Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pumpkin butter and crystallized ginger

I was feeling domestic today so I retrieved the pumpkin from the freezer - I have a new crop coming in - and made pumpkin butter in my crockpot.  The recipe I used called for apple juice.  I used apple cider and my "pumpkin" butter tastes more like "apple" butter because of it.  I used about ten cups of pumpkin puree to 1 cup of cider.  You'd think that would balance out.  Next time I will use water.  The resulting apple/pumpkin butter is pretty tasty nonetheless.

I also decided to try making candied - or crystallized- ginger.  Now that recipe called for a pound of ginger and a pound of sugar.  I had half a pound of ginger so I halved the sugar.  I did NOT halve the water.  So I had to overcook the ginger to boil off the extra water.

  The ginger has a very strong taste and is crispy but yummy.  So I am happy.  Life is a learning process.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Harris Burdick?

Some mornings, my inbox is full of too many things to share.  This morning is one of THOSE days.  Next month, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick will be released, with stories for each of 14 pictures from the original book by Chris Van Allsburg.

What happened to the mysterious Mr. Burdick?  Lemony Snicket attempts to explain in this video clip.

Excellent authors write stories to go with the pictures that have delighted and mystified readers for years.  I hope their stories are as good as the ones we have been making up all this time.

Write your OWN story for one of Burdick/Van Allsburg's illustrations and enter a contest sponsored by The New Yorker.  Click here for details.

Bad Kitty

I LOVE Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel!  And I think we need more Bad Kitty exposure, especially on this rainy - again - Wednesday.  To learn more about Bad Kitty, and to play games with Bad Kitty, click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beryl Markham

I had no idea who Beryl Markham was, though she was quite famous in her day.  In 1936, she was the first woman to fly the difficult East to West Atlantic crossing.  In Promise the Night, author Michaela Maccoll, tells the story of that crossing in telegrams and letters in the grown-up Markham's voice, interspersed with the story of Markham's early adolescence.

Beryl pretty much raised herself until she was 11.  Put into the care of her father's head man, a Nandi tribesman, Beryl learned what Nandi boys learn.  She was never one to respect limits placed on her just because she was a girl.  Maccoll shows Beryl to be manipulative and stubborn, and at times incredibly brave.  At one point, I tossed the book away in disgust at Beryl's trickery.  I'm glad I picked the book back up.  Beryl's deceit is explained in a rare display of her own understanding of what life had in store for her.

There are some very exciting events in here; an attack on her bulldog by a leopard, horse races, a lion hunt, an attack on Beryl by a neighbor's "pet" lion, beatings from a governess, a stint in an unbearably stuffy boarding school.  And the author assures us that "most of the good parts" are based on fact.

This is the way I prefer to get my history, wrapped up in a very readable fictional account.  The book is due out in December, just in time for holiday gift-giving.  Hand this to a girl with stars in her eyes!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paper sculptures

Someone is Scotland has been very busy creating the most beautiful things and leaving them to be found - in libraries, museums, a Storytelling Centre and more amazing places.  Oh my!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

In Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Rhine is kidnapped to become one of three "sister wives" of a wealthy young man.  The girls who are not chosen are killed.  This is not an uncommon practice in this future America where girls all die by the age of 20 and men die by the age of 25.  The only older people left are members of the "First Generation", a generation of test tube babies all born to be perfect in every way.  Their children, however, have a "virus" that kills them off early.

When the reader considers that early death is Rhine's only option and that includes struggling for food and fighting orphans and thieves, her lot in the home of this wealthy young man and his First Generation father is actually fortunate.  Her younger sister wife can't imagine why Rhine wants to leave, and her older sister wife is just waiting to die.  Bleak?  I guess so.

This bleakness crept into my bones as I read this book.  DeStefano makes the young husband, Linden, sympathetic, almost pathetic.  He knows nothing of the kidnappings.  He thinks his wives are all orphans who have chosen to be wives.  And then there is the shadowy Gabriel, the servant that forms an attachment with Rhine.  His character seems to exist only as the other leg of a love triangle.

 Rhine's actions at the end felt contrary to her character and to the loyalties she had formed while in captivity. 

That said, the book gives the reader a lot to think about - a lot of bleak why-are-we-all-here things to think about.  I just wish that Gabriel was as fleshed out as a character as Linden was.  Perhaps in the next book.

