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Yesterday was all popovers, compulsive reading of The Winter Rose, and going to work.  I still can’t figure out why I was so addicted to that book.  The popovers, that makes sense.  Warm, puffy, eggy beauties slathered in butter and honey or strawberry jam – what’s not to love?  But a book that I kept inwardly criticizing but could NOT step away from?  Here’s my review from Goodreads:

Cliche-ridden? Yes. Improbable coincidences? Yes. Over-the-top drama? Murder, sex, politics, poverty, money, medicine, women’s rights, workers’ rights, colonialism, revenge, mountain-climbing, Antarctica, Africa, faked deaths (yes, plural), amputations, paraplegics, death by wild animal attack, and doomed lovers reunited? Yes, yes, yes. Was I able to put it down? No. Despite all its faults, I couldn’t put the silly thing down. Saga-riffic. This feels like a horribly slippery slope, and before you know it I’ll have given up on Good Books and I’ll just be reading page-turners and eating bonbons.

This is the sequel to The Tea Rose, and there’s a horribly dull page or two spent recapping the first book’s equally improbable plot points, but this one could be read independently. You just wouldn’t have the emotional background on a few of the characters. Also, I’m betting that Donnelly’s planning a third book, because she left Seamie and Willa’s story hanging, emotionally, just like she left Charlie’s story hanging in The Tea Rose. And, God help me, I’ll read it.

I saw this meme at Katya’s blog and thought it looked like fun.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

Good question…maybe The Lovely Bones.  I’ve heard lots of good things but lack the will to pick it up.  It’s the kind of thing where, I imagine, if I were staying at a friend’s and finished my own book and they had it laying around, I’d pick it up out of curiosity.  But I’m in no hurry to seek it out on my own.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?

I’m tempted to say Gen from The Thief, etc., but something tells me it would make for an awkward social event, so matter what the occasion.  He’s best admired from a distance, in my case.  Okay, let’s go with an afternoon tea with Anne Shirley, Lizzie Bennett, and Emily Starr.  I’ve always wondered how Anne and Emily would get along, and I would love to chat with Elizabeth.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Hmm, I’m not sure.  Probably something very manly and all about war or sports or something.  Lots of action scenes.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I am above such things.  I’m more likely to pretend like I remember a book than to pretend to have read it – I have a terrible memory for plot-points.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I don’t think so – although I’ve had the opposite happen.  I used to read all the Amelia Peabody’s religiously, then I stopped for a while, and when I tried to pick them up again, I couldn’t figure out if I’d already read that particular one or if they were just all starting to sound alike.  I gave up.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP)

Let’s go with The Wednesday Wars, because if someone’s a VIP and has no time for books, they need something not too long that reminds them that books are supposed to be fun.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Russian.  Then maybe I could make it through Crime and Punishment and the rest of Dostoyevsky.   And I could reread Tolstoy in the original.  And Chekhov.  And Turgenev.  And Bulgakov.  And…and…and…

A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

Pride and Prejudice.
I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?

I already knew I loved children’s books, but reading Bookshelves of Doom has really made me branch out with the YA I read and try things that I otherwise wouldn’t look at twice.  I’m all over the YA, now.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

The library from Robin McKinley’s Beauty – I seem to remember it containing books that hadn’t been published yet.  Now I have to go check.  Yes!  Room upon room of books, with a sentient staircase to help you reach the top shelves, and: “I didn’t know there were so many books in the world,” I said…”Well, in fact, there aren’t,” he said. ..“Most of these books haven’t been written yet.”  THAT is my dream library.

Per Julia’s request…

These are from, of course, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, which Kate recommended to me and which I recommend to all you bakers looking for a dependable source.

All the steps make this look complicated, but it’s not and the toppings are totally worth the effort.

CHOCOLATE MINT SQUARES

Dough:

  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 8 tablespoons (4 oz) butter
  • 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup choppped walnuts or pecans (nuts with mint? totally unnecessary)
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract or peppermint oil

Frosting:

  • 1 cup (4 oz) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter, melted
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Glaze:

  • 1 oz bitter chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) butter

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

To make the dough: In a double boiler or microwave, melt together the chocolate and butter. In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, salt, and eggs. Add the chocolate mixture, stirring to combine, then the flour, nuts, and peppermint, mixing until well blended.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9×9 inch pan. Bake the squares for 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool to room temperature.

