Saturday, June 24, 2017

Weekend Cooking: My Visit to The Chew and Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mine" Baked Chicken Wings"

And now for something completely different on this blog:

This is actually the ticket they give you for your turn to enter the studio,
not my ticket to get in to see the show (I lost that)
On the the morning of April 5th, I went on an adventure. I hopped on the downtown then crosstown buses and arrived at the ABC studio on West 67th Street pretty early for a taping of The Chew. I work at home now and watch The Chew most days while I eat my lunch. And I've gotten some wonderful recipes from it. I should mention that even with a ticket, getting in is first come, first served, so if you ever go, get there early.

After standing on line outside for about an hour, we were led through the security check, and into a holding room where there were free water and chips for people, and, naturally, Chew merchandise to purchase. We sat there for a long time and I discovered that there are people who regularly attend tapings of all the NYC TV programs. And they even come from far away to do it.

On line to go into the studio
Eventually, we were led into the studio, and along the way, we passed tall storage cabinets that contain all the cooking and eating paraphernalia you would need in a kitchen, pantry, dining room, or backyard picnic. 

I sat off to the side (not in front of the tasting table), but in the front row. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to see much of where the chefs work because of all the cameras, even though it looks so clear on TV when they show the audience. And picture taking was very limited, none allowed when the stars are on the set, there wasn't much time between segments, and then they darkened the set in between taping, as you can see in the one below:  


When I was there, they were taping several "beginnings" and "endings" and nothing in-between. For the first taping, everyone was there - Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Carla Hall, and Daphne Oz. Before they began, Daphne came and shook hands with everyone in the first rows, the others pretty much ignored the audience except for the people who were participating in segments - not cause they were being mean, but it was clear it was the only way to get things done in a timely way.

The whole time I sat there, there is someone telling you when to clap or laugh, how loudly or softly to do it, and who made all kinds of jokes in between segments - there was a lot of down time for us.  I can't remember all the segments we were the audience for - but Daphne was only in the first one. And I do know they are going to air in late June and early July. 

I left the studio around 2:30 PM and was home by 3:30. It was a lot of fun and part of my new plan to do things in NYC I never do because I live here and actually have an occasional Wednesday free - next up, the Circle Line.

We use a lot of the same recipes from The Chew over and over, and one of our very favorites is Daphne Oz's "Blow Your Mind" Baked Chicken Wings (I snuck three chicken legs into this batch that was made last Sunday and they were delicious):


"BLOW YOUR MIND" BAKED CHICKEN WINGS

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
3 garlic cloves (minced)
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger
3 scallions (sliced, whites & greens separated)
1/4 Cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Cup honey
2 limes (juiced)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili flakes
2 pounds chicken wings (separated at joint, tips removed)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

step-by-step directions
In a small bowl make a slurry by stirring together he cornstarch and a tablespoon of water. Set aside.

Heat a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a sauté pan. Toss in the garlic, ginger and scallion whites, cooking for 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Stir in the soy sauce, honey, lime juice, sesame oil and chili flakes. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes, until sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Season chicken wings with salt and pepper, place in a rimmed baking dish. and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully pour the sauce over the wings. Return the dish to the oven for 20 minutes, or until wings are cooked through and sauce is sticky.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with reserved scallion greens.

Tip: The sauce can be made a few hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. As always Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kensuke's KIngdom by Michael Morpurgo

It’s 1988 and Michael, 11, is a pretty content kid until the day a letter arrives laying off both of his parents. After that, a “creeping misery” settled over the house, until the day Michael’s dad heads south to seek new opportunities. New opportunities are a total surprise to Michael and his mother when they arrived somewhere near Southhampton and discover his dad has bought a bought and has plans for the family to sail around the world.

And sail they do, even bringing along Stella Artois, the family dog. All goes well, with lots of interesting stops, until they are sailing away from Australia and through the Coral Sea heading to Papua New Guinea. It is there, on July 28, 1988 that they hit bad weather, and Michael, at the wheel in the cockpit, sees Stella go overboard. Trying to rescue her, he also goes overboard. Luckily so does his soccer ball, which gives him some buoyancy. 

The next morning, Michael wakes up on an island beach with Stella and no idea how he got there. It turns out the island is a jungle with a thriving wild life. After exploring all day, a hungry, thirsty Michael and Stella retreat to the shelter of a cave to spend the night as a castaway.

The next morning, and every morning after that, Michael and Stella wake up and find fresh water and carefully prepared raw fish waiting for them. Knowing he isn’t alone, Michael finally meets his benefactor while trying to build a large enough fire to be seen by a passing boat. Instead, it is seen by an elderly Japanese man, Michael’s benefactor, who quickly puts the fire out. The two get off to a rocky start, but eventually they become friends, and Kensuke, Michael learns, has been living on the island since WWII. 

Kensuke teaches Michael how to fish, cook, and even paint using ink from the octopi they catch and in return, Michael teaches him English. Kensuke, who had been a doctor in Japan, begins to tell Michael about his happy life in Nagasaki before the war, about his wife Kimi, and his son, Michiya. When war came, Kensuke joined the Japanese Navy as a doctor, and was the sole survivor of an attack on his ship. Later, overhearing some Americans talking about the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, killing everyone, Kensuke decided to remain on the island after the war had ended. 

Eventually, he realizes that Michael belongs with his family, and agrees to let him build a fire to attract a passing ship, and even agrees to leave the island, too, should a ship actually show up.

In the end, when rescue is about to happen, Kensuke chooses to remain on the island, but asks Michael not to talk about him for at least 10 years, which he does. After writing a book about his adventure with Kensuke, Michael receives a very surprising unexpected letter from Japan.

