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Cover of A Jane Austen Devotional by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
A Jane Austen Devotional by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Compiled and written by Steffany Woolsey. Cloth bound hardcover. ISBN: 978-1400319534. 224 pages. Thomas Nelson; Gift edition (January 10, 2012). (Amazon: $10.76 / Kindle: $8.79)

Each day of the year has a quote from one of the novels of Jane Austen or from one of her letters to family. If you love all things Jane Austen then this is a lovely volume to have. It’s not a calendar but more of a jumping off point for meditation on family, friends, society, expectations, and daily life.

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Manga Classics: Emma by Jane Austen; Adapted by Crystal Silvermoon, Edited by Stacey King. Illustrated by SunNeko Lee. ISBN: 978-1927925355, Udon Entertainment (June 18, 2015). List Price $19.99 / Amazon $16.93.

Continuing their Austen classics in manga format, Udon Entertainment has released Emma by Jane Austen, adapted by Crystal Silvermoon. The story stays true to the original plot.

Emma’s governess turned companion, Miss Taylor, has just married a local gentleman, Mr. Weston. Emma feels that the marriage proves her ability as a matchmaker and she sets her sights on finding a marriage partner for her new friend, Harriet Smith. Emma believes the new cleric, Mr. Elton, would make a good match for Harriet. Unfortunately for Emma, Mr. Elton has a totally different idea for the role of his wife-to-be.

Emma, as it soon becomes obvious, isn’t as astute an observer of the people around her as she believes she is. Even with warnings from her brother-in-law and close friend, Mr. Knightley, she forges ahead with her plans. There’s a few other plot lines involved in the story as Mr. Westin’s son, Frank Churchill, visits the area about the time a local widow’s niece, Jane Fairfax, drops in for a visit.

Misunderstandings, confusion, embarrassment, and of course a few twists and turns as well as a surprising and a few not so surprising matches between various characters occur. Austen’s books often, or should I say always, end with a wedding or at least a proposed happily ever after to follow the last page.

The artwork is lovely, as you can tell from the cover image. As with most manga, you read from the back of the book to the front and there is a short tutorial explaining how to read the pages (top to bottom but right to left). For those who have never read manga before this is a nice touch so you get off to a good start.

For true fans of Austen’s works you will find some liberties with the social conventions that existed at the time of the story. Women could not write to unrelated men — but, this does take place in this book. There’s also several other social convention that would not have happened to the characters due to their positions in society so some scenes are a bit jarring.

This adaptation will give readers the storyline and the characters with much of the same delightful tone as the original work by Austen. This is a great series and a wonderful way to introduce readers to these classics.

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Manga Classics: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo; Adapted by Crystal Silvermoon. Illustrated by SunNeko Lee. ISBN: 978-1927925164, Udon Entertainment (August 19, 2014). List Price $19.99 / Amazon $16.57.

I should confess that I’ve never actually read the original version of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I always thought I knew the gist of it. It was about the the revolution in France in the time of Napoleon. There were two lovers. A corrupt officer of the government had a vendetta against a man somehow related to the lovers — or one of them. And a miserable time was had by all.

So, I read through this manga and was totally surprised at the details of the story. Like any modern person I turned to Wikipedia to read the summary of the story and found that it matched the Manga. Maybe now I’ll skip the movie — though I do love the music.

Basically, Napoleon Bonaparte has been defeated and the economy is crappy. People don’t have enough to eat, jobs are scarce, and the law is extremely strict. France had a guilty until proven innocent view of justice. Since it is very difficult to prove a negative, many, especially the poor, found themselves in prison.

The story follows several different people and moves forward and backward in time to bring each of them into the story and up to where the threads of their story weave into the main story line. This makes for some odd disconnects until you realize the story isn’t continuing, but going off on a tangent to come back to the point you were at later.

Jean Valjean had been released from prison but since all his papers labeled him a convict his chances of getting work were slim. He was even refused to be allowed to purchase food or lodgings with what little money he had out of fear that being involved with him would get them in trouble with the law.

Through a series of convenient events, he manages to gain some funding to pass himself off as a wealthy man. Then to pay things forward, he sets about to do good for those who live in his community and work in his businesses.

Fantine had been dumped by her lover when she had a daughter, Cosette. And so she was unable to find work because of her loose morals. She sought work, and found people who she thought would take good care of Cosette for her while she worked. It was expensive, but she thought it was a better life for Cosette.

