Friday, December 30, 2011

Summer of Butter Pecan Ice Cream and the Brooklyn Dodgers

Penny from Heaven
by Jennifer L. Holm
A Yearling Book
288 pages
ISBN:  0375836896

It's the summer of 1953 and eleven-year-old Penny, so nicknamed because her father loved Bing Crosby's song "Pennies from Heaven," thinks Heaven is full of butter pecan ice cream, swimming pools, and baseball games.  But Penny's summer's not much like Heaven:  She's never been to a baseball game, and she's not allowed to swim in public pools because she might catch polio.  Penny's father died when she was a baby; she lives in New Jersey with her mother and grandparents.  Me-me, a terrible cook, takes care of Penny when her mother is at work; Pop-pop is obsessed with WWII and has radio conversations with the beloved nephew who died in battle; and her mother has started dating the milkman.  The milkman!

Penny spends a lot of time with her father's large Italian family, none of who ever speak of the War.  Her uncles shower their fatherless niece with gifts all the time.  Her best friend, cousin Frankie, is often jealous of the attention Penny receives, and her mother worries about Penny spending so much time with her prankish cousin.  But then her mother doesn't like Penny spending so much time with any of her Italian family:  In fact, the two sides of her family don't even speak to one another.  Penny's paternal grandmother Nonny loves cooking huge meals for her family, but harbors great sadness.  Her favorite uncle Dominic, consumed by his own sorrow and guilt, wears bedroom slippers and lives in his car.  At one time he was slated to play baseball for Penny's favorite team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, but something happened and Dominic gave up baseball completely and now works in his brother Ralphie's store.  Nobody, not even Uncle Dominic, will tell her how her father died.

Penny from Heaven, an engaging portrait of one Italian-American family in the mid-twentieth century, tackles an overlooked segment of our nation's history:  the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II.

To purchase this book from Amazon, click on Penny from Heaven.

To purchase the Bing Crosby CD, click on Pennies From Heaven.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What Child Is This?

The most moving story in all of Western Civilization is that of the lowly birth of the Christ child.

"Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)  To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Following are sixteen of the loveliest Christmas carols inspired by this beautiful tale:
  1. Angels We Have Heard on High
  2. Away in a Manger
  3. Do You Hear What I Hear?
  4. The First Noel
  5. Go Tell It on a Mountain
  6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  7. Good Christian Men, Rejoice
  8. Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing
  9. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
  10. Joy to the World
  11. O Come, All Ye Faithful
  12. O Holy Night
  13. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  14. Silent Night
  15. We Three Kings
  16. What Child Is This?
Post a comment and tell us your favorite Christmas carol.  It doesn't have to be on this list.  Click here for my ten favorites of 2010 and here to read about the first day of winter.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Is All Around

Love Actually (2003)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney and Martine McCutheon
Cameos by Rowan Atkinson and Billy Bob Thornton

Love Actually was written by my favorite romantic-comedy screenwriter Richard Curtis whose other credits include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary, The Boat That Rocked, Mr. Bean, and Black Adder.   Set in London in the five-week period leading up to Christmas, Love Actually focuses on nine interlocking stories of all kinds of love--unrequited, fulfilled, illicit, lost, and platonic.

Jilted Jamie is a writer holed up in a rustic house in the south of France who falls for his Portuguese housekeeper.  David, newly elected Prime Minister, is enchanted by one of his housekeepers.  Mark is in love with his best friend's wife.  Widower Daniel helps his step-son deal with his first love.  Karen suspects her husband is about to engage in an affair with his secretary.  Colin, fed up with "stuck up" British girls, flies to Wisconsin where he's sure American girls will love him for his "cute British accent."  Sarah, an American abroad, is smitten with a colleague.  And Jack and Judy get acquainted while filming a porn movie.  Meanwhile, aging pop star Billy Mack is attempting the impossible:  a number one Christmas hit.

Rated R for language and nudity, Love Actually is actually a heartwarming fun Christmas movie with a fabulous ensemble cast and a terrific soundtrack.  So good is the music I couldn't choose only one video to accompany this post.  Or maybe it's just because, like Karen (Emma Thompson), I love Joni Mitchell, and "true love lasts a lifetime."  Incidentally, for another good Christmas movie, click on One Magic Christmas to read my review from last December.

Here are the Amazon links:
Love Actually (Widescreen Edition)

Love Actually (Blu-ray)

Love Actually Original Soundtrack

Friday, December 16, 2011

Freshman Freak

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie
by David Lubar
Perfection Learning (2007)
288 pages
ISBN:  0756980038

Scott is a typical fifteen-year-old freshman nerd:  skinny, smart, and suckered out of his lunch money every day by senior bullies.  He has a huge crush on Julia, a suddenly gorgeous girl he once shared a package of crackers with in kindergarten.  Trying to get Julia to notice him, Scott runs for student council, becomes the least athletic kid to ever write the sports column for the school paper, and tries out for the school play.  Meanwhile, his friendship with Lee, a freakish girl, blossoms.  What he needs is a survival manual to get through the next four years of high school.  When his mother announces she's pregnant, he begins writing that high-school survival manual:  his first gift to his unborn sibling.

To order from, click on this link:
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another You

Another Earth (2011)
Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Brit Marling and Mike Cahill
Starring Brit Marling and William Mapother

Winner of the 2011 Sundance Festival, Another Earth centers around Rhoda, a seventeen-year-old high school student, and John, a professor of music.  On the night Rhoda is celebrating her acceptance to MIT, another earth becomes visible in the sky--just a little blue spot east of the North Star.  As Rhoda is gazing at the other earth, her existence collides with John's, changing their lives forever.  In her own words:  "She's naive, reckless.  She does something that's unforgivable."

Four years later, the other earth has gotten closer and is quite large in Earth One's atmosphere.  Scientists learn that Earth Two mirrors Earth One.  Does this mean a chance at another life?  Hoping for that chance for a new beginning, Rhoda submits an essay to a contest, the prize being a trip to Earth Two.

Another Earth is a wonderfully unique film with a super remarkable ending.

If you'd like to order this movie from Amazon, click here: Another Earth.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
MTV Books
February 1, 1999
213 pages
ISBN:  0671027344
Ages 14 and up

A coming-of-age novel in the vein of A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie, a brilliant freshman, whose best friend has committed suicide.  Charlie tells his story through the letters he writes to his "friend."  Charlie is a wallflower who sees things others miss like his grandfather quietly crying at Thanksgiving.  With the help of Bill, his English teacher who assigns Charlie extra reading, and his two new senior friends Samantha and Patrick, Charlie manages to navigate his first year of high school and avoid sliding into depression.  Charlie loves the novels he writes about for English class, and he loves rock and roll and making mixed tapes for friends, a real nineties kind of thing to do.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower tackles tough teen issues like teen suicide, mental illness, drug use, teen sex, promiscuity, rape, pregnancy, and violence.  This is not a novel for middle-school students, but I think high school students will empathize with Charlie's struggles and the world he inhabits.  Stephen Chbosky is directing the movie, which will be released next year and stars Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and Hoot) as Charlie, Emma Watson as Samantha, and Paul Rudd as Bill.

To get this book from Amazon, click on this link:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower.