Like Romance Novels but Hate the Covers? Here’s one solution.

I’m going to come clean – I’m a romance reader. There, I’ve said it. There can be some  stigma about the genre, though. Smart women don’t read romance. Romance is poorly-written schlock. It’s paperback porn. And the covers – oh the covers! – don’t exactly help overcome these assumptions about the quality of romance books.

Well, I’m a smart woman. I’m not a fan of bad writing. And the porn argument is pretty sexist. One thing I can’t argue with, though, are the covers; so many of them are just awful.

Like every genre, they’re not ALL gems, but these cheesy covers dumb the books down considerably. So what’s a romance-loving, cover-cringing reader to do?

E-books! We can read the books we like without flashing the eyebrow-raising covers around. Until the publishers figure out that romance readers don’t need a disembodied torso on the cover to sell copies, I will do most of my reading with a digital book.

These are just a few books I’ve loved in which the cover (and sometimes even the title!) had little or nothing to do with the actual story. If I were going by the covers, I probably wouldn’t have picked up these books, and would have missed some great reads:

 

 

 

Lucky for me, the library has digital copies of these titles, plus a LOT more. Cheshire Library has a large collection of all types of ebooks (including romance) available to download with your CPL card to your device of choice.  Our OverDrive platform has over 1500 romance ebooks available to check out, while our hoopla platform has over 1000. Enough to keep the most voracious reader supplied with happy endings.    

10 Books on the Small Screen in 2017

Adapting a novel for the big screen can be a tricky business, but novels adapted for small screen are expanding in popularity. Game of Thrones has been wildly successful at it. So has Outlander.  No longer confined to a two-hour movie-length,  popular books can be adapted more faithfully as a television series, without the best bits getting cut for time.

2017 is seeing a boom in book-to-television adaptations, and we can’t wait to see some of our favorites brought to life on the small screen. If you’re a read-it-before-you-watch-it person, add these to your TBR list:

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (Netflix)

1After the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children must depend on each other and their wits when it turns out that a distant relative  is determined to use any means necessary to get their fortune.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Netflix)

9When Clay Jenkins receives a box containing thirteen cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah, who committed suicide, he spends the night crisscrossing their town, listening to Hannah’s voice recounting the events leading up to her death.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (Netflix)8

Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Hulu)4

In a dystopian future, women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Starz)

3Just released from prison, Shadow encounters Mr. Wednesday, an enigmatic stranger who seems to know a lot about him, and when Mr. Wednesday offers him a job as his bodyguard, Shadow accepts and is plunged into a dark and perilous world.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (HBO)

2An annual school Trivia Night ends in a disastrous riot leaving one parent dead in what appears to be a tragic accident, but evidence shows it might have been premeditated.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (HBO)

6Returning to her hometown after a long absence to investigate the murders of two girls, reporter Camille Preaker is reunited with her neurotic mother and enigmatic, thirteen-year-old half-sister as she works to uncover the truth about the killings.

The Cormoran Strike series by J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith (BBC/HBO)tumblr_olhnnlisda1rmidh1o2_r1_1280

This three part series follows Cormoran Strike, a wounded war veteran-turned-private detective struggling to get by in Central London.

The Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris (NBC)

5Midnight, Texas, a dried-up, one traffic light town, gets shook up when a mysterious new resident, Manfred Bernardo, moves in.

 

The Terror by Dan Simmons (AMC)

7Captain Crozier must find a way for his crew to survive the deadly attacks of a sea monster, in this novel loosely based on the mid-nineteenth-century Arctic expedition led by Sir John Franklin.

 

Sorting White Trash

indexIt was a hard call, but I’d say White Trash by Nancy Isenberg was my Number 2 Must Read of 2016 (after Chasing the Scream), but oh, have I put off writing about it because it played so much into last year’s politics it seemed as if it were written for it – but it couldn’t, because it was written before last year’s one-of-a-kind election year.

“White Trash” is a term that began just before the Civil War and became entrenched afterward, a term for the poorest white people who were absolutely uneducated, dirty, poorer than slaves – and had no desire to change their ways. They considered themselves perfectly fine and above anyone else. Rich people were to be sneered at, since they considered themselves better. Educated people were sneered at, because they considered themselves better. Yet as a class they were so despised for their lack of morals and work ethic, even slaves considered themselves above Poor White Trash.

Isenberg feels the concept goes back further than that. Who did England send over to1400306193764-cached America to pad out their colonies? Who would not be missed from the overcrowded prisons and cities? Not the landed gentry, but those persons who for whatever reason did not fit into society and were unsuccessful at supporting themselves. The Virginia Colony had to go so far as to set a death sentence for people who did not work and did not attend church on Sundays. Starvation was so bad that people resorted to cannibalism. The people sent over refused to work, preferring to run off to unsettled land (which was “owned” by others) and fend for themselves. Getting people to do the hard labor of setting up a colony was quite difficult.

