Category Archives: Books

Go Away, I’m Reading

Try to interest me in a New Year’s challenge and I will probably back away slowly.

It’s a Pavlovian response. When I hear New Year’s and challenge in the same phrase, my eyes get glassy, my palms clammy. I might start to itch.

Such is my aversion to New Year’s challenges. To be more specific, the ones that involve losing weight, getting fit, or becoming enlightened.

I admit, in days of yore I signed on for New Year’s challenges with gusto. I can change my life, I exulted (in the privacy of my own home). I can be thinner, trimmer, happier, wiser, a better mother/wife/writer/friend/dog parent. I can do this!

I couldn’t.

Well-intentioned I may have been, but out of touch with reality. My reality. I don’t do challenges well. Suffice it to say that my good intentions evaporated as quickly as January snow on a 40 degree day.

I eventually gave up on challenges. January is just another month. I probably won’t lose weight and since I haven’t gone to the gym in over a year, fitness will not be my friend. And my word for 2015 is blintzes.

So there.

But I happened to notice Popsugar’s 2015 Ultimate Reading Challenge a few days ago and was intrigued. A reading challenge? Hey, I can do that. And when I was satisfied that neither food deprivation nor excessive sweating was involved, I jumped in. That’s the kind of cardio I can do.

A reading challenge? Well, hello.

I have no affiliation with Popsugar, I am not being compensated by Popsugar and, let’s be honest,  Popsugar hasn’t a clue that I exist, which is a long-winded way of saying that I am sharing this strictly for fun with no strings attached.

The premise is that in 2015 you will read 50 books of various types. Books that you may have planned on reading anyway, and others way off your radar.  A book written by an author who has your initials. A book written in the year you were born. A book with a one-word title. And so on.

Here’s the actual checklist if you want to print it or pin it.

Go Away, I'm Reading

Book nerd that I am, I put out a call on Facebook to enlist friends to join me, and now I’m in a small but active group of bookies. We will read books, recommend books, review books and talk about books: the book nerds’ equivalent of a spa retreat.

I began with the first one on the list: a book with over 500 pages. That was easy. I had wanted to read “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and it qualified with a page count of 530.

Just let me say … well, I almost can’t. I’m speechless. OMG. What a book. A National Book Award finalist, it is about the lives of a young German soldier and a blind French girl in World War II-ravaged Europe. The writing is exquisite. As Booklist said in its review, “a novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned.”

Yes, that.

Go Away, I'm Readimg

The only consolation is that now I have a new favorite author whose previous novels I have added to my TBR list.

I am seldom without a book in hand (hence the name of my blog) so you might argue that a reading challenge is not much of a challenge. But what I like about this one is reaching out of your comfort zone for a different kind of book. By the end of 2015 I will have read a graphic novel, a novel 100 years old, a trilogy, and so much more that will be new to me.

Incidentally, if this challenge strikes your fancy and you crave an online group as I did, go on over to Goodreads and see what other readers have to say.

I’ll share a secret with you. I started Weight Watchers three weeks ago. And I’m tracking my cardio every day. So I’m not giving up entirely on personal improvement. I’m doing what I have to do.

And saving the rest of the time for reading.

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Book Buzz: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Christmas lights are still twinkling in my neighborhood as I’m sure they are in yours. Today, New Year’s Eve, the merriment of the holiday season is still upon us. And until next Monday when it is back to reality, we can enjoy what is left of this special time of year.

Understandably, the holidays are not merry for everyone. But if the whimsy of sugar plum fairy dust and the ho ho hos of jolly St. Nick can still cast a magical spell on you, I suggest that now is the time pick up a copy of the fanciful new book from Menna van Praag, “The Dress Shop of Dreams.”

The Dress Shop of Dreams

This romantic fairy tale, embellished with sparkly sequins and a ruffle of bewitching fun, whisks us into the lives of characters who are either falling in love, searching for love, or thwarted by it.

The Dress Shop of Dreams

The story takes place in Oxfordshire, England and is about a young woman named Cora Sparks, a serious and emotionless scientist intent on completing the scientific work begun by her parents 20 years earlier. Her parents never got to finish the work themselves; tragically, they died in a mysterious fire in their home from which Cora narrowly escaped. Cora’s grandmother, Etta, has been the parent figure in her life since then.

Etta is the owner of a charming little dress shop on a side street in Cambridge, in which mysteriously wonderful things seems to happen. Filled with colorful fabrics of delicate silks, ornate lace and rich velvets, the store bespeaks enchantment in these racks of dazzlingly beautiful dresses.

