Children's Books, Three Book Thursday

Picture Books and Summer Desserts

Welcome to Three Book Thursday, a series all about the joy of sharing books with girlreadingjwsmithchildren. We’re kicking off our summer today and that means we’re all signed up for summer reading at our local library! So this week, I’m featuring picture books that highlight learning and include recipes for a summer dessert, because there’s no better way to kick off summer reading excitement than with a hands on opportunity!  (And as a homeschooled kid turned homeschooling mom, I can tell you that finding a good book with a recipe to go with is finding solid gold).

14823980A Fine Dessert is a fun history lesson about the centuries old dessert, Blackberry Fool. Starting with a mother and daughter in England in the 1700s, we see how the process of cooking changes a little bit but the basic concept of delicious food bringing families together stays the same. This book will make your kids appreciate grocery stores and electric mixers! We had opportunities to talk about all sorts of concepts, from colors of dishes to slavery in the 1800s to different kinds of grocery stores.  And if you make the very simple recipe at the end, you’ll also give your children an opportunity to get their hands really dirty and be proud of a new accomplishment. Our children gobbled up the Blackberry Fool. As a side note, no one really knows why it’s called “fool.” Of course, the kids sure do love an excuse to use an off limits word in a different context. (insert eye roll + amused smile).  Even if you don’t get to make the recipe, the illustrations are delicious in themselves and the book as a whole is one of our new favorites.

How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. has our mouths watering and our wanderlust screaming at us to take a road trip! (oh, maybe that’s just my wanderlust…. 3003976moving on). It’s such a great book to start your summer reading with. We loved following along with a map as the children in it start in New York City, travel down the Mississippi on a river boat, and hit up a few lesser talked of states for the necessary supplies to create a delicious cherry pie. I would even suggest starting with this book instead of its predecessor, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. We’re finding that it’s easier for young children to understand the geography of their own country than the starting off with the whole, unfamiliar world. Children are as curious as can be about geography, though, so whichever book you start with, I can almost guarantee the wonder of a map will draw them in and the promise of some pie making fun will seal the memory as one of the best geography lessons ever.

Thunder Cake is THE book to read in the late afternoon on a stormy summer’s day.  Patricia Polacco makes you feel like you’re right in the midst of the glowering clouds Thunder Cakeand yellow light of an approaching storm on the prairie. The narrative of the grandmother and her young granddaughter hurrying to beat the storm gives readers an exciting story to follow even as they’re learning how much work it was to cook before electricity was in our homes. The recipe at the end is a bit more complicated than the Blackberry Fool and Cherry Pie recipes, so we have yet to try it. Also, we’re all a bit wary of a cake recipe that includes tomatoes….but I’m planning to have an update on its outcome by the middle of the summer for you! Even if you never make the recipe, it’s a wonderful book.

 

 

Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Inhalation: Summer Reading Snippets, 2015 Edition

Are you soaking up the last days of summer this week? I am! We start first grade homeschooling in one week. It has been a truly awesome summer for our family. My husband has been busy with his new business, but way less busy than he was at this time last year. He’s been able to join us in our summer fun much more than in previous years. I love the days of waking up and throwing on a t-shirt and shorts (layering is too much work!), serving the kids breakfast in their playhouse,  watching them splash and play in crazy imaginative ways in our little kiddie pool on the back porch (which they can fill up themselves now…it’s almost like I’ve arrived), and so much more. Summer is my favorite.

And I have been reading a lot of books over the last few months, which also contributes to the awesomeness of this summer.  As soon as I put one down, I’m picking up another. Can you call that chain reading? I’m inhaling books these days, not stopping long enough to write a review or even process what I’m reading very well. I guess this is my version of summer binge TV watching. This book inhalation will slow down pretty soon (darn), but it’s been fun while it lasted. In the unintentional summer tradition of this blog, here is the 2nd  annual Summer Reading Snippets post.

Secrets of a Charmed LifeSecrets of A Charmed Life – My 2nd favorite book of the summer! I was totally spellbound by this book. I read this book in a 36 hour timespan. It’s very much like Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, but shorter. One thing I really appreciate about this book is that while it is framed by a present day narrator, the bulk of the book is told in the past and does not flip-flop from past to present. I’ve come to deeply dislike all these books that transition every other chapter or so between past and present. Unless the writer is truly masterful, this format is jarring.  I like to get fully immersed in a story and setting. Secrets of A Charmed Life is a perfect beach read or curl up by the fire read. Just don’t plan on doing much else for two or three days! Five stars.