To frost the squares, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, peppermint and milk in a small bowl. Spread the frosting over the cooled squares in a thin layer.

For the glaze: In a double boiler or microwave, melt together the chocolate and butter. Drizzle this over the frosted squares. Refrigerate the squares until they’re well chilled.

Although I stick these in the fridge to cool, and you may want to keep them in there in warmer months, in a freezing-cold winter house, I prefer to leave them out on the counter so that they’re a little bit warmer. A word of caution, though, that this means it’s easier to keep slicing off just a little bit more every few minutes.

As I noted in the recipe, I only tolerate nuts in regular brownies, but with mint they are an abomination to my eyes. And my mouth. This makes a thin, rich square with a little frosting to break up the chocolate. Perfect balance of flavors for all you chocolate mint lovers. The recipe note says, “If you like Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, you’ll love these.” Which to my mind is like saying, “if you like sawdust, you’ll love this loaf of fresh bread,” because these are so beyond Thin Mints. But I’m sure it’s true, that Thin Mint lovers would love these, as would anyone in their right mind.

Let’s talk food, okay? Tuesday I made up a big batch of this Pasta, Sausage and Bean Soup. I’ve made it twice and, to my mind, it’s the perfect hearty wintery soup with a little kick to it (I use spicy ground Italian pork sausage) and it reheats well. I just keep ladling bowls out and it never ends.

Then Tuesday night I mixed buttermilk and oatmeal to sit over night, so that I could make oatmeal muffins in the morning. Oh, lacto-fermentation, how I love you! By the time the muffins were baked, the oats had turned into lightness and air and they were the most delicious oatmeal muffins I’ve ever had. I used, of course, the recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

Edited to add:  I forgot to mention that I threw in a dash of nutmeg, and that has made all the difference.  If you like nutmeg, I recommend it. 

OATMEAL MUFFINS

  • 1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) quick-cooking or rolled oats
  • 2 cups (16 oz) buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (2 oz) butter, melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • dash of nutmeg – my own addition since I’m addicted to nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (6 oz) raisins (optional) (I put chopped up dried cherries in half the muffins)

In a small bowl, combine the oats and buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk and the oat mixture, brown sugar, butter, egg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Gently stir in the flour and raisins. Scoop into 12 greased or lined muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes, until the tops are light golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, let cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then turn out of the pans to finish cooling.

Makes 12.

Seriously, this is a fabulous muffin. I think you could easily add any fruit/nut combination you like, and the plain ones are good, too.

Then, midafternoon yesterday, I got a terrible chocolate hankering. I know it was national pie day (according to babelbabe) but what I wanted were chocolate mint brownies, the ones I made for New Year’s. They’ve got a minty frosting and a chocolate drizzle and they’re rich and fudgy and they’re just so good.

While I did all this baking (and the cleaning up that came afterwards) I finished up listening to Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, written and read by Jack Gantos, which was just a great example of what’s right in the world of children’s books and audio books. Then, when Joey was over, and because I was too lazy to go out in the cold and fetch the second Bartimaeus from the car, I popped in the audio version of Austenland, which I’ve already read. Audio books are a powerful, powerful addiction, I tell you.

Last night I picked up The Exception, by Christian Jungersen, when I came home from work, and suddenly hours had passed and I was a third of the way through it. (The copy I have is the one that with my very own hands, I barcoded and labeled and added to the library system – I love it when this happens.) It came recommended by…oh great, I don’t know who. SOMEONE recommended it strongly. I really need to keep better track of these things. Anyway, while it’s a bit cool to be a page-turner, I am gripped all the same.

Seriously, both books that I read this weekend were set in 1895.  It was too weird after setting one down and picking up the next.  Oh, hello 1895, I think we’ve met before.  Both very improbable stories for their historical setting, but both fun – The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly and Rebel Angels (the sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty) by Libba Bray.  If you’re looking for something serious, or exquisitely crafted, or taking great pride in historical accuracy, you’re in the wrong place.  If you want drama – the fun kind, because it isn’t happening to you – you found it.