September Giveaway:  Don't forget.  Comment on the September Giveaway post with your first name and town and you could win a signed copy of Origami Yoda, a copy of Darth Paper  AND a Darth Paper finger puppet made by the author himself.  So amazing!

Friday, September 16, 2011

September's Giveaway

I have a new giveaway and this one is super!  I am giving away a SIGNED copy of Origami Yoda, an unsigned copy of Darth Paper - both by Tom Angleberger AND...are you ready?  This is the coolest, coolest part of this giveaway - an actual Darth Paper origami finger puppet folded by Tom Angleberger HIMSELF!

WHY - I ask myself even as I type this - WHY would anyone give away an actual origami Darth Paper, folded by the Sky Wars Origami GURU himself?

Because I love you, my readers, that is why!

So comment on this post, please, with your first name and your geographical location - anonymous comments are welcome, as long as you put the above information in the comment - and on October 8th I will announce the winner.  The deadline for your comments is October 6th at 11:59 pm.

Photographic evidence of the total awesomeness of this giveaway!  You WANT this, I know!

COMMENT UPDATE:   Someone with a very unusual first name suggested - in an email - that people with very unusual first names might be reluctant to post their first name and location.  If that is the case, I will accept an email address and I promise that it WILL NOT appear in the final comment.  I do moderate all comments since some of the people who read this blog are minors. ALSO:  Please, just your town.  Not your whole address.  Thanks, and may the Force be with you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No more holes and book reviews

The ceiling hole has been replaced with a recessed access panel.  The slates sleep peacefully where they have been for years.  All lights turn off and on, off and on, just like they are supposed to.  The walls and ceiling are spackled and painted and NOW all I have to do is clean.

But not just yet.  I have a couple of books to tell you about.

On Saturday, I stopped by my old library workplace and picked up three books.  The first book is Perfect Square by Michael Hall.  What a visually clever picture book!  Check out the video above.  Every day, the square is cut, wrinkled, ripped and segmented.  And every day the square recreates itself.  Look carefully.  Each illustration is made of a perfect square.

The second book I read on Saturday was Bumped by Megan McCafferty.  In the not too distant future - the end of this century - most people lose their fertility between the ages of 18 and 20 due to a incurable virus.  So, the government pushes teens to procreate younger and often and those babies are auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Some girls choose to be "amateurs", getting pregnant with no guidance and then offering their babies up for adoption.  Others, like Melody, have been groomed to be Pros, with agents and contracts and scholarships and all kinds of perks.

Melody was adopted herself.  And so was her identical twin sister, Harmony.  But Harmony was adopted into the Church, where teen girls enter arranged marriages at thirteen and have as many babies as they can until they lose their fertility.

Harmony is intent on bringing Melody to God.  Melody is intent on completing her contract without delay.  Melody's best friend, Zen, is intent on getting Melody to love him.

When Harmony is mistaken for Melody by Melody's agent, things get insane.  And the plot gallops towards the end...and a cliff hanger.   It's a SERIES!!!!

McCafferty creates a credible vocabulary for this fertility obsessed culture, even creating a store that sells fake "baby bumps" that pre-teens can purchase to get positive attention from the older infertile public.  The pop lyrics, social media, even courses at the high school have elevated teen pregnancies to THE goal for all teens - girls and boys.

And THEN I read Withering Tights by Louise Rennison.  I laughed until I cried.  This novel about a 14 1/2 year old girl's summer adventure at a theater school in the Yorkshire Dales is clever, cute and hilarious.  Read it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Everything Goes

Fans of Richard Scarry's Busy Town books will love this!  The Everything Goes series by Brian Biggs reminds me of Scarry's full-to-the-very-edge graphics.  Plenty of stuff for little people to study and find!  And it's about things that go!!  What's not to like?
See what I mean?  So many cool things to see!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Between Shades of Gray

I have been reading for three days now and my desk is a mess!.  After reading Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys  I feel lucky to even have a desk.  As Hitler prepared to invade Russia, Stalin  forced millions of Eastern Europeans, including 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and their mother, out of their homes and into labor camps in Siberia.

Their "relocation" lasted for the most of their lives.  And many of those lives lasted only a few days, or weeks or months after these people were loaded like cargo into box cars.

 In the boxcar with Lina and her family, there were teachers, a librarian, a veterinarian, a stamp collector.  They were all "criminals"; some merely because they were educated.  Others were accused because they had business dealings outside of Lithuania.  Lina's family committed the crime of helping family members leave Lithuania.