When a woman enters the shop and tries on one of these gossamer gowns, she is instantly transformed. She looks in the mirror and as if by magic, the imperfections are gone. She is delighted with her appearance. When Etta unobtrusively sews into the garment a few tiny stitches of her red thread, it is akin to waving a magic wand: the article of clothing will unleash the wearer’s most fervent desire.

This is what Etta intends to do for her beloved granddaughter, Cora.

At the time that Cora’s parents died, Etta had carefully put a spell on her granddaughter to protect her from the crushing sadness of losing them. By doing so, she also hampered the girl’s ability to experience emotions and feel love. Now that enough time has passed, Etta thinks, Cora is ready for romance. And she knows just who Cora’s intended should be: Cora’s childhood friend, Walt, who has been in love with her forever, unbeknownst to her.

When Etta removes the spell, Cora’s emotions are reawakened. At the same time, she experiences a surge of interest in the fire that took her parents’ lives. What was ruled an accident seems more like a murder, and she is determined to find out.

Doggedly pursuing a trail long left cold, Cora searches for answers about her past and ultimately finds what she needs to move on with her life.

Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street which I reviewed and enjoyed, pulls the threads of her characters’ lives together in this confection as sweet as a Christmas cookie, with a bit of mystery, a bit of romance and a bit of fun, with a nod to the magic of fashion that women of any age can appreciate.

And to start this New Year right, I am pleased to give one of my lucky readers a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams.” Please leave a comment (US addresses only, sorry) and a winner will be randomly selected.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams” from Random House for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

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Book Buzz: Eating Wildly

Nature and nurture intertwine enticingly in Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, a bittersweet and sensory-rich memoir by urban forager Ava Chin.

Eating Wildly The former “Wild Edibles” columnist in The New York Times, Chin writes tenderly of her search for sustenance as she navigates life’s unpredictable paths.

Throughout much of her life, Chin struggled with feelings of abandonment. Her father, whom she didn’t meet until she was 26 years old, had left when her mother became pregnant with her. And her mother, a former “Miss Chinatown,” was beautiful but remote, focused more on her endless list of suitors than on her attention-starved daughter.

Chin was often lonely and frightened. Had it not been for her doting grandparents, with whom she spent a great deal of time, she may never have found the love and guidance she needed to thrive.

Her grandparents’ home was filled with comfort and good food. She credits her grandfather, a restaurant worker, with developing her palate for unusual and exotic foods. Her grandmother was everything Chin yearned for from her mother: loving, supportive, proud of her.

Nonetheless, Chin had to entertain herself much of the time. She found solace in scuttling about in the dirt outside her mother’s Queens apartment building, digging for treasures in the cracks between the concrete. As an adult, she discovered the pleasure of tromping through uncultivated open areas in New York’s five boroughs, searching for edible plants and weeds.

In this quest, she developed a deep appreciation of the bounty of nature and the beauty in the improbable. Her prose is embellished with reverence for all that grows.

Any book with recipes in it gets brownie points from me, and each chapter in Eating Wildly concludes with a recipe that Chin has created using foraged ingredients such as lambs quarters, mulberries and wild honey. They sound mouthwatering, even her variation on Grass Pie. Chin’s prize winning recipe for Wild Oyster Mushroom, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions is one that is definitely going to appear on my dinner table soon.

Chin realized through foraging that life’s timetable is not always something we can control. “I’ve learned that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way – from morel mushrooms bursting through the soil to a swarm of on-the-move bees scouting out a new home,” she writes.

eating wildly She rapturously describes plants that until now were unfamiliar to me. Wood sorrel, for instance. “It has folded, heart-shaped leaves, which flutter open and closed depending on the time of day, rather like slow-moving butterflies … taking a bite was a birth and lemony relief.”

And mulberries: “The ripest berry – a dark one hanging on a short stem that resembled a comma … resembling a cluster of deeply colored prunes, about the size of a cocoon.” Asiatic dayflower: “… with an edible blossom so transient that it could be a Buddhist lesson in impermanence.”

An Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction and Journalism at City University of New York, Chin’s affinity for nature is perhaps only exceeded by her fluidity with language. Her beautiful words captivated me.

I was curious to see what the plants she referenced looked like, and she has posted lovely photos of them on The Plants (and Mushrooms) of Eating Wildly.

Visit Ava Chin’s website to learn more about her life or to order her book — a perfect gift, by the way. Or go to Amazon.

Eating WildlyI am anticipating the sequel to this memoir. And I am so taken with Chin’s story that I am putting urban foraging (with a guide) on my bucket list.

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Book Buzz: Murder on the Ile Sordou

Take a secluded island off the coast of Marseille, add in a cast of quirky characters, mix in a gorgeous lush setting and a shocking, unsolved murder, and voilà, you’ve got the ingredients for a tasty mystery.

