts at 12:30pm
Kate Quinn at 1pm
Erika Shephard Robuck at 1:15pm
Heather Webb at 1:30pm
Vicky Alvear Shecter at 1:45pm
J.F. Ridgley at 2pm
Kristina McMorris at 2:15pm
Donna Russo Morin at 3pm
Amy Phillips Bruno at 3:30pm
Eliza Knight at 4pm
Gillian Bagwell at 4:15pm
Sophie Perinot at 4:30pm
Kathryn Kimball Johnson (aka Mary Hart Perry) at 5pm
Audra Friend at 6pm
Helen Hollick at 6:15pm
Alma Katsu at 7pm
Roberta Oliver Trahan at 8pm
Marci McGuire Jefferson at 8:15pm
Stephanie Thornton at 8:30pm
Stephanie Cowell at 9pm
Sabrina Darby at 9:45pm


Review: Behind the Beautiful Forever by Katherine Boo

Title: Behind the Beautiful Forever
Author: Katherine Boo
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: February 7, 2012
Source: Library





Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting“ in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl“—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget."


My Two Cents:

"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" is one of those books that I have read a ton of rave reviews about. I'm trying to get more non-fiction in my reading diet so this book fit the bill. After reading this book, I can officially tell you that the rave reviews are definitely correct about this book. This book is a difficult read because of the subject matter but this book is such an important read. I truly believe that it is important to read books like this that make you a little more uncomfortable because they teach you more about the world.

Boo follows several people through their daily lives in one of the poorest slums, Annawadi, of the Indian city of Mumbai. Above all, most of the people that appear in this book are incredibly resourceful. In a place like India where the caste system is still very much alive and well, there are so many people in this community that are using everything they have in order to get out from under this system. You have to respect them for that. It's hard. Some of the people in the book are less scrupulous than others in how they choose to make their way through life.

Boo is a reporter and an American and therefore obviously, an outsider to this community that she is writing about. One thing I always fear when outsiders are writing about a particular place or a particular group of people is that the book will be made up of the author's insertions and judgements, which is something that I would not read. Opinions only get you so far in trying to understand an issue. I appreciated that in this book, Boo refrains from making judgements. She is simply reporting on what it is that is happening in Annawadi and what the people are doing. Boo leaves the conclusions to the readers.

Again, this book is a difficult read. I can not begin to understand what it must be like to live in a place like Annawadi. Boo gives us a picture into what it must have been live in a place like this. This is definitely a worthy read!


  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Review: A Traitor's Fate by Derek Birks

Title: A Traitor's Fate
Author: Derek Birks
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: November 1, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.






Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Peace never lasts…
It is 1464. Ned Elder and his two sisters, Emma & Eleanor, have won a hard-fought peace and their feud with the Radcliffes seems long over, but one man never accepted the outcome. After three bitter years of waiting to destroy the Elders, a new ally provides him with a fresh opportunity for revenge.

When Ned is summoned to confront a Lancastrian revolt by the new king, Edward of York, he finds his enemies are not just amongst the ranks of the rebels. Branded a traitor by his own commander, the Earl of Warwick, Ned is soon a wanted man in hostile territory and the price on his head only rises when he stumbles upon a royal secret.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Emma watch over Ned’s pregnant wife, Amelie, with only a small garrison of old men and boys to protect them. The feud may have ended, but the scars run deep for all three women and they must hold their nerve and prepare to defend themselves at any cost.

A condemned man, Ned must find a way to escape his pursuers or else the whole Elder family will be destroyed."


My Two Cents:

"A Traitor's Fate" is the second book in Derek Birks' Rebels and Brothers series. This book follows the continuing adventures of Ned and his sisters, Eleanor and Emma. In order to really get the most out of this book, you really should read the first book first so you are able to "get" this book and understand the characters a little bit better. With good characters and fascinating detail, this historical fiction tale will definitely be worth your while.

This book started out a little bit slowly for me but it eventually picked up the pace as the action picks up. This book continues to cover the War of the Roses, which is really fascinating to me. Things were changing for England so quickly. I love that you get a first hand look at how some of those people surrounding the fighting families were also affected. You get to see what they were contending with and how everyone was forced to choose a side.

