Kicking Back with a Couple Good Books

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Hello there Reading Friends–  Sometimes
you just want a good story, something to kick back and escape everything around you.  Sort of Netflix binging for readers.  I’m thinking these two books would fit nicely into that category.  Enjoyed them both.

Seven Days of Us — by Francesca Hornak
When Olivia Birch returns at Christmas from treating an epidemic abroad, the whole Birch family is quarantined for a week in their country house.  So many twists an turns as an unknown family member arrives, a mother guards her secret, sisters clash and a father sees things in a new light.  Couldn’t put it down– sad and endearing and heart warming all the way to the end.

How To Stop Time — by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old, but actually he was born in the 1500’s.  He’s known, Shakespeare, Captain Cook, F. Scott Fitzgerald…  And he’s been recruited by the Albatross Society, made of people with his same rare condition–and whose motto is “Never Fall in Love” –hold people at arm’s length.   The book skips between the 1500’s and current London, amid Tom’s struggles to find the “normal” life he wants while stuck in fears from the past.  Strong characters and it all wraps up with an exciting ending.

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P.S. Graphic- La Lecture – from parfumdeviolette.centerblog.net

Some Favorite Books by Roald Dahl

Hi all- I love kid’s books– have a bookcase full, up to the ceiling, ready for grand-kids to chose from.  And reading with kids?? The Best!  So looking back at reading with my kids, reading to my school kids and reading with grand-kids, I’d have to say my favorite read aloud author has to be Roald Dahl– just for the pure sense of fun and adventure that fill the chapters of his books!  (Not to mention the expressive delightful illustration by Quentin Blake!)

So here is the short list of my favorite Dahl read-aloud books.  How many of them have you chuckled through??

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The BFG is the swashbuckling tale of The Big Friendly Giant, who along with little Sophie, sets off to save the children of England from being eaten by a band of blood curdling giants!!  The story involves some magical dreams, rollicking language and the Queen of England!  A favorite.

 

A favorite of readers, Matilda, tells the story of a prodigious little reader who comes up against the harshest headmistress of all time and with the of her beloved teacher, Miss Honey, she brings the ugly Miss Trunchbull to justice.  Matilda is bright, thoroughly lovable character.  Love the unexpected happy ending.

 

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In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Fox, father of a family of foxes, protects his family by outwitting the 3 mean farmers who are after him– fat Boggis, squat Bunce and skinny Bean.  It will have you guessing how that fantastic fox will do it and you are rooting for him all the way!  Full of fun.

 

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Mr. Hoppy of the book Esio Trot, is in love with his neighbor, Mrs. Silver. But she only has eyes for her pet tortoise, Alfie.  So Mr. Hoppy schemes through a series of tortoises for a way to gain Mrs. Silver’s affection.  It’s a sweet lightheaded story and Mr. Hoppy gets his happy ending!

 

A remarkable Grandmother, warns here young grandson how to spot a witch in this page turner, The Witches.   When the boys encounters a room full of witches on holiday with his grandma, he is turned into a mouse!  But that does not stop him (or his grandmother) from bringing the witches to their just reward.  A tender tale of the young boy and his ever loving grandmother.

Finally, I would offer you, D is for Dahl, a comprehensive A to Z guide on all things Roald Dahl.  It is not a biography, but rather a dictionary of facts, trivia and way detail about Roald Dahl, his stories and his beloved Characters.  A lot of fun for any Roald Dahl fan!

 

“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”  –Roald Dahl (1916-1990, British, author, screenwriter, fighter pilot)

 

A Pair of Good Books

Hi Reading Friends– I pretty much like happy books– Ones that you know from the start will end well. But here are a pair of books that don’t fall into that camp.  The first is a riveting discussion of making the most of the end of life time, beyond medical solutions.  And the second is a dark and dramatic story filled with engaging characters and moral choices to be made.  Two truly worthwhile (if not thoroughly happy) books…

Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and professor at Harvard, guides us through a series of real stories of people at the end of life and the choices they make.  The book is studded with research studies and reports of people who make the difference for aging patients.  The good news is that while it plumbs the deep questions of aging, it is imminently readable for everyone.  Early on, he describes his grandfather, who lived to well beyond 100 years, at home surveying his farm and supported by his large extended family.  And then there are stories of people at the end of life with fewer options and big choices to make about how to manage medical and living concerns in a way that offer the best quality of life.  Gawande complies lists of important questions we should be asking ourselves and offers options beyond the obvious.  For such a forbidding topic, it was a real page turner— I couldn’t put it down.  There is so much here that is truly helpful for a rich and fulfilling way to live when we come to difficult times at the end of a life.

