Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime by Ree Drummond

It's a dismal, icky day outside as I'm writing this, with Hurricane Jose off-shore stirring up trouble and Hurricane Maria possibly on the horizon. Icky weather always makes me think of food, particularly comfort food.  So The Pioneer Woman Cooks Dinnertime: Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-Minute Meals and other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper! is exactly what I need right now.

Like Drummond's previous cookbooks (The Pioneer Woman Cooks was reviewed previously in this blog), every recipe has step by step instructions with color pictures, so it's almost impossible to go wrong.  In addition, Drummond provides a guide to stocking your pantry and fridge so that you can always come up with a meal This approach really cuts down on the last minute, unplanned restaurant trips that can really sabotage your budget.

The Pioneer Woman, who hosts the Food Network show of the same name, got her name because she lives on a ranch, and many of the recipes show a Tex-Mex influence.  But there are also pasta recipes, versions of popular dishes from Chinese take-outs, soups, and salads.  A section on freezer food provides great strategies for making meal planning easier.  Drummond presents her recipes with personal commentary that makes you feel like you're having a conversation about food with a friend.

Your local public library has a large collection of cookbooks, and through our Zinio app, you have access to food and cooking magazines on your computer or device.  Visit our website  and select 'Digital Library' from the left side navigation, or see staff for assistance in using Zinio or any of our downloadable resources.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

In 2017, Jessie and Will want to get out of London.  Will's teenage daughter Bella is having trouble at school, and Jessie wants to get out from under the memories of Mandy, Will's first wife.

 They see Applecote Hall and for Jessie, it's love at first site.  But as she and her family begin to make their home at the decrepit old hall, Jessie soon realizes that Applecote has its secrets.

In 1959,  Margot Wilde and her three sisters haven't spent the summer at their aunt and uncle's home of Applecote Manor since their cousin Audrey disappeared.  Now, 5 years after Audrey's disappearance, the Wilde sisters' bohemian mother is off to Africa and the girls are sent back to Applecote.

Applecote has changed.  Aunt Sybil clings to hope that Audrey will return,  preserving her room exactly as she left it.  Uncle Perry is adamant that his daughter is gone, and behaves oddly with his nieces, leaving Margot feeling uncomfortable and uncertain. Then the girls encounter two wealthy young men from nearby Cornton Hall and an otherwise dire summer appears to be looking up.

But Margot can't forget her cousin.  She enters Audrey's room and becomes part of her aunt's obsession.  Soon Aunt Sybil has Margot using Audrey's things, wearing her clothes, and moving ever closer to the truth of what happened to her cousin.

Moving between the past and present, The Wildling Sisters is a great example of a modern Gothic.  It reminded me of Kate Morton's The Lake House or Susanna Kearsley's The Splendour Falls and would be a great readalike for fans of those authors.  I also loved the way Chase worked in a nod to Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca in Jessie's feeling of inferiority to Will's glamorous first wife.  I read and enjoyed Eve Chase's first book, Black Rabbit Hall, and she's only gotten better with The Wildling Sisters.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland

Neal Stephenson is best known for being one of the founders of the cyberpunk movement of science fiction.  Nicole Galland is known primarily as a historical novelist.  Put them together and you get The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  

Melisande Stokes is a linguist and historian, slaving away at the bottom rungs of academia (okay, the bottom rungs of Harvard).  In what appears to be a chance encounter, she meets physicist Tristan Lyons, the representative of a shadowy, black ops government agency that happens to have a large number of documents in need of translation.  The documents range in time from the 19th century back to the dawn of the written word, and as Melisande sets to translating, she finds a common thread – they all refer to magic, and not in any theoretical, fanciful, fairy-tale way, but as a working, practical art, or rather, science.

It turns out that until 1851, certain individuals (witches) could perform magic - manipulate quantum mechanics in such a way as to move people and objects between parallel worlds. D.O.D.O. (the Department of Diachronic Operations) was set up by (who else?) the military to try and revive and exploit this ability.

What follows could be called a cautionary tale about the dangers of bureaucracy,, but it's also a sometimes hilarious look at what happens when military bureaucrats, academics, and witches attempt to change the present by manipulating the past.  Told in a combination of diary entries, straight narrative, emails, memos,  transcripts, and even a Norse-style saga about a Viking raid on Walmart, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O reminds me a bit of Connie Willis and would be a good potential readlike for those who enjoyed Blackout, All Clear,  or Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books  It’s not a short book, but it kept me turning pages to see what would happen next, and ended on the right note for a sequel.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Don't Blink

        Remember the fun of having a staring contest? Maybe it was with your brother. Remember the way you held on, lids elevated, trying not to laugh or break concentration? Now imagine not blinking with book characters staring at you. A girl with brown hair sitting on the ground invites readers to play. Friendly animals join in, one by one. That's what Don't Blink is all about.
         The art has a mildly Disney-esque look, with exaggerated animal expressions and the main character, with that big, brown-eyed,open look recalls characters from the movie Inside Out.  The text is simple and declarative, as well as interrogative, making for wonderful read aloud interpretations and vocalizing.
         In the style of books like Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson, and Please Open this Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt, Don't Blink makes the reader an active participant in the evolving game. These interactive books are becoming more popular, and authors and illustrators are creating new ones all the time. As a reader of picture books to many age groups, from two year old grandsons to third graders, I find this style of book engaging especially when you have a person on your lap, or a few observant participants nearby. Preschool children often want to have these books read again and again, because they get to do something with the book, with the characters. They're part of the story, not passive recipients of a tale. Also,there's a surprise about who wins the staring contest, but I won't give it away.
        So, are you ready? Check out Don't Blink and open your eyes! 