One of the things that I really liked about this book is that you get a taste of both the male and female point of view of this time. You don't always get that in books, especially not historical fiction. Ned, Eleanor, and Emma share the stage in this book and it is through them that we get to see a lot of different perspectives of the time period. I thought that the author did a really good job of balancing between all of the different main characters. You really do get a chance to know all of them well! Balance like that can be hard to find. 


 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Title: For Darkness Shows the Stars
Author: Diana Peterfreund
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publish Date: June 12, 2012
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "It's been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.

Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family's estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot's estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth--an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.

But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret--one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she's faced with a choice: cling to what she's been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she's ever loved, even if she's lost him forever."


My Two Cents:

Not only does "For Darkness Shows the Stars" have an absolutely gorgeous cover, it's also based on Jane Austen's Persuasion. I love retellings and this book was definitely one that was well done. Set in the future when some people have tried to mess around too much with science and went against nature, society is divided. There are now three groups of people. There are the Luddites, those who have shunned technology. There are the Reductionists, those that have been reduced to almost shells of themselves by the use and abuse of genetic experiences. Then there are the Post-Reductionists, those that were descended from Reductionists.

Dystopian is definitely a trend that has been done a lot recently in YA fiction. It seems like everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. Some of it is done very well, some is done not so well. In this case, this book was done really well. The world building was great. I could picture the island that Elliot and Kai live on. I could picture Elliot's farm. I also thought that the back story was interesting and well-detailed. I was intrigued by the idea of so many people using and abusing science to make things better. While I'm not sure Elliot's world is in the cards but you can see now what a big part of life technology that make our lives better is. Elliot's world is extreme but really, really interesting to ponder.

The book was well written. I really liked the letters between Elliot and Kai. While it was sometimes confusing for the narrative to go back and forth in time, I thought that it was really cool to see the back story of how Elliot and Kai's lives got to be how they are in the present day of the book.

Overall, I thought this was a very interesting retelling. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the sequel.


 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Making Resolutions, Breaking Resolutions

So we are just about a month into the new year and I'm still thinking about resolutions. I have my personal resolutions but I also have some bookish ones. I meant to write them down to keep me honest but time just slipped away from me (isn't that always the way?).

One bookish resolution that I have been trying to keep is to not get so excited about all of the different book review offers that I get that I forget about all of the other books that I want to read. I read really fast (I read almost 350 books in 2013!), which means I can take on a lot of reviews but I realize that I really need to be more selective so I can read all of the books that keep getting added on to my TBR list. It is so hard to find that balance! I would love if any of you out there have some advice for me on how balance these things!

This weekend ended up being nice and bookish for me. My husband told me a couple weeks ago that he had a secret date planned for us for Saturday. The date ended up being a behind the scenes tour of the new American Trail exhibit at the National Zoo, baby panda viewing also at the zoo, lunch at one of my favorite D.C. restaurants (Comet Ping Pong), and then a trip to one of my favorite indie bookstores, Politics and Prose.

Here's what I got:






What did you read this weekend?

Review, Guest Post, and Giveaway: The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

Title: The Art of Falling
Author: Kathryn Craft
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: January 28, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.


Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like memorable characters.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "One wrong step could send her over the edge.

All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning."


My Two Cents:

"The Art of Falling" is the story of Penny, a young woman whose whole life has revolved around dance. She lives and breathes dance and when it looks like she may not be able to live those dreams anymore, she doesn't know what to do and decides to end it. Luckily, she's given a second chance, which is really where this story picks up. We get to see as Penny realizes that it is up to her to take control over her life and turn it into something that she wants.

Penny was not my favorite character in the beginning. She was sort of mopey and didn't seem to want to make things better for herself when she really could be much worse off than she was. But through the people that she meets, she begins to see that she needs to really appreciate what she has and what she can do. I really liked seeing this transition. I think transitions in characters can be really difficult to write and really make believable but that definitely happens in this book. The secondary characters in the book were also standout for me. I appreciated that you really got to know them as well.

