Book Review: The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn

December 30, 2008

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In The Pages In Between, Erin Einhorn has written a memoir about what she finds when she searches for the Polish family that sheltered her Jewish mother during World War II.

When she was growing up in Detroit, Einhorn didn’t know much about her mother’s past until she wrote a paper on the topic when she was in high school. Her mother, Irena, offered only the basics: Born in the early 1940s, Irena’s mother died during the war, while her father, Beresh, survived. Before he was taken away to a concentration camp, Beresh offered a local woman money and his home to live in if she would keep Irena safe. After the war, Beresh returns and makes his way with his daughter and new wife first to Sweden then to the U.S., where he made a new life.

When Erin, Irena’s daughter, became a journalist, her reporter’s mind refused to let go of her mother’s story, and she wanted to learn more. Taking a sabbatical from her job, she moved to Poland to see if she could find her mother’s rescuers. In the story of her quest, Einhorn mixes historical fact with current cultural observations with details of her journey to create a fascinating account that is very personal, yet universal in many ways as well.

The story will touch a chord with anyone who has ever wondered about the people who came before them: where did they live, what motivated them, how were their lives different from ours? There’s genealogical research and observations about Jews in Poland. Einhorn takes a look at historical attitudes of Poles to Jews and how lingering feelings of distrust resulting from the Holocaust continue to this day. But she also looks at how this generation of young Poles is different from the one that came before, and she candidly assesses the differences.

I think The Pages in Between is not just the story of one woman’s search for her mother’s history. It taps into the yearning that many of us feel about understanding our mothers and ourselves by  looking at the events that helped shape us into who we are. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with daughters in 10th grade and older.

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Book Review: Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt

December 26, 2008

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Every now and then I get to take a break from some of my heavier reading and get a reminder of how much fun it can be to read something geared to early readers. Piper Reed, The Great Gypsy by Kimberly Willis Holt is one of those books.

I’ve been of fan of Holt’s since reading My Louisiana Sky several years ago. Being from Louisiana originally, I was particularly taken with a book set there that didn’t involve negative clichés about the state or its people one often sees in works set in Louisiana. And I liked the story of a pre-teen girl who must choose between living a glamorous like with her sophisticated aunt or staying to live with her mentally challenged parents.

Piper Reed has appeal for younger readers in large part, because Holt has a very down-to-earth voice that imparts lessons to younger readers without being preachy. Readers get a glimpse of what life is like for the family of a military man when he is on assignment for long periods of time and they remain on the base. But they also get to know and love Piper, a middle sister who does her best to make friends wherever her family is stationed.

The book also makes use of its setting in Pensacola, Florida, to help readers learn something of the area. Piper and her family take short vacations to the beach and to New Orleans, with descriptions of each place that may help to spark interest in learning more about them. It all ties into a navy family’s exploration of a new area they move into and adapt to.

Younger readers in particular will be able to identify with Piper’s desire to win the prize at the pet show she puts on and the conflicts that arise with her sisters. Now, I’m inspired to go back and read the first book in this series, Piper Reed, Navy Brat.


Books for the Housebound

December 24, 2008

With so much snow falling in the Portland area over the last 10 days we’ve had plenty of time to read, read, read. For someone who always wants to read more than she has time for, it’s an unexpected gift to drop into my lap. I have to admit that even though I’m not much of a shopper, I do look forward to shopping around Christmas. The stores are decorated and Christmas songs play everywhere you go. I am missing my dose of that this year, but it’s hard to complain when I’m looking at such a beautiful white scene out the windows of my house when I glance up from my book.

I’ve been reading every day to both my daughters. I’m reading Ireland by Frank Delaney to Catherine for our book club. I’m reading 1876 by Gore Vidal to Madeleine just because I love Gore Vidal books and we both love history. I’m reading a book to review called Heart of a Shepherd by Portland author Rosanne Parry.

Official reviews will come later, but for now I can say that I’m enjoying everything I’m reading. Sometime in the next week I expect to pick up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, which I’ll be reading for Madeleine’s book club, and Aging with Grace, by David Snowdon, which I’ll read for a book club I’m in with my husband, Randy.

I can’t think of any better way to end the year and get ready for 2009.


Still More Snow—Update on Cupcake Recipe

December 22, 2008

I’m beginning to feel like a broken record as I tell my friends and family around the country that it’s still snowing in Portland. I’ve been saying it for the past nine days. While that may sound like nothing to people in many places, for us it’s a big deal. We can’t even leave our neighborhood, because there’s more than a foot of snow on the road. It’s a good thing we stocked up on food when we got out a few days ago. The newest weather report has the streets clearing up here after Christmas. I’m glad I got most of my shopping done before this all started.

The gingerbread cream cheese muffins I wrote about last time turned out great! My daughter Madeleine and I walked through the snow more than a mile to get the few ingredients we needed but didn’t have, and it was worth it. We’re still enjoying the muffins, even more so because there’s a chocolate ganache icing on top. We decided right away that we want to bake these again for the mother-daughter book club meeting we’re hosting at our house in January.

