Archive for June, 2012


Crocheting and Book Reviews

So I finally have some yarn so I can start on a new craft project, which is just in time for my Crafty Book Club meeting this Thursday. I’m making a scarf or a hat, just haven’t decided which pattern I’m gonna use yet. There are a few to choose from, like this wavy scarf, this basket-stitch one, or this hat. The yarn is a really nice dark teal color and I’m thinking about maybe sending it to a friend of mine, if it’s not totally screwed up at the end of it. My last scarf was pretty uneven because I hadn’t done any crocheting in over a year, and that one was finished something like 6 months ago. Thankfully, a lot of the women at the Book Club crochet so I could probably ask if I have any questions. I’ve been on a roll reading, due to trying to finish up the baby’s summer reading and being really bored because of my lack of employment. But good news on that front, I have an interview next week, so fingers crossed that I get it!

I am currently reading a volume of Steampunk short-stories, but I know that will get put on the sidelines when I can get to the library to get Cassandra Clare’s newest YA book City of Lost Souls. On to the book reviews. As usual, I rate everything from 1-5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 the highest.

Children

 The Monster Returns by Peter McCarty

I enjoyed this sequel to Jeremy Draws a Monster better than the original. Jeremy gets a call from his monster, the one he sent away in the first book, saying that he’s bored and he’s coming back home. So Jeremy calls up the kids on the street and gives them magic pens to draw their own monster with, so the monster has some friends to play with. Jeremy also gains some friends. Love the illustrations. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

Hey Rabbit! by Sergio Ruzzier

This was another summer reading selection for my son, though he couldn’t really focus on this one because it was a half-wordless book. Rabbit has a magic suitcase that gives his friends Dog, Toucan, Bear, Cat, Mouse, and Crab whatever they are asking for, but Rabbit wonders if it has enough for him too. It does, it is full of his friends and a giant radish for Rabbit. The repetitiveness got boring after the second time, but I liked the imagination of the book. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Happy Hector: A Tilly and Friends Book by Polly Dunbar

This is another book I got for my son’s summer reading program, which he enjoyed as did I. It is a cute and simple book about Hector the pig, who is perfectly happy sitting on his friend Tilly’s lap. That is, until all the other animals that live in Tilly’s house all decide that they want to do the same thing. Hector is now upset because he didn’t want to play with the other animals, he just wanted Tilly, so she paints a picture of Hector. He loves it and then gets to sit in Tilly’s lap again, which makes him even more happy than before. Loved the illustrations. Recommended for ages 1-5, 5 stars.

Remembering Crystal by Sebastian Loth

I originally picked this up for my son because of the adorable illustrations, but he couldn’t pay attention. So I read it. It is a neat and sympathetic way to prevent death to a child. Zelda the goose is friends with Crystal the Turtle. Zelda is very young, while Crystal is much older. One day, Crystal is not there anymore and Zelda searches everywhere for her, but cannot find her. She has passed away, but Zelda remembers all the great things that Crystal taught her and all the fun they had together. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Clarence and the Great Surprise by Jean Ekman Adams

Clarence the pig and his friend Smoky the purple horse are going on a trip together to see a great surprise. On the way they meet an old dog who doesn’t hear very well but can dance and has a tiny hat. Clarence experiences all kinds of new things for a city pig, but none of them is the surprise Smoky has planned for him. Until they reach the Grand Canyon and both Clarence and Smoky are blown away by the grandness (no pun intended) of it. I liked that it was a Smithsonian Notable Book, and the author lives near Phoenix. The illustrations were bright and colorful, which kept the attention of my 11 month old even though the story was a little long. I got this for his summer reading. Recommended for kids age 1-7, 4 stars.

Gideon and Otto by Olivier Dunrea

Absolutely adorable story about a russet colored goose named Gideon and his stuffed octopus, Otto. One day Gideon goes off to play with some bunnies and leaves Otto on a stump. When Mama Goose calls for Gideon to come home, he goes to find Otto, but he is not there. He looks everywhere for him and eventually find him on the back of a turtle. Gideon and Otto are together again. I picked this one up for my son’s summer reading and he loved it. Recommended for ages 1-4, 3 stars.

