CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.
Thursday, December 31, 2009
There were a LOT of great books in 2009, but even as I looked back, there were four that rose to the top. If you’ve not read them, I highly recommend that you treat yourself. They are wonderful.
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett. A much-acclaimed book that had me from the first paragraph. I was reminded at once why I love books set in The South. It’s a place where you can feel the flies biting and the sweat beads pop out on your scalp the minute you step out the door. The voices have a rhythm all their own. Ms. Stockett captured the cadence and social climate of Mississippi in 1962, and even if you’ve never stepped a foot south of the Mason Dixon line, this book will make you feel you’ve had a personal tour.
It’s the story of three women: two black maids who work for white families, cooking, cleaning, raising their babies, and keeping their secrets. The third young woman is from a family who employs “help” and as she interjects herself into the lives and secrets of “the help” history is made and lives are changed. I didn’t want the book to be over, and it will be one I read again in 2010.
SUMMER OF LIGHT by W. Dale Cramer. I’m really not sure why I’ve never been introduced to this author, but at a friend’s recommendation, I ordered this 2007 release, and I’m so glad I did. It lands a spot in my top four. Here is the review I wrote for it earlier this year:
Mick Brannigan, a construction worker, loses his job when an accident occurs on the “high steel,” and he finds himself playing stay-at-home-dad to his and Layne’s three children. The results are hilarious and poignant, often on the same page. During his tenure, mishaps aplenty occur, a menagerie of animals roam the five-acre lot where the Brannigans live, and Mick discovers passion and purpose in his life. While his wife, Layne, is certain the children will be psychologically scarred . . . if they survive . . . Mick plods along in hopes that the damage to his kids won’t be permanent.
This story was delightful in countless ways, laugh out loud funny at times, and heartwarming to the end. I’ll be reading more from this author.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. Doesn’t the title alone make you want to dive in and see what this is about? First, I must tell you, I’m not sure I’ve ever read an “epistolary” novel before. For those who might not be familiar with such a strange word, it’s a novel presented only in letters and other correspondence. Set in London and on Guernsey Island (of the Channel Islands between Paris and England), I was captivated not only with the setting which was unfamiliar to me, but also a slice of history that I knew nothing about – the German Occupation of Guernsey Island during WW II. The story is tender and charming, a tale I could read again and again.
One note about the book: Mary Ann Schaffer, the author who carried this story in her heart for many years, had just sold it to a publisher when she became ill and unable to finish the editing process. Her niece, Annie Barrows stepped in and make the final additions. It’s truly an act of grace that the world now has this lovely book. Ms. Schaffer has now passed away.
HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford. Again, this title mesmerized and enticed me. It’s also a story of an era that I knew little about. Set in the Chinese and Japanese districts of Seattle during WW II, it is a story of forbidden love—a first love that is torn apart when a young Japanese girl and her family are sent to a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. Her young Chinese friend carves a new life for himself, and many years later, upon the death of his wife, is drawn to a hotel where the belongings of many Japanese families have been stored in the basement. For him, it is the beginning of a search for the past, and it’s a lovely journey.
So, for you, my faithful readers here at the Café, I present the four books that captured my heart in 2009. Each is unique and has different qualities that endeared them to me, but the unifying factor is simply this: The stories have lingered long after the last page. The characters are people I would be proud to call friends. I hope you have the opportunity to meet them too.
Q for you: What is the best book you’ve read this year? Please leave a comment and tell me the name of the book, the author, and what made you love the book.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! May 2010 bring you many reading pleasures.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
My FaceBook friend, Therese Fowler, says this is one of their family favorites and always a hit when there’s a frost or snow in the air. Thank you, Therese, for allowing me to share with my readers here.
Therese is the author of two books: Reunion and Souvenir. You can learn more about her and her books here.
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1-2 lbs.)
3 cans of black beans, undrained
3 15-oz. cans of Mexican diced tomatoes
1-2 cups salsa
2 4-oz. cans of diced green chiles
1 or 2 14 oz. cans of tomato sauce
Add all ingredients to a crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours. At end of cooking time, remove chicken, shred, and return to crock pot. Spoon over tortilla chips. Top with Mexican/Taco flavored shredded cheese (let each person add the amount they like). Other toppings you might enjoy are sour cream, guacamole, or if you really want to spice things up . . . jalapenos.