The recipe comes from The Mother Daughter Cookbook by Lynette Rohrer Shirk. It took a little getting used to working the recipe, because it’s not set up the way you would find it in most cookbooks. It’s divided into tasks for the mother and tasks for the daughter. For me, it was a little difficult to get a good feel for the whole process, but once I got used to the format change it was easier.

One thing to note if you have the cookbook and try this recipe: It says it makes 12 cupcakes. We don’t have cupcake tins, only muffin tins, and I believe those are smaller. We knew we wanted more than 12 cupcakes, so we decided to make 1-1/2 times the recipe. We ended up with 24 muffin-sized cupcakes on our hands, plus more to bake in a square glass pan. Not that I’m complaining. We’re still enjoying the cupcakes, and we even shared a couple with the people at the camera store when we went to pick up photos for Christmas cards. Next time we’ll be prepared.


Another Snow Day—Time to Cook with The Mother Daughter Cookbook

December 19, 2008

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My daughters are ecstatic because school got called for another snow day here in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. They’ve been off all week, and now they have two more weeks off to look forward to. I, on the other hand, am going a little stir crazy. I haven’t been out of my neighborhood since Sunday, since we have one four-wheel drive car that will take us around and my husband is using it to go to work.

Today I think I’ll have to get out and walk. There’s a Starbucks Coffee about a 1/2 hour walk away, and a nice hot cocoa sounds like a good reward at the end of it. Maybe all three of us can venture out together.

Then I’d like to come back home and bake something from The Mother Daughter Cookbook. I recently got this book to review, and this will be the first recipe I try from it. I’ve got my mind set on making Gingerbread Cream Cheese Cupcakes. There’s a substitution for chocolate frosting listed with the recipe, and I may just have to frost half the cupcakes with that. Yum!

The Mother Daughter Cookbook looks like a great addition to any mom’s cookbook shelf. The author, Lynette Rohrer Shirk, has put together an interesting collection of recipes and broken them down into tasks for the mom and tasks for the daughter. In my case, my daughters are older and they can do any of the tasks, but I think they’ll like taking on the daughter’s side of the recipe anyway.

The recipes are also punctuated with quotes and cooking tidbits that make for interesting reading as well. There are a lot of recipes I’m looking forward to trying in this cookbook. And I think it would make a good gift for any mother and daughter team. You could also use this at a mother-daughter book club meeting, and have the girls work their part of the recipe while the moms collaborate with theirs. What fun!

I’ll keep you posted when we get to taste the cupcakes.


Book review: Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

December 17, 2008

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I’ve loved every Molly Gloss book I’ve read, and Hearts of Horses proved no exception.  Here’s my review:

It’s 1917 in rural Oregon, and many of the local men are away in France fighting. Into this scene rides Martha Lessen, a girl of 19 who says she can break horses to saddle. With fewer men around to perform the same job, Martha finds success first by hiring on at the Bliss ranch, then by expanding out to other ranches in the county. Eventually setting up a circuit training, where she rides horses from one corral to the next rotating where a horse spends the night, Martha works hard to gain the respect of the horses and the people in the area.

The tale unfolds slowly, giving the reader time to get to know the characters the way Martha gets to know them as well as her horses, one incident at a time. And the story is firmly rooted in it’s time period. There’s anti-German sentiment directed against ranchers of German descent, even though they were born in this country. There’s sacrifice for the war effort, and there’s loss from the war too. The cast of characters are a mix of good and bad, which you would expect to find in just about any place you settle for a while. As Martha’s confidence in her abilities grow, so do her connections to people in the county.

As in her other books, The Jump Off Creek and Wild Life, Gloss brings the American west in its first decades of settlement to life. Her storytelling is rich in details, and she knows what motivates and moves her characters. Her female characters are strong, often bucking expectations for women of their time while remaining true to themselves. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in 8th grade and up.


Book Review: Much Ado About Anne by Heather Vogel Frederick

December 15, 2008

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Heather Vogel Frederick continues her delightful mother-daughter book club series with Much Ado About Anne. This time the book club is reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and the girls are totally committed to their book club and to each other when the new reading year starts for their group. There are new challenges—can the moms really have invited Calliope and Becca Chadwick into their book club without asking the girls?—and new events arise that test their friendship in ways they don’t expect. But Frederick does a great job of continuing the saga and bringing us even more into the lives of these book club members that readers grew to know and love in her first book in the series, The Mother-Daughter Book Club.

The historic town of Concord, Mass., where Frederick herself group up, is once again a prominent feature in the story. So is Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables books. Frederick weaves facts about the classical author into the story seamlessly and helps readers learn about another classic series in the process.

You’ll worry with Jess about losing her family’s historic farm, cheer for Emma as she grows more confident, worry for Cassie as she struggles to accept her mom’s new boyfriend, and stress right along with Megan as she crunches to design clothes for her fashion show. And they all experience a few blips in their friendship in ways that will ring true for girls in upper elementary and middle school.

Much Ado About Anne will most certainly satisfy readers of the series while leaving them happily anticipating the next book up.