Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

A Summer of Espionage {Quick Lit August, 2020}

Hey friends! Time for an update on summer reading! And, a confession: I got sucked into a TV show this summer. If you know me, you know I watch TV pretty much never (sports excluded). But this summer has been weird for everyone, and I’m no exception. The strangeness of this summer in a pandemic during an uncomfortable pregnancy is probably what led me to All Espionage All The Time in my entertainment choices. I can see now that I’ve been looking for an escape from the mundane and unpleasant. Plus, sports were cancelled. So, below you’ll find what I’ve read lately, the TV show that I watched all five seasons of since May (insert horrified expression on my own face here), and what we’ve been reading in our family. Bonus at the end – the nonfiction I hope to read this fall.

Novels

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook – I’m right in the middle of this one and it’s showing lots of promise! Edith Graham seems like an ordinary spinster school teacher in 1948, but when she decides to head to Germany to help rebuild the school system there, she’s recruited to use her position as a front for hunting out former Nazi officers. Her code to let the Office of Strategic Services know about her progress is her recounting of recipes. So far, I really like this book!

The Black Swan of Paris – Quite a page turner about a glittering star who flies under the radar and, mostly against her will at first, uses her talent to aid The Resistance in Paris during World War II. Perfect if you’re having trouble focusing on a book but you would love to be in the middle of one (we all have those seasons of life, don’t we?). Four stars.

My espionage reading started further back this summer with Code Name Helene, a more gritty novel than the other two featured this month but very compelling. [At the time of my review of this book, I felt the language too strong, but the writer actually explained her choice words usage at the end of the novel, and her reasoning made sense.] 3.5 stars.

The Vanishing Half – Not about espionage, though definitely about a missing person. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it — violence, betrayal, lies, gender identity issues, substance abuse… it was all very dark and built on an already very weighty topic in a heavy time — but I read it because I wanted to dig in further to the racial strain my country is under right now and the healing we’d like to move toward. Literature helps me think through issues. 2.5 Stars.

TV

Alias – There. I said it. I watched all five seasons of a show from twenty years ago this summer. Watching Alias started out as a way to distract myself on the treadmill, but then the plot gripped me and the Bristows and friends/enemies kept me company on the couch elevating my legs (circulation issues during pregnancy are the pits!), in the kitchen, during laundry…I had to know what happened next! All the seasons are on Amazon Prime right now, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the whole story grip thing. Also, it’s not rated G. I watched it when the kids were otherwise occupied.

What We’re Reading Aloud

The kids and I are now halfway through Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh, and it’s sloooow going. We want to know what’s going to happen to Mrs. Frisby and her family, but it’s taking so long to even find out who the rats are and we still don’t know what Nimh is! But we’re committed and should be finished in the next two weeks. Next up we’re doing either Harriet the Spy or Little Lord Fauntleroy. Votes for which I should pick?

Jeremiah is reading The Last Battle at bedtime to the whole family and wow, I have not re-read this book in forever. It’s like it’s brand new to me. All Narnia books are a delight.

What the Kids Are Reading

Isaac (9) has become a huge fan of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. Parents take heart – this kid wanted nothing to do with letters or numbers when he entered kindergarten! Ella (11) is loving Nancy Drew books and The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George. Violet (6) and Lydia (3) want to read and re-read The Princess in Black Series by Shannon Hale, and even though the books seem so long, they’re actually very enjoyable read-alouds for one sitting. I love LeUyen Pham’s illustrations.

What My Husband’s Been Reading

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates – I picked this up for my husband, who is a reader without the time to browse around for books, and he liked it but thought it a bit drawn out. 3 stars.

Nonfiction I’m Reading/Plan to Read

The Call of the Wild + Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education and Wild + Free Handcrafts – I’m still in the middle of these books because I am a slow nonfiction absorber, but I’m enjoying the reminders of how kids and parents can learn together in harmony and without checklists. As for the handcrafts, most of them look beyond me, but they also look so beautiful, I’m willing to try them even though I’ll probably go crazy in the process!

The Lazy Genius Way – I’m pumped to read Kendra Adachi’s first book. I’ve been a big fan of her podcast for a few years now, and if her book is as full of practical and clear headed ideas as her podcast is, it will be a winner.

