Archive for the ‘Book review’ Category

We love Lisa Wheeler’s children’s books, and Ugly Pie has been one of our long time favorites.

Ol’ Bear has a hankerin’ for pie. Not just any pie…ugly pie. He wanders around visiting friends, each of whom has a taste-bud tempting pie, but he’s just itchin’, truly whishin’ for some ugly pie. Each of his neighbors does give him something ugly from their kitchen: “Ugly apples, raisins, too, sweet molasses, nuts–WAHOO!” which he takes home and commences to mix together to make his own ugly pie.

Our version of Ugly Pie

Well, the book has a recipe for ugly pie at the end, and-as you might expect-the kids have been pestering me for years to make it. So here is the finished ugly product!

As you can tell the ugliest thing is my pie crust. There are really only two kitchen projects that really intimidate me: pizza crust and pie crust. Just can’t seem to make either of them well.

One of the coolest things about this pie, though, is that it is the first pie I have had the chance to make using one of my mom’s pie dish. I had a chance to snag it this summer on a trip back to Toledo. It has a special place in my heart. (Now if I can just figure out how to weasel her doughnut cutter from my brother.)

If this has you itchin’ for some Ugly Pie, today is your lucky day! Here’s Ol’ Bear’s recipe, handed down from bear to bear for generations.

Ugly Crust:
2 & 1/2 cups flour
1 cup shortening (we used butter)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 to 8 tablespoons icy cold water

Ugly Filling
6 cups peeled, sliced Granny Smith apples (we used apples given to us by a family from their apple tree)
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice. Then mix in molasses until apples are completely coated with ugly brown goo. Set aside.
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the dry ingredients listed above. Add to the ugly apple mixture until everything is nice ‘n’ moist.
3/4 cup red raisins or cran-raisins
1/4 walnuts chopped fine (we left out the nuts)

Toss raisins and walnuts into apple mixture. Make sure all ingredients are well coated. Place into pie crust. Your pie should look fairly ugly by now.
Top with second pie crust and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Cover pie with an aluminum-foil tent to prevent over browning. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 20 minutes.
When your pie is done, you will have the most delicious, most beautiful UGLY PIE you ever did see!

And here are the variations I employed:

  • I used America’s Test Kitchen butter crust, since I don’t have a ready supply of lard, and shortening makes a pretty tasteless crust. (This crust was the best attempt I have ever made, at least it was the easiest to roll out and it didn’t tear too much. We’ll see how it tastes. I have been really, really tempted to try ATK’s trick of using vodka r/th ice water in crust. The alcohol cooks out but it allows you to use more liquid than just water and the crust is easier to roll out. However, due mostly to my upbringing in a fundamental church, I am a teetotaler. While I cook with wine, I don’t drink any alcohol. I can explain to family that visits the cooking wine and beer for beer-battered fish, onion rings, etc. It might be a bit harder to ‘splain the vodka in the pantry! Ah the angst of ‘growing up fundamentalist; I’m scarred, scarred I tell ya!)
  • I also used a combination of Yellow Delicious and Granny Smith apples and baked them to just tender to keep their moisture down so the pie doesn’t get soupy. After baking them with some sugar and cinnamon, I mixed them into the other ugly stuff and cooked it a bit longer to let the four thicken some of the molasses and brown sugar goo.
  • And finally, I used a crumble topping that ATK sent out in one of their email blasts. Halving this recipe worked great for the 9″ pie.
  • Topping
    • 3/4cup (3 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 3/4cup pecans, chopped fine
    • 3/4cup old-fashioned rolled oats (see note)
    • 1/2cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
    • 1/4cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
    • 1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/2teaspoon table salt
    • 8 Tblsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

btw, almost all of Lisa Wheeler’s books are rollicking good fun to read. I want our kids to love language, and her books contribute to that with great rhymes, stories, and rhythmic lines.


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If you have never read Ralph Moody’s series of books describing his late ‘childhood’ and ‘teen’ years, you are in for a treat. As I said in reviewing Little Britches, I believe every father ought to read these books with his son. And it wouldn’t hurt to read them with daughters as well. I know I will.

I just finished reading the last of the series, and I am already missing Ralph Moody.

Here is a good, brief synopsis of each book from Cumberland Books:


  • Little Britches. Ralph Moody was eight years old in 1906 when his family moved from New Hampshire to a Colorado ranch. Through his eyes we experience the pleasures and perils of ranching there early in the twentieth century.
  •  Man of the Family. Father has died and Little Britches shoulders the responsibilities of a man at age eleven as the family works to establish themselves in Denver.
  •  The Home Ranch. During the summer of his twelfth year Ralph works on a cattle ranch in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, earning a dollar a day, tested against seasoned cowboys on the range and in the corral.
  •  Mary Emma and Company. Mary Emma Moody, widowed mother of six, has taken her family east in 1912 to begin a new life. Her son, Ralph, then thirteen, recalls how the Moodys survive that first bleak winter in a Massachusetts town.