Such is the whodunit, “Murder on the Ile Sordou,” by M. L. Longworth.

Imagine departing from this port to the island …

And if this looks breathtaking, imagine the stunning landscape and vista of an island just a short boat ride away.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

Gathered at the luxurious and recently renovated hotel on the island of Sordou, a group of vacationers settles in for a week of pampering and solitude. The protagonist, Antoine Verlaque, is a wealthy magistrate from Aix-en-Provence who wants to get away from it all with his paramour, law professor Marine Bonnet. To that end, he keeps his profession a secret from the other guests.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

The cast of characters includes a retired poet/schoolteacher, a middle-aged American tourist couple, a secretive housekeeper, an odd and reclusive former lighthouse watchman and skittish but anxious to please young waitress. Somewhat scandalous is the presence of an aging movie star who comes across as aloof and unpleasant, especially to his wife and her teenage son.

As the guests begin to interact we learn their back stories, and just as the group is beginning to bond there is an incident. A shot rings out and the next morning the body of one of the guests is discovered. Bad news for the guests, and bad news for hoteliers hoteliers Maxime and Cat-Cat Le Bon who have invested their life savings in this hotel.

So you’ve got all the ingredients of a thriller: a murder by an unknown assailant, a storm that picks up and knocks out the electricity, guests who are prohibited from leaving the island. Oh, by the way, there is no cell service on the Ile Sordou.

No spoilers here. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

What I loved most about this book is the island of Sordou itself. The descriptions of the glorious scenery, the rocky cliffs, the surging tides of the ocean, the view for miles put me in a definite south of France frame of mind. Also, mon dieu, the gourmet meals sounded amazing! Because the island did not rely on imported provisions, the talented chef concocted mouth-watering meals from locally caught fish and island grown fruits and vegetables, described in a way to tantalize any palette.

I wouldn’t call this a sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of novel; the tone is too languid for that. The ending isn’t so much “oh my God!’ as it is “ah, I see.” That said, the loose ends were wrapped up tidily and made for a satisfying conclusion. And I couldn’t have predicted it.

“Murder on the Ile Sordou” is the fourth in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal mystery series and now my appetite is whetted.

The author, M.L. Longworth, was recently profiled on NPR’s Crime in the City series (“Mystery Writer Weaves Intricate Puzzles in Sleepy French Town”). This gives a nice introduction to the author, the Verlaque and Bonnet series, and the lovely area of Aix-en-Provence.

I am delighted to offer a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below. Only U.S. addresses are eligible.

I received a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou from Penguin for an honest review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

 

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Book Buzz: Humor on a Slice of Wry

You can’t help but smile when you hear the titles of humor writer Stacia Friedman’s books.

Anyone who can come up with “Tender is the Brisket” and “Nothing Toulouse” has already tickled my funny bone, and Friedman goes one step further: she is a gifted storyteller as well.

Who doesn’t want to laugh, especially in these trying days? I laughed out loud reading these books, and I think you will, too.

Tender is the Brisket

Meet the Sheraton family.

Actually, the first time you meet them is at patriarch Sol’s funeral. The surviving Sheratons are Sol’s widow, Dolly, and their three children: Ruth, a TV writer in her 40s, Naomi, a neurotic, slightly zaftig psychologist who writes self-help books (“The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Highly Insensitive People”) and Larry, a cross-dresser.

Just your typical American family, with angst as thick as a bagel with a schmear.

Tender is the BrisketRuth is at a crossroads. Recovering from a disastrous marriage, she yearns to find love but in her quest continues to make bad choices. Plus, she is unemployed, as well as increasingly concerned about her mother’s health.  Dolly is sinking into dementia and requires continuous care. Ruth’s siblings are no help; in fact, they secretly siphon funds from Dolly’s account as they plot to abscond with the inheritance, hanging Ruth out to dry.

Naomi’s husband has moved out of their bedroom and is seen around town with other women. Their adopted daughter, Shoshanna, has dropped out of college and refuses to communicate with them.

Larry’s gender confusion is only part of the issue, as his obsession with money and an inheritance takes over his life.

With a family like this, all you can do is laugh. And you will.

A clever tale of life on New York’s Upper West Side, the book can best be described as both the nickname of one of Ruth’s love interests, Witty (Dewitt Clinton Hogworth), and tender (as in the title) in the way it gently explores parent-child relationships as they evolve over the years.

Nothing Toulouse

Subtitled “A Fedora Wolf Travel Mystery,” the book is (hopefully) the first of many escapades of the adventurous Ms. Wolf, a Philadelphia-based journalist with dreams of traveling the world and writing about it.

