Book Review: Music of the Ghosts, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

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Fiction: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

 

Vaddey Ratner calls her second novel, Music of the Ghosts, “a story of survivors.” It is a deep, thoughtful, heartfelt story of two people whose journey to escape the killing fields of Cambodia is still fraught with danger and tragedy, even decades after the regime was overthrown.

 

Teera is a young woman who escaped Cambodia as a child with her aunt. They were the only two of a large extended family to survive. Teera’s aunt raised her and guided her through high school in Minnesota, college at Cornell, and then back again to Minnesota. Many years later, though, her aunt contracted cancer and died soon after the diagnosis. Among her dying wishes was for part of her ashes to be returned to Cambodia, to the temple in Phnom Penh she had helped raise money to rebuild. The building was dedicated to the memory of Teera’s father, a musician in pre-war Cambodia. More than a little lost after the death of this central person in her world, Teera returns to Cambodia to honor her aunt’s wishes…and to meet an old musician who has sent her a mysterious letter.

 

Tun remained in Cambodia after the war. He lost everyone and everything. One of the few who survived his imprisonment, he had been held with Teera’s father near the end of the war. Tun had also been a musician, and the two men were familiar with each other before the war. While they were imprisoned together, Teera’s father entrusted Tun with the location of three musical instruments he had made by hand. Although they were not of any particular value, they were literally the only things he had left, and he asked Tun to find his daughter and give them to her. Tun had returned to Phnom Penh many years after the war looking for any signs of his friend’s family–and found the temple. There, the broken and crippled man was given a home and the opportunity to play his music. Eventually, he managed to write Teera, telling her of the instruments and of his friendship with her father.

 

Shifting back and forth between these two characters, author Vaddey Ratner brings us into a Cambodia that still struggles with its past. Everyone who survived the Khmer Rouge period was a victim–but many of the victims were also victimizers. Tun started the war as a soldier for the Khmer Rouge. During one of the purges, though, his loyalty was questioned. His daughter was raped and murdered, and he was thrown into prison. Under torture he gave up names of people he knew. Some of those people were subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Whether this was because he gave up their names or not is unknowable–the “Organization” was arresting and killing people under any pretext, so it’s quite possible the names he gave were given up by other people as well, or that they would have been captured for other reasons. But the guilt he feels is real.

 

This is a reality for the actual Cambodia as well. What do you do with people who fought in the war? Most of the soldiers who fought against the Khmer Rouge were killed. But many of those who fought for the Khmer Rouge were killed or imprisoned and tortured by the regime itself. Should those people be held accountable for bringing Pol Pot to power? Or was their own experience at his hands enough punishment? Tun is physically and mentally shattered after the war. His family is dead, his body is broken, and his mind is haunted by his crimes. Yet he feels that he should be held more accountable. Ratner ultimately leaves that to the reader to judge.

 

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Book Review: Music of the GhostsVaddey Ratner

 

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner

Book Review: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

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Historical Fiction: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

In the Shadow of the Banyan is a beautiful, haunting, exquisite story that will live in my heart for a long, long time. “War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father’s footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his.” Gripping the reader from that first sentence, Vaddey Ratner takes us back to 1970s Cambodia. Told from the perspective of seven-year old Raami, we follow her family from their home in Phnom Penh to exile in the countryside and then from exile to forced labor. It is a story of survival more than triumph, and not everyone in her family survives.

 

The Khmer Rouge killed hundreds of thousands of their own people. Some estimates are over two million deaths during their four-year rule. Many were executed for supporting the former regime. Many more were worked to death or died of starvation in forced labor camps. Others became sick and died from inadequate or non-existent medical care. Raami is witness to every form of death and atrocity visited by the “Organization,” the term the regime used to describe itself. She herself is forced to labor, prohibited from going to school, taught to forget her past and serve the revolution. Although she holds onto the memories of her childhood including the poems and stories of her father, her spirit and her body are brutalized by misuse.

 

Yet, Raami is resilient. In the face of death, abuse, loss, illness, forced labor, and every other imaginable horror visited on her and her family, she continues. Despite there being no reason to hope, Raami lives. Despite every reason to lose her ability to love, Raami loves. As much as it is the story of one little girl, In the Shadow of the Banyan is the story of the Cambodian people. Brutalized and forsaken, both she and they survived.