I don't know a lot about the world of dance besides the fact that 1. I have no dancing talent whatsoever and 2. I thoroughly appreciate people who do have that talent because it is absolutely amazing. This book gives you a peek into the professional dance world. It explores a lot of issues such as body image and how difficult it can be to find a job in that realm.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one.




Guest Post:

I am very excited to welcome author Kathryn Craft here to A Bookish Affair today.


Which character do you relate to the most?
My heart beats within each of the characters in The Art of Falling. The one I relate to the most though is Margaret MacArthur, the dance critic. The woman is clearly misunderstood.
The protagonist, Penelope Sparrow, sees her as someone who is there to judge. To make or break her. As a dance critic for nineteen years, I understand what it’s like to have one’s motivations misconstrued—and if I’d seen judgment as my role I never would have had the nerve to publish a single review.
1) Critics are avid fans. First and foremost, they are writers who want to share their love and appreciation for their chosen art form. They have to love the medium if they are going to engage with it over and over again! While advocates, however, they don’t love everything. They advocate excellence—and this can make them appear judgmental.
2) Critics are quintessential audience members. Because they attend everything, they aren’t easily manipulated. Their depth and breadth of experience in the art form allows them to expose deeper layers of the work to viewers easily wowed by spectacle.
3) Critics have honed their analytical skills. My reviews were always about effectiveness, not judgment. Did the artist accomplish what he set out to do? Could I even guess what that was—and in the end, did it even matter? How and why did it move me, or what stood in the way of my connection to it? These are highly individual determinations. Critics speak for themselves. Period.
4) Critics can serve as interpreters. Their specialized knowledge of an art form can help give audience members a way to discuss what they saw. This is especially important in the dance world—the performance is both non-verbal and ephemeral. Most audience members will have one chance to absorb what they experienced, and can’t revisit the work later. By exchanging movement for words, the critic can extend the significance of the experience.
5) Critics can add perspective. Works of art are influenced by so many aspects of our culture, and by what has come before in that art from. Commentary can help the audience understand the place of this work within the larger context of our world.
Margaret MacArthur was not judging Penelope, or trying to break her. She served her in a critically important way: by extending a bridge between the specialized world of dance and the world of the average viewer.

Giveaway:

I am excited to be able to give away a copy of The Art of Falling, compliments of the publisher (open to U.S. and CAN only). Just answer the following question below. I will choose a random winner after a week from all of the correct answers using Random.org.

Which American choreographer won the Best Director Oscar for the film version of West Side Story?

 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Burns Night!

Tonight is Burns Night. Burns Night is a Scottish holiday celebrating Scotland's very own Robert Burns, a fantastic poet.






Burns Night in Scotland means having a big party and as I am one that believes in finding just about any excuse to celebrate, I thought I'd share how to throw your own shindig!


How to throw your very own Burns Night celebration:

Welcome - A selected speaker acts as Master of Ceremonies and welcomes guests to the dinner (with bagpipes playing in the background, of course!) before reciting the Selkirk Grace - "Some hae meat and canna eat, and some would eat that want it, But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.'

* 'Piping' of the Haggis - Everyone stands as the main course is brought in - haggis - which is usually displayed on a large dish.

Address to Haggis (http://www.scotland.org/celebrate-scotland/burns-night/address-to-a-haggis) - The host performs a theatrical version of BurnsAddress to the Haggis then invites guests to host the haggis and everyone, including the chef, raises their glasses and shouts 'The Haggis' before enjoying a dram of whisky.

The Meal - The centerpiece of every Burns' Supper menu is the iconic haggis (a traditional Scottish sausage made from a sheep's stomach stuffed with diced sheep's liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet and seasoning). Traditional accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties, or as they are more commonly known - turnips and potatoes, which are normally served mashed.

* What to Wear - It is traditional for Scots to wear kilts instead of a black tie and suit as they would at other formal occasions.

The Immortal Memory - The main speaker gives an enthralling account of Burns' life to remind guests why Burns' memory should be immortal. His literary prowess, politics, nationalistic pride in Scotland, faults and humor should all be explored to give the audience an insight into Burns' life and works in a witty, yet serious way.

