The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer is a stellar debut novel for Ta-Nehisi Coates. While he has had an illustrious career in journalism, this is his first foray into fiction and he has hit a home-run! Coates’ writing style is stunningly eloquent, creating passages that transport the reader into the images and scenes created by his masterfully selected language. This is a gorgeously written piece of literature!

The story revolves around the life of Hiram Walker, one of the ‘Tasked’ on a plantation in Virginia called Lockless, owned and run by the ‘Quality’ Walker family. Once a thriving operation, the land is dying and the plantation and the ways of the gentry are facing a slow death.  We meet Hiram at a young age after his mother has been sold into bondage. He finds safe haven with a cantankerous woman in the slave village and it is during this time that he realizes that, even unschooled, he has an extremely unusual capacity to remember things. This talent brings him to the attention of the plantation owner, Howell Walker, who also happens to be Hiram’s birth father. Recognizing the tremendous gift that the boy has, Walker Sr brings the boy up to the main house to be educated and to be his white son Maynard’s servant.

This is the beginning of a journey that will take Hiram through oppressive suffering toward a future that will enable him to become a soldier in the underground war between the Quality and the Tasked. He will begin to unearth the memory of his mother, buried deep within him, that will allow his gift of ‘conduction’ to emerge, a gift that will help him to understand that freedom without love and family is bondage in its own way.

The story is based on the real life experiences of William and Peter Still, African-American brothers who were able to purchase their freedom from slavery and went on to become active abolitionists and conductors on the Underground Railroad. Fleeing For Freedom: Stories of the Underground Railway and The Underground Railroad Records are compilations of experiences of  the slaves and conductors who worked on the secret network and reflect the perils, tactics, and emotional struggles faced by the freedom seekers and fighters.

A warning to the reader: the inhumanity depicted in this story is almost beyond belief and yet multitudes of blacks have this savagery imprinted into their DNA through the generations that lived and continue to live in a country still much defined by its roots of slavery. 

— Nancy C.

Beer, Polkas and … Murder!

As K-W celebrates Oktoberfest season – a time of beer, polka and all things Bavarian – it’s the perfect time to pick up the Sloan Krause cozy mystery series by Ellie Alexander. The series is set in a small town known for its own Oktoberfest celebration and focuses on the growing culture of craft beer.

The first book in the series, Death on Tap, introduces readers to the town of Leavenworth, Washington. This Bavarian-inspired tourist town has a colourful cast of citizens including Sloan Krause, whose life revolves around her family-owned brew house and restaurant. When a murder occurs at one of the small craft breweries, Sloan finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

While the mysteries in the first three books of this series are at the forefront, Alexander also provides readers with interesting tidbits on craft brewing and its growing culture. As someone who enjoys craft beer, I found the info on the brewing process, flavours etc. quite interesting. But it was the underlying mystery surrounding Sloan’s murky past that kept me coming back for more. Since this mystery about Sloan’s early life builds over the three books, I highly suggest reading the books in order.

Book 1: Death on Tap
Book 2: The Pint of No Return
Book 3: Beyond a Reasonable Stout

Whether you’re a craft beer aficionado or simply not a beer person, I think fans of lighter mysteries will enjoy cozying up this Fall with this series.

— Laurie P.

Beyond “Notting Hill”

Julia Roberts is up to something. I can tell. Her name keeps popping up in my newsfeeds. I am not suspicious, I don’t think it is anything outrageous. It did make me feel like watching the movie “Notting Hill” again and after I watched it I did a little research and realized that it has been 20 years since that film came out. The movie still holds up. Her character, Anna Scott, is still the a star that you would be gobsmacked to meet at a dinner party and Hugh Grant’s character, William Thacker, still seems like a charming bookseller with floppy hair. Their relationship goes through many swoops but you cheer at the end. That’s the thrill of a good romantic story, in book or movie form.

We’ve seen some good ones at our house lately because I never stop hoping that I am going to find another romantic story that will resonate like Anna & Will’s. I’m always on the hunt for the next story that will make me feel it is worth watching more than once, perhaps many times. Looking back at the DVDs I have recently checked out of the library I have been bewitched by the beauty of “Crazy Rich Asians”, found “The Big Sick” to be outrageously funny, and enjoyed many of the twists in “Isn’t It Romantic”. Three films made in the recent years that I really liked, would probably watch again, but they didn’t really make my heart sing.