 

There was a time, not too many years ago, when America was a place of hope for refugees and other victims of brutal regimes. Author Vaddey Ratner was a little girl in the “killing fields” of Cambodia. She, like her character, survived those days and came to America. Ratner arrived as a refugee in 1981 not knowing English. In 1990, she graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went to Cornell, where she graduated summa cum laude. In these days when this country seems to have strayed from that vision of being a country of immigrants, perhaps this book can remind us why an America that stands for freedom for the oppressed and hope for the persecuted is so important.

 

Ratner may have arrived not knowing English, but she has become a master of the language. Her prose is achingly beautiful. She spends paragraphs describing rain, then compares that rain to the sorrow expressed by her mother. One character tells the story behind his shaved head and his scars, describing in detail how he obtained those scars to save his family–and how it ultimately did not matter. Ratner weaves Cambodian folk tales into the story through poetic retellings by Raami’s father and through more traditional stories told by peasants and servants Raami meets. These details bring light to the darkness of the story.

 

In the Shadow of the Banyan may be told from a child’s perspective, but it is not a children’s book. It is a book about the loss of childhood, the loss of an entire generation’s childhood, the loss of an entire nation’s innocence. It is also a book about resilience and hope. Ratner reminds us that the most desperate people can embody grace and empathy. Hopefully, she reminds us that the most blessed people can do the same.

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Book Review: In the Shadow of the BanyanVaddey Ratner

Book Review: The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper

Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

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Fiction: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Friday, March 5th, 1954. A young freshman congressman wakes up from a drunken stupor lying in the bottom of a ravine in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Nearby is a crashed Studebaker…and the body of a young woman. So begins the story of The Hellfire Club, Jake Tapper’s first novel, but hopefully not his last.

 

Jake Tapper is a leading correspondent and analyst for CNN’s Washington DC bureau. As such, he has seen the inner workings of modern Washington firsthand. In his debut novel, though, he turns his attention to an earlier era, the 1950s. Ike Eisenhower is president, Jack and Robert Kennedy are rising young stars, and Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn are headlining the news on a daily basis with their hearings on “the Red menace.” Tapper may not have been alive to cover Washington during that time, but he brings a journalist’s eye and a storyteller’s art to bring the time to life in this book.

 

The Hellfire Club is a private, invitation only, club that is one of several such secret societies in Washington. It is so secret, in fact, that few know about it and even fewer will talk about it. There, barons of industry socialize with political leaders from both sides of the aisle. Deals are done, sins are shared, reputations are made and destroyed, and the real power in Washington is exercised. First-term congressman Charlie Marder gets swept up in this world before he knows what’s happening. His exemplary service as an Army captain in WWII Europe and his career as an academic at Columbia have failed to fully prepare him for the battle lines in Congress. Enemies masquerade as friends, true friends are hard to find, and successes become failures with the stroke of a pen. Even the strongest of relationships are tested in this kind of turbulence.

 

Charlie’s wife, Margaret, is an academic herself. A zoologist, she is much more familiar with the workings of nature than of politics. Wild horses could drag her away–and they do. She leaves Washington to participate in a study of wild horses on islands off the coast of Maryland. This leaves Charlie alone in Washington. There, he finds that the taste of power and the pressures of the job lead to compromises he never expected to make, and he finds that he is not entirely the person he believed himself to be.

 

Charlie and Margaret are wonderful characters. Neither are saints. Both make mistakes. Their journey together and their recognition of the other’s failings and strengths makes for a powerful story arc. There are times in the book when neither of them is particularly likable. Yet, by the end, I was cheering for each of them and for their relationship to make it. Any long marriage will face struggles–though most of us don’t have to confront the temptations or the threats that walk the halls of Congress. Charlie discovers that he is not the same person without Margaret. He needs her to be his best self–and that humility guides him (and them) through the powerful conclusion of The Hellfire Club.

