Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Staff Pick List Meta-List for the Holidays

Searching for a recommendation? We've been compiling staff pick lists, in print and on the blog, for a year and a half now! The lists are all collected in a binder at the store -- feel free to peruse whenever you're in and looking for inspiration.

Here, meanwhile, is a sampling of our lists -- some with gift advice! -- from current and former staff members:

Amy’s Five Children’s Books for Getting into the Spirit of Snow
Amy’s 5 Picks for Father’s Day Gifts
Amy’s 5 Picks for Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gifts
All of Amy's Picks

Claudia's 5 Winter Mysteries
Anatole's Five All-Time Favorite Books about Mice (by Claudia)
Claudia's Happy-Go-Lucky List for April
All of Claudia's Picks

Erica’s Five Seasonal Book & Beverage Pairings
Erica’s 5 Great Novels Under 200 Pages
Erica’s Five Maptastic Reads to Help You Find Your Orientation
All of Erica's Picks

Janet's Five Gift Ideas for December
Janet's Five Ideas for Mothers and Others
Janet’s Five OohOohOoh... Ahhhhh...Ohhhhhh...Books
All of Janet's Picks

Jen's Five Years of Resolve
Jen’s Five Books with Excellent Illustrations
Five Kids’ Books with Quirky Facts that Jen Loves
All of Jen's Picks

Kasey's Top Five Picture Books for Grown-Ups
Five of Kasey's Favorite Poetry Collections
Kasey's Top Five Cookbooks
All of Kasey's Picks

Kate’s Five Books That Changed the Way She Thinks About Society
Kate's 5 Favorite Novels That Take You To Exotic Places
Kate's Top Five Favorite Kids’ Chapter Books with Plucky Heroines
All of Kate's Picks

Five Children's Books That Made Maleka's Heart Burst Wide Open
Maleka's Five Poetry Collections to Sink Your Teeth Into
Five Books That Made Maleka Want to Eat
All of Maleka's Picks

Minter’s Five Recommended Books About Writing
Minter’s Five Writers’ Journals That Illuminate the Writing Process
All of Minter's Picks

Five Books That Taught Mo a Thing or Two about Philadelphia
5 Kids' Books That Mo Likes to Recommend to Adults but that Kids Generally Like Too
5 Cookbooks Mo Thinks Are Pretty Great
All of Mo's Picks

Nif's Five Books to read to Micah (age 5 months)
Nif's List of Six Books That Changed Her Life Over the Last Four Years
Three Garden Books That Nif Refers to Over and Over (Plus Two More She Covets Dearly)
All of Nif's Picks

Sheila’s Picks: On Beyond Heather Has Two Mommies! -- Picture books featuring LGBT themes or family members
Five Jewish-y Books that Sheila Likes a Lot, for Many Ages
Six of Zivia's favorite books of mythology, folk tales, and gods and goddesses
All of Sheila's Picks

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Minter’s Five Recommended Books About Writing

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (Penguin, $12.95)

Writing the Memoir by Judith Barrington (Eighth Mountain Press, $14.95)

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner (Vintage, $14.00)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Anchor Books, $15.00)

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14.00)

November 2011, Minter Krotzer

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Books That Prove Erica is a Cheater

I am a big, fat cheater. Maybe you’d already figured that out. I’ve already confessed to snooping through people’s personal effects and reading the last lines of a book first, so this really shouldn’t surprise you. This month I’ve figured out a way to cheat this staff pick list. I’ve had someone else do the work for me, some poor unsuspecting volunteers at Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York. I snowed ‘em with the old, “I’m looking for a book. I don’t remember what it’s called or who wrote it but I think the cover was yellow and it might be about dogs’ butts?” Works every time. Give it up for evil genius, folks. Henceforth you may call me Madame Dastardly.

Typical of New Yorkers, the Housing Works staff pick list is all Nabokov, vampires, Booker Prize winners and coffee.

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes (Vintage, $15.95)
Lot of chit-chat lately about Barnes, who just won the Man Booker with The Sense of An Ending. HoW10.5 finds him being a bit of an experimental smarty-pants. Yeah, the road to the Booker is choc-full of literary landmines.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman (Canongate, $14.00)
A tale of two Jesuses. It’s the classic good twin/bad twin plot meets the classic Messiah plot. If you’ve read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy then you know he’s not afraid to manhandle the man upstairs.

Queen of the Damned (Vampire Chronicles Book 3) by Anne Rice (Ballantine, $7.99)
Before there was Stephenie Meyer, there was Anne Rice, and her vampires knew how to do stuff like have sex before marriage because nobody who’s going to live for eternity wants to wait for eternity to get laid. I’m just sayin’.

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast (Basic Books, $19.95)
Pendergrast is also known for his unauthorized history of Coca-Cola titled For God, Country, and Coca-Cola. Note to Pendergrast: stop making me feel bad about the things I like to drink.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $15.00)
Yep, the obligatory Nabokov entry, because New York can’t get caught with its pants down when it comes to literary prowess.

November 2011, Erica David

Friday, November 18, 2011

Being Transported: Author Visit from Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Last night we welcomed authors Delia Sherman and Catherine Gilbert Murdock to the Big Blue Marble to read and discuss their newest books. What a fabulous event it was! I'd read both books in advance and was eagerly anticipating hearing them read aloud.

Delia's The Freedom Maze is middle grade/YA historical fiction, with a protagonist who longs for a storybook adventure and wishes herself back in time, from 1960 to 1860, where she is taken for a slave on her own family's ancestral plantation. The book offers a tribute to earlier children's literature -- Delia said she felt she was "writing back" to Edward Eager and E. Nesbit -- and I had made a display showcasing several of those earlier books. So I was gratified to hear her read the section that named them, following up with the obligatory transformation scene into the past. Beautifully read, with effortless accent transitions.

In contrast to this earnest exploration of an evolving view of racial ambiguity, Wisdom's Kiss is something of a silly romp through mill ponds, castles, and kingdoms. "I laughed out loud writing this book," Catherine told us. She wrote it in epistolary form, with eight points of view, including an encyclopedia and a play, along with various letters and journals. Delightfully, she read us one of the encyclopedia entries, imbued with an arch know-it-all tone of superiority. "Of course, the encyclopedia is the least accurate point of view," she added later. She followed this with a letter describing one of the important meetings in the emotional core of the book -- ostensibly a romantic triangle, but also, to me, a means to allow the characters to learn what they do best, despite external pressures, and how much satisfaction that eventually gives them.

The audience was enthusiastic and posed lots of insightful questions, ranging from external allusions to internal audiences, and the ages of the authors' inner children. We discussed cover images (both authors liked theirs!), gender-based marketing, and other aspects of publisher politics: at one point, Delia described a request from a previous editor that she make the white people nicer. "I'd made them as nice as I could," she said pointedly.

