Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Love of Reading is a Precious Gift

I had the pleasure this week of delivering children’s books to several early childhood programs.  The daughter of one of our faculty members at LSUHSC Children’s Center collected gently used books as part of her Bat Mitzvah, and then donated the books and other literacy materials to our department.  Some items we kept for our waiting room, but we gave one basket of books to an inclusive child development center, two baskets went to a large Head Start center, and I delivered two baskets of paperback books to the elementary school around the corner from my house.  We are trying to promote in the students at these schools a love of reading--one of the greatest gifts an adult can give a child.

Presenting a basket of books to Goldman Child Development Center
This afternoon I attended a baby shower for the daughter of a dear friend.  The event was filled with conversation, delicious treats and gifts that will welcome baby Grace into the world in a couple of months. 



A suggestion of spring in Louisiana with tulips at each table
 
 
Young helpers assist the mom-to-be
Expectant mother poses with her friends while some of us "photo bomb" in the back.

It was lucky the shower was held a couple blocks from my house, because I was getting ready when my sister and mother called from Virginia to chat a few minutes.  They were excited that it was snowing in the mountains, and it looked like they would get several inches before it was over.  My sister said she and her husband were more excited about the prospect of sledding in the afternoon (once it snowed a bit more) than her young grandsons were.

With my mind on children and snow, I decided to review a children’s book that I recently purchased from a new thrift shop in my neighborhood.  As soon as I saw the book, I loved the cover art and the title of the book and the fact the author was a Newbery Honoree.  I brought the paperback home to read before I pass it on to a great-niece or great- nephew.


Ruddy doesn’t always enjoy his visits with his Grandmother Silk.  He loves computers, playing outside and getting dirty.  Grandmother Silk has perfect hair and wears high heels all the time—even her bedroom slippers have high heels.  She doesn’t have a computer and the only television show he can watch at her house is Masterpiece Theater.  She lives next to a lake, but doesn’t like to take walks.  She has a garden full of herbs, vegetables and flowers but only Lucy who comes to cook every day is allowed to pick any vegetables.  Ruddy usually visits in the summer, but this year is different—he has to stay ten whole days in the fall while his parents take a cruise.  The only good thing is his grandmother agrees to buy him a gorilla costume and take him to the zoo for Halloween.
Then, the unexpected happens and a big snow storm hits the night before Halloween.  It knocks down trees, which knocks out the electricity and blocks the roads.  Ruddy and Grandmother Silk have no heat, no lights, no water and no help for days.  They must stay warm with the wood fire places, cook on the gas stove top, haul water from the lake and figure out how to amuse themselves—and they succeed. 
Ruddy observes that Grandmother Silk seems to get softer as the days go by.  Finally electric workers from Kentucky arrive to repair their electric lines.  The storm created such an emergency that workers from all over have been called in to help.  At first Grandmother isn't sure she likes the men from Kentucky but soon she and Ruddy are outside holding a flashlight to help them see, and once power is restored, everyone gathers together for hot chocolate.

This chapter book for young readers is an engaging, sweet story, which was published posthumously in 2003 after Fenner passed away in 2002.  British Illustrator Amanda Harvey provides the delightful and humorous pictures for the book.  Snowed in with Grandmother Silk was named an American Library Association Notable Book, a Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book, and a Center for Children’s Books Gryphon Honor Book.  It's a perfect book for a snowy day.
 

Snow today in my mother & sister's neighborhood posted by a friend on FB.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Will I ever read all the books on my TBR list? Duh, No....

The question on a Book Blogger Blog Hop  is:

 

Do you think you will ever read every book in your TBR (To Be Read) stack? 
 
 

 I take comfort in the fact that I could be quarantined in my home library for years and never run out of reading material!  Of course there are also bookcases all over the house and cottage, adding to my TBR list.

 
 






Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bloodroot and Rosemary Biscuits


While looking for books to donate to a church media sale, I happened upon Susan Wittig Albert’s Bloodroot, published in 2001, which has been on my library shelves for quite awhile.  I  tried reading this mystery before but didn’t get far.  The setting is the Mississippi Delta rather than the herb shop and tearoom in the Texas Hill Country of Albert's other China Bayles mysteries. 
I picked up the book again and decided if it didn’t hold my interest this time, I would donate it.  I must have been more amenable to reading about the South this go-around, because I finished it quickly.  I actually enjoyed learning some back story about China and her mother Leatha, with whom China has had a troubled relationship in the past. 