This story of survival is unrelentingly bleak.  There are touches of lighter gray when strangers are kind; a Russian soldier, a native woman forced to share her home with these foreigners.  Lina's mother is always a lady and always kind, while Lina rails bitterly against their fate.  And then, Lina finds herself responsible for keeping her younger brother alive against cold and starvation and cruelty.

This novel opened my eyes to a holocaust story of a different kind.  Hitler killed over 6 million people in death camps.  Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people whose biggest crimes were that they were not Russian and they did not worship Stalin.

Through the entire book I hoped that Lina's story would have a happy ending.  Some ray of sunshine would cut across the cold and ice and pain of the steppes.  And then the book ended.  What is happiness, after all?

Anyone who reads this book will appreciate freedom, food, paper, soap, blankets - just about anything because these detainees had only what they brought with them.  Please let me know what you thought of the ending.  I want to hear what you think of this very realistic resolution. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

House work - real slate

We have an apartment on the second floor of our house - sort off to the side.  From the front, it looks like that wing of the house is all one unit.  Nope!  The first floor is ours, the second floor - and it extends out in the back - is the apartment.

A hole in the ceiling!
While the tenant is off visiting relatives, we are fixing the electricity in the bathroom.  We had our handyman/electrician guy look at it after the tenant moved in and he "fixed" it.  As a matter of fact, when he started this project, it was "fixed" after a wire wiggling, too.  If we left it like that, sure as sure, our tenant would return, plug something in and POOF! ZZZZZT! ZAP!  So while the apartment is empty, the handyman/electrician guy is blasting his radio and crawling around the space above the bathroom in the apartment.

Guess what he found up there??  An entire porch roof, complete with slate - REAL slate.  The builder just built the addition over it when he added the apartment back in the '30s or '40s.  So, today, we decided that before he closes up the crawl space, he will retrieve as many of those slates as he can.  (GRAMMAR UPDATE: That sentence had THREE tenses in it, past, present and future!) My Dad can use the slate on his barn roof. 
Update:  The husband went up and decided it's not worth all the effort to bring the slate down.  Oh, well.  We'll have an access panel now if we ever decide we want them.
The crawl space we didn't know we had.

The worst part of all of this will be cleaning up after the job is done.  Our handyman/electrician gets stuff swept up and put back the best way he can, but it is never good enough for ME!  And the tenant is way pickier about that kind of stuff than I am.   Anyone want to help?  I can pay you in slates! (That way, we'll HAVE to bring some down!)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Groups? Pay attention!

Recently, one my sisters asked me for recommendations for her book group.  Below is an edited version (without most of the family in jokes) of my reply to her.  Book Clubs, pay attention!

" I loved The Little Women Letters.   It's a really fun book especially for people who read the original Little Women.  Nothing too terribly shocking or wrenching here but a LOT of funny conversations!  The book sort of reminds me of dinner at Mom and Dad's when we are - most of us - in a good mood."
For those of you, not familiar with this book, here's a quick summary.  A great-great-?-granddaughter of Jo March finds some letters of her famous great-x-grandmother in the attic of her parents' home in London.  The letters dovetail with the family drama surrounding the main character, her two sisters, their various love interests/careers/friends and their parents.

My response continues
 "A book that will definitely make  the book club circuit is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  The main character is someone who is so damaged by her life in foster care that she finds it easier to use flowers to communicate - using the Victorian language of the flowers.  I mean, she talks but about emotional stuff she uses flowers.  This book is HOT right now. 

And here's a book just out this month that is a total change of pace but absolutely riveting - Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.  IN 1945, in New Guinea, a plane of GIs and WACs took off for a "pleasure flight" to fly over a valley, populated by Stone Age possibly cannibalistic natives,  that had never been charted.  They crashed.  This is the true story of the three survivors and how they were rescued.  There's good reporting here and interesting anthropology and the way they were finally carried out of that valley is breath-taking.  This book was so, SO good once I got into it.

I just got, in the mail, two books that look intriguing.  I started both of them.  The Last Testament: a Memoir by GOD is a funny tell-all look at God's existence handed down by the Big Man Himself to a lowly author named David Javerbaum.  Oops, it's not out until November. 