That’s all for this update! What’s on your fall reading list?

Picture Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

July 2020 – Summer Reading So Far – New Releases, A Classic, Picture Books, and Read Alouds

So what have you been reading this summer? I’ve had a few ho-hum new release experiences so far, but my pursuit for a good summer read this year continues! Help me by telling me what you’ve been reading in the comments! Here are my quick lit reviews for this month. {Hint: Scroll down to see our favorite picture book finds and what we’re reading aloud as a family}

Literature

The Other Bennet Sister – This was a pleasant trip back into the setting of Pride and Prejudice. I like how this book is totally consistent with the time period and the settings of Austen’s other works. All the characters are believable, and even though Hadlow offers a more complex (and possibly complete) picture of who the characters in Pride and Prejudice truly were, they were not skewed in my mind from who they have always been. I highly recommend this over Longbourn or other Austen-inspired fiction. The only downside for me is the book is a bit too drawn out by the end, but still very readable. 3.75 stars

The Jane Austen Society – Though there were some compelling elements, this book ultimately fell flat. Comparisons to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are simply not fair. I enjoyed the village setting and some of the characters, but the Hollywood side of the plot only added a strange, icky tone to an otherwise pleasant book. 2.75 Stars

The Dutch House – Ooh boy, this was gloomy. The concept it explored was interesting: can you ever see history as it really was? Does who you are and your ever evolving experience and understanding change your perspective too much? And how much does where we live make us who we are? Fascinating ideas, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the book. 2.5 stars

The Yearling – An amazing setting and strong, vivid characters plus timeless themes of family and friendship are what makes a classic, and this book is certainly a classic. I wouldn’t put it on my favorite list, but the writing is stunning and the setting will stay with me forever (much like the setting in Where the Crawdads Sing). 4 stars. (I realize it’s not at all a new release, but won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939, but I’m including it in the literature category for simplicity’s sake.)

I’d Give Anything – Marisa de los Santos is one of my favorite current writers. I always read her newest books and will continue to do so. While the themes in this book were not my favorite, and the affectionate relationships between the characters felt a bit overdone, I liked the book pretty well and its theme of forgiveness and hating what someone has done without hating the whole person is always relevant and thought provoking.

This Tender Land – I’m about halfway through this highly acclaimed novel and I’m pleased to find it really is very good! I love how it’s making so many people want to read books like The Odyssey and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, two books that seem to be combined and retold in a 1930s setting on a river in Minnesota. So far, five stars.

DNF – The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – Abandoned both about 30% in. Life is too short to read books you don’t like, especially if they’re just for you own enjoyment!

Picture Books

Chirri and Chirra – My 3-year-old and 5-year-old adored this whimsical story of two little girls and their visits in the forest. The colors are soothing and the animals included are very fetching. Apparently, there’s a whole Chirri and Chirra series, so hurrah! We’ll be checking more of these out. 5 stars.

Home in the Woods – I can hardly describe how much I love this book! From the illustrations to the character qualities it highlights in people who were both optimistic and hardworking, it’s a gem. 10 stars. ; )

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit – I learned a lot from this book about Beatrix Potter’s conservation efforts in the English countryside, and would like to think I would do the same if I were in her position. I hate seeing the forests I’ve driven by daily for years leveled for housing developments, but it happens frequently these days in my hometown. The story in this book is entertaining and the illustrations so cute. 4 stars.

The Storytelling Princess – This tale about a clever princess was longish, but held even our littlests’ interest. 4 stars.

Read Alouds

Matilda – Wow, was this book different from the movie I saw as a kid! The English village setting, the smart and kind main character who was not at all snarky, and the hilarious but terrible parents and school principle…plus the lovely Miss Honey…we all loved it. The kids thought the illustrations by Quentin Blake were awful, which made me laugh inside. They are not into impressionistic illustrations of people. But I like Blake’s illustrations every time, and we all loved Matilda! (Note: I did edit out some of the insults Matilda’s parents hurled at her when I read it aloud, which might be something to note if you have a younger audience and are considering an audiobook (remember, I have a 3-year-old in the mix!)). 5 stars.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh – We just finished chapter one of our next read aloud, but so far, so good! This is another book I saw a movie version of as a kid but never read the book for myself.

