To conclude my 2016 "Spooky Films for Halloween" series, I offer suggestions appropriate for younger viewers (and those adults who aren't quite up to the intense horror options I've previously recommended). Please mention your own favorites in the comments, and I will gladly watch. Always looking for options to feature in next year's post!
ParaNorman (2012) -- rated PG A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse. A good choice for young viewers who enjoy potty humor, mild body horror (e.g. zombie arms falling off), and extended chase scenes. The tone takes a more serious turn in the climactic scenes, which are really quite stunning to watch. Watch the trailer. Rent at Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 72/100
Frankenweenie (2012) -- rated PG Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences. This poignant and suspenseful homage to classic monster movies bogs down just a bit in the middle (in my opinion), but patient viewers will be rewarded when disaster and hilarity ensue! (Is it just me, or does Victor resemble Cillian Murphy?) Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 74/100
Coraline (2009) -- rated PG An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets. I loved Neil Gaiman's book, and this adaptation is eerie, odd, and totally endearing. Highly recommended! Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon. Available on DVD from Netflix. Metascore: 80/100
Also recommended -- two ghostly mini-series from the UK:
From Time to Time (2009) -- rated PG A haunting ghost story spanning two worlds, two centuries apart. When 13 year old Tolly finds he can mysteriously travel between the two, he begins an adventure that unlocks family secrets laid buried for generations. Julian Fellowes' adaptation of Lucy M. Boston's Chimneys of Green Knowe is more mystery than horror. I love stories involving WWII child evacuees, and the setting of this film is wonderfully Gothic. Gently paced and at times a bit twee, this story will appeal to young fans of historical fiction. Watch the trailer. Available to stream from Netflix. Rent from Amazon.
The Secret of Crickley Hall (2012) -- unrated A year after their son goes missing, a family moves to Crickley Hall. When supernatural events begin to take place, Eve feels the house is somehow connected to her lost son. I've seen this twice now, and I liked it even better upon second viewing. Caution: It's not for little kids, but I think it might work for family viewing with kids 12-up. Great setting, strong performances, and an interesting mystery. Please keep in mind its emphasis on loss and grief, and understand that there are many scenes involving children in serious peril. Watch the trailer. Rent from Amazon.
What if you found yourself washed up on the beach of a northern island with no memory of how you got there? Now what would you think if you heard about a brutal murder and started wondering if you could be the killer? This is reality for a man who later calls himself Neal.
The first thing I am aware of is the taste of salt. It fills my mouth. Invasive. Pervasive. It dominates my being, smothering all other senses. Until the cold takes me. Sweeps me up and cradles me in its arms. Holding me so tightly I can't seem to move. Except for the shivering. A raging, uncontrollable shivering. And somewhere in my mind I know this is a good thing. My body trying to generate heat. If I wasn't shivering I would be dead.
—Coffin Raod by Peter May (Quercus, 2016, p.1)
Setting: Outer Hebrides and other areas of Scotland; contemporary times
Circumstances: Three converging story lines: (1) A man washes up on the beach with holes in his memory and is trying to figure out what happened, (2) a teenager doesn't believe her father's death was suicide and begins to investigate, (3) a homicide detective attempts to solve a murder on a remote island with a troubled past
Characters: The man with the spotty memory and the people he meets on the Isle of Harris, including Sally, who claims to be his lover; Detective George Gunn and the people he meets in the Flannan Islands; Karen, a teenager in Edinburgh, her mother, and the people she encounters as she travels north
Thoughts: I've enjoyed other novels by Peter May and this one, with its seemingly unrelated story lines, remote setting, and hint at deeper issues really called to me. I love the way the island of Harris is as much a character as the people. I've barely begun the novel, but I'm already hooked.
Some things to know: Print sources and professional sites have already given Coffin Road starred reviews. This is a standalone novel, so you can start right here if you haven't yet read May. Be prepared to start planning your next vacation -- it will be a visit to the Outer Hebrides.
Some of you may know we love talking about Presidential Food here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen.