Now I’m in need of a break from all that high drama, and last night I turned to Emma, which I’ve been rereading in snippets for months now, and which is the perfect digestive aid for too much Victorian drama. Emma was never my favorite the first time around – I was partial to Persuasion and of course Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey was fun, Sense and Sensibility and Emma were fine, and Mansfield Park was slightly dull.  A while ago I listened to S&S on audio and was converted to its fabulousness.  This reread of Emma is doing the same thing.  I think next I’ll have to find an audio of MP, and see if that does the trick.

In baking news, I found a banana bread recipe that I love – from, of course, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.  I think  the trick was the cup of yogurt/sour cream, the nutmeg, and the fact that it makes a tall, moist loaf rather than one of those short, over-browned and desperately in need of butter loaves.  Actually, the loaf was almost too big for the pan, but I can live with that.

It’s a dreary, dreary Saturday afternoon and I would much rather drink my rose tea and read The Tea Rose (I did that on purpose – not the rose part, but the tea) than read about management or contribute to class discussions.  I would really like to bake something.  Read and bake and drink tea all at once.

Julia left a comment on an earlier post of mine about how, since she doesn’t have access to an English-language library, she does a lot of rereading of the books she owns.  Which started me thinking about reading vs rereading and the benefits of each.  In a weird way, it’s almost appealing to think of being forced to reread.  My take is, if a book is good, it’s worth reading at least twice.  Sometimes I finish things and want to pick them right up again.  I don’t, though, because there are so many new things to read, and because time is limited, and because I have this silly idea that reading something fresh is better – more worthy of my time – than rereading.  But it’s not.  Of course, ideally, one has a lovely balance between the two things.  If only people would stop writing new books.   But some of those are bound to be ones that are worth rereading.  Oh, the agony.

When I reread, I notice a whole new set of things about the book.  The structure, or the character development, or the setting, or the way tension builds, or the way the story jumps around in time, or the sentence structure, or the vocabulary, or the thing that really made me love it in the first place.   For me, plot ceases to be so important, and it’s all the little things that end up mattering.  The first time I read The Wednesday Wars, I loved it.  I liked the story and the characters and the tone.  But the second time, I LOVED it.  I loved the way Holling talks to the reader, and the fact that we never know Doug Swieteck’s brother’s name, just that he’s Doug Swieteck’s brother, and the way the first line of Lieutenant Baker’s telegram tells you everything you need to know, and the way Holling’s father doesn’t change – he’s still the man who thinks of architecture as a blood sport and doesn’t understand his son.

AND, when you reread something later, even just a year or two later, you respond to the book in an entirely new way.  I loved Anne of the Island in middle school and high school – I have no idea how many times I read the whole series – but when I read Anne right after I graduated from college, I reread it and thought yes, some things never change.  Even though they didn’t allow male callers most nights of the week, and had a woman to keep house for them, the essence of living with a group of your best friends in college was unchanged from Anne’s day to mine.  Something that I wouldn’t have known before then, and something I might not pick up on now, a few years later.  Who’s to say what I’ll get out of Anne next time I pick her up?  Or Elizabeth Bennett, or Dorothea Brooks, or Ruby Lennox?

I was blog-jumping today, following various links around kid lit blogs, and came across this list of “Justina’s Fab Five Ways to Support Your Local Bookstore.”  Since #1 was to attend an in-store author event, I immediately went to the Powell’s website to see what was coming up that I could go to.  I spotted Kirby Larson (author of the excellent historical YA Hattie Big Sky) but of course that’s on a Thursday night when I’m at work.  Boo.  But – squeal! – Shannon Hale and Libba Bray are coming on the 26th.  Kitri also squealed at the news, and squealed again when I reminded her that now she could get that copy of Book of a Thousand Days autographed, and so we’re going!  Like the overgrown geeky fangirls that we are.  Oh boy.  I hate to admit this, but I’ve never ever been to an author event before (outside of college, that is, and those were always for classes).

In related news, I finished up Lloyd Alexander’s last book ever (sob) which was a good, old-fashioned adventure story, and, I discovered when I just had to share a section with Jenna, a great read-aloud.  Now I’m moving on to the enormity that is Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose.  I loved her A Northern Light, so I’m hoping for good things.  I’m also thoroughly enjoying Ann Patchett’s Run on audio – a good wintry book.