Swallows & Amazons – Again! Haha, this is the second time my husband has read this one aloud to the kids, but the older two had forgotten most of it and our five-year-old was enthralled for the first time. It’s definitely a favorite book of ours!

That’s it for this Quick Lit update! Head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other readers are liking (links in comments of main post) and don’t forget to let me know what gems you’ve found this summer!

Everyday Life, Homeschooling

How We Homeschool Multiple Grades Together

Raspberry Cordial!

Hello, readers! I hope you’re having a great summer of fun and good books! I’ll be back with some summer reading book reviews on July 15th. Today, I’m addressing the slew of questions I’ve gotten lately about homeschooling.

Schooling choices loom large for parents this year. With the strange kind of world children’s education has been plunged into thanks to a pandemic, all our hot summer days filled with pool splashing and popsicles are tinged with the ever tingling question, “What should we do this fall??” There aren’t any easy answers. Since we’ve been homeschooling for a while now and many parents are considering giving it a try, I’ve received lots of questions about what curriculum we use and how we homeschool multiple grades. The answers to these questions are bound up in each other, so I’ve decided to layout what books and programs we use to homeschool together, from 1st grade to 6th.

But first, a disclaimer! Homeschooling is a work in progress always, and there are very few experts. I am not one of them. The beauty of teaching your own children is knowing them well and making choices based on that knowledge. If you have this freedom to teach your kids at home, whether it be just for one year or for ten, I hope you also feel the freedom to make your family’s needs and culture a top priority in how you go about it. Everything doesn’t have to be mastered in one year. Homeschools aren’t one-size-fits-all, and families are so very unique and give something completely different to the world than the next family. All that being said, I’m happy to share what’s working for us and what we like

We are now homeschooling our 11-year-old, 9-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-year-old. Yes, I’m including the 3-year-old, because we are all together all the time!

For the 2019-20 academic year, I had two goals when it came to curriculum choice: it had to flex for multiple grades and it had to be something I would enjoy using. If the teacher dreads the material, what student wouldn’t? Our school year in 2019-20 was our best yet, so I continued most of the same curriculum for 2020-21.

Math – We have used Horizons since the beginning. I chose this one because of its engaging, colorful workbooks and open-and-go nature (it’s a spiral math curriculum, for anyone wondering). Each child does his or her math lesson at a desk, and Dad, the math teacher, rotates around and helps anyone who needs helping. We start with math because that way Dad can teach it before he goes to work each day.

Math Time!

Language Arts – After a short break, the kids are back at their desks. First-grader Violet pulls out her phonics (Sing, Spell, Read and Write) and does a few pages in her workbook. Then we practice reading together. (Note about the SSRW program – we do the “Off We Go!” book for Kindergarten and don’t start “The Raceway” book until 1st grade). Fourth-grader Isaac and 6th-grader Ella do a literature based program called Brave Writer Arrows that incorporates copywork/handwriting, spelling, grammar, and writing. I like it because I get to co-write it, but that’s my inner English major nerd talking. =) I customize their assignments in this program based on ability and grade level. Last year Isaac also went through a Handwriting Without Tears book to get him writing well in cursive. He really liked it! I would choose that over the Bob Jones handwriting that my oldest did, especially for kids who don’t like to write or have short attention spans.

Cultural Studies – We read a devotional together and then rotate between an artist, composer, hymn, poet, fable/legend, and poem memorization. I have used A Gentle Feast’s Morning Time book, which is beautiful and easy to implement, for four years now. This year, I’ve chosen one art anthology, one poem anthology, and one composer biography collection to work through, because I would like to try more of a survey approach to these subjects instead of just doing a few artists/composers/poets each year. I do highly recommend A Gentle Feast’s booklets if you’re just getting into these types of cultural studies (or some call it a “beauty loop” or “morning time”), for its ease of use and guidance.

Science (2x per week) – We will be using Science in the Scientific Revolution by Jay Wile from the Berean Builders curriculum. We used Science in the Ancient World last year. I was drawn to this curriculum because it introduces science on a historical timeline (I am a history lover, not necessarily a science lover…). Each lesson contains a very doable experiment or illustration that does not require special equipment. Best of all, it is written for many grades to work together! At the end of each lesson, there are assignments broken down for younger students, older students, and oldest students. The target age is Kindergarten to 6th grade, but truly, I am learning so much as an adult from this book! This year I also purchased the new student workbooks for my rising 4th grader and 6th grader to make applications even less confusing.