Beartown — by Fredrik Backman (author of A Man Called Ove)
Set in a small Swedish town, where hockey is everything, this is the story of a fading town that imagines coming back to it’s own when their junior hockey team is headed for the national finals.  The strength of the complicated story lies in the well drawn characters– coaches, teenage players, families, prominent towns people and those that live down in the Hollow.  All of the them are drawn into the drama of the ensuing games.  So when a tragic incident involving the star of the team occurs, everything is thrown aside and lines are drawn.  It’s a dark story at times (not my normal genre), but there are themes of loyalty, hopes, parenting and integrity.  It is daunting and heartwarming all at once.  It’s one of those books, you want to sit and read start to finish in one sitting– you’ll be anxious to to see how it all ends…

P.S. Painting of woman reading by Daren Thompson

French Chocolate Cake and a Good Book!


Bonjour!  Just finished reading On Rue Tatin, Susan Loomis’ story of her family’s move to a town in Normandy, where they renovated a 12th century Convent to make their home and immersed themselves in the luxury of French cooking.  The book is studded with recipes.  Here is her favorite chocolate cake!  It’s sort of a cross between a brownie and a chocolate souffle!

FRENCH CHOCOLATE CAKE
(Originally known as “Gateau au Chocolate de Mamie Jacqueline”)

7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (a rounded cup full)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
pinch salt
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
powdered sugar for garnish

Melt the chocolate in a large microwave proof mixing bowl– about 90 seconds.  Stir until smooth.  If the chocolate still has lumps, microwave it 10 seconds more and stir again.  Then immediately stir in the butter so it will melt with the warm chocolate.

When that is all blended, whisk in 1 cup of sugar (minus 1 tablespoon of sugar saved for later).  Next mix in the flour and 1/4 teaspoon of  salt until it is all combined.

Separate the eggs, putting the yolks into the bowl with the chocolate mixture and the whites into another clean mixing bowl.  Stir in the egg yolks.  And then whisk the eggs white along with the tablespoon of sugar and pinch of salt– until the egg whites are glossy and soft peaks form.  (The whisk attachment on my hand mixer worked well, took a little over 4 minutes)

Fold he egg whites into the chocolate cake batter until it is thoroughly blended and then spoon it into a 9″ cake pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake it up at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until the cake is firm to the touch and  sharp knife inserted comes out clean.

Let the cake cool to lukewarm and then shift powdered sugar over the top of the cake.  So good warm with a bit of ice cream!

Susan Loomis sort of has my dream life– She moved to Paris as a young woman and attended La Varenne École de Cuisine, a cooking school for Americans.  She found friends and small shops with tempting foods all over the city.  Later when she returned home she met, loved and married a sculptor, Michael Loomis and eventually the two found their way back to France where they purchased an ancient convent building in Louviers, a charming town in Normandy.  It took a long a grueling renovation to make the place a home for them and their small son.  But through the years they encountered a large circle of people, from the surly priest next door to warm shop keepers, farmers at the market, the florist sisters across the street and many others who became close friends. I was totally charmed by the book, wanted to write to Susan and ask if I could drop in and stay for the summer!  If you like glorious food, beautiful countryside, and wandering cobbled streets, I think you’d like this book as much as I have.

P.S. Each chapter includes recipes from the author, including a version of this cake!

Recent Reading

Hello Reading Friends–  Down with the flu the last couple weeks. Ugh!  So plenty of reading time– silver lining!  Here’s three books I would pass along, an old friend and a couple new ones…

Sourdough, written by Robin Sloan (author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) is another quirky, but endearing book.  Lois has moved to San Francisco to take a tech job, coding all day and in the evenings sitting home alone, ordering take out from the shop downstairs owned by two unusual brothers.  When the guys lose their visa status, they gift their exceptional sourdough starter to Lois before they leave the country.  Lois, not a baker, delves into the complexities of sourdough baking and discovers a close knit, mysterious association of food experts that draw her in to a gastronomic world of technology and food.  Sourdough is a quick, enjoyable book if you love to cook (or eat!).

This unlikely story about a research botanist reads more like fiction than actual memoir.  Lab Girl is the story of the author, Hope Jahren, from her girlhood days in Minnesota in her father’s science classroom through her various stops at university labs across the country.  Her sidekick is her eccentric lab manager Bill, who practically takes a vow of poverty to live this life of science and discovery and who also keeps life in the sciences a little crazy.  And laced through the books are tiny chapters describing the wonders of leaves and seeds and trees…  It’s an amazing book and a look into the science life that was all new to me.  A worthwhile look at an fascinating life.