 

Tapper brings the transitions of the 1950s powerfully to life. It is easy to look back and gloss over the Eisenhower era as one of peace and stability. In fact, the dramatic transformations of the 1960s were already taking root in the previous decade. Black veterans were being elected to Congress–in very small numbers–but they were not allowed any real power. Women were seldom seen in any leadership roles. Mostly they were used by men in power as toys. Sexual abuse was not only tolerated but expected. Yet the book hints at the changes that were brewing. Margaret Marder has a career, one she intends to pursue even while her husband is in Congress and even while she is pregnant. Charlie’s one true friend throughout the book is Isaiah Street, an African American congressman from Chicago. These relationships help him survive the challenges facing him. Beyond their value to the story, though, Margaret and Isaiah help us remember how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time.

 

Tapper makes 1950s Washington come to life in The Hellfire Club. Within the first 50 pages we have appearances by the Kennedys, the Nixons, Lyndon Johnson, and other power players from history. It may be a book of fiction, but Tapper weaves actual historical figures into the narrative, along with actual events (such as a shooting in the Capitol by Puerto Rican separatists), to make it feel like we’re reading about actual intrigues and cover ups. The Hellfire Club may be a dangerous club to join, but it’s a wonderful book to read.

 

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Book Review: The Hellfire ClubJake Tapper

Book Review: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

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Fiction: Type and Cross, J.L. Delozier

Persephone “Seph” Smith is a profiler. Her acute empathy allows her to get into the minds of criminals, understanding the way they see the world and sometimes anticipating their next moves. When a killer executes a plot to release a deadly virus into the world, one with the potential to kill well over half the population, Seph is called to join the team pursuing him. What follows is a globe-trotting chase matching Seph’s wits against those of a killer who seems just as capable of seeing through her as she is of seeing through him.

 

J.L. Delozier is a doctor with years experience in both community medicine and in treating people during the worst of emergencies. Her clinical expertise shows in the details of the book, but does not overwhelm the story. This may say something about me, given that the book is about a mass murderer using biological weapons to cull the population, but I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. Seph is a thoughtful protagonist, capable of using her intelligence to track and capture the criminal, but also one who considers seriously the ramifications of life and death when confronted with the reality of plague in a modern era.

 

Type and Cross raises some interesting questions. What would people do when they knew they had a month to live? Delozier poses some intriguing possibilities. Some would turn to religion. Some would see an opportunity to strip off the veneer of civilization and give in to much baser instincts: rape and pedophilia, for example. Some would withdraw their savings and take that “bucket list” trip. Others would huddle close to loved ones. These possibilities are not dwelt upon. They are listed as observations Seph makes as the world confronts mass mortality, but they show the depth of the author and the character. We are mortal creatures who never fully accept our mortality. Each of us tends to live as though we have all the time in the world. Curiously, though, that refusal to bow to the inevitable might make us powerful enough to live beyond our years.

 

Seph realizes she will die. (Spoiler, though, she doesn’t.) The disease will kill almost everyone. This gives her an element of freedom to pursue a hurried relationship that, if they had more than a month to live, might not have developed. It pushes her to appreciate and welcome her family roles as a sister and an aunt. But it also focuses and motivates her to complete her task and find the killer. If she dies, when she dies, she will die doing what she is supposed to do. Ultimately, that may be all any of us can live for.

 

I am looking forward to finishing the prequel book, Storm Shelter. Although Type and Cross was published first, it should be regarded as the second book in the series according to the author. Regardless of the order you read them, J.L. Delozier has given us a delightful protagonist who may have to save the world again someday. I am glad she is up to the task.

 

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Book Review: Type and CrossJ.L. Delozier

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

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Book Series Review: Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Mitford, NC is an idyllic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that bursts with all the drama of big city lights in the package of small town interpersonal relationships. In Mitford, cake competitions are as fierce as Superbowl Sunday and potlucks can vibrate with the tensions of a boardroom during a hostile corporate takeover. In Mitford, folks celebrate the first harvest of sweet corn and the turning of the fall leaves. In Mitford, they bake from scratch and start making Christmas presents in the fall. In Mitford, people share joys and hide pain. In Mitford, they laugh and cry, and some die, but mostly they live. The characters of the town are all people who live and they don’t feel like characters but like real people.