Ollie the Stomper by Olivier Dunrea

This was the last book I read to my son for summer reading (yay he’s finished 20 books!). Ollie the gosling wants to go stomping with Gossie and Gertie, who have boots to do this with. So they each give him one boot and they got stomping together, until he gets bored with it and they decide to go swimming instead. My son enjoyed the story and illustrations. Recommended for ages 1-4, 3 stars.

Doodle Bites: A Tilly and Friends Book by Polly Dunbar

This book had a cute story, though not as good as the “Happy Hector” book I previously read. Doodle is a alligator who just feels like she needs to nibble, crunch, and bite things. All is well until she decides to bite Tumpty the elephant’s behind, and then in his anger, he steps on her tail. Tilly and Pru the chicken sort everything out and everyone apologizes and is happy again. Love the illustrations. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 stars.

Little Quack’s New Friend by Lauren Thompson

I picked this up at the library after I bought “Little Quack’s Hide & Seek” and my son really liked it. This book is about Little Ribbit, Little Quack’s new frog friend. At first, Little Quack’s siblings don’t like him because he is green, little, a frog and doesn’t quack. But as the day wears on, they realize that it is okay for him to be different, when they have one thing in common – they all like to play. My son loved the illustrations and “sound effects” in the book. Recommended for ages 1-5, 4 stars.

The Loud Book by Deborah Underwood

I’ve been waiting forever to read this book, after I fell in love with “The Quiet Book”. The Loud Book is just as great with it’s different kinds of loud, from Deafening Silence Loud to Fireworks Loud. I love the illustrations as well. My son enjoyed the book, especially when I made sound effects for him. Recommended for ages 1-5, 5 stars.

Time to Eat by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

I picked this up for my son as I thought it might be a simpler nonfiction Steve Jenkins book that he could listen to now. I had previously gotten the book “Actual Size” but it’s a bit too advanced for him. Sadly, there is still a lot of text in it, and I would say he would need to wait about 4 yrs before he could really enjoy it and have the attention span to sit down and read it. It is a cute book with Jenkins’ trademark cut-paper illustrations, which I love so much. It tells little stories about each animal/bird/insect and what they eat. The book also has a more detailed description in the back of the book of each creature. Great book for boys ages 5-9, 3 stars.

Time to Sleep by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Another book I picked up for my son that was a little too advanced for him at the moment. Again love the illustrations and the facts and descriptions about the animals/amphibians/birds/fish are better I think than “Time to Eat”. For example, giraffes sleep less than two hours and a group of giraffes is called a corps or tower. The wood frog hibernates by freezing solid and thawing in the spring. Or that bottlenose dolphins “keep one half of their brain awake and one half asleep. The awake half tells the dolphin when to go up to breath, and the two halves take turns sleeping.” I like fun factual information like that. Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

All the World by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

This book won a 2010 Caldecott Honor, and deservedly so as it is a well-done and beautiful book. While my son wasn’t that interested in the poem or the illustrations, I loved them, especially the soft gorgeous colored pencil and watercolor designs. The poem is about how all the world is in all of us and everywhere. As another reviewer has put it, I liked how the setup for the next group of images was in the 2 page spreads. My two favorite images was the one of the giant tree overlooking the Spanish Colonial-style building with the kids climbing in it, and the last double page spread with the words “Hope and peace and love and trust” under a lightning and gradually darkening sky. It is hard to beat a Jerry Pinkney book for the Caldecott Medal, but this book comes a very close second. Recommended for ages 1-7, 5 stars.

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

I picked this up because it was a 2011 Caldecott honor book and it’s been on my to-read list for a while, plus a lot of people have been raving about it. It is a very cute and funny story about a father chicken trying to read bedtime stories to his “interrupting chicken” daughter, who can’t help but give her opinion in the fairy and folk tales he reads her. In the end, it is Papa Chicken who falls asleep and not his daughter. This book cracked me up because my son totally does this, although he interrupts by dropping his bottle repeatedly while I’m trying to read him stories. Highly recommended for ages 1-7. 5 stars

Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

I picked this one up because it won a Caldecott Honor in 2004, but I think the selection must’ve been slim that year for it to have won. The whole story is about a girl wearing a kooky collection of clothes because she and her friends are getting together for a dress-up tea time. Other than the brightly colored illustrations and the tea time at the end, this book didn’t have much going for it. Recommended for kids aged 1-5, 2 stars.