With an assignment to travel to the south of France to report on the annual Armagnac Festival, Fedora is excited to get away from troubles on the home front for an adventure in France. And when she meets the sexy French photographer assigned to accompany her on this assignment, things start looking even better.

Nothing ToulouseThings go swimmingly, at first. She explores the charming vineyards, samples the local cuisine and gets to know several of the aristocratic residents of this community. But suddenly, a murder occurs at her hotel, and her ability to nose out a mystery is put to the test.

As she tries to find the murderer while avoiding the gendarmes, the plot thickens and the suspense is heightened, but the humor continues unchecked.

Friedman’s understanding of French culture is as rapier-sharp as her familiarity with Jewish families on the Upper West Side. If there is any justice in the world, these books will become movies and give the rest of the world something to laugh about.

Stacia Friedman is an award-winning freelance journalist, humorist and author. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and NewsWorks.org.

Humor writer Stacia Friedman

I am delighted to offer an e-reader version of one of the books to a reader. Please leave a comment below and a name will be selected randomly.

 

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Book Buzz: Sister Mother Husband Dog

I see the name Ephron, and poof! I’m happy.

Because I am pretty sure that no matter what it is — a book or play or essay or movie — I am going to be caught up in something humorous, heartfelt and genuine.

If you called me an Ephron groupie, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.

It’s true. I’m a devoted fan of all four talented Ephron sisters (Nora, Delia, Hallie and Amy) whose writing consistently makes me swoon.

Was I predisposed to fall in love with Delia Ephron’s new book of essays, “Sister Mother Husband Dog?” Perhaps.

But love it I did.

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Delia stole my heart years ago when I read her delightful essay in The New York Times magazine, “How to Eat Like a Child” which would later become a book. Every so often I would catch a piece of hers somewhere, like this in the Times last year: A Christmas Manners Quiz, which made me LOL, so I tweeted her to thank her.

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Sister Mother Husband Dog

You will laugh. You will cry. At least, I did.

Delia’s first essay is about the loss of her sister, Nora; the fragility of those last months, the heartbreak of watching a loved one suffer and then slip away, the confusion, the not knowing how to set life back on a normal course.

Nora and Delia were more than sisters; they were collaborators, working together on Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. And a terrific play that ran on Broadway, called Love, Loss and What I Wore, which I saw twice: first with five girlfriends, and then with my mother and two daughters.

The play was funny, warm, poignant.

This is how I would describe the essays in “Sister Mother Husband Dog.”

This is how I imagine Delia to be in real life.

She talks about the collaborations, the upsides and the downs, the adrenaline rush of success as well as the disappointments. She writes honestly about her loving but complex relationship with Nora.

Dogs and bakeries

She is a dog lover and so am I, so her ruminations about life with a dog made me smile. I am in awe of her vast knowledge of pastries present and past in more New York bakeries than you can imagine. She jokes about modern day banking and whether she is Jewish enough and how falling in love with a movie led to her first marriage, which turned out to be a bad idea.

But most eloquent is the essay entitled “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother,” her memory of a brilliant but difficult woman who couldn’t find a way to embrace her daughter, and whose life ended much too soon due to alcoholism, leaving a tragic legacy.

If heartstrings made a sound when they were pulled, mine would have been audible.

Like chatting with your girlfriends.

I love Delia’s writing style. It is much like a typical conversation, in which you start with one thought and happily veer off into something else because there is so much to talk about, but eventually get back on track. Or not.

When I turned the last page, I sat for a moment with the book on my lap, a tear in my eye, a smile on my face.

As it should be.

♥♥♥♥

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of “Sister Mother Husband Dog” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. Only USA addresses are eligible.

♥♥♥♥

I received a copy of “Sister Mother Husband Dog” from Penguin Random House for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

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Book Buzz: The Mockingbird Next Door

In my world, talented writers are my superheroes.

As a book lover and writer myself, I deeply appreciate the technique of an author who gets it just right: the evocative words, the finely drawn characters, the story that takes me to a place I’ve never been. I have such admiration for the writer whose book stays with me long after the last page is turned.

Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” had that gift.

Her exquisitely written coming of age story in the fictional town of Maycomb, Ala. was published in 1960, just when the civil rights movement started to gain momentum in the South. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an Academy award-winning movie.

Chances are you have read it, too, since according to a 1988 report by the National Council of Teachers of English, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was required reading in three-quarters of America’s high schools.

Translated into more than 40 languages, the book is estimated to have a print run exceeding 30 million copies, and sales even today continue to be robust.

Perhaps just as noteworthy as the book’s success is its author’s refusal, from the get go, to be interviewed.

