Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Snapshot 12/20

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Happy Holidays! Here are a few photos of us getting our Christmas tree last week and putting it up. Our tree is filled with memory-filled ornaments, from vacations, friends, and the kids' childhoods, so decorating the tree is one of our favorite parts of the year! Hope you are enjoying the holidays with your family, too:

My son and I riding the hayride at the tree farm.

My husband and son carrying the tree they cut down.

Our tree, with all our favorite ornaments on it!

A family holiday photo we took last weekend
We love how the tree looks lit up, shining on the ceiling

Enjoy the weekend and this whole holiday season!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teen/YA Review: Page by Paige

I’ve been on a quest this year to explore and discover graphic novels. I was inspired by This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki because it told such an intricate story with so much emotional depth and little text. I checked out the teen graphic novel section of my local library, but it was mostly superheroes and anime. I did, however, find one graphic novel there that looked interesting to me - Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge – and I enjoyed it very much.

The format of Page by Paige is unique and creative – it’s the sketchbook of a teen girl named Paige. Paige’s family has recently moved from rural Virginia to New York City, and the sketchbook details Paige’s adjustment to her new life and also her quest to better understand herself. Like many teens, Paige is suffering an identity crisis, not sure if the person she presents to the outside world is the real Paige. She’s very shy and wants to come out of her shell a bit and be authentic, while making new friends in her new home. The sketchbook is her way of opening up – to herself and to those around her – and truly discovering who she really is.

It’s a very creative approach to telling a story, and it works wonderfully. There are some pages of more standard graphic novel format, with boxes and dialogue bubbles, but many of the pages are Paige’s attempts to sketch how she is feeling and what she is experiencing. Throughout the novel, Paige makes new friends, falls in love for the first time, and yes, begins to understand herself and feel comfortable in her own skin.

This journey of self-discovery will be familiar and inspirational to all teens struggling to figure out who they really are and how they fit into the world around them. It seems to be somewhat autobiographical, as the author’s bio explains that she, too, moved from Virginia to NYC with her family as a teen and used a sketchbook to better understand herself. The book even contains a playlist at the back of the characters’ favorite songs (many of them are in this Page by Paige YouTube playlist). Page by Paige is a wonderfully creative coming-of-age story about finding yourself and your place in the world.

Amulet Books (imprint of Abrams)

For more on Page by Paige and its author, see the Who Is Paige blog. This post includes some sample pages from the book.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Monday 12/15! What Are You Reading?

Another dark, gray day here in Delaware - we haven't seen the sun in weeks! It's been pretty gloomy inside our house, too - both of our sons are still home from school. College son has mono, high school son has a concussion, and both are still feeling pretty crummy. And our post-Christmas vacation to the Keys is hanging by a thread. We are just taking things one day at a time right now.

As always, books are a comfort! Here's what we've been reading:
  • I am still reading Hild by Nicola Griffith, even though my neighborhood book group met last week to discuss it. It's set in seventh century Britain and includes both a map and a family tree filled with unpronounceable names at the front and uses a lot of Old English words with a brief glossary at the it was slow-going at first, with a lot of flipping back and forth. But, as one of my neighbors told me, it's like a rollercoaster and the second half goes much faster. I'm glad I stuck with it through the difficult beginning because it's a great story about the childhood of a real-life woman who became a saint.
  • I finished Us by David Nicholls on audio, the story of a marriage falling apart amidst a family vacation across Europe. I LOVED this book, and it was fantastic on audio - warm and real and sad at times, but with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. One of my favorites of the year.
  • I started a new graphic novel, my first-ever for adults: Blankets by Craig Thomspon. I'd read and heard many times that it's one of the best graphic novels ever published, and I'm enjoying it so far. The beginning is about the main character's difficult childhood.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is one of our son's all-time favorites. Ken had trouble at first, reading it while he had the flu, because it's a complex story, but now he's enjoying it.
  • Jamie, 20, finished Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburn. His concentration has been poor due to the illness, but our avid reader can now read again, which he's happy about! 
  • He also read a new middle-grade book we received as an ARC last week, Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen. He said it was kind of light, and he didn't enjoy it as much as her earlier series...but he does realize that at 20, he is no longer the target audience for middle-grade novels!
  • Last night, he just finished Cephrael's Hand by Melissa McPhail, book 1 of the series, A Pattern of Shadow and Light. He enjoyed it very much.
  • Craig, 16, is very limited because of his concussion - no screens, video games, school, homework, computer, or anything on his phone. No reading, either, but he doesn't normally enjoy reading anyway. He's been so bored that he's been listening to audio books! Mostly, he's listened to an old family favorite, Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater, several times this week! I'm trying to get him to try something else, but this is his favorite...the equivalent of bookish comfort food.
I'm getting very busy with the holidays and the boys home, so just a few blog posts last week:
Review of Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, a middle-grade/teen graphic memoir

