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Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 352 pgs.
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Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is the second volume of recipes from Gaines, and this one was more thought out and planned than her previous volume, according to the introduction. Her previous volume focused on family favorites that she makes all the time, while this one chronicles her journey to learn about new foods, ingredients, and more. I really loved the substitutions chart because that will help me a great deal when I don’t have certain ingredients. I never know what to substitute. There are some great full-color photos in the book, but given the pandemic, there are some things that I couldn’t do at all, especially recipes requiring yeast (this has been non-existent for months).

The first recipe I tried was for Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes. We had just gotten some delivered from the local farmer’s market, so I was eager to try this recipe. One drawback is that there were not pictures for this recipe, but we assumed that Gaines cut the potatoes into french fry form, which is what we went with. It was pretty easy to follow, though for my family, I would definitely cut back on some of the rosemary and black pepper — several people said it was too spicy (my daughter included). The other thing I found was that 40 minutes was too long at 450 degrees. My over charred some of these fries, so I think next time I’ll just cook them for 30 minutes or keep a closer eye on them. But they still were tasty.

Gaines recommends serving these with Rib Eye Steaks, but we didn’t have any of that. We had meatloaf with beans.

The next recipe I tried was for French Silk Pie, which had some really easy to follow steps. I really enjoyed this recipe and will be making it again, since it was a big hit even if there was a problem with my crust. I think pre-made crust is best for me. This recipe does have a full-color picture that helped me determine if my ingredients were working together as they should.

Everyone ignored the terrible crust and said the pie itself was delicious. I really enjoyed making this one, and I’ll be happy to make it again. I already have plans to try making it with a graham cracker crust.

While I didn’t get to make the pizzas I wanted to because of the lack of yeast, I plan to make those when things are more available in the stores. Some of the recipes in this book, however, we probably won’t make unless my kiddo and mom become more adventurous in their eating. I do want to check out the first volume of recipes in the first book, because I suspect those recipes will be better for my family.

Magnolia Table (Vol. 2): A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines is a good cookbook with a ton of information for budding chefs at home. While not everything suited my family’s taste, I’m sure that it will be a big hit with others. I do wish there were more pictures in the cookbook, but that’s because I love full-page photos of food. It helps me see how delicious it will look when I’m done cooking.

RATING: Quatrain

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

Source: Gift
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Nancy Clancy: Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, is the first in this chapter book series about a girl who loves Nancy Drew and wants to be a detective just like her. While Drew’s cases take her on scary adventures and the criminals are creepy, Nancy Clancy’s adventures are tamer, often involving classmates and her sister, among others.

Nancy and her best friend, Bree, are amateur detectives and when they overhear Rhonda and Wanda talking about a secret in their year and how one doesn’t want to tell Nancy and the other one does, Nancy and Bree get to sleuthing. They even go through the girls’ backyard looking for clues while Rhonda and Wand are at soccer practice. What my daughter loves about these books is kids working together to solve mysteries (I used to love mysteries, too, as a kid). What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out, like “concentration,” and the sprinkling in of French words that we had a great time using repeatedly after I explained what they meant.

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, contains more than one mystery to be solved, which keeps the excitement going. I would recommend these early chapter books for other kids who like mysteries.

RATING: Cinquain

Fables by Arnold Lobel

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Fables by Arnold Lobel includes beautiful illustrations with one-page fables, some of which still apply today. There are a few fables that could use better messages for kids, which is why parents should carefully choose which fables to read their children. This book is a bit challenging to read for my daughter, but we’ve talked about each fable and parsed the story to find the meaning of each tale.

One of our favorites was the “The Poor Old Dog,” who has no home and a worn coat and shoes until one day he finds what he thinks is a magic ring. In this story, readers learn that wishes may not always come true immediately after making them and that patience is key in making wishes, as well as ensuring they come true. “The Ostrich in Love” is a tale my daughter thought was odd because the Ostrich never talks to the girl he loves, but he does all of these nice things for her. “Love is its own reward,” the tale says, but my daughter is not convinced — she’s still young yet.

“The Hen and the Apple Tree” is a tale with a wolf naturally and an inquisitive and skeptical hen — and well she should be. My daughter liked this one, even when we discussed how hard it is to be something we are not. Another favorite was “The Hippopotamus at Dinner,” which is appropriate considering this is the holiday season in which we all tend to overindulge a bit.

Fables by Arnold Lobel provides some unique stories for kids to read together or to have read to them. The illustrations are colorful and realistic, which makes the tales all the more real for kids. While some of the lessons are outdated and could be updated a bit for kids of the modern era, parents can take that extra time to explain those stories to children in a way that makes more sense.