I recently watched a movie that I think is just about good enough to be my new “Notting Hill”. It is… Seth Rogen’s “Long Shot”. Who knew? My family does not agree with my 9 out of 10 rating for this movie. I loved the movie, believed in their love story, and felt that it was like a flipped version of “The American President”. That’s right, I am comparing it with Aaron Sorkin’s 1999 gem of a film, starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, one of the early influences of “The West Wing” (also known as the best television show ever made). It’s not exactly the same, of course, but in the way that an unlikely friendship slowly blossoms into love, both films contain a nugget of the same perfect romance. And, I’m telling you, Seth Rogen plays an alarmingly believable love interest to Charlize Theron. I would never have thought this could happen. Rogen hasn’t typically played love interests, he has played far more successful animated characters than romantic leads. For example, he was a very good Mantis in both “Kung Fu Panda” movies but there really wasn’t a lot of romance there.

With romantic stories you have to be ready to suspend disbelief. It’s important to be able to accept a circumstance you wouldn’t normally believe in traditional fiction so that the essential “meet cute” can happen. Like, in “Singin’ in the Rain” Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon find each other again after a few obstacles (and some great musical numbers) and their romance blooms. It’s something that couldn’t happen in real life but works with the right comic twist and a solid romantic arc. When it works, it works.

In “Long Shot” Seth Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a talented journalist who recently lost his job, and Charlize Theron is the U.S. Secretary of State, Charlotte Fields, who has decided to make a run for President. The sweet twist is that they knew each other when they were younger – she was his babysitter – and reunite because she needs someone who really knows her to make her speeches more compelling. In between falling in love there is one epic fall down the stairs at a New York fundraiser, an outstanding prank played on Flarsky by Charlotte’s staffers, all of the best behind-the-scenes campaign scenes you could ever want, and one glamorous dance where he wears a tuxedo and she wears a red dress worthy of the Oscars. Their chemistry is magic, undeniable, and the writing is warm and so funny. It is definitely a production of Seth Rogen’s company, Point Grey, so the R rating is well-deserved but it also suits the setting of the story and the characters. The supporting cast is fantastic, it has a better-than-average soundtrack, and it was refreshing to see a powerful female character making decisions for herself – for her career, for her future, and for her love life.

I will always be a fan of the romantic comedy, it turns out that I like them that much more when it features a fabulous woman changing the world with someone outrageously funny and charming by her side.

— Penny M.

Forever is a Long Time

Better Homes & Gardens (BHG) has been around for a long time. It was founded in 1922 by Edwin Meredith, who had previously been the United States Secretary of Agriculture and originally named his magazine “Fruit, Home & Garden” before changing to BHG in 1925. So, they are closing in on 100 years of sharing recipes as well as information on gardening, crafts and entertaining. Okay, so maybe that’s not “forever” but a century isn’t something to sneeze at.

BHG192207COVThe original magazine (July 1922) cost $0.10 per issue and contained curious articles like “The Almighty Sprayer”, “A Trunk Rest” and “Cannibals in the Orchard.” However, it also had articles that could be referenced by today’s homeowner: what to do with grass clippings, how to start a backyard flock of chickens (well, in City of Kitchener at least), and tips for successful transplanting.

Fast forward to a 2019 issue and the cost is $3.99US. And while there are still articles for gardeners and homeowners, like “The Art of the Garden”, others are now a sign of the times with titles like “The House That YouTube Built” and “What’s Trending at BHG”.

Better Homes & Gardens, which is also one of the top selling magazines in the States, is so famous that it has been referenced many times in hit songs, television shows and movies. And of course, besides the magazine there is the cookbooks, especially the iconic “My Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook” which came out in 1930. The book is regularly updated (it’s now on the 16th) and, with over 34 million copies sold, is as popular as ever with home cooks.

The BHG cookbook I borrowed recently was “100 Recipes You’ll Make Forever”. First off can I say that I love the binding of the book (as happy cooks commented back in the 1930s, too) as it allows the pages to stay open to the selected recipe without a special placeholder or tin of corn weighing it down! It’s a wide-ranging cookbook and I had difficulty narrowing down what to try. When I first borrowed it from the library, we were still being inundated with mulberries from our towering tree in the garden so I went with a few fruit-based bakes.