Science in the Ancient World

A note about science: Up until our oldest entered 4th grade, we did a lot of nature science assigned in A Gentle Feast‘s curriculum. We read the Burgess Bird Book, Burgess Animal Book, nature readers, and went through Exploring Nature with Children. We all liked this format for 1-3 grades, but when we reached Form II in the Charlotte Mason style curriculum, we weren’t fans of thes books assigned, and that both science and history were scheduled every single day of the week. The Berean Builders science has been a huge improvement for our family’s schedule and sanity, but I do appreciate and miss the value of nature studies, and plan to get back into Exploring Nature with Children again this year to supplement our other science studies, especially for the benefit of my 1st grader.

History (2 x per week). Oh, how we love history! We read lots of historical books, but our core structure comes from The Story of the World Series. Last year we read The Story of the World, Volume II: The Middle Ages (400-1600), which overlapped with our science time period. We read two chapters a week, and I used the maps and activities in the companion activity book to flesh out the information and include geography in our history lessons; the two subjects are intrinsically linked, anyhow. We also use blank maps for tests and geography quizzes on Seterra.com. We also like these map coloring books. This year, we’ll do more of the same with Volume III and the activity book that contains the maps and other applications.

Literature – I choose various read-alouds based on what I think everyone would like, what history period we’re studying, and what I can match up with the Brave Writer Arrows. Last year we completed Frindle, All-of-a-Kind Family, The Sign of the Beaver, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, Anne of Green Gables, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Usually during this time the kids are sketching or creating something. I never require them to only sit and listen. Modeling clay, sewing, drawing, painting, whatever can be done quietly at the kitchen table or on the living room floor goes! (I count this as “handy craft” time). The littlest plays with whatever she wants as long as it’s quiet. A lot of times, a snack is involved. =)

Raspberry Cordial!

Foreign language – All three of the kids have a Spanish lesson once a week at our homeschool co-op, and the older two have recently gotten really excited about learning French with the Duolingo app this summer. I picture this being an afternoon thing this school year.

And that’s the bulk of our curriculum guided work! I don’t currently choose “readers” for the kids to read on their own. My oldest two are voracious readers, and I keep an eye on what they read, but I mostly let them choose for themselves. I am thrilled that they both love to read and don’t want to burden their joy with assignments! We have ballet, basketball, and other various sports mixed in throughout the year. Once a week the kids go to a co-op where they do P.E., Spanish, science, art, and literature. My oldest was tutored in art by a family friend last summer, and she is continuing to practice all she learned at home. Seasons of busyness and more intense home-learning come and go. It’s an ever-changing endeavor, and we have found it both rich and rewarding, especially when we take the time to jump in with both feet when a student expresses an interest in a certain topic or new skill.

I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to make homeschooling doable for your family, whether you’re in it for years to come or for this one crazy pandemic year. If you’re looking for further reading, two books that have influenced my homeschooling practices are The Brave Learner and For The Children’s Sake. I’d also highly recommend Teaching from Rest and Honey for a Child’s Heart (this one has awesome book lists!).

See you back here soon for more bookish discussions!

Children's Books, Quick Lit, Reading, Reviews

Quick Lit, Winter to Spring, What I Read in Quarantine

As promised in last week’s post, I’m playing a catch up today on books I’ve read in the past three months. I’ve read several new releases, and they have some good points, but the older books are the ones I’m really eager to share. Somehow, the newly published ones I read in the last few months didn’t sit as well with me; they don’t feel like friends, and these older books do. That’s not true of all new releases, but it is with the ones in this batch. I’ll start with the new releases and move on to “vintage” fiction and then middle grade/children’s fiction. I hope you’ll find a friendly book here for yourself to keep you company in this strange, quarantine time!