RATING: Tercet

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 361 pgs.
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The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is the journey of Xiomara Batista, a young teen in Harlem who has secrets. She’s becoming a young woman aware of boys and a longing for acceptance — an acceptance of herself. She must come to terms with her religious mother and restricted upbringing and the reality that she does not fit the spiritual mold her mother had hoped for. The novel is told in verse.

The verse is reminiscent of childhood entries in a journal — rough and raw — full of emotion. Xiomara finds sanctuary in her words and her poems. She struggles with sexism and being a twin to a boy she feels disconnected from. Who is Poet X?

It is a journey of self-discovery. She finds strength from her pastor, despite her religious questions, and from her teacher who inspires her to read her words aloud. But all of this strength can be blown away by one woman who is also unclear about her life and her daughter and how things all went wrong.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is deliciously dramatic but it never loses its poetic center — the exploration of self and the journey toward a stronger self that can stand in the face of chaos.

RATING: Cinquain

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean is another book my daughter picked out as a reward from reading this past month. She’s really been a trooper even when she’s frustrated with reading or not concentrated. Pete the Cat is a character that always makes her smile and whose books are easier for her to read in between those more challenging books the school gives her each week.

In this book, Pete loves to dance but Grumpy Toad tells him that he’s not dancing correctly. Pete goes on a journey to learn how to dance the Cool Cat Boogie, even though all the advice he receives are about different types of dances. Pete feels happy when he’s dancing and he wants to learn this dance no matter what. My daughter had a great time reading this one on her own to me.

My one quibble with this book is Pete’s reaction when his friends say “ouch,” and he’s accidentally bumped them or stepped on their toes while dancing. Rather than apologizing, he merely walks away dejected. These are not moments that Pete should walk away from. He should say he’s sorry. If his friends had said that he did the moves wrong or made fun of him, I could see him walking away and not engaging in an argument. This was not the case in these situations.

Pete the Cat and the Cool Cat Boogie by James Dean and Kimberly Dean even includes a step-by-step guide on how to do the Cool Cat Boogie, which will have kids getting out of their seats and onto the dance floor. It’s good to see my daughter reading on her own, even if the book is a bit simpler than the ones that challenge her from school. At least she’s continuously reading.

RATING: Quatrain

Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was a reward for my daughter’s efforts in reading the month. After an early start of fighting over reading every night, she’s more willing to read to me, rather than me to her. This is one of the book series she’s found holds her attention. Part of it is because she wants a cat, which we can’t have because one of our dogs would eat it, and the other part is that Pete is just a cute and funny character who finds himself in trouble. Kids like mischief.

In this book, Pete and Gus are looking for a culprit — the one who took the cupcakes. It reminded me of Who Stole the Cookies From the Cookie Jar. My daughter easily read this one on her own, which was a good experience for me as I’ve been worried that she’s falling behind and is less confident in her reading skills than she was last year.

The illustrations here reminded me of drawings that kids would create on their own if asked to draw cupcakes, cats and other animals, which probably appeals to kids’ sensibilities. The colors are bright throughout and this was definitely an easier read that could instill confidence in young readers still learning. It also has a familiar trope about forgiveness when mistakes are made. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean and Kimberly Dean was satisfactory for me, but my daughter was happy to read the book on her own, which makes it a winner.

RATING: Quatrain

 

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hours
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And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander, which was our book club selection for March, is narrated by Kate Reading and is the first in a series of Lady Emily mystery novels set in Victorian England. Lady Emily is a woman ahead of her time, interested in being free to do as she pleases without the constraints placed on her by society. Her marriage to Philip, the Viscount Ashton, comes quickly as she locks horns with her mother, who like Mrs. Bennet in Pride & Prejudice is eager to marry of her daughter to a man of great fortune.

Following her husbands fatal trip to Africa on safari, Lady Emily finds herself engrossed in his journals, learning more about her husband than she did during their short courtship and marriage. She’s fallen in love with him, as she never expected she would, but what she discovers could render his reputation and hers asunder. She embarks on an unconventional journey to uncover the truth, even if it means her husband is less honorable than she believed.

Alexander’s historical fiction is delightful with its colorful characters, red herrings, and societal constraints. Lady Emily has more wealth than other women would at this time, and her antics are a little less shocking in Victorian society than they otherwise would be, though her mother would disagree with me. The allusions to Mrs. Bennet are strong, but not quite as funny as the Mrs. Bennet in Austen’s novel. Lady Emily’s mother is a bit more grating on the nerves, but probably because she is only seen from Lady Emily’s point of view.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander is engaging, and I’d be interested to see what happens to Lady Emily in the second book and whether she warms up to marriage again later in her life. Living a life of independence, however, is something she’s not likely to let go of without some serious incentive.