I have to admit, even though I doubted Michael and Stella would survive in a stormy ocean at night, I willingly suspended my disbelief and let myself enjoy this intergenerational story about an unusual friendship. I did find the beginning a little slow, thinking I could have lived without a lot of the descriptions about life in London, but once Michael and Stella were on the island, my interest, the excitement and the pace soon picked up its pace. I found myself very curious about Kensuke but Morpurgo delayed his story until just the right moment. 

Kensuke’s Kingdom did remind me of Theodore Taylor’s book The Cay, but without the kind of racial tension that existed at first between white Phillip and West Indian Timothy, and which actually did take place during WWII. Still, pairing these two books together would result in an interesting take on intergenerational, biracial friendships under stressful conditions (which is often when we discover the most about ourselves). 

I don’t know if it’s me, but whenever I read a book by Michael Morpurgo (and I’ve read a lot of them), I find myself being lulled into the story, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is actually almost hypnotic  and I think the reason why not only is disbelief suspendible, but it makes the story more real and enjoyable, even the sad bits. And, interestingly, I find I always pick a Morpurgo book whenever I’m in a nostalgic mood. 

And, yes, I found myself reaching for the tissues as I finished reading Kensuke’s Kingdom, so be warned.

Teaching Ideas has some really nice teaching ideas to use with Kensuke's Kingdom and you can also find some nice downloadable teaching resources and activities from Michael Morpurgo's website.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Monday, June 12, 2017

Update on Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Even though I had had a copy of the ARC for Survivors Club, I hadn't read it yet when I came across this interview of Michael Bornstein by Soledad O'Brien. The interview, in fact, spurred me on to read the book, and I was very glad I did. I finally posted my review of Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Now, I am posting the interview that was done and aired on March 4, 2017.



But this past week, on June 9, 2017, Soledad O'Brien aired a new chapter to Michael Bornstein's story of survival. Some of the video below repeats what was shown originally, but stick with it to meet the two women who were by Michael's side when this picture was taken. And, irony of ironies, the three survivors of Auschwitz live not far from each other and didn't know each other. Survivors Club is an amazing story, and described by Debbie Bornstein Holinstat as a book about miracles, but, as you will see in the interview, it is also a book about hope and continuation.



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Imagine going to the movies one day in the 1980s with your daughter and seeing yourself in the movie you are watching. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Bornstein and his daughter Debbie. The movie was The Chosen and in one scene, two young Jewish boys are watching a newsreel showing footage of the liberation of children from Auschwitz, and there right at the front of the line of children, was Michael Bornstein, age 4.   

Like so many Holocaust survivors, Michael Bornstein never really spoke about his childhood during the Holocaust, even after seeing himself as part of a movie. But, years later, Michael began to realize that his survival was a indeed miracle, and after doing a Google search, he also realized that the liberation images were (and sadly still are) being manipulated by Holocaust deniers to prove that it was all a Jewish lie, or that the Jews made up stories about their children being killed on arrival at Auschwitz, or that it was just a labor camp and not a death camp. Michael decided it was time to tell the story of the Bornstein family.

Michael begins his narrative in September 1939, a year before he was born, when German planes dropped bombs on the small village of Żarki, Poland where the Bornsteins lived, killing residents and destroying homes and synagogue.  Almost immediately, the village was invaded by Nazi solders who went from house to house collecting anything of value from Jewish families, including the Bornsteins. Luckily, Michael’s father, Israel Bornstein, managed to bury some valuables in the backyard including a Kaddish cup, a family heirloom.  

Jews who weren’t shot immediately were rounded up and put into the Jewish ghetto in Żarki, where Michael was born. His father was made head of the Jewish Council, with the difficult job of deciding who would be sent to die in a death camp and who wouldn’t be. Interestingly, although the head of the local Gestapo, Officer Schmitt, was an incredibly cold-hearted man, Zarki remained a somewhat open ghetto, allowing the remaining Jews to conduct some trade with the local Polish residents. It didn’t hurt that Israel was able to continually bribe him to save many lives, as well.  

One of the things that really struck me was the strength of the Bornstein family, Israel, wife Sophie, grandmother Dora, older brother Samuel and now Michael is so evident throughout the narrative. In the face of deportations of fellow Jews, hunger, cold, and sickness, the family struggled but remained strong and faithful. Once it was decided that the Zarki ghetto would be liquidated, and all Jews sent to Treblinka, Schmitt made an exception of Israel and his family, who were sent to a labor camp instead.

Unfortunately, in July 1944, the Bornsteins were all sent to Auschwitz. Sophie, Dora and Michael were immediately separated from Israel and Samuel and it wasn’t until much later that Sophie learned the fate of her husband and son. Michael was only four years old by then, and sent to live in the Kinderlager, where older kids stole his food but also gave him some points that helped him survive. Eventually, Sophie snuck him into the women’s barracks where she and Dora were, and he remained there, even after she was sent to another labor camp. It was illness that ultimately saved Michael’s life. As the Russian Army approached Auschwitz, the Germans rounded up the remaining Jewish prisoners and began what is known as the Death March to cover their atrocities. Michael was left in the infirmary and survived with his grandmother, Dora. 

The aftermath of the war, and the reunion of the remaining members of the Bornstein and of Sophie’s Jonisch family, and forming the family's Survivor Club, takes up the rest of Michael’s narrative. One story that I found particularly poignant is that of Michael’s cousin Ruth Jonisch, who found herself in a Catholic Convent, had her name changed to Kristina, and who had to be taught to hate Jews in order to survive. The years after being reunited with the Jonisch family are very interesting reading.

By now, you must be wondering how Michael knows so much about the time before he was born and the years he lived under the Nazis, given his age at the time. Most of his story is the result of research and interviews with family members. So while it isn’t actually a first hand account, it is still a compelling story about strength, some lucky coincidences, and mostly about family love.

There is a section of photographs, a Glossary and a Bornstein Family Who's Who also included in the back matter. And be sure to read Michael Bornstein's illuminating Preface and Afterword, as well.

Interestingly, the review of the movie, The Chosen, written by Janet Maslin and published April 30, 1982 in the New York Times, ended with these warning: 
''The Chosen'' is rated PG (''Parental Guidance Suggested''). It contains brief but graphic footage of the liberation of concentration-camp inmates after World War II." 

I feel I need to echo that warning: 

Survivor’s Club is a very readable nonfiction narrative, but there are some graphic descriptions of the Nazi treatment of the Jews in it that may be difficult for some sensitive readers. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sunday Funnies #24: Introducing Wonder Woman

Today is Wonder Woman Day, and so I thought I would introduce everyone to her original story as it was written in December 1941, just as the United States entered World War II. Wonder Woman made her first appearance in the December/January 1941 issue of All Star Comics #8, and was published by DC Comics.

Wonder Woman was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston, writing under the name Charles Moulton. Marston had a PhD in psychology and was a big believer in the newly invented lie detector, even writing a paper on how deception could be measured by blood pressure. He also believed in the superiority of women, and, in 1940, Dr. Marston wrote an important article called "Don't Laugh at the Comics."

This constellation of ideas lead to a part time job at DC Comics, where he was able to suggest an idea for a new super hero character, a super-heroine.

As you can see, the cover of All Star Comics #8 makes absolutely no mention of Wonder Woman, instead the two newest members of The Justice Society of America, Starman and Dr. Midnite, were given introductory billing. But, it was Wonder Woman who found real, lasting favor with readers. It only took a few issues before she was inducted into The Justice Society, and only six months until she was given her own comic book, Wonder Woman #1.

So how did Wonder Woman get from her home on Paradise Island to the United States?

But, after hearing that her daughter, the Princess, might be in love with the injured American captain, her mother, Queen Hippolyte, tells her the story of how they ended up on Paradise Island. In ancient Greece, the women of Amazonia were a foremost nation, until Hercules, the strongest man in the world, decided to conquer Amazon. Queen Hippolyte challenged him to one-on-one combat, knowing she would win because of the Magic Girdle she had been given by Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Queen Hippolyte won the match, but Hercules managed to steal her Magic Girdle, and was able to overcome and enslave the women of Amazonia. Queen Hippolyte called upon Aphrodite for help, and she did save them on the condition that they sail to another island, leaving the man-made world forever, and establishing a world of their own, but the women must always wear the bracelets that they were forced to wear while in captivity to remind them to keep aloof from men. 

To keep their promise to Aphrodite, the American pilot must leave Paradise Island as quickly as possible.  Queen Hippolyte shows her daughter the Magic Sphere, given to her by the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, by which she can monitor the world that they left behind, the world of the American captain, a world from which she can also gain all the knowledge of arts, sciences and languages to make a more superior world on Paradise Island for themselves. 

Together, she and her daughter, look at the world that the American captain comes from and how he ended up on Paradise Island.





Wonder Woman went on the fight the Axis powers for the remainder of the war and has continued fighting bad guys ever since. She has had several make-overs since her first appearance in 1941, but the original is still my favorite, even if it does seem a bit naïve by today's standards.

If you would like to know more about Wonder Woman's history, I can't recommend a better, more fascinating in-depth book than The Secret History of Wonder Woman  by Jill Lepore.

There are any number of anthologies available if you want to read old Wonder Women comics, without the high cost of an original. My favorite is Wonder Woman: The War Years 1941-1945 edited by Roy Thomas.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Here's a Book I Can't Wait to Read...

If you know me at all, you know I love comics books and the funny pages in newspapers, especially from the Golden Age of Comics (1938-1950). You can see which ones I have posted about already by clicking on my page and Other Interesting Bits and scrolling down.

I was very excited to see that this coming July, Trina Robbins, a master cartoonist/comic writer and artist in her own right, as well as a historian of the genre and longtime feminist, has written a book about women in the comics during World War II. Here's what the publisher has to say about it:

Babes in Arms: Women in the Comics During the Second World War 
Trina Robbins
Hermes Press, July 11, 2017, 304 pages, age 13+ 

During the Golden Age of comics publishers offered titles supporting the war effort - presenting fighting men and their feminine counterparts - babes in arms! Comic books during this period featured US service-women fighting all of the axis bad guys and gave several of the most noteworthy women artists of the era opportunities to create action-packed, adventure filled four color stories. Now for the first time renowned pop-culture historian Trina Robbins assembles comic book stories from artists Barbara Hall, Jill Elgin, Lily Renee and Fran Hopper together with insightful commentary and loads of documentary extras to create the definitive book chronicling the work of these important Golden Age artists. This magnificent art book offers page after page of good girl action.

You can find an in-depth interview with Trina Robbins about Babes in Arms HERE

Cover: 1949 Women's Home Companion
illustrated by Harry Anderson

Monday, May 29, 2017

Rolling Thunder by Kate Messner, illustrated by Greg Ruth

Early one morning, an excited young boy and his family board a train that will take them to Washington DC where they will meet up with the boy's grandpa. At the same time, grandpa is kissing his wife goodbye and hopping on his motorcycle, complete with side car, also heading to Washington DC.