Delia and Catherine had shared a reading once before, at which we (and they) marveled at the excellent real-time demonstration of a wide range of writing styles and writing process. This time the discussion was laced with moments of curious confluence -- such as the discovery that both books grew from dream images. Delia described a dream of looking up from a book that was writing itself and seeing outside not her own garden but a garden maze. Catherine described a fabulous hot air balloon with acrobats performing inside. She had mentioned earlier that the Globe D'Or had been a sustaining image for her, an anchor to keep her writing during the development process. Both authors, it turned out, had spent a long time on these books -- one on a scale of years and one of decades!

And glad we are that they persevered.

(Photos by Rich Okewole)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jen's Five Kids' Books About U.S. Slavery

Reading through The Freedom Maze (see below) in preparation for a visit from Delia Sherman in mid-November, I was put in mind of other engaging books I'd read recently that took place in times of slavery, and the similarities and differences winding along their plot threads. Here are four books of historical fiction (two with time travel) and one of nonfiction, ranging from young adult novel to kids' picture book. Excellent, powerful reads!

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott (AmazonEncore, $12.95)
Gemma, age 16-17. Lives in a rough part of Brooklyn in 2001, transported back to Brooklyn in 1863, where she works for a white abolitionist doctor and his family and must decide just how free she really is.

[Note: A Wish After Midnight is also one of Jen's April 2010 Picks.]

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House, $16.95)
Sophie, age 13-14. Lives in Louisiana in 1960, transported back to her family’s cane plantation in 1860, where she is unexpectedly taken for a slave and must work out how to complete the story whose ending will send her home.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum, $6.99)
Isabel, age 13. Raised in Rhode Island, resold with her sister to Manhattan, where she works for a loyalist family just before the Revolutionary War and must determine whether either side stands for her family or her freedom.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, $7.99)
Elijah, age 11. First child born free in Buxton, a (real-life) settlement of former slaves in Ontario, Canada, where he works to lose his “fra-gile” image and must decide whether to travel south across the border to help a friend.

[Note: Elijah of Buxton also has a Staff Pick review on our website.]

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine (Scholastic, $16.99)
Henry “Box” Brown. Raised in Virginia, mails himself to freedom in Philadelphia in 1849 in, yes, a box, where he must keep very very still.

[Note: Henry's Freedom Box is also one of Mo's June 2010 Picks.]

November 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Minter’s Five Writers’ Journals That Illuminate the Writing Process

A Walk Between Heaven and Earth, A Personal Journey on Writing and the Creative Process by Burghild Nina Holzer (Three Rivers, $15.00)
Written as a journal, this book is about using a journal to help with the creative process of writing. It is beautifully written and there are also Buddhist elements.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton (Norton, $15.95)
A master of journal writing. This bestselling book shares the beauty and challenges that accompany being alone. She's a master at capturing daily life with all of its delights and sadness.

A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf (Mariner, $16.00)
This classic book shows the life of a writer unlike any other, both the internal and external experiences. In it, we see how she uses her journal to create material or as a way to respond to her world, relationships, and reading life.

Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck (Penguin, $14.00)
Written as letters to his editor at Viking, this illuminating book shows, on the left side page, his writing about the process and on the right side page, the actual finished book’s corresponding pages. A fascinating look at the creative process at work.

Daybook: the Journey of an Artist by Anne Truitt (Penguin, $17.00)
The journal of an artist coming to terms with herself and her responsibilities as an artist, recreating the demands of domestic life and motherhood.

October 2011, Minter Krotzer

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Janet’s Five Safe Picks for October

Not to be confused with other “safe activities,” safe books refer to those appropriate to reading while eating spaghetti or relaxing in a hot tub. I am not a sitter so eating and bathing are my times to indulge in my love of a good read.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub by Jan Jugran (Innovative Kids, $12.99)
Now this is not the most engaging plot but it is a perfectly safe read for potentially messy areas. Complete with three float-along pink pigs; one might choose to share this with a toddler of choice.

Creep! Crawl! by Amy Pixton (Workman Publishing, $4.95)
This series of truly indestructible books are charmingly illustrated. Intended as a supplement to a story line of your choice, they are chew proof, rip proof, nontoxic and 100% washable. Enjoy creating a fantasy for you or your baby.

Moonlight on Linoleum by Terry Helwig (Howard Books, $25.00)
One of the benefits of working in a bookstore is access to ARC’s (Advance Reader’s Copies). Terry Helwig’s memoir describes the triumph of hope over an early life of desolation. A safe read during all risky activities since with these free ARC’s, there is no return policy and no economic risk; sometimes one discovers a gem.

Wreck this Journal by Keri Smith (Penguin, $13.95)
Enjoy yourself by writing and spilling anything you desire. This journal encourages unique additions.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro (Vintage, $15.00)
A second benefit of working at Big Blue Marble Bookstore is being able to borrow new books to read at home and return spotless. Alice Munro’s current collection of short stories is heartrendingly engaging but definitely NOT a safe read unless you’re actually sitting in a comfortable chair while you navigate the risky emotional landscape of her work.

October 2011, Janet Elfant

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Five Books Erica Eagerly Anticipates This Month

Ooooooh, kids! This month some of my favorite authors are droppin’ mad science! I will clarify. Usually, when I say “mad science” I am being very literal. I am talking Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lloyd’s bats@*t crazy Doc Brown from Back to the Future. But in this instance I am being idiomatic, using the Urban Dictionary definition of “droppin’ science” which is “to rhyme, or say or do something original or unique, especially when rapping or in music.” So this October happens to be when several of my go-to authors release new work. They will continue, as is their wont, to do something original or unique, and consequently blind me with SCIENCE!

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje (Knopf, $26.00)
Release Date: October 4
There’s a lyricism about Ondaatje’s writing and a beauty to his prose that makes me want to take any journey with him—especially this latest one chronicling a young boy’s voyage on a ship bound for England and the rag-tag band of boys seated with him at the titular table.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00)
Release Date: October 11
Last I saw Eugenides it was a few years after The Virgin Suicides and just before Middlesex and the Pulitzer Prize. I thought: this dude has style, from the rolled cuffs of the dark-wash jeans he was wearing, to the unexpected first-person plural narrative voice of The Virgin Suicides. I’m curious to see what his first novel in almost 10 years looks like, concerned as it is with the marriage plot—that weathered old chestnut at the heart of many a great English novel which chronicles courtship rituals (traditionally) between men and women on the way to the altar.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, $25.95)
Release Date: October 18
I’ve been a fan of Whitehead’s since The Intuitionist, his genre-bending exploration of racial congress and upward social mobility set within his brilliantly imagined, cutthroat world of elevator inspectors. Now that he has set his sights on deconstructing the post-apocalyptic zombie novel, I am all a-flutter.

In Other Worlds: Science Fiction and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese, $24.95)
Release Date: October 18
Sometimes Canada gets it right: maple syrup, hockey and the venerable Mags Atwood. What can you say about the woman who’s given us some of the greatest science fiction on the planet? This collection brings together heretofore unpublished lectures, essays and reviews in which Atwood discusses her relationship to the genre.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, $30.50)
Release Date: October 25
At 944 pages, Murakami’s latest is being touted as a magnum opus. It’s his take on Orwell’s 1984, set in Tokyo in the same year and it follows the adventures of a young woman who discovers a parallel universe. Personally, I’d like to see this tome duke it out in a three-way death match with two other massive, recently-released tree-killers, Reamde by Neal Stephenson and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. It has some serious weight, literary and otherwise, to throw around.