Javert, a police office/military-type, hated convicts and felt that they could never be reformed, and therefore must always be returned to prison, whether they did anything wrong or not. He’d once been Valjena’s jailer and when he thought he recognized him — he began to be obsessed with hunting him down and seeing he was returned to prison.

These are the major characters. Through other circumstances, Valjean promises Fantine to raise her daughter and take care of her. He and Cosette then proceed to move about, always a step ahead of Javert and doing what good works they can where ever they lived. Of course, as Cosette grows up this becomes more and more difficult as she attracts attention as does their wealth.

Will Cosette find love? Will Valjean be able to give her into another’s care? Will Javert ever give up his crusade to find and punish Valjean? Can he ever be convinced that convicts can be redeemed? Into this steps the revolutionary uprising among the students of Paris. This is actually a minor side note of the story, but one that is important to bringing all the pieces together.

The artwork is wonderfully detailed. The characters can be individually identified — which I find very important. The story unfolds smoothly — except for those flashbacks and flashforwards I noted previously.

All in all, I believe that if you’ve been interested, this is a great way to become familiar with the story and the characters. It’s well adapted and illustrated and a great way to get a taste of classic literature if you don’t want to spend the time reading the original works.

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Cover of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Story Adaptation by Stacy King. Manga: Classsic Literature. Morpheus Studios (Illustrator), Shane Law (Illustrator), Po Tse (Artist). Udon Entertainment (August 19, 2014). Price: $19.99.

Stacy King has adapted Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for a manga-reading audience with illustrations by Shane Law, Po Tse, and Morpheus Studios. Whenever a story is adapted for a different media format, choices must be made in order to use the strengths of the new media to tell the story. Overall this adaptation is beautifully done. The basic storyline is intact and the artwork is beautifully rendered as you can tell from the lovely cover image (though the interior artwork is all in grey scale).

The basic story is a love story that threads its way through horrible first impressions, misunderstandings, pride, and prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters of a country gentleman and his wife, is insulted when she overhears Mr. Darcy’s response to his friend, Mr. Bingley, urging Darcy to dance with her. Mr. Darcy is actually shy and uncomfortable in crowded social situations but she doesn’t know that at the time. Later Mr. Darcy realizes that she’s witty, educated, and not fawning over him; thus, he finds himself falling in love. Meanwhile, she is fed a lot of balderdash about Mr. Darcy from a man who has “all the appearance of goodness” and makes a grand impression on all he meets. There’s also a secondary love story involving Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s older sister, and Mr. Bingley. As with most love stories things work out in the end but the journey is what makes the story a classic and loved by many no matter what format it takes — book, film, and now, manga.

Still, the problem with adaptations is that choices need to be made. This time the story is told and shown to be set close to the period in which Austen originally wrote it. However, the societal mores of the time depicted in this version do not match those that existed during this time period. For example, in the version of Longbourn shown in the artwork, no member of the Bennet family would be answering their own door let alone folding the linens; there would be servants to do such work.

It was a time when the distinctions of class were kept to and there were many rules of behavior that now-a-days we’d find archaic and maybe even silly. Upper class single women could not write to an unrelated male unless she was engaged to him. She’s have to write to his mother or sister and leave it to them to pass on the information. People could not simple talk to another person — they had to be formally introduced first. In fact, public venues such as assemblies usually had a designated person who was responsible for introducing people to one another if they were not yet acquainted and wished to meet. There are many instances where modern social customs are referenced that would, in the original work, be offensive to the characters of that time period. This may bother readers who are familiar with the original Austen work and time period — new readers reading Austen for the first time would most likely not even notice these issues.

However, if you read this version and enjoy it, you may want to read the original Austen novel on which it is based because the actual story is one that transcends the time in which Austen wrote. It’s universal appeal is why her works live on. Not only have her novels been adapted for film, manga, and classic comics, but they have, by other authors, been updated to modern times and still they resonate with readers.

Overall, this is a wonderful adaptation and a great way to interest new readers in classic literature.

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The Giving Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Giving Quilt: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini. Dutton (October 30, 2012), ISBN: 978-0525953609.

