Happy Hour!

We’ve received an abundance of new titles on tippling lately, some for serious tasters and others requiring tiny umbrellas. Please read responsibly.

Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks

This bright and sunny volume by Oxmoor House offers almost 300 pages of fun recipes for summer drinks. Beginning with the tools of the trade and basic supplies, the cocktails are arranged loosely by the main spirit, with a full page devoted to the origin and production of each type of liquor. Although there are some fancy touches, such as the amazing blue Curaçao or whimsical bitters, most of the recipes use widely accessible ingredients. There are recipes to make your own syrups, such as Toasted Orgeat Syrup; mixes, such as Sweet-and-Sour Mix; shrubs, such as Lemongrass-Citrus Shrub syrup; and bitters, such as Homemade Peach-Vanilla Bitters. Yum.

For your young or expectant guests or those who do not indulge, they include a chapter of Mocktails, too. Nothing boring or derivative here. These nonalcoholic offerings are just as pretty and festive as the hard stuff. As a diabetic, a mocktail means a sugar-free version of a cocktail, but there are plenty of recipes in this book that are low enough in carbs on their own that there is no need to worry. And what is a bar without snacks? The last chapter is filled with savory bites that pair perfectly with the libations.

Fun and festive. A must-have for your next pool party.

A Field Guide to Whisky, by Hans Offringa

Subtitled An Expert Compendium to Take Your Passion and Knowledge to the Next Level, this handsome, chunky tome leaves no stone unturned in the quest for erudite knowledge of everything whisky—or should I say whiskey? The author even tells us why the spelling differs. Arranged by topic in a mostly question-and-answer format, the reader will learn about all the different types of whiskey, their places of origin, varying ingredients, aging, bottling, and how to read a whiskey label, among other detailed topics. There are stories of great distillers, discoveries of celebrated spirits, and interruptions like Prohibition. Here is a sample of some of the questions:

What is a rummager?

What is single pot still whisky?

What is the old bottle effect?

What is the devil’s cut?

What is the influence of water during mashing?

There are many more such in-depth inquiries in these 320 black-edged pages. After a thorough history of each country’s role in this amber liquid, the author also gives the current state of affairs for each geographic region involved in its production.

Thorough but readable, with both explanatory or just plain beautiful photos throughout. Pour a couple of fingers of your finest and sip your way through this one.

Moonshine Mixology, by Cory Straub

Now, to get really close to home here in North Carolina, this volume celebrates the (legal) revival of moonshine in the southeast. With the subtitle 60 Recipes for Flavoring Spirits & Making Cocktails, Straub brings the clear spirit out of that jug marked XXX. In the shiner tradition, this is a true do-it-yourself guide to everything moonshine.

First, Straub gives a short account of moonshine’s checkered history, followed by step-by-step instructions for distilling your own batch. The next section offers loads of suggestions for flavoring your basic moonshine, such as vanilla, cinnamon, coffee, and apricot. The cranberry flavor is so pretty it begs for holiday cocktails. The longest section of the book is filled with recipes for fun drinks made with your moonshine. Some are reworks of classic cocktails, such as a “Moonhattan,” but most are completely original and very easy, with color pictures on every page.

The last part of the book gives instructions on creating gifts with your moonshine, such as lollipops and chocolate-covered cherry bombs. As a real DIY touch, Straub provides pages of adorable labels that you can scan and print onto label sheets for your Mason jars!

I doubt that I’ll set up my own still, but I happen to know of a new distillery very close by. I believe it’s time for a field trip.

Bourbon, by Kathleen Purvis

This slender hardcover is part of the single-ingredient series called “a Savor the South cookbook,” published just down the road by the University of North Carolina press. Nice to know that higher education in this country is not entirely wasted.

For the Teals, Bourbon is the house wine, so I read this volume with great attention. After Ms. Purvis gives an explanation of how bourbon is made and its colorful history, including the Whiskey Rebellion and some apocryphal stories of the Reverend Elijah Craig, she launches into cocktail and other recipes. Did you know that the barrels used to age bourbon cannot be reused for more bourbon? However, they can be sold off to age other whiskeys, like Irish whiskey or Scotch. These days, foodie entrepreneurs are also using them to flavor gourmet foods, to which I can attest, since I have a bag of bourbon barrel-aged coffee beans in my freezer right now.

The cocktail recipes in this book range from the classic Old-Fashioned and Manhattan to the newfangled Rhythm & Soul. A Sazerac is the perfect cocktail for a winter’s evening, and our favorite Garden & Gun tailgating drink is here in a modified version called a Bourbon & Burn.