Children and Young Adult

A Hero for Wondla (Wondla, #2) by Tony DiTerlizzi

I loved the last book, “The Search for Wondla” and honestly thought he couldn’t do any better. The author proved me wrong by creating an even more spectacular book in which I saw the main character, Eva Nine, grow in ways I didn’t think possible. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

This book starts off where the last left off. Eva Nine and Rovender (Rovee for short) are going with Hailey to New Attica, the current home of humans on Orbona/Earth. She is excited at the prospect of meeting others like her. Once Eva Nine enters the city, she is greeting enthusiastically by Cadmus Pryde, who founded New Attica and is the reason for her creation (babies raised by robots in separate facilities called Sanctuaries). At first things seem great, she meets some girls her age and they show her around the town. But as the day wears on, she starts to feel uneasy. The humans seem in the dark about everything outside of the city, thinking they are the only inhabitants. Eva Nine meets another “reboot” named Eva Eight and finds out they are from the same Sanctuary. Eight tries to escape with Eva Nine, but they get caught by Cadmus’s henchmen. It is during her captivity that she finds out the truth behind what Cadmus has been doing and manages to rescue some friends, new and old. Hailey, Rovee, Eva Eight and Nine and some others manage to escape back into the Wandering Forest. Will they find the Vitae Virus generator before Cadmus? Will Rovee ever be united with his clan? To find this and what really lurks at the Heart of the Wandering Forest, read this fantastic book. I know this review may not do this book justice, but it is a great read and has fabulous illustrations. Recommended for ages 10 and up, 5 stars.

Adult

Timeless (The Parasol Protectorate #5) by Gail Carriger

I would just like to say that I am very sad that this is the last book of the Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia, Lord Akeldama, Biffy and Professor Lyall are so fantastically done in this book. The story is that it is about 2 years since the end of “Heartless,” and a lot of things have happened. Felicity was exiled to Europe, Biffy has settled into being a werewolf and taken over Madame Lefoux’s hat shop, and Alexia and Conall are living in Lord Akeldama’s second closet secretly raising their metanatural daughter Prudence and discovering all her powers and their restraints. Life seems relatively normal, by Alexia’s standards anyways, when suddenly the Beta of the Scottish pack has disappeared in Egypt and then been mysteriously killed. Then Alexia and Prudence are summoned to the local vampire queen’s hive to get a summons from the most ancient of all vampires, the Alexandrian Queen. As the Maccons are patrons to Ivy & Tunstell’s acting company, they use them as a cover to go to Egypt to meet the Queen. Madame Lefoux, who has been indentured to London’s local queen vampire goes on the trip, but Alexia is never quite sure where her allegiances lie. They discover that Egypt has an outbreak of the God-Breaker Plague, which makes supernaturals mortal. Meanwhile trouble is brewing at home between Lady Kingair of the Scottish pack, Professor Lyall and Biffy. What will they find out about the plague and who has started it? What secrets will be revealed? Will everyone survive? To find out, read this great final book to the Parasol Protectorate series!

I will say that overall I really enjoyed the book, although the ending was a bit disappointing. The relationship between Biffy and Lyall was a surprise, but I was glad that they both finally found someone. I’m very excited at the prospect of the series continuing sort of, with a grown up version of Prudence in “The Parasol Protectorate Abroad” series. 4 stars.