The heart of the Mitford Books belongs to the main character, Father Tim Kavanagh. Father Tim, an Episcopalian priest, shepherds, cares, and prays for his eccentric parishioners and the entire town of Mitford. The majority of the series is seen through his eyes. As clergy, or retired clergy, or just good friend, Father Tim is the man that the town goes to share all of life’s secrets, sorrows, challenges, milestones, and triumphs. Father Tim is just the fellow to share a story or two over a glass of cold southern sweet tea.

The Mitford Books should be savored on a Sunday afternoon or evening as a gentle way to prompt reflections during the transition between weeks — preferably, in a cozy and cheerful room with some southern sweet tea and a light treat since Father Tim always needs to look after his blood sugar levels.

Southern Sweet Tea

  • 12 regular sized black tea bags
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda (to keep liquid clear and not cloudy)
  • 1 cup sugar or Splenda/stevia (if serving to Father Tim)
  • 1 quart filtered water
  • 1 quart ice cubes

In a large glass measuring cup, place the tea bags and add the baking soda.

Pour the boiling water over the tea bags.

Cover and steep for 15 minutes.

Take out the tea bags and do not squeeze them.

Pour the tea mixture into a pitcher; add the sugar.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Add in the ice cubes.

Let cool; chill in the refrigerator and serve over additional ice.

Garnish with lemon slices or mint sprigs

 

Cornbread Cookies

Father Tim is very fond of cornbread, however, cornbread is not very fond of Father Tim as it sends his blood sugar to bad levels. Hopefully, the lower sugar, ground chickpeas, and whole wheat flour in these cookies will prevent a sharp sugar spike, yet satisfy that cornbread craving.

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Splenda/stevia
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canned chickpeas drained and minced in food processor
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven 325

In stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar, and Splenda/stevia. Add extract, honey, and egg.

In separate bowl mix together remaining dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, baking soda, and salt). Then slowly add to wet ingredients with the mixer on slow.

Use a cookie scoop to form dough balls on baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes till edges barely start to brown.

 

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

If you like this post see —

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: China Bayles Herbal Mysteries

China Bayles is the main character of the 28 and counting China Bayles Herbal Mysteries, a cozy mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. After an intense career as a lawyer, China Bayles moves to the small college town of Pecan Springs, Texas to restart her life as the owner of an herbal shop. China uses her logic and  critical thinking skills gained as a lawyer and her knowledge of herbs and human nature gathered as a business woman to solve the mysteries and crimes that she and her best friend Ruby seem to fall into in their not quite quiet little town.

Each book features an herb that figures predominately as the title, theme, and key to the mystery. In addition, Albert sprinkles herbal facts, recipes, and even the occasional craft to support the herbal theme. The generous number of books in the series allows readers to follow the milestones of China’s life in Pecan Springs as her relationships, business, and role in the community grows. China is the kind of character you want to get to know in a small town like Pecan Springs. She’s funny, friendly, and has all the typical concerns and baggage that readers can relate to in a heartbeat like her stress in pulling together a meal after a long day or her musings over wardrobe and weight.

China Bayles Herbal Mysteries are the perfect books to savor on a summer weekend while sipping iced tea with something sweet.

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

Albert generously shares through out the series different recipes that China and best friend and business partner, Ruby would serve in their tea shop venture Thyme for Tea or at home. However, this fresh mint tea outlines a simple process that can be done as a quick gather in the garden after work that will be ready in time for a week night supper.

  • 8 sprigs of mint per cup of water
  • Optional: mix and match mint sprigs with basil, lemon verbena, lemon balm, or chamomile
  • Honey or sweetener of choice to taste or one sprig of fresh stevia per cup of water
  • Boiling water half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Ice to equal to half the amount of water needed based on number of fresh herb sprigs gathered
  • Garnish: a slice of fresh citrus – lemon, lime, orange and/or a small slice of melon – watermelon

Let the fresh herbs, sweetener, and steep in the hot water for 10 minutes in a heat proof pitcher to create a concentrated liquid. Add the ice and let cool in the refrigerator until serving. Remove the pitcher herbs with tongs and serve with a fresh sprig of mint and ice in individual glasses. Add a garnish of citrus and/or melon for extra flavor.