Whether it’s polishing off a bowl of JFK’s clam chowder, whipping up a batch of George Washington’s hoecakes, or wrapping our lips around Barack Obama’s homemade chili, learning about our leaders’ favorite foods makes them more human and accessible.
I like associating Ronald Reagan with jelly beans, George Bush with pork rinds, Jimmy Carter with peanuts. But what of the first female presidential nominee?
I guess HillaryRodhamClinton can be summed up this way: she’s a hot pepper and a smart cookie.
We were able to confirm this when she dropped by recently (Mr Cornelius is her secret debate coach). You probably remember the kerfuffle years ago when she famously declared, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”
Despite all the backlash from stay-at-home moms, Hillary went on to win Family Circle Magazine’s First Lady’s Cookie Contest twice with her recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. It was because of Hillary they started the competition in the first place, and it’s been a fun tradition these last 24 years. This election season, the same recipe (on behalf of “First Gentleman Bill Clinton”) went up against Melania Trump’s Star Cookies and once again, it won.
Seems chocolate chip cookies were always a big personal favorite, and Hillary’s family used to compete to see who could make the biggest one. Besides a penchant for dark chocolate (chocolate covered almonds are a nice treat on the campaign trail), we also learned about Hillary’s hot pepper habit.
She does indeed carry a bottle of hot sauce in her bag (Ninja Squirrel sriracha is a current favorite), and eats a jalapeno pepper every day to boost her immune system. Aha! Now we know what fuels her fiery speeches!
Mr Cornelius is quite taken with her; he thinks potentially being the very first female President in our history is pretty darn amazing — and groundbreaking and incredible and fabulous and cool, and about time. Naturally he wanted to know more about what this powerhouse of a woman eats besides chile peppers (just in case he decides to run for office someday).
In honor of Hillary’s visit, he and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers baked a batch of Chelsea’s Chocolate Chip Cookies — a recipe adapted by the late White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib. Mr C thought these would be a nice “good luck on November 8” offering, a nod to the future generations of girls and women who will benefit and no doubt be inspired by Hillary’s singular accomplishments.
While munching on cookies and sipping milk, Hillary described how she hired Chef Scheib a year into President Clinton’s first term of office in 1994. Since they didn’t care for the traditional, highly caloric French cuisine prepared by Chef Chambrin, they wanted to find someone else who could showcase the best of contemporary American regional cuisine and prepare healthier, lowfat nutritional meals and restaurant-caliber dishes for state dinners and other special events.
Scheib, who was then executive chef at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, was selected from thousands of applicants. For his audition lunch he prepared Pecan-Crusted Lamb with Morel Sauce and Red-Curried Sweet Potatoes. Just so happens lamb is Hillary’s favorite meat and she loves spicy food — so Scheib’s meal was a big hit. Scheib “modernized and Americanized the White House food program,” creating meals that were both interesting and eclectic, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the country. Middle Eastern food (baba ganoush, tahini, hummus) was a particular Hillary favorite during her husband’s Presidency.
These days, Hillary especially enjoys the zesty flavors of Mexico and India. Whenever possible, she likes to eat locally, whether it’s pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair, a hot pepper, sausage and onion sandwich at Gianelli Sausage in Syracuse, or a friendly sandwich and cup of coffee at Lange’s Little Store, a favorite neighborhood hangout in Chappaqua. She’s not a strict vegan like Bill and will indulge in the occasional ice cream treat (nice way to cool off from all those chiles :D). Her other foodie vices include Dove Bars and goldfish crackers.
Is there a food item that most recalls her back-home origins? Hillary cites the Oliveburger (renamed the HillaryBurger) from Pickwick, a Greek-American diner that was her high school hangout in Park Ridge, Illinois. It consists of 6 ounces of grilled ground beef sirloin on a toasted hamburger bun with a thick topping of chopped, pimento-stuffed green olives. Closed in December 2014, the Pickwick will apparently reopen sometime this Fall (no word on whether the HillaryBurger will be on the menu).