Toast to the Lassies - A humorous speech written for the evening that gently ridicules the (few) shortcomings of women that aims to amuse both sides of the audience. Despite the initial mockery, the speech ends on a positive note with the speaker asking the men to raise their glasses in a toast 'to the lassies.'

* Reply to the Toast of the Lassies -  The chance for a female speaker to retort with some good-natured jokes of her own, beginning with a sarcastic thanks on behalf of the women present for the previous speaker's 'kind' words. 

* Auld Lang Syne - A Burns Supper traditionally ends with the singing of Burns' famous song about parting, Auld Lang Syne. Everyone joins hands in a large circle and sings the words together. Auld Lang Syne is now so well known, across the globe that The Guinness Book of World Records lists it as one of the top three most frequently sung songs in the English language

 Recipe:

Every good celebration needs some food! Here's a recipe for haggis.

Traditional Haggis, Neeps & Tatties

Jeff Bland, The Balmoral


Serves 4

Ingredients

1.5 cups of haggis – purchased from a good quality butcher
4 baking potatoes
1.5 oz butter
1.5 oz cream
1 turnip
8 shallots
1 sprig of thyme
3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1.5 oz of sugar
salt
1 cup of red wine
½ cup of port
2 cups of brown chicken stock
About 1 shot of whisky
1 cup of cream

Method
·     Scrub the potatoes and bake them whole in the skins in the oven at 180 degrees until cooked.
·     Remove from the oven and scoop out the flesh of the potatoes and pass through a fine sieve or potato ricer. Add in the cream and butter and mix.
·     At the same time, peel and dice the turnip and cook in salted water then pass through a fine sieve or potato ricer.
·     Follow the butcher’s instructions for the haggis based on size.
·     Use a round metal ring and layer with one third of haggis layer followed by a third of mashed turnip before adding the mashed potatoes to fill the ring. To heat put in a medium oven until warm.
·     Make a stock from the port, red wine, sugar, garlic, thyme and salt. Simmer in a pan together with the shallots until tender. Remove the tough outside layer when cooked.
·     Make a whisky sauce with the brown chicken stock and cream before adding the whisky at the end to taste.
·     Serve the timbale of haggis with 2 shallots and the whisky sauce.

Credit: Rocco Forte Hotels



Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: Shopaholic & Sister by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Shopaholic & Sister
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: The Dial Press
Publish Date: 2004
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "What’s a round-the-world honeymoon if you can’t buy the odd souvenir to ship back home? Like the Chinese urns and twenty silk dressing gowns Becky found in Hong Kong…the five kilim rugs from Turkey…the splendid hand-carved dining table (and ten chairs) from Sri Lanka…the, um, huge wooden giraffes from Malawi (that her husband Luke expressly forbade her to buy)…

Only now Becky and Luke have returned home to London and Luke is furious. Two truckloads of those souvenirs have cluttered up their usually immaculate loft, and the bills for them are outrageous. Becky’s even maxed out on her second secret credit card, and she doesn’t have a new job yet!

Luke insists she go on a budget. And worse: her beloved best friend Suze has found a new best friend while Becky was away. Becky’s feeling rather blue—when her parents deliver some incredible news. She has a long-lost sister! Becky is thrilled! She’s convinced her sister will be a true soulmate. They’ll go shopping together, drink cappuccinos together, have manicures together, and watch their favorite videos together.

Until she meets Jessica for the first time and gets the shock of her life. Surely Becky Bloomwood’ s sister can’t…hate shopping?"


My Two Cents:

"Shopaholic and Sister" is the fourth book in the Shopaholic series. While it isn't necessary to read the previous three books (you will get the fourth book without reading them), you may appreciate the book a little bit more if you read the other books as you will have a better understanding and appreciation for the characters in the book.

In this book, Becky, the Shopaholic, discovers that her parents may be hiding the fact that she has a secret sister. After a minor falling out with her best friend and a possible falling out with her husband, Luke, Becky is sure that she is going to be best friends with her newly found half-sister. As with the previous Shopaholic books, hilarity ensues! I continue to enjoy this series because it is so funny.

