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The CandymakersThe Candymakers by Wendy Mass

This is a first for me – reading the book prior to publication. But I’m glad I did, because this one will be fun to press into children’s hands come October.

The idea is fun: the story follows four children competing in a candymaking competition. One by one, we hear the story from each child’s point of view, something I didn’t realize until I was well into the first section. What makes this brilliant, rather than repetitive, is that Mass works completely new details into each account, the kinds of details that make you flip back to a previous section to see how that kid described the same incident. People hide things. People neglect to tell you things. Narrators are never completely reliable. But add up these four narrators, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened over the three days the story covers. You’ve got a little mystery, a little action, characters who are hiding things, and plenty of yummy descriptions that will have you ready to tuck into something sweet.

Source: ARC from publisher

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Out of My MindOut of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

While this is a fascinating look at the experiences of a very bright but profoundly disabled child, it never quite moves past that premise. It’s a sobering, but never completely depressing story about a girl who has been trapped in her own mind for eleven years, just now getting access to the means to communicate. A bit of plot is thrown in, once Melody has the means to communicate, but it’s not particularly compelling. Her daily life will be gripping to the kinds of readers who enjoy a peek into lives and experiences that are different from their own, especially readers who aren’t put off by the occasional didactic moment.

Source: my library system

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Ever since Bronwen gave me a copy of Sunday Suppers at Lucques (by Suzanne Goin), I’d been eying the recipe for Wild Salmon Salad with Beets, Potato, Egg, and Mustard Vinaigrette.  I like to eat every single one of those things, but I’d never eaten them all together – plus the photo made it look delicious.   So I assigned the recipe back in April (cough, cough) and am just now telling you about it.  Here’s Bronwen’s report.

ingredientsHere are all the ingredients.  It sounds time-consuming because there are so many pieces to assemble, but each piece is actually fairly simple, and they can all be done ahead of time since it’s a room temperature dish.

Basically, you roast the beets and potatoes in separate pans with a bit of seasoning on each, and once they’re cool you skin the beets and slice everything up.  The eggs are soft-boiled, and the vinaigrette is prepared with egg yolk, mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt & pepper.

The salmon requires a bit more prep – you create an herby coating from lemon zest, shallots, dill, tarragon, parsley and olive oil, and then smear your salmon with it.  You cook it in a low oven with a pan of water on a lower rack until it just flakes.  (By the way, this would be a delicious way to prepare salmon, even if you weren’t making the whole salad).

The only thing I changed, as far as I can remember, was to serve the salad over leaf lettuce instead of dandelion greens.  You season the sliced beets with some oil and lemon, and pour some of the vinaigrette over the halved potatoes.  You put more dressing over the greens on a platter, then tuck in beets, potatoes, egg halves, and chunks of the salmon, and top with a bit more vinaigrette and lemon juice.

Super tasty – this one lived up to the photo in the cookbook, although mine wasn’t quite as photogenic.  Make it again?  You bet.  It also made pretty good leftovers, although it required many containers to transport it to work without turning everything the color of beets.

wild salmon salad

Now, on to the Meyer Lemon Ice Cream!  I’ve got to say, I love owning an ice cream maker – you can experiment with flavors, and for people like me who prefer their ice cream a little melty, there’s nothing like ice cream fresh from being churned.

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream

(If you have trouble finding Meyer Lemons, any other citrus fruit will probably do)

3 Meyer Lemons (~ 3/4 lb) (juice and zest from)
1 cup sugar
1 cup half and half
6 egg yolks
3 cups whipping cream
vanilla extract to taste.

Steep strips of peel (with no pith) of one lemon in a pan w/the sugar and half and half. Heat to just under boiling, stir to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat and let sit for ~ 15 min.

Make a custard w/the egg yolks and half and half mix. (Temper eggs; then add back into cream mix and cook on stove until you have a thin custard). Strain mixture and add in finely grated zest of the other two lemons. Let steep for 15 min. Add in cream. Add ~ 9 Tbs of lemon juice; taste and adjust w/more if you like. Add a few drops of vanilla. Chill for several hours before making ice cream.

The only thing I would change in making it again (because it was deliciously refreshing and mildly lemony) would be to make sure the zest added towards the end is super, super finely grated – I thought mine was, but I ended up noticing its texture in the finished ice cream.  Otherwise, an excellent way to get my ice cream making going for the summer, although I made this in April and, unlike in California with Bronwen, it was not summery at all here.  And although I wanted to follow her serving suggestion and eat it with fresh strawberries, the strawberries you find in Oregon in April are not up to my standards, so the ice cream was eaten by itself.

In what seems to be the perpetual state of affairs, I’m trying to catch up on writing about what I’ve been reading.  I almost chucked the whole idea for a while, but it’s so handy to be able to look back and see what I originally thought.  So I wrote up a few reviews and I have them scheduled to appear sooner or later.  But what am I actually reading right now?