So, does Hillary ever cook? She admits to being a lousy cook, but she can turn out a decent plate of soft scrambled eggs. Scheib remarked that once when Chelsea was sick, Hillary requested the ingredients and cooking utensils so she could make the eggs herself in the private family kitchen on the second floor. Nothing like comfort food from your mother to make you feel better.
Getting back to Chelsea, Hillary also asked Scheib to teach her daughter how to cook so she would be able to cook for herself while she was attending Stanford. So, the summer before Chelsea left for college, Scheib taught Chelsea and a friend how to cook some basic vegetarian dishes, such as pea soup, buckwheat linguine with lentils, carrots and Swiss chard, and black bean enchiladas.
Mr Cornelius was fascinated by all these stories, and begged Hillary to share just one more tidbit. Well, she thought the 1997 G-8 Summit in Denver, Colorado, was the perfect occasion to spotlight regional American cuisine and traditions. Guests were given cowboy boots as presents, and Chef Scheib and his staff served buffalo, Rocky Mountain Oysters, cowboy roll-ups and rattlesnake meat hors d’oeuvres!
Given Hillary’s inclination for authentic, restaurant-quality, diverse regional cuisine, safe to say she’ll keep the White House chefs on their toes if when she gets elected.
Here’s the recipe for Chelsea’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (the Clinton Family Oatmeal Chocolate Chip recipe can be found here). Unlike the Family Circle contest winner, this recipe calls for butter instead of vegetable shortening and cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. I’ve included Chef Scheib’s headnote for your reference.
Chelsea and her friends would make these cookies during their White House get-togethers and slumber parties, starting the year I got there, when she was fourteen. When I got the call from Chelsea (or the word from a butler) that she and her friends were in a cookie-making mood, I’d assemble the ingredients and hand-write the basic method, sending it all upstairs with a butler. This recipe is adapted from one from the legendary Fannie Farmer Cookbook, but I omitted the nuts and added more chocolate chips. The cookies are soft and chewy right out of the oven, then firm up a bit, but don’t turn brittle.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing cookie sheets
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well.
Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda together, add to the mixture, and blend well, then stir in the chips.
Place the dough in 2 tablespoon portions onto the cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between the cookies.
Bake until lightly golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool briefly in the pans, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Credit: White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen by Walter Scheib and Andrew Friedman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007).
Everyone had such a good time, we hated to say goodbye. Mr Cornelius turned on the charm, and before we knew it, Hillary offered to make her famous soft scrambled eggs!
One taste, and the resident chefs gave Hillary’s eggs an 8 paws up. They agreed that when it comes to eggs, Hillary knows how to step up to the plate.
After a round of hugs and handshakes, Hillary boarded her plane for the next stop on the campaign trail. She left us all starry-eyed and hopeful for the future. She and Mr C are best buds and agreed on a new campaign slogan:
When the chocolate chips are down, bake more cookies!
This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6. This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.
It is always around this time of year when I find that handing a book to a child can make a difference for the rest of the year. This is the time of year when I know readers well enough to chit chat books on the way to lunch or at recess. This is the time of year when I start leaving a book in a child's book bin that I think they might like. There is something about a young reader knowing that you thought about him/her specifically when you saw a book. There is something about handing a child a specific book that strengthens a relationship. This week, I noticed myself informally handing books to children in informal ways. This is one of the most important jobs I do--so I have to know lots of books. Always. It seems that every year my kids have different tastes as readers, so I can't just recommend the books I've always recommended. It is always a personal act--the act of recommending a book. These are some of the books I've handed to kids (or ordered for kids) this week.
So many of my kids have become Raina fans. Raina's name comes up like she is a student in our class! A few of us were chatting informally as they came in the other day about them. They especially love Smile and Sisters. This week, I pulled out the Babysitter's Club Graphix. (I seem to only have #!--my other 2 have disappeared since last year so I had to reorder!) Kids were thrilled to know about more books that Raina illustrated and there is a list of people waiting to dig into this series. (I love this kind of recommendation because it builds on what they love (Raina) but also introduces them to a new author that they might fall in love with (Ann Martin).
