I know I’ve been bad about blog posting lately. Work has been stressing me out and I’ve not had time/energy to do them afterwards. I’m trying to get better about that as I think it will help me regulate my stress levels. I have been on a bit of a book slump lately, I can’t seem to get excited about anything. I started using Netgalley again (a website were librarians/book bloggers etc can put out Advanced Reader’s Copies – ebooks specifically- for them to read and review) and have just finished my first book, A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brandon Halpin, and have started a second one called Peregrine Harker & The Black Death by Luke Hollands. I’m on-again-off-again reading Miranda Carter’s book George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. It is a very fascinating subject, as George V is Edward VII’s son (he’s my favorite British monarch), I’ve always been fascinated by the Romanov family (specifically Nicholas II), and ever since I watched the BBC miniseries on Edward VII, I’ve been interested in learning more about Wilhelm. I’m about halfway through but am having trouble finishing it, as it is currently dragging a bit into too much political data. I’m also listening to Diana Wynne Jones’s book 3 apparently (thought it was #2, oh well) of the Howl’s Moving Castle series called House of Many Ways. I wouldn’t really call it a sequel per se, though it does have a familiar setting and a few similar characters. On to the book reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge, which I started last May, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. This year, I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.
Play with Me written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets
Honestly, I was not impressed by this book. I know little kid’s books are supposed to be repetitive so they can learn, but this book just got annoying. I also didn’t like the illustrations. The book won a 1956 Caldecott Honor, but the selections that year weren’t the best, in my opinion. The story is about a little girl who wants to play with the animals of the forest, but every time she approaches them, they run away. It’s not until she settles down and is quiet that they all come back. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.
Chanticleer and the Fox by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
This book was an adaption of the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It won the 1959 Caldecott Award. The main thing that I love about the book were the illustrations, which have a wood-cut quality to them. Barbara Cooney studied illuminated manuscripts to get ready for the illustrations for this book, as well as studied live chickens in her studio to get just the right details. The illustrations are predominantly black and white with pops of vibrant red, gold, blues and greens.
Chanticleer is a rooster owned by a widow and her two daughters. He has a harem of seven chickens to keep him company and he is very vain. One day, a sly fox sneaks up upon him and almost manages to carry him away and eat him. Thanks to the fox, the rooster learns a little humility and saves his own life through quick thinking. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
I enjoyed this cute story about a fish who “finds” a new hat. I liked it much better than his I Want My Hat Back, which forever I thought were the same book. This book the 2013 Caldecott Award. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.
Fly High, Fly Low by Don Freeman
Geez, books from the 1940s-60s were long! This one was 56 pages, which is rather long for a toddler. We had to read this one in two sittings. Aside from that, I really enjoyed the book, though my son didn’t seem too bothered by it. It is the story of Sid and Midge, two pigeons who live in San Francisco. Sid lives in the letter “B” of a sign and all the other pigeons make fun of him, except Midge, who eventually joins him in the “B” and they make a home together. Until one day, when Sid goes off to forage and Midge is left at home with the eggs and some men come to take the sign away. Luckily the men notice Midge and the nest and so it is saved, but Sid is separated from his mate and children until he is rescued by Mr. Hi Lee, a friendly Chinese man who regularly feeds the pigeons in Union Square Park. He takes Sid to Midge and the eggs hatch, and they live happily ever after. I loved the colored pencil illustrations, as they really made the story. As another reviewer has said, this book is more for grownups that like children’s books than the children themselves. This book won a 1958 Caldecott Honor, though I think it should’ve beaten Robert McCloskey’s “Time of Wonder” for the medal. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.
Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets and illustrated by Aurora Labistada
I found this to be a really interesting look into Mexican culture at Christmas, even my son was fascinated by the pictures. The story was a little long-winded in places and kind of went off-topic, but overall was well-done. It reminded me of Disney’s “The Three Caballeros,” as this tradition is mentioned in there. This book won the 1960 Caldecott Award. The story is about a girl in kindergarten named Ceci who is finally old enough to have her first posada, which is the search that Mary and Joseph take when looking for a place for Mary to have baby Jesus. After they do their procession around, they have a party and celebrate with a pinata full of candy, citrus and toys. Ceci picks a golden star-shaped pinata but is sad when her partygoers must destroy it. The star tells her not to be sad because it has turned from a pinata into a real star, and it is all thanks to her. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.
