Virginia Johnson

Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales

My paperback copies of Ray Bradbury's wonderful fantasy collections--The Illustrated Man, October Country, Dandelion Wine, The Machineries of Joy, and The Martian Chronicles--are in sad shape. The pages are brittle, yellowed, and, yes, a bit musty. But I keep them because his lyrical words matchlessly probe humanity at its worst and best. When friends of mine gifted us with 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales one Christmas, I was happy to have many of those beautiful stories collected together in a hardback edition to last for years--and so was the local library for we own several copies of it.

I certainly won't go through every one of the one hundred, but I'll mention several pieces that stuck with me time and again. One of the first stories in the collection is "The Rocket," in which a poor junk man gets hold of a prototype rocketship and dreams of somehow going into space with his family. "The Sailor Home from the Sea" is a tale of loss and love and the imagination to reconcile them. "The Sound of Summer Running" is the opening piece for Dandelion Wine, and it brings back the time of year and the time of life for one young man who feels as if his whole town might capsize, go under, leaving not a trace in the clover and weeds of burgeoning summer.

The Ultimate Slow Cooker Book

Slow cookers make everyday and special event cooking so much easier that they justify their place among your kitchen gadgets.  Plus, slow cookers come in a variety of sizes, from one quart to six quarts. Get the size that suits most of your needs or go ahead and get both.  Two slow cookers can produce a memorable meal for a party. For example, a smaller one is perfect for seafood dip or fondue while a larger one supplies barbeque beef for sandwiches or coq au vin.  Whichever model(s) you choose, it’s good to have the slow-cooker option for less stress and more flavorful food.

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar

“…I know what happened that horrible night the Romanovs were murdered.”

Robert Alexander’s The Kitchen Boy begins in sorrowful searching as young Kate tries to unravel the mysteries lying in her grandparents’ past. Before taking his own life, wealthy Grandfather Misha made a tape recording revealing some of what happened during the Tsar’s last days at The House of Special Purpose. Misha explains that he was the kitchen boy--a lowly yet trusted servant--who experienced the royal family’s many kindnesses during their final time of terror and imprisonment. And, he confesses, he had a part in their downfall.

Puppy Love!

Is there a puppy in your future? A puppy is a cuddly ball of warmth, a flurry of fun with a bounce and a spring when you come through the door after school, and a pal for when you're feeling down. It's true that a dog doesn't care if you're wearing mismatched socks or forgot your homework. In fact, he can give you the classic excuse for not having it. While we can't guarantee that the teacher will believe your story, it's a good bet that you and your new canine friend will have some great times together.

Make Way for Robert McCloskey

If you take a walk in Boston’s Public Garden, you may be greeted by a larger-than-life duck family out for a stroll: Mrs. Mallard, Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack. These bronze sculptures capture the frolicking illustrations of one of America’s most-beloved children’s books—Make Way for Ducklings.

Prize-winning author/illustrator Robert McCloskey grew up before there were such things as television, computers, and the Internet, but he packed a lot of fun and creativity into those years. He tried to invent all sorts of helpful things, sometimes with disastrous results such as when he worked up a cotton candy machine using molasses and a vacuum cleaner. He was also musical, but it was his artistic talent that landed him a scholarship at Vesper George Art School in Boston. If it weren’t for that scholarship, he said, he probably would never have moved away from his small town.

The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

“The crime that inevitably intrigues me most is murder. It’s so final.  At a fresh murder scene you can smell the blood and hear the screams; years later, they still echo in my mind. Unsolved murders are unfinished stories. The scenes of the crimes may change over the years; highways are built over them, buildings are torn down, houses are sold. I drive by and wonder if the new occupants, as they go about their daily lives, ever sense what happened there. Do they know, or am I the only one who still remembers?” – The Corpse Had a Familiar Face

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edna Buchanan spent years covering Miami, “America’s Hottest Beat,” for the Miami Herald.  Edna went from factory worker to crime reporter in a matter of just a few years with nary a college degree. Though at first appearances she was simply another beautiful blond in high heels and a mini-skirt, beneath her glamour lay the steel-trap mind of a reporter who always wants to know who, what, when, where, and why.

Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty

In colonial days, Baptists, Methodists and other dissenters from the Church of England might be jailed for preaching in the streets or fined for keeping their own churches. Evangelical Christians were an important factor in the American Revolution's success.

A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley

In A Vision of Light, Margaret Kendall of Ashbury is a young and beautiful housewife living in 14th-century England. She is the mother of two healthy children, loved, and surrounded by many luxuries, but there is one thing more Margaret wishes, and her doting merchant husband is pleased to indulge her. Yet it is such a shocking thing that it is a harder wish to grant than a ring of rubies. Margaret wishes to write a book.

There are many difficulties. Of course, Margaret can not write--or read, for that matter—so she must find someone willing to take down her words. Three clerics refuse her, but they snigger as they point out their compatriot. Tattered, starving, and arrogant, Brother Gregory takes the job--which comes with frequent visits to Margaret’s well-stocked table. But he does so very grudgingly. What could such a feather-headed female have to say that is worth the expense of setting it down on vellum? A monk-in-training should be writing down great deeds and high-minded, philosophical points—not recipes and domestic notions.

Moosewood Restaurant: Cooking for Health

I’m a fan of the Moosewood Collective and own a lot of their cookbooks. Last year, I was given another entry to their line, Cooking for Health. I was pleased to see their fresh and easy philosophy of the 1970s had been updated for modern tastes. Never heard of Moosewood? Not everyone has, yet they were named one of 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century by Bon Appétit magazine, and our own Sammy T’s seems to have drawn on them for vegetarian inspiration. 

Moosewood Restaurant began in 1973 in Ithaca, New York, back when vegetarianism was a new idea for most Americans. It was a popular place, and soon enough their dishes were gathered into a bestselling book. The listings in the first editions of the original Moosewood Cookbook drew a lot on established recipes that happened to be vegetarian and were adapted to be prepared easily with nothing fancier than a blender.

Accommodating Revolutions: Virginia’s Northern Neck in an Era of Transformations, 1760-1810 by Albert H. Tillson, Jr.

The Northern Neck runs from Falmouth in Stafford County all the way down to Windmill Point in Lancaster County, bounded by the Rappahannock River to the south and the Potomac River to the north.  Now it’s a sleepy section of Virginia but it was once called the Athens of the New World.