One of my students had fallen in love with the Zita books (By Ben Hatke) and was more engaged when reading them than I'd seen her all year. I remembered that I had received a review copy of Mighty Jack by the same author, earlier this month and I mentioned it to her and left it at her table the next day. She loved it and passed it on to another reader in the class who she thought would love it.
The Little Shaq books went around my room early in the year but they seem to be making their rounds again. Last week, I had a conversation with a student who was reading the 2nd book. We checked and were THRILLED to find out that the 3rd book in the Little Shaq series (Star of the Week) was due out THIS WEEK! It should arrive today and was the talk of the room. Not only did I get to hand a book to a child but this also built some awareness for those "hot off the press" books.
The Treehouse Books were popular in my room last year and I realized they were published about a year earlier in Australia than they are here. Lucky for Amazon, I can get copies of the books that are not quite published in the US yet which I think is the case with The 65 Story Treehouse which should arrive this week so one of my readers can read this last book (so far) in the series.
I bought the first two books in the new Super Happy Party Bears series after Ann DiBella recommended them on Facebook. I love having new books, doing a quick share in the morning before we start our day and handing them off to the first readers! Kids always love to be the first readers of new books so this is a fun way to hand books to kids. I need to read this one as soon as I can get it back as it seems like a fun read for 3rd graders.
We visited the Columbus Zoo on a field trip a few weeks ago. My kids aren't reading much nonfiction yet so I picked up two of Jack Hanna's Wild But True books and gave them to a few of the first kids to walk in the room the next morning. I always love to hand books to kids in the morning as they start a buzz in the classroom with lots of kids curious about the books.
My students know me well enough now to know that they don't have to love any of the books I recommend to them. They know that they own their reading and that when I recommend a book, they are not obligated to read it. But, they also know that I think about them and their individual tastes and needs as readers and that matters. Knowing my kids as readers and combining that with what I know about books is one of my most important roles. And one of my favorites:-)
(Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released in August! You can order it online at Stenhouse! You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)
My visiting tall son
is sleepy. His sweet gape
brings back his father’s yawn.
Seeing our lost husband and lost father
suddenly conjured up, I laugh. My son
frowns. Does he think
it’s at him I’m laughing?
The cat opens her mouth to mew.
The orphaned piano: it yawns too.
This one’s for the school and public librarians. Don’t let the title of this post fool you. For all that this sounds like an award for authors and illustrators, it’s actually a grant so that you can get some into your library. On site. In person. Here’s the text, and it’s fantastic. Maybe one of the smartest memorial awards I’ve ever encountered.
Have you always wanted to have a nationally recognized author/illustrator visit your library?
Then, please, apply for the 2017 Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Grants Administration Committee are now accepting online applications for the 2017 Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award.
This $4,000 award, made possible by an annual gift from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing in honor of Maureen Hayes, brings together children and nationally recognized authors/illustrators by funding an author/illustrator visit to a library.
Each applicant will be judge on the following:
Reasons for the application. The applicant seeks to provide a visit
from an author/illustrator who will speak to children who have not had the opportunity to hear a nationally known author/illustrator. Reasons for applying could include: particular contribution; a special celebration, etc.
Facilities. The appropriateness, both in terms of capacity and
Administrative support. The organization and administrative
capabilities of the person or group submitting an application evident in the enclosed budget, and partially manifested in the presentation of the application itself.
Cooperation with other organizations. The applicant must work
cooperatively with other types of libraries (academic, public and school) and bookstores within the local community to provide the author/illustrator visit, thereby also providing a broader audience. The applicant must present the library’s educational goals, as well as evidence of how those goals apply to the local community’s educational goals. The extent to which meaningful cooperation among various local or area groups would suggest an ability to share responsibilities of personnel, time, and money needed to cover local expenses.
Author/Illustrator visit visibility. Emphasis on the presentation as a
distinctive event publicized to and open to all potential attendees in the area is a priority for each Award.
Applicants must be personal members of ALSC, as well as ALA members to apply.
Deadline for submissions is Nov. 1, 2016.
For more information about the award requirements and submitting the online application please visit the Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award Web page.