It's Memorial Day weekend, time for the annual veteran's Ride for Freedom, and this year, our young narrator is riding with his grandpa, along with over a million other of the nation's veterans, all on their motorcycles. Grandpa is riding for friends Joe and Tom, lost in Vietnam, and his grandson is riding for his Uncle Zach, a pilot lost in a different war.

The weekend begins with camping out with all the veterans, and meeting the boy some of his grandpa's old friends:



Early next morning, everyone is up and ready to go, riding through the streets of Washington DC to honor all veterans and especially to bring awareness to people of those soldiers who are still MIA (Missing in Action) or POWs (Prisoners of War):



The Ride for Freedom ends at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also simply called the Wall, listing all the names of service members of the Armed Forces who fought and died in Vietnam, as well as those who are still considered to be MIA.  After finding Uncle Zack's name on the wall, and making a rubbing of it, there are speeches and more memory sharing by vets:


As the day draws to a close, it is clear that the Ride for Freedom is an important experience between this grandpa and grandson drawing them closer together in a very meaningful experience:



There are all kinds of books available that can teach kids about Memorial Day and its significance and they are certainly important. But I believe Rolling Thunder is the first book that to be written depicting this special group of veterans.

Messner has written Rolling Thunder in a telegraph-style rhyme, allowing for a great deal of information to be packed into a few well chosen words and she has done it well. The mixture of clipped words and slightly longer sentences also carries the sound of a motorcycle are it revs and rides. At the same time. it is a poignant and emotionally charged narrative.

And Greg Ruth has chosen a palette of bright oranges, warm reddish-browns, khaki and olive greens for his realistic illustrations that manage to to reflect the mood and feeling of the book perfectly.

One Memorial Day weekend, we were going to the house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and while waiting for the Cape May-Lewes ferry, suddenly the car was surrounded by motorcycles. It didn't take long to realize it was part of Rolling Thunder. The ferry hadn't arrived yet, so we socialized with the bikers while we waited and waved goodbye when the ferry docked in Lewes. This year marks the 30th year Rolling Thunder has been riding into Washington DC to keep the memory of POWs and MIAs alive in the hope of bringing them home someday. It has expanded to included POWs and MIAs from all wars that the United States has fought in.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was purchased for my personal library

In Memoriam
FCP 1955-2001

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, illustrated by Chris Connor

It’s 1963, and 10 year-old Charlotte Makepeace has just arrived at boarding school for the first time. After meeting her roommates, and setting up her bed by the window, Charlotte falls asleep that first night, apprehensive about what boarding school will be like. 

The next morning, when she awakens, Charlotte is aware that things are different. Even though the dormitory and bed are the same, the view out the window isn’t. Charlotte has woken up more than 40 years earlier, in 1918, the last year of WWI. Not only that, but she is now called Clare by the other girls, including Clare's younger sister named Emily. No seems to notice that Charlotte isn’t Clare.

That night, Charlotte falls asleep in 1918 and wakes up in 1963, in her original room with her original dorm mates. This nightly switching places with Clare goes on every night for a while. Eventually, Charlotte and Clare start leaving notes for each other to help each other navigate their constantly changing situation. 

Emily knows that Charlotte isn’t Clare and demands to know what is going on. Charlotte can’t explain it, but she does realize it has something to do with the particular bed she and Clare sleep in each night. Then, Charlotte finds out that Clare and Emily will be moving to new lodgings soon and will be walking to school each day. And though Charlotte and Clare make sure they are in their right time for the move, things don’t work out exactly as planned and Charlotte finds herself far from the magic bed that can return her to 1963, where she belongs. 

There were a few things that I really liked about this book. First, the means of time-travel. It is simply a magic bed and occurs while sleeping during the night. To her credit, Farmer never even tries to provide an explanation about how or why it happens, it just does. Sleep and dreams can make anything feel possible, even time-travel. And night is, of course, a time when sleepers dream dreams occur that often make no sense even when they relate to the dreamer’s waking life. 

I also like that Charlotte is so cool and calm on the outside, but on the inside she was a bundle of questions and concerns. And remarkably those questions aren’t necessarily about how and why she keeps waking up in different times so much as they were about her identity. Farmer has written that her intent was to question how… people identify you as you, and how they could accept one person as quite another (assuming the two people look reasonably similar to start with as Charlotte and her 1918 equivalent did)? Boarding school seems to have unsettled Charlotte's sense of who she is on the very first day, causing her ho write her full name on everything, as if to prove she is still really Charlotte Mary Makepeace. Right from the start “she had felt herself to be so many different people, and half of them she did not recognize.” Charlotte, already in an identity flux is an ideal candidate for a little time travel adventure and is easily being perceived as Clare by everyone except Clare’s sister, who naturally would know her better than most.

Interestingly also, the story is related only from Charlotte’s point of view. The reader only knows about Clare from the notes she leaves and from what Emily says about her, leaving me to wonder what the state of her identity was.

A word about WWI. This isn’t a war book per se, but the war does play a part. There is, of course, rationing, blackout curtains are in use, there's an army training camp nearby, and many of the girls are in boarding school because their fathers are fighting in the war, including Clare and Emily’s father.    

I can’t believe that I haven’t read Charlotte Sometimes before now, but somehow it slipped under the radar. It is the kind of book I would have loved as a girl. The style is a bit on the dreamy side, with no big drama anywhere even though major things do happen - like getting stuck in the wrong time period. I’m actually glad I read it after having read lots of Angela Brazil’s book from the same time period, and which the style actually reminded me of. 