The aunt who raised Leatha and who owns the family’s Mississippi plantation is ill with a degenerative neurological disorder, and Leatha is caring for her when secrets from the family’s past begin to emerge, and Leatha asks China for help.  China’s legal skills from her former career are called into play, and some unexplained ghostly assistance points China in the right direction.
Ill-conceived and extreme measures taken to hide family secrets lead to unnecessary deaths, and the sins of the fathers must be uncovered in order to move forward.  The decisions of the characters propel the plot at a more leisurely pace so this isn't a "sitting on the edge of your seat" mystery.  While the characters are fraught with human frailties, the reader is left with hope for the future.

Of course, there is the usual information about herbs in this series, and since I’m taking a Master Gardener class, I try to pay attention to all the Latin names! 
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis)

Master Gardener binder at my desk--reading this week's assignment!

My reading also inspired me to make some rosemary biscuits though I didn’t use the exact recipe provided in the book.  I had some heavy cream in the refrigerator left over from Christmas and decided to make cream biscuits from a recipe found here on the Internet.  Essentially you add heavy cream to a mixture of flour, baking powder, sugar, salt.  I added dried rosemary to the recipe and they turned out well.  I was able to use the leftover cream, but these rich biscuits certainly aren’t something I would make often. 
Toasted rosemary biscuits with honey for breakfast

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Drinking Wine and Reading About Scotland

I’m finally getting my house back in order from the Christmas holidays, which is important because we have Mardi Gras decorating to do!  Today I took a break from cleaning and went to my wine group where the conversation ranged from paranormal activity to a recent overseas trip to men and bosses, but we found time to drink a little wine and comment on the wine-dessert pairings. 

 


Chocolate cake made of chickpeas in background!
I’m also continuing to review books I read over the holidays.  I probably should have been drinking a single malt whiskey, rather than wine, before I reviewed this book set in 1950's Scotland.
 
Atria paperback, 2013

Part of a severed leg is found in the laundry of a local hockey team by the neighborhood nurse and “hockey mom” who washes the uniforms each week.  Is it a macabre joke or something more sinister? 

At the very least, it is a front page story for the Highland Gazette and captures the interest of reporter Joanne Ross and her colleagues—fellow reporter Rob McLean; Editor and Joanne’s romantic interest, McAllister; and photographer Hector Bain.  The situation soon takes a more gruesome turn, and all the investigative skills of the Highland Gazette staff are brought to bear on the case.  

A beautiful American jazz singer has also appeared in the village looking for information about her airman husband who died in a plane crash several years before off the Scottish coast.  Is her appearance related to what is happening in the village?  Her inquiries seem innocuous, but someone doesn’t want her finding answers and will go to any lengths to stop her. 

Other newspaper employees featured in this book are the young receptionist Fiona and grizzled deputy editor Don McLeod, plus various family members of the news staff.  The characters and the setting of a small town newspaper in a Scottish seacoast village are major reasons for the charm of this series by A. D. Scott, the pen name of Deborah Ann Nolan.  Another strength of Scott's series is the fact that the characters and their situations evolve and change with each book.

The plots are sometimes far-fetched and this one doesn’t always appear logical to me, but unhinged villains aren’t logical in their actions.  The climax drags in this book, and then one unfinished piece of business is hurriedly completed in a flurry of tidying up unresolved plot elements.  None of this would deter me from reading additional books in the series, however. 
 
To read my review of one of Scott’s earlier mysteries, A Double Death on the Black Isle, click here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reading My Christmas Gifts


The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty
G.P. Putnam’s Son, 2013



The lives of three families are intertwined and forever changed by a tragic incident that occurred years before in this offering by Australian author, Liane Moriarty. 

Cecilia Fitzpatrick, a highly successful Tupperware representative and mother to three talented daughters, is living a well-ordered, dream life.  Her handsome husband loves his family, has a successful job and hides a horrible secret.

Rachel, an efficient school secretary, a doting grandmother and a grieving mother, lost her only daughter years ago under mysterious circumstances.  While Rachel appears to have it all together, her unresolved questions about her daughter's death fester under her placid exterior and threaten to erupt with tragic results.

Tess’ marriage is torn apart when husband Will falls for Tess’ best friend and cousin, Felicity.  Tess takes her young son and moves in with her mother in Sydney and falls into a relationship with an old boyfriend who may be a murderer.

The three families’ interwoven situations emerge, as different chapters introduce their lives and secrets, until their stories become one and the book races to its climax.

Moriarty successfully uses multiple perspectives to tell the story.  I wasn’t fond of the characters initially, finding them to be clich├ęd (wronged wife, grieving mother) and, for this reason, the book gets off to a slow start but eventually becomes a page turner.  The plot has multiple twists and turns as the truth is slowly revealed. 