One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian
Based off an Armenian folktale, this book is a rhyming story about a greedy fox who steals some milk from an old woman and she takes his tail. In order to get it sewed back on, he must do a multitude of things for other people, animals and things. He wants to get milk from the cow to replace what he drank, but she wants some grass and the grass wants water, and on down the line. Honestly most of the reason I liked this book was because of the brightly painted illustrations. It won a 1972 Caldecott Award. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by M. R. James and illustrated by Marcia Brown
I’ve read tons of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but not many of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales. I had only seen this story before on Fantasia 2000, so I was interested to see the actual story and Marcia Brown’s illustration. I understand it is supposed to be a wholly original moralistic folktale, but I found the story to be really depressing and not very kid-friendly. It is believed to be based off the author’s own story, as he never fell in love and always felt different. The story is about a tin toy soldier with one leg who falls in love with a paper ballerina who he believes also has only one leg. He goes on a series of adventures in the outside world, being very stoic the entire time, and ends up back in the toy shop he began at the tale. Through an accident, or the will of an evil troll (depending on who you believe), he and the ballerina are put in the fire and perish. The illustrations by Marcia Brown were the only highlight of the book. This book won a 1954 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.
When Clay Sings by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Tom Bahti
I read this to my son last night as part of my Caldecott Challenge, but secretly also for me. He didn’t get much out of it, but I enjoyed reading it out loud. The book won a 1973 Caldecott Honor award. I have discovered Byrd Baylor’s poetry picture books and fallen in love with them. The author is from Arizona and her poetry is a great look at Southwestern US Native American culture, and this book is no exception. The book is about the pottery of ancient Southwest Native American tribes that lived in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. The title is about how pottery helps to tell the story of someone’s life, and sings the message, so even broken pottery needs to be treated with reverence and respect. I absolutely love the pen and ink illustrations by Tom Bahti, taken from actual SW pottery. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
Children and Young Adult
The Emperor of Nihon-Ja (Ranger’s Apprentice #10) by John Flanagan, narrated by John Keating
Another fabulous novel from John Flanagan! I was trying to decide if I like the author or the narrator better, and really I’d have to say it’s a tie. John Keating is just an awesome narrator and really makes the story come alive. I thought this was the last book in the series because of the way he ended it, but the author has since written another book with a second coming out in November, so we’ll see what happens in the future. It was filled with action, adventure and even a little romance (though I will never know how Horace and Will manage to keep the interest of the girls as they are so clueless about women).
In this story, Horace goes on a diplomatic mission to Nihon-ja (basically Japan) to gather information on the country. While he is there, he becomes involved in local politics after an opposing Senshi (the ruling class) named Arisaka and his army overthrows the main palace, while the Emperor Shigeru is at his summer palace and tries to claim the throne for himself. Shigeru, his entourage and Horace escape into the mountains. The timber cutters in the area, known as the Kikori, welcome him and eventually join his army. Meanwhile, Princess Cassandra as Evanlyn meets with Will, Halt and Alyss in Toscana where they are helping with diplomatic duties. She gets them to accompany her on a wolf ship piloted by their Skandian friend Gundar Hardstriker to find Horace. They are joined at the last minute by Selethen, a leader of the Arrida people and a friend of their’s. Once they get to Nihon-Ja, they quickly find Horace and join the Emperor’s cause. Will the Emperor, Horace and the gang be able to defeat the usurper Arisaka? Will anyone come to their aid? Will Will and Horace finally admit their feelings for Alyss and Evanlyn? Will the girls ever be able to get along? To find out, check out this exciting addition to the Ranger’s Apprentice series. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.
The Lazarus Machine (Tweed and Nightingale Adventures #1) by Paul Crilley
I picked up this book in the young adult section on a whim because the cover looked interesting. Also I vaguely remembered it being on my to-read list for awhile. I needed a distraction book to read whilst in the middle of reading a huge adult nonfiction book, as I still want to read it but needed a mental break before I completely lost interest in it. I will say that this book actually helped me wanting to start it again because of the material.
The book is set in Victorian England but an alternate history where Tesla towers power electricity, automatons are servants and there are steam-powered coaches. Sebastian Tweed and his father Barnaby scam rich people by claiming to contact their dead relatives. Only one night, things go terribly wrong and Barnaby is captured by none other than the dreaded Professor Moriarty, back from the dead. While Sebastian, who goes by Tweed, is searching for his father, he finds a partner. Octavia’s mother is a journalist who was investigating Professor Moriarty and was abducted three months before. Octavia, nicknamed Songbird, has been looking for her ever since. Will Tweed and Songbird ever find their parents? Just who is behind the missing disappearances? To find out, read this exciting introduction to the Tweed and Nightingale Adventures! Recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.