Charlotte Sometimes definitely goes on my list of favorite time travel novels and I can honestly give it a high recommend.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book is an EARC of a newly released paperback received from Edelweiss Plus

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Merry Month of May


Well, the merry month of May hasn't been going exactly the way I thought it would.  If you read my other blog, Randomly Reading, then you know why. If not, allow me to explain.

On Thursday, May 4, 2017, at around 12:30 AM, I noticed fire balls dropping from the sky. Not really from the sky, but from the 6th Floor apartment, 4 floors above me. Next thing I knew, there was a fireman in my apartment, who promptly knocked out two of my windows and sent my window air conditioner to the street below. Apparently, fire balls had landed in it and he was afraid of an electrical fire starting in my apartment (which couldn't have happened since it wasn't plugged in).

I've often wondered what I would try to save in the event of a fire and now I know. I tried to save my computer, forgetting that all I had to do was grab the external drive that everything is backed up to. When I couldn't detach the computer from the WiFi router, I had to put in on the floor and leave it to the water that was now pouring from the ceiling. In the end, I rescued my sunglasses, my phone, and purse, oh yes, and myself.

We were allowed back in the building at around 3:00 AM, the Sanitation Department showed up and immediately cleaned the street up, and one fire truck remained for a few more hours to make sure the fire was completely out. The couple in the apartment where the fire began had minor injuries, as did two firemen.
My Workspace on May 5, 2017
In the end, I had water damage in my bedroom/workspace and in my bathroom. I was lucky and I know it. The people on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floor are really in bad shape, as is the 1st floor and of course, the 6th floor apartment is totaled.

My Workspace and Bathroom Ceiling Now
I have to say, I was totally impressed by the speed and efficiency with which the FDNY worked. They've been in the building before to do inspections and a few false alarms, and they have always been so courteous and friendly and that night was no different. The firehouse that serves my neighborhood, FDNY Engine 22, Ladder 13, Battalion 10, is called the Pride of Yorkville and they certainly are.

And the computer I tried to save? Putting it on the floor turned out to be the best thing I could have done. It works just fine, though I can't say the same about the keyboard, which did get pretty wet and is a little on the wonky side right now. If I had left the computer on the desk, it would have been ruined by the water coming down from the ceiling. Last week, I used my cell phone to connect it to the Internet, using the Personal Hotspot, but that eats up your data fast and I don't have that much to begin with, so ultimately, I detached the router, and reattached to the living room cable and got my WiFi up and running again.

Why was my computer so important to me, you might ask? I work at home and have everything on it (which is why I have the external drive and I highly recommend using on of them and then, remembering that you are using it if you find yourself needing to evacuate your home in a hurry.

My temporary workspace, not terribly comfortable, but I'm grateful to have it
It's been an interesting week and a half, but hopefully, I'll be back with new reviews this week. Meanwhile,
HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Raven Brings (Book 2 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) by John Owen Theobald

These Dark Wings (Book 1 of the Ravenmaster Trilogy) ended in September 1941. The blitz had been over for a while, but daily life was still hard. Anna Cooper, whose mother was supposedly killed in an air raid, was still living in the Tower of London with her Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry was on the mend after a serious illness. The mystery of the disappearing ravens had been solved, Anna and Timothy Squire became friends, though she can’t forget his forages into bombed homes to see what he could find there. Much to her happiness, Anna received a letter from her best friend Flo that she is returning to England from Canada, where she had been evacuated to during the Blitz. And Anna’s father, a German and a Nazi, was in London and knows where she is.

And so, in May 1942, Book 2 begins. As the war continues, Uncle Henry, Anna’s guardian, has passed away and left Anna in the care of Yeoman Oakes, much to her chagrin. Uncle Henry’s dying wish was that Anna, who is now 15, be the new Ravenmaster, but the Tower of London authorities refused to let a female do a traditionally male job, no matter how good she is at it, and so it is given to Yeoman Stackhouse, who has absolutely not interest in the ravens, or in the legend that there must always be six ravens in the Tower of London or the monarchy and Britain will fall. Instead, it is recommended that Anna work at as a canteen girl (with NAAFI or Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes). 

Meanwhile, Timothy Squire is up in Scotland learning how to be a sapper, a soldier who builds and repairs roads and bridges, lays mines, and who sometimes defuses bombs. Unfortunately, Timothy and his partner Arthur Lightfoot are not very good sappers and find themselves back in London, working on the docks. 

With Timothy home and helping out with the ravens, it’s time for Anna to leave the Tower and do something useful. With forged papers, Anna joins the WAAF or Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. But her career in the WAAF is short-lived when she proves herself to be pretty incompetent at everything. But luckily, a RAF pilot takes her for a ride in a plane, and next thing Anna knows, she’s being sent to the ATA, or Air Transport Auxiliary. There, Anna learns to fly and begins ferrying planes around Britain wherever they are needed.


But while Anna is finding her place in the war, she is also growing up and finding herself attracted to the opposite sex, and trying to cope with new feelings of jealousy. And the truth about what really happened to her father, and her mother’s death, still continues haunts her, coming up in her thoughts and memories until the realization of what really happened suddenly hits Anna. But it is Timothy, given a second chance at becoming a sapper, who may have the answer to what Anna’s father wants from her and why he hasn't returned to Germany.. But is Timothy willing to risk everything, including losing Anna, to stop him? And what does her father have to do with Hitler’s newest weapon the V1 bomb, his Vengeance bomb?