ALSC, a division of the ALA, is the world’s largest organization dedicated to the support and enhancement of library service to children. With a network of more than 4,000 children’s and youth librarians, literature experts, publishers and educational faculty, ALSC is committed to creating a better future for children through libraries. To learn more about ALSC, visit ALSC’s website at www.ala.org/alsc.
Jennifer Mae Smith
Chair of the ALSC Grant Administration Committee
My goal is eventually to put together a few curated tweets from the con--seems appropriate since Sheila and I talked about that during our session on social media. But I haven't quite recovered, so for the time being I present you with a few pretty pictures. Oh, and we missed you. :)
Here's this year's organizing crew: Paula Willey and me in the back, and Sheila Ruth, Charlotte Taylor, Melissa Fox, and Pam Margolis in the front. We are thrilled that this year went so well, even with a smaller group this time--it felt like those who came got a lot out of it (I know I did) and it is always, always wonderful to hang with fellow kidlit peeps. Some amazing discussions on gatekeeping (this year's theme) and censorship happened, and Kristi Bernard gave a great presentation on diversity, tying back into last year's theme. We also had awesome keynotes from Clare Vanderpool (whose Powerpoint skills I am in awe of) and A.S. King. Speaking of which, here's me with A FAMOUS AUTHOR:
We also had a chance to wander around downtown Wichita after the conference ended, and found this very cool chalk mural thingy on a wall, posing the question "What positive changes have you seen in Wichita?" We were highly entertained by some of the feedback people decided to put up.
For my personal fave, it's a tie between "yellow brick streets," "Pie," and "I Don't Bang Herion [sic] in my eye no more!"
It was, in fact, very cool to see all the public art in the downtown, even the eerily realistic bronze sculptures of children. I am a fan of public art in general. But, as always, the best part was getting to feel like I was with my tribe. The worst part was trying to figure out how to Tetris all the books I acquired into my suitcase...
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I'm hoping to spend more time around these parts and get some more posts going.
In the meantime, while I haven't been blogging I have been keeping an eye on some of the good links out there. Here are some of them (and fair warning, some of these are from wayyyy back).
I'm sure you heard the news that George R.R. Martin's book was delayed from earlier in the year, which meant we watched an entire season of Game of Thrones with some plotlines that jumped ahead of the books. I still love Martin's actual post about it so much. Reasons: 1) HE'S STILL ON LIVE JOURNAL. 2) This line slays me: "You wanted an update. Here's the update. You won't like it." Give it a read, even if you haven't written one of the most popular series in the world, I'm sure you can relate to the sentiment.
A new handy map breaks down all of the imprints in all of the divisions at the Big 5 publishers. It's great! And if you think all of this makes any sense at all you probably work at a publishing house. (My related take here). Link via Seth Fishman.
Regulars around these parts know of my great esteem for Calvin and Hobbes, and Steve Cromwell pointed me to this terrific interview with Bill Watterson's editor, Lee Salem. Some great nuggets in there, including Watterson calling his publishers “money-grubbing bloodsuckers" in a speech.
Folks ask me to reveal middle grade covers from time to time. Sometimes I say yes. Sometimes I say no. If you ever happen to be interested in my doing so then the following elements should ideally be combined:
A smarmy man with a mustache (handlebar preferred but not required)
An unnerved woman staring at the smarmy man with the aforementioned mustache
Admittedly, it’s only once in a blue moon when I can find such a book jacket to premiere, but when I can . . . magic!!
Aww. Just look at that. All the pieces are in place. And check out this description:
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.
Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from. This is a big-hearted novel about trust, belonging, and the struggles and joys of loving one another.
Never heard of author Corabel Shofner? She’s new! She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature and was on Law Review at Vanderbilt University School of Law. Her shorter (adult) work has appeared or is forthcoming in Willow Review, Word Riot, Habersham Review, Hawai’i Review, Sou’wester, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and Xavier Review. And yes indeed, AlmostParadise is her first novel. The book will also be illustrated by Kristin Radwilowicz as well.
I have a confession: I don't read much about homeschooling anymore.