Henrietta’s War – A quaint mid-century British book that I loved. Full review here.

Ana of California – This is a pretty good YA book if you first put out of your mind the claim that it is a “modern day retelling of Anne of Green Gables.” It may be inspired by Anne of Green Gables, but that is the beginning and end of its ties to one of the best books ever written (okay, I am biased. I looove L.M. Montgomery).  None of the characters actually match up in personality between the old books and this “retelling.” Okay….so I obviously have some scornful feelings about the “retelling” claim, but I really did enjoy this book. The foster care background and the character development is well done, and I think it calls to light some important themes of caring for parent-less children and forgiveness. 3.5 stars. 

The Sound of GlassFalling Home and The Sound of Glass – I picked up Falling Home because it was all I could reach from the sofa one time when I was holding my sleeping baby at the beach house we rented in May. Thumbs down. However, The Sound of Glass, White’s most recent book, was pretty good if you like a good yarn. Her settings are always s. Her characters, especially the main characters, get a little predictable if you read more than a few of her books. My favorite book of White’s is still A Long Time Gone.  1 star and 3.5 stars.

The Persian Pickle Club – Another beach read, but it turned pretty well. I’ve never read Sandra Dallas’s work, but I found myself comparing The Persian Pickle Club to a Fannie Flagg book, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes. 3 stars.

The Tilted World – I couldn’t finish this book about the Mississippi River flood in the 1930s and some very hopeless moonshiners. It was harsh and raw and great for readers who like Kenneth Follet. No stars because I didn’t finish it.

Saving Amelie – I cannot say enough good things about this Christian Fiction novel.  I don’t read a whole lot in this genre, but I’m glad I gave this book a chance. Set in Nazi Germany, it’s a look at the sanctity of all human life and how far from understanding that some people in this time era came. In light of recent debates on abortion in our country, this book hit even closer to home than usual, though it has more to do with treasuring children with disabilities than valuing them during pregnancy. 4 stars.

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity – Young Adult fiction at its best! I loooved this book. Apparently, WWII was a theme in my summer reading. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s always a theme in my reading. I loved the creative journal format and the varying points of view that instead of making me infuriated, kept me guessing and led to some “aha!” moments in the plot. I’d read this again with my daughter when she reaches about age 15-16 in a heartbeat. 4 stars.

All The Bright Places – Two thumbs way, way down. YA at its postmodern worst. Do not read it. It’s being compared to The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s so much worse. That’s all I have to say about that. 1/2 star.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths – Erm…this is one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. I can’t make sense of it at all. I think it’s supposed to be a comparison of three sisters who are like the Brontes but live in the 1940s. Their weird obsession with their current day stage actors just threw me off entirely. I don’t even know how many stars to give it.

A Spool of Blue Thread – Ann Tyler is an incredible writer. However, sometimes I get to the end of her books and go, “what was the point of that, again?” She’s an author I read for the beauty of her words and depth of her descriptions and characters, but not so much for the story. Tyler makes me think about writing and about how people live and think in every day life.

Garden Spells and The Peach Keeper – Here’s a conundrum: I like Sarah Addison Allen’s writing style, settings, and magical feel but I just don’t like her characters or the decisions they make. One might say they’re very human, but I’d say they’re often plain self-centered. Also, I end up skipping over many pages in her books when she decides to throw in a little romance because it is soooo cheesy and overly detailed. I guess the point is I get why people like her books, but I am not a fan. Yet. She may win me over someday.

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)Doomsday Book – I am definitely finishing this book one day. It came due to the library when I was only a few chapters in (I got a little overly ambitious on one library trip and checked out too many books!). I read Blackout and All Clear by this author and really liked them.

Divergent – Always late to the dystopian lit parties, I’m in the middle of this one now. I’m not loving it, but I’m too involved to back out now.

I’m pretty sure this list doesn’t cover all the books I’ve read this summer, but those are  all I can remember right now. Even though I’ll be too busy to read as much as I have the past few months, I’m still a firm believer that Fall and Winter are the best times for reading. So, what have you read this summer? Anything I should put on my Fall reading list? I’m looking to get in a few more nonfiction titles and some classics.

Happy reading!