The fruit coffeecake with mulberries instead of raspberries was wonderful. Easy to make and so moist. The only part I didn’t like was the streusel topping. I prefer mine with brown sugar and oatmeal rather than white, which I felt formed too hard a crust. As the mulberries continued to fall, I tried the double-blueberry (yes, substituted mulberries) muffins which, again, were a success as was the double-crust fruit pie with, fooled you, apples. I’m still re-discovering making pastry and a meat pie I made recently was divine and the fruit pie from this cookbook was excellent. The BHG pastry came together quickly, was easy to handle and tasted wonderful. Two thumbs up from my husband, an apple pie addict.

My favourite recipe though was Oven Barbecued Chicken. Super easy and the sauce is fantastic. It made quite a bit of sauce and, as there was just two of us dining, we had leftover sauce. Besides the initial dish with boneless chicken (cut up, doused in sauce and served with rice and salad), we tried it on burgers, pork and hot dogs too. The right mix of sweet and heat. It is fingerlicking! Yes we will be making this sauce FOREVER.

If you’d like to browse the original BHG magazine, or any, really, Better Homes & Gardens has made their entire archive available online.

  • Sandi H.

Oven Barbecued Chicken

4 pounds meaty chicken pieces (breast halves, thighs, and/or drumsticks)*
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup butter
1 cup finely chopped onion (1 large)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic (6 cloves)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup tomato paste
¼ cup molasses

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with parchment paper or foil; set aside. Skin chicken. In an extra-large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken; cook until browned on all sides, turning to brown evenly. If necessary, brown chicken in batches, adding more oil if needed. Drain chicken well.

Arrange chicken pieces, bone sides up, in the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a large saucepan melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onion, salt, and garlic; cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring occasionally. Add paprika, chili powder, crushed red pepper, and black pepper; cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add the water, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce; bring to boiling. Whisk in tomato paste and molasses until smooth. Boil gently, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until sauce is thickened and reduced to about 4 cups, stirring occasionally.

Turn chicken pieces bone sides down. Transfer 1 cup of the sauce to a small bowl; brush this sauce over the chicken. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink (170°F for breasts; 180°F for thighs and drumsticks). Reheat some of the remaining sauce; pass with the chicken. Store any remaining sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

*I had thawed boneless chicken breasts that day and was tight on time. I cut the chicken into cubes, cooked them in the pan and coated liberally with sauce…wonderful!

This Little Light

This Little Light” is a compelling story that takes place in the near future and features relevant issues, a tense plot, a strong main character and a shocking ending. The intensity grows throughout the story, which is set over 48 hours, as two teenage girls flee for their lives when they’re accused of bombing their high school’s “Virtue Ball”.

This is a Dystopian read where issues of socio-economic disparity, immigration, climate change, the power of the government, media and fundamentalist religion are at the forefront. Abortion has been re-criminalized and birth control is hard to obtain, which creates an underground “Pink Market” for these services. The rights of women have been whittled away to the point where teen girls are told their place in society, which includes declaring a chastity promise to their fathers. That’s a whole lotta issues, but it works.

Rory, as the protagonist, is a breath of fresh air. I love her strength and conviction as she voices her opinions and relentlessly questions the way things are being done (her outspokenness often being blamed on her being half Canadian! Atta, girl!). She’s one small voice in a sea of media, Christian fundamentalists and politicians who want to control the rights of women and keep immigrants “in their place”.

This story has a strong teen vibe to it which is great, but unexpected. The only thing I didn’t love was the teen speak which felt contrived and often grating. For example, “I wanted to tell Fee to go up and have a shower because smell ..” This kind of dialogue occurred a lot and felt awkward – like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teen.

Overall, this was an engaging, eye-opening read that handles some big issues within a compulsive story that shows the importance of people questioning how things are done and not just accepting what you see in the media as fact. This is, obviously, a good pick for people itching for books with a Handmaid’s Tale feel to it.

— Laurie P.

Odd Recipe. Delicious Cookie.

Recently I had quite a number of cookbooks at home from the library. It was overwhelming, in a good way. Knowing how much my husband loves cookies, I gave him American Cookie by Anne Byrn and asked him to find at least one unusual recipe for me to try. In just minutes he was asking “Have you ever heard of Forgotten Chocolate Cookies?” What? How could a chocolate cookie be forgettable? I just cannot believe that but all was revealed when we read the blurb provided by Byrn.

