Category Archives: Five Star

‘Yum and Yummer’ by Greta Podleski

Pandemic positivity–against all the odds, we are trying to find the good things in the midst of a frustrating tragic crisis, trying to be thankful, and calling attention to kindness–we ask ourselves, what are perhaps some small good things that will come of all this?

One thing that comes immediately to my mind, is a resurgence in home cooking and baking. I’ve never understood when people say, “I never cook” because I wonder what they eat? But now that we are restricted in eating out, relying on basic grocery store items, and trying to keep ourselves and our kids busy, I believe that many people are rediscovering the joy of cooking simple meals at home with their families, and that is a good thing!

Years ago I posted on a hugely successful cookbook by two Canadian sisters called Looneyspoons. It is still one of my all time favourites because the recipes are easy, uncomplicated, reliable and nutritious. A couple of years ago I got the next book, this time by only one of the sisters, Greta (only because her sister was busy with other things). Yum and Yummer is every bit as good as Looneyspoons and also includes more plant based and gluten-free recipes, if those are your thing, but not exclusively so–there’s something for everyone in these cookbooks! Happy cooking and eating!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a smart phone, there is a bar code on every page of this recipe book that will connect you with further online resources, videos, and even more recipes that you might like!!

‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins

Ok I’ll be honest. Reading hasn’t been all that easy for me lately. You’d think that with being stuck in the house and all, I’d be doing nothing but…but it doesn’t seem to work like that. However, American Dirt was the perfect book for such a time as this and I was lucky to get a ‘Skip the Line’ hold through Libby library app to read it because it’s very high profile right now for both good and bad reasons.

American Dirt is a compelling, easy to read story about migrants, (a crisis of another sort all together) so it’s been therapeutic, in a weird sort of way, to sink into the pages and escape into another reality. At its core this book is about good people in hard times with so many twists and turns that it was totally captivating. Lydia and her son Luca find themselves in an unimaginable nightmare of brutality and constant danger as they flee their home in Acapulco and seek to survive. The opening scene of this novel is unforgettable and their journey is harrowing.

Critics have created controversy in social media around the authenticity of the migrant experience in this book, seemingly making those who really enjoyed the book, rethink their experience of it, which seems a shame. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I stand solidly behind my own recommendation of it. I can’t comment on whether this book reflects truth or is the most definitive migrant story, but I do know that I found it compulsively readable and beautifully written. Again this is simply a story of good people in hard times trying to survive. Fiction is truth, even if it is not fact. Stories matter and gaining empathy for another person’s story brings perspective to our own.

What are you reading during this pandemic?

‘Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle’ by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Top-notch advice from two sisters for women, although I think anyone could benefit from reading this. They explain why women experience stress differently from men. The book is about navigating stress, managing both external stressors as well as the internal effects of stress on the body.

This is a hugely important science-based approach to dealing with stress for women at any age or stage. It gives simple and sensible strategies towards feeling ‘enough’ and finding wellness. I found it refreshing and wise. The sisters even talk about gaslighting which also happens to be a topic in a recently released Dixie Chicks song…(obviously the singers are still not ‘ready to make nice’ but are highlighting and naming another important issue in pop culture. I’d not heard the term before, but encountered it twice in the same week. That’s how these things go.)

What I really liked about this book was the emphasis on the fact that we don’t have to wait for the world to change before we can begin to heal ourselves. And also, needing help and asking for help is normal and necessary, and is NOT a sign of weakness, but of strength.

‘When God Made the World’ by Matthew Paul Turner and illustrated by Gillian Gamble


“Among the stars and the planets and cosmic dust, God made a place for the story of us.”

Lyrical verse, warm evocative illustration, and creative narrative describe this new book by Matthew Paul Turner. What’s great about this picture book is the fresh perspective it offers about how all of us fit into the creation story. The dedication is in memory of Rachel Held Evans, a beloved and well respected young Christian writer who died from complications of the flu last year. When God Made the World has been endorsed and promoted by people like Amy Grant, Ann Voskamp, and Shauna Niequist.