Another one due out in October that I HAVE - ALREADY - because I am the book GODDESS!!  Or Book Saint!  Is The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell.  This book follows several people who want to watch the funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy as it makes it way to Washington DC.  Did you know that the last thing he said was "Is everybody all right?"  This is going to be a book club favorite, I think.  I have started it and the characters are people who are easy to care about.

A book that I gave to Mom but did not read myself - I started it and the writing is very nice - is The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy.  It takes place in the Guernsey Islands during WWII so comparisons with The Potato Peel Pie Society  are inevitable.  Mom said that the ending made it all worth while.

Right now, I am preparing for a book review session that is being billed as "Best Books for Children's and Teens - 2011 by Karen Maurer".  Josh Berk - an author and also a librarian - has asked me to do a Tri-District Meeting and that's what he wants to call my presentation.  I have fans.  Well, one far.  Or maybe he can't get anyone else to do a presentation?......NAH!  Anyway, I will NOT be reading a lot of books for adults in the next two months...."

My sister then reminded me of another book, recently reviewed here, Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto - a first book for her.  This is a fantastic romance/travelogue/time travel-though-not-really look at life, death and "happily ever after".  I found the ending a bit unsatisfying, I think, but I am not a true romance devotee. 

So, book clubs, I think you have some good choices here.  Scroll back through my earlier posts for other suggestions.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La

When an offer to get an Advanced Reader Copy for Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff appeared in my morning email, I jumped on it.  World War II events are fascinating and I have plenty of history buffs in my family to share this with.

My Dad read it before I did and he liked it!  Good.  So, I sat down with it.  Reporting on an actual event requires a different set of writing skills.  Zuckoff's pace is excellent.  He hooks you and then, when he's sure you're not going to wander off, he gives you information you need.  And the information you need is riveting stuff.

Here's what happened.  A group of Gis and WACs head off on a "pleasure flight" over the island known as Hollandia in New Guinea.  They intend to fly over a hidden valley, known by reporters as Shangri-La, that has never been charted.  The natives who live there are rumored to be giants who eat people.  Who wouldn't want to fly over and get a glimpse of this secret valley?

They crash.  In the valley.  Of giant cannibals.  Or so everyone thinks.  And only three of them survive the crash.  You have to read this book!

 Zuckoff gives a fascinating overview of the culture and belief system of these natives.   His reporting is complete and respectful.  He also gives a history of the only other exploration of the valley by a European, a scant decade or less before this event.  That exploration included a tragic violent meeting with the natives.  When that violent meeting is combined with the natives' ritual of revenge, our survivors are put in even more peril.

But the most fascinating, suspenseful and amazing part of this story is the heroism of the men who dropped into the valley to rescue the survivors and the amazing aeronautic feat that gets them all out.  I held my breath during this part. 

Zuckoff returned to the valley to interview any natives who remembered the crash, the survivors and the rescue.  He found the survivors or their families and got recent photos and stories of their lives.  He also interviewed some of the rescuers and the readers get an update on them as well.

What a great story!  And it is all true!  I see a movie in the future - or I certainly hope so.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Predicteds

The Oracle of the Chobani Cup has spoken.  Today's review will be The Predicteds by Christine Seifert.  

Daphne Wright's super-smart scientist mother, Dr. Melissa Wright, has moved the two of them from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to a town called Quiet, Oklahoma.  On her first day of high school there, Daphne chokes on a piece of gum and then is caught in a school shooting.  Enough drama yet?

Daphne has attended nine schools and every first week at a new school something embarrassing or minorly catastrophic happens with Daphne at the center.  Her choking attack gives her an excuse to retreat to the supply closet in the classroom just as a deranged student starts to shoot up the school.  There, her soon to be love interest, Jesse, shoves Daphne under the sink and saves her from the crazy shooter.

The quotes at the beginning of each chapter, from scientists, parents and students, all refer to a psychiatric testing experiment called PROFILE.  Because of the prologue, which chronicles a nasty attack on one of the characters, and these quotes, the reader begins to suspect that Jesse might be one of the Predicted - teens whose PROFILE results predict that they will engage in violent criminal activity.  While readers are scanning each page for clues about Jesse and the other students, Daphne and Jesse are falling in love, going to the Mall and attending parties - just like normal teens.

The suspense was too much for me.  I actually skipped about 60 pages so I could find out - WHO WAS that guy in the prologue?  WHO?  WHO??  I went back and read the 60 pages.  I had to. Even after that all-important question was answered there were plenty of pieces that still needed to fit.