October 2011, Erica David

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poetic Profile: Harriet Levin Millan

 1) How would you describe your poetry?

My poetry is hard to describe because it varies from book to book. I wrote my first book after grad school, (University of Iowa Writers Workshop) so I guess I was responding to what I learned there and trying to subvert that in some way. My second book was written also as subversion, largely as a response to a reviewer of my first book, who said I should stop looking out through the "lens of rape." At first I was horrified when I read this statement. I thought, "Oh yeah, right, I do that too much." Then I thought, "No, no, I don't do it enough."

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

 My poetry is my everyday. I think about poetry all day long. Instead of calling the book of my life PROZAC NATION, I would call it POETRY NATION, because I'm always carrying around lines in my head. Even though I write sitting down at a table or desk, I often take walks or walk with my dog and keep writing the poem as I'm going. I'm very interested in not just describing the physical world but entering it. The poetry I like best is what I call "inside-out," meaning that their is not longer a separation between the writer and her subject. The following lines that I wrote recently illustrate this concept: "Hopeful the artist wasn't/and on my bike ride amid cars I hear/the screeching that is not confined to the road/but surrounds art/especially when the artist enters/the cluttered shade of her garage/where her first brush/was a kiss..." These lines are from a poem about the artist Eva Hesse called "Eight Legs," which was the title of the final sculpture she made as she was dying from a brain tumor. The reason I think these lines illustrate the "inside-out" concept is because it's hard to tell from them where the subject of the poem starts and the object of the poem begins. In other words, is this poem about Eva Hesse or the speaker of the poem? A preoccupation of mine, since I was a teenager has always been how to get two people to take up the same space in terms of absolute understanding, and I think all of the poems I write seek to resolve this proposition.

 3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?  

The poets who inspire me are contemporaries, because I like to read what's fresh and new, but probably to go back to less contemporary voices, Elizabeth Bishop more than anyone else, because I love poems that are very physical yet are completely subjective in the way I've explained above and Bishop is a pro at this.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

The community in Philadelphia takes up my head space and since I live in Philadelphia, it's the place I write about. If I lived elsewhere, I'd be writing about that place. I don't usually write a lot when I travel. I need to have a long-standing relationship with a place.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

 The last book that I enjoyed was Martha Silano's THE LITTLE OFFICE OF IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. It's published by Saturnalia Press and I'm on the Board of Saturnalia so I helped read the manuscripts that became the finalists for the Saturnalia Book Prize, Martha's book among them. Her poems achieve the "inside-out" idea that I've talked about above in really cool ways, such as the final poem in the book which is an Ode to Gravy. Garrison Keillor chose "Ode to Gravy" for inclusion in his Poetry Almanac, so see, it is really good.

Prize winning poet Harriet Levin Millan is the author of two books of poetry.  Her debut collection, The Christmas Show, was chosen by Eavan Boland for a Barnard New Women Poet’s Prize. That book also won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award.  The Philadelphia Inquirer named it a Notable Book of the Year. Her second book, Girl in Cap and Gown was a 2009 National Poetry Series Finalist. A PEW Fellowship in the Arts Winner in Poetry and a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she co-directs the Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Poetic Profile: Iain Haley Pollock

1) How would you describe your poetry?

In general, I’m interested in poetry that acts as a witness and either tells a story that needs to be told or in the lyric mode, captures a feeling or mood that helps me understand what it is to be human in this time and place.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

Most days I have a chance to teach, write or read poetry.  But even on the odd day when that doesn’t happen, I find that poetry often pervades my idle thoughts.  I’ll find myself playing with poetic lines in my head or evaluating experiences to see if I can mine them for poetic purposes.

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you? 

My parents gave me a poetry anthology, I Am the Darker Brother,  when I was young and those poets continue to inspire me: Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, and especially Robert Hayden.  In graduate school my professors introduced me to Elizabeth Bishop and Hayden Carruth.  And some of the faculty from the Cave Canem workshop remain strong influences on my work: Elizabeth Alexander, Cornelius Eady, and Carl Phillips.

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

Philly is a great poet’s town, and not only because it’s cheaper than it’s East Coast cousins. All the brick & rust could easily be construed as decay, but I find something beautiful, in an almost nostalgic sense, about the Philadelphia landscape and how the people here constantly reinvent different spaces.  But I’m most interested in human stories, and the (often eccentric) sights, sounds and stories of my neighbors move me to write.  My poems are littered with pit bulls, washing machines abandoned in lots, the exclamations of my fellow Philadelphians, cobblestone streets, folks riding the 32 bus, wasps nests, gunfire & sirens in the night.  On some level I want readers, now and in the future, to know the experiences and emotions of living in Philadelphia during the uncertainty of the early 21st century.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.
I recently finished Robinson Jeffers’ Selected Poems.  This summer while on vacation, my wife and I happened to stay around the corner from Jeffer’s old place, Tor House, in Carmel, California.  Some of the language in his poems seems antiquated now – he was writing in the early to mid-20th century but purposefully evokes an earlier time – but when his poems worked for me, their awe at the power and permanence of nature humbled me and gave me a renewed sense of the brevity of human life.

Iain Haley Pollock lives in Philadelphia and teaches English at Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy. His first collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy (University of Georgia, 2011), won the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Pollock earned a bachelor's degree in English from Haverford College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. He is a Cave Canem Fellow.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jen’s Five Arguments Against Jingoism

Ten years after the fall of the World Trade Center, there are two particular moments that stand out for me. One was the bewildering electronic sign on rt. 76 in Philadelphia which read “AVOID MANHATTAN”. The other was the reaction of one of my coworkers at the time, who astonished me by immediately pinpointing al Qaeda (which I’d never heard of) in Afghanistan, and who then offered her response: “Nuke them. Nuke them all!” (And, yes, she clarified that she meant the entire country.)

Then I remember the flags. The flags that divided the world into Americans and everyone else. I couldn't help noticing that “everyone else” included a lot of actual Americans...

Jingo by Terry Pratchett (HarperTorch, $7.99)
In which a crime is disguised as an act of war.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict by the Arbinger Institute (Berrett-Koehler Publications, $16.95)
In which parents of difficult teens (and anyone else who’s listening) are given an object lesson: The same interactions -- from domestic to international -- become wildly different depending on whether you see someone as a person or as an obstacle.

[The Anatomy of Peace is also among Nif's April 2010 Picks.]

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (Margaret K McElderry, $8.99)
In which the political becomes very personal in the months following September 11, 2001.

[Shine, Cocomut Moon is also among Jen's April 2010 Picks and Janet's May 2010 Picks and is the Young Adult Book Discussion selection for this month!]

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, $9.99)
In which Homeland Security goes too far.

Peace Week in Miss Fox's Class by Eileen Spinelli (Albert Whitman & Co, $16.99)
In which amazing things happen when students take time to think before they speak.