Forgotten Cookies were named after the baking method for these old fashioned meringue-type delights, not due to the fact that the cookies were so mediocre that they were forgettable. Bakers “back in the day” used to start baking these cookies, then turn off the oven, leaving the cookies inside as the oven cooled. This would dry the cookies and give them the light but chewy texture they are known for.

91JRXYpGxoLApparently there are a myriad of methods of making “Forgotten Cookies”. Some require additional steps like beating the egg whites separately until a certain consistency before adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. The method shared by Byrn, almost an all-in-one, is super easy, seems strange (the method will seem so wrong but it is so right) and the resulting dough is unlike any cookie dough I am familiar with. However, bear with it and you will end up with some amazing, light, rich, super-chocolatey decadent cookies.

I also made a batch of Victorian Ginger Drop Cakes for my colleagues. This tea cake recipe was adapted by Byrn from one featured in Victoria Cakes by Caroline B. King, published in 1941. A contributor to various women’s magazines, King was also the lead US Army dietician in France during WWI. These drop cakes were a favourite from her childhood. The ingredients would vary depending on what her mother had in the pantry.

A colleague of mine, Kerstin, also borrowed American Cookie. Kerstin tried two recipes: the “Joe Frogger” and “The Cowboy Cookie”.  The former is an “adult” gingerbread cookie with rum, although she thought brandy with a sprinkling of sugar on top would be a wonderful alternative. The dough for the Cowboy Cookies was very dry so Kerstin ended up hand-shaping them into mounds rather than using a cookie dough scoop. The cookies held their shape when baked and tasted like a more decadent version of a granola bar.

I really liked Ann Byrn’s book and both Kerstin and myself especially enjoyed the morsels of history shared alongside each recipe. Not only is there a wonderful selection of recipes to choose from, you’ll learn a bit of American food history along the way.

  • Sandi H.

About Those Cookie Sheets

“When I was baking the Joe Frogger cookies I noticed that in the instructions Byrn advised bakers to let the cookie sheets/pans cool before putting more cookie dough onto them. Because I didn’t want to have to wait between batches, I rotated bakes between two different types of cookie sheets. Doing this allowed me to discover that my preferred, insulated cookie sheet is actually not ideal for baking cookies because it takes too long to bake them!  The cookies didn’t rise at all, look anemic and almost tasted raw. In comparison, the cookies that were baked on a traditional, single layer cookie sheet were absolutely lovely. Something to keep in mind when buying your next cookie sheet.”  — Kerstin

Forgotten Chocolate Cookies

2 ¼ c icing sugar
½ c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp corn starch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 c finely chopped pecans

Place rack in centre of oven. Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In large bowl combine icing sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Add egg whites and beat on low to incorporate into the dry ingredients. Increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute or until well combined. Stir in vanilla and pecans.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet…only 8 per sheet as the cookie spread a lot.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes until shiny and firm on the outside but a little soft inside. Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the pan then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve or store in airtight containers at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.

Woodstock

Time to break out the tie dye T-shirts and headbands and love beads. Yes, it’s time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. In August 1969, half a million young people gathered together on a farm in upstate New York for a 3-day music festival, in what became one of the great defining moments of the 1960s.

Want to live (or re-live) the experience? Here’s what’s happening at WPL. The library is presenting a Woodstock night (live music! tie dye T-shirts! a VW van!) at the Main Library on Wednesday, August 14 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Click here for more info. Or borrow some Woodstock-themed items from the library, like I did.

Woodstockpic2I started with this fabulous book, Woodstock: three days that rocked the world. It is jammed pack with great big beautiful photos and provides an excellent summary/celebration of the festival. The reader gets an overview of all the performers, as well as some fascinating trivia. For instance, I learned about the origins of the peace symbol and got a huge laugh out of a New York Times editorial expressing outrage over the festival (“nightmare in the Catskills,” “freakish-looking intruders.”)

Then I moved on to a DVD, Woodstock : 3 days of peace and music. I know I will be re-watching this DVD, just to take in everything it has to offer. There is also another DVD I’m eager to get my hands on, Woodstock : three days that defined a generation. It is on order and hasn’t yet come arrived at the library but you can still place your hold.

Here, based on the DVD, is my take on the musical performances:

Best Act: Tie between festival opener Richie Havens (a singer/musician who simply resonates passion for his music) and Sly and the Family Stone (cool, funky music that is guaranteed to get you moving and grooving).

Honourable Mentions: Crosby, Stills and Nash. Just at the very start of their career, this supergroup confessed to being “scared s***less” but still put on an impressive show. The Who’s performance of “Feel Me” (from “Tommy”) was sensational.