And NO!  I won't tell you who it was.  Read the book.  I do have to warn you that I read an ARC.  Your book may not have a prologue in which case I apologize.  I have tried to be as vague as possible.

The book discussion sites are going to love this one.  As suspenseful and insightful as this book is, people are going to be talking about The Predicteds.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bluefish - a book review

My family moved right after my fifth birthday - into the house my parents still live in.  So, being the "new kid" at school - except in first grade when we were ALL new kids - was a trauma I never experienced.  Being new in a group situation, like the first day of camp, or dance lessons, or a scout troop - that was enough for me.  Two of the books I read this week centered around the "new kid" in school.

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz alternates between the third person story of Travis, who is the new kid at school and the first person journal of a girl, Vida, who embraces her nickname of Velveeta.   On the first day of school, Travis does a kind act as secretly as possible.  Velveeta sees it and decides to become Travis' friend.  The shortest, and smartest, boy in their class rounds out this trio of middle school oddities.  Together they help each other overcome their difficulties, bear their burdens and face a brighter future because of it.

By alternating the voices, Schmatz keeps this book from becoming a downer.  Travis has lived with his grandfather from the age of three.  Vida has lost her best friend, an elderly neighbor.  This book could be a handbook on dealing with grief but the characters are so different; they have such different strengths, that humor creeps in.  Bradley, who is the smart kid, is the almost normal foil that evens out this story of struggling to find one's place - a common plight for teenagers.

There is also a little tiny bit of evangelizing for literacy.  Those of you who read a lot will enjoy the references but they are sprinkled in with a light hand so, if you don't read a lot, they don't spoil the story.

Part of me wants to tell you what Travis' secret is.  But I want you to read the book.  And doing your own detective work will make the book more enjoyable.

This book is written for the middle school and above market - ages 11 through 14, I'd say.  Adults who work with these ages will enjoy the book as well - or readers who enjoy books about friendships and growth.  So that's almost everybody.

Two more books to go; The Predicteds by Christine Seifert, and an excellent portrayal of a tragic accident from WWII, Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff.  I will let the Chobani Cup Oracle decide which book is reviewed tomorrow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Review Suspense!

I promised a book review for today but I have a problem.  I have too many choices.  This week I have finished four books so, should I review...

Book One - Lost in Shangri-La  by Mitchell Zuckoff?

Book Two - Bluefish by Pat Schmatz?

Book Three - The Predicteds by Christine Seifert?   OR

Book Four - Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger?

What to do?  What to do?  So, hold on a minute.  I will write each title on a piece of paper.  Done!  And put them in a Chobani yogurt cup I have on my desk (??!!??)  There, that's done.  Now, I will pick one title to review today.  Are you ready?

I am mixing them up.  Drum roll, please.

The winner is - and I honestly did NOT look at the papers when I pulled this out - Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger. 

Dwight, the creator and voice of Origami Yoda, has been suspended from school!!  WHATTTT???  Harvey, who never believed in Origami Yoda in the first place, shows up in school with his own origami finger puppet, Darth Paper.  Tommy, Kellen and the others compile a case file to prove to the school board that Dwight should be allowed back into middle school and NOT sent to the remedial school.  Harvey provides his own take on the cases in the file.  Angleberger's line drawings add to the whole crazy tale.

Readers who are not familiar with The Strange Case of Origami Yoda may be a little confused at first.  Persevere.  This compilation of Origami Yoda's wisdom, middle school angst and antics, and Star Wars trivia holds together on its own.  Fans of Angleberger's first book will not be disappointed.  The school board meeting is actually pretty suspenseful!  And in the back of the book there are TWO origami figures, a five-fold emergency Yoda and the Darth Paper model featured here in a YouTube a day or two ago.

Tomorrow, I will pick my next title from the Chobani Title Cup.  I can't wait to see which of the remaining books I will review.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

We have a Winner!

Tracy, you won!  I'll email you to get your mailing address - although I can probably just look Adams Memorial Library up online.  Yeah, I'll do that.  I will put your Advanced Listening Copy of Jack Gantos' Dead End in Norvelt in the mail.  Whoo Hoo!

Readers, keep watching this blog.  I have another giveaway that I will announce sometime in the next two weeks.  And it's even better than this one.  I am rubbing my hands with glee just thinking about it.

Tomorrow, a book review.  Keep reading!