New Releases

Lovely War – A World War I novel centered on two young people’s love story, told by Greek gods. Imagine the movie Wonder Woman‘s idea of Ares being the cause of the war, but with more mythology and without super heroes. The historical research of this book framed by mythology was amazing. I learned a lot I didn’t know from both the novel and the afterword. The middle of the book was a bit slow, and romance novels always feel clunky to me – this one was no exception. There were some character descriptions that became redundant. Still, it was such a unique way to tell a story, I wanted to finish it if only for that reason. 3.5 Stars. [As most war stories go, there was some graphic content, and racial tensions are a central theme, but I would still consider this suitable for older teens.]

The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek – Set in rural Kentucky in the 1930s, this novel tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter, one of the last Kentucky blue people and one of the first female librarians in the region. If the idea of blue people sounds a bit like science fiction, it’s not. Author Kim Michele Richardson takes fascinating history and combines it with great storytelling to give us a book that effortlessly draws readers into the setting and main character’s life. It was easy to sink into these pages and simply absorb the story, with many truly likable and a few appropriately unlikable ones. The main character is a gem, and though the book reminded me of Catherine Marshall’s Christy in some ways, it was entirely unique and my favorite new release I’ve read in 2020. It is especially good on audio! 5 Stars.

Call Your Daughter Home – Oh, I did not like this book at all. There were ghosts and murders, domestic abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, family quarrels… I wish I could’ve liked it, because I think the author is pretty great at painting a vivid setting and drawing up characters. But it was not my kind of book. 1.5 stars.

The Red Notebook – This novella is clever and intriguing, pleasant and engaging. Much like the story itself about a Parisian bookseller who recovers a woman’s handbag and goes on a quest to return it to her that ends up drawing him in much more than expected, it’s a book that will absorb you in the best possible way. It’s perfect to curl up with in bed, although as with most French books, you’ll probably end up hungry and want to get up to eat something. 4 stars.

The Red Address Book

Funny story…I got this one from the library on accident, when I meant to pick up The Red Notebook. It was a happy mistake, however, because this Swedish book about an elderly woman that lives with her home care assistance to help her reliving her pain, and past through her red address book she has meticulously kept through her life was moving and well-told. It’s a bit like A Man Called Ove or The One-in-a-Million Boy (both of which are wonderful) combined with the ever popular historical fiction told in retrospect. If you’re a fan of either of those, this may be a book for you. 3.5 stars.

Code Name Helene – I’m in the middle of this one right now. It is somewhat fascinating and I plan to finish it, but I’m not crazy about it. The back-and-forth between present and past narratives (actually this one is back-and-forth before the war and during the war) is not my favorite. Even though relating a story this way can be very effective, I always find it a bit jarring. While I’m enjoying the intriguing tale of a female spy in World War II, my main complaint can be summed up in what one of “Helene’s” coworkers says to her when she pulls out some particularly vulgar language: “You don’t have to do that with me.” Dear authors, I will respect your characters and your writing without a constant string of strong language and graphic content, I promise. In this instance, I can see why some of it is necessary to convey the kind of main character spy Nancy Wake/Helene has to make herself into and how harsh her reality is. But it’s pretty brutal. I’m exactly half way through, so I’ll have to complete my review of it next time, but I can already tell you that I like the similar book Code Name Verity much, much better.

Vintage Fiction

O, The Brave Music – I adored this book. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading a girl’s David Copperfield (and I love David Copperfield, or Great Expectations, or any number of first-person, autobiographical novels by Dickens). Set at the turn of the century in Northern England, Ruan’s coming of age story includes several tragedies but also a depth of character and wisdom, along with warmth and unfailing delight in the world around her. It’s the kind of book that feels like a friend to this old-fashioned soul. 5 stars. [Thank you to Simon from Stuck in a Book for a rave review of this book that got me looking for a used copy!] 5 stars.

The Tall Stranger – Okay, I read too much D.E. Stevenson, but hear me out – this stand alone novel is excellent. The cast of characters is real and friendly, the settings varied and vivid, and the whole thing is put together flawlessly. Do me a favor and do not read the publisher’s blurb about it– they never do Stevenson novels justice and make it out to be complete frippery, which it’s not, in my opinion. This book is free on Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Unlimited is offering a free two-month trial through the end of April. 5 stars.