  •  The Fields of Home. Ralph is having trouble adapting to city ways in Massachusetts, so he is sent to his grandfather’s farm in Maine, where he finds a new set of adventures.
  •  Shaking the Nickel Bush. Skinny and suffering from diabetes, Ralph Moody is ordered by a Boston doctor to seek a more healthful climate. Now nineteen years old, he strikes out into western territory hustling odd jobs, facing the problem of getting fresh milk and leafy green vegetables.
  •  The Dry Divide. Ralph Moody, just turned twenty, had only a dime in his pocket when he was put off a freight in western Nebraska. Three months later he owned eight teams of horses and rigs to go with them.
  •  Horse of a Different Color. The final book in the Little Britches series, it recounts Ralph Moody’s final years of wandering before settling down to marriage and a career.
The books have occasional cursing, particularly when cowboy conversation is recounted. However, it would be easy to skip over those comments if reading the books aloud. These instances do provide valuable teaching opportunities for parents to guide their children in properly understanding the use and misuse of language. It is helpful to note that the hero of the stories does not use the bad language. The biggest stumblingblock I found was in Ralph’s deceptiveness, particularly in Shaking the Nickle Bush, but even these examples can be turned to good teaching moments.
The series paints the picture of a boy becoming a man. His ingenuity, thrift, perseverance, and other virtues serve him well. His friendliness and ability to attract people of good character provides a valuable example to children. His ability to get along with others who were somewhat disreputable, while not being influenced by them, provides an equally useful example. These books are rich fodder for discussions about life, friends, work, honesty, and a host of other topics.

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A great story leaves you missing the characters when it ends, and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry clearly qualifies as a great story.

I had never read any of Berry’s books before, but when christianaudio.com made Hannah Coulter its free download of the month in August, I was curious. After reading high praise from the likes of Russell Moore, I downloaded it and began listening. I was hooked.

In the latest installment in Wendell Berry’s long story about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky, readers learn of the Coulters’ children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors “live right on.”

“Ignorant boys, killing each other,” is just about all Nathan Coulter would tell his wife about the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Life carried on for the community of Port William, Kentucky, as some boys returned from the war while the lives of others were mourned. In her seventies, Nathan’s wife, Hannah, now has time to tell of the years since the war.

An audiobook is enhanced or ruined by its reader. HC‘s reader, Susan Denaker, richly deserves this high praise from Audiofile Magazine:

Susan Denaker brings twice-widowed farm wife Hannah to life with soft-spoken but resolute dignity. As the 20th century closes and a new millennium begins, the elderly—yet fiercely self-sufficient—Hannah reflects on her past, especially the crucial threads of family, community and the soil. Denaker does an especially effective job of portraying the other figures in the “Port William Membership” in a manner that fits the approach of the first-person narrative. She adjusts the octave and tone of the male and female characters of varying ages just enough to set them apart from each another, but listeners can be certain that Hannah maintains full control of her own storytelling. The experience evokes a sublime visit to a beloved grandmother figure with memories and wisdom to impart.”

As the book drew to a close I experienced that sort-of-hollow feeling that you get when a friend moves away. I have found the story coming to mind many times in the weeks since. I hope Jill doesn’t mind when I say that I miss Hannah Coulter.

(It’s no longer a free download, but it is worth the money to listen!)

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The uninterrupted reading opportunity offered by an early morning thunderstorm allowed me to finish An Army at Dawn: the War in North Africa, 1942-1943. Winner of a Pulitzer a year or two ago, AaD tells the story of the American Army’s battles from Morocco to Algeria.

A skilled wordsmith, Rick Atkinson, masterfully weaves together both the overall strategy of the campaign with many individual vignettes. Hence this history encourages both an overall understanding of these events and the individual cost paid by so many men.

Atkinson is rapidly ascending the ranks of WW2 historian/storytellers to stand with Cornelius Ryan and Stephen Ambrose at the summit.


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I love to read, and I love to read good books. Occasionally I find a book compelling, once in a while fascinating, only rarely riveting. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is all three and more. This is easily the most riveting book I have read in years, and I read a lot of good books.

Unbroken is the life story of Louie Zamperini, a Olympic-caliber distance runner during the 1930’s who endured Japanese POW camps during WW2. Growing up hard-scrabble in California, as a teen Louie discovered he had a rare gift of speed and endurance.

In the 1936 Olympics he competed in the 5000 meters, an event he had raced fewer than a half dozen times prior to qualifying. When WW2 broke upon American shores he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned as a bombadier to the Pacific theater.

The majority of the book traces his trials as a Japanese POW, and reading this is not for the faint of heart. The Japanese enslaved and tortured their American POW’s, and as a world-renowned athlete, Zamperini was targeted for particularly harsh treatment. I told Jill that reading this lengthy portion was akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion: you didn’t want to watch, but you couldn’t pull your eyes away.

After being liberated and repatriated, Louie like many returning veterans, faced extreme battles with bitterness and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is at this point that the book takes a wholly unexpected turn that changes it from simply compelling to truly worthwhile.

Hillenbrand’s writing fits well with this story. I don’t read especially quickly but I could not put this down, and I finished the book in less than two days.

If you are looking for Father’s Day gift, this is then book to give. Just get it early so that you can read it first. If you are looking for a beach book, wear a lot of sun screen, because you will not realize how long you are in the sun as you become absorbed by Unbroken.


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Man of the Family picks up where Little Britches leaves off. Ralph’s father has died (Ralph is just 11 years old), and Ralph is now the man of the family.

More than just a touching story, MotF continues to unfold the impact a father has on his family, even after his death.

Excellent book, well-written. Many good life lessons recounted. You will be amazed at the responsibilities Ralph and his siblings shoulder in the early 1900’s. They are not exactly sitting around playing video games.

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Last Christmas my brother gave me The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson’s second book in his “Liberation Trilogy” history of the western theater in WW2. After reading about 1/3 of it, I bought the first volume, An Army At Dawn to read as soon as I finished TDOB.

Excellent reads. Thoroughly researched and extremely well written. AAAD earned a Pulitzer a couple years ago and it is well-deserved. If you enjoy reading military history, these should go on your t0-read list.

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