Book Club:

Unfortunately, I missed the meeting for this book, as I had not finished it in time and have found myself extraordinarily busy with work, moving, and adjusting to home life changes.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

The daughter of two philosophy professors, Tasha Alexander grew up surrounded by books. She was convinced from an early age that she was born in the wrong century and spent much of her childhood under the dining room table pretending it was a covered wagon. Even there, she was never without a book in hand and loved reading and history more than anything. Alexander studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. Writing is a natural offshoot of reading, and my first novel, And Only to Deceive, was published in 2005. She’s the author of the long-running Lady Emily Series as well as the novel Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 12 CDs
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Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, includes not only past experiences with her siblings, her mother, and her father, but also editorial notes and emails between herself and her editor as she struggles to write a book about writing — a book the ends up being a memoir of a writer.

Readers take a journey with Tan through memorabilia and letters between herself and her mother. It is an emotionally read memoir, with deeply sad losses from her childhood and her own internalized memories of slights she received from her parents.  Imagine how children view our comments and reactions to their behaviors; Tan makes a study of those things in her memoir as she strives to assess her own writing and her own quirks as a writer.

Through her creative reflections on her past and her own writing process for The Valley of Amazement and other books, readers are given a glimpse into her life, her emotional baggage, her forward thinking perspective on women and their accomplishments, and her devastation over the recent election. Do not think she’s overly political here, because it is more about her emotional reflections on those events and how she perceived her parents would have voted.

Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir by Amy Tan, read by the author and Daniel Halpern, is a valley of amazement all its own, and readers of her novels will enjoy learning about her struggles with her parental relationships, the secrets she uncovers and speculates about, and her emotional confessions about it all.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships and what it means to grow up as a first generation Asian American. In 1993, Tan’s adaptation of her most popular fiction work, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film.

She has written several other books, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, and a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent book, Saving Fish From Drowning, explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition into the jungles of Burma. In addition, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series airing on PBS. She has also appeared on PBS in a short spot on encouraging children to write.

Currently, she is the literary editor for West, Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Source: William Morrow
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams tells a twisted and dark tale reminiscent of Rebecca‘s Gothic nature and the secrets held back from the main character Virginia Fortescue — you may remember her sister, Sophie, from A Certain Age.  The narrative shifts between the early 1920s (Virginia’s present) and the Great War where as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charming doctor, Captain Simon Fitzwilliam.  Their relationship starts out as a friendship, but you can tell that there is a spark between them from the start — almost a magnetic pull.  Virginia, unfortunately, carries a great deal of baggage and has an inability to trust men because of her father and the death of her mother. Meanwhile, Simon is bent on protecting her by any means, including keeping secrets and telling lies.  Their relationship seems doomed from the beginning.

The pacing of this novel between the time lines, plus the additional twists and suspenseful moments, can leave the reader fatigued as they try to see through the lies and get at the truth.  Like Virginia, who is the main narrator, the readers is left wandering in a fog of lies with little light to guide them.  The relationship of Simon and Virginia is passionate, but the deeper connection they felt is so easily broken by the lies of others and the circumstances they cannot control.

Many years pass and the darkness has poisoned what was once between them.  It makes it difficult for the reader to have faith in the relationship at all given all that has happened and the inability to find even a little truth in the lies.  It’s like in all the years since WWI, Virginia remains that same naive girl who is easily lead astray.  Simon is a character who is hard to get a handle on because of Virginia’s inability to see who he truly is for nearly the entire novel.

What’s even more frustrating is the last third of the novel seems out of left field in places and overly dramatic (like a soap opera), which again may be related to the Gothic feeling of the novel.  Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams is enjoyable in many parts and definitely dramatic.  There is definitely a lot to discuss with a book club.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz Williams spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons, before her career as a writer took off. She lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore.

Find out more about Beatriz at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 11+ hours
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a young adult novel examining not only racism, but also life as a 16-year-old girl, Starr Carter, after witnessing the murder of her childhood friend Khalil by a police officer. (there’s a read-a-long at Book Bloggers International, if you’re interested) Following the death of Khalil, his murder is viewed not as the life of an unarmed teen who will never graduate high school or go to college but as the death of a drug dealer and a gang banger. Starr is forced to re-live those moments beside him as a unprovoked traffic stop turns into something tragic. Along the way, this young woman realizes that not only has she abandoned her old friends for the new ones at her suburban prep school, but that she has a voice that should be heard — loud and clear.