An intensely private person.

Lee – known as Nelle Harper Lee back in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala. — despises the limelight and has consistently refused to be interviewed, to autograph books, and to receive awards.

However, this reputation did not deter dozens of curious journalists from traveling to Monroeville, hoping to get a glimpse of, if not an interview with, the renowned author. But their efforts were in vain.

Which is why Lee’s friendship with Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills, and her willingness to be interviewed over the course of many months, surprised everyone. Most of all, Mills, who has written an account of this experience in her memoir, “The Mockingbird Next Door.”

The Mockingbird Next Door

How did it happen? Well, in 2001, the Chicago Public Library was kicking off its “One Book, One Chicago” program with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as its selection. Mills’ editor sent her to Monroeville to get an interview with Lee.

Mills was able to locate the house easily. Figuring there was no chance she would get an interview, but she would at least be able to tell her editor she had tried, she knocked on the door. And to her total surprise, she was invited into the house. And into their lives.

The Lee sisters — Nelle Harper Lee and Alice Finch Lee — not only granted an interview to Mills, they welcomed her into their inner circle, and treated her as a long-lost family member.

Over coffee at McDonald’s, or during car rides on country roads, or when feeding the ducks at the pond, the Lee sisters opened up to Mills about their childhoods, life in the South, why Nelle never wrote another book, and so much more.

It’s a measure of good writing that I felt like I was there.

I felt like I was in the back seat of that car with them, gazing out at landmarks as Alice pointed them out, perspiring in the humid evening air, laughing along with Nelle as she recounted anecdotes about life in a small town.

As fate would have it, Mills experienced health issues and was on disability when the house next door to the Lees became available for rent. There she lived for 18 months and the friendship with the Lees flourished.

Mills has written a heartfelt memoir of a remarkable friendship with Nelle and Alice. Alice, by the way, is a remarkable woman in her own right. Like their father A.C., on which the character of Atticus Finch was based, Alice Lee was a well-respected lawyer who practiced into her 90s.

A touching love letter to the Lee sisters, this memoir is also a glimpse of small town life, past and present. It is also a portrait of an elusive author who never wanted the bright lights and accolades; instead, she made a decision early on to live out her years in the quiet, small town way she treasured.

♦♦♦♦

I am delighted to be able to give away a free copy of “The Mockingbird Next Door” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and a name will be randomly selected to receive the book. Only USA addresses are eligible.

I received a complimentary copy of “The Mockingbird Next Door” from Penguin for review. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: Burnt Toast

Some kids dream of being a doctor, an airline pilot, a teacher.

Me? I wanted to be a farmer.

Like a country mouse in the city, I felt out of place in our suburban neighborhood. My destiny was to live on a farm, of that I was certain. A farm with horses and cows and chickens, where I would get up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows and muck out the stalls. I would gather eggs from the hen house and bring them to my mother (Maw) who would scramble them up for a hearty breakfast with homemade biscuits and strawberry preserves to top it off.

I begged my parents to ditch the suburban nonsense and move to the country. Also? We needed to grow our family. Look at any farm family, I told them. You need a passel of kids to help with the chores. So we needed to adopt a few, and a big sister would be much appreciated. They listened patiently, but it was only cute for so long. When my beseeching disintegrated into petulant whining they either changed the subject or sent me to to my room.

A life on the farm was not in the cards.

Burnt Toast

However, my fascination with farm life has remained strong, and that’s why I enjoyed reading “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family.”

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Author Kathleen Flinn, who has written two previous books on her fascination with the culinary world, including the New York Times bestselling memoir, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” has penned this homage to a childhood short on luxuries but long on farming, love … and home cooking.

Good cooks and food enthusiasts run in Flinn’s Swedish and Irish family, and this memoir is chock full of anecdotes related to the joy of eating. From foraging for morels to fishing for smelt and preparing Grandpa Charles’ chili, each chapter is a page of Flinn’s childhood, recounted with charm and a sense of fun.

I was amazed to learn how voluminous a family farm operation can be. From the bounty of their garden Flinn’s mother canned 80 quarts of applesauce, 120 quarts of tomatoes and 80 quarts of peaches each year. And that was just the beginning.

Because money was tight in those early years, her mother learned how to stretch a dollar while making wholesome, tasty food for her growing brood. Flinn has compiled many of the family favorites and each chapter ends with a recipe, such as this one for Apple Crisp.

Apple Crisp from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

If you’re wondering why the title is “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good,” it refers to Flinn’s grandmother’s phrase used to get a picky child to eat. Grandma Inez had other memorable quotes, like this:

Grandma Inez from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

I’ve already tried one recipe and can’t wait to try more. I made these rolls this week and they were a big hit with my husband. They are best hot from the oven with a dab of butter.