Parents Need to Eat Too: Nap-Friendly Recipes, One-Handed Meals, and Time-Saving Kitchen Tricks for New Parents by Debbie Koenig

I’ve been waiting forever to get a copy of this from the library and it was finally available a few days ago. I really enjoyed the recipes, but I will say that I would not be cooking them with a baby strapped to me. I guess that would work if your baby wasn’t over 8 pounds at birth. Aside from that, I thought the recipes, especially the slow-cooker and big batch ones looked particularly good. If I ever decide to have another child, the galactagogue recipes are definitely the ones to use (foods that help you produce breast milk, like oatmeal, barley, fennel, buckwheat and almonds). I liked the author because she was 40 when she got pregnant and I could relate to her stories, especially the ones about breastfeeding. Some of the recipes I enjoyed included Balsamic Beef Stew, Korean Beef Stew, Sfiha (Middle Eastern Meat Pies), Amy’s Slow-Cooker Thai Brisket, Little Gram’s Sauce (which is apparently the best pasta sauce ever), and A Greekish Orzo-Tomato Salad. 5 stars.

Vintage Tea Party by Carolyn Caldicott

I picked this up because I love tea services and I figured there might be some cool recipes in here. Most of them were pretty typical, and the advice was pretty common sense (like mixing and matching tea cups and servers, what other equipment to get etc). I did like the history of the tea service and how tea came to England and became a popular drink. They also explained the kinds of tea times, and I had no idea there were tea + alcoholic drinks. 2 1/2 stars.

Lethal Legacy (Alexandra Cooper #11) by Linda Fairstein

I was very impressed by this book, especially as I had never read anything by the author before. She was very thorough on researching the New York Public Library and getting all her facts straight, and showing her love for librarians. All this is mentioned in her acknowledgement section in the back of the book. She is obviously a great supporter of librarians and libraries. So she gets kudos for that.

The story is about Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper and this is Ms. Fairstein’s 11th book featuring her (thankfully this is a stand-alone story, so you don’t have to have read the previous 10). Ms. Cooper is a part of the Sex Crimes Unit (as was the author in real life), and she is called to investigate Tina Barr, a woman that was attacked and left naked, though nothing seemed to have been taken and the woman wasn’t hurt, just knocked out with chloroform. She is taken to the hospital but decides not to give a statement and instead just runs away, and isn’t until the following week, when a dead woman is found in Tina’s apartment that the police begin to suspect something is going on. Tina is a conservator who used to work at New York Public Library, but is now a freelancer working for some of the Library Board’s trustees. Well she was until she also mysteriously shows up dead in Bryant Park, and the police and Alex are now trying to solve just what she was involved in. All they know is it centers around some rare books and an even rarer map from 1507. Will they figure out who was behind the killings? Will they find the map? To find out read this most excellent mystery. 5 stars.

The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! by Anne Byrn

I had heard of the Cake Doctor from a friend of mine, who swears by her cake recipes. So I decided to give her newer basic cookbook a try. I will say that she does know what she is doing as most of the recipes seem relatively simple and fun to make. I like that she doesn’t just do layer cakes, but also poundcakes, bundt cakes, brownies, bars, cookies, cupcakes, and frosting. I’ve been looking for a cake to do at my son’s birthday party and I think I may have found it in the Lemonade Chiffon Layer Cake with Raspberry Filling, though I am considering switching the filling to a blueberry one as the theme is Rubber Duckies (blue and yellow). Either way, I’m sure it will be delicious. It is a little annoying that the only color pictures are in an index in the front, instead of with the recipes themselves. I like that she includes lots of tips and tricks to help the reader. I’ve never made a layer cake, so any tips I can get are helpful. I am hoping to make Easy Coconut Refrigerator Cake for my grandfather as it is his favorite, but would also like to try the Kentucky Blackberry Jam Cake, Apple Butter Spice Cake, Caramel Tres Leches Cake, Music to my Mouth Brownies (with Symphony Chocolate Bars inside), and many more. 5 stars.

Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis

Do not read this if you offended by bad language, graphic violence or are a conservative/fundamentalist Christian! That being said, I enjoyed the hell out of this first volume (the first seven comics) in the Preacher series. I was recommended to read this by an old friend of mine and I’ve been unable to find it in a library until now. This is the basic gyst of the story. An angel and a demon fell in love and had a kid named Genesis that God didn’t know what to do with, so he threw his hands up and left Heaven. Genesis wants a soul and escapes to earth, where he goes into Rev Jesse Custer and accidently annihilates a whole congregation of people at church on Sunday. The angels realize that Genesis has escaped and call this ruthless dead guy called the Saint of Killers to go after Genesis and kill him. This starts Jesse’s bad luck, he realizes the true story behind Genesis and orders an angel down to explain things properly (side power that Jesse gets is the Word of God that can basically order people around and do what he wants). So Jesse decides to start a quest to find God. He is traveling with his trained hitman ex-girlfriend Tulip and an insanely old Irish vampire named Cassidy. Oh and Jesse has been advised (and still advised to this day) by John Wayne as a cowboy. To find out what goes on with the rest of their adventures together, you gotta read this volume. 5 stars.

Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger

First off, I would like to say that this is a manga in the sense of the type of illustrations and the newspaper it is printed on. However, it does not read like one (aka back to front, nor directionally). Aside from that, I really loved this adaption of Soulless, the first book of The Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia was just like I thought of her, though I would’ve put more meat on her bones. The front cover pictures on the books themselves make her out to be too thin, whereas the author describes her as more plus-size curvy. Conall was pretty much as I would’ve pictured him, handsome and dashing, though I would’ve put him a little bit older-looking than Alexia’s 26 years. Now for whatever reason, I’m guessing because it is classed as a manga, they filed this in the teen section, but I’ve always thought the series was just a little bit too adult, especially the first book (my personal preference). This is just the next step into making them into movies. 5 stars.

Artful Saturday: Absinthe

I’ve not been feeling very creative lately, but I finally got some inspiration from a short documentary I found entitled Absinthe, from 2010, directed by Chris Buddy. I’m about halfway through with it, but it was a very interesting story. Absinthe was started in the late 1790s by a peasant woman in SW Switzerland who created an herbal elixir, which became a popular regional drink and still is to this day. Authentic Absinthe has grande wormwood in it, the ingredient which eventually got it banned in many countries for containing thujone, which people thought caused madness (it didn’t). It was used by the French military during their campaigns in Algeria in the early 1840s and given out with water to prevent dysentery and malaria. After these soldiers came back from the war, they wanted the drink at home and that’s how the drink became popular in French cafes.

In order to drink absinthe, you would pour a glass like you see in the pic above, put a slotted spoon on top of it with a sugar cube and pour water over it, melting the sugar. When you do this, you get an opalescent greenish-yellow color, that everyone associates with Absinthe. Pernod is one of the oldest and still operating brands of the alcohol. The way you add water to it remind me of ouzo, the ultra-strong Greek liquor. The first place I ever saw Absinthe was in Prague in 2002, when it was still illegal to own it in the States (the US ban was from 1912 – 2007). I’ve never drank it before but was always curious about it.

According to this website, “The late 19th-century absinthe boom coincided with the widespread adoption of the large lithographic poster as a potent advertising and artistic medium. Absinthe posters are some of the most widely reproduced Art Nouveau images, and are especially sought after by modern-day absinthe drinkers.” Posters like two below are still popular today.

Maurin Quina’s Green Devil poster, 1906

Privet-Livemount’s Absinthe Robette poster, 1896

In addition to advertising art, some pretty major art came from absinthe drinkers. The height of Absinthe popularity was from 1870s – 1910s, right about the time that the Impressionists were creating some pretty amazing art. Some of the artists and poets that were swigging the “Green Fairy,” as the drink has also been called,  included Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec. For info on these and other famous absinthe drinkers, check out this website. I have previously talked about van Gogh on this blog, as he is one of my favorite artists ever. Edouard Manet paved the way for the Impressionists, at least as far as painting urban landscapes and the contemporary café scene. This sort of thing was unheard of during that time period. One of Manet’s most famous and last painting The Bar at the Folies-Bergere, shows exactly what life in a cafe-bar was like. This was where I saw my first bottle of Bass Pale Ale, as pictured in the left and right corners of the bar top. According to this newspaper writer’s archive page on the painting, “But attention is inevitably distracted from this enticing array of consumer drinkables by the devastating expression on the barmaid’s face. She looks up with weary detachment, ready to take another order; but behind her mask of forced, professional impassivity there is an expression of infinite sadness.” That is one of the reasons I have always found this painting to be so interesting. I had no idea, but I’m not surprised at the following idea (given the time period) also taken from the previous source: “Bar staff were hired for their attractiveness and encouraged to maximise turnover by flirting with the clientele. They acquired a reputation for doing rather more than flirting, which may explain why so many of the critics who wrote about Manet’s painting when it was first shown assumed that the barmaid was also a covert prostitute.”