Thursday, September 14, 2017


    I'm new to podcasts. But when I listened to the Guardian's book review podcast a few weeks ago, popular Irish author Cecelia Ahern was interviewed about her new teen book, Flawed. I was inspired by what motivated her to write it: the experience of teens on social media who are mocked and bullied and criticized for how they look, what they wear, how they act, or anything else viewed as uncool. Ahern said she was really angry about the situation in which many young people even resort to suicide after being judged unworthy online in front of their peers. She decided to turn her anger into prose.
     Celestine is a together teen with her eyes on the future. She's a math whiz, the daughter of a media mogul and a model, dating the son of a local judge, but not just any judge. He's the leader of the Guild which passed judgement on others who are seen to be "Flawed" for a variety of reasons. It could be something they say, something they do, anything that is in conflict with the strict guidelines in this dystopic culture. Flawed people are branded with the letter "F" on the forehead, on the hand, on the foot, or in other places. Following their branding, they become second-class citizens, riding on special seats on buses facing the rest of the riders so they can be viewed with scorn, limited in their diets, only allowed  foods that support their bodies, with curfews that are enforced by a group of police-like staff reinforcing their Flawed status with home visits.
    Most citizens have come to accept this situation, but it still comes as a shock when the neighbor who gave Celestine piano lessons is arrested. Soon, Celestine faces a situation when an elder Flawed man, coughing and obviously ill, must stand on the bus, because two Unflawed people are taking his seat  Celestine speaks up and her whole life changes.
   This is a story that reminds me of teen books like Scot Westendorff's The Uglies, and a follow up novel called SpecialsUnder the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi and Lauren Oliver's trilogy about the "sickness" of being in love; Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem.
   It's hard enough being a teen. These books dramatize the way being different can lead to challenging life changes, especially at the hands of overly powerful adults. Cecelia Ahern released the next chapter in Celestine's adventure, Perfect, in April. Does the Guild and its punishing system survive? Check out both both books for the whole story.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ideas Are All Around

     What happens when an author and illustrator can't find an idea for a new book? This is a question that Caldecott award winner Phillip C. Stead takes on in his thoughtful book, Ideas Are All Around. The artwork is a  blend of mono print techniques, collage, photography and text typed on a Smith-Corona Secretarial typewriter. Visually, these multiple styles take the reader on a subtle and beautiful journey, as the author shares his story in first person, He has a story to write, but he thinks he'll take his dog, Wednesday for a walk instead. And, oh, the adventures they have. A friend, Barbara, who greets the author and his dog in the beginning ends up offering coffee and words of advice later in the book. 
       What I love about this book the way it reminds me of folk tales like " The Man who had No Story", an Irish folktale about a man taken by the fairies who eventually has a whopper of a story to share, once he has ventured out. Stead's story is a kind of a rambling tale, shared in a moment by moment voice. How many of us could do the same- wander out with a child or a dog and notice what happens in an hour? It may not be one of those books with a Big Plot or huge brightly colored images, but this book may serve as a soul soother for the end of a day, or a pause before a naptime.
You may recognize Phillip Stead's artistic style from other books of his. Two of my favorites are:
 My Name is Ruby ( 2013) and Bear Has a Story to Tell ( 2012).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words


Pedro is going to school for the first time, and he looks around at all the signs on city buildings and buses, and everything looks like a bunch of wiggly lines that don't make sense to him. The marks on the milk container, the bottle of laundry detergent all look mysterious and strange. But once his teacher introduces the letters, he starts to see them everywhere, as if he is really seeing for the first time.

Do we really teach children to read, or do they come upon this skill, bit by bit, like a puzzle that reveals a whole picture?  Ruth Rocha has written a picture book, illustrated by Madalena Matoso, which takes us through the journey through the eyes of a young boy named Pedro. Originally published in Brazil, Lines, Squiggles, Letters. Words has a modern style including words in Spanish and English. The simple color palette and design of the book is almost like folk art, with geometric figures everywhere. The subtle placement of road signs, labels and other places where odd shapes turn into words make this book a rich experience for new readers, and embrace the process of reading.
There are more books that play with grabbing new readers in the process: Did You take the B from my ook? plays with new readers with rhyming and first letter of the word antics, and You Can Read!, by Helaine Becker gives children a fun opportunity to read just about anywhere! All these books are best read aloud and shared with frivolity. Once children enjoy reading, there are not as many lines and squiggles, but a world of adventure and information.