All posts by Marie

I love reading; practicing yoga; traveling; spending time outdoors skiing, hiking, running, swimming; and most of all I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I am a mother to 3 young children and my background is medical. Find me at

TTT: Top Ten Middle Grade Books I’m Excited to Read with my Children

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week there is a suggested topic from which bloggers build their  posts.  Today’s post is about books we look forward to our children reading.  Here are the ten books I am most excited to read with them in the next few years.  I’ve included only books published in the last 5 years that I have not yet read.  Many of these have intrigued me for a while.. but I’ve been holding out to enjoy them with my children.   The quoted blurbs about each book are taken from Goodreads.  I welcome any further suggestions or commentary on the books I’ve chosen!

  1.  Wonder by R. J. Palacio (ages 8-12) – August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”  – Published 2012
  2. Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (ages 8-12) – “On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.”  Published 2017
  3. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (ages 8-12) –When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her….”  Published 2016
  4. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (ages 8-12) –
     “Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.  Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.”  Published 2012
  5. Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (ages 9-13) – “Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.”  Published 2016
  6. Pax by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen (ages 9-13) – Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.”  Published 2016
  7. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (ages 9-14) – “Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.  Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.”  Published 2015
  8. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (ages 9-14) – Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.”  Published 2016
  9. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (ages 10-14) – “Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.  One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule — but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her — even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.”  Published 2016
  10. Ghost by Jason Reynolds (ages 10-14) – “Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?”  Published 2016

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  256

Published:  September 5, 2017

Format:  Audiobook





This is hands down one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read.  Rene Denfeld is a child of a difficult upbringing who has worked as a private investor helping sex trafficking victims and innocents in prisons.   Rene Denfeld talks about her childhood and family life eloquently in The Other Side of Loss.   She, like the character Naomi, has lived a life trying to help others that have suffered like herself.  With this background and incredible talent, she is able to create such complete characters that make sense to the reader.  So much of the time when I read thrillers, I don’t fully believe in the characters.  Here, the author, invests energy into explaining why the “bad guys” became this way, so there is a degree of empathy the reader feels as they begin to understand why characters might be behaving the way they do.  She also invests energy into explaining various actions that may seem incongruous on the part of the victims.

In this thriller of kidnapping and missing children, there are multiple mysteries to be solved.  “The Child Finder, ”  Naomi Cuttle, works as a private investigator finding missing children, dead or alive. It is her life’s work and passion, even though she has not yet faced the mystery of her own childhood kidnapping.  Naomi has been raised by a foster mother since the age of 9, along with her foster brother, Jerome.   She has few friends, devotes her life to her work and wakes up in the middle of the night with nightmares from her forgotten past.  The novel is sometimes from Naomi’s point of view and sometimes from the perspective of Madison Culver, a missing child taken at the age of 5 three years ago.  Madison’s family had travelled to get a Christmas tree deep into the Skookum National Forest and Madison had gone missing, presumed dead by the local police.  She had in fact been taken prisoner on the brink of death by cold exposure by a man who had been taken prisoner himself many years before, the cycle of abuse continuing.  Madison is able to protect herself by hiding her identity inside a fairy tale, creating a story for herself to feel love and make peace with her situation.  She becomes “Snowgirl,”  a character from a favorite Russian fairy tale of a girl brought to life by the man who creates her.

There is a secondary missing child case that Naomi is trying to solve, one that brings up many issues of the justice system and of inequality.  The second case demonstrates the unfortunate culmination of many of these missing children cases.

Rene Denfeld is a masterful story teller.  She describes the Oregon scenery with such beauty and attention to detail.  She creates characters that come alive for the reader, that feel real and true.   The mysteries unravel at a steady pace, leaving the reader with hope for a good outcome in the end.  Although the subject matter is heavy and gruesome, Rene Denfeld finds beauty in darkness and gives hope to the bleakest of situations.  In this lovely novel, the human spirit triumphs over dark and evil.


Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Naomi has repressed her childhood prior to living with Mrs. Cottle?
  2. What strategies do victims of kidnapping and abuse use to help them survive terror,  mentally, physically and emotionally?
  3. Discuss how abuse cycles in subsequent generations.
  4. The autistic mother of the missing daughter is charged with a crime against her daughter.  How much of a role does race play in the delay of her autism diagnosis as well as the decision to prosecute her?
  5. What factors contribute to victims’ of abuse/kidnapping/sexual assault having intimate relationships in the future?
  6. Why do you think Naomi encourages Madison’s family to move away once Madison is found?
  7. Discuss the two cases that Naomi takes on.  What outcomes do you think are more typically experienced by PIs working these types of cases?
  8. What effect does a missing child often have on the marriage of the parents of that child?  What can parents do to offset the chances of divorce?
  9. What similarities exist between Naomi’s and Madison’s captivity?
  10. Why does Mr. B become afraid of being found and discovering another world?



Rene Denfeld’s website

Rene Denfeld discusses The Child Finder on Omnivoracious

Kirkus Review of The Child Finder

The Changeling by Victor LaValle ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  448

Publication Date:  June 13, 2017

Format:  E-book from Netgalley





This intelligent, intriguing modern day fairy tale starts out in what seems to be a normal world.   It begins with the birth of the protagonist, Apollo, a child of mixed race to Lillian Kagwa (a Ugandan immigrant) and Brian West (a white parole officer.)  His father had held him as a baby telling him he was Apollo, the God.  This becomes a mantra for Apollo later in life.  Brian West disappears by the time Apollo is four years old, but Apollo continues to have dreams, or maybe nightmares, about his father returning.  In a box of items left behind by Brian is a well-read copy of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There.  The Changeling becomes a retelling of this award winning children’s book.  Apollo is an avid reader and at a young age becomes a buyer and seller of used books.

Even before the witches and trolls appear in this novel, there are hints of the monsters in the ordinary.   In childhood, “Apollo would find himself wondering if he actually was frightening, a monster, the kind that would drive his own father away.”  Then later, Emma’s friend, Nichelle, explains to Apollo, about the nude photo of Emma hanging in Amsterdam.  Nichelle says of Emma, “She looks like a fucking sorceress, Apollo.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Race and casual racism is discussed throughout this book.  When Apollo is young and trying to sell his books in the higher end spots in Manhattan, the author writes “Every kid with excess melanin becomes a super predator, even a black boy with glasses and a backpack full of books.  He might be standing at the entrance for fifteen minutes while the clerks pretended not to notice him.”  Later in the novel, Apollo is stopped by a cop in a white section in Queens and says, “that was fast.”

This book also speaks to the new age of parenthood, of more involved dads, and of social media.  Apollo Kagwa is one of these new age dads who is very much involved in the parenting of his child.  He enjoys taking him to the playground and bragging with the other dads about new milestones.  He posts countless photographs of his son, Brian, on Facebook.  Apollo’s wife, Emma, meanwhile, begins showing signs of postpartum depression.   She tells Apollo that she has received strange texts of pictures of the baby that have disappeared shortly after receiving them, which Apollo dismisses.  “You’re what’s wrong with our family, Emma. You. Are. The. Problem. Go take another pill.”   The horror in this novel is the experience of parenthood itself, the no-win situation regarding the expectations facing parents, the feeling of needing to protect your child, and ultimately the loss of a child.

Apollo finds a signed first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with the inscription to Truman Capote, “Here’s to the Daddy of our dreams.”  He knows that this book could have a great payday, however, it does not pay in the way he expects.  After barely surviving the wrath and rage of his wife, he realizes that perhaps his wife was right.  He ends up on a journey with many twists and turns through mystical realms of witches, trolls and even some human monsters.

This novel warns of the dangers of social media and putting your life out there for all to see, judge, and possibly take advantage of.  William tells Apollo, “Vampires can’t come into your house unless you invite them.  Posting online is like leaving your front door open and telling any creature of the night it can come right in.”  It seems that Emma Valentine and Brian Kagwa were the perfect target for trolls with the publicized birth of their son, followed by continuous Facebook posts by Brian.

This book speaks to deeper truths about the monsters within each of us.  The glamer we are able to superimpose over our own misbehaviors to make us feel better about ourselves.  It warns of trolls lurking in everyday places and people.  This book is not simply a retelling or a fairy tale, there are many layers and depths to it.  The social commentary is sharp, but easily consumed within the context of this fantastical setting.  It is about the stories we tell ourselves as well as our children and the effect these stories have on us.  There is some pretty graphic violence though, so consider yourself forewarned.


Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the words of Cal, one of the witches, “A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral.  A great fairy tale tells the truth.”  According to Cal’s guidelines, is this a bad or great fairy tale, or somewhere in between?  Explain.
  2. Why did Brian Kagwa become a changeling.  Who was responsible?  Why was he chosen?
  3. How is Scottish glamer or “glamour” used in this fairy tale?
  4. Why do you think Apollo’s father read Outside Over There to Apollo when he was little?  Discuss the similarities and differences between these two books.
  5. What is the meaning of the inscription in Harper Lee’s book in the context of this book?
  6. What is this book’s message about social media?
  7. What is a changeling?  Where else in literature and film do we see changelings?
  8. Discuss the social commentary of this novel on parenthood and expectations of mothers and fathers from this novel.
  9. What genre do you think best characterizes this novel?


Utube reading of Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There

New York Times Review by Jennifer Senior

New York Times Review by Terrence Rafferty

Interview with Victor LaValle published in the Los Angeles Times

Victor LaValle’s website



Exit West by Mohsin Hamid ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  231

Published:  March 7, 2017

Format:  Audiobook read by the author

Awards:  Man Booker Prize Nominee (2017), Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Fiction (2018)



“The news in those days was full of war and migrants and nativists. And it was full of fracturing too, of regions pulling away from nations and cities pulling away from hinterlands. And it seemed that as everyone was coming together, everyone was also moving apart.”

This novel is a riveting, brilliantly written masterpiece that is about the relationship between a young couple that begins just prior to the eruption of a Civil War in their country.  I was amazed by how attuned to the nuances of relationships this author is.  He describes the falling in, the developing closeness, the emerging separateness and consequent break so eloquently and with such tenderness.

There is a cinematic quality to this novel.  As it focus on these two main characters, Saeed and Nadia, and their struggles during these uncertain times, it also flashes to other parts of the world and small moments in the lives of others.  The writing is razor sharp, profound, full of insight.  There are no wasted words.  I listened to this audiobook in my car, and the number of times I skipped backwards to listen to something again or just in case I may have missed something exceeded that of any other book I’ve listened to.  If I had been reading an ebook or physical book, I would have easily found something to highlight on every page.

The initial setting is in an unnamed Middle Eastern country where Nadia and Said meet in an evening class studying corporate identity and product branding.  Their seemingly normal lives and beginning romance are upturned rapidly as insurgents try to take over the city.  There is a sense of impending doom.  War is raging,  militants are flooding into their city, and people are dying or disappearing.  There are extreme rules in place regarding dress and social conduct with the opposite sex.  Certain religious sects are being persecuted.  People are being hung in the streets.  However, there are “doors,” which even the most reputable journalists are acknowledging the existence of.

Without knowing where these doors may lead, Sayeed and Nadia decide to flee through one of these doors and so begins their journey, first to Mikonos, then London, then Marin.  In these other lands, they are refugees who are kept separate from the nativists.  It’s an uncertain world, but eventually they are working at a camp to building a home for themselves which they accomplish together.  However, the chaos and tumult of the times in the early phase of their relationship has taken a toll.  They see each other differently as their roles change and their location changes.  The excited young lovers from the beginning of the novel have changed as their world has changed.  They have been through so much together, have been codependent by necessity.  They begin to see each other through different lenses.  The chaos of the times and world of being migrants brought their romance along more quickly, but also threatens it.

More broadly, this novel is about people, migrants, immigrants, natives.  The message is loud and clear.  We are all people and should treat each other as such.  There are always people fleeing wars, political unrest, religious persecution, and so on.  We need to be more tolerant.  In this era of Brexit and Trump’s travel bans, with countries fearing incoming people flooding into their homelands, this book offers a radical, beautiful challenge.   Mohsin Hamid has said that he used doors (the only fantastical element in this novel) as the route to other countries, because he wanted to focus on the actual immigrant experience, not the journey between countries.  In this novel, Hamid deftly explores the pain of leaving behind a grieving recently widowed father in hopes of a better life, of escaping premature death.  A quote from the book regarding this: “when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”  He also explores the plight of the immigrant in a foreign land, pushed to the outskirts by natives.  He describes how these situations affect people in different ways and how migrants change through these experiences.  He ends the novel with this final quote: “We are all migrants through time.”   I highly recommend this timely book to everyone!  It is intelligent, insightful and tender altogether.



Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the author used “doors” rather than actual travel between countries?
  2. What do you believe is the author’s message regarding immigration and immigration laws?
  3. In Mohsin Hamid’s essay in the Guardian, he says that the future cannot be left to politicians.  It calls on “radical politically engaged fiction” to muster up wisdom and insight into where we as individuals, families, societies, cultures… must go.  What wisdom is the author imparting in this novel?  Where is he directing us in the future?
  4. What role does technology and social media play in this novel?
  5. Define migrant.   Are we all migrants?
  6. In this book, it says that in this new world, some people felt their lives were better.  Why and how so?
  7. Saeed in this novel is fiercely attached to his family while Nadia is fiercely independent.  How do these character traits affect their relationship?
  8. In the book a passage through a door is equated to dying and being reborn.  Explain.
  9. The old woman in Palo Alto says that when she goes out now, she feels like a migrant, “a migrant through time.”  What does she mean by this?
  10. Some people have compared this book to Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad for employing a virtual form of transportation.  Do you see these as a similar narrative styles?
  11. Why did Saeed pray?


Review and interview Mohsin Hamid with Terry Gross

Steve Inskeep’s interview with Mohsin Hamid on NPR

Michiko Kakutani’s review in The New York Times

Discussion Questions by Penguin Random House



TTT: Books For Foodies

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Each week there is a suggested topic from which bloggers build their  posts.  Today’s post is about delicious food in books.  In preparing for this week’s topic, I was amazed at the number of books in which the food is barely mentioned. Below are some books in which food plays a prominent role.  At times I have provided links to recipes.  Many of these books could make for delicious book clubs where each member brings a dish from the book.  Daeandwrite’s blog is an excellent resource  for those wishing to enhance their bookclubs, particularly in regards to food.  What are your favorite books that feature food?