Edouard Manet, The Bar at Folies-Bergere, 1882

I’ve always found Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to be an intriguing character and the fact that he drank absinthe and that it contributed to his interesting paintings, is no surprise. Because of aristocratic inbreeding, he had health problems and only grew to about 5 ft tall. This Post-Impressionist was another urban painter who liked to paint scenes like the Moulin Rouge, the Ballet, brothels, racetracks and scenes in and around Montmartre where he lived. Apparently van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were good friends, after they met in Parisin 1886, where Vincent had moved to be with his brother Theo. According to this website: “For two years they painted and exhibited together, influencing each other’s work, but in February 1888, on Lautrec’s advice, Van Gogh moved to the south of France.” When he created this pastel portrait of van Gogh in 1887, you can see the influence of Absinthe in the work, by the yellows and greens that he uses, plus the fact that Vincent is actually drinking the alcohol in the picture.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887

Vincent Van Gogh did drink Absinthe, but it did not make him go mad like some people assume, though a family history of mental illness helped with that tremendously.  Malnutrition and an excess of smoking didn’t help his bad health any either. His drinking of Absinthe contributed in a way to his painting style, which can be seen in works like The Starry Night and The Night Cafe, in the way there are yellow halos around the lights and stars. It is true that some scholars say the reasoning behind this is epilepsy, not absinthe, but van Gogh scholars are not 100% agreed upon the exact conditions that he had. I think he was definitely bi-polar and probably had lead poisoning too, which may or may not have been the reason for the excessive use of yellow in his paintings.

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

Vincent van Gogh, The Night Cafe on the Place Lamartine, 1888

Book Club and Book Reviews

Sorry I have been MIA lately, but not much to say really since I lost my job. I finally got my hands on the final book in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, entitled Timeless. I did start going to a new book club, which is on the first Thursday of the month. I like it because not only are the readers in the group crafty (all either crochet or do fabric arts), but the book selection is entirely up to the reader. The group just picks the kind of book to read and we get to discuss it at the meeting. I intend on finding some yarn for a scarf for the next meeting. I picked the book The Perfect Nazi for the June meeting, since I wanted to learn more about how the German people could’ve wholeheartedly submitted to the ideals of the National Socialist (Nazi) regime and Hitler, after listening to the book In the Garden of Beasts a few weeks prior. Our next book for July has to be a mystery, so I think I already have a book picked out for that one. Since I’ve been reading a bit more lately, I figured it was time again to post some book reviews. As before, I rate the books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. Enjoy!

Children

Bumble-Ardy by Maurice Sendak

I must admit that I was curious about the book as I knew that it was the first book he had written/illustrated in a while (apparently for 30 years). I had no idea that Bumble-Ardy was originally an animated sketch created by Sendak and the great Jim Henson, who he was apparently good friends with. That point alone makes it awesome.  The story starts out with poor Bumble-Ardy, a pig who never celebrated a birthday until he was nine years old. He is taken in by his aunt, who promises him a great party. He decides to have a party without her and invites everyone to a masquerade ball, which quickly gets out of hand. I liked the rhyming text and the illustrations in the beginning of the book, but as the book progressed the story/pictures got weirder. Recommended for ages 5+, 2 1/2 stars.