In the end, there are some surprises when  the author shares secrets that only she knows—explaining the past and the mistakes that were made, telling the reader what would have happened if the circumstances had been slightly different, and revealing what the future holds for some characters.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Holiday Reading

One way I judge the success of a holiday--how many books did I find time to read?  When I'm home I have a cozy spot for winter reading beside the Dearborn heater in my library.  The recent Christmas season was jam-packed with activities, so I didn’t read as much as I had hoped, but that’s usually the case in my life.   



Let me admit from the outset that I am a sucker for holiday books—books set during the holiday season being observed.  Thus, three books I read were set at Christmas in historic districts or neighborhoods.


 Blue Christmas, by Mary Kay Andrews
Harper Collins, 2006

I don’t typically read chick lit, but I listened to a Mary Kay Andrews book tape once on a trip and enjoyed her characters.  When I saw Blue Christmas priced inexpensively at a book sale, I bought it.  Featuring antiques dealer Weezie Foley and the Savannah Historic District and written with humor, the story line features a historic district holiday decorating contest and the rivalries the contest produces.  Then throw in a bit of mystery with an older woman who periodically sneaks into the antiques store and sleeps in the 1950’s era bedroom featured in the display window.  The book reminds me of growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the large display windows in my father’s furniture store.

 
The Diva Cooks a Goose, by Krista Davis
Berkley Prime Crime Mystery, 2010

Purchased for fifty cents at the same book sale mentioned above, the lure of this mystery was its setting at Christmas in Alexandria, Virginia’s Old Town section.  The neighborhood is thrown into turmoil when someone steals all the gifts from every house on Christmas Eve.  Add in family relationship drama and finally a dead woman who is not the kind, caring person she appears to be, and the mystery takes off.  However, it soon bogs down in a plot of far-fetched scenarios.   A strength of the book is the large cast of characters who enter and exit from scenes frequently, and the extended family members embroiled in typical relationship dramas.  At times it reminded me of a stage play or the movie, You Can’t Take It With You.   This book is part of a series, but I haven’t read any of the others.

 
Silent Knife, by Shelly Freydont
Berkley Prime Crime Mystery, 2013

This series featuring event planner Liv Montgomery who left Manhattan to move to Celebration Bay, Maine, appealed to me because of its setting in a historic downtown district during Christmas.  There are multiple events, including a tour of historic homes, planned for the town holiday celebration that draws in large numbers of tourists.  Then an unsanctioned Santa Claus and a store owner are killed, putting a damper on tourism and motivating Liv and her staff to quickly solve the murders.  This cozy mystery is a mildly entertaining because of the setting and some likable characters.
 
Does anyone have enjoyable Christmas mysteries that they would recommend for next year?  I've read most of the popular mysteries that are part of series, e.g. Anne Perry Christmas novellas or cozy series, such as Leslie Meier's Lucy Stone mysteries.
 
I read a couple other books in the last month that aren't holiday-themed and listened to one unabridged book tape.  More about them in future posts.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Home Again

After spending Christmas in Louisiana, I hopped in the car on December 27 and drove to Virginia to see my mother, my sister and brother-in-law.  I always enjoy my trips back to the mountains of Virginia and this recent trip was no exception.  My sister lives in Williamsburg so she was only in our hometown for a couple of days but we still had a chance to catch up.  My other sister and her husband were visiting their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in the Czech Republic, so our family was a bit like ping pong balls this holiday season, bouncing back and forth.

I had lunch with one of my college friends, which always makes the visits to Virginia special, and we even had a little snow one day to accentuate the holiday feeling.


This was the view of the skiff of snow that covered the ground as seen from the kitchen window at Mother's house.  We spent many an evening after supper during our childhood and adolescence standing there, washing dishes, before our family got a dish washer--after we all left home!  We had specific jobs which rotated each week. One daughter washed dishes, while one used tongs to remove the dishes from the sink with the hot rinse water and put them in the dish drain.  The third daughter dried dishes if they didn't fit into the drainer, wiped off the table and kitchen counters and swept the floor.  It goes without saying that our working mother was very organized.

It soon was time to return home to Louisiana after a week in Virginia, and husband Ricky was glad to see me.



It was a wonderful holiday, but now all the Christmas decorations must go back into the attic so we can gear up for Mardi Gras season!!!!

 
 

Mardi Gras means a big party at our house during the neighborhood parade.  A good time is had by young and old alike!!