  1.  Nightbird by Alice Hoffman – In this magical middle grade book, Twig is a 12 year old girl whose mother left her father.  She moved out of the city back to the house she grew up in with Twig and her brother.  Her brother, a product of the Fowler family curse, has wings, and is kept hidden (except at night when he sneaks out).  Their home has an apple orchard and her mother is well known for her amazing Pink Apple Pies. (My review which includes the recipe from the book)
  2. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – This novel is about the demeaning stature yet exciting life of being a backwaiter in one of New York City’s most famous restaurants.  It is also a gustatory exploration of fine foods and beverages.  In this novel a variety of fine wines and liquors are tasted and consumed.  The author discusses the 5 senses: sweet, bitter, sour, salt and umami.  “Umami:   uni, or sea urchin, anchovies, Parmesan, dry-aged beef with a casing of mold. It’s glutamate. Nothing is a mystery anymore. They make MSG to mimic it. It’s the taste of ripeness about to ferment. Initially, it serves as a warning. But after a familiarity develops, after you learn its name, that precipice of rot becomes the only flavor worth pursuing, the only line worth testing.”  Some of the food consumed includes Oysters on the Half Shell; Greens Salad with Vichyssoise; Pork Chop on the Bone with Rice Salad and Gratin Potatoes; Sardines; Roasted Half Duck with Risotto;  White Bean Soup with Escarole, Chicken Stock and Sausage; Truffled Tagliatelle.   (My review)
  3. The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais – After a family’s restaurant is destroyed in Mumbai, they flee political unrest to France.  They settle in Lumiere opening a restaurant across the street from a fine French restaurant.  They are a boisterous family and the cultural differences abound between the two restaurants.  However, Hassan Haji crosses this “one hundred foot” divide to bridge the gap and develop his own unique culinary style.  Some dishes from this book include:  Madras Mutton; Daurade aux Citrons Conits; Omelet with Codfish Cheeks and Caviar;  Lobster Lollipops and Truffled Ice Cream; Poached Halibut in Champagne Sauce and many more.   Many recipes from the book can be found, here.
  4. The Temporary Bride:  A Memoir of Food and Love in Iran by Jennifer Klinec In this memoir, Jennifer Klinec, describes how she gave up her lucrative corporate job to pursue her passion: cooking.  She is particularly interested in cooking native foods to various regions and enjoys traveling to gain better insight and understanding of cooking methods from natives of these lands.  She travels to Iran and is invited into a kitchen where she learns many recipes from a woman while at the same time building a secret romantic relationship with this woman’s son.  The dishes discussed in the book include:  Chicken Kebobs, Fesenjun – Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce, Persian Gulf Fish Stew with Tamarind and Fenugreek, Rosewater Lemonade, Jeihoun Herb Salad with Lavosh Crisps, Mutton, Lentil and Carmelized Aubergine Puree.  The recipes can be found here.  (My review.)
  5. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel – In this Mexican novel, Tita falls in love with Pedro and seduces him with the magical food she cooks.  According to Mexican tradition, Tita, being the youngest daughter, is forbidden to marry and must look after her mother instead.  In desperation, to stay near Tita, Pedro marries her sister instead.  Deep emotions are inspired by 3 particular foods in this novel:  eggs (pain and grief), onions (chopped fine to cause weeping), and roses (sexual desire).  
  6. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid– The cinnamon bun plays a very prominent roll in this novel as Gabby’s favorite food. It is employed frequently by friends, family and boyfriends to win favor with Gabby.  (My review.)
  7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl –  The hero Charlie Bucket, his parents and his 4 grandparents live in a small wooden house eating the same meal each day “…bread and margarine for breakfast, boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch, and cabbage soup for supper.”  Charlie was able to have chocolate once a year on his birthday, until he wins a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  There he is able to taste wondrous chocolates and other candies.
  8. The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – “I’m starving and the stew is so delicious—beef, potatoes, turnips, and onions in a thick gravy—that I have to force myself to slow down. All around the dining hall, you can feel the rejuvenating effect that a good meal can bring on. The way it can make people kinder, funnier, more optimistic, and remind them it’s not a mistake to go on living. It’s better than any medicine.”  –Katniss Everdeen.  This is the stew served in the Hunger Games series prior to going off to the games.  Many have developed lamb stew recipes based upon the description.  Here is one of those recipes.
  9. My Life in France by Julia Child –  This is Julia Child’s memoir in which she describes how she reinvented herself at the age of 37.  She moved to France with her husband, not speaking any French and not knowing anything about cooking.  She realizes her passion for  French Cooking and works so hard to master various recipes.  Many of her recipes can be found in her cookbook,  Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles –  The descriptions of food in this novel are incredible.  Count Rostov is a gastronome extraordinaire.   He goes to great lengths to accurately describe his food, name the flavors he tastes, discover the recipe through enjoyment of food.  Some examples of food from this novel are:  Whole Bass Roasted with Black Olives, Fennel and Lemon;  Vodka and Caviar;  Osso Bucco; Cucumber Soup and Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction.   (My review.)

TTT: Ten Fall Themed Children’s Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week the topic is fall themes.  I have chosen to focus only on children’s books.  Do you have a favorite fall themed children’s book?  If so, what is it?  Please share!

  1.  Rattlebone Rock by Sylvia Andrews, Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas – This musical, rhyming story in the form of a song takes place in a graveyard with various spooky and creepy characters. Eventually, friendly more familiar animals and people join in as well, to join the celebration and dance that lasts all night.  It is a fun, musical book with a great syncopating beat and high entertainment value, recommended for children ages 3-8.2.   Thanksgiving Day Thanks by Laura Malone Elliott, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger – This book depicts a classroom experience of students pondering the question of what it is they are thankful for.  As a class assignment, each student needs to create a project with a Thanksgiving theme.  Some of these projects give insight into the deeper meaning of the history of Thanksgiving while others help the students better understand what they are thankful for.  At the end of the story interesting history and fun facts about Thanksgiving Day are provided.

3.  Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell – This is a Halloween themed counting book.  There is a haunted house in which 10 timid ghosts live.  A witch moves in and wants them out.  She scares each with a different disguise, until the last one discovers the witch’s costume coming undone.  Then, ten angry ghosts exact their revenge and retrieve the house.  This is a fun repetitive rhyming counting book in which small children are able to anticipate how many ghosts are left.