Review of  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, a novel

Summary of Books Read in November
This week will be even busier!

 What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.   

Friday, December 12, 2014

Books Read in November

November started with one long book, followed by a bunch of quicker reads:

  • Haunters by Thomas Taylor, teen/YA fiction (Switzerland, UK)
  • The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, teen/YA audio fiction (CT)
  • Trouble Maker by Janet Evanovich & Alex Evanovich, graphic novel (FL)

So, that's 7 books for November, 3 for adults and 4 for kids or teens (though Brown Girl Dreaming is really for all ages). Two were on audio and two were graphic novels and a whopping three were nonfiction, so I had plenty of variety.  My favorite book of the month - and maybe the year - was Brown Girl Dreaming. And that's pretty amazing because it's actually poetry which is not normally my "thing." It's a beautiful, lyrical memoir of the author's childhood, told in verse, and it was wonderful on audio.
I added only 2 new states (CT and FL) to my Where Are You Reading Challenge 2014 this month (end of the year). I read only 1 book from my TBR shelves for my 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge - I have really not done well on that one this year. I listened to two more audio books for my 2014 Audio Book Challenge for a total of 23 so far this year - I am rocking that one! I added three nonfiction book to my Nonfiction Reading Challenge. And for my new Travel the World in Books Challenge, just started in September, I read one more book.

What was your favorite book(s) read in November? 

Fiction Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

My cousin chose The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis for our online family book group, and I was thrilled to finally have a chance to read this highly acclaimed novel that was published in 2012. It is the compelling and emotionally powerful story of a family, set against the backdrop of the changing face of America in the 20th century.

The novel is divided into twelve chapters, each of which is a separate story focusing on a different character, all part of the same family. Hattie, the family matriarch, begins her journey (both emotional and physical) in 1923 when, at 15 years old, she and her mother and sister leave their home in Georgia to move north to Philadelphia, where they’ve heard there are plenty of opportunities and less discrimination for a black family. Of course, things aren’t quite as simple as that, and Hattie experiences more than her share of hardship in Philadelphia.

Each chapter focuses on one of Hattie’s children (or, toward the end, grandchildren), so the reader learns about Hattie’s life through the stories of her offspring. Each chapter also moves forward in time. Chapter 1 takes place in the winter of 1925, when Hattie, only 17, is married and living in a small rented house in Philadelphia, desperately and tenderly caring for her twin babies who are very sick with what sounds like pneumonia. Each following chapter is labeled with the year (through 1980) and the name of another of Hattie’s children, sometimes looking at them as adults and sometimes peeking into their childhoods.

Through these separate but linked stories, we get a full picture of Hattie’s life: her dreams and her reality. It’s not an easy life or a happy one. Hattie devotes her life to raising her children, with her own pain and disappointment coloring everything she does. She’s not an affectionate or tender mother, but she does her best to try to prepare each of her children for a cruel and unforgiving world. As she fears, there are plenty of tragedies and challenges for her offspring. All of those personal stories are told against the backdrop of the changing U.S., with glimpses in each chapter of what is going on in the world and how things are changing for the characters.