Further, Isenberg says that as the country expanded, the first to move west were… the folk who refused to work for others, could not function in a society, and would rather starve than work. Each time, the ones who pushed west first were the dregs, seeking escape from prisons, debt collectors, tax men, and others who “infringed” upon them. The wild west was wild because the people who colonized it couldn’t get along with anyone.

“White Trash” has many names, depending on geography – Crackers, Okies, Rednecks, Hillbillies, Trailer Trash, Mud Eaters – all people who shun government, distrust education, live in abject poverty, and have a very flexible moral code. I don’t mean “flexible” as a pejorative but as a term to describe a juxtaposition of ideals: your baby out of wedlock is a sin, but it’s okay for me. Never take charity, but taking free stuff from this agency over here isn’t charity, it’s just free stuff. They have quite the knack for making things acceptable for them but a sin for anyone else.

Isenberg digs into both politics and popularism, citing Andrew Jack110932-004-3f4811e2son (the first person running for President who lost despite getting the most popular votes the first time he ran) as an uneducated, crass boor who appealed to the lowest masses and yet was elected President, and how he loved to flaunt that boorishness, to the distress of the American Gentry. She cites the 1970’s as a time when White Trash became hip – from Smokey and the Bandit, to the Dukes of Hazzard, to Tammy Faye Bakker and the  whole Televangelist craze. Today’s exploitainment shows like Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, and 16 and Pregnant continue to flaunt poverty, lawlessness, and lack of education as something chic and desirable.

Of course race and politics play into it. Much of the divide still stems from the Civil War, with Southern States blaming Northern States for the outcomes, and the Northern States holding the South in utter contempt. Isenberg shows how that all translates into votes, and political forums, and how those in turn affect our elections – including the recent one.

indexIsenberg is not alone in her observations. Numerous authors have also written similar observations, making her research more plausible. One is Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant, in which he talks about going home to rural Virginia, and why such places are becoming  a permanent underclass.  Lee Smith touches on a little of it in her dreamy autobiography Dimestore, about growing up in rural Appalachia.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance does a fantastic job presenting the issues from the first-hand experience of growing up in 1980’s Kentucky.

No matter what your political leanings, White Trash815bv15ciol will open your eyes to why current politics are playing out the way they are and how people are being exploited in the process, why you can’t seem to educate people out of poverty, and how that poverty persists generation after generation – and no, it’s not due to Welfare. How do we change it? How do we shape it? Or should we allow an uneducated underclass to dictate policies it knows nothing about – and chooses not to learn?  There’s no easy answer to be had, but this book is a must read and will open your eyes to a lot of things you never learned in school.

May is National Salad Month

salad

The Association for Dressings & Sauces (ADS) launched National Salad Month in May 1992 in response to a 1991 Gallup Poll that revealed that three out of four people eat a tossed salad at least every other day.

Salad is generally a mixture of cold foods such as vegetables or fruits.  It is usually topped with dressing, nuts, croutons and sometimes meat, fish, pasta, cheese or whole grains are added.  It is often served as an appetizer, sometimes as a meal, and some people serve it after the meal.

Eating a salad is great all year round, but now that the warm weather is here, take a look at what the Cheshire Library has to offer with these selections of salad cookbooks.  It’s a great time to come up with some new ideas for salads!

saladWilliams-Sonoma Salad  – Salads bring out the best in fresh seasonal ingredients, whether they are delicate spring lettuces paired with soft goat cheese or crisp autumn apples tossed with toasted pecans. Williams-Sonoma Collection Salad offers more than 40 easy-to-follow recipes, including both classic favorites and fresh new ideas. In these pages, you’ll find inspiring salads designed to suit occasions throughout the year — from an informal summer picnic to an elegant dinner with friends. This vividly photographed, full-color recipe collection, appealing to both novice and experienced cooks, will become an essential addition to your kitchen bookshelf.

foodFood Made Fast – Salad – A collection of illustrated cookbooks for the busy home cook utilizes a straightforward approach to preparing tasty, healthful, and time-saving dishes for every night of the week, with easy-to-follow recipes and tips on keeping a well-stocked pantry, planning ahead, and using fresh ingredients.

 

mealSalad as a Meal – A collection of recipes for more than one hundred salads that can be served as a main dish, featuring salads for each season as well as recipes for soup sides and breads.

 

 

daySalad of the Day – A year’s worth of salad ideas features seasonally inspired options for every month and includes suggestions for special occasions, providing instructions for such dishes as chickpea salad with mint and spicy crab salad.