In unrelated news, I got to hold a tiny, perfect bundle of a baby tonight – my friend Maren’s four-day-old daughter Olivia.  It was with great reluctance that I handed her over to her grandmother after a quick visit and dinner delivery (coming by with food really is the best way to worm your way in when people with new babies aren’t really having visitors yet).

As Holling Hoodhood would say, the quality of mercy is not strained.  And wherever Holling is, I’m sure he’s celebrating that silver medal with a perfect, light brown cream puff.

ALA award winners announced here.

Sadly, the awards were not one of the many things on my mind when I woke up this morning, and it wasn’t until 11 o’clock that I remembered today is the day.  Very different from last year when I was biting my nails, unable to get into the web broadcast and anxiously awaiting the announcements.  There are some perks to being on the west coast, and this year the perk was having the announcement up and ready by the time I wanted to read it.

Newbery:  I’ve been waiting on hold for ages for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! - in fact, a while back I went so far as to dig my library’s copy out of the “to cover” pile and cover, stamp, and check it in myself, to get things moving.  My branch was the only one to order a copy, and I’ve just now worked my way up to #1 on the holds list.  I didn’t have a chance to do more than flip through it, so I’m anxious to take a look.  I’ve only heard glowing praise from all the blogger reviews.

Newbery Honors:  As I’m sure you all know, I’m a huge fan of The Wednesday Wars and I’ve been pushing it on all kinds of people.  This was the title that I was scanning the announcement for any mention of.  Thank goodness I can call off those toads, beetles and bats.  I haven’t yet read Elijah of Buxton, but a week or two ago I got a feeling like I ought to, and it turns out my instincts were right – this one is on its way to me right now.  I was pleased to see Feathers on the list, too.  It was on my list of things I wouldn’t mind seeing win an award* and I initially described it as a small book that doesn’t feel small.  More than any plot details, the feel of the book has really stuck with me, and I give it points for that.

Printz: The White Darkness was also on my wouldn’t mind seeing it win an award list, and although I can’t seem to find any initial thoughts on it in my archives, it was gripping and fascinating and I’m planning on rereading it by listening to the audio version, of which I read a nice review a while back.

Printz Honors:  Sadly, they only one of these that I’ve even heard of is Your Own, Sylvia, which I thought was  surprisingly well done despite the excessive depressingness of the subject.  I am intrigued by the fact that one of the honorees is a sequel, which seems to be a rare phenomenon in book awards.  But that also means more reading to do for yours truly.

Odyssey: This is a new one, for “excellence in audiobook production,” and I was very intrigued to see what would win.  I haven’t read the winner or honor titles, but I suppose I ought to get on that.  I’m curious to hear how the committee’s idea of excellence compares with my own taste in audio versions.

Geisel: (for beginning readers)  This isn’t an area where I read a lot, but I did pick up There Is a Bird on Your Head! a few weeks ago and was quite delighted with it.  As I am by all of Mr. Willems’ books.

I think that wraps up all the award categories where I’d actually read any of the books – more awards are on the ALA website and I really ought to branch out into the other categories.  After I track down a perfect, light brown cream puff.

*Hey look!  I managed to name four books that did end up getting awards! Sweet predicting skills!

I’ve got a vacation from one of my jobs this week, so I’m enjoying new-found freedom in the evenings and seeing how the 9-5 world lives (except from 9-5, I’m sitting around the house making bread pudding, reading, and putting my home library on Library Thing).  Here’s a curious thing, that I knew but rarely experienced: when you’re not working till 9 or 10 pm, you get sleepy a lot earlier.  You feel cozy, and ready for bed, not hyped up or exhausted or still in dinner-digestion mode.  It’s great!  Also great is being able to go to a $3 movie on a weeknight with friends, early enough that they can actually get up for work in the morning.  Last night we took in Lars and the Real Girl, which was a surprisingly sweet movie given the premise and thoroughly enjoyable.