Variation: use 4 sprigs of herbs and one tea bag per cup of water

 

China Bayles, lives in Pecan Springs, TX so in honor of her town here are two pecan recipes to snack on while reading about her adventures.

Pecan Butter Balls

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Chop the pecans in a blender or food processor until you have two cups. Combine all of the ingredients except confectioners’ sugar. Gather the dough into a ball. With floured hands, shape into one-inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheets. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray them with Pam. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Pull the cookies and papers off the cookie sheet and onto a cooling rack and let them cool slightly; be sure they’re still warm and then gently shake them in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar. Place them back on the paper and add more confectioners’ sugar while they cool. Makes 5 dozen.

 

Ginger Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger  or 2 teaspoons grated crystallized ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Grind the oatmeal and pecan pieces in a food processor until they resemble cornmeal–reasonably fine but with some texture. Whisk the whole wheat flour, cornstarch, ginger, salt and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the oat/nut mixture.

In another medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Gradually add the granulated and light brown sugar; continue beating until evenly combined, about 3 minutes more. Add the vanilla and the egg.

Mix in the dry ingredients to make a dough. Line a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans with plastic wrap and pack dough into the bottom half of the pan. Press to level off the dough. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top and refrigerate until completely firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove dough from the pan and unwrap. Slice dough in half lengthwise if using a large pan. Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch thick cookies. Place the cookies about a 1-inch apart on the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and crisp. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 week.

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

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Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Recipe & Review: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

Review & Recipe: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter Series, Susan Wittig Albert

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Book Series Review: The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series by Susan Wittig Albert is filled with many delightful ingredients — cozy mystery, historical Lake District setting, fantasy elements. Albert uses the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter as her main character. As a single female Londoner, Beatrix gets a mixed welcome to her new home in the village of Near Sawrey where she goes to her farm to write and draw her books as well as grieve for the loss of her fiance and escape her domineering parents. Over the course of the series Beatrix solves mysteries large and small while slowly becomes an integral and respected part of the village community.

Each book features a main mystery as well a couple of smaller intriguing issues that are neatly concluded by Beatrix’s keen observation skills, quick wit, and compassionate heart. Albert adds a whimsical fantasy addition by including a parallel problem faced by the animals of the village community who act and talk in the same manner as Beatrix’s literary creations – helpful dogs, generous badgers, marauding rats, even a brave dragon makes an appearance. The language of this series is definitely within the reach of readers as young as upper elementary or middle school and the light fantasy element would be appealing to them.

Albert’s attention to historical detail brings you into the heart of village life of Near Sawrey, as her characters react and reflect on their daily life, enjoy meals, gossip about neighbors, apply manners according to social status, dress for outings, and work the land of the Lake District. The land itself, like the people and animals, becomes a character in how it influences village life. At least once in each book, Beatrix takes time to just appreciate the land with walks or picnics or sketches. The land feeds her need for beauty as well as provides a venue for reflections.

In addition, Albert provides historical commentary in Historical Notes, Resources, recipes, maps, character lists, and glossaries of Lake District dialect words. This series would make a fine bridge into historical novels and period literature for young readers. Readers interested in the life of Beatrix Potter will also enjoy seeking the biographical references listed in the Resources.

Even though, readers know that the series is fiction, Albert makes Beatrix such a plausible and real character that we want to spend time with her. We cheer her steps as she grows from her grief, matches wits with the local matriarch, and discovers the answers to local mysteries. We watch as her makes friends, rebels against her controlling parents, and finds a new romance. We want to become her friend and just sit down and share a cup of tea while she spins another fascinating story. This is the perfect series to read on a picnic blanket in front of a beautiful lake view with some tea and scones.

Tea

In The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Beatrix often gathers clues while sharing a cup of tea visiting different villagers. The tea served was probably a black tea where the leaves go through an oxidation process in order to produce a richer flavor. The heartier flavor of black teas enable it to be served with either milk or lemon. Ceylon or Darjeeling teas would be examples of teas that would be served any time of the day. If Beatrix went on a morning visit, a strong tea, such as Assam or English Breakfast would be served. A lighter tea, such as Earl Grey or Formosa Oolong would be served in the afternoon without the milk or lemon due to its more delicate flavors.