And Happy New Year celebrations to all.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
BLESSINGS TO ALL OF YOU - friends, loved ones, and faithful blog readers. May you receive all the best from God above and join in celebration of the birth of the Christ child.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
My reading pile has grown and grown and now is stacked two deep and spilling over on two shelves. Some of the books I read this year didn’t necessarily have a 2009 release date, but this is the year I read them, so my rule is . . . if I read it this year, it qualifies. There are so many good ones to choose from, your list may vary, but all of these are worthy of your time.
My criteria for a good book:
• Intrigues me with a setting or slice of history that I know little about and makes me feel richer for having read the book.
• Excellent writing that makes me read and re-read the prose just to savor the words.
• Tripping the light fantastic – funny, quirky reads that are like a breath of fresh air.
My top ten picks (in the order in which I read them):
1. The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson
2. Rose House by Tina Forkner
3. What the Bayou Saw by Patti Lacy
4. Return Policy by Michael Snyder
5. Twisted Creek by Jodi Thomas
6. Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones
7. A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth
8. Seeing Things by Patti Hill
9. White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner
10. The Fence My Father Built by Linda Clare
I rarely read non-fiction except for researching my own novels, but this year one stood out that deserves a mention. Parting The Waters by Jeanne Damoff was both a tender memoir and simply beautiful writing. So a special nod for that one.
How about you? Are any of these your favorites? Give yourself a Christmas gift this year and curl up with one of these outstanding novels.What suggestions would you have for me for “must reads” in 2010?
At the end of the month, I’ll reveal the four books that I could not put down. Four books that have not appeared on this list or my debut author’s list. Stay tuned.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Can’t afford designer chocolates? (And who can at this time of year?) No time for time-consuming candy-making extravaganzas? Then, here’s a deal for you. THREE ingredients. Less than 30 minutes. No mixing. And everyone loves these bite-sized gooey chocolate treats with just the right crunch.
Poor Man’s Millionaires
Bag of mini-pretzels (knots)
Bag of Rolo candies
Pecan halves (one per treat)
Line cookie sheet w/ waxed paper. Spread pretzels on cookie sheet (not touching). Unwrap Rolo candies. Place one atop each pretzel. Bake at 250 degrees for 4 minutes (only until candy is slightly soft). Removed and press pecan half into top of each candy smooshing it down a bit. Let cool completely before removing from waxed paper. I sometimes put them in the freezer for a few minutes to speed the cooling.
Store in airtight container. That's it! Hint: Plan ahead and get enough stuff for two batches because these disappear fast.
You might want to leave a plate for poor Santa. He'll be grateful, I'm sure.
Peace and Joy to all . . .
Thursday, December 17, 2009
I am fortunate to be sharing my writing journey with other authors whose first novels released this year. Although I’m not personally acquainted with all the debut authors on this list, I’ve been entertained with a great variety of inspirational fiction. These ladies have set the bar high for me and others trying to break into the magical world of publishing.
For your reading enjoyment, I present – in no particular order – my Top Five Debut Novels for 2009: Inspirational.
- One Imperfect Christmas by Myra Johnson
- The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry
- The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin
- The Bartered Bride by Erica Vetsch
- Talking to the Dead by Bonnie Grove
Next week – Ten Great Novels from 2009!
And to round out the year, the last week in December – Top Four Amazing Novels from 2009 and why you should read them.
I can’t imagine a world without books, can you?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
It's not to late to get in some Christmas baking! My good friend and awesome writer - Camille Eide - took time from her hectic schedule to whip up a batch of these for her family and allowed me to share her sugar cookie recipe. They sound delicious and may be just the thing you've been looking for to share with your neighbors or family.
CAMILLE'S SUPER SIMPLE VERY VANILLA SUGAR COOKIES
(soft & chewy!)
400 degree oven.
1 cup butter
2 Tb shortening
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1 box Betty Crocker French Vanilla Cake mix
½ tsp salt
1 tsp soda
Optional: Sugar sprinkles, turbinado sugar crystals, frosting, etc
Mix butter, shortening, and sugar till fluffy. Add eggs and blend well. Blend in flour, salt, soda, and cake mix. Shape into 1 ½ inch balls on a cookie sheet (flatten slightly) and bake at 400 for about 7 minutes till very lightly golden. May look slightly underdone, that’s good. Cool a minute or two on cookie sheet to finish cooking before removing to cooling rack. Leave plain or frost and sprinkle for holidays! Or dip dough balls in colored sugar or big sugar crystals before baking.
