All posts by Laurie C

I'm a public librarian in Massachusetts who loves to give reading suggestions, whether asked-for or not, a specialty known in library jargon as "reader's advisory". I read a lot -- mostly literary, genre, and young adult fiction, but also short stories and memoirs -- and listen to a lot of audiobooks. Newer favorites include Patry Francis, Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, Lev Grossman, Jennifer Egan, Laurie R. King, Lionel Shriver, Carolyn Parkhurst, Penny Vincenzi, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Orson Scott Card, Patrick Rothfuss, Martha Southgate, Jennifer Haigh, Zadie Smith, and Louise Penny. Some older favorites are Lorrie Moore, Anne Tyler, Ian McEwan, Susan Howatch, and Connie Willis.

Weekend Cooking Guest Review: Sensational Slow Cooker Gourmet

Weekend Cooking badge

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. This week’s Weekend Cooking feature is a guest post from Katie from the Doing Dewey blog.  See the original post here: Slow Cooker Recipes Review. Thanks to Katie for suggesting this week’s exchange of cookbook reviews!


Book Title: Sensational Slow Cooker Gourmet

Author: Judith Finlayson

Rating: ★★★★★

Review Summary: Very focused on convenience and does a good job of spelling everything out – plus it finally got me to use my crock pot.This book of slow cooker recipes was a great fit for my busy schedule and most recipes don’t look like they’d be too pricey for my poor college student budget either 🙂 In fact, the recipe I made cost me less than $20 for ingredients and will probably make at least 6 meals. But before we get into the recipe, lets start with the book…

Image of cookbook cover

The Review: The introduction included some very useful information, such as tips for getting to know your crock pot and advice on avoiding mistakes that could lead to food poisoning. Unfortunately, this is buried in some of the typical fluff one finds at the beginning of such a book (“slow cooker recipes are awesome and convenient” kind of stuff), but I would strongly recommend reading this section any way. Where the book really starts to shine though, is the slow cooker recipes themselves.

The recipes all have great pictures, which is a must for me when picking a cook book. It’s by far the easiest way of identifying recipes I want to make. Nearly every recipe begins has a wonderful section called “Make Ahead” in the sidebar which tells you what you parts of the recipe you can prepare several days in advance. This makes it very easy to do the cooking when it’s convenient for you! Most of these slow cooker recipes can cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low, which means it’s possible to complete a recipe in a day or let it cook over night depending on your schedule. Although I certainly don’t plan on going out and getting a new crock pot, I did appreciate that the author specified the best sort of crock pot for each recipe. Like many cook books, this book does include some cooking instructions in the ingredients list (“barley, rinsed and drained”, eg) which it’s easy to miss until you actually need to add the barley. Aside from that small and common problem, I liked everything about it.

The Recipe: To truly test out the book, I decided to try making the “Miso-Spiked Vegetable Soup with Barley” and everything went fairly smoothly. I spent about 15 minutes chopping vegetables and another 30 minutes frying them and figuring out my crock pot. I spilled a few things, missed that I needed to drain and rinse the barley until it was time to add it (immediately) to the frying pan, and discovered that the author was serious when she sad a larger crock pot would be better (5 quarts instead of 2.5 like mine). To deal with the smaller crock pot, I only added about half of the called for chicken broth.

In the morning, I discovered that a tiny bit of my barley had burned to the crock pot and my soup was more like a stew – even after adding the rest of the chicken broth. I added an approximate amount of parsley, which ended up being the strongest flavor in the finished product. However, the soup was very tasty any way and even with mistakes the time required to make it was under an hour in the evening and about 30 minutes in the morning. I’ll definitely try making it, and other slow cooker recipes, again 🙂

Picture of finished soup

National Book Award Finalists @nationalbook

NBA logoThe Bluestocking Society has the list of National Book Award finalists with an organized and attractive lineup of all the book covers, too, so head over there to see the full list of National Book Award finalists and comment on which ones you’ve read. (Me=none, so far, but definitely plan to read Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her soon, after listening to audiobook edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ten years late.)

This year’s ratio of male to female authors? 13:7.

Click here for the National Book Awards site to find out more about the awards process and the National Book Foundation’s mission to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America” with these annual awards.

4,565 people like the National Book Awards on Facebook, and you can follow the NBA on Twitter, too. Something just seems wrong about that.

Blog Tour: Heaven Should Fall by Rebecca Coleman

Blog Tour badgeHeaven Should Fall, the second novel by Rebecca Coleman, author of The Kingdom of Childhood, opens with the striking scene of a young wife coming out to the shed behind the house to call her handsome husband Cade to lunch, calmly observing to herself that the project he’s finishing up is a pipe bomb, which he adds to a nearby box of already-completed pipe bombs. After hooking readers with those first two pages, the story jumps back to many months earlier, with Jill and Cade engaged to be married but still in college at the University of Maryland, before circumstances force them to move in with Cade’s family in northern New Hampshire, where Jill finally meets the dysfunctional Olmstead clan.

The scene at the beginning of the book symbolizes what Jill calls “the slow erosion of my husband,” and the novel provides the details of the erosion. Through flashbacks and many shifts in perspective, the background history of the Olmsteads emerges – Cade, the baby of the family; his downtrodden mother; abusive father; hard-edged sister, and his older brother Elias, just discharged from the Army after a tour in Afganistan. Jill, however, is willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially Cade, and sees this time in New Hampshire as just a temporary departure from normal life. Jill, the daughter of a single mother who grew up on the themes of recovery and the Big Book of AA, still grieving over her mother’s recent death, gradually realizes her complete and utter dependence on a gun-toting family of extremists that takes New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto literally and ignores their wide array of mental health issues, to avoid government interference in their lives.

I’m not sure of the meaning of the cover photo of a little girl hugging a U.S. flag, as there is no little girl in the story and the military plays a background role only in Elias’ story. Heaven Should Fall‘s strong plot and troubled characters in a desperate situation should appeal to readers of Jodi Picoult’s novels, as suggested in a Library Journal review quoted on the back cover, as will the way the story builds to a climax that explains the scene at the beginning. Although readers may wish some of her decisions were different, Jill remains a sympathetic character throughout,  and getting into the head of Cade’s mother helps us feel sympathetic towards her, too.

To read the first chapter of Heaven Should Fall by Rebecca Coleman in full, check out the complete list of tour stops.

Scavenger Hunt Excerpt – October 8 (#11)
One soldier after another worked his jaw around a piece of gum, and I thought about what Cade had said on the highway.
At last Cade’s searching gaze snapped into recognition, and he uncoiled his arms from their crossed position against his chest. “Hey, dude,” he said, clasping Elias’s extended hand, then pulling him into a hug unimpeded by the flat ribbon of the walkway marker wedged between them. “I missed you, man.”

Heaven Should Fall
Coleman, Rebecca
MIRA Books
September 25, 2012
368 pp.
$15.95, U.S./$18.95, CAN.

Disclaimer: I received a free advance reading copy of Heaven Should Fall from the publisher in exchange for participation in the blog tour and a fair and honest review.