  • Keeper by Kathi Appelt.  This one looked sweet and has been getting some buzz, so I thought I’d see what the fuss is about.  The style is similar to Appelt’s Newbery Honor title The Underneath, with a strong sense of place, multiple animal characters, and repetition of themes and phrases.  I’m curious to see where the story goes, but it’s not completely gripping yet.
  • Wishing for Tomorrow by Hilary McKay.  This is the sequel to A Little Princess, and I picked it up today after accidentally leaving Keeper behind.  I love McKay’s sense of characters.
  • Mariana by Monica Dickens.  Another foray into Persephone Books, and so far it’s funnier than I expected.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  I’m listening to this one in the car, and completely enjoying the narration.  Over the top and fun, although I’m not paying as much attention to clues as I am to characters.

And since I’m also behind on reporting on my Long Distance Kitchen adventures, I will tempt you with the fact that there’s an absolutely delicious berry cobbler sitting on my table.  Actually, it’s peach and blueberry with a smidgen of marionberry, and the best cobbler topping I’ve made to date (thanks, Dorie Greenspan!)   I’m looking forward to digging into it again for breakfast tomorrow (ssh, don’t tell the breakfast police).  Photos and full report to come.  There are also multigrain buttermilk pancakes on the horizon…which just makes me think of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Incarceron (Incarceron, #1)Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

This is one of those books where it’s probably best if you don’t know much about the story before you start reading. Any information about the plot will likely make you confused as you start reading, make you spend too much time guessing how things will turn out, or both. Just go along for the ride and trust that Catherine Fisher knows how to create a completely believable yet foreign world.

The characters are interesting, although never completely sympathetic. There’s lots of gray area in the best and the worst characters. This is also a story that would appeal to readers who like complex world-building and who don’t mind a bit of a cliff-hanger ending (at least until Sapphique is released in the US in December).

If you like Incarceron, I highly recommend Fisher’s earlier ancient-world fantasy series, starting with The Oracle Betrayed. They’re more standard fantasy, but with the same complex situations and characters.

Source: my library system

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We Hear the DeadWe Hear the Dead by Dianne Salerni

Although I’ve read a bunch of books that mention the spiritualist movement or use mediums and seances as plot devices, I really had no idea how the whole thing got started until I started reading this book. It’s extremely accessible historical fiction – spirit rapping makes for a great hook, there are enough period details and language to create a sense of time and place, but those details always leave plenty of room for the plot and characters. In one of those fascinating turns that history takes, Maggie Fox was engaged to the then-famous explorer Elisha Kane, and their romance takes over as the major plot element partway through the book. Salerni throws in other interesting bits of history – women’s suffrage, abolitionists, class issues, science and exploration – making the whole thing a compelling, fun read.

Salerni includes an interesting note and bibliography at the end, which is handy since I’m sure many readers will want to learn more. The target audience is probably teens, but there’s no content that would make it inappropriate for a middle school audience.

One minor complaint – what’s up with the cover?  It’s fantastically eye-catching, but it’s hardly what I imagine the Fox sisters wearing, based on the emphasis on remaining respectable young ladies.

Source: my library system

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Anything But TypicalAnything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Although I enjoyed this while reading it, it hasn’t really stuck with me. Details of plot and character are already hazy, and the only issues I really remember are that Jason, an autistic boy, tells the story from his point of view, and that he loves writing stories. He tries to tell his own story like a “normal” person would, and we get a glimpse into the ways that navigating school and everyday life are an added challenge for him. The characters of his parents were nicely fleshed out, and the story believable (although I can’t speak to the accuracy of Baskin’s portrayal of autism, it did win the Schneider Family Book Award for it’s portrayal of a disability experience). I’d recommend this to anyone interested in reading about autistic characters.

Source: my library system

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A Little PrincessA Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I can’t think of the last time I read A Little Princess, but what motivated me to reread it was the publication of a sequel by Hilary McKay, Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess. I don’t usually go for sequels to classics, but I love Hilary McKay’s other books, and I wanted to read the sequel with the original fresh in my mind. The Secret Garden is my favorite Burnett, but I couldn’t remember exactly why I preferred it. The reason turns out to be no fault of A Little Princess, simply the fact that The Secret Garden features…a secret garden. More thrilling than the changing fortunes of a winsome girl, plus I think there’s something more interesting about a character that you have to learn to love, like Mary Lennox.

All that said, I loved rereading A Little Princess. As an adult, I paid more attention to the behavior of the adults in the story – the flaws of the women who run the school, her father’s behavior, the woman who runs the bakery. Mary is certainly impressively resilient and cheerful in the face of adversity, but she has her moments of weakness and despair. What I loved most was that she demonstrates the power of the imagination, whether you’re a rich girl or a poor girl. This one’s a classic for a reason.