One more book that really belongs on this list is Fire Logic by Laurie K. Marks (currently out of print but due out in January in a 10th anniversary reprint from Small Beer Press): in which characters who should be enemies work instead to wage peace.

October 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Amy’s Five Picks for Home Canning and Preservation

Have you always wanted to make your own jams, pickles, and tomato sauces? Are you overloaded at home with produce from your CSA or backyard garden? Check out these books below, for everything you would ever need to know about preserving, and enjoy the harvest all winter long. These would also make great gifts! Pair it up with canning supplies, which can be found next door at the Weavers Way Co-op. Happy canning!

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It and Other Cooking Projects by Karen Solomon (Ten Speed Press, $24.99)
This would be a great starter book on the subject, and has simple instructions for all kinds of foods: jams, pickles, condiments, basic pasta dough, homemade marshmallows (which are amazing), and making beverages like limoncello and chai.

Put 'em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Storey Books, $19.95)
This book comes highly recommended by canning bloggers. It seems to offers the traditional recipes and techniques along with more modern treatments like cucumber sake and pickled spring ramps. It’s also gorgeous, and if you are looking for a gift, I’d choose this one.

The Joy of Pickling: 250 Flavor-packed Flavor-packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market (Revised Edition) by Linda Ziedrich (Harvard Common Press, $18.95)
This is the only book you need on pickling.

Putting Food By by Janet Greene & Ruth Hertzberg (Plume, $17.00)
This is an essential component to any home canner’s library. It’s been around for over 30 years, and was recently revised and updated for the 5th edition. It covers all matters of home preservation, including a section on curing meats and building root cellars.

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, $25.00)
This is a great resource if you are at all curious about the benefits of fermented live-culture foods in your diet, and how exactly to go about safely making foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha, and ginger beer. My mouth is watering as we speak.

*Also useful:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: 400 Delicious And Creative Recipes for Today by Judi Kingry (Robert Rose, Inc., $24.95)
While a little generic, you absolutely can’t go wrong with having this book on hand. However, I do believe that the selections above are better choices.

September 2011, Amy Vaccarella

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Erica’s Five Books: Best of the Tattooed Ladies

Don’t let the trashy covers put you off. It’s a design thing that all the publishing kids are doing these days: slapping a scantily clad white chick with tattoos and/or ridiculous weapons on the front cover of urban fantasy novels. It usually sends my eyes rolling far into the back of my head because it’s, like, way off-putting. I mean, I know that urban fantasy is a genre like any other, and like any other it has its clichés, and that the clichés can get hecka annoying, like when the first person female narrator prior to meeting her smokin’-hot-sexy-pants vampire/were/fae/angel/demon mate says stuff like “I’m 5’ 10”, 125 lbs with honey-blond hair, but with some eye-liner on I can pass for exotic,” but these fulsome covers make it impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. But, take heart, dear reader, I have done the dirty work for you. I have slogged through these mass market UF series with their tawdry covers and selected the roses among thorns. Yeah, somebody had to do it.

Moon-Called by Patricia Briggs (Ace, $7.99)
Tattooed Lady: Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson. Don’t let the nickname fool you. Mechanic-by-day, bad-A-by-night, Mercy Thompson is more likely to pop you with a crow bar than show you mercy if her mysteriously keen sense of smell tells her that you’re up to no good.

Magic Bites by Illona Andrews (Ace, $7.99)
Tattooed Lady: Kate Daniels. Husband and wife team “Illona Andrews” gives us a brilliant UF yarn set in a world where magic and technology compete. When magic flares up, cars crap out, guns don’t fire and sometimes all hell breaks loose. Kate Daniels is the brash, sword-wielding Han Solo of this world gone topsy-turvy.

Dark Fever by Karen Marie Moning (Dell, $7.99)
Tattooed Lady: MacKayla “Mac” Lane. Steeped in Irish folklore and set predominantly in modern-day Dublin, Dark Fever follows Mac as she struggles to solve her sister’s murder, acquire a reading knowledge of Gaelic, and keep from running afoul of the immortal fae, V’lane, who’s been known to hold human women in sexual thrall.

Grave Witch by Kaylana Price (Roc, $7.99)
Tattooed Lady: Alex Craft. Alex is a witch who’s grave sight allows her to talk to the dead, and Death in particular, who happens to be a blue-jean-wearing hottie. Brings new meaning to the phrase “a date with Death.”

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost (Avon, $7.00)
Tattooed Lady: Cat Crawfield. People keep bringing up the B-word when they talk about this series and when I say B-word I mean Buffy, as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It probably has something to do with the fact that the heroine kicks some serious buttowski—and it can’t hurt that, Bones, the lead vampire, has a certain tortured British malaise that puts one in mind of Buffy’s vampire (sort of) love Spike.

September 2011, Erica David

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jen's Five Books of Unconventional Princesses

These include both picture books and middle grade books.

The Princesses Have a Ball by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Lynne Cravath (Albert Whitman & Company, $6.95)
It's a conventional tale: twelve princesses who disappear at night and show up every morning having worn their shoes to pieces. However, these (impressively diverse) sisters aren't particularly conventional...

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale (Bloomsbury, $7.95)
The prince is destined to choose his partner from Miri's village, so all the girls must learn how to be proper princesses. But one can learn other things at Princess Academy...

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, $6.95)
Prince Robert thinks Princess Elizabeth should be a proper princess and dress impeccably. But when a dragon attacks, who goes off to rescue whom?

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (Sandpiper, $6.99)
Anyone might run away from home to avoid an unwanted betrothal, but even the dragons agree that a proper princess would never run away and volunteer to work for a dragon...

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis, illustrated by Suzanne DeSimone (Aladdin, $14.99)
And, finally, someone who does want to be a proper princess ... even if some people think he shouldn't. A triumph of the power of acceptance over bullying.

September 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Friday, September 23, 2011

Janet’s Five Picks In Honor of Hurricane Irene

At 10:45p.m, thanks to Mt. Airy Patch, I realized that there was a tornado watch in Chestnut Hill and vicinity between 10:30p.m. and 11:00p.m. I called to my daughter who attempted, unsuccessfully, to round up our dog and two cats, and we retired to the basement. Later, I was taught a lesson about the true diversity of our Mt. Airy village. Some of us slept in the basement. Some of us slept on our third floor surrounded by large trees lulled to sleep by the branches blowing against the windows. Some of us prepared for a disaster, collecting water, canned goods, batteries and all types of battery operated devices. Some of us went for two hour hikes in the woods, admiring the rising water and snapping limbs. The following five picks reflect diversity, having no relationship to one another other than I happened to read parts or all of them in the past month:

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (Scribner, $27.00)
Available for sale this October, The Dovekeepers is a fictional account of the seven survivors of Massada, masterfully researched and exquisitely written.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (Penguin, $19.99)
Another young adult lesson about locating one's true self amidst the chaos of changing family and home life.

Rumi: The Fire of Love by Nahal Tajadod (Duckworth, $16.00)
An account of Rumi's life, time and works.

