Blog Posts by dnapravn

Posted by dnapravn on 04/10/14
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Every once in a while I get ambitious about cooking, much to my family's delight (or dismay...I'm not 100% sure). So when I discovered 200 Skills Every Cook Must Have: The Step by Step Methods that Will Turn a Good Cook into a Great Cook by Clara Paul and Eric Treuille, I was intrigued. How many of those skills did I already possess and what new skills could I learn?
 
200 Skills Every Cook Must Have is an illustrated guide laid out in a simple step-by-step format. The book concentrates on skills rather than recipes, although it does contain its fair share of basic recipes for sauces and such. Organized by topic, it covers a wide range of cooking skills from very basic skills such as separating eggs and peeling and dicing, to more challenging skills like steaming lobster and making soufflés.
 
The book contained many skills I already knew how to do (thank goodness!), as well as things I know I will never need to do, such as spatchcocking a chicken, which is to remove the back and breast bone so the chicken can be laid out flat. Seriously? More importantly though, it was filled with tips and tricks I'd like to try, as well as things I've done once or twice but am certainly no expert at, such as making gravy or hollandaise sauce.
 
All in all, I found that this book has something for everyone and proves to be a great guide for all skill levels. Bon appétit!
cooking
Posted by dnapravn on 03/11/14
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Right before the first of the year I stumbled across an interview with two-term poet laureate of the United States, Billy Collins. In it he referred to poetry as "the spinach of literature". I found that quote to be interesting, funny, and, at least for me, entirely true. Spinach is good for you and is also an acquired taste. If I had a choice between spinach and ice cream, I would choose ice cream even though spinach is the better choice. So, in addition to the usual promises one makes at the new year, I decided to make one of my New Year's resolutions to read more spinach, or should I say, poetry.
 
I felt I owed it to Mr. Collins to start with one of his collections. He was after all my motivation. I chose his newest book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. Aimless Love combines over fifty new poems with selections from four of his previous books. And not only did I read it, but I also listened to him read in on audio CD. It did not disappoint. Ranging from serious to laugh out loud funny his poems are about everyday life and cover a range of emotions. I found them to be conversational and reader friendly.
 
How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions? It's not too late to add one more. I suggest that you too read your spinach!
poetry
Posted by dnapravn on 02/09/14
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It has been awhile since I read and enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith, so a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon Trains and Lovers, one of his newer stand alone novels, I thought I'd give it a try.
 
The story follows four strangers traveling by train from Edinburgh to London. They start by sharing polite conversation (with no cell phones or devices in sight) and eventually each share a story of how a train or train travel had an effect on their lives. A young Scotsman tells of meeting a young woman while working as an intern and an image of a train in a piece of art. An Englishman shares the story of getting off at the wrong stop during a business trip and impulsively asking a mysterious woman to dinner. An Australian woman shares how her parents met and ran a station in the Australian Outback. An American male sees two men saying good-bye and recalls a relationship from long ago.
 
I find McCall Smith to be a wonderful storyteller who's clear and simple style moves the story along. This was a quick and enjoyable read on a cold winter day.
Fiction
Posted by dnapravn on 12/26/13
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I have read some wonderful books this year. Listed below are my top five fictional choices of 2013. Happy New Year!
 
#5 - The Dinner by Herman Koch
A dark novel showing how far people are sometimes willing to go to protect the ones they love. Two couples meet at a restaurant in Amsterdam for dinner and conversation. As the meal progresses tension builds. We learn of their fifteen-year-old sons and come to the realization that much is being left unsaid.
 
#4 - The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This updated version of a classic folktale takes place in the Alaskan wilderness. A childless couple makes a girl out of snow only to glimpse a real girl playing among the trees the next morning. This is a magical story that pulled at my heartstrings.
 
#3 - The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
This page-turner told by a less than reliable narrator takes place during the Prohibition era. Rose, a straight-laced typist for a New York police precinct falls under the spell of new girl, Odalie, and finds both her life and her version of the truth spinning out of control.
 
#2 - The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is a feel good story of a brilliant but socially awkward professor of genetics and his plan to find a wife. When he meets bartender, Rosie, he knows without a doubt that she is not what he is looking for. A touching romantic comedy that I would love to see made into a movie.
 
#1 - Benediction by Kent Haruf
A poignant novel written in Haruf's lyrical style, Benediction is the story of a man nearing the end of his life and the family and community that rally around him. This is a beautiful reflection on a man's life and my top choice for 2013.
Posted by dnapravn on 12/15/13
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I can't remember the last time a debut novel made me smile as much as this one did. With characters that are appealing and quirky, The Rosie Project made me laugh out loud at times and wish that it was way longer than 295 pages.
 
Don Tillman is a socially awkward and brilliant professor of genetics. He freely admits that he only has two friends in the world and decides that it is high time to find himself a wife. So of course he goes about the task in the way he does everything: in an extremely logical and orderly manner. He develops a sixteen-page scientifically based survey and refers to it as The Wife Project. While he has never even had a second date before, he is convinced that his survey will find him the perfect partner, filtering out all of the smokers, drinkers, vegans, and women who habitually show up late to things.
 