Everyday Life, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

August Reading, Part 2, and A Tiny Rant Against Autumn

There’s a crispness in the air that I despise. Yes, I said despise. Sorry, Fall and Football lovers. I love summer and I cannot lie. I do not like cold days. I do not like the mess of leaves all over the back yard, and all the raking…raking…raking. I don’t like watching the summer flowers die. I don’t like heavy clothing and jeans every day.  But really, the biggest problem of all is that my family is not taking our one and only beach vacation until mid-September. Summer, please stay until then!

However! I am trying to conjure up happy memories of hot chocolate and books by a warm fire. Maybe if I start a Fall reading list, I’ll let go of my morbidity towards Autumn. If I can keep finding as many good books in the Autumn months as I’ve found in August, the coming season will be pretty swell.

Here are the books I finished this month.:

1. Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele's Secret (Wildwood, #2) The sequel to Wildwood Dancing, but not nearly as great. Still, a pretty good read, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. Marillier is one of  my new favorite YA authors.

2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Read my reviews (yes, there are two of them) here and here

3. The Artist’s Daughter

I really liked this memoir. Read my review here

4.  Slash Your Grocery Budget & Eat a Whole Foods Diet With Aldi by Carrie Willard

I read a slew of nonfiction this month. I consider it a slew, anyway. The main reason was that Ella came down with a stomach bug on Sunday afternoon and I couldn’t leave her side without her getting upset. So while she dozed, I read all the free e-books I’ve been downloading to the Kindle app on my phone. I find these free books on moneysavingmom.com, but I usually download them and then forget about them. I was grateful to have them this weekend, though.

Slash Your Grocery Budget was a great book for people who shop at Aldi or are considering shopping at Aldi. It includes menus and recipes—features that equal awesomeness in any nonfiction book. I haven’t actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I plan to. Look for this book to show up in my next Saturday Cooking feature.

5. A Simpler Season by Jessica Fisher

With the chill in the air and the impending hours watching football, I’m feeling like now is a good time to start planning some projects for Christmas. Last Christmas I had all kinds of ideas and hardly any of them got done. I’m okay with that; my kids were 3 and 1, we had a nice holiday season that was not as stressful as usual, we celebrated what mattered. Still, I’d like to be a little more involved in the details this year. A Simpler Season was a good starting point for me to think through those some of those details. Will you still find me in Target two days before Christmas? Probably. But hope springs eternal.

6. How to Eat A Cupcake by Meg Donahue

A departure from the norm for me, but in a fun, not-too-terrible, romantic comedy kind of way. Read my review here.

Now I’m working on East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. For school with Ella, we’re reading In Grandma’s Attic. I can’t tell you how much I am loving re-reading my favorite children’s chapter books with Ella. We tried The Bobbsey Twins, but it was a little wordy for now. Maybe in a year or two. I actually never liked those books much, but they seem cute to me now.

Tell me what should go on my Fall reading list! I need a long, cheering list to console me over being robbed (robbed!) of summer.

Reading, Reviews

July Reading

It’s July, and that means Summer just began, right? I live in South Carolina and we only just hit consistent temperatures in the 90’s. We had an actual Spring, for a change, and it lasted forever. No wonder it’s a jolt to my system when I walk into Target and see huge displays of “back to school” supplies. Wait! I haven’t even scratched the surface of my summertime goals! I haven’t made homemade popsicles! I haven’t finished the kids’ summer listeners reading program at the library! I haven’t been to a baseball game! Or picked out a preschool curriculum for my four-year-old! Or made that inspiring vintage chore chart I saw on Pinterest. I haven’t organized every closet in the entire house!

What’s worse, I haven’t found that awesome Summer of 2013 book. Luckily, my children aren’t school age yet and the end of summer comes at the end of, well, Summer, and not in mid-August. So I have time (theoretically) to do all of the above and maybe find a good book this summer. It’s proving to be a difficult task so far (although my Jean Webster discovery was a great treat!). To make the “difficult” reference clearer, I have started reading and abandoned halfway through no less than four books in the last three weeks. That is just sad. But I happen to be a reader who won’t stick with a book if I’m hating it halfway through. I stuck with The Last Summer because I really wanted to review it, and to review a book, you kind of have to finish it.