After the cocktail section, the author presents a few chapters of main dish and dessert recipes using bourbon as an essential ingredient. Bourbon’s vanilla and caramel flavors lend a smoky sweetness to many culinary creations, from meats to ice cream, not to mention the much-loved Bourbon Balls, here in several incarnations, including Chocolate Nut Bourbon Balls. How about Bourbon Pimento Cheese, which combines two of my husband’s favorite things in the world? Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Mango Sauce, Bourbon-Pecan Sweet Potatoes, and Bourbon-Fudge Pie are just a few of the mouthwatering offerings in this very southern little cookbook.

Thank goodness that bourbon, like all pure spirits, has no carbohydrates. Time for a Bourbon & Burn!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of all of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.


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The Turquoise Table, by Kristin Schell

Turquoise TableWhen the delivery men asked Kristin Schell where she wanted them to put her new picnic table, she suddenly decided to let them leave it in the front yard. She and her husband painted it a cheerful turquoise color, and Kristin started hanging out at her very noticeable table every day, greeting walkers and slowly creating a sense of community in her neighborhood. People in other parts of her subdivision put out tables of their own, someone shared it on social media, and the Front Yard People movement was born.

The gilt-spangled cover of this lovely book was featured in a publisher email that I received, and since, let’s face it, turquoise is very close to teal, I was drawn in. When I found out that Ms. Schell was a Christian, and that she was deliberately trying to build community, I bought it for myself. Before I even received the book, I heard her speak on Eric Metaxas’ radio show, MetaxasTalk.com. They had a fun and friendly conversation about our efforts to create human interaction in this day when homeowners drive home from work, pull directly into their garages, hit the button, and close themselves into their houses.

Ms. Schell believes that the current state of isolation began with air conditioning. When I grew up, we did not have air conditioning, and people went outside in the evenings to cool off. Schell recalls the social utility of the front porch, where residents sat outside and greeted walkers in the evening, exchanging the news of the day and keeping the neighborhood network alive. Now that interiors are cooler, television and social media are our ways of making so-called connections with people who are nowhere near us, and when we do go outside, it’s to our back yards to barbecue. Schell wants to bring us back to our front yards to connect face to face.

The Turquoise Table tells her story, but it is also full of great tips: how to get started, what to do about smart phones, how to include kids and pets, activities for table time, and even what to do when no one shows up. There are several recipes for snacks to share. Schell is not naïve about the safety concerns of inviting strangers to your yard, and she suggests ways of dealing with problems. She also shares photos and stories of many Front Yard People across the nation who are meeting their neighbors and forging real relationships.

If you and your family are willing to venture outside, Kristin Schell is ready to turn you into Front Yard People. At the very least, I have a picnic table that would look great in teal.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Two Sugarless Cookbooks

It’s been ten years since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and I still don’t need to take medication because I follow a low-carb eating plan every single day—except for my birthday. So, I assumed that I had it down pat and didn’t need any new input. However, when these two new cookbooks came into our library, I just had to take them home.

SugarDetoxMe, by Summer Rayne Oakes

SugarDetoxMeSugarDetoxMe is a big, glossy hardcover filled with color photos of the author and her tasty recipes. After relating her experiences with sugar addiction, as well as the science behind this all-too-common modern affliction, Oakes helps the reader to set up her kitchen and pantry, and then launches into the eating plan. Granted, many of these recipes are still too high-carb for a diabetic, as she uses some grains and starchy vegetables, such as peas and potatoes.  However, if you are looking for a way to break out of the Standard American Diet, this is a great and delicious first step.

Here is the genius of this book: Oakes arranges her recipes according to Meal Maps. According to the author, Americans waste a massive amount of the food we buy. In order to avoid wasting money and resources, she creates a shopping list, and then gives the reader a week’s worth of meals that will use up all of the items on the list. Fantastic! I will warn you that the first Meal Map is all about eggs. If you cannot possibly face another egg in that week, by all means turn to other recipes in the book.

Beautiful and brilliantly formatted. Recipe I’m going to try: Spaghetti Squash Latkes.


Quick Keto: Meals in 30 Minutes or Less, by Martina Slajerova

Quick KetoThe ketogenic diet was first brought into popular awareness by Dr. Atkins back in the 1970s. Since then, this regimen of eating high fat/ no carbohydrates has been found to be effective in treating seizure disorders, which is certainly worth enduring what I considered the blandness of the limited food choices. What could a keto cookbook say, besides “eat a stick of butter”?