When he meets Rosie, an unconventional and outgoing bartender, he doesn't even have to administer the survey to realize that she does not qualify as a candidate for his wife. Yet as he helps her try to identify her biological father and finds his very ordered life being turned upside-down, he can't deny that there is something very appealing about her. And truthfully, is the person who is perfect on paper always the right person for you?
Posted by dnapravn on 11/13/13
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If you are anything like me you are having a difficult time waiting for the new season of Downton Abbey to begin. I can't wait to discover what's in store for the Crawley's and their servants this season. To make the time pass a little more quickly, you may want to get your fix of domestics by reading Jo Baker's latest novel, Longbourn. In it she imagines the belowstairs life of the Bennet household, the beloved family of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
 
While Pride and Prejudice follows the comings and goings of the Bennet family, Longbourn focuses on their small, often overworked domestic staff. Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, does her best to keep everything running smoothly with the help of her aging husband, two young housemaids, Sarah and Polly, and the new footman, James. The novel focuses primarily on Sarah, who is bound and determined to decipher the mysterious appearance of the new footman in addition to completing all of her household duties.  
 
This was a fun, quick read that, in my opinion, stayed respectful to Austen's beloved classic. Enjoy! The Crawley family and their servants will be back in no time.
Posted by dnapravn on 10/09/13
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In Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog, (etc.), Delia Ephron writes a series of autobiographical essays about love, life, and family. I had never read anything by her before, although I will confess to having seen the movie You've Got Mail more than once. Okay...way more than once.
 
The essays range from funny to serious and introspective. They all feel very honest. In the emotional "Losing Nora", Ephron writes about the loss of her older sister, Nora Ephron. You can feel the pain of her loss as she writes about their complicated and loving relationship. In "If My Dad Could Tweet" she writes about how much her dad would have loved Twitter had he been alive to see it. Other essays have her confessing her love of bakeries and addressing the concept of "having it all", how overwhelming it can be to keep up with the updates on all of your devices, and a hilarious essay in which she vows to never order Christmas presents online again.
 
I found this book to be a quick read; mostly funny and often touching. I am glad I picked it up. Now excuse me while I go find my DVD copy of You've Got Mail.
Posted by dnapravn on 09/13/13
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Reading and traveling are two of my favorite things, so I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways by Terri Peterson Smith, which encourages combining the two.
 
Like pairing wine with food, traveling to the places you read about or reading a book set in your next vacation spot only enhances your experience. Whether you travel alone, with family, or with book club friends, this book is packed with creative reading and travel ideas.
 
Within the pages of her book Terri Peterson Smith describes fifteen of her favorite literary destinations. Each section provides an extensive reading list, made up of fiction and non-fiction titles, as well as excursion ideas. The excursions range from very simple to the more elaborate. She bases her itineraries on a three day trip but offers extension ideas. She even suggests hotels and restaurants. And if a getaway isn't in your plans, you can still enjoy her "field trip" ideas; local excursions that only require a couple of hours in or near your hometown.
 
All I have to do now is grab my book club, choose a book and begin planning our trip. I hope you do too!
Posted by dnapravn on 08/20/13
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If you are a fan of the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett, you may want to check out Susan Crandall's Whistling Past the Graveyard.
 
Set in 1963 Mississippi, nine-year-old Starla has not seen her mother, who abandoned her to become a famous singer, since she was three. Her father works on an offshore oil rig and is not around much, so Starla lives with her cantankerous grandmother who never misses an opportunity to let Starla know what a trial she is. When Starla is grounded yet again, she runs away headed to Nashville and her mother. She is eventually picked up by a black woman named Eula who is traveling alone with a white baby.
 
What follows is a life-changing road trip during which Starla is exposed to the prejudice of the 1960s South. During their sometimes dangerous adventure together Eula, Starla, and Baby James face the harsh realities of life as well as learn the true meaning of love and family.
Posted by dnapravn on 07/14/13
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I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a debut novel as much as I just enjoyed Suzanne Rindell's The Other Typist. This book is the definition of a page-turner and, truth be told, I'm a bit sleepy today because of it.
 
Rose Baker is a police precinct typist in 1920s New York during the height of Prohibition. Raised in an orphanage with few friends or emotional attachments, Rose prides herself in her attention to detail as well as her high moral standards. When the glamorous and mysterious Odalie joins the typing pool, it doesn't take long for Rose to fall under her spell. Flattered by the attention she receives from Odalie, Rose decides this is the female friend she has longed for her whole life and soon becomes Odalie's roommate as well as her nightly companion at various speakeasies.
 
As the story unfolded, I soon began to doubt the reliability of Rose's narration and found myself rereading passages in an effort to not miss a clue. I look forward to Suzanne Rindell's next novel. What an enjoyable summer read this was!

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