No-Knead Yeast Rolls from Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Aunt Myrtle’s No-Knead Yeast Rolls

Makes 2 dozen

1 package (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 1/2 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 c. boiling water
1 large egg
3 1/2 c. all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit 10 minutes.

In a different bowl, combine the shortening, salt, sugar, and boiling water. Let cool slightly. Add the dissolved yeast, egg and flour and mix well; the dough will be slightly sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for at least two hours and up to 24.

Coat a muffin pan with cooking spray. Pinch off dough and fill each muffin slot about 1/3 full. Brush the tops with melted butter. Let rise for about two hours in a warm place, until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bake the rolls for 20 minutes, or until they rise up firmly and are slightly browned. Let cool slightly before removing from the pan. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

 ♥♥♥

Maybe I’ve still got some of the farm girl in me. I’m hankering for some homemade strawberry preserves to go with those rolls. I’m going to learn how to make it myself.

  ♥♥♥

I am delighted to be able to offer a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and the winner will be contacted next week. Only US addresses eligible.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good” from Viking and Penguin Books for an honest review. Which this is.

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Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

Books is wonderful.

That’s what I scrawled in green crayon on a piece of paper on a hot summer day when I was four years old. Thanks to the quick thinking of my kvelling mother, the piece de resistance, laminated on the top of a wooden box, exists to this day.

Books by Writers I Know

I haven’t changed my mind since that day long ago. Books is wonderful, whether I’m reading them, talking about them, ordering them from Amazon, holding them in my hand or sharing them with people I care about.

I really enjoy sharing books by writers I know.

Doreen McGettigan, Mary Buchan and Janie Emaus are three terrific writers whom I have gotten to know through our blogging community. I am delighted to share their books with you.

Bristol Boyz Stomp, Doreen McGettigan

We have become numb to violence in our society. Don’t you agree? Mass shootings are commonplace now. Other violent crimes happen every day, barely getting a nod on the local news. But somehow we think that terrible crimes only happen to other people. Not us.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

But In 1999, Doreen and her family became a statistic when her younger brother, David, was brutally murdered in a road rage incident; really, a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  This crime left a young man dead, his family shattered, his community torn apart. David left  a beloved wife and young son.

It is a shocking story. Beginning with the night of his murder through the trial and beyond, Doreen writes of her heartbreak; about trying to sort out what had happened, attempting to make sense of something so evil, coming to grips with the loss of her peace-loving brother.

This is a book that I could not put down, although it was often difficult to read. Doreen is unsparing in the description of her brother’s murder and the anguish that ensued. While slipping into a deep hole of despair, she strove to retain some normalcy in her life for the sake of her remaining family members, while seeking justice in a flawed legal system. I felt her raw emotion every step of the way.

Despite this nightmare, life did go on. Doreen’s children grew up, got married, had children of their own. In the book, Doreen welcomes each grandchild by noting the child’s name and birth date, a way of acknowledging that in spite of her sorrow, life would go on and be filled with the light and promise of a brand new life.

Over IT, Mary Buchan

As an RN, Mary has spent years in the field of health and wellness, helping patients lead a healthier life through weight loss or handling stress. Now, as a woman going through a life transition of her own as an empty nester, she is focusing her career on helping midlfe women reinvent themselves to realize their full potential and live life to the fullest.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

Whether it’s a health issue, financial burden, career change or navigating rough terrain with family members, we all face some sort of challenge as life goes on. The ups and downs of life are normal, but the downs can be overwhelming. By recounting her own episodes of pain or confusion, Mary conveys an understanding of the issues many of us struggle with and shows, by example, how these can be addressed.

Mary’s book — which can be read and then referred to as a resource – contains chpaters of lighthearted anecdotes and famous quotes that relate to a variety of challenges she has faced. At the end of each chapter is a section for the reader to answer questions that pertain to one’s own life, with space to make notes or journal. I found this exercise a wonderful way to get in touch with my feelings.

There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your journey, whatever it may be. And you can reach a deeper understanding of it from sharing with others.

Mary shows that it is possible to overcome adversity and go on to lead a fulfilling and happy life, making these midlife years satisfyingly fruitful.

Before the After, Janie Emaus

In a much lighter vein, Janie has written an entertaining young adult novel that enchanted this reader (not a young adult) from the very beginning. Knowing that I enjoy reading books about time travel, Janie suggested her book to me, since its premise is based on exactly that.

Book Buzz: Books by Writers I Know

The protagonist, Jess, is a woman in her 20s who works in a coffee shop while struggling through film school. One day a handsome and alluring man stops in her coffee shop and there is an instant attraction between the two of them, but quickly the man vanishes and she is left wondering.