The Giving Quilt is part of the Elm Creek Quilts series of books. One of the greatest joys when reading a book in a series is that you, as a reader, get to visit again with characters you’ve come to know and care about. In this case the continuing characters are the instructors and workers at Elm Creek. The stories never get stale because ever book there’s a new group of people who have arrived to take class or teach a class. Each of these new characters bring with them their own set of problems and concerns — the plots and story lines flow naturally from the events or lives of participants before they arrived at the seminar and their interactions at Elm Creek.

In The Giving Quilt, the theme is Thanksgiving and all of the emotional turmoil that can arise when family, jobs, or life situation isn’t what you want it to be but you feel that you have no control over what is going on. The women that come to Elm Creek all want to make a difference for others. They are all giving of their time, energy, and quilting stashes to make quilts for others. But they also have lives outside of this event and like all our lives they have problems they are dealing with and in one degree or another are feeling stretched and bereft of hope for the holiday season.

Each of them have a problem or problems that we’ve all at one time or another dealt with and can relate to as we’re reading. Chiaverini’s writing pulls you into the story and while reading you feel more like an invisible member of the group listening in on the lives of these women. There’s joys, sadness, loss, growth, and friendships forged between these women who happen to meet and share a passion for quilts.

I don’t want to give details because that would take away from your chance to meet these women and become part of their group while learning about their lives before they arrived for the session and following them as they return to their homes and the lives they put aside to attend this event..

Good strong character development coupled with writing with heart and interesting story lines keep me coming back to the quilters of Elm Creek. I hope you also find that when you close the covers after the last page, that you’re ready to face the ups and downs of your own life with a lighter heart knowing that other people also have problems and somehow manage to move forward, solve the puzzle, deal with the job, or whatever. Never preachy just solid stories that don’t sugar coat the problems or solutions but somehow leave the reader with renewed hope and a less jaundiced view of life and the world we inhabit.

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Handknit Holiday by Melanie Falick
Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice by Melanie Falick with Betty Christiansen. Photograph by Susan Pillard. ISBN: 978-1-4532-6816-2. STC Craft | Melanie Falick Books (October 30, 2012) (Hardcover: $12.46; Kindle version: $6.99). (Review based on a digital review copy.)

As you might expect this book has a few things for just about every holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice — missing is Kwanzaa but with an adjustment for color some items would fit for that holiday) grouped by patterns for the home, and gifts (for men, women, and children). Many lovely color combinations — some bright, some colorful neutrals, and some monotones — as well as texture (cables) and lace. There’s also patterns for just about all skill levels — so no matter how long you’ve been knitting you are bound to find something that you can knit. The patterns also have a number of techniques that would allow a knitter to try out something new as they knit for a family member or a friend.

I counted about 50 patterns but several are variations rather than new patterns so depending on how you count you’d get different numbers. Also, there are tips and special techniques, abbreviations used in the book, sources for supplies, various holiday facts and short bits, a list of greeting for the holidays in several languages, holiday knitting strategies.

There are patterns from the following people: Susan Alain, Suzanne Atkinson, Veronik Avery, Betty Christiansen, Amanda Blair Brown, Carrie Brenner, Cynthia, Crescenzo, Sandy Cushman, Teva DUrham, Nicky Epstein, Norah Gaughan, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Kim Hamlin, Michelle Heyman, Penney Kolb, Faina Letoutchaia, Robin Melanson, Nancy Minsky, Annie Modesitt, Jillian Moreno, Kathy Pasusta, Leigh Rackford, Michele Rose Orne, Leslie Scanlong, Iris Schreier, Jo Sharp, Cindy Taylor, Jolene Treace, Gina Wilde, and Anne Woodbury.

I found several things I wanted to make and lots to make me take a few minutes to dream over and wonder who I could make it for because I couldn’t wear or use it but it was sooooo nice. There were some interesting gift items — gift bags that could later be used as purses seemed very nice. The stocking to ‘hang by the chimney with care’ were lovely and would make nice heirlooms for children or grandchildren. There were even some nice shawls and sweaters that those hard to knit for teens might like and actually wear.

All in all a great book for finding holiday gift ideas. I read the digital review copy and before writing this review, I pulled down a sample copy to check to see if my problems with the uncorrected review copy were fixed in the ‘for sale’ electronic version. It appears that most of the problem area were corrected. I still have a bit of problem with the format going from 3/4 of a page to full page but it’s not something that should take away from the great photos and the directions/patterns for the items — but if looking to get a digital copy be sure to look at the sample first.