The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane by Joanna Cole (Scholastic, $6.99)
A self explanatory choice.

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland (Workman, $13.95)
A second reminder (see my August list)... this book is now second on the Indie bestseller list.

September 2011, Janet Elfant

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Poetic Profile: Dilruba Ahmed

1) How would you describe your poetry?
That's a tough question!  Many of the poems in my first book deal with a familial and cultural history marked by rifts in place and time.  Some are narrative, some are more lyrical.  I write in free verse and use given forms at times, too.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

The way that poetry fits into my everyday life varies from week to week--reading and writing poetry is essential, of course, and I try to do as much of that as possible!  I also enjoy attending readings and talking shop with friends who are writers.  I also recently began teaching a poetry workshop, which has been fantastic and is teaching me ways to read my work and that of others more deeply.

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?

There are many to name!  Agha Shahid Ali, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Theodore Roethke....

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

I'm relatively new to the area, so it's been fun getting know the city.  My parents, who are from Bangladesh, lived in Philadelphia for many years when they first moved to the U.S., so we have a good deal of family history here.  I grew up in other parts of the state and in Ohio, but because of that history (and the fact that I was born here!), Philadelphia feels like a place with important roots for me. 

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

I recently read WAIT by Alison Stine, which is a wonderful book--dark and powerful, disturbing and lovely.  Stine's poems build mystery by revealing and withholding--by complicating a story while telling it.  Her collection was the winner of the 2011 Brittingham Prize run by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Dilruba Ahmed is the author of Dhaka Dust (Graywolf, July 2011), winner of the 2010 Bakeless Literary Prize for poetry, selected by Arthur Sze and awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Ahmed’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cream City Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Drunken Boat, and The Normal School. Her work also appears in Indivisible: Contemporary South Asian American Poetry. A writer, editor, and educator with roots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Bangladesh, Ahmed holds BPhil and MAT degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from Warren Wilson College.

Dilruba Ahmed and Bonnie MacAllister will be reading this Friday, September 9, 2011, at 7:00pm. Please come check them out!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ten Authors of Series Jen Loves to Reread: Part II

[Editor's Note: Here's a link to Part I. Additionally, two of the following series are also among Nif's November 2010 Picks.]

J.R.R.TOLKIEN set the stage for my love of both fantasy and linguistics.
- The Lord of the Rings, starting with The Fellowship of the Ring (Del Rey, $7.99), or more properly with The Hobbit (Del Rey, $7.99)

MEGAN WHALEN TURNER offers characters who hide in plain sight.
- Attolia series, starting with The Thief (Greenwillow, $6.99)

LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD has a fabulous grasp of diplomacy: Over and over, she introduces you to the enemy, and then gives them the floor.
- Cordelia Naismith/Miles Vorkosigan series, starting with Cordelia’s Honor (Simon & Schuster, $7.99)
- Chalion series, starting with The Curse of Chalion (HarperTorch, $7.99)
- Sharing Knife, starting with Sharing Knife: Beguilement (Eos, $7.99)

JASPER FFORDE mixes absurdist alternate history with a host of literary puns.
- Thursday Next, starting with The Eyre Affair (Penguin, $15.00)
- Nursery Crime, starting with The Big Over Easy (Penguin, $15.00)

TAMORA PIERCE knows what it means to find a place to belong.
- Circle of Magic, starting with Sandry’s Book (Point, $6.99)
- The Protector of the Small, starting with First Test (Random House, $6.50)

August 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Claudia’s Five Steamy Reads

Some like it steamy...
Are you one of the girls who secretly read erotic novels?! Hiding them underneath pillows and mattresses? I confess: I am. When I was in my late teen years a good friend of mine gave me about fifty Playboy magazines from her dad. Uhh, I can’t remember what was more exciting: the content and pictures or the fact that I had to hide them.

So if you are in a sensuous mood to spice up the last summer month and be a naughty girl you HAVE to devour the books by Victoria Janssen. She is a superb writer and needs to get a gold star in the erotic novel category. Titles like The Moonlight Mistress or The Duke and The Pirate Queen do not only promise a wild ride, they leave you breathless and more... Victoria is also super nice and her book release parties at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore are the climax of the day. (I hope she has a new one coming out soon ).

“Remove the petals carefully from the roses…” Ahh, Tita's famous "Quail in Rose Petal Sauce". Laura Esquivel combines a love story and piquant Mexican recipes and lets them simmer on a slow flame. The heat is on.

You can't get enough steam??!! Then treat yourself to The Steampunk Bible, “an illustrated guide to the world of imaginary airships, corsets and goggles, mad scientists, and strange literature.” Different kind of steamy.

Getting hot now?? Come to our lovely cafe and cool off with a cold drink.

The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover by Victoria Janssen (Spice, $13.95)

The Moonlight Mistress by Victoria Janssen (Spice, $13.95)

[Editor's Note: Moonlight Mistress is also one of Jen's July 2010 Picks.]

The Duke and the Pirate Queen by Victoria Janssen (Spice, $13.95)

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Random House, $14.00)

The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer (Abrams, $24.95)

[Editor's Note: For more adventures in steampunk, see Erica's October 2010 Picks.]

August 2011, Claudia Vesterby

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Amy’s Five Favorite Buddy Stories for Readers Who Love Frog & Toad

We all love Frog and Toad. Their quirky, “odd-couple” relationship and unending devotion for one another is inspiring for young and old. There are tons of best-friends stories out there; I chose the ones below because they resemble Frog and Toad in spirit and simplicity. They would be excellent choices for new readers or pre-readers.

George and Martha by James Marshall
(Series of titles, available in picture book and early reader formats)

Written and illustrated by the amazing James Marshall, these tell the story of two hippos who are the best of friends.

Owen & Mzee: the true story of a remarkable friendship by Isabella Hatkoff and Peter Hatkoff (Scholastic, $16.99)
Owen is a hippo that was stranded on a reef off the coast of Kenya after the tsunami of 2006. He was brought to a wildlife refuge where he immediately took comfort in the company of a 130-year old tortoise named Mzee. The pair has become an international sensation. This is their sweet story, written and illustrated by a little girl and her dad, after visiting the refuge.

Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie
(Series of titles, picture books)

Swap Frog and Toad for two pigs wearing turtlenecks, and you have got Toot & Puddle.

Elephant & Piggie by Mo Willems
(Series of titles, early readers)

This series is laugh-out-loud fun. Brought to you by the author of such classics as Knuffle Bunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

City Dog, Country Frog by Jon J. Muth (Hyperion, $17.99)
One of my all-time favorite picture books. It has a sweet and beautiful message, about the power of friendship and the cycle of life, with gorgeous illustrations by the illustrator of Zen Ties and Zen Shorts.

August 2011, Amy Vaccarella

Monday, August 29, 2011

Janet’s Five OohOohOoh... Ahhhhh...Ohhhhhh...Books

What better way to spend a hot August afternoon than oohing and ahhing over a book? In fact, if it is truly an ooh, ahh, book, and you are with your child, partner, friend, add a few laughs by counting which one of you oohs and aahs the most. This is especially valuable if you have no place to go swimming or otherwise survive the heat but to simply laugh your way through it.

