sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

January 20, 2011

winter wonderland, tasty torte, and period piece
posted by soe 6:25 pm

Three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Sleet and freezing rain moved through the area Monday night, leaving us to awaken in a fairy land Tuesday morning. Every tree and leaf and railing was encased in a shining, shimmering glaze of ice, offering up a dazzling piece of ephemeral, seasonal artwork.

2. When John invited a bunch of us over to dinner Sunday night, Rudi and I decided to bring dessert. Lost for something fast and elegant (John subscribes to more gourmet cooking that wouldn’t pair well with many of my standard quickies) from my standard repertoire and thwarted by an inability to use fruit, Rudi and I sought inspiration in a birthday cake Mum made me a few years back and settled on a flourless chocolate cake. It ended up being just what we were hoping for and (I thought) a nice ending to a fancy meal.

3. Monday was a holiday and I celebrated by lounging around the house all day with books and knitting. After a while I was ready for some other type of diversion and ended up coming across the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet version of Sense and Sensibility secreted amidst Rudi’s collection of James Bond movies. I had forgotten just how good it was (although I do think Gemma Jones’ portrayal of Mrs. Dashwood is more restrained than Jane Austen wrote the character).

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world?

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January 19, 2011

ten on tuesday: favorite games of childhood
posted by soe 12:48 am

This week’s Ten on Tuesday topic is:

Ten Favorite Games from your Childhood (in no particular order)

  1. Mille Bourne — Mum is not much of a board game player, but she was always up for this French Canadian card game that combines racking up your own numbered kilometer cards with throwing auto-related hazards in the way of your opponents. Oh, and acquiring the four safety cards that grant you immunity to those roadside dangers. There’s nothing like being hit with an “arrête” card and being able to “coup-foúrre” it away. I introduced it to Eri, Rebs, and Rudi at college, but it took until meeting Shelley and Mike in 2001 before I encountered anyone else who’d grown up playing it.
  2. Trivial Pursuit — I am a child of the ’80s and this is our game. Still a favorite at parties.
  3. Tag — We played it at recess and we played it in the upper level of the front yard when we were old enough to be out there. There were a zillion variations, from your standard, garden-variety to freeze tag to tv tag.
  4. Rummy — Eri, Rebs, and I played this for hours in college. That we kept playing it after one memorable night our freshman year when a guy we vaguely knew came over to join us and could not understand the rules, forcing us to play an entire night’s worth of Rummy 500 open-handed gives testament to how much we enjoyed it. It still gets mentioned in emails along with cocoa breaks and comforters and milano cookies and They Might Be Giants.
  5. Monopoly — Perhaps better called Monotony when played the way I prefer it, I’m happiest when you don’t play with houses or hotels. Yes, it does last hours that way. No, no one really likes to play with me.
  6. Scrabble — This game is beloved by Dad and Gramma and Karen and was, for a while after Rudi and I moved in together, the only board game we owned that worked for two people. We’d play, but games would end when Della decided the board looked like a good place to lie down. We stopped keeping score and instead just tried to use up all our tiles as quickly as possible. Note: Most Scrabble enthusiasts do not enjoy playing this way.
  7. Outburst — This was one of the few party games we owned and we’d play it with the Wilcoxes when we got together with them. A precedent of Apples to Apples or Scattergories or Family Feud, your team was given a category and you had to guess the ten items that the game creators had believed best fit within it.
  8. Yahtzee — The only purely dice-based game I really enjoy.
  9. Parsec — My first and favorite computer game, played on the TI, which, for you young whipper snappers, operated by plugging into your tv set. This was a space-based game and I can remember being so proud of breaking … half a million points? … when no one was home to witness my score that I left my family a note strung across the kitchen entry, waiting to garrote the first person in the door with my news.
  10. Hardball! — A two-person baseball game (later featured in The Princess Bride) played with a joystick (I think the other person had to use the keyboard?). Dad and I played quite a bit of this one on our Apple II. I believe pitch selection was what usually made the games last so long. That and my computerized ability to hit the ball was not especially better than my real-life batting average…

How about you? What games did you like to play when you were younger? [King of All Board Games, Grey Kitten, I’m looking your way…]

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January 18, 2011

this week in library books
posted by soe 2:21 am

The majority of the books I read are from the library, which is unsurprising, given how much I read. What I come home with tends to include a combination of random picks from the shelves and displays, books I’ve come in intending to track down, and books I’ve put on hold through the library’s web site (when you have 25 branches around the city, it can take a few days for end up someplace nearby).

