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On the First Day of Christmas: Giving the Gift of Reading

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By Gini Rainey 

It’s that time of year again. You know, the time when we are all scratching our heads and pondering the age-old question “What should I get them for Christmas?” First of all, remember to instill the reason for the season in the members of your family, no matter what denomination or walk of faith you follow: always, always remember the purpose behind the celebration. And then, if I might interject a bit of my own sense of sensibility, try to keep the KISS method prevalent in your motivations. There’s nothing better to receive at the holiday than a good book and new jammies. This was how I was raised, and a tradition I passed on to my daughters and they have passed on to their children. So I would love to share a few book ideas for giving: 

“Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo” by Shelly Roark 

Ms. Roark approached me recently to let me know that she had written a new book and wondered if I would like to read and review it. Well, of course I would! Ms. Roark has been writing professionally for almost 30 years and is presently a senior copywriter for “Focus on the Family.” I reviewed her debut children’s picture book, “The Bubble Who Would Not POP!” recently and was delighted, not only in her awesome positivity, but also in the lovely illustrations by Simone Krüger, a German-based illustrator. 

Now the two have paired up again to tell the charming story about a little girl who wants every animal around. Unfortunately, she and her parents live in an apartment that is just about the right size for the three of them, but not so for the elephant, giraffe, and more that Gracie Lou would like to have. Follow her journey to becoming her heart’s desire of what was always intended for her. 

Rating: 5 of 5, Copyright 2019 by Little Lamb Books 

 Ah, but (you say) that’s good for the littlest of the littles, but what about my older children or grandchildren? I have to tell you that in my opinion, books that delight and expand the imagination are what I think are the best. 

A few recommended series are “The Borrowers,” The Cherry Ames Series & The Hardy Boys plus “The Dangerous Book for Boys” & “The Daring Book for Girls.”

One of my favorite series of books when I was growing up was The Borrowers and features a family of tiny people who live secretly in the walls and floors of an English house and “borrow” from the big people in order to survive. This set consists of five books and was written by British author Mary Norton in the 1950’s and yes, I know there was a mini-series based on these books, but nothing will build your child’s imagination more than mentally visualizing the tiny world of this tiny family. For me, this series is a rating of 5 of 5 and well worth the investment. 

Another series of books that had a huge impact on my world was the Cherry Ames series. Written between 1943 and 1968 and originally published by Grossett and Dunlap, this series consists of 27 books and were written by Helen Wells and Julie Campbell Tatham (who also wrote the Trixie Belden series). Starting with Cherry Ames, Student Nurse,” these books follow Cherry’s adventures and misadventures all the way from nursing school to being a jungle nurse. This set might encourage your little ones to take a look at a medical career down the road. I also must give this series a rating of 5 of 5, and if you wind up with a medical professional in your family, well…there ya go…you’re welcome! 

For the young men in your family, you just can’t beat the Hardy Boys series. Written by Franklin W. Dixon and first published in 1927, The Hardy Boys books have sold over 70 million copies and feature Frank and Joe solving mysteries that have their adult counterparts stumped. Sleuthing through 190 mysteries from 1927 to 2005, this set of books has kept the imaginations of young readers jumping to conclusions for several generation. Without a doubt, this series deserves a rating of 5 of 5 also. 

One other set of books I would highly recommend would be The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Igulddon and The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchannon and Miriam Peskowitz. 

Described as being for every boy from eight to eighty, covering essential boyhood skills such as building tree houses, learning how to fish, finding true north, and even answering the age-old question of what the big deal with girls is, the Igulddons tell it like it is in plain and simple, yet enjoyable language even grandpa can understand. 

Not to be outdone, the girls book is the manual for everything they need to know—and that doesn’t mean sewing buttonholes! Whether it’s female heroes in history, secret note-passing skills, science projects, friendship bracelets, double dutch, cat’s cradle, the perfect cartwheel, or the eternal mystery of what boys are thinking, Peskowitz tells it all! Rated 5 of 5, these are great books for young and old alike.

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Reading the Kids Back to School

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By Gini Rainey

“Mischief and Mayhem: Part I of the Faerlands Chronicles”

by S. D. Nicholson

I think you know me by now to know that magical kingdoms and fantasy are not the usual genre of reading that I reach for.  So, when I was approached by the author’s publicist to read and review this book, I wasn’t even aware it fell into this area.  With that being said, I must admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed and been intrigued by the characters and tiny world that Mr. Nicholson has created in his first book.  Without a doubt, the main character, the tiny fae Ophelia, is every bit a heroine as are her six-foot tall counterparts.

I have no doubt in my mind that while the faes and faers of Nicholson’s book are In a struggle to preserve and maintain peace in their homeland, it is also analogous to the struggles we humans face on a daily basis while trying to attain a peaceful coexistence with the other inhabitants of this big blue marble.