Most LOL Act: 50s style-act Sha Na Na. You can just see the hippies scratching their heads and saying “what the…?”

Performance that best captured the spirit of the times: The crowd leaping to their feet and doing a rousing sing a-long with Country Joe & the Fish:

“One, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me why, I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Viet Nam…..”

Most Fortunate Performer: John Sebastian (of The Lovin’ Spoonful) was not slated to perform at all and had showed up strictly to watch the show. However on opening night when they were short a couple of performers (stuck in traffic), someone thrust a guitar into his hand, shoved him onto the stage…. for the biggest gig of his entire career.

Most Unfortunate Performer: Jimi Hendrix asked for and was given the coveted closing slot. However various delays saw the festival finishing up, not Sunday evening, but Monday morning. By then most people had already packed up and left. Still, he gave a mesmerizing performance, including his legendary version of The Star Spangled Banner. Sadly, he would die from a drug overdose just over a year later. (Another Woodstock performer, Janis Joplin, likewise died of a drug overdose in 1970.)

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Beyond the music, there was such a great vibe to Woodstock. Reading the book or watching the DVD you get a real, palpable sense of community. It must have been such a blast to be there!

— Penny D.

Commander in Cheat

I know, I know, you’ve heard/read/seen enough about Donald Trump. I hear you. Who wants to read another book about him? But Commander in Cheat is different. Long-time golf player, golf observer and award-winning sports writer Rick Reilly examines the character of Donald Trump by looking at his golf game (and yes, the author has played golf with Trump).

Rick Reilly is a funny and engaging writer. He gets in a few sharp jabs too, like the book opening: “This book is dedicated to the truth. It’s still a thing.”

Reilly’s message is that if Trump is playing golf, he’s cheating. Or as the author says, his nose is so long “he could putt with it.” He moves his ball (or his opponent’s), he lies about his score, he lies about the number of championships he’s won. Same thing off the course. Trump has a solid record of stiffing his golf contractors. And bragging (ie. lying) about the worth of his properties, while at the same time suing cities for overvaluing them. And on and on and on.

I rolled my eyes (a lot) when I read the chapter on Barack Obama. You may recall that Trump repeatedly criticized Obama for the amount of golf he played while president and said that he, Trump, would be too busy working his great deals to leave the White House. And the reality? To date Trump has played almost triple the amount of golf that Obama did. And BTW, Obama is a real stickler for the rules and does not cheat at golf says the author.

But so what, you might be wondering. Who cares? Does it really matter if the president cheats at golf? At the end of the book, Reilly poses this very question. Here, for your consideration, is his answer:

If you’ll lie about every aspect of the game, is it that much further to lie about your taxes, your relationship with Russians, your groping of women?

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Or check out this similarly-themed DVD, You’ve been Trumped (from 2011). Ten odd years ago Donald Trump arrived in Scotland with grand schemes for a mega golf project (on environmentally-sensitive land, no less). He proceeded to bamboozle politicians with hugely-inflated job creation numbers. He rode roughshod over the local inhabitants, grossly insulting them along the way (you know, typical Trump). Gritty local inhabitants rallied together and fought back the best they could. Have a look at the trailer.

— Penny D.

Postscript. I don’t know if a reading blog is the place to say this, but I’m saying it. American politicians from both parties and the American people as a whole need to stand up and denounce the president’s recent racist tweets and comments. Such comments—and this should not need saying– are unacceptable. — P.D.

Failure Is Not An Option

In the library we see publishers responding quickly to events in the hope that they will capitalize on reader interest and sell more books. In some cases their rush to get a book on the shelves can result in books that meet a need but won’t find their way into your top ten list. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing publishers, authors, illustrators, scientists and astronauts had ample time to pull together every resource to make their products top-notch and it has been an absolute thrill to see these book treasures arrive on our shelves. It seems like I have been taking home a book or two a month to read or share with my space-loving family and we have learned some wonderful new facts, sneaky behind-the-scenes tidbits or relived the details we already read.

coderWhen we look back at those blurry images on the moon it’s hard to comprehend that it was only fifty years ago that engineers and technicians (almost entirely men) huddled over the desks to wait and see if decades of work would pay off. It seems like much more than fifty years because advances in technology have reached an absolutely dizzying pace. The computers used to provide guidance for the Apollo mission were so big that they took up entire rooms but are known to have been no more powerful than a calculator used by today’s high school student. It’s astounding to realize that the code was fed into the guidance computer using punch cards. You can actually see the code listing on the Caltech archive and imagine the incredible amount of work that went into just one part of the mission. Or you don’t have to imagine it. Here is a photograph of Margaret Hamilton, an MIT computer programmer working at NASA during the Apollo missions, standing next to a stack of some of the Apollo guidance computer source code.

Landing on the moon is the anniversary being celebrated on July 20th but there could have been hundreds of thousands of individual anniversaries celebrated before that day. An estimated number of about 400,000 people worked to make it possible for three men to safely travel to the moon and two men to walk upon it. The dedication, the incredible risks, the scientific advances and the decades of research and development since the Apollo mission have culminated in a publishing surge and it’s making for some fabulous reading.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy shared his goal that the United States put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and put into motion his plan to conquer space and the world at the same time. Historian Douglas Brinkley (a professor at Rice University where Kennedy gave his famous “we choose to go to the moon speech”) has done well in tying together the story of Kennedy’s family, that of engineer Wernher von Braun, NASA’s role in American politics and the space program’s future following the president’s assassination. He successfully blends politics, history and the thrill of the space race into one compelling narrative in American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the great space race. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the Kennedy story or someone who wants to get a feel for all of the forces that came together to make Apollo 11 happen.

Another 2019 book that has far fewer pages but held me captivated for hours was a gorgeous picture book by Dean Robbins and Sean Rubin. The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is not about the Apollo 11 mission but about the mission that follows and the images are so beautiful. It’s a sweet choice to take home to read aloud but a reader of any age could learn from this one. Alan Bean was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12 and was the fourth person to walk on the moon but is also known as the only artist to have ever seen the moon up close. What a perfect chance to use your art to communicate a unique experience! This picture book is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little more about his life as a navy pilot and his work at NASA but focuses more on his work as an artist. The author was able to collaborate on this story with the astronaut before his death and the illustrations share some of Bean’s own bold use of line and shape. It’s a little more STEAM than STEM and it’s perfect. Read more about Alan Bean on his own website or through the NASA website.

Alan Bean was a part of the group known as Astronaut Group 3 which included Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. But in the early days at NASA all of the astronauts worked closely together by backing each other up at mission control, training together, testing equipment, flying together and helping each other to learn the dense material required to make each mission a success. We have so many fantastic books on the shelves about these fascinating days – some old and some new – but Neil Armstrong’s authorized biography (the one that the Ryan Gosling biopic was based on) is one that stands out in my mind because it is so clearly written. It reads like a textbook because it is free of extra emotion but filled with incredible fly-on-the-wall detail. The chapters that cover his time as a test pilot are so explicit that I am sure I will remember the types of the planes he flew longer than I will remember the names of the people in his family or the town he was born in (Wapaknoeta, Ohio). If you read one book about the Apollo 11 mission then I suggest you set aside a few evenings and spend some time with First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s the closest you will ever get to feeling like you have experienced the life of an astronaut.

For another perspective on the Apollo 11 mission we have a newly reissued copy of Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire here on the shelves. As a member of the crew, he followed a similar astronaut career path to many of the other pilots with a graduation from West Point, time spent as a test pilot and a spacewalk on Gemini 10. Where his story becomes interesting is that with Apollo 11 he had the unique worry of being the man who might have to fly home and leave Buzz and Neil behind. He was concerned that they might crash on the moon, that there might be a failure to launch from the moon or any one of a number of other catastrophes. He writes about this weighty knowledge in his memoir. Mike had time to think about this as he piloted the command module and listened to his crewmates make their historic first steps onto the lunar surface. So much of the spotlight has focused on their actions in those days on the moon but his story – and his feeling of being truly alone out there – make this a fascinating memoir.

We have also been experiencing an increase in other material focusing on the Apollo 11 anniversary so if you haven’t satisfied your curiosity through shiny, new books you can view a documentary like the one that features newly discovered 65mm footage of mission control and the astronauts on the moon. It’s a truly unbelievable viewing experience. You can also check out one of the many magazines that have featured the moon landing – Make, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics and Sky & Telescope are a few of the periodicals that I’ve been reading lately – the photographs and features have been a great way to augment my reading about the anniversary.