Scones

Scones are a traditional treat to serve with tea. In the Cottage Tales series, Beatrix got her scones from a friend that ran a village bakery. This recipe was originally developed for an office gift-in-a-jar exchange. The basic dry mix was layered in a glass jar topped with the dry ingredients for the cranberry orange variation and decorated with a pretty cloth bow and recipe card with the instructions. Note: the addition of an egg is not a traditional ingredient in scones, however, I found a prize winning recipe using an egg and have discovered that the texture less crumbly making it easier to spread toppings. You can omit the egg for a more traditional recipe with the addition of a TBSP or two of extra liquid in the wet ingredient section.

Basic Dry Scone Mix (can be mixed and stored in a jar)

  • 2 ½  C self-rising flour baking mix or buttermilk biscuit mix
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 Tbs dried milk powder (optional, unless using juice as a flavor add-in instead of milk/half & half)

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1/3 cup milk or half/half
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Flavor Add-in Variations (Note dried ingredients can be stored with dry mix)

  • 3/4 cup cranberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS orange zest or 1 tsp orange extract or 1/3 cup orange juice frozen concentrate (defrosted)  in place of milk
  • 3/4 cup frozen blueberries & (choose 1) 1 TBS lemon zest or 1 tsp lemon extract or 1/3 lemon juice concentrate in place of milk
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries & 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • decrease butter to 2 TBS, add 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese & 2 tsp herbs de provence
  • replace sugar with 3 TBS maple syrup & 1 tsp cinnamon & 1/2 tsp ground ginger or 1 tsp minced crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 400. 

Start with dry mix in a bowl.

Top with wet ingredients.

Add any flavor variations from above.

Mix gently with a spatula until the dough just comes together.   

Using a cookie scoop, drop dough balls on to a sheet pan and lightly pat down to flatten – makes about 12 individual or 24 mini-bite scones.

Optional: sprinkle sugar on the tops for a slightly crunchy, shiny topping that browns faster.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size, until the edges are just lightly browned on edges – tastes best warm from the oven.

 

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Review & Recipe: Teatime with The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, Susan Wittig Albert

If you enjoyed this post also see:

Recipe & Review : Teatime with Mary Russell, Laurie R. King

Recipe & Review: Teatime with China Bayles, Susan Wittig Albert

Recipe & Review: Teatime with Mitford Books, Jan Karon

Booklist: If You Like Peter Rabbit… Bunny Books for Shared Reading with Children

Book Review: The Fallen, David Baldacci

Book Review: The FallenDavid Baldacci

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Fiction: The FallenDavid Baldacci

Amos Decker remembers everything. He cannot forget. After a traumatic brain injury on the football field, his mind changed and he developed a literally photographic memory. This is a terrific help when it comes to solving crimes for the FBI, but far from helpful when dealing with his own memories. Decker found his wife and daughter murdered. For most of us, memories dim with time. Most of us don’t have perfect recall. Decker’s memories are as fresh as if they happened yesterday. For him, murder is always personal.

 

David Baldacci has created a special detective in his series of “Memory Man” books. (Memory Man, 2015; The Last Mile, 2016; The Fix, 2017; The Fallen, 2018.) Amos Decker has a perfect memory. He also has synesthesia, which means his mind associates colors and/or smells with certain things, i.e. whenever there is a dead body he sees the color blue. With these changes in the way information is processed came changes in the way he processes emotions. He has trouble with empathy and often does not weigh the emotional impact of his words or actions.

 

When he is on vacation with his FBI partner visiting her sister’s family, Amos spots something strange in a neighboring house. Running over to investigate, he sees a fire. Breaking in to stop the fire, he finds two bodies, one dressed in a police uniform. He soon learns these are the fifth and sixth murders in this small town within a very few weeks. Amos and his partner offer their services to the local police; serial killers are their FBI area of expertise, while murder is not typically common in small-town Pennsylvania. What they don’t realize is that murder is not the only criminal act in this town. One character tells Amos, “Nothing is illegal in Baronville.” That may have been true before, but that is not acceptable to the Memory Man.