It’s a very well-written and creative novel, though it is quite depressing. Life is very hard for Hattie and her children. The book does end on a note of hope, with a glimmer of better things to come for the next generation, and I really needed that and thought it was the perfect ending. The author pulls no punches – this novel is raw and emotional and compelling, as Hattie faces the never-ending adversity head-on and never gives up (though she comes close at times). The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is Mathis’ first novel, and it shows her considerable talent as a writer and storyteller. I hope there will be many more to come!

243 pages, Alfred A. Knopf

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Sisters

I enjoyed Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Drama but missed her highly-acclaimed graphic memoir Smile. So, I was glad for the chance to review its sequel, Sisters, another excellent graphic memoir for middle-grade readers (and appealing to teens as well).

Sisters focuses on young teen Raina and her younger sister, Amara. As a young girl, Raina begged her parents for a sister, but things between her and Amara have been rocky ever since. As the memoir opens, Raina, Amara, and their mother are getting ready for a long road trip from their home in California to a family reunion in Colorado. That’s right – three weeks in the car with the sister whom she fights with constantly (as well as their little brother). To make matters worse, adolescent Raina is worried about what her cousins will think of her, since she hasn’t seen them in many years.

Raina and Amara’s nonstop bickering and Raina’s insecurities aren’t the only tensions in this story, though. Through flashbacks and scenes of getting ready for the trip, it’s obvious that things are also stressful between Raina’s mom and dad. This is one of the many strengths of Telgemeier’s latest book – there are many layers of emotion here, despite the colorful, fun cartoon style of the drawings. It’s a meaty story about underlying tensions in a family and how they affect all family members.

All in all, Sisters is a clever, funny, warm graphic memoir with plenty of emotional depth. It tells the real-life story of a typical family, with marital tensions and sibling rivalry…but also plenty of fun and love. The drawings are filled with telling details that often provide even more information than the text. The overall tone is warm and fun with an undercurrent of serious issues. Younger kids will simply enjoy the story, while older kids and teens (and adults, like me!) may see aspects of themselves in this universal story about family and sisters. And, I also enjoyed the photos of the real-life Raina and Amara at the back!

197 pages, Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)

Monday, December 08, 2014

It's Monday 12/8! What Are You Reading?

Another one bites the dust. If you're a frequent visitor to my blog, you may recall that my college son
came home with mono before Thanksgiving. Well, today I have both sons home with me - our youngest got a concussion playing soccer this weekend. Until the test results come back today and his headache goes away, he is on super-restricted duty - no school, no screens, no homework, no sports, no video games. Within an hour of coming back from the clinic yesterday, he was complaining he was bored, so wish me luck today! Since he's well enough to complain and to want to do stuff, we are hoping it's not too serious and he will recover quickly. He is the non-reader in our house (a very good reader just doesn't like to read), but I actually convinced him to listen to an audio book last night, since it was one of the few things he is allowed to do - that's how bored he was!

Here's what he's listening to and the rest of us are reading:
  • I am still reading Hild by Nicola Griffith for my neighborhood book group. It's interesting so far but moving very slowly. It's set in seventh century Britain and includes both a map and a family tree filled with unpronounceable names at the front, plus it uses a lot of Old English words (there's a brief glossary at the back). So, reading is going slowly, as I flip to the front and back every sentence to decipher it! 
  • I am still listening to Us by David Nicholls on audio, the story of a marriage falling apart amidst a family vacation across Europe. It's a wonderful book -warm  and compelling, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. I am loving it.
  • I finished a teen/YA graphic novel, Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gullidge. I needed something light to break up my heavy novel. It was excellent - creative, warm, and engaging.
  • My husband, Ken, is still reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is one of our son's all-time favorites.
  • Jamie, 20, is still reading Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburn. His concentration has been poor due to the illness, but our avid reader is starting to be able to read more, which he's happy about!
  • Craig, 16, is listening to an old family favorite audio book, Looking for Bobowicz by Daniel Pinkwater. if you have kids of any age, you must find a copy of this audio to take on your next car trip (see link below)! It is a light mystery with lots and lots of laughs - plenty of its lines have become favorites at our house. Pinkwater is a genius.
Blog posts from last week:
Review of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, a fabulous, award-winning YA memoir

Review of Haunters, a time-travel novel for middle-grade and teen readers

Saturday Snapshot, featuring a few photos from our quiet Thanksgiving week

Weekend Cooking, with my recipe for Sausage & Vegetable Roast Dinner - super easy & delicious

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.   