This week, in addition to the afore-reviewed The Westing Game, I also brought home:

  • Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of years (this is at least the second time I’ve checked it out from the library)
  • Tarquin Hall’s The Case of the Missing Servant, which I heard about from Nan (I thought about buying it for Gramma for Christmas, but wasn’t totally convinced it would be her cup of tea without reading a bit of it)
  • Leslie Connor’s Crunch, which I overheard recommended by a bookstore employee at Christmas and which recently made the shortlist for the Cybils (plus it has a bike on the cover)
  • Michael Grant’s The Magnificent 12, which recently made the shortlist for the Cybils
  • Cornelia Funke’s Reckless, which recently made the shortlist for the Cybils (and which I notice Grey Kitten just finished)
  • Tara Kelly’s Harmonic Feedback, which recently made the shortlist for the Cybils

I have a few more books on hold at the branch by work that I have to pick up this week:

  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (I’ve been meaning to read this mystery since it came out; the third one in the series is either just out or due out any moment)
  • The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (another mystery that’s been on my list for a while…)
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is the next book for the Classics readalong (I really hope it’s not too scary!)

What are you currently reading? Do you borrow much from your local library or do you tend to buy the majority of your books?

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January 15, 2011

into the stacks: the westing game
posted by soe 3:24 pm

weekly geeksThis week’s Weekly Geeks, coming on the heels of major award announcements in children’s literature, encourages participants to choose one of four options relating to award-winning kiddie lit. Having just read the 1979 Newbery Medal winner last night, I thought the timing was perfect to avail myself of the third choice:

Review a new-to-you award-winning book this week


The Westing Game by Ellen Rankin

From the jacket: “This highly inventive mystery involves sixteen people (including a dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge, a bookie,a burglar, and a bomber) who are invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing. The could become millionaires, depending on how they play the game. All they have to do is find the answer — but the answer to what? The Westing game is tricky and dangerous, but the heirs play on — through blizzards, burglaries, and bombings.”

My take: Somehow I missed this children’s classic when I was growing up, but periodically since leaving college it has popped up on my radar screen and I always think, “I should track this down the next time I go to the library.” But by the time I next am choosing books to check out, it’s slipped back into the crevices of my mind.

This time, though, I was contemplating what to read for the Back to the Classics challenge and remembered to go looking for it at the library.

I’m so glad I did.

The general synopsis is this: Six families/individuals are approached about
moving into an empty, five-story, luxury apartment building on the banks of Lake Michigan. The rents are just what each of them can afford and they sign the leases immediately. Later in the fall, each of them (as well as the building’s three general employees) are called to the mansion of the building’s reclusive owner, Samuel W. Westing, paper magnate, to hear the reading of the will of the recently departed millionaire.

Instead of receiving a straight-up inheritance, they find they are paired off and tasked with solving who is responsible for Westing’s death. Each team is presented with a $10,000 check that both must sign to cash and four words to puzzle over.

Everyone returns to the apartment building to meet up with their partner and begin pursuing their task. As time goes on, they begin spending more time with one another, and, to their surprise, they find that their partner gives them just what they need, if not to help win the game, then to win at life.

I heartily recommend this to fans of mysteries, regardless of age, because it will keep you guessing until the end. Its madcap style also will appeal to fans of Clue (the boardgame, but I suppose also the movie), Monty Python, or It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

I also want to note that the 2003 edition, which is what I borrowed from the library, contains the most heart-warming introduction I’ve ever read written by Ann Durell, Raskin’s editor and friend.