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press Here was very fun and imaginative book, which will make kids laugh and smile (it sure did for me). I would love to add this book to my collection! Recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

This Little Bunny Can Bake by Janet Stein

I picked this one up for my son’s summer reading because it looked cute. I liked it more than he did. Apparently the author was trained at a Spanish cooking school, so this book was a natural extension for her as baker and mother. Chef George has a desert cooking school and his new class is about to begin. However, his students don’t know the first thing about cooking deserts, so he must teach them the basics: how to train their noses, learning how to measure correctly, teamwork, and concentration. In the end, Little Bunny is the only one who successfully bakes a dessert, which everyone can eat. I especially like the end pages with CG’s (Chef George’s) dessert recipes. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

 Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jerry Pinkney

I picked this up on the recommendations of the Children’s Dept at our local public library, and I’m glad I did because I loved it. Mr Pinkney not only did an imaginative take on a classic children’s bedtime rhyme but it also has amazing illustrations. With the song, we follow an adventuresome little chipmunk who flies through the air and into the water and finally back home in his own bed. Even the end pages are gorgeous, depicting both the dawn and after the chipmunk drifts into sleep. I enjoyed the Artist’s Note in the back explaining why he used the chipmunk and why children dislike bedtime. Recommended for children ages 10 months – 8 yrs, 5 stars.

Pomelo Begins to Grow by Ramona Badescu

I tried to read this to my son, but he got bored after awhile. I thought it was a rather clever way of looking at growing up and how it changes a person (animal in this case). Pomelo is a tiny garden elephant who learns that growing up isn’t as scary as he thought. It is about making choices, making discoveries and having new experiences. However it is also about being able to laugh at old fears. Pomelo is ready for big adventures. I loved the whimsical illustrations, especially the ones about him trying new things (sushi and hot peppers), but I’m not sure most kids, especially younger ones, would get this book. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.

Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby

A very cute picture book about a little rabbit named Squish, who was so small he was frequently forgotten or stepped upon. Squish is lonely and so creates a pretend friend, but that doesn’t last for long. It’s not until he throws a tantrum and kicks an apple, does someone notice him and think he is playing. So Squish gains a squirrel friend. The illustrations are simple but adorable and my son liked this book. Recommended for ages 1-5, 4 stars.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin

I found the first Pete the Cat book online by accident, so when I found this book in the new kid’s book section at the library, I immediately picked it up. I Love My White Shoes was a really cute book with a really catchy song attached to it, so I knew this one would be fun. With its bright primary colors and one really cool cat named Pete, my 10 1/2 month old really liked this! Plus it’s a fun way to learn about subtraction. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 5 stars.

Marvin Wanted More! by Joseph Theobald

 I picked this up for my son for summer reading because it looked cute. It reminded me of  The 300 Pound Cat that I used to read as a kid. Marvin the sheep was sad because he wasn’t as big as the other sheep and couldn’t run and jump like they could. So he started eating and didn’t stop. He ate trees and mountains, and drank up lakes. Soon he started gobbling up countries until he jumped up on the moon and ate the world. But then he was sad again and missed his friend Molly. So he threw up everything and things went back to normal. Moral is liking yourself no matter how big or little you are. Recommended for kids ages 1-5, 3 stars.

Noah’s Ark by Jerry Pinkney

I normally don’t read picture books of Bible stories, but with my son here now, I feel like I should at least check them out. He enjoyed the illustrations as did I. I thought they were masterfully done by Mr. Pinkney. This book won one of the 2003 Caldecott Honor awards, and so I’m reading it for the challenge, but also because I have lately become obsessed with reading as many Jerry Pinkney books because I think he’s an amazing illustrator. I also thought I would try to create a list of Biblical picture books which I could share with a friend of mine in Christian Education. I thought the story was really well done. Recommended for ages 1-8, 4 stars.

Maisy Goes to the Museum by Lucy Cousins

I didn’t read these books for the longest time because I had heard one person say that they were really annoying and too simplified. I enjoyed this one, even if my son’s attention wasn’t completely there when I was reading it to him. Maisy the mouse goes to the museum on a rainy day with her friends Charly, Tallulah, Eddie and Cyril. They see dinosaur bones, and old cars, toys, bikes, planes and a double decker bus. They see brightly colored stuffed birds, a bug exhibit, and a woolly mammoth. I like that they have so much fun at the museum because there is so much to do there. Recommended for ages 1-5, 5 stars.

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! by Mo Willems

I liked this one much better than Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! I think the Duckling made the book, so I’m glad he’s come out with more Duckling/Pigeon books. I like the way he almost manages to trick the Pigeon into giving him the hot dog, but the Pigeon figures it out and tells him to get his own, but they end up sharing it in the end. My son liked this book. Recommended for ages 1-7, 5 stars.