4.  Fall Ball by Peter McCarty – This is a simply written children’s book aimed at what matter’s most to children:  free time to play on their own.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning.  The children are riding home from school on the bus and plan to play football when they get there.  Jimmy is one exception who decides to rake leaves instead.  The children play ball, however Sparky, the dog, is quickest to retrieve the ball.  he crashes into Jimmy’s pile of leaves, as do all of the children.  It’s so early, yet getting dark and cold, and all the children must go home.  A beautiful book about fall and things to love:  football, cozy pajamas, warm blankets, good things to eat…  Highly recommended!!

5.  The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons – This is a nonfiction children’s book about pumpkins.  It is highly informative and very interesting.  It describes the life cycle of the pumpkin from seed through mature pumpkin, as well as the various pumpkin varieties.  There is history tied in, with the relevance of pumpkins to Halloween as well as Thanksgiving, making this an excellent educational  book for fall. 

6.  The Best Thanksgiving Ever by Teddy Slater, Illustrated by Ethan Long – This is a hilarious, rhyming, loving thanksgiving book about a family of turkeys celebrating together.  They practice gratitude, celebrate togetherness and sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving…. corn!

7.  Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf – This is a beautiful children’s book about a little girl, Sophie, who chooses a squash from a farmer’s market.  This squash is the perfect size to hold, to bounce on her knee, to put a face on with marker, to fall in love with.  The squash begins to become freckled and less bouncy, and in an effort to heal her squash, Sophie buries it in dirt.  After the snow melts, a squash plant grows and eventually Sophie has two new squash to love. The humor is subtle and enjoyable.  This book is thoroughly unique and a great read for the fall!

8.  Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian – This classic book from 1965 is adorable.  This witch with the handmade black scarf, the orange gloves, the crumpled black hat, the BIG nose, the striped stockings is having a very difficult time getting her spells to work.  It has a perfectly unexpected ending for a children’s book.  My daughter asked me at the beginning of the second reading what “humbug” meant.  It means “deceptive or false behavior.”  It is a lovely title for a quirky fun halloween story.  Highly recommended!

9. Beneath the Ghost Moon by Jane Yolan, Illustrated by Laurel Molk –   This is a beautifully written, poetic rhythmic rhyming book about mice who are excited for the Halloween dance.  However, in the night as they slept, a creepy crawlie crew entered, destroying their costumes and taking over their lair.  The small mice decide to stand up for themselves taking on the creepy crawlies with music, banners and battle cries.  It ends with a creepy crawlie and a mouse forging a friendship beneath the ghost moon, dancing into the night. Beautiful poetry and illustrations, lovely lessons taught, and highly entertaining… a perfect book for fall!


10.  The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano, Illustrated by Susan Banta – This is a rhyming story about a pumpkin patch wherein all the pumpkins are round, except for one square pumpkin.  The night before Halloween, there is a storm, and pumpkins are rolling off the vine and into the bay.  Spookley has to work hard to turn onto his side, over and over, but is able to eventually move himself to close the gap in the fence where the pumpkins are rolling out.  The next morning the farmer sees the value in this odd-shaped pumpkin and uses Spookley’s seed in every row the following year to grow pumpkins mostly square, but also of different shapes and colors.  The moral of the story being that variety is the spice of life and great value can be found in our differences.

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak ~ Book Review

Pages:  40

Published:  1981

Format:  Paperback book

Awards:  National Book Award for Children’s Books, Picture Books (1982), Caldecott Honor (1982), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book (1981)


I am very familiar with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen as these have been read many times over in my house.  I was not acquainted with this book until this summer.  I was reading Victor LaValle’s The Changeling which continuously alluded to this book, so I purchased it from Amazon right away.  Aside from winning numerous awards and inspiring LaValle’s The Changeling, this is the book that inspired the movie Labrynth.

This book is dark, mysterious, magical.  The father is away at sea.  The mother is depressed, aloof.. sitting alone in the arbor, most likely experiencing postpartum depression.  Ida, the older sister, is the one who must watch over her baby sister, but turns away while playing her horn, neglectful. With her back turned, faceless goblins enter through the window stealing away the baby and leaving an ice version of a baby in its place.  Ida scoops up the changeling that the goblins left behind which then melts in her arms.  In pursuit of her sister, Ida goes out the window backwards to “outside over there,” off to a baby goblin wedding, where the only real baby is her sister.  Ida is eventually successful in recovering her sister by putting the goblins into a dancing frenzy with her tune.  When she safely returns home with the baby, her mother reads a letter from her father asking her to watch over her baby sister “which is just what Ida did.”

For me, this book invited so many questions.  Was it Ida’s tune initially that invited the goblins?  Was she jealous of the baby and that is why she wished her away?  Why was going out the window a “serious mistake?”  Was it because she was going out the window backwards?

The artwork in this book is not of the cartoonish quality found in In the Night Kitchen.  The art is reminiscent of 19th century German paintings.  Many have compared the image of Ida floating in the sky to Bernini’s “St. Theresa’s in Ecstasy,” which brings up many questions of what kind of ecstasy might Sendak be implying that Ida is experiencing.  Other hidden or not so hidden references within this book include: Mozart’s Magic Flute, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindhbergh baby, and paintings of William Blake.  There is something very Freudian about the book with it’s dreamlike quality.  Ida’s name is strikingly similarly to Id.  Do all the characters of the dream reflect the thoughts and feelings of the dreamer?

Sendak has said that the three children’s book (Outside Over There, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen) are part of a trilogy.  He has asserted in The Art of Maurice Sendak that:  “They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.”  Many adults find this story creepy and disturbing whereas children are intrigued.  I read this to my daughter who had just turned 5.  She was mesmerized and when we finished she turned back to the page where the goblins are stealing the baby and asked me to read it again.  I did and she said, “that is my favorite part.”

I love this book for pushing boundaries, for exploring themes most children’s book authors are afraid to explore, for the amazingly beautiful artwork, and for the questions and mysteries the reader is left to ponder.  I highly recommend this book for everyone! Maurice Sendak has also said he does not write for children, but simply writes.  He has escaped this notion that we need to protect our children from the experience of loss and strangeness in life.  I remember loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a chid, so I can fully relate to the intrigue of this genre to children.  This is a children’s book with many layers of interest for all ages.

Outside Over There, on Utube

NPR review by Amanda Katz

New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

T5W: Five Books Featuring Witches

Happy October!  Top 5 Wednesday is about books featuring witches.  Do you have a favorite novel that features a witch or witches?  If so, what is it?  Please share!  Top 5 Wednesday is a Goodreads group run by Lainey and Samantha.  Each week a topic is suggested and bloggers may post their picks.  If you are interested in checking it out, click here.

  1.  Nightbird by Alice Hoffman – A magical middle grade novel told from the perspective of 12 year old Twig.   A curse has been placed on Twig’s family generations ago by the ancestor (a witch) of the family who has just moved in next door.  My Review.
  2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – A classic story where Dorothy is transported by a tornado to a magical land.  She must find the wonderful wizard to help her return home to Kansas, but the Wicked Witch of the West has other plans for Dorothy.
  3. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe  by C.S. Lewis – Another classic where four children join forces with a lion and other magical creatures to defeat a wicked witch.
  4. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – In this series, Harry Potter and other wizarding children are sent to Hogwarts for school and pursue many exciting and often dangerous adventures.
  5. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – This book features English magicians and a mysteriously disappearing source of magic, which has been attributed at least partially to fairies.  The women with magical powers are being taught to suppress them, at least until Zacharias, the new Sorcerer Royal, discovers that this is happening.  My Review.

Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani ~ Book Review

Pages:  176

American Publication:  October 9, 2012

Original Publication:  2005 in French

Format:  Paperback book





“She speaks of all nights
and all women
she speaks of the sea
of waves which carry everything away
as if everything could be carried away
of waves which begin the sea again
there where the sea stopped.
She goes through the city
she walks with death
hand in hand
and her hand does not tremble…”

This slim volume of poetry is a modern-day One Thousand and One Nights set in Morocco describing the position of women within that country.  It tells of the repression of people, not just women, who are poor, hungry, have little recourse as freedom of expression has been taken from them.  It is about history repeating itself time and time again.  Madani argues that not much has changed since the days when One Thousand and One Nights was written.  In One Thousand and One Nights, the profoundly distrustful King Shehriyar vows to marry a new virginal bride each day only to behead her come morning.  This continues until Scheherazade volunteers to be a bride.  Her trick, however, is to start to tell the King a story and not finish.  He wants to know the ending so does not behead her in the morning.  The next night she finishes the story, but begins another… so this continues saving many maidens in the process.