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Weekend Cooking 12/7

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

With my college son home sick with mono and the weather cold, I made a lot of favorite comfort foods this week, including Chicken Pot Pie and Mini Meat Loaves.

I made two of our old favorites from Cooking Light. Sunday night, we had Beef Bourguignionne over noodles (yes, we broke our Paleo diet and splurged on egg noodles!). My high school son's girlfriend was here for dinner that night, and the five of us ate so much that my planned leftover meal for the next night disappeared! We got two small lunches out of the leftovers. It's a delicious recipe, meant for making in a pressure cooker, but I just follow the directions, then double the cooking time in a standard Dutch oven (unfortunately, this recipe isn't online - it was from the April 2000 issue).
Tuscan Chicken & Beans

Tuesday night, we had Tuscan Chicken and Beans. I made this dish once before according to the recipe instructions, using a whole cut-up chicken, and it turned out a bit greasy (might have been the store-brand chicken we used). This time, I used skinless, boneless thighs, and it turned out perfect! There were no leftovers at all from that one. Everyone gobbled it up and went back for seconds.

And on Wednesday, I made Roasted Polish Sausage and Winter Vegetables, using rutabaga, sweet potato, onion, red potatoes, and chunks of cabbage. The smell and flavor of cabbage and Polish sausage together remind me of my Ukrainian heritage! I often make various roasted dinners this way. It's so easy and versatile that I almost didn't write up the recipe...but I did. It's included below, with the basic instructions and some of our favorite combinations. This is a perfect quick weeknight meal, with little clean-up (bonus!). If you also like to make roast meals like this, I'd love to hear about your favorite combinations.

Roasted Sausage & Vegetable Dinner
(Serves 4)
A simple and versatile dinner perfect for weeknights

Sausage, cut into large chunks (nitrate-free)
1 large sweet onion, cut into large chunks
Assorted vegetables, cut into large chunks
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Cooking spray

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Chop sausage and vegetables and add to large bowl.
  3. Toss sausage and vegetable pieces in olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Add mixture to a cookie sheet covered with cooking spray (we cover ours with foil for easy clean-up). For larger meals, split mixture between two cookie sheets to prevent over-crowding.
  5. Roast in oven for about 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring once halfway (if using two cookie sheets, rotate them at the halfway point so they each take a turn on the lower oven rack).
  6. Divide mixture among plates and enjoy!

Two mixtures we like are:

1 – Italian chicken sausage with red potatoes, onion, and bell peppers.
2 – Nitrate-free Polish sausage (kielbasa) with assorted root vegetables and cabbage (perfect for fall and winter!)

© Suzan L. Jackson 2014
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saturday Snapshot 12/6

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Nothing very artistic or beautiful today - just a few photos from our crazy Thanksgiving week. My college son came home with mono, and my husband got the flu, so we had to cancel our plans to travel to be with family. Instead, we had a quiet holiday at home and watched a LOT of movies all week! A few highlights:

Monday 11/24 - Sunny and 72 F

Wednesday 11/26 - Snow! Crazy....

My first-ever apple pie - it was delicious!

My husband and I on Thanksgiving (he made it to the table!)

My sons are now 16 and 20 but I love seeing their old artwork!
Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Haunters

After reading two long nonfiction books for adults, I was ready for something quick and light! I picked up Haunters by Thomas Taylor, a middle-grade/teen novel (recommended for ages 10 – 14 by the publisher) about time travel. It was just what I needed at the time – fast-paced and exciting.

David, a fourteen-year old in present-day England, has been having strange dreams, different from any kind of dream he’s ever had before. These dreams feel real and revolve around a recurring theme with the same boy, Eddie. In fact, the dreams feel so real that David now feels like Eddie is a good friend, after a year of visiting him in his dreams. David wakes from particularly bad and very realistic nightmare, heart pounding and head aching, wondering if he’s losing his mind.