I’ll be checking out Raskin’s other books to see if they, too, are as sweet and as worth reading as The Westing Game ended up being.

Pages: 182

This novel also qualifies for a couple other challenges:

Winner Badge 2011Photobucket

Just Read More Novels Month, for which this is my first contribution


Back to the Classics Challenge 2011, which I blogged about joining here. This qualifies as my children’s/young adult classic book.

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January 13, 2011

daughter, puffballs, and truth in advertising
posted by soe 11:38 pm

It’s been a chilly week here in D.C., where a near complete lack of snow made us an anomaly on the East Coast. (We did get a measly inch, so it wasn’t a total loss.)

Before we head into a long weekend, though, let’s look back at three beautiful things from the past week:

1. Karen (my best friend) and Michael’s baby girl was born during Wednesday morning’s snowstorm (as totally predicted by Karen on Tuesday). Mother and daughter, a delightful looking baby from the tiny picture Michael was so kind as to send to my phone, are doing fine and should be home by the weekend.

2. Although the snow didn’t end up staying, while it was coming down it looked very pretty. I left work at the height of the evening’s storm and so was able to appreciate the mini snowballs that caught on all the branches and in all the bushes and the coating of white along all the railings.

3. Sarah, Rudi, and I met up tonight for a last-minute dinner excursion to H Street N.E.’s Dangerously Delicious Pies where we ate … pie. We each stuffed ourselves with a savory slice for dinner and a sweet slice for dessert and sodas in glass bottles (we only consumed the drinks and not the containers) and then, when the total for the evening came to less than the gift certificate I had, Rudi and I added a slice of blueberry pie to bring home (for tomorrow’s breakfast, perhaps?) to bring our non-tip grand total to $3.

What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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win a free book: the metropolis case
posted by soe 12:21 am

I’m a GoodReads user and periodically enter to win free books. Last month, I learned I’d won an advance reader copy of Matthew Gallaway’s debut novel, The Metropolis Case, which was released Dec. 28. Crown Publishing sent me a review copy at the end of December. And then they sent me a second copy last week. Their confusion is your benefit because I’m hoping to share the redundant book with one of you.

Leave me a comment telling me either what your favorite book of 2010 was or what you’re most looking forward to reading in 2011 by Monday evening, Jan. 17, at 9 p.m. EST. I’ll randomly select one commenter and send The Metropolis Case off to you next week.

Crown’s summary of the book:

metropolis case coverFrom the smoky music halls of 1860s Paris to the tumbling skyscrapers of twenty-first-century New York, a sweeping tale of passion, music, and the human heart’s yearning for connection

Martin is a forty-year-old lawyer who, despite his success, feels disoriented and disconnected from his life in post-9/11 Manhattan. But even as he comes to terms with the missteps of his past, he questions whether his life will feel more genuine going forward.

Decades earlier, in the New York of the 1960s, Anna is destined to be a grande dame of the international stage. As she steps into the spotlight, however, she realizes that the harsh glare of fame may be more than she bargained for.

Maria is a tall, awkward, ostracized teenager desperate to break free from the doldrums of 1970s Pittsburgh. When the operatic power of her extraordinary voice leads Maria to Juilliard, New York seems to hold possibilities that are both exhilarating and uncertain.

Lucien is a young Parisian at the birth of the modern era, racing through the streets of Europe in an exuberant bid to become a singer for the ages. When tragedy leads him to a magical discovery, Lucien embarks on a journey that will help him—and Martin, Maria, and Anna—learn that it’s not how many breaths you take, it’s what you do with those you’re given.

This unlikely quartet is bound together across centuries and continents by the strange and spectacular history of Richard Wagner’s masterpiece opera Tristan and Isolde. Grandly operatic in scale, their story is one of music and magic, love and death, betrayal and fate. Matthew Gallaway’s riveting debut will have readers spellbound from the opening page to its breathtaking conclusion.

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