Archive for April, 2012


Book Reviews

I feel like I’ve finally gotten some time to read (have just passed 103 books read so far this year!), as I’ve trying to research for my son’s birthday. It’s not till July but I know how bad I procrastinate and since it is his first birthday, I want it to be special. So I’m checking stuff out now. I think I’m going to use Rubber Duckies for the theme. Since it is in the middle of July and it’s usually over 110 degrees F here in the summer, I figured it should be indoors. So I’m leaning to having it in a recreation center with a nice playground nearby where the kids can go if it isn’t too hot. Anyways, on to the reviews. As usual, I break down the reviews according to their category: Children, Children & YA, YA, and Adult. I rate them 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest.

Children

 Just a Little Critter Collection by Mercer Mayer

As I believe I have said before, I was raised on Little Critter books and absolutely love them. So I knew when I had children, I would read these to them as well. I got this one for my 9 month old son and he likes them too. I especially like the spider and grasshopper that are in all of his books as Little Critter’s companions. This collection includes these 7 books: Just for You, I Was So Mad, When I Get Bigger, Just Go to Bed, All by Myself, Just a Mess and I Just Forgot. My favorites are Just for You, Just Go to Bed and I Just Forgot. Recommended for 9 months – 5 years, 5 stars.

Little Quack’s Hide and Seek by Lauren Thompson

This was a very cute book that teaches counting and basic subtraction via the “Quackulator” to preschoolers, though I’m sure my son would enjoy this book as well. Little Quack and his four brothers and sisters are playing hide-and-seek with their Momma; she is counting while they find a place to hide. Little Quack finds the best one of all. Recommended for ages 9 months – 5 years, 4 stars.

The Giant Surprise: A Narnia Story by Hiawyn Oram

This book was a little random, but had a good story at heart. The theme was friendship but it was told in a very creative way, with the main characters being a Narnia creature called Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle and his niece a young Wigglet named Lally. They have to save their friends the marsh mice from the evil giants who want to eat them. I thought the illustrations were very engaging and fun, though it seemed more like a Philip Pullman or L.Frank Baum book rather than a C.S. Lewis story. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

If Kisses Were Colors by Janet Lawler

Honestly I gave this book five stars because I love the artwork with its crackled aged look. I first discovered Alison Jay while I was taking a Children’s Literature class and needed an ABC book (Her’s is really good). So when I saw this at the book sale today, I decided to give it a try. It’s an ode from a parent to her child and has some really adorable illustrations. It compares kisses to raindrops, pebbles, acorns, comets, flowers and blankets. It is through them she shows her baby how much she/he is loved. Recommended for ages birth – 5 years, 5 stars.

Razzamadaddy by Linda Walvoord

A great story for dads to read to their sons, this rhyming book features a dad taking his young son to the beach and all the fun that they have there. It has bright and colorful illustrations that engage the reader and enliven the story. It would be great for Father’s Day. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

A Porcupine Named Fluffy by Helen Lester

A very funny easy reader book about an badly-named porcupine named Fluffy, who hates his name and tries to change to match it (which he fails at). It isn’t until he meets and equally incompatibly named rhino named Hippo. He learns to accept his name and gains a life-long friend in return. My favorite part was his attempts to be fluffy, which included pretending to be a cloud and pillow, and spraying himself with whipped cream and shaving cream with feathers. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Duck by Randy Cecil

I originally picked this up for myself because I thought the story sounded interesting, but my son liked it too. The book is about Duck, a carousel animal at a carnival who dreams of flying and watches the real ducks fly every day. One day, a baby duck named Duckling finds her and she raises it as her own, until the day comes when Duckling needs to learn how to fly. He eventually picks it up and goes to join a flock flying south for the winter. Duck is sad but then Duckling comes to visit her and carries her on his back into the sky with the flock. The illustrations absolutely made this picture book super adorable! Highly recommended for ages 9 months – 7 years, 5 stars.

Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook by Georgeanne Brennan

I liked the fact that the cookbook included so many Seuss quotes, so you could see where the idea for the recipes came from. I also liked all the images from the books. The recipes just weren’t that exciting, seemed like the author kind of half-assed them. With all the imagination in Dr. Seuss books, I just thought they couldn’t been more interesting. There’s only two recipes, Moose Juice/Goose Juice and Sneetch Treats that I would consider making myself. Recommended for ages 5+, 2 stars.

Children & Young Adult

The Burning Bridge (Ranger’s Apprentice, #2) by John Flanagan – audiobook version

This was a much better book than the first one, full of much more adventure and great battles. The ending was rather surprising, but exciting and cliffhanging. In this volume, Will is much more capable in his Ranger abilities and he is sent on a mission with Gil and Horace to Celtica to enlist their king’s aid in the coming war. However, when they get there, they realize that Celtica’s people are missing and the place is crawling with Wargols. Where has everyone gone? Just what is Morgorath up to? Will Horace and Will be able to stop Morgorath’s evil plans? To find out, read this great book! Can’t wait to continue the series. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

The Icebound Land (Ranger’s Apprentice, #3) by John Flanagan – audiobook version

This was my least favorite of the Ranger’s Apprentice series books so far. There was hardly any action or battles in it, although I suppose it was really more of a setup book for the next one in the series “Battle for Skandia”. You can start to see a bit more about how the author based the setting on Europe with places like Skandia, which are obviously full of Norsemen/Vikings, and Gallicia, which is basically France. I suppose that would mean that Araluen is actually England (with Hibernia being Scotland). Anyways, on to the story.

In this volume, Will and Evanlyn have been captured by the Skandians in the previous book and are being taken back to to Skandia by their captor, Jarl Erik. Will finally learns that Evanlyn is really Princess Cassandra, daughter of the king of Araluen, but has to protect her identity after the king of Skandia, Ragnar, swears vengeance against the king of Araluen and his family. Once they arrive, Erik give sthem to Ragnar’s household, and Will becomes a yard slave and Evanlyn a kitchen slave. They eventually escape to the mountains of Skandia. Meanwhile, Halt and Horace are traveling through Gallicia to get to Skandia from the south, and rescue the two teenagers. Recommended for ages 10+, 3 stars.

The Battle for Skandia (Ranger’s Apprentice, #4) by John Flanagan – audiobook version

First off, I think it is great that the author created this series for his son Michael, to encourage him to read. This book had a much better storyline than the last one, plus a grand battle sequence that was being prepared for/going on for about half of the book. This book is also known as “The Oakleaf Bearers,” an allusion to Horaces and Halt’s previous adventures in Gallica. In this volume, Will finally breaks his addiction to warmweed, the drug that the Skandians got him addicted to when he was a slave in the previous book. Evanlyn is captured by the Temujai, a fierce warrior people from the Eastern Steppes, and Will saves her with the help of Halt and Horace, who have finally arrived in Skandia. The Temujai plan to invade Skandia to conquer the land so they can use their ships to conquer Araluen, however Halt will not let that happen. That means teaming up with Erak and their king, the Oberjarl Ranyak and working together to beat the threat. Who will win the Battle for Skandia? Will Horace, Evanlyn (Princess Cassandra), Halt and Will ever get to go home? To find out, read the exciting and action-packed 4th book of “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series! Highly recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

R. Caldecott’s Picture Book – No. 1 by Randolph Caldecott

Having learned about Randolph Caldecott in library school, who completely changed the world of children’s illustration during the Victorian period, I was eager to read some of the stories he illustrated. I picked up this volume from a library sale today and it is an addition of the book from the 1960s or 70s, and features both color plates and black & white illustrations. The volume includes “The Diverting History of John Gilpin,” “An Elegy of the Death of a Mad Dog,” “The House That Jack Built,” and “The Babes in the Woods.” Unlike today’s stories which seem like they are trying to have too many Disney endings, most of these are unhappy (including the last story in which the children die). Recommended for ages 7+, 4 stars.