 

salad-daysSalad Days – The author of Death by Chocolate and Desserts to Die For brings his creative approach to main-course salads, with such creations as Penne Pasta and Spinach with Oven-Roasted Plum Tomatoes, Toasted Walnuts, Curly Endive, and Cracked Black Pepper Vinaigrette.

 

bib-bookCooking Light Big Book of Salads – Showcases salads, from simple side salads to giant, meal-size creations, featuring recipes centered around pasta and grains, poultry and meats, and fish.

 

 

subSubstantial Salads – Salads are often considered an appetizer or a summertime meal. When the weather is too hot, lightly tossed greens with seasonal fruits and veggies are perfect for cooling the body and filling the stomach. But with rich, filling ingredients and heartier flavors, salads can be served as main courses even in spring, autumn, and winter. Substantial Salads offers one hundred healthy and delicious recipes for green salads, whole-grain salads, and dressings.

May is quite the foody month.  Here is a link to a blog post I did in 2014 on National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month.

Mysteries: Around the World in 80 Sleuths

I love mysteries that immerse the reader in another culture, so here is a short (won’t burden you with 80!) list of some of my favorites, all written by authors with a gift for conveying a strong sense of place. There is no Nordic noir on my list.  A dead body or two and a certain amount of violence are inevitable in all but the coziest of mysteries, but the Scandinavians tend to take it a little far for my taste. Plus I prefer that the majority of the characters in the books I read be people I would enjoy spending time with!  So make yourself a nice cup of tea and curl up with any one of these for a satisfying few hours of reading.

Tannie Maria mysteries by Sally Andrews.
Set in rural South Africa, Recipe for Love and Murder is the first in a series featuring Tannie Maria, a middle-aged widow who loves both to cook and eat and also writes a recipe and advice column for the Klein Karoo Gazette.  While assisting other people with their problems, Tannie Maria is forced to deal with her own–and with a murder to boot. Recipes included! The second novel in the series, The Satanic Mechanic, is due out at the end of March 2017.

Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator mysteries by Tarquin Hall.
Set in the colorful, crowded  metropolis of Delhi, this humorous series features the endearingly idiosyncratic detective Vish Puri (aka Chubby for reasons that will be obvious), India’s Most Private Investigator, and a boisterous cast of supporting characters including Puri’s irrepressible Mummi-ji and his operatives Tubelight, Facecream and Handbrake. Warning:  Do not read these books on an empty stomach, the descriptions of food are positively mouth-watering. No need to read in order.

Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon. 
Venice is the setting for this best-selling series, which has been running for 25 years and captures the beauty, character and seamy underbelly of  life in this glorious city.  Brunetti is a good and intelligent man working to keep crime and injustice at bay in his beloved Venice.  You read these books as much for his musings and observations about daily life, his beloved family, politics and government as you do for the mysteries. The books are also celebrated for their mouth-watering descriptions of the food,  so much so that Donna Leon co-wrote a cookbook featuring some of the fabulous Venetian recipes referenced in her novels.  For long-time fans, reading the latest Donna Leon book is like a visit with old friends. Pick up any one in the series and start reading!

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny.
Set in Quebec, these books feature one of the most admirable men to ever command a police force. Or pretty much anything else.  Multilayered plots, a large and richly described cast of characters and lyrical writing characterize this series which is made even stronger by its incorporation of the complexities of bi-lingual and bi-cultural Quebec.  As one reviewer said, “few writers in any genre can match Penny’s ability to combine heartbreak and hope in the same scene.” Still Life is the first in the series of 12 books, which is best read in order.

The Highland Gazette Mystery Series by A. D. Scott.
Set in the northern Scottish Highlands in the 1950s, this series about a mystery-solving newspaper staff in a small town captures the changing world of post-war Scotland.  This series has everything I like–richly drawn characters, complicated relationships and well-developed backstories in a setting both beautiful and bleak.  Read this fine series in order–the first one is A Small Death in the Great Glen.  There are 6 books in all and the author is working on the seventh.  As a bonus, you will meet members of the Highland Travelers, an indigenous group similar to the Romani in Europe.

Bruno, Chief of Police mysteries by Martin Walker.
A small village in the Dordogne region of south-central France is the setting for this series, featuring Benoit “Bruno” Courreges, a soldier-turned-policeman who would rather tend his garden or whip up a gourmet meal than use his gun or arrest a suspect.  Part of the pleasure of these richly satisfying mysteries is the contrast between the traditional rhythms of life in a French village and the terrors of the modern world.  You may miss a few details if you read this series out of order, but it will not dampen your pleasure in the slightest.

Emily Dickinson said it best:  “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away…”