When their paths cross again, Jess is confused. There is something very mysterious about this man, Renn. For starters, he seems to magically disappear and reappear. What she doesn’t realize is that Renn has been sent to her from the future for a reason that will continue to unfold.

As she searches for answers, she realizes that she is falling in love with Renn and resolves to do what she needs to do to make this relationship work.

This is a fun, well-written page turner, with nicely drawn characters and snappy dialogue and a fast pace that kept up right until the end. Janie spins a great tale and this is one any age can enjoy.

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All three authors have generously offered a free copy of their book to one of my lucky readers. Please leave a comment below by July 23 and I will randomly select three winners who will receive a book in the mail. Only US addresses are eligible.

I was given a copy of each book for an honest review. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Angel in My Pocket

One day last week, a woman in my Facebook blogging group suddenly reached out for comfort. The two year-old son of someone she knew had died in a terrible accident. In our private group she was able to share the anguish that she could not share publicly. Instantly, an outpouring of sympathy flooded the page.

The heartbreak of losing a child. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Awful. Inconceivable.

Tragically, this is exactly what happened to Sukey Forbes ten years ago when her six year-old daughter, Charlotte, died due to a rare genetic disorder. In her memoir, “The Angel in My Pocket,” Forbes describes in honest detail the unbearable grief of losing a child and the tough road that comes after.

The Angel in My Pocket

Subtitled “A Story of Love, Loss and Life After Death,” the book traces Forbes’ arduous journey through intense sorrow to finding sources for healing — some of them unconventional — that gave her strength to move forward with her life. A life forever changed, certainly, but a life still capable of finding meaning and joy.

The descendant of two renowned New England families, Forbes was raised with puritanical values of self-reliance and the suppression of emotion. In her quest to see her way through her desolation, she realized she needed to find a different path, but turned to her family legacy for guidance. She was heartened to discover examples of mysticism and alternative sources of wisdom that sustained her in her search for meaning.

She found that she could lean on family members who had experienced similar tragedies, as did her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with the death of his child, also six years old, the same age as Charlotte.

The Angel in My Pocket

Though gut wrenching and sad, Forbes’ eloquently told story is one of hope. A lifeline to anyone experiencing any type of loss and struggling to find a way through it.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chat with Sukey Forbes about her memoir.

Why did you write the book?

I needed this book on my nightstand when my daughter died. There are many books out there that describe the state of grief, but what I didn’t find was a lifeline, a resource that said yes, this is horrible, and this is probably the worst life experience you will ever go through, but If you do the following things or take these steps, you can be OK. Eventually.

I needed to hear that. Grief is so painful that the thought of living in that stage of tenderness for the rest of my life was almost more than I could bear.

You do carry this grief with you always, and you are forever changed. But the books I read said “You are forever changed” but were so heavily laden with the negative that I never considered that I also might be changed in some very positive ways, if I paid attention to that, and that is what this book is about.

How long did you think about writing the book before you actually started?

Very early on in my grief it became clear to me that I was grieving in a different way than the way I perceived others grieving. I struggled with that. As mothers, we tend to beat ourselves up in any number of different ways — the way we parent, the way we feel, the way we move through the world — and I beat myself up a lot for the way I was grieving.

I found it helpful to keep a journal and write about it. I told myself that if and when I got to that endpoint, if I reached the goal of where I wanted to be, then I would turn it into a book.

How did your upbringing influence the way you grieved?

We all carry our life experiences in our proverbial backpack as we move through life, and my experience growing up in a puritanical, stiff upper lip, self-reliant household was that we were encouraged to not be emotional.

That stoicism actually helped me initially when I needed to be there for my two other children and my husband, but it also hindered my ability to feel. Because every time I felt myself descending into sorrow I had this horrible fear that I would become completely unglued, and that would be the end of it and I would never be able to find my way to any sense of sanity.

However, what also helped me was that there were a number of family members who were thinkers and seekers, looking for something. So I also felt encouraged to find my own way.

Malignant hypothermia — the genetic disorder that took Charlotte’s life — what have you learned about it?

Ten years later, there is not much more that is known. What has changed is the awareness of the symptoms not just in hospital emergency rooms but also general medical training. Charlotte’s presentation of malignant hypothermia is still, to this day, one of a handful of cases around the world. Usually the disorder is triggered under general anesthesia. In Charlotte’s case, it was non-triggered, and we know even less about that than the triggered kind.

In the early stages of your bereavement you decided to consult a medium. What compelled you to do this?

