Summer Vacation Books

June 15, 2007

Today is the last day of school for my daughters and we look forward to reading lots of books in the months ahead just because we want to, not because we have to. Textbooks are put aside until September and the summer reading program at the library is signed up for.

We’ll be on vacation for a few weeks, so I won’t be posting to the blog again until mid-July. In the meantime, here are a few of the books on our reading list this summer.

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Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale—School Library Journal gives this book a starred review, and says “this is not a fluffy, predictable fairy tale…Instead, Hale weave an intricate, multilayered story about families, relationships, education, and the place we call home.” Both of my daughters have loved two of Shannon Hale’s other books, The Goose Girl and Enna Burning. They can’t wait to dig into this one.

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Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull—This first novel from an author who has also worked as a comedian promises mystery and adventure in a mystical world.

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The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan—Another starred review from School Library Journal, which describes it as “an adventure quest with a hip edge.” It should be appealing to any kid or adult who has studied Greek mythology, as it’s full of humorous allusions to the ancient myths.

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The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan—This follow-up to The Lightning Thief has been described as a sequel that is even more compelling than the novel it follows. It’s also supposed to be very funny, which is quite appealing to my 13-year-old daughter.

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Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld—A story about a society that requires mandatory surgery at the age of 16 to turn everyone from ugly to stunningly attractive. This one promises many thoughtful discussions about how far people are willing to go to look good.

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Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones—If you’ve seen the movie you know that this quirky story of Sophie and the wizard Howl is warm-hearted, adventurous and full of magic.

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The Golden Compass, by Phillip Pullman—I loved Lyra’s magical world when I read this to my older daughter a few years back. This summer I plan to read it to my younger daughter so it will be fresh in our minds when the movie comes out in December.

This is a start to our summer reading list. Send in your favorites for summer vacation.

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Yummy Peanut Butter Cup Brownies Recipe

June 12, 2007

These brownies with a peanut butter surprise have been a hit at more than one mother-daughter book club meeting. Be sure to have lots on hand when you serve them

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsps. vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Place the chocolate into a double boiler with simmering water. When the chocolate is nearly melted, stir in the butter, cut into small pieces. When melted, stir the mixture until it’s smooth. Transfer the top of the double boiler to a cooling rack and let the chocolate cool to room temperature.

Heat the oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9 x 9″ square cake pan. Dust it with flour and shake out the excess.

Combine the sugars in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and beat until well blended with an electric mixer on medium speed. Blend in the vanilla extract; add the cooled chocolate and mix until blended.

Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl, then stir into the chocolate mixture.

Make peanut butter filling by combining the following ingredients in a medium sized bowl:

  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1-1/2 ounces soft cream cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Beat with an electric mixer until evenly blended.

To assemble the muffins:

Line 18 to 20 cups of a standard muffin tin with bake cups.

Fill each muffin cup about halfway with brownie batter. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of peanut butter filling into the center, pushing it down a little into the batter. Cover the filling with another spoonful of batter. The cups should be about 3/4 full.

Bake for 15 minutes, until well risen and cracked on top. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.


Book Club Discussion and Review: Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

June 8, 2007

My daughter Catherine and I recently attended our book club meeting to talk about Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It was a delightful book that got the approval even of the readers who don’t much care for fantasy. The concept of taking a known story like the fairy tale this is based on and creating a whole story-behind-the-story is very well done here.

Here are some of the discussion questions we touched on:

  • How did Ani find the confidence to be the person she was supposed to be?
  • Could she ever be a ruler like her mother?
  • When did you start to think that Geric may not be a guard at the palace?
  • How did Ani/Isi’s experience being a goose girl help her become more confident?
  • If you had written this book, what would you have changed about any part of the plot?

Catherine and I enjoyed Goose Girl so much, we went to the library right away and picked up the sequel, Enna Burning. We like it a lot too, and we’re looking forward to picking up the third book, River Secrets.

It’s interesting reading the series, because one book doesn’t pick up where the one before left off. Instead they each build a new story based on a different main character, someone who may have been fairly minor in a different book.


Summer Weather and Picnics

June 1, 2007

Many mother-daughter book clubs that I know of choose not to meet in summer when everyone has a busy schedule that’s difficult to coordinate. But getting your group together for a fun event during the summer can be very rewarding and let everyone catch up with each other’s news. You don’t even necessarily have to have a common book, just come prepared to talk about things you’ve read and get ideas for other books you would be interested in reading.

If you need inspiration for picnic fare, check out these Web sites for ideas:

The Food Network
The Recipe Link
The-Picnic-Site