Overall I loved the story, though the end was more than I could have dreamed up (very original and a great plot twist). The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the master villain. All the royal families in Europe were linked to Great Britain in some way, and Victoria was the grandmother of pretty much everyone, including Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II of Russia. I could imagine Wilhelm being the enemy as he never could decide if he liked or hated Great Britain, but not Nicholas II. From what I’ve read, he didn’t like being Tsar, wasn’t all that power hungry (except for keeping the autocracy going) and pretty much the only person he really disliked was dealing with was Wilhelm. And that is pretty much the reason I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars.
A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
I got this book as an ARC from Netgalley. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but the beginning was rather whiny and made me unsympathetic to the main female character. Once I got into it, and the story was explained more thoroughly, I was cheering for both characters and hoping things worked out for them in the end. I loved the meaning behind the title.
The book is about Emmy, an angry Chinese-American girl who was so tramautized by her last “relationship” that she has bascially starved herself to a size zero to cope. Her parents have sent her to Heartland Academy, a therapeutic boarding school. This part reminded me a lot of “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” by Emily M. Danforth. She doesn’t feel like she fits in with her family and that they don’t love her. Justin was sent to Heartland after his dad walked in on him getting a blowjob from a total stranger he picked up at an amusement park. He feels like he doesn’t fit into his family because his parents are divorced and his mom remarried and had more kids and his real father doesn’t have time for him. Emmy and Justin get put in an Anger Management class, along with four other kids. The book switches back and forth between their two viewpoints, which I can usually follow, but the chapters were so long I found myself flipping back to figure out who was speaking. Will Emmy and Justin be able to make friends? Will they be able to find their core issues and get better? To find out, read this book. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 1/2 stars.
The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to give it a try. I adored the idea of a bookmobile that only popped up at night, in times where you needed it the most, which contained all of your books read up until that point (and how it was bigger on the inside than the outside, like the TARDIS). As other reviewers have said, I love that seeing it would make you want to be a librarian, which in turn inspired her to get her degree in Library Science. I was a little shocked that she needed to kill herself to get that dream job though. I mean I’m frustrated by the lack of library jobs too, but not enough to kill myself for one. 3 stars.
Gandhi: A Manga Biography by Kazuke Ebine
I picked this up on a whim while browsing the adult graphic novel section. It isn’t a manga in the strictest terms, but is printed on newspaper paper, so I guess it qualifies. I will admit that I didn’t know much about Gandhi except the little I remember from being forced to watch Ben Kingsley as the man in 7th grade (good movie by the way but way too long to except middle schoolers to pay attention to for extended periods of time). I knew that he helped India achieve nationhood in 1947 and come out from under the thumb of the British Empire. I had no idea that he was actually trained as a barrister (lawyer) in England and that’s where he he first read the Bhagavad Gita, which helped to form his early ideas of nonviolence. These ideas also helped shape his early career was as a barrister in South Africa helping Indians in Natal (British-occupied) and the Transvaal (where the Dutch settlers called the Boers lived). I found that part of his career very fascinating, as it led up to the “fight” for Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan as well. 4 stars.
The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
I got this book for two reasons. I had watched the first season of the BBC show Call the Midwife and loved it, so when I found out it was based on this book, I had to check it out. Secondly, my mother-in-law is from East London and I was curious what life was like there. After reading this let me just say that I’m glad I didn’t live in East London in the 50s.
The book is all about Mrs. Worth’s adventures being a civilian midwife nurse working in Nonnatus House, a nunnery specializing in midwifery. It gives a great glimpse into the history of childbirth and midwives in the last nineteenth and early 20th centuries, as well as history of the East End of London from WWII to the time the book is set in the 50s. Having ten people living in a two room apartment with no running water and only one toilet, sometimes only one toilet for an entire apartment complex, sounds like a complete nightmare to me. The book describes in great detail the poverty, disease, lack of birth control and prostitution that ran rampant in the area. Despite all of this, the people in the area seemed good-natured and friendly for the most part. I thought it was an excellent narrative biography. 4 stars.
The Aenid by Virgil, narrated by Simon Callow
One of the first things I have to say about this version is thank God for Simon Callow’s narration or I would’ve fallen asleep very early on, as this book (like a lot of older epic poetry) tends to repeat itself a lot and takes forever to get to the point. I knew only the basics about the story when I started the audiobook, and Bernard Knox’s introduction, though thorough, was too detailed for me to get too much out of it. Luckily the translation helped out a lot with understanding most things, and I really enjoyed it as it really made the story come alive. My only caveat is that I was a little thrown off by all the modern day names of cities and countries as it is a classical text. The poem was actually never finished by Virgil, though it is considered the greatest Latin poem. I took Latin in high school but only two years and so never got to read the text in Latin, or translate a bit of it.