Quite a lot, it turns out. Slajerova gives a few short pages on the basics of the diet, and then launches into 100 easy recipes that are both mouthwatering and healthful. This paperback book shows pictures for almost all of the dishes, which range from tempting appetizers such as Crunchy Chili-Lime Nuts to beautiful desserts like Blackberry Lemon Mousse. The quintessential keto dessert is called a “fat bomb,” and sure enough, the last recipe in the book is No-Bake Blondie Fat Bombs. They have both cacao butter and coconut butter. There are entrées aplenty, too, such as the Prawn Cocktail Stuffed Avocado, which looks completely luscious. Low-carb diets in general seem to be very big on avocadoes these days, some in the most unlikely places.

These terrific recipes are quite simple, and I can eat every single one with no substitutions, so this book went into my Amazon cart. It’s a keeper.

Disclaimer: I read library copies of both of these books. Opinions expressed are solely my own, and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Stumbling on History, by Fern Schumer Chapman

Stumbling on HistoryIt is human, perhaps, to try to forget the past when the memories dredge up feelings of guilt and shame. The danger is that in sweeping our ugliness under the rug, we will never learn from our mistakes, and the suffering of the victims will never heal. Fern Schumer Chapman’s mother, Edith Westerfeld Schumer, was born in the tiny German town of Stockstadt am Rhein, into one of only two Jewish families at the time of the Holocaust. She and her sister were sent to America to live with an aunt and uncle they had never met when Edith was only twelve years old. She never saw her parents again. Only later did she learn that they died in two different concentration camps.

In 1996, German artist Gunther Demnig began an activist art project in Berlin called the Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteinen) Project. Demnig places a square, brass marker—about the size of a hand—in the street in front of a victim’s home or place of business. The marker is deeply inscribed with the person’s name, date of birth, and their fate. Since he conceived of it, the Stumbling Stones Project has spread to many cities in Germany, as well as France, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and Austria. Although he has met with opposition, “Demnig’s team embosses 450 Stumbling Stones each month,” and they have placed markers in over 1,000 cities.

Stumbling Stones

Stumbling on History, besides giving a factual account of the project, tells Chapman’s personal story of traveling with her mother to Stockstadt am Rhein to participate in a historical ceremony. The book is laid out in picture book format, but the amount of text is best suited to older children and adults who, like me, have never heard of this beautiful and significant art project. This inspiring story is accompanied by many large photographs on every page, both historical and contemporary. Chapman has produced a volume that will help children to recognize both the enduring tragedy of Nazi violence and the profound impact that a small work of art can have on an individual’s life.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book, which I had specially bound for our library. It can be hard to get, even though it was published in 2016, but the paperback is on Amazon. Well worth it. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the SkyLaurence—not Larry, never Larry—invented a two-second time machine that he wore on his wrist in school. When he ran away from his parents and boarded a bus to watch a rocket launch, the scientists recognized his genius and never forgot him.

Patricia got lost in the woods while running away from her scary older sister who threatened to kill the injured bird that Patricia was holding. She ended up in the center of the forest, talking to the gigantic, old tree and all the birds in it, who were busy with a parliament meeting at the time.

So, the witch and the tech genius met at school and formed a friendship that was at least partially founded on mutual protection from the school bullies. They parted ways as they grew to adulthood and perfected their skills, and then met again at a critical moment for the future of the planet. Who can say whether the whole plot was concocted by Laurence’s AI invention, CH@NG3M3– or, as it preferred when it attained sentience, Peregrine?

This adult science fiction title just won the 2016 Nebula Award for best novel. It is my favorite type of sci-fi: not the kind with rockets and space (The Martian is a notable exception), but rather a twisty tale of technology gone awry, exploring how our own progress might yield unforeseen consequences. Blend in the fantasy line, further complicating the plot with humanity’s efforts to either conquer or cooperate with nature, add a splash of romance, and you have a winning combination. Anders’ characters are sharply drawn, Laurence and Patricia are both sympathetic, and one wild character in particular was literally fabulous. The pacing was luxuriant in the beginning, and then blockbuster-fast at the conclusion. With strong language and sexual content, this one is not for kids.


Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Quiet New Picture Books

LifeLife, by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel

“Life begins small…

Then it grows.”

So begins Cynthia Rylant’s new picture book, Life, a celebration of creation from hawk to elephant, tortoise to rabbit. With very spare text and large paintings of wide-eyed animals on every page, Ms. Rylant has authored a volume that is only seemingly for children. The wisdom of this book would also be meaningful for graduates or for thoughtful adults. One passage reads, “Life is not always easy… but wilderness eventually ends,” as a bird flies out of a dark forest, looking warily back over his shoulder.