At home, in-between consuming bread pudding and going to bed, I read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett.  It was the perfect length for that stretch of time, and one of those perfect stories for people who like reading about reading.  The way it sucks up your time, the way it changes your perspective, the way others around you react.  Of course, this reader is a fictional version of the Queen, so that adds some nice laughs.

Yesterday afternoon, and on a very different note, I finished A Great and Terrible Beauty, which was both enjoyable and annoying, in a mostly brain-candy with a little bit of edge sort of way.  Yes, I’ll read the sequel.  No, I’m not necessarily proud of the fact.  Mostly because the covers irritate me.

Speaking of covers, I also recently read Gideon the Cutpurse, whose title has been changed to The Time Travelers for the paperback version – boo!  Hiss!  Isn’t “Gideon the Cutpurse” much more fun and distinctive than “The Time Travelers”?  The new covers, though, are fab – although there was nothing wrong with the old one.  Nothing at all.  Kitri has a copy of the sequel, The Time Thief, which I’m looking forward to reading.  Good children’s adventure/time travel/historical fiction.

At the moment I’m reading Lloyd Alexander’s last book ever, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio.  The first few chapters have been fun but I’m not hooked yet – it does, however, feel like classic Alexander.  I’m also listening to Ann Patchett’s latest, Run, on audio.  I have no idea where it’s going, but so far I’m interested.

Title quoted from The Uncommon Reader, but of course.

I saw this meme/questionnaire at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy and liked how she tied it into issues of class is YA lit, so, here goes.  I also liked the comments that Liz added in italics, so I’ll do the same.

From What Privileges Do You Have?, based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements.

1. Father went to college (and got his only A in handball)

2.  Father finished college

3.   Mother went to college (let’s not get ahead of ourselves – she got her GED.  Interesting that the questionnaire assumes parents got high school diplomas)

4.  Mother finished college.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
Not that I know of.

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
Probably “same”. Definitely not higher.

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.

9. Were read children’s books by a parent.

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
I had ballet lessons for ten years, which my parents paid for, although I know it was hard.  When I was old enough to need pointe shoes, I paid for them myself.

11.  Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
Like Liz mentioned, the question isn’t nuanced enough – all three of us had swim lessons for a few years, one week during the summer.  I distinctly remember that my mom registered using the address of friends in the right county, so that we would get a lower rate.

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
Me now – sure.  Me as a kid?  More of a dork factor than a class issue.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
Hell no.  My dad worked for the facilities services (ie, handyman) so that I would have my tuition covered.  I took loans for room and board, travel abroad, books, etc.

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.

16. Went to a private high school.
I went to Catholic high school – excuse me, college preparatory school.  With a scholarship, and a low-income discount.

17. Went to summer camp.
Once, I went to a week-long 4-H camp.

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
Kind of.   When we went to my dad’s high school reunion, we stayed in a motel on the road, but with friends and family whenever possible.  We also stayed in cheap motels, or places with kitchenettes, when we made our annual trip to the coast.

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
Some new, as I was the oldest, but a lot of hand-me-downs from family friends. 

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
Technically, yes.  But it cost them $200.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.  Only handmade things, like my mom’s cross-stitch.

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
From the time I was 6, but I was born in an apartment.  Literally.

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
Yes, but they’re still paying for it, I believe.

25. You had your own room as a child.
For 4 years, until my sister was born.  And not again until I was 20.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.

27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
Because that’s what everyone else in my class was doing.

28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college 
My grandmother set up a mutual fund for each of us when she remarried.

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16  When my family moved to Oregon, and again when my uncle paid for me to visit him in New Jersey.

31. Went on a cruise with your family

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
Museums, yes.  Art galleries, no. 

34.  You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.
As Liz said, not nuanced enough.  I don’t remember being aware of heating bills, but I was definitely aware of other costs – lessons, car, travel, eating out, school tuition, clothes, food, etc.  So I’m not bolding this one.

Grand total: 17 out of 34.  Interestingly, I don’t think I was ever aware of how much money we had, versus how much other families had, until I went to a Catholic middle school, and they had name brand clothes and fancy houses with swimming pools and new cars.  But that was the least of the differences between me and them, so it wasn’t a huge issue.

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Ben appreciates good cover art and endpapers. Raising him well, I say.

Picnic in the park

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