Young Adult

Emma, Volume 9 by Kaoru Mori

This volume features more side stories from the Emma series, which include the Meredith’s son Erich  and his squirrel Theo, Mr and Mrs Meredith’s relationship and how they met, the Meredith’s maids and how William and Hakim initially met. The last story was my favorite. I will be glad to get back to the actual storyline in the final volume. Recommended for ages 14+, 3 stars.

Adult

Home Made: Good, Honest Food Made Easy by Tana Ramsay

I had the softcover edition of this version of the book. Gordon Ramsay’s wife Tana is a good cook. Her recipes are simple and predominantly easy to prepare, plus they are recipes I think my family would actually eat. 4 stars.

Baking Basics and Beyond: Learn These Simple Techniques and Bake Like a Pro by Pat Sinclair

I loved this basic guide to baking, which included good tips and techniques that really help you out. As much as I hate to use vegetable shortening, I understand that to make a really fluffy biscuit or flaky piecrust, it is better to use it. I’ve always found baking to be very therapeutic and I enjoy making others smile, which baked goods seem to do. I mean who doesn’t love the smell of fresh-baked bread? I really want this book for my collection. 5 stars.

 Betty Crocker Cookbook for Women: The Complete Guide to Women’s Health and Wellness at Every Stage of Life by Betty Crocker

I picked this up at a library book sale this weekend by chance, but it seems to be a pretty good purchase (hey, can’t complain for $1). It outlines how women of every age, from their 20s – 70s, should take care of their health and well-being. There are small sections in between the recipes about how to relieve stress and exercise examples. The recipes are pretty good and explain which are good for things like Folic Acid, Vitamin C/B/A, Iron, etc. 4 stars.

Party Food for Kids by Caroline Marson

I’m trying to plan my child’s first birthday party and was looking for some help. I rarely give books one star, but this book just wasn’t very good. It took common knowledge items like hot dogs and hamburgers and gave you recipes. There was no originality. 1 star.

Tana’s Kitchen Secrets by Tana Ramsay

This book features tips and techniques by Gordon Ramsay’s wife Tana, as well as good and predominantly healthy recipes for a busy mom with kids. As I’ve just become a mom, I find it important to get my hands on easy to prepare recipes that my child will eventually be happy to eat. I would love to try her recipes for Moroccan Fish Tangine, Meringues – which can be used to make Eton Mess, Asparagus Soup, and Cheese Dip, amongst others. 4 stars.

Great Parties for Kids: Fabulous and Creative Ideas For Children Aged 0-10 by Charlotte Packer

This book had some good ideas for kid’s parties, though there were predominantly for older kids, above age 3. There was really only two ideas, Teddy Bears’ Picnic and Farmyard Animals for the under three year old crowd, which is what I’m looking for. It was pretty detailed on activities, items to use for decoration, what games to play and what food to serve. The back section featured recipes mentioned in the previous party sections, but looked like they stole all the food ideas from “Party Food for Kids,” which I read before this book. 3 stars.

Preschool Parties: Easy Ideas for Princesses, Pirates & Other Little People by Colleen Mullaney

This book was a very good guide to children’s parties for ages 1-8, though predominantly for 3-6 years olds. In fact, the only under 3 party was for the Teddy Bear Picnic, Although most of the ideas were for older kids, I could see myself using this book more in the future. I liked that there were a lot of pictures of children enjoying the activities and the food. It was broken down in a way that made sense to and was easy to follow, i.e.an introductory page, sections on invitations, decorations, a To-Do list, Supply lists, party and game times, and a menu with recipes. I like this book way better than the previous book I reviewed. 5 stars.

Lulu Powers Food to Flowers: Simple, Stylish Food for Easy Entertaining

I’ve planned about two parties during my adult life, but I have never done any dinner or kid’s parties, which I figure I should be able to do now that I’m married with a child. Ms Powers’ job is to create and host parties for celebrities, so she knows her stuff. She breaks the book down into general tips and Morning, Afternoon, and Evening parties. Her recipes look amazing and she has some great ideas. I can’t wait to try her Cinnamon Clotted Cream with some scones! 4 stars.