 

Baldacci is a bestselling author for good reason. His characters are solid and memorable. His dialog is brisk. His descriptions of small town life in Rust Belt Pennsylvania ring true to my observations of the area. He devotes several pages to the scourge of the opioid epidemic, describing it and its impact in chilling detail. All this while keeping a wide-ranging plot moving forward and never losing sight of the core humanity of his characters. Amos Decker is a complex protagonist who has come to terms with his new normal, a normal that is far different from the “normal” that most people have. But in this book, he is confronted with some limitations to his memory. That forces him to look hard at who he is–is he a walking, breathing memory machine or is he a man with a prodigious memory? He also has to deal with a six-year old girl who reminds him of his murdered daughter, and who is confronting a terrible loss herself. Can he find the compassion and empathy within himself to be more than a detective? Can he remember more than just the facts and remember how to care? Those challenges guide the character’s growth.

 

I loved the Memory Man character going into this fourth book of the series. This book makes me love him even more. Baldacci has a special talent for creating powerful characters that do not remain static. The Fallen may be his best work in a long and distinguished career.

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Book Review: The FallenDavid Baldacci

Book Review: Song of the Lion, Anne Hillerman

Book Review: Song of the LionAnne Hillerman

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Fiction Mystery: Song of the LionAnne Hillerman

For decades, Tony Hillerman brought New Mexico to life through the pages of his marvelous books. Featuring Navajo detectives Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Hillerman wrote mysteries that shared the beauty of the Navajo nation and its people. Often the landscape itself became a character, with its sacred mountains, its desert climate, and its vast distances between the small towns in the reservation and nearby.

 

Tony Hillerman died in 2008, but his characters continue to live in new works by his daughter Anne. In her 2017 novel Song of the Lion she continues their story as they work to solve a car bombing. An alumni game has brought past basketball heroes back to Shiprock High School. One of those alumni heroes has apparently also brought an enemy with him, as his car blows up during the game, killing a young man whose connection to the target is unknown. Officer Bernadette Manuelito, wife of Jim Chee and herself a Navajo police officer, is attending the game as a spectator. When the bomb goes off she immediately begins working to secure the scene and help the victim. Afterward, she, her husband, and retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn find themselves protecting the target of the blast and working to solve the mystery. Who wanted to harm the man, now a lawyer in Phoenix? Was this related to the mediation he was involved with over plans for a resort in the Grand Canyon? Who was the dead man, and how did he fit into the situation? Throughout, Hillerman’s characters weave their way through Navajo and other native tribal sensitivities and through the desert Southwest which is the silent but still powerful character in all of the novels.

 

Anne Hillerman shares the profound respect for the Diné, the Navajo name for themselves, that her father had. You cannot read a Hillerman book without appreciating the care he or she has for the people who inspired those characters. Anne Hillerman may be a bilagáana (white person) herself, but she writes in love and with a deep desire to get it right. Her father was named a “Friend of the Navajo” by the tribal council in the early 1990s, and she clearly works to make sure his legacy and her own continue accordingly.

 

There is not a bad place to jump into this series. Whether you pick up the latest book (2018’s Cave of Bones) or go all the way back to the beginning (Tony Hillerman’s 1970 The Blessing Way), you will be rewarded by strong characters, intriguing plots, beautiful settings, and the powerful and rich culture of the Diné. Anne Hillerman, like her father Tony Hillerman, can take a standard mystery novel and weave into it the beauty of New Mexico and its native people to create something beautiful.

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Book Review: Song of the LionAnne Hillerman

Book List: Astronaut Books for Shared Reading with Children

Book List: Astronaut Books for Shared Reading with Children

Growing-up to be an actual astronaut is a daunting and competitive career path considering how many astronauts there really are in the world.  So why is it that so many children have dreams of working or living in space? Perhaps it is the adventure that challenges the imagination and compels the dreams — equating the vastness of space with the unlimited opportunities it could provide. The following shared reading book list features both nonfiction/biography books as well as fictional works to inspire your child’s interest in adventures in space.

Before Shared Reading

Ask your child questions about the book cover – encourage your child to make predictions about the story or book information based on the cover elements: title, author, illustrator, picture, book blurb/summary. Share any background information you have about the book, for example: our library newsletter said this said this book won an award for _____.