Not because there aren't a million inspirational, wise, funny, interesting homeschoolers out there (there are, and you should definitely read them.) And not because there aren't terrific books, and stories, and ideas. They're all over the place.
And it's not because I've got everything figured out. I don't. I have my own blind spots, failures, regrets, worries, selfishness, and pride.
It's just that, well, I've got it figured out.
Not IT. Not "Life in all of its glorious meaning and the perfect way to live, breathe, and homeschool, parent, and exist on a day to day basis without stress or strife, pride, or judgement."
The "it" I know is this: one of the reasons we started homeschooling was to treat our kids as individuals, and individuals don't fit neatly into pre-cut boxes labeled "homeschooler." They will not uniformly love math, grow up to be astronauts, priests, or nuns, get certain scores on ACT tests, or live their faith and their lives so perfectly that they will be mistaken for the Blessed Mother. Not all homeschoolers will love reading, play sports, or even enjoy the company of other homeschoolers (because that depends on what kind of individual that other homeschooler is, right?)
My kids are just individuals. They're just people. Sometimes they're as weird and different and out of the mainstream as their dad and I are; sometimes they flow with the mainstream quite nicely. Sometimes they are helpful and giving beyond belief, sometimes they are selfish. Some days they're blissful and feel blessed, some days they are sad and feel put-upon.
Hey...they're just like me. They fit neatly into the box called "Fallen Human."
And homeschooling is just one way to educate fallen humans. It's a way we love, to be sure. It's a way that I think can work beautifully, despite its challenges, for a lot of people. But I also know it's not for everyone.
It is, however, a way of life that has allowed Atticus and me to stay focused on our main goal in life: relationship.
Our relationship with each other. Relationship with our kids. Relationship with God.
To sum it up, I guess the only thing I have figured out is that I love this busy, weird, individual life we're living, and I know that there's not a singly perfect way to live it. I long ago let go of caring what our homeschool looks like to the world. We know it's working out (in that fallen, messy way), and that's what counts the most to us.
Thanks, Atticus, Anne-with-an-e, Betsy Ray, and Ramona, for caring as much about our relationships as I do.
And now? I'm tired, so I'm going to have another cup of coffee. Because I have a huge blind spot when it comes to whether or not I've had too much caffeine.
A friend of mine has a daughter at the Univ of Maryland. Apparently she's taking a government class that is practicing political analysis of various sorts. Her class has created a survey to help them with this project. If you have a spare 5-10 mins, would you be willing to participate? It's completely anonymous. I suspect that US residents are the target audience, although there is a spot at various points where you can declare that you are ineligible to vote (in US elections) so perhaps international participants would be welcomed, too.
Except for that stupid dental crown that broke last week and the temporary crown that fell off over the weekend (millions of dentist office visits!), life is finally back to what I call normal. That means I'm still working hard, but my evenings and weekends are once again mine. Yay!
I'm hoping for lots of pleasure reading to finish out the year (yikes! only ten weeks or so until New Year's). In the meantime, I was able to find a few moments to read and to listen to audiobooks, so all was not lost, though I feel like I'm somehow falling behind.
What I read last week
A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham is a collection of fairy tale retellings that combine traditional elements with contemporary details. These are dark, adult tales that show the universal and eternal themes of these centuries-old stories. I also loved the awesome black-and-white illustrations. (now in paperback from Picador USA, 9781250097309)
Agnes by Peter Stamm is a translation of the author's short debut novel. Although the book has the feel of an early work, this look at life imitating art (or is it art imitating life?) is worth your time. A Swiss nonfiction author meets a Chicago graduate student who wants him to write her story. (Other Press, 9781590518113)
What I listened to last week
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper is the story of two sisters and one special-needs girl, who has unusual talents. There was way too much foreshadowing in this book to make it a winner with me, though others have loved the themes of sisters, family, and motherhood. Narrators Andi Ardnt and Cassandra Campbell do good work here. For more, see AudioFile magazine. (Highbridge Audio; 9 hr, 20 min)
The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin is an audiobook I don't think I totally understood. It's the story of a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen who is stretching his wings to tell the truth through his journalism. Eduardo Ballerini is a pleasure to listen to, but I question the decision to forgo the use of a Chinese accent. For more, see AudioFile magazine. (Random House Audio; 6 hr, 37 min)
What I'm reading and listening to now
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz is a kind of take-off of Chaucer set in Medieval times and geared to a middle grade audience. It involves the French crown and the Church and their conflict with three children and a dog. I've just started this multicast audiobook from Listening Library, but I can already tell I'm going to be hooked. This is for pleasure reading, so a review will appear here soon.