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I have a very love-hate relationship with modern art (1900 – present). Some pieces I really love, like Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space and then there are pieces I don’t care for or more precisely don’t understand, like pretty much all of Marcel Duchamp’s art. For more information on Duchamp, check out this website. One period of art that I sometimes have a hard time understanding is Surrealism. When most people think of surrealism, Salvador Dali usually comes to mind. While I think Dali as a person/creator was very interesting, I don’t particularly like most of his paintings.  Frida Kahlo is another story. I find her life story to incredibly fascinating and a bit heartbreaking, and yet she created such fascinating work. Frida never considered her work to be Surrealist and didn’t include her work in a Surrealist until 1940. She, according to this webpage, “used surrealistic elements to paint her own reality; she considered these elements to be the most honest expression of herself.”  This same website lists her work chronologically and found a couple pieces that I wanted to discuss. If you like Surrealist work, I would be interested to hear other people’s opinions on these works as well.

The first piece I would like to discuss is Memory (The Heart). According to www.fridakahlofans.com, where I found the painting, “In this self-portrait, she displays her anguish after learning that her younger sister Cristina was having an affair with her husband Diego Riviera.” In punishment for what her husband has done to her, she cut her hair really short (he loved her long hair) and adopted a more European/Western style of dress. On her right is a traditional native Mexican/Tehuana outfit, that Diego love to see her wear, but she now despises because of his betrayal. Her bleeding heart is on the ground. The hole where her heart was is impaled by steel rod and a cupid sits on either end. To her right is her school uniform, which according to the website’s author “reminds her of a happier time when she first met Diego.” This painting reminds me of a piece I did for a hand-building clay class during my undergraduate years. We had to create a vessel with a top. While I didn’t use a bleeding gaping heart as Frida did, I did use a brain with a giant screw coming out of it on top of a Pre-Columbian step pyramid. This piece was supposed to symbolize me getting screwed by my ex-boyfriend who broke my heart and cheated on me while I was studying art in Italy for my study abroad program.

Memory (The Heart), 1937

The second piece was done 12 years after the first one. Though this one is a lot more odd looking than the first one, I like it even better because of the Aztec mythology involved in the painting. In this piece, we see more of Frida’s maternal nature coming out. When she was 18, she was involved in a streetcar accident in which  “a metal handrail penetrated her abdomen, leaving her temporarily paralyzed. She fractured her pelvis and the handrail also pierced her uterus.” In fact, she miscarried three times during her lifetime, a topic on which she painted many pictures. I found this article on the Huffington Post, which the preceeding quote was taken from, which discusses how new medical studies have determined what actually made her infertile. Because of her inability to conceive, she tended to mother Diego, even though he was 20 years her senior. This is exactly what she is doing in this painting, holding him like the Virgin and child paintings popular during the Renaissance. “The Aztec Earth Mother, Cituacoatl, holds both Frida and Diego in her lap, and she is hugged by the Universal Mother. The dog sleeping in the foreground represents Xolotl, who guards the underworld (taken from this website).” I especially like the photo of the artist with the painting on the bottom right of this page.

The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl, 1949

 

I

I discovered Jacek Yerka’s paintings a couple of weeks ago. He is a Polish Surrealist who started painting in 1980 and continues today. According to the biography on the artist’s website: “One need only glance at the luminous surfaces of Yerka’s canvases to perceive his adoration of, resonance with, the master painters of the 15th and 16th centuries; Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, Hugo van der Goes and Jan van Eyck were powerful, early influences.” Jan Van Eyck, a personal favorite of mine, was incredibly detailed and used realism (which was very modern for the Renaissance time frame in which he painted). Hieronymous Bosch painted surrealistic landscapes circa 1500, 400 years before the Surrealist movement happened in modern art, his most famous piece being The Garden of Earthly Delights. Here are some of the Jacek Yerka paintings that I have found so far that I liked, which can all be found on his online gallery:

Aquarium, 2007

Brontosaurus Civitas (couldn’t find date)

Creating the Water (couldn’t find the date)

My views on Modern Motherhood

I figured since I have written a lot about reading, literature, and libraries, I should also do at least one post about being a mom. While browsing the Huffington Post yesterday, I came across this article, which I read today. I think the author has some valid points in it, though I don’t completely agree with her (the comments are interesting as well). When I was dating my husband, I knew that he was “the one” (ok yes I am a hopeless romantic) and I saw him as someone I could spend the rest of my life with and have children together. Anyways, five years later, I got pregnant. I had the best intentions with my baby. I knew I wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible, use cloth diapers, and at least stay with him for 6 weeks after he was born. Oh and have as natural a birth as humanly possible. Things don’t always go as planned and I’m not gonna lie, after 6 hours of back labor, I was really ready for the epidural (though thank God I didn’t have to look at the ginormous needle they used). I only ended up breastfeeding for a month because my son had such a voracious appetite that I just couldn’t keep up with him. After changing many nasty newborn diapers and realizing that I could handle the smell (not an easy feat at first if you’re not used to it), I decided cloth diapers were not really on my radar anymore even if they were more environmentally friendly. I mean who wants to carry around poopy cloth diapers if you are out and about with your child?

Yes, there are a lot of women, especially well-educated ones that are choosing not to have children. I can totally understand where they are coming from, as there are so many things they don’ t tell you about pregnancy and childbirth in books. According to the above article, “In the United States, the percentage of childless women aged 15 to 44 has increased notably, according to the Census Bureau, from 42.8 in 2000 to 47.1 in 2010.” Badinter, the author of the article, also notes that “Increasingly, that way of mothering is under attack. The reasons for this change are various: a series of economic crises have left women disenchanted with the workplace. Daughters have reacted against the feminism of their mothers.”

She also discusses how women feel like they have to choose between having a career and having a child and the guilt that is associated with going back to work if you do decided to procreate. I have experienced the guilt myself, where I know it will be okay if I go to work, as for one, we really need the extra income but I feel like I’m abandoning my son, even if it is just to a friend’s house. I see no problem in using daycare, just at the moment we can’t afford it. I told my husband from the beginning that I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom because now I have my Master’s degree and had planned on starting my career in public libraries. However, that didn’t work out like I planned either, as with the crappy economy they’re not hiring very many librarians due to state and city budget cuts. So now I have a part time job as a receptionist because it is what I could get. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job and the people I work with, it’s just not what I saw myself doing and I do plan on getting a library job in the future, hopefully a full-time one with benefits. Anyways, the point is that I don’t think it is an anti-feminist thing to want to be a mom or not want to be one, and I also don’t think that you’re a bad mom is you feed your baby processed food or opt out of c0-sleeping. I do want put my child first, but I don’t see that as a totally negative thing, I just want the best for him. While I don’t think I’m the perfect parent (I don’t think it’s really possible to be one), I am doing the best I can and learning along the way.

As I said in yesterday’s post, it was World Book Day and Shakespeare’s birthday. It was also apparently the anniversary of the death of Miguel Cervantes, author of the classic Don Quixote. “To celebrate World Book Night, the second time this event has been held, authors, booksellers, librarians, publishers and simply passionate literary fiends gave away 500,000 free memoirs, novels and non-fiction titles in the United States and 1 million in the United Kingdom, where it was started last year.” The article that the preceeding quote comes from describes how librarians stood outside New York’s Public Library last night and handed out copies of books to passersby. I think this is a fantastic idea and a good way to get people not only reading, but also into libraries themselves. If they publicized the event more, just think of how many people could be reached with these free books!