Thanks so much, Camille, for sharing this with my readers.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Every fall, the ladies had a work day devoted solely to making “peppernuts” – a traditional sweet treat - which were then taken to the area Mennonite relief sale ( for missions) where all sorts of German food and beautifully crafted handmade items were sold. Let me just say, the Amish quilt makers have nothing on these talented Mennonites!
I was indoctrinated into the fine art of peppernut making, and ever since—even if I bake nothing else at Christmas—I do make peppernuts. There are variations on the recipe, but my family’s favorite is the Plain Peppernut recipe. So for your enjoyment, here it is.
Traditional German Treat
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup milk
3 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. ground cloves
Enough flour to make a stiff dough (about 5 cups)
Mix all ingredients in mixer. Chill 2-3 hours or overnight. Pinch off walnut-sized piece of dough and roll by hand on a floured surface into a long rope, a little larger than a pencil. Cut into ¼ to ½ inch pieces and bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until light brown. Cool and store in airtight container (ziploc bags work great).
Christmas and peppernuts – thanks you, ladies, of the Mennonite church for your willingness to share your faith and a piece of your heritage with a young mom. I always think of you when I make my annual quota of peppernuts.
Have any of you been privy to a special person who shared a secret recipe? Are there any ethnic foods you make at Christmas?
Monday, December 7, 2009
This past weekend, I went to Texas to see my grandson perform in his second Christmas band concert. Last year he was a beginning tuba player. This year, he’s advanced to the symphonic band. Oh, what a difference from last year until this one! The tempo was faster, they were together on the melody, and the blending of the sections was so much mellower. Delightful.
They played four numbers, the first of which was The Christmas Eve March where a portion of the song featured the percussion and tuba players. Lots of bum-bum-bum. They played with skill and authority. Next was African Noel with an exotic beat that reminded me of our brothers and sisters in another part of the world. A toe-tapping Holly, Jolly Christmas followed with the finale of Feliz Navidad, its Latin beat resounding with the very talented percussion section again. And in each of the songs, the tuba notes grounded the instruments, giving the overall performance depth and a framework.
It made me more aware than ever that we are all part of humankind. Different cultures. Different generations. One reason to celebrate. How can we not get in the Christmas spirit when we stop for a moment to ponder and remember that Jesus is the Spirit of Christmas? Jesus who came in fulfillment of the prophecy, to save us all, even a wretch like me.
I had a wonderful time with my grandsons and their parents as well as about twelve hours of playing my favorite Christmas CDs on the trip to and fro. I arrived home weary, but filled anew with the wonder of Christmas, the love of family, and the gift of music in our world.
May all heaven and nature sing!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Christmas always seems to sneak up on me. It's not like I haven't seen the decorations out in the store since Halloween or noticed how fat our daily newspaper has become with ads for the best bargains of the year. I have noticed and have chosen to shut myself off from the world. Hid behind my computer screen and surfed the net for the latest marketing tips for writers and gone over my new manuscript for the umpteenth time. In my self-imposed isolation, I've also not served my readers here at the Cafe very well. So, with my humblest apologies, I have a couple of things to tell you today.
First: We have a winner for Patti Lacy's What The Bayou Saw. Congratulations to Dina Sleiman! And thanks to everyone who stopped by and left a comment.
Next: A friend and fellow writer has started a new blog that I recommend you check out at once if you're a writer. Many instructors warn writers to avoid flat lifeless characters (a.k.a. cardboard characters) but writer/dramatist Lynne Gentry actually shows us HOW. Even seasoned novelists will appreciate the tools she provides to make characters leap off the page. Hint: what does dressing someone in the color “cream” convey to readers?
You can find out the answer on Lynne's new blog: Stage Write
Last: As 2009 winds down, I will be bringing you the "Best of 2009" - Books, Blogs, Writing Sites, and even a few recipes to get you through the holidays.
It truly is the season: May you find joy each day as we approach the day of the birth of our Lord and Savior. Immanuel. God is with us. Today and always.