Five Windows – Also D.E. Stevenson, but different because it’s a first-person, autobiographical narrative by a male character, and yes, it reminds me of O, The Brave Music but in a more modern time, with less tragedy. There are some character overlaps with The Tall Stranger which I find delightful. Really, this book comes first in chronology before The Tall Stranger, but they’re not in a true series, so it doesn’t matter which you read first. And it’s also free on Kindle Unlimited! 4.5 stars. I also read Still Glides the Stream by Stevenson on Kindle Unlimited and give that three stars, but still a very pleasant, enthralling read if you’re a Stevenson fan like I obviously am. I’m almost embarrassed of how much I enjoy her books!

Journey’s Eve – This book was pretty nutty, as Elizabeth Cadell’s more mysterious novels sometimes are. It was a fun story, and I liked it, but I get a little tired of the way Cadell’s heroes can be kind of pushy. 3 stars.

Middle Grade/Children’s Literature

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone – Well, the name of this book is extremely inconvenient, but the actual book is a lighthearted fantasy about a girl’s quest in an imagined land that seems a little bit like Australia. I liked it, but not quite enough to plunge right into the sequel yet. I let my ten-year-old and eight-year-old read this, but neither of them wanted to before it was due back to the library. 3.5 stars.

The Penderwicks Series – Ella (age ten) and I completed this series separately but together over the winter. We both agree that The Penderwicks in Spring (book 4) was our least favorite, the first through third books in the series were our favorites, and the last book in the series was a fairly satisfying ending. As a whole series of five books, we highly recommend it!

Adventures with Waffles – Though it is well liked by many readers I agree with on most books, I didn’t love this one. It was quite melancholy for a book with “adventures” in the title. The characters grappled with some hard themes without much satisfying resolution. The main character and narrator, Trille, a boy whose best friend is a headstrong, crazy girl named Lena (similar to Parr’s Astrid the Unstoppable and Pippi Longstockings), is a bit infuriating in his passivity. But so many people love this book, I’d say give it a shot for yourself if you’re a fan of middle grade novels!

Meet the Austins and the rest of The Austins series- The first book was a lovely family story, so well written as Madeleine L’Engle’s books always are. I liked The Austins series as a whole, but was unprepared for the science fiction turn the third book, The Young Unicorns, would take. Whew! It’s like That Hideous Strength for children. Older children, haha. Not quite as pleasant as the first or second book, but highly thoughtful. 4 stars for the series.

Anne of Green Gables – A re-read for about the twentieth time (barely an exaggeration), but this time I read it aloud to the kids and the funny parts were funnier, the sad parts sadder, the descriptive, flowery parts less important. Reading books aloud to kids changes your perspective on a book, even when you know it as well as you possibly can, and usually for the better. I choked up so much in the last few chapters, the kids wanted to laugh at me and cry at the same time. We started Anne of Avonlea immediately after, but lost Isaac’s interest (he honestly enjoyed Anne of Green Gables and laughed heartily at many parts), so now we’re reading aloud From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and all liking it. But I’m tempted to keep reading the whole Anne series again on my own for, well, maybe the tenth time? I’ve lost count. They are absolutely my favorite books…except for maybe The Chronicles of Narnia…ack, who can choose? And in case you’re wondering, we did watch the film adaptation by Sullivan Entertainment, though not either of the sequels, and had a fun time discussing the differences between the book and the movie. We all thought the actresses who played Anne and Dianna were too old, but played their parts well. Five million stars to the book and five stars to the movie.

That about wraps it up for this quick lit catch-up post! Modern Mrs. Darcy has lots of other book bloggers chiming in about recent reading on her blog today, so hop on over to see what other readers are saying about books this spring. And please let me know what books you’ve discovered lately in the comments!

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Reviews, Saturday Cooking

Cooking and Coronavirus

Hey readers! What are you up to these in these strange days? As a homeschooling parent, this new normal didn’t seem all that different to me at first. Now, after weeks of no events or family/friends or even parks, plus never being able to find bread in the supermarket, it’s getting real! But we are healthy and happy at home, and remembering that this is temporary, even if it already feels like it’s gone on too long. And it’s spring, so hurrah!