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Cover of Great Little Gifts to Knit by Jean Moss
Great Little Gifts to Knit: 30 Quick and Colorful Patterns by Jean Moss. Taunton Press (September 3, 2013). ISBN: 978-1600858475. Photographs by Burcu Avsar. Charts and Schematics by Jean Moss.

Great Little Gifts to Knit has a subtitle, 30 Quick and Colorful Patterns and the photos are enticing and beautifully done, pulling you on to see just how difficult or easy that lovely pair of mittens, hat, shawl, or sweater really is to knit. The patters are arranged in four sections: Baby, Hers, His, and Home. There’s far more patterns in Hers than in any of the other sections.

There are patterns for beginner, intermediate, and advance knitters. There’s a fairly comprehensive tips and techniques section and some of the patterns focus on a technique such as intarsia, shadow knitting, knitting in the round, Fair Isle, chart reading, and twisted stitches. A beginning knitter could learn a lot of new techniques/skills by simply knitting one of everything in the book.

These patterns are, in my opinion, a step up from most books of gift patterns in that there are a lot of items I’d really like to knit in this book. My bias is toward simple classic items with texture, color, or both. Though there’s also a good mix of items you’d have to concentrate on such as the Fair Isle child sweater, and then ones that you could take with you and knit while listening or being sociable because it has lots of easy to remember pattern sections.

All the patterns in the books were done with Rowan yarns which are lovely, beautiful yarns that can be a bit pricey for those on a budget. Moss includes the gauge that should be achieve for a successful result. She also specifies when gauge is not important. So, don’t skip knitting a gauge swatch if you chose to use a different yarn. There’s also a small section in the appendix to help you choose a substitute yarn for your project. There are also a few projects that could probably be done with left-over yarn from your stash such as the bean bags.

At first I thought the major drawback was that the time frames were listed as one day, weekend, or vacation. Since we don’t know the length of time in each of those units devoted to knitting it is difficult to say how long they would take. On reflection, I come to the conclusion that this lets you take as much time as you need without developing a complex about your knitting speed — or lack thereof. My problem is that I usually knit while doing something else like watching a DVD or even reading, so I’m really a slow knitter — at least I never ever get anything done within the time frame given in books.

This is definitely a book worth looking at because it just might surprise you with its variety of projects and the opportunity to try new techniques.

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Cover of The Soup & Bread Cookbook

The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. Rodale Books. Photographs by Hector Sanchez. ISBN: 978-1-60961-362-4. (Retail: $23.99 / Amazon: $18.47) (October 2013)

First, I love cookbooks. I buy them for many reasons besides wanting to make the delicious sounding recipes in them. I buy them for the beautiful photos or artwork, the way they’re set-up and designed, their clarity, and especially if the writing is clear, informative, entertaining, and the recipes themselves seem to be accurate (no ingredients hidden in the instructions that aren’t in the list of ingredients — that sort of thing). I even have the two books by Laurie Colwin that aren’t so much about the recipes as they are about cooking, food, and good eating and read like you were sitting around the table with a cuppa and just talking.

Ojakangas’ The Soup and Bread Cookbooks has some of that flavor for me. The introduction to each season’s recipes is sort of a quick overview of what the season means to her. There’s also some interesting background in the short information piece on each recipe. The recipes seem set up to make them easy to follow and the instructions are clear. Some of the recipes have variations and some of the bread recipes have instruction for using a bread machine rather than doing it all by hand.

My preference is for recipes and cookbooks that use actual ingredients rather than a can of this and a can of that, plus a box mix or two of something else. All the recipes use real food — which is better for you and your family. However, I did notice that many had a note on use of a canned or frozen ingredient as well as some substitutions if something wasn’t available in your area.

The photography was beautiful and it looks like this would be a cookbook you could sit and look at over and over.

Now for the cons:
Understand that I read a digital review copy which expired just about the time I finished reading through it. Digital review copies, as well as the print review copies are unfinished — there were a few places where there was just a note on what would be added, such as a sidebar. Even so, the instructions were still clear and concise — meaning I have great hopes for the finished edition. None of the recipes, in the copy I read, had calorie, carbs, etc. listed for a serving size. Normally, that wouldn’t be of interest to me but my family is being really careful right now due to a medical need to cut cholesterol and lose weight — so I’m more aware of this information not being readily available. WARNING: Since the copy I read was unfinished some of the material may change between the copy I read and the finished one you’ll find in your favorite bookstore.