He soon finds out he is perfectly sane but possesses the ability to dreamwalk, to travel through time and space in his dreams and appear as a ghost to real-life people. He discovers a whole group of young people like himself who are all dreamwalkers and learns that there are other dreamwalkers with nefarious goals. Haunters are willing to change history itself for the chance to gain wealth and valuable antiquities, and Adam is the worst offender. David’s new group of friends is battling to stop Adam and the other Haunters and preserve history…and somehow, David’s friend Eddie is at the heart of this complicated puzzle.

David and the other dreamwalkers travel back and forth from the present day to 1940’s London during the Blitz, intent on stopping Adam and his fellow Haunters from doing irreparable damage to both the past and the present. They must figure out a way to save Eddie while preserving history.

Haunters is not an outstanding book and I noticed a few plot inconsistencies, but it’s an engaging story filled with action and intrigue. I especially liked the historical background and trips back in time. It’s certainly a unique concept – traveling back in time through dreams – and easily kept my interest. Haunters is fast-paced fun for kids and teens who enjoy science fiction and especially time travel.

327 pages, Chicken House (Scholastic)

NOTE: I recommend NOT reading the blurb on the book flap or on Amazon. I felt that those descriptions gave away too much, and it’s more fun to let the story unfold on its own. No spoilers in my review!

If you like time travel stories with a dose of history, here are some other middle-grade books you’ll enjoy:  

The Infinity Ring series by various authors (lots of action and a cool link to online games)

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, with a trip back in time to 1860 Louisiana

 George Washington's Socks and other books by Elvira Woodruff 

 The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix (action-packed)

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Memoir Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Although Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson recently won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and its publisher says it is for ages 10 and up, I chose not to categorize it that way in this review because it is a beautiful, lyrical memoir in verse that will be enjoyed by all ages, especially adults. Let me say up front that I am not normally a fan of poetry in any form, but this was one of the best books I’ve read (listened to) all year.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir, told in short verses, of its author’s childhood, from birth through the start of adolescence, following her from Ohio to South Carolina to Brooklyn. Each titled poem highlights one particular aspect of Jacqueline’s life, and through these brief snapshots in time, a whole, colorful, compelling picture emerges. What makes this unique memoir even more interesting is the way that Woodson weaves details of what’s going on in the world into the verses, so that as we watch little Jackie grow up, we are also witnessing our country growing and maturing.

Here’s the start of the first verse, about her birth:

february 12, 1963

I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital
Columbus, Ohio,
a country caught

between Black and White

I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
my great-great grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped-out gourds
looked up and followed
the sky’s mirrored constellation
to freedom.

You can see just in that short example how Woodson can take an event as ordinary as the birth of a new baby against the backdrop of history and make it sound graceful and beautiful. As a writer myself, I was amazed by the way she told a complete story through such small and brief details. In fact, her writing inspired me to try the same sort of approach in my own personal essay writing. The story unfolds in this way, as we watch her grow from a tiny baby to an energetic little girl to a budding writer, with the details of the time and places highlighted along the way.

That first verse is a page and a half long. Others are just a few lines, like this one:

how to listen #1

Somewhere in my brain
each laugh, tear and lullaby
becomes memory.

I listened to this book on audio, read by the author, and was entranced by her lovely voice reading the details of her life in such a lyrical way. However, I was also eager to see the verses on the page, to see how they were laid out, and to copy down some beautiful quotes that I wanted to remember, so I also requested a hard copy from the library and pored over that as well. It is a quick read, but you will want to linger over it and savor every word (plus, there are some family photos in the back!).

Don’t miss this book. Its National Book Award was well deserved, and it’s on the top of my list of favorites from recent years. Brown Girl Dreaming is the unique and engaging story of both a girl and a nation, and I highly recommend both the audio version and the book itself. I can’t wait to read more of Jacqueline Woodson’s work.

320 pages, Nancy Paulsen Books (imprint of Penguin Group)

Listening Library

Video of Jacqueline Woodson accepting the National Book Award:

You can also listen to an audio excerpt at the Amazon link below:


Monday, December 01, 2014

It's Monday 12/1! What Are You Reading?