Oddly enough, just when I should be posting the most about books that you finally have time to read, what I’ve been reading is…cookbooks. Womp, womp. If you know me at all, this may surprise you because meal prep is not my fave. As different types of people go, I’m the type who does not think about what they’ll eat for dinner when they wake up in the morning. That is why I need cookbooks so desperately– to get me thinking about what food to buy and what to do with it. Like it or not, food preparation is a big part of life with a family of six who eats three meals a day at home, even in the best of times! So here are some cookbook reviews for you. (Psst: I always check out cookbooks from the library before I purchase them!)

Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes – I adore this cookbook. I haven’t bough it yet, but when I borrowed it and made some recipes over the holidays, I felt as legit as Mary Berry. Of course, you can’t really make these breads in five minutes–can you do anything in the kitchen in five minutes?– but you can make a big batch of basic types of dough in say, twenty-thirty minutes. The idea is to have dough in the fridge, ready to go, and then at baking time, you pull off a chunk of dough for a specific recipe and have that bread ready pretty quickly. I did two of the recipes and can’t wait to do more! Swedish Tea Ring, anyone? Putting this one on my birthday list in June may look a little strange based on the “holiday” title…but I’m doing it. Five stars, even if it does have “5 minutes” in the title. [I take issue with any cookbook with “minutes” in the title. 30 minute meals? A myth. Every dinner takes me an hour. From the minute I turn the light on in the kitchen to dinner on the table, it’s always an hour, even when it’s just leftovers. I can’t explain it. I guess I could blame the four kids interrupting…]

Magnolia Table – This is the cookbook I wish had been out when I was a newlywed. I didn’t know how to make so many home-cooked favorites that my husband enjoyed, and the Joy of Cooking and Southern Living cookbooks I got for wedding presents assumed I already knew a lot. This cookbook has pictures and instructions on even certain brands to buy, and everything I’ve made has turned out beautifully. If you’re assuming it’s all fried chicken and biscuits, there are more than just Southern cooking recipes included, as Joanna Gaines has Korean, Tex-Mex, and other influences in her culinary tastes. Still, you’re not going to stay svelte eating out of this book for long (how does she do it??). The dessert section is enormous. But once a week or so, an entree or treat out of this collection will thrill your family (and yourself). After getting this cookbook from the library, I bought it as fast as you can say “fluffy pancakes,” and I’m using it several times a week. Five stars from me and everyone else in my household.

Healthyish – I checked this one out from the library in the fall and then put it on my Christmas list and lucky me, got it! It includes a lot of recipes that only require a few ingredients, similar to Real Simple Magazine recipes. I like that the recipes are doable and nourishing, without swinging all the way into “eat this, not that” rules. My only downside is my family hasn’t loved the recipes I’ve made out of it as much as I have. Four stars.

Smoothie Project – We eat a lot of smoothies here, but also get in ruts with the combinations and flavors, and that’s why this book has been so great. I appreciate that there are ideas for healthy but optional add-ins (ex: collagen). The best thing about it is my ten-year-old grabbed this off the library stack and ran with it. She made “Nice Cream” and marked a bunch of other recipes to copy for her recipe book. Lesson learned: kids can make smoothie recipes. Game changer! Four stars.

A Homemade Life – Part cookbook, part memoir, and very reminiscent in style to Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine. However, I give Bread and Wine 5 stars and this one 2. The writing is descriptive and nostalgic, but these recipes are pretty hard, require ingredients I don’t have on hand, and the memoir selections were not really my cup of tea, either. Sadly, I liked the theme of the book better than the actual book itself. One star.

The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook – I love reading this cookbook and the recipes look great…but I haven’t tried anything out of it yet. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me (tamari?) and I don’t have things on hand like coconut sugar or tahini. But really, I think I can make good use of it if I take the plunge and buy a few of the staples Laura Lea uses in this book to make familiar recipes in a healthier form. It would be great for anyone trying to go gluten free without completely changing the kind of meals you usually enjoy. No stars yet.

In addition to these new cookbooks, my go-to’s remain The Whole30 Cookbook because it is delicious, the Damn Delicious website (she has a cookbook out now that I need to check out, too!), and Moe’s To Go. Wait, what? I meant Mom’s recipe cards, not Moe’s To Go! Did I say Moe’s? I did not mean Moe’s…or Marco’s…

See you soon for an update on novels and children’s literature! Follow me on Goodreads for real time updates and book reviews. Happy reading and cooking and whatever else you do to stay sane in a crazy world!

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