Overall Impression:
Overall, I found this cookbook to be one I’ll more than likely go out and buy when it comes out in October. You’ll notice that the recipes that most often caught my attention are those for bread — I love bread. During the winter, I make bread — from scratch — nearly every week. While I currently have a bread machine, I still like to set it on dough and knead it — there’s something so satisfying and relaxing about making bread. Anyway, that another reviewer bias for you to add into the mix.

Now for the details:
Basics: Stocks, Broths, and Basic Breads
This section contained some recipes as well as helpful information and tips.
Recipes: Basic Chicken Stock, Two-for-One Chicken Stock (for soup stock and flavoring beans and rice dishes, braising vegetables, etc.), Two-for-One Beef Stock. Soup Tips: Cooling Stock Safely, Tips for making broth or stocks in a slow cooker, How to freeze stocks and Broths, Basic Vegetable Broth.

Glossary of Bread-Baking Basics
This section had some really good advice on breadmaking and some tips on how to get it right.
Recipes included: Fresh Baguette, Basic Vegetable Soup (whatever is in the house soup), Basic Home-Baked Bread (with Variations)

The book is arranged with the recipes chosen for what fresh ingredients would be available, and to deal with the heat or cold of the time of year. For each season, I’ve listed the total number of recipes for either soup or bread and the recipes that really got me wanting to pull out the pots and pans and try out. Luckily, I just did a read through because the book expired before I finished reading it through and if I’d stopped to cook along the way, I wouldn’t have gotten through it.

Spring:
27 soup and bread recipes
Some recipes that sounded interesting: Herbed Biscuit Muffins, Wheat Germ Batter Bread, Rosemary Focaccia, Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, Asian Lemon-Ginger Soup, Cheddar Cheese Onion Scones, Walleye Chowder, and Super Simple Salmon Chowder.

Summer
24 soup and bread recipes
A sample listing of the recipes in this section I enjoyed reading: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits, Avgolemondo Soup, Pita Bread, Summer Day Herb-scented Soup, Whole-Grain Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread, Bacon Parmesan Crackers, Red Curry & Coconut Bread, Spiced Zucchini Soup10-minute Chickpea-Tomato Soup, Easy Refrigerator Rolls. Cranberry Bean & Pasta Soup. Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Cowboy Beer & Cheddar Bread.

Autumn:
26 soup and bread recipes
The first recipe in this section is for Stone Soup based on the children’s story. This is great for an autumn party potluck dinner and the author gives suggestions for what the guests should bring, as well as a bit of the story of stone soup.

Some of the recipes that caught my eye as ones I’d really like to make are: Oatmeal Batter Bread, Curried Chicken Wild Rice Soup, Dutch Raisin Bread, Green Cabbage & Hamburger Soup, Honey Whole Wheat Cranberry-Nut Bread, Brie & Apple Soup, Granola Loaf, Buttermilk Corn Muffins, and Curried Pumpkin Soup.

I was surprised by the Old-Fashioned Gridded Cheese, Apple, & Basil Sandwiches. I love grilled cheese sandwiches and often have them with swiss cheese, onion, and tomato but never thought of using apple and basil — what was I thinking, or rather not thinking to never consider this taste combination? I’ve got to try this in the fall when we usually have apples in the house.

Winter:
30 soup and bread recipes.
Some of the recipes that intrigued me in this section: Spicy Black Bean Soup (one can never have enough black bean soup recipes), Oatmeal Rusks, Brown Bread Muffins, New Year’s Good Luck Lentil Soup, Johnnycake, Herbed White Bean & Sausage Soup, Beer Biscuits, Cumin & Coriander Bean Soup, Senate Bean Soup (similar to one served in the US Senate dining room), Molasses Wheat Loaf, Rustic Rye Bread, Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pork, Overnight Mini Croissants, Russian Black Bread (there’s chocolate and coffee in this one), Cabbage & Apple Soup, Mulligan Stew, and Feijoada (a black bean soup with oranges).

All in all, a great cookbook, especially if you have a garden or a good produce section in your local stores. Not a lot of specialty items needed. Soups are always great because you can stretch them out to feed company or for several meals. Since many people are cutting their budgets and food is usually a big expense for most families — soups and homemade bread would be a great way to serve nutritious meals at a lower cost per person.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

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