Here are the books I began but couldn’t finish. Please don’t count these as official reviews since I only read half of the books. And please keep in mind that these books are not “terrible” and I am not looking to give a negative review. I think lots of readers would really enjoy these books. I’ll just tell you why I didn’t enjoy it and try not to give much of the plot of each book away.

Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground RailroadI was excited about reading Redfield Farm. It was number one on my Summer reading list and has great reviews on Goodreads. However, after a few chapters, I was pretty disappointed in the narrative style. It was a little flat. I didn’t get a good feel for the setting. And then the plot twists that occurred just seemed so utterly out of keeping with the characters, I couldn’t keep reading without thinking “ridiculous!” every few pages. It’s true that people do unexpected things and make mistakes in real life. Still, the Quakers were engaging in some pretty uncharacteristic activities in this book. If I had enjoyed the characters, I may have kept reading, but I didn’t. I wish I had, because the premise of the book with the Underground Railroad and the Quaker community working together sounded very intriguing. I think that if you enjoy books by Janet Oke or Beverly Lewis, you may like Redfield Farm. However, be forewarned: this isn’t a Christian book, so it’s not as clean as Oke or Lewis.

Home RepairI picked up Home Repair from the library shelf on a whim. I read the description and thought it sounded kind of like a quirky, memoir type novel that is both humorous and insightful. Here’s the description:

Eve’s beloved Ivan died thirteen years ago in an automobile accident. Her charming, boyish Chuck has taken a different exit out of her life: hopping into his car in the middle of a garage sale with no forewarning and departing their formerly happy upstate New York home for points unknown. Now Eve’s a boat adrift, subsisting on a heartbreak diet of rue, disappointment, and woe-left alone to care for Ivan’s brilliant teenaged son, Marcus, and Chuck’s precocious, pragmatic nine-year-old daughter, Noni, while contending with Charlotte, Eve’s acerbic mother, who’s come north to “help” but hinders instead.

But life ultimately must go on, with its highs and lows, its traumas and holidays, and well-meaning, if eccentric, friends. A house and a heart in disrepair are painful burdens for a passionate woman who’s still in her prime. And while learning to cope with the large and small tragedies that each passing day brings, Eve might end up discovering that she’s gained much more than she’s lost.

I was in the mood for a present day, this-is-real-life type book. However, I got through most of it and then just let it go. I was trying to be interested, but the non-plot wasn’t quite neatly packaged enough. Maybe the real life situation was too far removed from anything I’ve experienced for me to feel the book was relevant to life. I think this book is probably a really good book, just not my type of book. I’d say that if you liked The Friday Night Knitting Club by Karen Jacobs, you will probably like this book. Another book of this type that I did enjoy was The Atlas of Love by Laurie Frankel. The characters in this book were always interesting to me and I am closer to their stage of life (graduate school, young mom days) than I am to the life stages of the main characters in Home Repair or The Friday Night Knitting Club.

The Perfume CollectorI saw The Perfume Collector advertised on Goodreads and borrowed the e-book from my library as soon as it was available. It was…well, rather sensual. I abandoned it pretty soon after starting it. Don’t read it if you dislike erotica. The characters themselves didn’t tempt me to keep reading, either. Grace was not very appealing–the smart, small, dark haired young wife of a professor who finds herself childless and feeling like a trophy wife, at best. That kind of character has been done so many times! The format of this book is one of those historical novels that shifts from a character in the past to a character in the present (the present in this book being the 1950s). I have read a few of those books that I really like (The Secret Keeper, for one), but I think that kind of plot can be clumsy if the author isn’t careful. In this book, it felt kind of clumsy. I wasn’t drawn in from chapter to chapter. I’ve read a few other reviews from people who did like this book to people who hated it, so you may have to just decide for yourself.

The Dry Grass of AugustFinally, the last “meh” read I’ve had this month was The Dry Grass of August. I picked this book up after deciding not to read The Homecoming of Samuel Lake and it became a case of “out of the fire, into the frying pan.” The book’s plot follows 13-year-old Jubie and her trip with her mother and siblings to Florida in the 1950s. It was similar in some ways to To Kill A Mockingbird but the thing about books written around the African American plight in the 1950s is that they will never come close to being as ground breaking because they weren’t written in that time period (obviously).  I’d also compare this book to The Secret Life of Bees but without the rich scenery and spirituality. It was actually a pretty good book, with a few too many crude details for my taste (I’m a prude, I know, I know). I probably would have liked this book better about five years ago. This summer, I’m just not in the mood for Southern lit.