I read The Joy Luck Club when it first came out many years ago, but eagerly picked it up recently for a reread.  It’s the story of 4 women, immigrated to San Francisco from China carrying with them incredible stories of loss and struggle.  They meet to eat and talk and play mahjong and call themselves The Joy Luck Club. The chapters alternate between their recounting of their amazing stories and the lives of their 4 American born daughters.  Mothers steeped in the traditions of China, daughters raised in a fast moving affluent culture make for clashes and tender moments as their lives unfold.   Loved it.  And it was more interesting to me now that we have Brian from Hong Kong and Jodi from Hunan province in our family and many of the settings are places I now know well.  And– P.S. I checked out the movie of the book from the library this week– It’s beautiful and fascinating as well.

P.S. Painting above by Henry Lamb (Australian, British 1883-1960) Portrait of his wife.

Five Favorite Children’s Books

Hi all– I’ve been tagged to post my 5 Top Children’s Books– by one of my favorite bloggers Marcia Strykowski, author, librarian and blogger who writes about books, travels, authors. Her posts are always interesting!!  Thanks Marcia!!

The Rules are:
1.  Thank whoever’s nominated you and and share their blog link.
2.  Let us know your Top 5 Children’s books!
3.  Nominate 5 people to do the same.
4.  Let your nominee’s know you’ve nominated them.

I’m going with Marcia and picking 5 picture books.  Even though I think I’ve mentioned these before, they are my Top 5:

Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier — The story of Noah told through finely detailed illustration. My favorite frame is Mrs. Noah weeping for joy when the dove returns with the olive twig, marking the end of the flood.  A Caldecott Medal winner, just beautiful.

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Brave Iene by William Steig — When Sophie’s dressmaking mother fall’s ill, Sophie sets off through stormy weather to deliver the gown to the Duchess for her ball.  Charming picture of a young girl’s courage and the sweetest happy ending.

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Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet & Allan Ahlberg — Through a series of “I spy” poems readers cross paths with many fairy tale characters until they all converge on a plum pie picnic!  Adorable lively illustration.

 

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Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman — The classic retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story paired with the most beautiful detailed illustrations by my favorite illustrator.  Caldecot Medal Honor book.

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Wolf by Becky Bloom — a group of reading barnyard animals inspire a ferocious wolf to change his ways and learn to read– which is not as easy as he thought it would be!  Wonderful salute to reading with the most expressive whimsical illustration.

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My nominees to write their own post on favorite children’s books (if they chose to do so) are:
Antonia at http://zoale.com
Lacey at https://bigandpinkytoes.wordpress.com
Mary at https://heartandsoul974.wordpress.com
Lisa at https://booktime584.wordpress.com/

Please be sure to visit my nominator at  https://marciastrykowski.com

P.S. Illlustation at the top by Francesco Ghersina

Favorite Christmas Books

Hi friends–  When we drag out the Christmas decorations around here, I also climb up onto a chair reach the top bookshelf where we keep a beloved collection of Christmas books.  I pull down all the favorites and plop them on the corner of the coffee table, ready to read with grand-girls when they come in to stay.  It’s one of the best parts of Christmas!  Here are a few of our favorites.

B Is For Bethlehem — by Isabel Wilner, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.  This lively rhythmic telling of the Christmas story uses an ABC format and couldn’t be more beautiful.  The illustrations are a combination of collage and small paint details–exquisite.  And the message is glorious– honoring God and his gift to us at Christmas.

Christmas in Noisy Village — by Astrid Lindgren, illlustrated by Elon Wikland.  A band of village Swedish neighbor children spend their Christmas baking, gathering a tree from the forest, visiting a grandfather and feasting together at a Christmas party.  Couldn’t be more charming.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings — by Tomie DePaola.  Classic DePaola telling of the journey of the three wise men in search of the baby Jesus at the first Christmas.  He uses a slightly more formal take on his signature illustration and there is a interesting preface about the history of the telling the story of the wisemen.  A  wonderful addition to any Christmas book collection.

Santa’s Favorite Story — by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev.  When the forest animals find Santa napping just before Christmas, they worry that Christmas won’t be ready! But Santa assures them that the real Christmas is more about the coming of a babe in a manger.  Lovely water color illustration and gentle text, make this a beautiful telling of Christmas.

Hope your Christmas is full of cozy reading and sweet times with family young and old.  Merry Christmas!

P.S. top illustration thanks to Holly Hobbie.