Source: my library, probably the exact same copy I read as a kid, with Tasha Tudor illustrations (of course)

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Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow WearyMarching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

What sets this book apart from others about the Civil Rights movement? The first thing, which I didn’t realize until starting the book, is that it focuses on the youth who were involved in the march from Selma to Montgomery. It shows how they were able to get involved in way that their parents couldn’t risk, using a wide variety of first-person accounts woven into the story. The second thing – the pictures. Partridge has an eye for choosing the right image (just look at the cover) and for making it an essential element of the book. A vivid, engrossing read, probably good for middle school on up to adults.

Source: my library system

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Tom's Midnight GardenTom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

I picked this one up after seeing it mentioned on Fuse #8’s Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (although it didn’t actually make the top 100). The plot sounded eerily familiar, and I thought there might be a chance that it would turn out to be the time travel book I read as a child and haven’t been able to find since. Sadly, I don’t think this was the book, but the similarities in plot meant that it was still satisfying in some of the same ways.

For starters, it feels old-fashioned even before you hit the time travel element, with an original publication date in the 1950s. Tom is having a dull, isolated summer in quarantine with his aunt and uncle when he discovers a door that takes him into the past. This was the kind of thing that I dreamed would happen to me as a child – that doorway into the past, or into Narnia, or into somewhere thrilling. The story perfectly captures the ways kids feel bored and the way they approach adventure – for example, Tom tells everything in letters home to his younger brother, who never for a moment doubts the truth of Tom’s adventures.

I’d definitely recommend this to kids who like time travel and/or old-fashioned stories.

Source: my library system

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It finally feels like summer here in Portland.  It’s supposed to be in the 90s today, and I’m still recovering from my air-conditioning-less car trip to pick up my new glasses (which I’m still adjusting to, thanks to the wonky depth-perception issues with a new prescription).  The heat is a nice change from the rain and cloudy skies, but it also just makes me want to sit around and do nothing.  Watch some TV, read a book, eat lots of ice cream.  I want to be drinking iced coffee, but don’t want to wait 12 hours for cold-brewed iced coffee.  I could walk to a coffee shop, but that defeats the whole laziness/staying cool agenda.  Instead, I’ll present you with more catch-up book reviews while I make up my mind about the wisdom of ice cream for lunch.

MasterpieceMasterpiece by Elise Broach

In a beautiful turn of events, I finished listening to Masterpiece, popped the last disc out of my car’s CD player, and caught the end of an NPR news piece about the art heist in Paris. As much as I hate to hear about theft like that, the timing was just too perfect.

But back to Masterpiece – I picked it up since it’s a nominee for the inaugural Oregon Reader’s Choice Award (ORCA). The audio narration was nicely done, with good pacing and suspense and sense of characters, without calling too much attention to itself. The story requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, but was fun all the same. The story is combination of mystery/suspense for the younger crowd, art, and that always fascinating premise – life on a miniature scale.

Here, the scale is that of a family of beetles living in a NYC apartment, and we see them forage for food, go on a day trip to the solarium, and try to avoid detection by the humans. Marvin breaks all the rules by making contact with a human boy, and ends up involved in trying to track down an art thief. Entertaining and simply told with plenty of appeal, although not much depth.

Source: my library

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The Night FairyThe Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz

Here’s a fairy story that’s not all sweetness and light, but rather a surprisingly complex little book that’s lovely on the surface – premise and illustrations – but underneath it deals with the realities of how we treat others and react to difficulties. Flory has lost her wings, and it hardens her in a way that makes me think of Mary in The Secret Garden – it takes gradual interactions with the other creatures in the garden to let herself be generous and kind. The book isn’t long, but it’s the kind of story that could be reread, where the illustrations could be looked at again and again. I think children will recognize something of themselves in Flory, in the way she’s both tough and in need of help, and the way it takes practice for her to make true friends.

Source: my library system

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The Celestial Globe (The Kronos Chronicles, #2)The Celestial Globe by Marie Rutkoski

I was so thrilled to read this sequel to The Cabinet of Wonders that I had it on my “to-order” list months in advance. It didn’t disappoint, although I do think the first book is my favorite so far (and I would definitely read the books in order, both for plot and character development). Rutkoski does something wonderful with the series format: she gives you many of your favorite characters back, including Astrophil the tin spider; she maintains key plot elements, like the wonderful blend of history and fantasy; and she makes her villains as complex and ambiguous as before.

But she also isn’t afraid of throwing new things into the mix, like taking the action to a new country while still leaving us with questions about what’s going on back in Bohemia. She includes some of the fantasy elements from the first book, but develops them and adds in the globes, which I won’t spoil for you. She has you interested in the fate of the gypsies, in Petra’s father, in the Dee family, in how the globes will be used, and in what on earth will happen to the characters in their next destination.

I’d recommend this series to fans of both fantasy and historical fiction, anyone looking for strong female characters, and anyone looking for a strong, slightly out of the ordinary adventure.

Source: my library system

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July 2010

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