The not so terribly hidden messages in Nicholson’s book came through loud and clear to me:  that if we spend quiet time by ourselves, we will be able to find and explore fully what our capabilities are, and additionally, fight for what we hold near and dear.  This is an outstanding read.  Not only will it capture your imagination, but it will also have you start thinking about what undeveloped talents and truths you might not have discovered about yourself.

I read the teaser at the end of the book and am anxious to read Part 2 of the Faerlands Chronicles!

5 of 5 – Copyright 2019 – Köhler Books

“Big Little Lies”

by Liane Moriarty

This book from which the HBO series starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman was adapted, is a pretty slow starter.  Working backwards from an event, the first third of this book was busy building strong characters, exposing bullies (adult-sized and pint-sized), failed and new relationships, and various points of view about the culmination of events.  As usual, Ms. Moriarty isn’t afraid to cooly broach hot topics: blended families, sexual assault, violence against women and children, all carefully tempered with unexpected humor and human emotions.

Set in a rather cliquish, upper-end Australian beach community, the human interests begin to develop by retrospect following a murder at the exclusive private school.  Liane develops some pretty interesting characters using her very successful skills and creating some of the most flawed people this side of Sidney.

Definitely worth the read for anyone with school-aged children as it brings together three moms whose only commonality is their kindergarten-aged children. While pointing out each of the character’s flaws, Moriarty gently has a couple of fingers pointing at the helicopter-parenting skills of modern-day moms that perhaps are creating our current crop of young adults who are clueless.

Without a doubt, this is yet another in a long stream of controversial topics that Liane Moriarty isn’t afraid of writing about and the plot twist at the end will keep you reading till the final page.

5 of 5 – Copyright 2014 – Berkley

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A Good Pounding!

By Gini Rainey

Good grief, that’s exactly what I deserve.  I have been so over-whelmed with life in the past few months – okay, this year – that I have neglected to do what I love doing – writing!  So, apparently it took an email to our editor/publisher to get me off high center.  She forwarded this email to me on June 24th and it comes from an editor named Jess Miller who just happens to be associated with jenreviews.com.  Jen Reviews is the authority on everything food, fitness and home and has been featured in some mind-blowing (my mind, anyway!) publications such as Forbes, Fast Company, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Greatist, Reader’s Digest, MindBodyGreen, Livestrong, Bustle, Lifehacker, Wikihow, and oh my goodness, many many more. 

Jess email says “I was doing research on pound cake recipes and just finished reading your wonderful blog post: https://eguidemagazine.com/janies-cakes-finally-oprah-realizes-something-weve-all-known-for-years/ In that article, I noticed that you cited a solid post that I’ve read in the past: https://janiescakes.com/  We just published a delicious cranberry pound cake with orange glaze recipe complete with step-by-step pictures and detailed instructions. It is completely free and you can find it here: https://www.jenreviews.com/cranberry-pound-cake-recipe/.  If you like the recipe we’d be humbled if you cited us in your article.” 

The gauntlet was thrown and I tried it.  I baked it last night and it is yummy.  Of course, knowing me, you know I have to pull in a cookbook of some sort, and for those of you out there who don’t know where the name “Pound Cake” comes from, I pulled out my earliest reference that I have, which is a replica of “American Cookery” written by Amelia Simmons in 1796. It’s really interesting to leaf through this book and try to read some of the recipes.  It is actually a photocopy of the original and along with various spots and stains, the letter “f” is used in place of the letter “s.”  Originally, a pound cake called for one pound of sugar, one pound of butter, one pound of flour, one pound or ten eggs, one gill of rose water and spices to your taste. (Hence pound cake!) We are told to watch it well (remember – wood burning stoves/ovens back then) It will bake in a slow oven in 15 minutes. 

The recipe referred to by Jess is a bit different and perhaps produces a much lighter version than the 1796 version.  What you will need to do to make Jess’s recipe is to begin with a 350° pre-heated oven and a lightly greased and floured 12×4 inch loaf pan.  Then in a bowl, whisk together 1 ¾ cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.  In another bowl, cream 9 ounces of softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon orange zest until light and fluffy.  Then slowly add in 4 eggs plus 2 yolks (at room temp), followed by 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar. Then alternating between the flour mixture and ¼ cup room temp milk, gradually add to the sugar/egg mixture.  Lightly dredge in flour 1 ¼ cups of washed and dried fresh cranberries (because fresh cranberries aren’t on the market at this time, I substituted rehydrated dried cranberries and I think they did well) and gently fold into the mixture.  Pour into the pan and bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  For the glaze, combine 2 cups of powdered sugar with 2 ½ tablespoons of fresh orange juice, and using a small spoon, drizzle over the completely cooled cake. 

This is one yummy cake – the unexpected tartness is a wonderful compliment to the buttery richness of the cake and would serve you well at a winter holiday meal – or even right now in the middle of the hot Texas summer along with a bowl of home-made ice cream! 

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