Becky is totally unlike me (I am pretty conservative when it comes to shopping and spending money) but I love living vicariously through her. She is definitely a loveable character that you will find yourself rooting for throughout the book. These books are a lot of fun and great for when you are looking for a light read that will thoroughly entertain you.

I listened to this book through audiobook through my local library. This was a great choice as an audiobook. I find that I can't really listen to books that are too serious unless they are absolutely engaging in every single way because I'm usually listening at the gym and well, I sort of want to take my mind off of the fact that I'm at the gym. This book definitely had me chuckling to myself.

Overall, this is a great light read!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Format: Hardcover
Publish Date: 1817
Source: Owned






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.

Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage."


My Two Cents:

Slowly but surely I'm making my way through Jane Austen's books. "Northanger Abbey" is one of Austen's novels that was written earlier but published later. It is a satire of the gothic novel, a genre which I thoroughly enjoy. While I enjoyed this book, it is definitely not my favorite Austen novel. This book is definitely still worth a read though.

There is a lot to like about Catherine Morland. She seems sweet and she loves to read (ahem, I love books about other readers). I like that she also has a big imagination, which really sets the action of the book into motion. I like that her imagination just totally takes over because of all of the books that she reads, mostly gothic novels.

I didn't find the book as funny or sharp as I found some of Austen's other books. You can see some of the talent that Austen eventually grew into but this book is only just beginning. I do admit that reading this book after reading some of Austen's other books has affected my review a little bit but I can't get away from it. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed this book for the characters, especially Catherine.


 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: The First True Lie by Marina Mander

Title: The First True Lie
Author: Marina Mander
Format: ARC
Publisher: Hogarth
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.


Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like your books off the beaten path.
 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Meet Luca, a curious young boy living with his mother, a taciturn woman who "every now and then tries out a new father." Luca keeps to himself, his cat, Blue, and his words--his favorite toys. One February morning his mom doesn't wake up to bring him to school, so Luca--with a father who's long gone and driven by a deep fear of being an orphan ("part of you is missing and people only see the part that isn't there")--decides to pretend to the world that his mom is still alive. Luca has a worldly comprehension of humanity, and grapples with his gruesome situation as the stench of the rotting body begins to permeate his home.

But this remarkable narrative is not insufferably morbid. Luca also pretends that Blue is his personal assistant and that they're on an expedition in outer space together; he goes for observant trips to the store, where he uses the contents of a basket to astutely assess the person who's filled it; he fantasizes about marrying his school crush, Antonella (whose freckles on her nose are described as being a pinch of cinnamon on whipped cream.)

Ultimately, we are witness to something much more poignant that needs no translation: the journey of a young boy deciding--in a more devastating manner than most--to identify himself independently, reaching the point at which he can say: "I am no longer an orphan. I am a single human being. It's a matter of words.""


My Two Cents:

"The First True Lie" is the story about Luca, a young boy, whose life is turned upside down when his mother, the only adult in his life, dies in their apartment and leaves him alone. Luca isn't quite sure what to do. He is absolutely sure though that he does not want to be an orphan so he does not tell anyone about his mother's death and decides that it is up to him to make a life for himself.

I really liked the writing of the book. This book is more of a novella than a novel and is quite short but the writing really packs a big punch. Luca is not your normal child. He sees the world very differently than a lot of other children. It was so interesting to see how he deals with his mother's death. He is still at that age where it doesn't seem like he really understands what death is or just how much his life is going to change. Luca is definitely a memorable character and I know he's one that I am going to be thinking of for a very long time.

The ending was really why I am mixed on this book. I like concrete endings or at least endings where I can figure out what happens after the last page of the book. Here, I don't think you got that. On one hand, it makes me wonder and think about the book. On the other hand, it left me a little frustrated. What happens to Luca??? How do things end?

Even with the nebulous ending, this book is a good ride!



 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

HF Virtual Book Tours Author Interview and Giveaway: Heather Webb, Author of Becoming Josephine

I am very excited to welcome Heather Webb here to A Bookish Affair today!