We all know that sometimes a second book just doesn't live up the promise of the first book, but that is really not the case with What the Raven Brings. Less focused on life in London and in particular, the Tower of London, Anna life has really broadened out, even if she did have for get Yeoman Oakes to forge some papers for her.  

Consequently, Theobald has given us a very interesting, exciting coming of age novel, one that takes Anna into young adulthood and he has captured all the mixed emotions that a girl her age might experience. For example, Anna is jealous when she thinks that Timothy is interested in Flo, but finds herself somewhat attracted to an RAF pilot. And although she loves flying, Anna is afraid to take control of a plane alone, at least until she does it.  I actually liked this book better than the first one, which I also enjoyed. I just feel that Anna and Timothy have much more depth to them as characters.

But Theobald has also given us a window into what the war was like on the home front. The hardships people faced and how they dealt with life under seize. I thought the part where Timothy gets caught up in a mad crush of people trying to get into a tube station during an air raid was particularly poignant, demonstrating how really desperate people can get under stress. It is sadly based on a true event, the wartime disaster at Bethnal Green Tube Station in which 173 people were crushed to death. Timothy, needless to say, clearly suffers from PTSD afterward.

Another nice touch is the way Theobald included American women pilots who were in the ATA with Anna. Joy, the African American pilot who teaches Anna how to fly and becomes her friend, points to the fact the women of color could not fly for the US now that America has entered the war, but were welcomed in the ATA, along with other Americans. 

If you are looking for an exciting, honest multi-faceted wartime MG/YA book, What the Raven Brings may be just the ticket. It thoughtfully explores themes of friendship, loyalty, courage and fear during times of great difficulty and danger. 

Now, I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the Ravenmaster trilogy when it comes out.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Head of Zeus


I have included links to Wikipedia articles in this review about things that young readers may not be familiar with.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz

Waiting on Wednesday was a meme begun by Jill at Breaking the Spine that highlights
upcoming releases we can't wait to read, and although she no longer hosts this meme, many continue
to post Waiting on Wednesdays

My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is:

Among the Red Stars, a Novel by Gwen C. Katz
Harper Teen, October 3, 2017, 384 pages

From Goodreads:
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines. 

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.

What are you looking forward to reading?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Across the Blue Pacific by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

It's the winter of 1943, when Molly Crenshaw is in second grade and her next door neighbor, Ted Walker, finishes submarine training and comes home on leave. Molly and her younger brother Sam just want to hang around all day with their real-life hero, after all, who else could help them build a naval snowman or show them how to spit shine their Sunday-best shoes.

Then, in March Ted receives his orders and learns he is heading to the war in the Pacific on a submarine called the USS Albacore. Molly and Sam begin to write weekly letters to Ted, letters that always include a drawing of the Walker's dog, Buttons. During the summer, they hang around Mrs. Walker's porch, listening to the radio. When school begins again, Molly's third grade year just flies by.

In September, 1944, Molly's fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Linsay and a few students paint a world map on one the walls of the school, including every country and all the islands in the Pacific. The map helped Molly imagine where and what Ted might be up to on that small submarine in the so, so large Pacific Ocean.

Then, two days before Christmas, Molly and Sam notice a lot of black cars parked in Mrs. Walker's driveway. Ted's Uncle Will tells them the sad news that the USS Albacore never returned from its last patrol and now, Ted is MIA- Missing in Action.

The days immediately after receiving this news drag by, but eventually life, though now different, returns to a steadier routine. Suddenly, remembering everything about Ted becomes an important memory to keep. The war finally ends in August 1945, Molly begins fifth grade, but looking at the world map still on the school wall, she begins to think about all those soldiers on both sides of the war, ally and enemy, who didn't come home, just as Ted didn't, and how stories of those other lost loved ones are passed down, "in different ways and in different voices/from family to family,/and from neighbor to friend.../the stories/that are important enough to keep.

Across the Blue Pacific is basically a home front story, told from Molly's point of view, and looking back as a adult to those intense years when the war became a reality for her in the figure of Ted Walker. It is told in Borden's well-crafted, sensitive free-verse, a style she has mastered so that Molly's story never loses its sense of poignancy and thoughtful introspection.

Parker's ink and watercolor illustrations alternate between Molly's life at home and Ted life on the submarine, and are done in a subdued, loose-line style that distances the reader (along with Molly) from the war years, but also gives those years a real sense of unsteadiness.

Across the Blue Pacific is a story that has its roots in reality, as you will discover when you read Borden's Author's Note. The real Ted Walker was an uncle whom Borden never knew, an executive officer aboard the USS Albacore. Do read the Note if you want to find out what happened to the submarine, according to the US Navy.

Across the Blue Pacific is a picture book for older readers that deals with the impact of war, loss, and grief on the life of a young girl in elementary school, and the importance of memory to keep those lost alive in our thoughts.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Night Witches: A Novel of World War II by Kathryn Lasky

It 1941, and the Nazi have just begun Operation Barbarossa, their invasion of Russia. Nazi soldier have surrounded Stalingrad on three sides (the fourth side is the Volga River), making it impossible for people and supplies to get in or out of the city. After her mother was killed by a Nazi sniper, Valentina Petrovna Baskova, or Valya, 16, sees no reason for not joining her sister Tatyana as a Night Witch, a fighter pilot with the 588th Regiment. Her father, a pilot, hasn't been heard from since he left to fight, and is MIA.