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland (Workman Publishing, $13.95)
My favorite ohh ahher filled with photographs and stories of friendships developed between animals of different species (sort of like friendships between men and women).

Cake Pops by Angie Dudley (Chronicle Books, $19.95)
A delightful collection of oooable pops perfect for a party or an "I'm bored, Mom" summer day or just to fantasize making someday.

Itty-Bitty Hats by Susan B. Anderson (Artisan, $17.95)
A book of patterns for babies and toddlers which will turn them into the most delectable beings in Mt. Airy and beyond. Anderson also authors a companion volume of Itty-bitty toys.

At Home with Books by Erin Zamrzla (Trumpeter, $21.95)
Imaginative projects that turn your old books into objects of art or functional additions to your household.

Apples I Have Eaten by Jonathan Gerken (Chronicle Books, $14.95)
A small red (of course) covered book that turns apples into collector's items. (We are hoping to self-publish a similar volume with eggs...have you seen the shades of the organic eggs at the Co-op?)

[Editor's Note: Apples I Have Eaten is also one of Erica's December 2010 Picks.]

August 2011, Janet Elfant

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Erica’s Five Novels Starring Philadelphia

What with all the jibber jabber about Paris in the pages of recent indie bestsellers, I got to thinking about Philly and how it rarely gets top billing as the star of those kind of Eat, Pray, Love type books—as the romantic city so steeped in literary history and gastronomic inspiration that it can shake a life to its foundations and EFFECT GREAT CHANGE. It more often has a supporting role as the backdrop of a gritty crime drama. But here are five books where Philly and its neighborhoods get the star treatment, where like the New York City of Sex and the City, it gets to play the all important “fifth lady” in a stellar ensemble cast.

Tumbling by Diane McKinney-Whetstone (Harper Perennial, $13.99)
“The black predawn air was filled with movement. Its thin coolness rushed through the streets of South Philly, encircling the tight, sturdy row houses.”

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos (Plume, $14.00)
“…Mr. Fringer inclined his head to shoot a look over the tops of his glasses at us. His shop was not one of the truly elegant ones on Pine Street, no mint-condition eighteenth-century writing table posing tiptoe like a ballerina in his window. No mint-condition anything. But a good shop—my favorite.”

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Picador, $16.00)
“Here in the heart of Chestnut Hill, needless to say, the sheet-metal currency of Neverest and Western Civil Defense and ProPhilaTex signs in every front yard was backed by the full faith and credit of floodlights and retinal scanners…but elsewhere in northwest Philly, down through Mount Airy into Germantown and Nicetown where the sociopaths had their dealings and dwellings, there existed a class of bleeding-heart homeowners who hated what it might say about their “values” to buy their own security systems…”

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner (Washington Square Press, $15.00)
“The sum total of her big-screen experience might be the three seconds that a sliver of her left hip was visible in Will Smith’s second-to-last video. And she might be just barely bumping along, while some people, namely her sister, Rose, went whizzing through Ivy League colleges and straight into law schools, then into law firms and luxury apartments in Rittenhouse Square like they’d been shot down the water slide of life…”

If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary (Atria Books, $24.00)
“Jewell Thompson nosed her sedan into the narrow Philadelphia street… Outside her noisy mind, rows of identical two-story brick houses squatted beside Cobbs Creek Park, muffled by heavy fog and a cold, early-spring, early-Sunday-morning quiet.”

August 2011, Erica David

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ten Authors of Series Jen Loves to Reread: Part I

[Editor's Note: Three of the following series are also among Nif's November 2010 Picks.]

Terry Pratchett mixes fantastic silliness with biting political satire.
- Tiffany Aching, starting with The Wee Free Men (HarperCollins, $6.99)
- Discworld series, Night Watch thread, starting with Guards! Guards! (HarperCollins, $7.99)
- Discworld series, Witches thread, starting with Equal Rites (HarperCollins, $7.99)

Laurie King brings Sherlock Holmes out of retirement (with some help from her protagonist).
- Mary Russell series, starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Picador, $15.00)

[Further Note: The Beekeeper's Apprentice is also one of Claudia's February Picks.]

Ursula Le Guin explores the limits of power.
- The Annals of the Western Shore, starting with Gifts (Harcourt, $7.95)
- Earthsea series, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea (Random House, $7.99)
Note: there are now six books in this series, and if you’ve only read the trilogy, it’s time for your world to be turned upside down!
- Catwings, starting with Catwings (Scholastic, $4.99)
Okay, the Catwings series is not as much about power. And yet…

Catherine Gilbert Murdock maintains a perfect voice.
- D.J. Schwenk series, starting with Dairy Queen (Graphia, $8.99)

Scott Westerfeld goes steampunk!
- Leviathan series, starting with Leviathan (Simon & Schuster, $9.99)

[Penultimate Note: Leviathan is also one of Jen's June Picks.]

See here for Part II.

July 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Friday, July 29, 2011

Erica’s Five Maptastic Reads to Help You Find Your Orientation

I’ll be honest, maps make me anxious. In order to read them they require two very important things: 1) that you know where you are and, 2) that you know where you’re going. This is a surefire way to send me into an existential crisis. I am that girl who hears the Mahogany theme song every time she steps out the door: Do you know where you’re going to?/ Do you like the things that life is showing you?/ Where are you going to?/ Do you know? So, here are several map collections, real and imagined, guaranteed to point me, I mean you, in the right direction.

You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination by Katherine Harmon (Chronicle, $24.95)
“Fake” maps galore in gorgeous color plates including a Map of Lovemaking and New Map of the Land of Matrimony -- charting stormy seas no doubt.

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will by Judith Schalansky (Penguin, $28.00)
I’m not planning to set foot on these islands either, but I like that Schalansky’s research and beautiful illustrations provide me with highly esoteric (and highly entertaining) knowledge of seldom visited locales in the event that I find myself in a Robinson Crusoe type situation.

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas by Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press, $24.95)
Solnit is a master of blending the personal and the historical. Her atlas explores San Francisco thematically, politically and above all personally, while elucidating our modern notions of place.

Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden (Penguin, $25.00)
Yes, a map of Philadelphia’s transit system is featured and it feels quaint and old-timey with its reference to the regional rail lines by their old call numbers (e.g., R7, R8). The Philly map suffers however, from being featured opposite a photo of the Prague subway system which, with its squat train carriages and futuristic tunnels, looks as if you’re shooting toward your destination in a DeLorean.

[Editor's Note: Transit Maps of the World is also one of Jen's June 2010 Picks.]

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen (Penguin, $16.00)
12 year-old cartographer T.S. is probably the only character I’ve ever met who can map a dinner conversation. His brilliant, inventive illustrations haunt the margins of this quirky, charming novel.

July 2011, Erica David

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Janet’s Five Choices for School Required Summer Reading (OR Does the Philadelphia School System EVER Change the Reading Lists?)

Actually, yes they do. Having three copies of The Color of Water in our house because no one bothered to check the bookcases, I wondered once again whether the school system had ever heard of Alice Walker or James Baldwin or Maya Angelou or... yes, they have. And yes, everyone should read The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird at least once in their lives, but what about the incredible array of new young adult literature available to us today?

Current young adult authors address issues relevant to our teenagers of the computer age in ways that are engaging, heart-rending, TRUE and resolvable. So here are a few of the classics, a few "are they really still on the lists?" and one relatively current choice. We carry them all and more. Please check out Jen's YA book group for an exceptional selection of new arrivals.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown and Company, $6.99, ©1945)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ©1960)

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks (Ballantine Books, $6.99, ©1963)

The Color of Water by James McBride (Riverhead Books, $15.00, ©1996)

Tangerine by Edward Bloor (Harcourt, $6.95, ©1997)

July 2011, Janet Elfant

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nif's Five Books to read to Micah (age 5 months)

Look! Look! by Peter Linenthal (Penguin, $6.99)
Detailed, high contrast images made this the first book Micah really enjoyed.

I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy (Random House, $6.99)
All the animals want to meet, greet, and help take care of the baby. High contrast pictures! Big kissy noises! I find this one really fun to read.

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Lesléa Newman (Random House, $7.99)
Maleka gave us this one and it is super cute! I love love LOVE that this toddler's routine with lesbian moms is so very ordinary. No preachiness here, just genuine family life. To properly capture our family dynamics, we substitute "Mummy" wherever it says "Mommy" and "Mommy" wherever it says "Mama."

But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton (Simon and Schuster, $5.99)
Bright primary colors and the rollicking rhythm of the rhymes make this one quite appealing now that Micah is a bit bigger. It's like singing him a song, only with pictures and no tune. Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance (Workman, $6.95) is pleasing for the same reasons.

[Editor's Note: Barnyard Dance is also one of Janet's August 2010 Picks.]

Little Composter by Jan Gerardi (Random House, $6.99)
We had to get this one because I'm a compulsive composter. It rhymes! There are flaps to lift in all different directions! Micah likes it.

July 2011, Jennifer Woodfin

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jen's Five Fictional Women Disguised as Men (Plus One Book of Nonfiction)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Simon & Schuster, $6.99)
Alanna of Trebond will earn her knighthood.

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, $7.99)
Polly Perks will bring her brother back from the war.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (Simon & Schuster, $6.99)
Dicey Tillerman will get her family a home.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster, $9.99)
Deryn Sharp will fly.

Blindspot: A Novel of Art, Passion, and Politics in the Age of the American Revolution, by a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore (Spiegel & Grau, $15.00)
Fanny Easton will learn portraiture.

NOTE: While all the other books on this list are suitable for teens or younger kids, Blindspot ... not so much.

And also . . .
No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Willow Dawson (Kids Can Press, $16.95 hardcover, $8.95 paperback)

June 2011, Jennifer Sheffield

Sunday, July 10, 2011

5 Books that help Claudia not to sweat the small stuff

The humid, sweltering summer days are upon us, which translates, yes into sweat
(especially in Philadelphia). The following books will help you to "keep your cool" : in the heat, in life's ups and downs, transitions, daily routines etc., etc., etc. If the high temperatures make you suffer, at least you do not want to sweat over the small things in life.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (Bantam, $16)
I recently heard a talk with Tara Brach in Philadelphia. She pointed out how important it is to learn to love yourself and by doing so becoming more forgiving. Throughout the day put your hand onto your heart, whisper I love you and forgive the person who is honking the car horn at you.

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (Broadway Books, $14.95)

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet and peacemaker applies Buddha's teachings to your daily lives.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (Pantheon Books, $9.95)

This is one of my dearest reads and I take it always to the beach with me. The author shares her pearls (or may I say shells) of wisdom about youth and age; love; peace and transitions with gentle tenderness. After reading the chapter about the Moon Shell you feel calm and peaceful and more kind. Read it!!!

Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg (Shambala Classics, $14.95)
Have you finished book no.3 ?! Good! Then go and top off your gained wisdom with this insightful exploration of the deepest meaning of empathy and caring. Your heart will overflow with goodness and equanimity and you might want to hug the person who honked the horn at you and show him that its not worth to sweat the small stuff.

Zen Birds by Vanessa Sorensen (Adventure Publications, $8.95)

If you favor delicate and beautiful illustrations you definitely want to take a peek at this little booklet. Inspired by traditional Asian brushwork and haiku this pearl will calm you down and soften your heart.

Please devour the recommendations and you will never lose your cool.

June 2011, Claudia Vesterby

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Erica’s Top 5 Illustrated Wonders

I have had it with words this month. Seriously, it’s too hot for them. I had a My Fair Lady moment the other day: “Never do I ever want to hear another word/ There isn’t one I haven’t heard.” As a result there are several authors I’d like to shake vigorously (I’m talkin’ to you Henry James, you elaborate comma-splicer)! So I give you five books where pictures are the gracious, graphic and anything but garrulous stars.

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss (Harper Collins, $29.99)

Breathtaking and genre-bending, this illustrated biography—for lack of a better term—blends history, science and art, weaving the Curies’ personal anecdotes with scientific fact into one seamless, startlingly romantic tale.

Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel (Chronicle Books, $29.95)

Patel brings us a beautifully drawn and easy-to-digest version of the Ramayana, the epic legend of a blue-skinned prince which lies at the heart of Hindu mythology. His fanciful drawings remind me of Genndy Tarktakovsky’s mythic animated series Samurai Jack, with their heavy lines, sharp angles and flat two-dimensionality that makes them read almost like paper-cut artwork on the page.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia (Harper Collins, $16.99)
Garcia’s illustrated Alice is a spidery-lashed maiden with kohl-rimmed eyes who seems to exist at the visual crossroads where goth and rockabilly meet. Is she a troubled innocent at the mercy of the Queen of Hearts or a Grade A mischief maker whose pointy teeth indicate a vampiric nature? Garcia’s beautiful plates make you wonder.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon (First Second, $16.99)
My latest book crush. There’s something undeniably tender about this graphic novel, completely devoid of speech bubbles and dialogue, that just gets me all choked up. Maybe it’s because it’s about an ill-fated friendship between two of my favorite kinds of “almost-people:” dogs and robots. Sometimes “almost-people” are even more human than real people, especially when they dream.

The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer with S.J. Chambers (Abrams, $24.95)
Everything you always wanted to know about steampunk but were afraid to ask has been collected in this splendiloquent visual compendium which charts the influence of this fantastical genre in fashion, literature and art. A perfect read for those long, cross-country dirigible trips.

June 2011, Erica David

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Janet's 5 Ways to Welcome the Return of the Monarchs

A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston (Chronicle Books, $16.99)
Beautifully illustrated by Sylvia Long, the text inside is clear and informative.

Dinosaurs Roar, Butterflies Soar! by Bob Barner (Chronicle Books, $16.99)
A fun, brilliantly colored book which provides the young child with a sense of evolution.