She also has to come to terms with where she comes from in Garden Heights — “the ghetto” — to where she wants to be as an educated woman capable of making her own life choices. Her double life comes to a head as she must reconcile the two halves of her identity — Starr Carter and Williamson Starr — to emerge on the other side of tragedy as a confident young lady. Starr also needs to stop placing labels on herself, all of her friends, and especially her white boyfriend, Chris — who let’s face it is mature beyond his years if he can refrain from sex and let her cry on his shoulders instead.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a multi-layered novel about racism, poverty, justice, and healing. Starr and all of us need to review our own prejudices to see where justice can be had and how to bring together communities for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Another one for the Best of List this year.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 368 pgs.
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Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine, published by HarperCollins, begins with an interview between the author and film maker and director Christopher Nolan about the making of the Dunkirk film.  This serves as a preface to the overall story, which examines the societal and political atmosphere in the late 1930s. He also tackles the myth of Dunkirk and the so-called “Dunkirk Spirit” — what it meant to individual soldiers and how it mirrored or did not mirror the actual events of the biggest defeat and evacuation in WWII history.

“As they arrived back in Britain, most soldiers saw themselves as the wretched remnants of a trampled army.  Many felt ashamed.  But they were confounded by the unexpected public mood.  ‘We were put on a train and wherever we stopped,’ says a lieutenant of the Durham Light Infantry, ‘people came up with coffee and cigarettes.  We had evidence from this tremendous euphoria that we were heroes and had won some sort of victory.  Even though it was obvious that we had been thoroughly beaten.'” (pg. 27)

Levine draws parallels between the rise of youth culture in Britain, Germany, and the United States, but unlike the United States where the culture was freer, British youth culture was slightly more constrained.  In Germany, the Nazis used the rise of the youth to create a generation with a nationalist fervor through brainwashing.

Levine chronicles battles in the early days where the French military is woefully unprepared for the cunning of the German army.  He highlights the use of small groups of German soldiers who made it possible for the Panzer tanks to cross into French regions to the surprise of many.  Meanwhile, Britain remained in political turmoil until Churchill was named as Chamberlain’s replacement as Prime Minister, and even then, many began to fear that Britain would lose the war.

Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine is more than a recounting of a great defeat or an effort of survival, it is a look at the war from the perspective of the soldiers, politicians, and common people engaged in it.  The anecdotes and stories from these soldiers and others bring to life the war, particularly the lack of communication and the naivete of those who joined up seeking adventure.  Reality can certainly be a painful experience.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Joshua Levine has written six bestselling histories including titles in the hugely popular ‘Forgotten Voices’ series. ‘Beauty and Atrocity’, his account of the Irish Troubles, was nominated for the Writers’ Guild Book of the Year award. ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’, his history of the pilots of the First World War, has been turned into a major British television documentary. He has written and presented a number of programmes for BBC Radio 4. In a previous life, he was a criminal barrister. He lives in London.

Find out more about Joshua at his website, and connect with him on Twitter.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 528 pgs.
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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, available at HarperCollins, is a stunning and intricate look at the network of female spies during WWI (and later, in WWII) and how integral they were to many of the triumphs and near misses that occurred to bring down the Kaiser (and later, Hitler). Eve is just one of those spies, but the intersection of her story and that of Charlie St. Clair happens just after WWII as a pregnant young woman comes to England in search of the one woman who might know what happened to her cousin Rose. Both women carry extreme guilt for those they were unable to save and both have been broken by those failures.

“It was why she’d been hired, her pure French and her pure English. Native of both countries, at home in neither.” (pg. 25 ARC)

In a world in which men were called to war by posters seeking identical soldiers who would follow orders without question, Eve’s call to arms came in an unexpected way as she typed letters in other languages in an office. Her unassuming stature and her stutter rendered her nearly invisible and an outcast at once, and this is exactly what Captain Cameron sought in recruits. But she would need more than the ability to be invisible, she would need to transform into another person and be able to lie without being detected, even among those who were proud of their lie detecting abilities.

Both Charlie and Eve are women who face the double-standard — groomed to be or expected to want nothing more than to be mothers and wives but having the ability to be much more. Charlie, a walking adding machine, is searching for the cousin she loved like a sister who disappeared during WWII, and she bails on her mother’s hope for a brighter marriage. Eve is reluctant to join the search until a name from her past creeps up and her unfinished business rears its ugly head. Quinn has researched the network of spies well, but what she also has done is delved deep into the hearts of these patriotic women to uncover their desires, their fears, and their uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

Eve is real, a woman who should have lived during WWI and gained the respect of military men for her unwavering bravery, and Charlie is more than that wayward boarding school girl acting out. These women have experienced great loss and are forever changed by it. But together they realize that a future can still be had for the both of them, if they can only survive the past. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a sure winner and a “best book of 2017.” It’s a book you won’t want to put down but sad to see end because you don’t want to leave these heroines behind.

RATING: Cinquain

I was happy to participate in a TLC Book Tours online Junket with Kate Quinn. Please check out the video below:

Blogger Junket Video:

Photo by Kate Furek

About the Author:

Kate Quinn is a native of Southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.

Find out more about Kate at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

New Authors Challenge 2017

WWII Reading Challenge 2017