During Shared Reading

Asking questions is a great way to make shared reading more interactive. Remember to balance the number of questions asked with the flow of the story, so your child maintains interest in both reading and talking about the book.

Also maintain a balance in the kinds of questions asked. Alternate quiz type questions with question prompts for your child’s input about the story or topic.  For instance, if it looks like your child is getting distracted, then point to a picture and ask a simple fact finding question (What color is ___? How many ____ are there?  Where is ___?) to draw your child’s attention back to the page and story.  In order to deepen understanding or clarify concepts, ask open-ended questions it connect your child to the text and encourage critical thinking (Why do you think the character did ___? How would you feel if ___ happened to you? What do you think will happen if  ___?)

After Shared Reading

You can encourage your child to ask questions about a story or book topic by: wondering aloud about ___, pretending to ask the author about ____, or taking turns asking each other questions during a re-read session. Ask your child to share a simple book review: What was their favorite part of the book? Why? Does this book remind them of any other books?

Provide your child with the opportunity to ask their own questions about a story or book topic. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question. Use that as an opportunity to work together find answers. Model for them a simple research process: writing questions down, looking for answers in credible resources, discussing if you’ve gathered enough information to satisfy your child’s question and curiosity, and then writing down the answer as well as any new questions.

Nonfiction Astronaut Books for Shared Reading with Children

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Chasing Space

Leland Melvin

Nonfiction Memoir Ages 8 – 12

LeLand Melvin narrates his journey from NFL draftee, through injuries and accidents, to serving as an astronaut on the International Space Station.  There is also a grown-up version of the book.

 

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The Darkest Dark

Words by Chris Hadfield

Pictures by the Fan Brothers

Picture Book Memoir Ages 4- 8

Before Chris Hadfield grew-up to be an astronaut, he was a little boy who was afraid of the dark.

 

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Mae Among the Stars

Words by Roda Ahmed

Pictures by  Burrington

Picture Book Ages 4 – 8

Celebrates Mae Jemison’s persistance to become the first African-American woman to travel in space.

 

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Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space

Tam O’Shaughnessy

Nonfiction Biography Ages 10 – 14

Traces the journey of Sally Ride as America’s first woman in space with vivid details that share her personality behind the headlines.

 

Fiction Astronaut Books for Shared Reading with Children

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Max Goes to the Space Station

Words by Jeffrey Bennett

Pictures by Michael Carroll

Picture Book, Ages 7 – 9

In this book, Max the dog not only goes to a space station, he also saves it! Note the side text boxes with scientific information which can be shared during or after follow-up re-readings of the story. Part of the 2014 Storytime from Space Project when this book was actually read on the international space station. Also, part of an award winning series of books.

 

 

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Space Boy

Words and Pictures by Leo Landry

Picture Book, Ages 4 – 7

Nicholas takes a picnic adventure to the moon to enjoy the quiet solitude of space before bedtime. Great for children who need a little quiet time in their routine to re-charge and re-group.

 

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Green Wilma, Frog in Space

Words and Pictures by Tedd Arnold

Picture Book, Ages 4 – 8

Green Wilma, a frog, and Blooger, a baby space alien, accidentally get their places switched between earth and a space ship. Oops! Can they get home again before supper? Children who enjoy the Hi! Fly Guy series will adore this quirky book. This book was also an IRA-CBC Children’s Choice book and a PBS Storytime featured selection.

 

 

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CatStronauts Mission Moon

Drew Brockington

Graphic Novel, Ages 8 – 12, First of Series

In a universe populated by cats, a brave team of CatStronauts are on a mission to establish a solar energy power plant on the moon.

 

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George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt

Words by Lucy and Stephen Hawking

Illustrated by Garry Parsons

Chapter Book, Ages 8 – 12, First in a Series

Professor Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy co-wrote this series. Best friends George and Annie team-up for an across the universe scavenger hunt discovering the wonders of space and space travel. Includes reference information, essays, and photographs from the latest space research.

 

 

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Mousetronaut

Words by Mark Kelly

Pictures by C. P. Payne

The story of Meteor, the mouse,  was inspired by an actual mouse that flew with astronaut Mark Kelly on the space shuttle Endeavor.

 

Book List: Astronaut Books for Shared Reading with Children