We have some of the classic books about space flight on the shelves like NASA flight director Gene Kranz’s Failure is Not an Option and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (many contemporary astronauts say that this book was an early inspiration for their career choice) and your options for fiction about astronauts are endless. We have so many great books to suggest that you could be reading until we return to the moon. I know I’ll be on the holds list for the book about that mission.

— Penny M.

NOTE: if your children are into space, check out the Moon Lander (see below) in the Children’s Department at the Main Library. And don’t forget to register for the super-fun, space-themed Summer Reading Club. Activities, events, challenges and prizes all summer long.

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Bring on the Dishes!

I have never had a dishwasher. Growing up, my sister and I WERE the dishwasher in our house. When I flew the nest, I opted for extra storage space in my little kitchen over having another large appliance in the room. And to be honest, I don’t mind washing dishes. I’m not a huge fan of drying (usually my husband does that chore) but washing dishes, not a big deal at all.

Having a small kitchen, you learn to be efficient and organized in meal prep. An “A type” personality, I can quite happily make a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings and bake a dessert at the same time without my limited counter space and single sink teeming with cookware, bowls etc.

I don’t know if it’s because of being able to neatly “juggle” or something else entirely but I’ve just never been drawn to crockpots, instant-pots or one-pan meals. I know they are super popular all year round and must be quite handy in the hot days of summer, especially with those who do not have a/c at home. Perhaps if I had a big family to feed I’d be more welcoming to anything that is dish-saving and time-saving but I don’t, so while instant-pots seem to be in every home, there isn’t one in mine which means I’m unable to review any of those specific cookbooks at WPL. On the heels of the Instant-pot craze, though, it seems that one-dish cookbooks have regained their popularity. That I can do.

The first one I borrowed was One Pan, Whole Family : more than 70 complete weeknight meals by Carla Snyder. There were a number of interesting recipes between the covers and for the most part the instructions looked straight forward. The majority of the recipes take 45 minutes or less to prepare. The down side, the recipes I was most intrigued by would require me to make a return trip to the grocery store for key ingredients. So, I made a few “notes to self” and may revisit this book at a future date.

The second was 13 x 9 The Pan That Can : 150 fabulous recipes by Better Homes & Gardens.  As they describe it, the 13 x 9 (or 9 x 13) pan is “… the star of the kitchen, able to produce just about any dish from one-pan dinners to an easy big-batch dessert.” and the cookbook reflects this with recipes for all sorts of dinners, pizzas, breakfast bakes, bars and more. Nutritional information is provided for each recipe as well as ideas on making the recipes more healthy plus make ahead tips and “flex it” advice which is practical suggestions on how to make the recipe meatless, incorporate leftovers and more.

I tried two recipes from “13 x 9 The Pan That Can”. First up, Lemon Chicken With Potatoes. One of my favourite recipes of all time is the “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten’s roast chicken with lemon and lots of garlic. It’s a winner…always delicious and juicy. So, this seemed similar but different. The only change I made to the recipe was eliminating the olives (my husband is decidedly anti-olive) and it turned out quite good. Not as good as Ina’s if I’m honest, but tasty enough to make again. For dessert I tried the Bananas Foster Bake. Bananas, rum, oat streusel topping. What’s not to like? Wellll…we had a mixed result here. My husband absolutely loved it and went back for seconds. Me, I wasn’t impressed with the flavour or the mixture of textures and didn’t even finish my portion.

Odd as it may sound, in the end I’d be more likely to recommend One Pan, Whole Family with its many mouthwatering-sounding recipes over 13 x 9. The recipes in 13 x 9 just didn’t wow me and the results of my test recipes were mixed. But you borrow them from the library and be the judge.

— Sandi H.

Lemon Chicken and Potatoes

4 chicken breast halves, fresh or thawed
1 lb fingerling or baby Yukon potatoes
3 lemons, halves crosswise
1/3 c. pitted green and/or black olives
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp honey
6 c arugula or mixed salad greens

Preheat oven to 450F.

Place chicken, potatoes, lemons and olives in ungreased 9 x 13/3 quart casserole. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.

Rearrange chicken in a single layer, skin side up, and lemons cut-side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rose uncovered for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove from oven. Remove lemons from casserole. Cover chicken/potatoes/olives with foil to keep warm.

When lemons are cool enough to handle, squeeze juice in to small bowl. Remove any seeds. Whisk in 4 tbsp olive oil and honey. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve chicken and potatoes over greens. Drizzle with lemon dressing.