In this book there are directives to help save and protect the planet, “Save a whale, hug a tree, protect every bee. Recycle, repurpose, reject apathy.” Included in passages that impart the wonder of creation and the diversity of humanity, are cute little phrases like: a warning against touching poison ivy and a reminder to drink more water in hot weather. The book ends on an open-ended note by saying that creation was just the beginning and how we live and how we love tells God’s story too! Children can glimpse the divine and celebrate the complexity of our world, but also think about the fact that they too are an intentional part of God’s very big story.

‘Crow Lake’ by Mary Lawson

What a beautiful family saga to sink into about four children suddenly orphaned, and drawn together by loss and love. The harsh realities of living in a remote and tiny farming community in Northern Ontario are the backdrop to this situation. The town is full of warmth and help and compassion for this family but the children are fiercely independent. Young Kate, the narrator of the story, worships her elder brother Matt, whose passionate interest in the natural world consoles and inspires her. The oldest brother Luke was a bored and sullen teenager but is transformed after the tragedy, turning from the family problem into the family solution. As an adult Kate struggles with a feeling of estrangement from her siblings, which she doesn’t quite understand and is borne of misunderstandings and resentments she didn’t even realise were there. Although this is a character driven novel, there is also a thrumming plot that moves the story steadily forward in effortless prose.

This was a reread, which is unusual for me, but I have to lead a book club meeting on it and I had read it so long ago (pre-log and pre-blog), that I decided to delve into it again and I’m so glad I did. I plan to also reread The Other Side of the Bridge. Lawson’s book Road Ends I read more recently, and was reviewed on this blog: click here.

I will repeat what I said in that review about the author: Lawson’s strength is in her ability to convey the nuance in complex family relationship using a very easy, economical writing style. Emotion is conveyed but it is never cloying. She makes me care about these people. I can relate to them. I long to understand them, I hurt for them, I cheer for them, I fear for them, and in the end I have a hard time letting them go.

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

What a wonderful feeling, to be in the hands of a gifted storyteller. Captivating, redemptive, moving…when I started this book I found it instantly compelling and wonderfully paced and it kept a grip on me all the way to the satisfying ending. An ending full of the peace that comes, not from everything working out as planned, but from embracing the journey, wherever the river goes. From the acclaimed author of Ordinary Grace, comes another epic adventure, with the feel of a classic.

The flyfleaf summarizes it best:
“In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. Is is also home to Odie O’Bannion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search of a place to call home.”

This trusted and acclaimed author of Ordinary Grace has done it again–crafted a novel with unforgettable fictional characters set against historical truths in desperate times. Another amazing tale of compassion, courage, self-discovery and hard-won wisdom. But there is a lightness also, a marvellous mystical quality that speaks to the soul.

‘Olive, Again’ by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge is one of my all time favourites, so I was excited to read the sequel Olive, Again. And it did not disappoint. In fact, everything I would say about this second book, was said in my previous post about the first book, so you might as well turn back to that now: click here.

Strout is a genius at capturing many varied moments in one novel: holy, ordinary, heartbreaking, endearing, frustrating, joyous, sensual, horrible, humorous, and awkward. I think she writes ‘awkward’ best, I can’t imagine it’s easy to do. The sequel carries on seamlessly from the first book and holds the same tone and form: loosely connected stories about people in Crosby, Maine but what you can count on is that Olive will show up, and it will be intriguing. This book in particular is poignant and real in describing aging Olive, the way she copes, and what she learns about herself. Olive continues to be a strange and enigmatic woman, brutally candid but also refreshingly honest–I can’t get enough of her.

Most public libraries have the four-part HBO miniseries of Olive Kitteridge in DVD format starring Frances McDormand, or I would think it could be streamed online. It’s very true to the book and is a pleasure to watch.