What drove me was the maternal desire to know that my daughter was OK. This really defined much of my early grieving. I didn’t have the architecture of a belief system in the same way many religions do, so I had to find my own way in terms of what happens when we die.

I couldn’t just accept that she was in heaven. That didn’t work for me spiritually or scientifically. When we are stretched thin and desperate we become more open-minded and more willing to take that extra leap. I made finding an answer my mission, looking outside of myself, and opened myself up to anything initially.

At first, It was equal parts skepticism and open mindedness. But I found it impossible to dismiss the notion that someone might be able to communicate with my daughter, and if that possibility existed, I felt that I really had to take a shot.

Remember, though, that my journey and the ways I sought comfort and found it are not necessarily the right way for everyone.

I was able to get the validation that I needed that Charlotte was OK. That was a great gift for me. It gave me enormous comfort.

Whether you’re dealing with a medium or clairvoyant or doctor or therapist or anybody else who has more knowledge in some areas than you, it’s important to keep your mind open.. I still don’t quite understand how it works. I myself have a scientific background and there is so much that we don’t know.

I like to think of it this way. There are sound frequencies we can’t hear but dogs and other animals can hear. These sounds still exist even though we can’t understand them or they don’t register with us. For some reason, there are some people who are able to see ahead, hear ahead, and have an extra ability to collect data points.

If the information they can give you is actually helpful and additive, I say why not take advantage of that.

You have such a colorful family tree. For example, there seems to be a family tradition of living and being comfortable with ghosts.

Many families, particularly those in New England who live in old houses with many generations and occupants from over the years, acknowledge and accept the existence of ghosts. In both our summer house and the home where I spent my childhood, I had personal experiences with ghosts or something that felt ghost-like to me, as did many other family members. There was certainly a family culture of “there’s more than that which we can see.”

You turned to your ancestors for answers, and they provided comfort to you through the grieving process.

There is a great tradition of looking backwards in our family and revering our antecedents, a tremendous sense of carrying ideas and thoughts through the family, not just in terms of my great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, but of the other family members as well.

When I began searching for the road map through grief, the first place I looked was to my family. We have a series of guest books that go back to the 1840s, and within days after Charlotte ‘s death I began to look for specific dates in history that involved the death of a family member. I needed information about how my family processed it publicly and privately.

So I did start to lean more heavily on those relatives who had experienced loss. Emerson had a son who died at the same age as Charlotte of a high fever, and I found a very strong kinship in him, not as Emerson the poet, but as a relative who lost a child and how that affected him.

Friends and family can be well meaning at a time like this but often say or do the wrong things. What is the best way for people to help?

Overwhelmingly, I learned how deeply kind people can be. But they often say thoughtless and cruel things without realizing it. At the top of the list is “I know exactly how you feel.” Even someone who has lost a child the same way can’t know exactly how you feel.

The best thing that anyone could say is I’m sorry, and ask about the child, not in terms of the way she died, but the way she lived.

Having people bring meals was very helpful. Also, very specific offers of tasks that they could do to help – not asking the open-ended “what can I do to help?” question that is hard to answer because bereaved people can’t think that clearly. It needs to be a specific offer of, for example, let me take your children to the park, what day works? Or, I am going to the super market, what do you need?

How do you continue to remember and honor Charlotte?

After her death, we set up a foundation in her name, with a mission statement that reads, “Through the eyes of a child, making the world a better place.” Once a year we sit down as a family and figure out, at the age Charlotte would be now, where would she want to donate this money? What would be interesting to her? It’s a way for us to think of her and keep her spirit alive as part of our family. And we have always remembered her through stories and on birthdays and holidays.

My relationship with her is different now. It has shifted from a mother-daughter relationship to more of an angel or spiritual guide. When I pray it’s less to God and more to Charlotte.

I still really struggle with the earthly bit. Her birthday is hands down the hardest day of the year for me. I still very much miss the little girl who was here, but the soul who has moved on, I feel a very strong connection to that.

What are your hopes for this book?

I believe what qualifies me to write this book is I’ve been there. I came through it. So I hope someone reading the book will think, “If she can do it, I can do it.” Sharing that part of the story of survival and resiliency is very important to me. It drove me to put pen to paper and ultimately get this book on someone’s nightstand who might benefit from it.

The book is a natural fit for people who have lost a child, but also for anyone who has struggled with any kind of loss and is trying to work through that. Through my experiences, I can share what worked for me and gave me back my life.

Sukey Forbes, The Angel in My Pocket

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of “The Angel in My Pocket” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below by July 15 and I will notify the winner then. Only US postal addresses are eligible.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin USA/Viking for an honest review. All opinions are my own. I did not receive any other compensation.

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