Happy Cyber Monday! I need to get my Monday blog post done early, so I can start my online shopping.

We had a quiet holiday week, with my college son home with mono and my husband down with a nasty respiratory virus. We had to cancel our travel plans to visit family, but we made the best of it. We ended up watching a LOT of TV and movies together, with those two feeling so horrible - I think even trying to read was difficult for both of them. Still, we always manage to read at least a little. Here's what we're reading now:
  • I finished the next book group pick for my online family book group, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. I'd wanted to read it for years, and it was excellent, an in-depth portrayal of a mother and her large family, told through short vignettes of her children's lives throughout the years. There was a lot of tragedy in this story, but it ended with a sense of hope. Since I missed seeing all my cousins and aunts this weekend, I am looking forward to "discussing" the book with them online!
  •  I finished listening to The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, a teen/YA thriller on audio. The first half was very good - mysterious and fast-paced - but the second half really dragged and got preachy and tedious.
  • I am now reading Hild by Nicola Griffith for my neighborhood book group. It's interesting so far but moving very slowly. It's set in seventh century Britain and includes both a map and a family tree filled with unpronounceable names at the front, plus it uses a lot of Old English words (there's a brief glossary at the back). So, reading is going slowly, as I flip to the front and back every sentence to decipher it! The story, however, is interesting so far.
  • I just started a new audio last night, Us by David Nicholls, the story of a marriage falling apart amidst a family vacation across Europe. I've only just started it, but it's already excellent - interesting and compelling, with a sprinkling of laugh-out-loud moments (my family probably thought I was crazy, laughing to myself while I made dinner last night!).
  • I'm also reading a teen/YA graphic novel, Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gullidge, when I need something light to break up my heavy novel. It's excellent so far - creative, warm, and engaging.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is one of our son's all-time favorites, though I think it's been slow going this past week, since it's a complex story, and the virus has slowed him down.
  • I believe Jamie, 20, is still reading Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburn. His concentration has been poor, too.
Several posts last week on the blog:
Review of One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson, nonfiction

Review of The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, an outstanding middle-grade novel

Weekend Cooking: Turkey and Wild Rice Soup, a great use for that leftover turkey

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.   

A quiet Thanksgiving at home

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weekend Cooking 11/30: Turkey & Wild Rice Soup

Each weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  This is perfect for me since I love food and cooking almost as much as I love books!

My college son got mono last weekend, so we had to cancel our plans to travel to spend Thanksgiving with family. By Wednesday, my husband was also sick with a bad respiratory virus. So, we had a very quiet Thanksgiving at home, with just my father-in-law as a guest. I cooked all the traditional foods, but the smallest turkey I could find was 11 pounds...for 5 of us!

We enjoyed the feast, as well as a dinner of left-overs on Friday, but by then my family was getting sick of the same old stuff, so I used our left-over turkey to make a nourishing soup for my sick family. I based it on the way my mother used to make homemade chicken noodle soup when I was a kid (I still have the basic instructions scribbled down in a strange short-hand in the back of an old recipe book!). Since we are eating a Paleo diet for medical reasons, I subbed wild rice (which is actually a grass, not a grain) for noodles, which turned out delicious. Here's the case you were wondering what to do with all that left-over turkey!

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup
(Serves 8)
This is a great way to use left-over turkey after the holidays when you tire of basic left-overs!

Left-over turkey pieces and/or carcass, skin removed *
Tops of celery with leaves
1 small onion, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic
1 lb. carrots, sliced
32 oz. (2 cans or 1 carton) chicken broth **
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. Remove skin from turkey pieces and put in a large stockpot. Add the celery tops and quartered onion to the pot. Add cold water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.
  2. Drain contents of pot through a colander over a large bowl. Set broth aside and allow the meat in the colander to cool.
  3. When cool (it will be just right if you chop your veggies while waiting), sort through the meat in the colander. Discard bones, cartilage, and any other inedible pieces, as well as celery and onion. Chop the turkey meat.
  4. Sauté onion and celery in oil in stockpot over medium-high heat until soft.  Add garlic toward end of sauté.
  5. Add homemade broth, canned broth **, carrots, chopped turkey, wild rice, and seasoning.
  6. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

* The amount of turkey we had left-over included 2 wings, back, 1 leg, plus a few slices of white and dark meat. I removed the skin to reduce fat.