The Guineveres by Sarah Doment is the story of four girls, all named Guinevere, who bond over shared names and their orphan status. We follow the girls as they juggle their Catholic upbringing with their more worldly desires. So far this is another huge winner from Amy Einhorn, who is now with Flatiron Books (9781250086617)
What are you reading or listening to? Anything I should add to my reading list?
Many bakers (especially grandmas, in my experience) just love not sharing their secrets. "What makes your cookies so great?" you'll ask, only to get a sly, self-satisfied smile and a coy, "it's my secret". I don't know about you, but this basically sets in motion my conspiracy theorist: is it spit? Is it dog food? What about this ingredient makes it worthy of being secret? Seriously, grandma!
Well, not me. I'm always happy to tell you the secret ingredient.
And now, I'm going to do just that. I'm going to tell you the simplest little thing that you can add to your next pumpkin pie to take it from super to MOTHER-EFFING SPECTACULAR.
It's white chocolate.
Yep. Despised by foodies, deplored by people who try to melt it using the same methods that work with dark chocolate, accused of being "not real chocolate" by people who really like saying "actually..." and then arguing everything that you say. White chocolate is the key to making your pumpkin pie really, really shine.
Let me tell you how I know this.
A few years ago, I had a random half-bar of good quality white chocolate, and for no particular reason, decided to break it up and place it along the crust before filling it with the pumpkin filling. I figured it wouldn't hurt the pie, and it would be a good way to just get rid of that bar.
Well, when the pie baked up, I forgot about it, but everyone complimented the pie a lot more than usual. "What did you put in this?" everyone asked. I told them, but I forgot about the chocolate, so I guess I sort of inadvertently kept it a secret.
The next day I remembered, and realized that this must have been what made the difference.
So I made pumpkin pie with a lining of white chocolate the next time. And once again, everyone raved over it. And I really took note of the flavor. It's really a unique combination. You get the high, unrelentingly sweet flavor of the white chocolate, and it just pulls the pumpkin out of its earthiness and into rich, flavorful dessert territory. It keeps the pumpkin flavor from being too heavy, and brings out the butteriness of the crust. It's like morsels of magic, not white chocolate, have been added.
More than ever before, my pies began disappearing as quickly as they made them when I included the "secret ingredient". So I kept on making my pumpkin pie with white chocolate.
Here, you can see how it slightly oozes from the bottom of the crust. Please excuse the top of the pie - I had put it under the broiler to try to make the top toasty and went a little too far, but it was still delicious!
So now, I want to tell you the secret to making your next pumpkin pie incredible. Promise me you'll try.
How to make your next pumpkin pie incredible.
Your fave pumpkin pie recipe (or use mine, it's a good one)
1 bar (3.5 ounces) good quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Prepare your pie dough, and put it in your pie plate. On top, before baking, scatter the white chocolate evenly over the bottom of the crust.
When they were little I read
to them at night until my tongue
got tired. They would poke me
when I started to nod off after twenty pages
of Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket.
I read (to them) to get them to love reading
but I was never sure if it was working
or if it was just what I was supposed to do.
But one day, my daughter (fifteen then)
was finishing Of Mice and Men in the car
on our way to basketball.
She was at the end when I heard her say, No, in a familiar frightened voice
and I knew right away where she was. “Let’s do it now,” Lennie begged, “Let’s get that place now.” “Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta,”
and she started crying, then I started crying,
and I think I saw Steinbeck
in the back seat nodding his head,
and it felt right to me,
like I’d done something right,
and I thought to myself, Keep going, read it to me, please, please, I can take it.