Library Loot (November 16 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Rain rain rain.

Somehow when I see the weather warnings here in Northern California, I’m half longing for torrential downpours, lightning and thunder, wind and rain, the usual tropical storms you get in Singapore (and where I cower under my umbrella as I cross the overbridge, freaking out whenever I see lightning). Or the constant whole-day drizzles that I walked around, raincoated, in Brighton, England, the bustling winds from the coast rendering any umbrella useless. But here, today at least, it is a light drizzle here a light drizzle there. It’s really gloomy though but (and you might think me weird) it is a welcome change from those brilliant blue California skies sometimes. Well at least it’s a good day to snuggle under the comforter and read a book. One of these perhaps?

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

A new to me author, and I believe I first came across this book via Boston Bibliophile.

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen

I adored Sara Wheeler’s Too Close to the Sun, which feature Blixen’s lover Denys Finch-Hatton, and wasn’t quite sure if I had ever read Out of Africa, or maybe if I did it was too long ago to remember. So I had to pick it up just to make sure. Plus I have had a soft spot for Blixen ever since I read of her story (essentially she loved a man who couldn’t love anyone). And am curious to see what she writes about him (since I now know all the juicy details).

In this book, the author of Seven Gothic Tales gives a true account of her life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells with classic simplicity of the ways of the country and the natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom: of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her: of primitive festivals: of big game that were her near neighbors–lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, buffaloes–and of Lulu, the little gazelle who came to live with her, unbelievably ladylike and beautiful.

The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain

Cain is one of those authors I’m never quite sure if I would ever read. Not knowing where to begin perhaps? Or maybe I’m just not hardboiled enough for this genre of detective/noir fiction?

An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution–a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America’s bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.

New Moon with the Old – Dodie Smith
Seems like ages since I read I Capture the Castle. Time for a reread? But I’ve always wanted to see what else Smith was capable of.

From the author of “I Capture the Castle” and “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”, here comes an unusual adventure in which humour and more than a touch of strangeness are inextricably blended. When Jane Minton arrives at Dome House as a secretary-housekeeper, she finds herself sharing the comfortable country home of four attractive young people. Their charming widower father, Rupert Carrington is too occupied with his London business to see very much of them. Richard, the eldest, is a composer; Clare, whose true talents (if they can be called that) have not yet disclosed themselves, dreams of courtly romance; Drew is collecting material for a novel; and Merry, still at school, has her heart set on a stage career. Jane is warmly welcomed into this happy household and feels her luck is too good to be true. However, the private world of Dome House is fated to break up as Rupert flees England under threat of prosecution for fraud. He asks Jane to break the news to the children, who must now fend for themselves, and to do what she can to help them. However, the Carringtons are extremely unusual young people and the story of the eclectic choices they make next is an absorbing and unpredictable one.

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers (Graywolf Memoir) – Moritz Thomsen

I first heard of this book from Book Lust to Go, and among the quotes Nancy Pearl provides is this one: “I have become that person who is of no interest to anyone and about whom no one will have the slightest curiosity. I have become to all intents and purposes invisible.” I don’t know about you but a statement like that makes me go huh, and immediately point my browser to my library’s catalogue to see whether it’s available, and yahoo, it was.

The Saddest Pleasure is a deeply personal look at the people, poverty, beauty, art, music, literature, and passion of South America by an American who has spent most of his life there.

Moritz Thomsen was one of the early Peace Corps volunteers. Through his skill as a writer he vividly brings to life the people and landscapes he loves. The Saddest Pleasure tells the story of Thomsen’s desperate departure from Ecuador at the age of sixty-three and his soul-searching journey through Brazil and the Amazon River. Along the way the author reflects on the meaning of his own life and the world around him, his friendships, and on the distances between people and cultures.

Thomsen’s spirited observations are tinged with irascibility, as he moves from city to feudal countryside, from primitive conditions to the startlingly contemporary details of a culture in transition.

Paul Theroux’s introduction to this book is a testament to Mr. Thomsen’s remarkable life.

Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

I recently made granola (see Amateur Gourmet’s website for the recipe) for the first time – more on that in another post – and the granola recipe actually came from this book, which also has the recipe for the Baked Brownie, which America’s Test Kitchen named their favorite brownie. With such laurels, I can’t help but want to try out the recipe (in case you are dying to make the brownie right now, or you can’t get hold of a copy of this cookbook, here’s the recipe).

That blurb is trying a bit too hard but I must say that a quick flip through the book at the library just made me drool…

Hip. Cool. Fashion-forward. These aren’t adjectives you’d ordinarily think of applying to baked goods.

Think again. Not every baker wants to re-create Grandma’s pound cake or cherry pie. Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito certainly didn’t, when they left their advertising careers behind, pooled their life savings, and opened their dream bakery, Baked, in Brooklyn, New York, a few years back. The visions that danced in their heads were of other, brand-new kinds of confections . . .

Things like a Malt Ball Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting, which captures the flavor of their favorite Whoppers candies (and ups the ante with a malted milk ball garnish). Things like spicy Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits that really wake up your taste buds at breakfast time. Things like a Sweet and Salty Cake created expressly for adults who are as salt-craving ?as they are sweet-toothed.

Which is not to say that Lewis and Poliafito sidestep tradition absolutely. Their Chocolate Pie (whose filling uses Ovaltine) pays loving homage to the classic roadside-diner dessert. Their Baked Brownies will wow even the most discriminating brownie connoisseur. And their Chocolate Chip Cookies? Words cannot describe. Whether trendsetting or tried-and-true, every idea in this book is freshly Baked.

It is now the perfect time to curl up and read, unfortunately it is also the end of wee reader’s naptime so I’ll have to save the books for later.

What did you get from the library this week?



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