** Because I started with already-cooked turkey, my broth was a bit light on flavor, so I added the additional carton of store-bought chicken broth. If you start with uncooked turkey and cook the stock for a bit longer, then you probably won’t need the extra broth.

© Suzan L. Jackson 2014
(Do not reprint or publish without written permission from the author)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: The Thing About Luck

National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata sat on my shelf for about a year. I chose it because our family had enjoyed another Kadohata novel, A Million Shades of Gray, on audio a few years back. I’m sorry I waited so long to read this one – it’s a warm, funny story about growing up among the clash of two cultures and about learning to make your own luck.

Twelve-year old narrator Summer begins the novel by telling us about the year her family had nothing but bad luck. She got a rare case of malaria, her grandmother’s back pain worsened considerably, her younger brother, Jaz (who seems to be autistic), lost his only friend, and their parents had to travel to Japan for the summer to care for elderly relatives who were dying. That left Summer and Jaz in the care of their grandparents, Obaachan and Jiichan. Their sixty-seven year old grandparents preferred a more Japanese/less American approach to life, so changes were made as soon as they got back from the airport.

Summer’s Kansas family worked every summer as custom harvesters, traveling from Texas north to the Dakotas, following the wheat harvest. With her parents away, her grandparents had to come out of retirement so that the bills would still get paid. The plan was for Jiichan (her grandfather) to drive a combine, while Obaachan would get hired as the cook for the harvesting crew, with Summer as her helper. The kids had gone on harvest with their parents before, but this year would be different.

I absolutely loved this book – its National Book Award was well deserved. It’s set against a fascinating background, as Summer explains how custom harvesting works (something I’d never even heard of before) and narrates their adventures that summer. Summer is a wonderful pre-teen narrator, struggling to find her way in her world and help her brother make friends. The highlight of the book, though, is Summer’s grandparents, whose broken English and insistent ways often made me laugh out loud. Here’s a passage from the beginning of the novel, on the day Summer’s parents left, as her grandparents put into action their plan for finding Jaz some new friends:
“We having meeting-party,” she announced regally. “We invite boys we will consider for friendship with Jaz.” She turned to me. “Make list with him. I no interfere.”

“A list of people to invite?” I asked. My Doberman, Thunder, tried to push himself between me and the table. I pushed back, and we just sat there, leaning hard into each other.

“No! A list!” she snapped at me.

Wasn’t that what I had just said? I finally got up and moved to a different side of the table. Still unsure what she wanted, I got a pen and paper.

“Pencil! You may need to erase.”

I got a pencil and readied myself. “Should I number the list? I asked.

My grandfather nodded sagely. “Agenda,” he said. “List for boys we invite, agenda for party.”

“No interfere!” Obaachan said to Jiichan.

“You interfere first!”

This warm, humorous tone permeates the entire novel, even when things get difficult for Summer. Eventually, she will have to make some difficult decisions and take responsibility for making her own luck. It is an absolutely delightful novel, realistically rendered, about the challenges of growing up, while taking care of yourself and the people you care about. Highly recommended.

270 pages, Atheneum

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nonfiction Review: One Summer: America, 1927

We are big fans of Bill Bryson at our house. His memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, was outstanding – informative, warm, and hilariously funny. So, when I heard about his latest book, One Summer: America, 1927, I was looking forward to reading it. I was glad when one of my book groups chose it for our November selection. Turns out, though, that I had a strange like-hate relationship with this book!