 1. Why do you think so many people find Josephine so fascinating?
 

You know, I didn’t realize many people did when I began writing about her. I just knew that I loved her story. When I began research, I couldn’t believe how few biographies there were out there about her. There are 200+ of Napoleon and only a couple dozen about her—several of which are in French only. (Good thing that wasn’t a problem for me.) Also, there was very little fiction that focused on her life as well, which blew me away. I knew RIGHT AWAY I had to tell her story. Her vivacity, generous spirit, and ultimately, her faults, are what make her so interesting to me. Mix those together with a highly volatile era in history and a few thousand glamorous gowns and how can you resist her?
 

2. What's the strangest or most interesting fact you found doing research for this book?
 

There are so many things! Josephine was a patron of the arts, an enthusiastic botanist, a fashion icon, but the most captivating things about her were her adaptable nature and courageous spirit, and her generosity to everyone she knew—even her enemies. I also enjoyed reading about her tumultuous love affairs!

As for facts that surprised me, there are many: the absurdity of how citizens were condemned during the Terreur, the number of deaths that happened under Napoleon’s command, and the rapid change of laws and social mores, even within a few days’ time. I was fascinated by how much women were involved with the Revolution, both through their political influence at salons and even amidst the fighting in the streets.

3. Did you do any traveling for research for "Becoming Josephine?" Why did you or did you not feel traveling for research was necessary?
 

Traveling is always a good idea, I think. Each place has its own soul and heartbeat and that’s a very intangible and difficult quality to nail down via internet or books. That being said, I didn’t travel specifically for this novel, but I spent time in France in college, and as a teacher I brought groups of high school students abroad. Plus I’ve had a couple of personal trips as well. Those experiences combined with years of studying French history and culture enabled me to portray an understanding of the people and times that I wouldn’t have been able to communicate had I not spent time there. In terms of Martinique, I’ve never traveled there before, but my Master’s degree is in Latin American Studies and I did field work in the jungles of Belize and Guatemala. I’ve spent time in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Once again, my travel experiences proved useful to me when I was describing Rose/Josephine’s jungle home.
 
I fully intend to head back to France this summer where I’ll be researching for my next two books. I also plan on taking the unofficial Josephine tour.
 

4. Did you find it difficult to blend fact and fiction in this book? Why or why not?
 

I struggled with this aspect quite a bit—when is there too much history? Balancing so-called truths with fiction and coloring it all through the character’s emotional lens is real a challenge. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading about the political situation of each of these issues, and let me tell you, it was a very complex time in history. So yes, it was difficult to wade through all of the material and decide what mattered most, but ultimately how I decided what mattered was through Josephine herself—I only included people and events that Josephine witnessed and/or were affected by.

5. If you could pick any three fictional characters or historical figures to bring to a deserted island with you, who would you bring and why?
 

Ha! This is an impossible question! There are so many characters and historical figures I love, but I would never want to be stranded with them. I guess I’d choose Jamie Fraser from Outlander because he’s a hottie, Victor Hugo or someone similar for intellectual conversations, and Josephine (or maybe Elizabeth Bennett) for friendship.

Giveaway:

I am excited to be able to giveaway a copy of Becoming Josephine (U.S. and CAN only)! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Wednesday, January 1
Review & Interview at HF Book Muse-News
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, January 2
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review & Giveaway at WTF Are You Reading?
Friday, January 3
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Monday, January 6
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, January 7
Review & Giveaway at Scandalous Women
Wednesday, January 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, January 9
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Friday, January 10
Review at Turning the Pages
Monday, January 13
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, January 14
Review at Unabridged Chick
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, January 15
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, January 16
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Monday, January 20
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, January 21
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, January 22
Review at A Book Geek
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, January 23
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Friday, January 24
Review at Book-alicious Mama
Monday, January 27
Interview at Erika Mailman Blog
Review & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, January 28
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, January 29
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, January 30
Interview at HF Connection
Friday, January 31
Review at Books in the Burbs
Monday, February 3
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Tuesday, February 4
Review at A Muse in the Fog
Wednesday, February 5
Review at A Bookish Libraria
Interview at A Muse in the Fog
Friday, February 7
Review at Silver’s Reviews
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