With the help of Yuri, an old classmate now turned Russian sniper, Valya sets off for the river where ferries are rumored to be taking people across in the morning. Unfortunately, so many people are fleeing Stalingrad, that Valya is unable to get on the ferry, and ends up unwillingly manning antiaircraft guns in Trench 301 run by another school friend, Anna.

Valya is stuck fighting in the Trench 301, always looking up into the night sky and wondering if one the Night Witches she sees could be her sister, making her long to be part of it all the more. But no one in the Trench 301 really believes a 16 year old can fly a plane. Finally, it is again rumored that civilians will be allowed to cross it. Valya makes it to the docks, but just as she is about to board, Yuri shows up and pulls her away, saving her life.

It's in the dead of winter that Valya finally makes it across the frozen river, escorted by Yuri, who seems to know exactly where the secreted 588th Regiment is located. At last, Valya makes it to Night Witches, and finds her sister Tatyana. And despite all she has already been through, her real adventure as a Night Witch has only just begun.

Night Witches is a pretty exciting, fast-paced story with perhaps a little poetic license.  Valya is a strong female main character, who exhibits plenty of level-headed self-confidence even in a dangerous situation, yet retains the impulsiveness of her age.  I have to admit, however, her jealousy and the way she constantly compared herself to her older sister annoyed me (um, too close to home, perhaps?). Still, the very strong bond between the sisters which becomes all the more evident when Tatyana's plane is shot down and Valya refuses to believe she could be dead and vows to find her.

The story of the Night Witches is not a familiar story to today's readers, and Lasky's book certainly has a great deal of appeal going for it. Since most WWII books for young readers focus on the home front, the war in European theater, and to a lesser extent, the war in the Pacific theater, Lasky has included some information as part of the narrative to give readers some sense of context. But, the use of female fighter pilots was such an unusual phenomenon in WWII, that I would have liked Back Matter with some addition information about the Night Witches and perhaps suggestions for further reading.

While there is some strong language, and some of the fighting is a bit graphic, especially while Valya is fighting in Trench 301, it isn't overly done. My first introduction to Russia's women pilots was in an old book called Comrades of the Air (1942) by Dorothy Carter, a story about a female pilot in the ATA who ferries a plane to Russia, so it is nice to read a book from a Russian perspective.

Did you think that Valya was too young to fly? Here is an interesting article about Russia's Night Witches from The Atlantic magazine about the real women pilots who actually did range in age from 17 to 26.

I really enjoyed this book but one thing bothered me. At some point, Valya refers to the popular slogan in England "Keep Calm and Carry On." This was one of three posters the government issued to boost morale. But it was only supposed to be used in case of invasion, which never happened. For more about this, see my post of 2012 Keep Calm and (fill in the blank).

This book is recommended for readers age 13+
This book was an EARC received from Edelweiss/Above the Treeline

Since Night Witches is a YA novel, may I recommend a work of nonfiction as a two supplements to those interested in these brave pilots that were recommended to me by Gwen Katz, author of the upcoming novel Among the Red Stars (also about the Night Witches. They are A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in WWII by Anne Noggle, published by Texas A&M University Press, 1994, 2007; and Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat by Reina Pennington, University Press of Kansas, 2007.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bloodlines: Heart of War by M. Zachary Sherman

Bloodlines: Heart of War is the story of the Donovans, an American family, and consists of eight stories that cover four generations of that family as they serve in five different American wars.

Each story followers one family member at a particular time in the war they are fighting in, beginning with WWII and Private First Class Michael Donovan, a parachutist in the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment AKA Dog Company. Donovan parachutes behind enemy lines in France, in order to help secure a base of operations in preparation for the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. Of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds, and Donovan lands without his equipment bag, no weapon, and a German patrol passing by. And his story just gets scarier and more dangerous from there, but ultimately, courage and determination guide his actions to the end of the mission.

The second story is also set in WWII and is an exciting saboteur tale. Michael Donovan’s brother, First Lieutenant Aaron Donovan is part of the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services. His mission is to board a German submarine located in Gilleleje, Denmark, sabotage it so that the Germans will have to evacuate the sub, and while that is happening, Donovan and his companion are to steal the new codebooks for decoding the latest Enigma codes. It’s a daring mission, not everything goes a planned, but again Donovan strength and courage win the day.

A third Donovan brother is a U.S. Marine Captain Everett Donovan during the Korean War. Captain Donovan finds himself the only survivor of…what? He couldn’t remember, but he can figure out that he is in North Korea and the temperature is 35° below zero. With the bayonet of a Korean sniper aimed at him, Donovan suddenly remembers his mission - he and his Counterintelligence Marines were supposed to scout the area known as Toktong Pass, making sure it is clear for U.S. and U.N. Forces to advance through in the morning. But this Korean sniper had a real surprise for Captain Donovan.

In this fourth story, we meet the Donovan brothers cousin, Private First Class Tony Donovan of the U.S. Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion, who is also stationed in Korea. When a C-119 cargo plane crashes behind enemy with Donovan and his men on it, they know they had to get out of that area and back to safety as quickly a possible. But first they had to try and repair a jeep they were carrying. And even at that, getting back to safety provea to be a dangerous trek, especially when a North Korean tank gets the jeep full of soldiers in it’s sights. How will they ever survive a hit from a tank?

Next is the story of Everett Donovan’s son, Lieutenant Verner Donovan, Everett’s son, a pilot in the VF-96 “Fighting Falcons” Squadron, part of the U.S. Navy. Verner, known as the “Candy Man” because of his fondness for chocolate, is stationed on a aircraft carrier in Vietnam. When he and his RIO (radio intercept officer) Blem receive a radio transmission from Marine recon unit Razor Two requesting air support after having stumbled into a Vietcong training camp, the two men spring into action. Locating the Marines, they soon discover they aren’t the only ones in the air - so are the enemy and the two men are forced to parachute out of the plane. Now, it is the Candy Man and Blem who need help. Will they make it out of the Vietcong jungle? 