I just received Islanders by Helen Hull in the mail last week and I am itching to begin it. Also, I still plan to read The Princess and the Goblin before the Summer is over.

How’s your Summer reading going so far?

Reading, Reviews

June Reading

How’s your summer reading going? Just as promised, my list is already not really a list anymore. I read The Light Between Oceans and really enjoyed it. I wrote about it in this post. I started The Homecoming of Samuel Lake but I don’t think I’m going to keep reading it. It’s one of those Southern Lit books that has characters in it who make me want to wring their collective neck. Oh, the backwoods, stubborn men that are so often featured in Southern Literature. They just make me mad. And I don’t read books to get mad. Who needs another reason to get mad? So I’ll give it another few pages later on today but then it’s probably going back to the library. 

The Fault in Our StarsI didn’t have The Fault In Our Stars by John Green on my original summer reading list, but I picked it up because Barnes and Noble basically hit me over the head with posters and displays that told me it was the only book that absolutely had to be read this summer. And that all the cool people are reading it. I don’t aspire to be a cool person, but I’d like to stay “relevant.” (On a side note, I really don’t like the word “relevant.” It’s overused so much, it hardly has a real meaning anymore. Oh the irony.) I’ve got to say, for a book featuring so many sentences that start with “Kind of” and “It was, like, you know…” it was pretty, like, deep. It was a strange combination of “teenager” talk and impossibly hard questions and circumstances.

The book is about Hazel, who is living with cancer. Her diagnosis is and always has been terminal, but her treatments are working miraculously well and she just keeps on living. The life she’s living is more of a half-life, however, until she meets Augustus Waters. He is witty and gorgeous and the book becomes a story of young love with the “interesting” twist of cancer.

At this point in the review, you’re probably wondering, “Why would I put myself through reading this book?” That is a very valid question. I read the book, because, you know, relevancy. Really, I do feel a burden to read the books that are shaping the minds of my generation and the generations younger than me. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with a teenager and actually have something to talk about. But I’m not sure this book will help me with that.  Here’s what I learned: teenagers are inherently and unavoidably self-centered. I was no exception. In fact, considering how I behaved in my teenage years when my grandmother and dad had cancer, I was exceptionally self-centered, even by teenage standards. The teens in The Fault In Our Stars are not exceptions either, cancer or no. Yes, they feel sorry for themselves. Yes, they feel separate from healthy kids. Mostly, they are struggling with the fact that they are young and haven’t done anything worth doing yet and they are awash in wanting their lives to have some kind of meaning. You learn through the book that each character has some ideal that keeps him or her fighting for life on earth. They feel if they don’t attain their one important goal, their lives won’t mean anything. One character’s ideal is that everybody deserves true love. He fights on because he wants to experience that one true love. Another’s ideal is that everybody has got to die, but it should be for a worthy, heroic reason, and cancer just doesn’t cut it. And Hazel’s is that the universe deserves to be  noticed and she is on the planet to notice it. Yeah, that one is a bit vague. I think it has something to do with the human need to worship. So each main character is figuring out how to reconcile their lives with cancer to the ideas they have on why they should live.

It was a very thoughtful book, but also confusing. There are no absolutes. Most of the characters think there is Something (God) and that there is Somewhere they go after they die. Or maybe they just haunt the earth. They’re not really sure. That sort of uncertainty is depressing to me.

If you liked My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Piccoult, you’ll appreciate The Fault In Our Stars. I can’t deny that it is a fairly heart wrenching story that has some pretty funny parts. But heart wrenching cancer stories are just too much for me. I didn’t really give myself up to be emotionally involved with the story or liking or relating to the characters. That’s a reflection on me, not the characters. I haven’t had cancer, but it’s hit pretty close to home so far in my life, just as it has for many people. Cancer is our black plague, our cholera, or “consumption” (tuberculosis in the 1800s). No one is untouched by it, but it’s a hard topic to address. Still, I know many people think The Fault In Our Stars is the best book of the summer.

Next up on my list is The Wednesday Sisters. I’m about 30 pages in and so far, it seems pretty similar to The Help in theme and setting. I’m not saying it’s anywhere near as awesome as The Help. But I think there’s potential. I’ll let you know in a few days. =)

Happy Reading!

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