Speaking of Shakespeare, I wanted to share this link I found today. I also  figured I would talk about him a bit and share some things with you. I have not read all of his plays, but I loved reading his plays in high school and college, and my favorites would probably be Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing. My favorite movie versions of the plays are Franco Zefferelli’s 1968 Romeo & Juliet, Kenneth Branaugh’s Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, the 1999 Midsummer’s Night’s Dream (though I was very surprised to see a semi-nude very young Judi Dench as Tatania in the 1968 Royal Shakespeare Company film version), and the 1948 version of The Taming of the Shrew done as the movie Kiss Me Kate (which not only has some of the best songs in movie musical history but also some of the best dancing, courtesy of the legendary Bob Fosse, Ann Miller and Tommy Rall). Now the last film makes me want to talk about classic movie musicals, but I’ll leave that for another day’s post. What are some of your favorite Shakespeare plays and why?

Ok I will admit it. I own a Kindle, even though I said I would never own one because I loved holding real books and reading them way better. Mine, however, was free and the most I’ve paid for a book on it is $3. I like that there are so many books in one place and somewhere down the line I will probably get a fancier one (mine is a Kindle version 2 and I would like a Kindle Fire). I do not ever plan on getting rid of all of my personal collection of books though it has been weened down since we moved to the new house (out of necessity more than choice). This guy knows what I mean when I talk about actual copies of books, and I particularly like this quote from the article: “To my mind, there’s something comforting about holding a book.  It’s a tactile pleasure to feel the lightness or the heft, to see the tattered edges of a used book jacket (or the crisp, glossy cover of a new one), to savor the distinctive smell of a dusty old used tome, to flip through its pages while absorbing all the enriching literary treasures that lie within.”

Happy St George’s Day!

Today was my day off and once again, I spent part of it in the doctor’s office. I have to get a bunch of  blood tests done next week, so it’s another journey to Sun City for that. I had planned on going to the library today but after shopping and dealing with the heat (it was at least 100 again for the 3rd day in a row), I just wanted to go home, get some lunch and sleep. So I had a nice nap and will hit up the library tomorrow. Today, even though I had it written on my calendar, I had forgotten it was St George’s Day. Since my hubby is English, we like to celebrate it. He’s the patron saint of both Greece and England, and according to this website, he is also the patron saint of “Barcelona in Catalonia, Aragon, Russia, Bavaria, Beirut, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Lithuania and Hungary.” Here are some facts taken from the same website:

History of St George & England

  • St Adomnán, the Abbot of Iona in Scotland, provides Britain’s earliest recorded reference to Saint George in the 7th Century. He details the story of the Saint’s exploits, which had been told to him by a French bishop named Arcuif who had travelled to Jerusalem with the crusaders.
  • English soldiers wore a sign of St George on their chest and on their backs in the 14th century, as the Saint was regarded as a special protector of the English.
  • King Edward III (1312-1377) founded the Order of the Garter (1348), the premier order of chivalry or knighthood in England. The Order was put under Saint George’s patronage and the medal is awarded on the 23rd April by the reigning Monarch.
  • In 1620 it was the flag that was flown by the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is also the flag of the Church of England and as such is known throughout Christendom.

St George’s Day in England

  • In 1222 the Council of Oxford declared April 23rd to be St George’s Day.
  • It was not until 1348 that St George became the Patron Saint of England.
  • Traditional customs were to fly the St George’s flag and wear a red rose in one’s lapel.

St George the Saint

  • St George was born to Christian parents in A.D. 270 (3rd Century) in Cappadocia, now Eastern Turkey
  • He moved to Palestine with his Mother and became a Roman soldier, rising to the high rank of Tribunus Militum
  • However, he later resigned his military post and protested against his pagan leader, the Emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD), who led Rome’s persecution of Christians
  • His rebellion against the Emperor resulted in his imprisonment, but even after torture he stayed true to his faith
  • The enraged Diocletian had St George dragged through the streets of Nicomedia, Turkey, on the 23rd of April 303 AD and had him beheaded
  • The Emperor’s wife was so inspired by St George’s bravery and loyalty to his religion, that she too became a Christian and was subsequently executed for her faith

April 23 also appears to be William Shakespeare’s birthday and UNESCO has declared it World Book and Copyright Day. Here is the website for more information.

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