Little Butterfly by Klaart je Van Der Put (Chronicle Books, $6.95)
Toddlers can stick their fingers through this board book to move the butterfly's head and open the pages to a simple rhyming text.

Mini Monarch Butterfly Finger Puppet by Folkmanis ($4.99)

Folkmanis is a master at constructing finger puppets of the highest quality, detail and durability. Come visit our baskets of beautifully crafted animals and see how the monarch spreads its wings.

The Prince of Butterflies by Bruce Coville (Harcourt, $7.00)

One of my favorite children's book describing a boy's spiritual affinity and life's journey with the monarchs.

June 2011, Janet Elfant

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mo's 5 Books to Inspire Summer Crafting!

Summertime is a great time to make and do things! Many people don't know it, but the Big Blue Marble has a small but mighty craft section on the second floor. Go check it out! Or ask a friendly staffer to bring you down their favorite craft book.

Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Traditional Skills by Una McGovern (Cambers UK, $16.95)

Check out the beautiful paper-cut cover by Rob Ryan! Then open it up and learn about the everyday art and skill of days gone-by.

Paper Cutting: Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft compiled by Laura Heyenga (Chronicle, $27.50)
Are you a fan of Nikki McClure or Rob Ryan? This book features intricate paper-cut artworks by these and other artists.

Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques + Truly Original Projects by Christine Schmidt (Potter Craft, $19.99)
Be the envy of hipsters everywhere after you learn the techniques in this book.

Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris (Hachette, $27.99)

Amy Sedaris is crazy and this satire on craft books is genius. Did you know that "Reckless crafting causes eight times the number of accidents caused by faulty glue guns and snakes combined!?" Sedaris' book is full of this and other crafting safety facts. She will also teach you about crafting for Jesus, unreturnable gift giving, and "fornicrafting."

Designer's Notebook by Andrew Schapiro and Brad Mead (Chronicle, $19.95)

This sophisticated design journal/sketchbook has dotted grids for making notes and diagrams of future projects. It also contains a resource guide at the back with design terms and measurements, as well as a detachable ruler, tracing paper, and stickers. It also has a nifty pocket in the back!

June 2011, Mo Speller

Monday, June 13, 2011

Amy’s 5 Picks for Father’s Day Gifts

Man with a Pan: culinary adventures of fathers who cook for their families edited by John Donohue (Algonquin Books, $15.95)
From a New Yorker staff writer and author of the blog “Stay at Stove Dad” comes a great looking collection of stories and recipes from well-known chefs, artists, authors and plain old regular guys. Each contributes personal tips and experiences and what appears to be their go-to recipes, which all look fantastic. Here are a few to chew on: Miso Cod, Fish Tacos, Pistachio Pesto, Milk-Braised Pork, Low Country Boil, and (my favorite) Pretty Good Cake.

The Imperfectionists: a novel by Tom Rachman (Random House, $15.00)
This book has been receiving glowing recommendations from staff members and customers. It’s the first novel by the author, a journalist, and is set at an English language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter is written from the perspective of a different person connected to the newspaper, and somehow the author manages to weave it into a sharp novel.

Geek Dad’s Guide to Weekend Fun by Ken Denmead (Gotham Books, $18.00)
For the serious DIY dad who is also a kid at heart. There are instructions on projects ranging from making dry ice ice cream to an “alien” drum kit made out of PVC pipe, to a “high-tech treasure hunt” utilizing smart phones and web coding.

How to Build a Fire and Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew by Erin Bried (Ballantine Books, $15.00)
Another how-to book for the modern dad, or anyone for that matter. It has short entries on a variety of basic skills that people from the younger generations apparently lack, from how to carve a roasted bird, strip furniture, or write a love letter. Peppered in are endearing anecdotes and advice from men of the Greatest Generation.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Anchor Books, $14.95)

This novel has been receiving great reviews and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. I have not read it yet, but the dad in my life did and could not put it down.

June 2011, Amy Vaccarella

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Erica's 5 Books with "Paris" in the Title

I am not a trendsetter but I can usually discern one—especially when it slaps me in the face with all the theatricality of a maudlin 1950’s melodrama. So it is with the latest trend to hit the Indie Bestseller Lists: books with “Paris” in the title. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and the same goes for titles, too, I’m sure, but that’s what I’m about to do. I haven’t read a single book on this list, but like Chuck Norris, I’ve stared them down until I’ve gleaned the information that I wanted.

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz (Broadway Books, $14.00)
Dear Book Cover, you had me at croissant. If there is a croissant on something I will buy it. And if ever there is a croissant on another croissant I will buy them both.

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard (Back Bay Books, $13.99)
Huh. Stumped on this one. I have no idea what this book could be about. Thankfully Back Bay Books has seen fit to put the following gem of a line on the front cover: “Romance on the front burner… it’s Eat, Stay, Love with a side of spiced apricots.” Well, just as long as no one is falling in love with a Frenchman and peppering her narrative with cutesy recipes.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain (Random House, $25.00)
Rumor has it that the titular wife in question is the first wife of famed drunkard, er, writer, Ernest Hemingway. I don’t care who she is. The only thing I know is that the Philadelphia Wife could beat the Paris Wife’s @$$ any day.

Hungry Woman in Paris by Josefina Lopez (Hachette, $12.99)
Totally about aliens, brain-sucking, body-leeching aliens. Nothing at all to do with women eating and finding love and/or spiritual awakening in Paris, which is a shame if you ask me. There just aren’t enough of those books.

Paris, Paris by David Downie (Broadway, $15.00)

I’m hoping that this is just like SPECTACULAR, SPECTACULAR, the show within the show that was Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge. In other words, it should be heavy on the Ewan McGregor and light on the Nicole Kidman, who should die of consumption at the end. I base my hopes solely on the fact that this is classified as a travelogue (and that the author wears an eye patch).

-May 2011, Erica David

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Janet's Five Ideas for Mothers and Others

Collect Raindrops by Nikki McClure (Abrams, $29.95)

The beauty of Nikki McClure's work lies in her simplicity. This volume is a collection meant to be left on your coffee table. It is like taking a long deep breath to browse through the celebration of ordinary moments which are illustrated on each page.

Flour by Joanne Chang (Chronicle Books, $35.00)
Yum! Joanne Chang at her best as a pastry chef complete with a degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard. But, surprise of all surprises, you too can create these wonderful masterpieces. I sister really liked it (what are sisters for but to do taste tests?)

Never Forget Journal by Gina Triplett (Chronicle Books, $9.95)
We have many wonderful journals but this is one of my favorites. The cover design invites one to express all inner desires within its decorated pages.

The Tree That Time Built selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston (Jabberwocky, $19.99)

As a mother, some of my most delightful moments were spent reading collections of poetry to my children which were memorized with such ease. The Tree That Time Built comes complete with an audio CD of many of the poets reading their own work.

Castle in the Sky directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Walt Disney Studios, $29.99)

Take a break on Mother's Day, or at the end of any full day, and watch this wonderful family movie.

May 2011, Janet Elfant