The story is hard to summarize as there is so much going on and they jump back and forth in the storyline a lot, which makes it hard to follow at times. The story is broken down into 12 books. This translation (and maybe all of them, I’m not sure) refers to gods/goddesses with the Roman names, so here’s a guide to help with them: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romangods/a/022709RomanGrk.htm. Aeneas was cousin to Hector (killed in “The Illiad” by Achilles), born from the goddess Venus and his father Anchises. He was a Trojan prince in his own right. Juno, queen of the gods, has never forgiven the Trojans for Paris’s mistake (see The Judgement of Paris), and so takes it out on Aeneas throughout the whole book.
In the beginning of the first book, Juno convinces Aeolus, king of the winds, to steer Aeneas’s ship away from Italy and towards Carthage. They lose 13 out of 20 ships in the ensuing storm. She then gets Dido to fall in love with Aeneas. Book 2 rehashes the events of the Trojan War, but does it from the viewpoint of Aeneas. At the end of it, Aeneas is carrying his father Anchises on this back and holding the hand of his son Ascanius (also called Iulus in the book) as they flee a burning defeated Troy. Aeneas’s wife Creusa dies as they are fleeing. Book 3 begins the voyage to Hesperia/Italy and sail all around Greece and the edges of Italy. Book 4 sees the marriage of Dido and Aeneas, and Aeneas helping to build the city of Carthage. However, Jupiter sends Mercury to tell Aeneas to quit messing around in Carthage and head to Italy. Dido literally goes mad with grief and frustration at her lover’s departure and commits suicide by burning all of his stuff and their marriage bed and jumping on top of it. She curses him and vows vengeance before she dies. In Book 5, they head to Sicily after getting caught in a storm and go to the tomb of Anchises, Aeneas’s father. He holds games to honor his father who has been dead a year, and all the remaining crewmen participate. Meanwhile, Juno riles up the Trojan women, who are lamenting the death of Anchises, and they set the remaining ships on fire, burning 4 out of 7. In Book 6, the Trojans arrive in Cumae and go to speak to the Sibyl. Aeneas goes with her to the Underworld, and this part reminds me a lot of Dante’s “Inferno”. Eventually they get to Elysium and meet Anchises, who tells his son about all the great Romans to come after him. Book 7 through 12 all take place in Italy, and have to do with the tribes that are already settled there and their battle with Aeneas for supremacy. Basically what happens is that Lavinia, daughter of the King of the Latins (Italy) is engaged to King Turnus. When the Trojans arrive, her parents change that to Aeneas, which pisses off Turnus and he declares war on the Trojans. Venus gets her husband Vulcan to create a special suit of armor for her son Aeneas. The king of the Arcadians, Evander, sends his son to fight with Aeneas, but he is killed by Turnus and it is this that seals Turnus’s fate. Aeneas is wounded by an unknown arrow, but is healed by his divine mother’s intervention. He goes on to have single combat with Turnus and wounds him. He is about to spare his life, when he notices Pallas’s belt, which Turnus has taken as a trophy, but then decides to kill him. 4 stars.
Shanghai Love by Layne Wong
I was contacted by the author’s publicist and asked if I wanted to review the book and receive a free copy. Apparently an intern had found my blog and liked it so much that she recommended me to her boss. The press kit that they sent looked interesting, so I said sure (my review is not based off the free book, I genuinely enjoyed it). A lot of times when I think romance, I immediately think “bodice rippers,” like I used to read as a kid. The way the author mixed the detailed historical fiction with a touch of romance was different than I was expecting, but it was a pleasant change. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I loved that the author was writing from the viewpoint of a Chinese woman who had married a Jewish man, just like her multicultural characters.
Peilin is a young woman living in the Chinese countryside in 1937. She is from a poor farming family, but was fortunate enough to be taught how to read, write and gather/make herbal remedies because of her grandfather. It is he who arranges for her to marry Yao, a wealthy pearl farmer’s son. Unfortunately for her, Yao dies after the Japanese attack on Nanjiang, so she is forced to marry a ghost husband and becomes part of the Kwan family. Eventually, after putting up with a very disagreeable mother-in-law, Peilin is sent to Shanghai to manage the family’s herbal shop. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Germany, Henri is a new Jewish doctor trying to get by in the early part of the Hitler Regime. Restrictions are just coming out against Jewish families. To escape, Henri goes to his friend’s jazz club. It is here that he meets Sophie, a beautiful jazz singer. They fall in love but he is betrayed by her to the Nazis. He manages to escape to Shanghai, where they do not have restrictions on Jewish immigrants. He meets and befriends a local Chinese rickshaw driver named Ping, who happens to be Peilin’s brother. Will Henri and Peilin ever find happiness and love? To find out, read this fantastic book. 5 stars.