Brendan Wenzel processMy son grew up on the heartwarming “Henry and Mudge” series by Cynthia Rylant, which is still just as popular as ever. She has also written the “Mr. Putter and Tabby” series and many stand-alone titles, such as the Caldecott Honor book, When the Relatives Came. When I had the opportunity to hear Brendan Wenzel describe his process (above) for the illustrations in Life, he owned that he was very aware of the honor of working with an icon in children’s literature.

Brendan Wenzel autographAfter the Simon & Schuster breakfast at Book Expo, Mr. Wenzel kindly took the time to sign my copy of his book. Artists are the best for autographs. Here is Brendan Wenzel’s “signature” in my copy of Life.









Town Is by the Sea, by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

Town Is by the Sea

A young boy lives in a seaside town based on Joanne Schwartz’s home town of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Although his view of the sea is sparkling and white-capped, the boy is ever aware of the fact that his father is in a tunnel underneath the sea, digging for coal. The main character narrates his day for the reader by telling us “how it goes,” as in the morning, when he says, “When I wake up, it goes like this….” Whether he plays with his friend or goes to the market for his mother, his mind is on his father, working in the darkness. Muted scenes of ivory and green with thick, black outlines are periodically punctuated with a mostly-black double-page spread of the miners underground. The text ends with “One day, it will be my turn. In my town, that’s the way it goes.”

We lived in eastern Kentucky for a number of years, and the scenes that we saw in October Sky, the movie based on Homer Hickam’s book, Rocket Boys, came to life for us. Coal mining is the destiny of most of the men this part of Appalachia, and although many ministries and government agencies are working to create alternative means of income for the families there, most boys will go underground at a young age, dwell in darkness for years, and die too soon of accidents or lung disease. Ms. Schwartz saw the same inevitable ending for the boys in her town, and the cadence of her prose expresses the relentless despair of life in a mining family. When the library copies of this book came in, I read one at my desk and wept.

Sydney Smith autographFor the first time this year, the Boston Globe- Horn Book Award winners were announced at the end of SLJ’s Day of Dialog, and Sydney Smith won an honor for his illustrations in Town Is by the Sea.  Immediately following the announcement, we attendees boarded the elevator to go upstairs to the book signings. Just as the door was about to close on our full elevator, Sydney Smith rushed up and said, “Is there room for me?” We all said yes, and when the door closed, we yelled, “Congratulations!” and “Yay!” It was probably the best elevator ride ever. Once we arrived on the tenth floor, I was the first one in line for an autograph, so I will share with you the lovely drawing Sydney Smith whipped up in an amazing few seconds for the very first Town Is by the Sea to be autographed after it won a Boston Globe-Horn Book award.

Disclaimer: I read copies of these two books that I received at Book Expo (Life) and SLJ’s Day of Dialog (Town Is by the Sea). Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Solo, by Kwame Alexander, with Mary Rand Hess

SoloBlade Morrison is the son of an aging rocker, living a privileged, unhappy life with his father and sister after his mother died. His dad continues his destructive habits well past the age of coolness, showing up now and then with young bimbos on his arm, and Blade’s sister seems obliviously happy to follow in his footsteps. Even though Blade pours his heart into song lyrics and finds comfort in his guitar, he struggles to lead a normal life, excelling in academics and crushing on the flirty but distant Chapel.

When a stunning revelation spins Blade into crisis mode, he boards a plane to Ghana in search of the missing pieces in his puzzle. In Africa, he finds staggering poverty, beautiful friends, and a distrust of Westerners who swoop in to save them, leaving them worse off than before. However, music is a universal language that stays with Blade in more ways than he expected, and although loving people sometimes makes life painful, it’s the only thing that makes it worthwhile.

Kwame Alexander and fans

Kwame Alexander and fans at SLJ’s Day of Dialog 2017

Kwame Alexander is a poet and author who completely smashes the moody, depressed stereotype. He’s one of the friendliest and kindest writers I’ve met, always ready to chat and joke while signing books. This verse novel is his first work to be published by Zondervan’s Blink imprint, and the proceeds help support LEAP for Ghana, a literacy project he co-founded six years ago. I was privileged to hear him read from this latest book at SLJ’s Day of Dialog in New York a couple of weeks ago. I’ve reviewed many of Alexander’s books on this site, including the Newbery-winning Crossover, and I’d say that he is an absolute “must-read” author for all kids. Solo is another triumph for teens twelve and up. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, signed (Yay!) by the author. The release date is August 1, so pre-order or put your library requests in now! Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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