The author, Rachida Madani, wrote this in French and it was translated to English by Marilyn Hacker.   Hacker’s introduction to the poem is incredibly helpful in framing a reference for it.  Rachida Madani, an activist, began writing poetry during Morocco’s leaden years.  During this time, under King Hassan II’s rule, there was much political unrest and the government was brutal in it’s response to criticism and opposition.   Madani’s writing, though strongly feminist evaluating the role of women in the hierarchy, is more powerfully about the corruption in the society as a whole and the repression and abuses of the government towards it’s people.  Within this poem of three parts, Madani encourages a palace rebellion.  She is encouraging people to protest, speak out, share their voices.

I read this as part of Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and am happy I did.  It satisfied the following requirement:  read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.  I’m glad I read it and feel that I learned more about Morocco and this time period as a result.


TTT: Top 10 Fictional Novels that Feature Characters with Autism

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  A topic that is usually open to individual variation is offered up for people to post about.  This week’s topic was “Top Ten Books That Feature Characters __________ . ”   Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Are there any other books you’ve read featuring characters with autism?  Please share!

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – This is, for me, the classic book I think of when I think of ficitional books featuring a character with autism.  In this novel, Christopher, who lives in a world of numbers, patterns, rules and diagrams sets out to solve a murder mystery.2.  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – In this novel, Don Tillman, an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor, having never been on a date, embarks on The Wife Project, having conceded to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone.3.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stiegg Larson – This is the first book in the trilogy that is a murder mystery, family saga and love story.  Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist, works together with Lisbeth Salandar, a tattooed genius hacker, to get to the bottom of Harriet’s disappearance.  Blomkvist describes Lisbeth as “Asperger’s syndrome, he thought. Or something like that. A talent for seeing patterns and understanding abstract reasoning where other people perceive only white noise.”4.  Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – Within this dystopian novel there is a university labelled Asperger’s U, where almost every student appears to have Asperger Syndrome or autism in varying degrees of severity and form. People in the university refer to non-autists as neurotypicals and seem to view them as something altogether different (and perhaps inferior) to themselves. The end of the human race is brought about almost entirely by the character Crake, who attended Asperger’s U and was no exception to their rule. He believed that the human race was, by the end of the novel, doomed to extinction simply because of its overuse of resources and the corruption of the social elite.5.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen So Odd a Mixture by Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer published in 2007 examines multiple characters in Pride and Prejudice finding autistic traits in 8 of them, 5 in the Bennet family and 3 in the extended family of the Fitzwilliams.  Autism was not a recognized disorder in Jane Austen’s time.   Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer proposes that Jane Austen wrote about people with this condition, without knowing exactly what she was describing.6.  Mindblind by Jennifer Roy – Fourteen year old Nathaniel Clark, is told he is a genius with sky high IQ and perfect SAT scores.  However, he has read that a true genius uses his talent to make a contribution to the world.  Thus, begins his quest.  The character in this novel is inspired by Jennifer Roy’s son who inspired the “Amazing Race” charts and the narrative at the back of the book.7.  The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon – In this science fiction novel, Lou Arrendale is part of a lost generation that did not reap the benefits of being born during the disease-free era.  He has autism and it is part of who he is and his quiet life.  However, a new treatment becomes available.   If he accepts this treatment, will he still be the same person?  How will it affect his life, his relationships, and perceptions of the world?8.  Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco S. Stork Marcelo Sandoval hears music that no one else can hear, part of his autism-like impairment that doctors can’t quite identify.  He attends a special school where his differences have been protected.  However, the summer after his junior year, his father demands that he work in the mail room of his law firm to experience the “real world.”  Here he learns about jealousy, anger, suffering, injustice…9.  Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan – This is a middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss and discovering the true meaning of family.  Willow Chance, a 12 year old genius, has found it hard to connect with anyone except her adoptive parents.  Her life is tragically changed when her parents die in a car crash.  Willow is able to push her way through grief and find a surrogate family.10.  Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine –  Winner of the National Book Award for young people’s literature in 2010, this novel is about Caitlin, an eleven year old girl with Asperger’s.  In her world, everything is black and white, good or bad.  Anything in the middle is confusing.  When her older brother passes away, she looks up the definition of closure.  In her search for it, she discovers a messy beautiful world.