The concept for this nonfiction book is unique: Bryson focuses on one summer in American history, 1927, when a lot of interesting, historic, record-breaking things happened within a few months’ time. So far, so good. The chapters of the book run from May through September, each one covering a month’s events (roughly – there’s a lot of overlap), with one particular focus for each:
May: The Kid (Charles Lindbergh)
June: The Babe (Babe Ruth)
July: The President (Calvin Coolidge)
August: The Anarchists
September: Summer’s End 
It was definitely a fascinating time in America. Lindbergh made history by being the first pilot to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. Babe Ruth set a record for 60 home runs in a single season. The Mississippi River flooded and sent a wave of destruction across the middle states that still has not been outdone today. The gangster Al Capone controlled Chicago. The first “talking pictures” arrived in movie theaters, forever changing the world of cinema. And the seeds of the upcoming Great Depression were sown.

It’s a lot of ground to cover in a single book, and that is both the attraction and the problem. The book is packed full of fascinating facts, but there is a bit too much there to wade through. His organization of the book – by month – is another problem because events don’t unfold simply like that but are convoluted and develop over time. The result is a book that rambles quite a bit, jumping from one topic to the next at a rapid-fire pace that sometimes makes your head spin. As an example, in the first section, he starts out with Charles Lindbergh aiming to cross the Atlantic. He plans to land in Paris, so that takes Bryson off on a tangent about the American Ambassador to France. He happened to be going to a tennis match the day Lindbergh arrived, so then he goes off on another path, all about the tennis match and the players in it.

My husband laughed at me because I alternated between complaining about the book and reading interesting facts and tidbits out loud to him! So, yes, it’s frustrating and too long, but it’s also fascinating at times. I missed my book group meeting due to illness and had to decide whether or not to finish the book. I waffled back and forth on that – itching for some fast-paced fiction – but ultimately, I did keep reading right until the end of the Epilogue. I definitely learned a lot, but it was a struggle at times.

Our book group mostly felt the same way I did about it – that it was interesting but also too long and jumped around too much. Most people enjoyed the beginning the most and lost patience as they got further into the book. Some skimmed after a while. I find that really hard to do (I suppose it’s the perfectionist in me), but I did start skipping the boxing and baseball sections at some point. The average rating out of 10 in our group was around 6.5. There was one person in the group who rated it a 10 – the only one who’d actually been alive in 1927! She enjoyed reliving her childhood and remembering those momentous events.

458 pages of text and another 50-some of notes at the end, Doubleday

NOTE: If you want to read Bryson at his best, try The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's Monday 11/24! What Are You Reading?

Our household is in a tizzy, rushing to change our plans for this holiday week. Our college son came home Saturday night with a high fever and severe sore throat. We took him to Urgent Care Sunday, and it turns out he has mono, which is especially difficult and potentially dangerous for him, on top of his chronic immune disorder. We had to cancel our plans to travel to my hometown, Rochester, NY, this week to spend time with our family. We were going to stay with my Dad who is undergoing chemo for stage 4 melanoma, so it's particularly important that we stay clear of him for now (besides the fact that our son is no shape to travel). Living with chronic illnesses, we are used to having to change plans at the last minute, but this is a major Plan B moment!

So, we'll be staying home for Thanksgiving weekend, probably watching a lot of TV and movies to keep our son's spirits up, and of course, reading a lot! Here's what we've been reading this past week:
  • I finished Haunters by Thomas Taylor, a teen/YA novel about a group of teens that can time travel via their dreams. It was entertaining but not outstanding.
  • Now, I am reading my next book group pick, for my online family book group, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, a book I have wanted to read for years. It's very good so far.
  • I am still listening to The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi, a teen/YA thriller. The first half was very good - mysterious and fast-paced - but the second half is dragging and getting a bit preachy. I'm almost finished.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is one of our son's all-time favorites.
  • Jamie, 20, now home sick, finished The Drowning City by Amanda Downum, Necromancer Chronicles Book 1.
  • Now, Jamie's reading Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburn. He left his Kindle in his apartment at school, so we'll have to run down to get that for him.
I managed quite a few blog posts last week:
Review of On a Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers, a teen/YA novel

Review of City of Light, City of Dark by Avi and Brian Floca, a middle-grade graphic novel

Summary of Books Read in October

Saturday Snapshot, with the last signs of fall in our neighborhood

Weekend Cooking, with several weeknight meals full of flavor!
What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, with a kid/teen version hosted by Unleashing Readers.