Also in Vietnam is Captain Anne Donovan, a U.S. Army nurse, and Verner’s sister.  Finding herself in a M.A.S.H. unit, providing medical care to badly wounded and dying soldiers, Anne has something to prove - that she has what it takes to be a doctor some day. When she finds herself assisting a doctor during the Battle of Hamburger Hill, she learns the most valuable lesson of all - how to keep her emotions distanced from the carnage all around her in order to be strong for the soldiers who need her.

Lieutenant Commander Lester Donovan, Verner’s son and Anne’s nephew, is a U.S. Navy Seal stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Lester was a by-the-book officer, but the men he commanded wanted to see a little flexibility when needed. When the helicopter carrying Lester, his men and a Taliban prisoner is shot out of the sky, Donovan knows he has a difficult  choice to make - obey orders or defy them and search for his two missing men, taken prisoner by the Taliban and hidden in a dark cave. But which cave? There are so many used by the Taliban. 

This last story also features Lieutenant Commander Lester Donovan, now serving in Iraq. Based on information given to them by Iraqi Police Chief Hakedam, a supporter of Saddam Hussein’s old ruling party, Donovan, two of his men and a CIA agent hope to capture a black marketer and terrorist, Abdul Kasieem, whose stronghold is camouflaged as a goat farm near the Syrian border, and which contains an underground bunker loaded with weapons. But has the Police Chief played the Americans so that they would get rid of Kasieem and he, Hakedam, could be the only black marketer in town? 

Bloodlines: Hear of War is a very well-done collection of short stories for middle grade readers, many of who really like these types of military tales. There are lots of details about the conflicts that the Donovans find themselves fighting in, but they are not terribly graphic, though they are realistic. And even though I’m not a fan of combat stories, I did find them somewhat interesting. I like the way the author connected the family to each other in the stories. I know there are lots of military families like the Donovans, who will also find this and interesting book. 

There not much background as to what each war is about within the stories, however, there is a brief description of each of these U.S. Military Conflicts at the back of the book. I would have liked to see suggestions for further reading as well, but I did read an ARC so many the finished book has these things. Maybe kids who read and enjoy Bloodlines: Heart of War will be inspired to seek out more information about each conflict on their own.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Genevieve's War by Patricia Reilly Giff

French American Genevieve Michel, 13, and her older brother André have been spending the summer of 1939 visiting their rather cold, judgmental grandmother, Mémé, helping out on her farm in Alsace, close to the Germany border.

Now, at the end of summer, André has already returned to the States and Genevieve is set to leave on the Normandie, on what may well have been the last passenger ship leaving France before the expected invasion of France by Germany. But at the last minute, Genevieve decides to remain with her grandmother. In September 1939, war is declared, and in June 1940, the Germans do indeed invade France.

Suddenly, everything changes. There are German soldiers everywhere and everyone’s farm animals and food supplies are confiscated by them. Luckily, Mémé has a secret pantry where she and Genevieve move most of their jars of food. The teacher at school is replaced by a new Nazi teachers, the French names of the students are changed to German names (Genevieve becomes Gerta), and French is outlawed, only German may be spoken at all times. French books are publicly burned, and a German officer is billeted on the farm, enjoying what little food there is, and complaining about the scarce heat.

Genevieve believes her brother has safely returned to the United States, but when she notices a sweater of his at the village book shop, she becomes suspicious of the owner, Monsieur Philippe, and decides he is not to be trusted, even though Mémé tells her she is wrong. But when the train station is sabotaged, and Genevieve learns that Rémy, a boy she likes very much, is a Resistance fighter and missing since the station was blown up, she has to turn to the bookseller for help. Can she really trust him?

Soon, she finds herself hiding Rémy from the Nazis in Mémé attic. Genevieve and even her grandmother becomes part of the local Resistance, doing what they can. Mémé has always told her granddaughter not to trust anyone, not even her best friend Katrin, but Genevieve’s a naïve, impulsive girl who always thinks she knows better. And Genevieve has to learn the hard way that people are often not who they seem to be, and friends may betray friends, while perceived enemies may turn out to be friends after all.


Until now, I have only read two of Giff’s WWII books, both of which take place on the home front, so this was a change for me. But just as she did in Willow Run and Gingersnap, Giff managed captured what life was like - this time in an occupied country. All the realities of war are there: the constant fear, the constant hunger, the winter cold, the always present mistrust, and especially the presence of an enemy who will not hesitate to use their force or weapons to get what they want. And although Genevieve constantly thinks about what life would be like in Springfield Gardens, Queens if she had gone home, to her credit, she never regrets her choice to stay with her grandmother in Alsace.

Genevieve's War is told in the first person, narrated by Genevieve so everything is filtered through her experiences. I especially liked seeing her opinion with her grandmother changed over time, as well as how Mémé's judgement of her granddaughter changed. Over the course of the war, Genevieve transforms into a capable, thoughtful young woman who comes to appreciate her grandmother, learns about her deceased father whom she never knew, and discovers a love for farm life. 

Genevieve's War is a thought-provoking novel that explores the themes of courage, defiance, and loyalty in times of peril that still manages to carry a note of hope throughout.

An Educator's Guide for Genevieve's War is available to download from the publisher, Holiday House.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher.