Book Review: Great Little Gifts to Knit

Why I picked it: Learning to read the language of knitting has opened my horizons to the art of 'making'. 

Synopsis: Today's knitters are avid—and busy. Although they love to knit for friends and family, and enjoy trying out new patterns and stitch techniques, they're constantly faced with the challenge of finding enough time to complete their projects.  

Great Little Gifts to Knit solves this problem. Jean Moss, author of Sweet Shawlettes, has designed 30 fun, fresh, beautiful patterns that incorporate traditional knitting techniques from all over the world: from Fair Isle and Aran knits to Peruvian intarsia patterns and Japanese shadow knitting techniques.

Beautiful, clever, and, most of all, quick to knit, these projects offer knitters a chance to learn and experiment with new techniques—all in projects that can be made in less than a weekend.

Quick Take: Take one step into my workspace, and you will find yourself surrounded with skeins of yarns, supplies, patterns, bookshelves and my desk.  I'm enjoying making small items, knowing the difficulty and challenge can be high for me.

This book is filled with lovely projects, of the thirty included I'm planning to make several.  I'm quite excited to make the mittens in the photo; the hat and socks are must make items for me.

Rating: 4 stars
Source: review copy (Netgalley)

A funny moment: The World Traveler came home this week, pleased so see my progress... he looked at a pattern sitting next to the mittens I'm making and said 'are you cheating?'
 I asked what he meant and he thought I invented everything I make! {funny}

Book Review: Fresh from the Farm

Why I picked it: Middleton wrote one of my favorite cookbooks making this book an easy choice for me.

Synopsis: Part cookbook, part memoir, Fresh from the Farm chronicles a year of Susie Middleton’s life on her farm as she nurtures both her seedlings and her soul, weathers life as a farmer, and creates 125 simple recipes that celebrate cooking with the seasons.

The fresh, accessible recipes developed by Susie, pay homage to the vegetables and fruit she harvests on her rural farm and sells at her farm stand. Woven throughout the tantalizing recipes and luscious photos of food and farm life is Susie’s witty, engaging story of trading in her corporate life for something more meaningful, simple, and satisfying.

Valuable tips for both cooks and aspiring market gardeners are peppered throughout the book, and design ideas for four projects will inspire would-be backyard farmers. Fresh from the Farm is for anyone who enjoys cooking with fresh ingredients and eating seasonally—or anyone who wants to indulge their inner farmer.

Quick Take: This is a lovely cookbook, filled with photography and recipes yet reads more like a memoir.  Don't worry though, you will find a variety of recipes from easy to complicated, arranged seasonally... with what's fresh in the garden that day. 

Reading a few reviews, some mention the layout being a distraction for them (see photo). It may not work for everyone but I found this format interesting. I was engrossed by stories while glancing at recipes, learning and enjoying the author's farming/life experiences. It worked for me.

I can't wait to make this recipe, Gingery Strawberry-Rhubard crisp. {yum}

Interested to learn more about Susie Middleton? Click here for a great article on the HuffPo.

Rating: 4 stars
Source: review copy

Book Review: Madapple

Why I picked it: I have been wanting to read this book since reading Amaryllis in Blueberry, which I loved.   

Synopsis: Madapple tells the story of Maren Hellig and her 16-year-old daughter Aslaug, who live off the land in rural Maine, foraging for wild plants that nourish them physically and spiritually. The pair's mysterious existence is laid bare when Aslaug has to stand trial for her mother's murder.

Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention--and of the darkest corners of the human soul.

Quick Take: The sentence just above caught my attention, and with my book club often preferring YA I thought this would be an interesting choice. 

Told in flashbacks while Aslaug is on trial for murdering her mother, I was kept engaged with an always twisting plot that sometimes took a strange turn.  Aslaug's knowledge/education comes from books and her mother's teachings, but she lacks life experience, she and her mother are hermits.

Reflecting back on the book, Aslaug was a victim of circumstance. I lost interest in the botany details, there's also mythology and religion, suspense and love, incest and the 'r' word. I appreciated this book and the authors imagination but my book club didn't care for it... if you want to read a Christina Meldrum novel, I might suggest starting with her second novel which I enjoyed it very much.    

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Personal Copy

Travel: Australia (part two)

Going through my travel posts, mostly to reflect, I realized I didn't get to share our adventure in Australia.

Australia... have you been?

I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Sydney (click here to read part one: our time in Sydney), and one week in the Blue Mountains.

The World Traveler had a few day trips for work commitments, but I wasn't able to join him (puddle jumpers), so I explored via ferry, hiked, ran.  I loved everything about this place.

Sydney: I would move there in a minute, especially if we were able to live near the quay/Sydney Cove.

Our hotel was right under the bridge, giving us easy access to run across the Harbour Bridge every day, every day! There's a carnival just on the other side (you can't see it in this photo).  I would then cross back, around the cove and past the Opera House, and along the Royal Botanical Gardens on the left side of this photo.

Book Review: The Splendour Falls

Why I picked it: I have only read one book by this author and I know so many love her work.  It piqued my interest.

Synopsis: Emily Braden is intrigued by the medieval story of Queen Isabelle, and cannot resist when her cousin Harry, a historian, suggests a trip to the white-walled town of Chinon, nestling in France's Loire Valley. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she stumbles across another intriguing mystery -- a second Isabelle, a chambermaid during the Second World War, who had her own tragedy, and her own treasure to hide.

As Emily explores the ancient town of labyrinthine tunnels, old enmities, and new loves, she finds herself drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelle and their long-kept secrets.

Quick Take: I enjoy learning while reading, and since I was in the land of a thousand castles recently (Aosta Valley) I was able to envision the setting for this story with little imagination.

Before you read this one you might want to take a few minutes to glance at goodreads reviews from friends who read this genre.  So many didn't take for elements within the book, I fall into this group.  I didn't have a connection to the guests befriending Emily, and found myself not interested in the outcome.  I did enjoy the writing, descriptions of the valley, and the little girl's sub plot.

I also thought it was odd that Emily and her family didn't seem concerned that Harry was missing.

Have you read it? It wasn't a favorite for me but I'm thankful for the historical part of novel.

Rating: 3 stars
Source: Review Copy

Book Review: Homemade Gatherings

Why I picked it: We host several socials in our home every year, from four to fifty guests, making a book like this perfect for me. ~ April 8, 2014 release date

Synopsis: From the décor, to the entertainment, on down to the recipes themselves, Handmade Gatherings presents inspired suggestions for thoughtful, flavorful, festive communal dining.

Here you'll find sixteen parties built around the rhythm of the seasons. Frosty winter fetes, lush springtime soirees, sultry summer get-togethers, and crisp autumn affairs--it's all here. Food, décor, crafts, and more are part of each event, all collectively assembled and executed. Throw memorable gatherings with your loved ones, enjoy the food, connect with your community, and get caught up in the splendor of it all.

Quick Take:  I should hold off sharing this review until April, but I read this book in one day, so excited that I want to share the book and a some weblinks with you.  I know a few of you are crafters, interested in local/organic, and gardening so I can't imagine holding this a secret any longer.

The book is filled with tips from concept to invitation, coordinating the menu and helping with the decorations.  As a hostess, you want your gatherings to be lasting memories of delicious food, enjoyable company, and most importantly you shouldn't overlook the setting.  Taking the time to create a mood/decor for the gathering is a must.

- Photography: I found myself looking at the details, getting ideas, seeing the end product along with the written descriptions.  Just lovely.

- Potluck socials are simple and delightful.  I'm planning to embrace the potluck a few times in 2014 (I already have an idea brewing).  This book shares great tips to ensure the meal comes together seamlessly: the hostess may want to provide plates for a spring theme, remind guests that when they bring a dish... ALWAYS bring a serving utensil.

- Recipes: I plan to try several, including these: rhubarb buttermilk bread, apple and fennel slaw (with buttermilk dressing), and the wild rice stuffed mushrooms.

- Flora and Crafts are included: teaching us how to make seed starters with newspaper and a juice glass.

- Host thoughtful gatherings

Rating: 5 stars
Source: NetGalley (personal copy when the book publishes)

Small Measure (Ashley English's blog)
Squam (ecourses +community)
12 steps to homesteading (article)
Author interview (before it's news)

A question from the q&a that sums it up nicely...

KA: One thing that’s always impressed is your seemingly effortless way of creating community within the walls of your home. I always leave with a full belly, a warm heart, and a new friend. What’s your secret?

AE: I really believe that spaces create certain experiences. If I wanted to be awed, I’d climb up to the top of a nearby mountain, or gaze at a sacred image. So too with desiring comfort. In my home, more than anything else, I want guests to feel welcome, and comfortable. I work to achieve that by, well, bringing the outdoors in, so to speak. Our walls are painted soothing earth tones, our furniture is all meant to be lounged on (and has the cat scratches and dog indentations to prove it!), there are wooden and metal and glass objects everywhere, and lots and lots of blankets. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have told us they completely lose all sense of time when they’re in our house, and, more recently, two friends said our home felt like a “big hug.” When you’re in an environment that feels inviting, you loosen up physically and, for some, mentally, too. Such a state is super conducive to making new friends and lingering over good food.

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