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator by Mo Willems

A cute picture book with 6 1/2 stories about Amanda, a young girl who likes to read and her stuffed animal friend Alligator. While he waits for her, she brings him back a friend named Panda, so he is not lonely. This is my least favorite Mo Willems book so far, though I did like the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

 This book won one of the 2005 Caldecott Honors, so I am reading it for my Caldecott Challenge this summer. I was hoping it was something I could read with my 10 1/2 month old but his attention span isn’t long enough for a wordless picture book. It is a cute story about a girl who finds a red book who points to a lonely boy on an island, and he finds another red book with a snowy cityscape. They realize that they are looking at each other through the book, and so the girl takes a bunch of balloons to find the boy on the island. Then the red book is picked up again. Not sure this should’ve won a Caldecott honor. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

I will admit that I put off reading the Pigeon books forever because they were so commercialized. But I love Mo Willems and seeing as this was a 2004 Caldecott Honor Book, I figured it was time to read it for my challenge. While the text and illustrations are very simple, reminiscent of the Elephant and Piggy books, the Pigeon reminded me of a toddler frustrated at not getting his way (which is probably why it is so popular with kids, because they can relate to him). Overall, I liked the book and would be interested in reading more Pigeon books. Recommended for ages 1-7 yrs, 3 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: Vol. 4 – The Devoted Friend/The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by P. Craig Russell

I picked this up randomly while looking for books for my son, for summer reading. The book features two fairy tales created by Oscar Wilde, but they (The Devoted Friend and The Nightingale and the Rose) are rather dark tales. The Devoted Friend is about little Hans, a generous soul who gives and gives to his “friend” the Miller, while the Miller gives nothing in return. Little Hans dies at the end. I had never read this story before, but I had read the second story before. The Nightingale and the Rose tells the story of a young student in love with a vain young woman. He wants to take her to the Prince’s ball and spend an evening with her, but the only way she will come with him, is if he has a red rose. He can’t find one and the Nightingale, who has been watching the whole time, prepares to sacrifice herself on the thorn of a rosebush, so he can give the rose to the girl. When he turns up with it, the girl rejects his gifts for other better ones that she has received. He comes home dejected and studies instead. Honestly, the main reason I liked this book was for the fantastic comic-style illustrations by P. Craig Russell. Definitely want to try out more of his books in the future. Recommended for ages 8-12, 3 stars.

Young Adult

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1) by Garth Nix

This book was a little strange and took me awhile to get used to all the terminology, and then it started out slow, but once I got into the story, I was hooked. Tim Curry was absolutely perfect for this book as the narrator and does great voices, especially Mogget and Kerrigor.

I will try to explain the story as best I can, but I warn you that the terminology can get a bit confusing. Sabriel has been thrust into the role of Abhorsen, a title previously claimed by her father, which basically equates to a good necromancer who helps the dead stay dead, or cross over if needed. She spent her life in an Ancelstierre boarding school, while her father stays and works in the Old Kingdom (both of which are divided by a wall, which basically contains the magic and spirits). The Old Kingdom has been falling apart for 200 years, but was once ruled by Charter magic, which is what the Abhorsen possesses and uses on a daily basis. Sabriel, a seemingly normal 17 yr old girl, is equipped with a sword covered in Charter magic and a set of seven bells which “bind the dead to Death.” She eventually teams up with Mogget, a Free Magic creature bound in the shape of a cat, who helps her on her mission to find her father who may or may not be dead. She later meets Touchstone, a young man she originally found as wooden figurehead on the front of a ship, but brought back from death. As the story goes on, we realize that Sabriel’s new job is to kill Kerrigor, a Free magic being bent on controlling the Old Kingdom and generally causing destruction and mayhem. Will Sabriel succeed in killing Kerrigor? Will she save her father? Will she finally find love? To find out, read this great book by Garth Nix. I am now very curious to read the second book in the trilogy, and I hope Tim Curry continues to narrate the series. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Adult

Simply Truffles: Recipes and Stories that Capture the Essence of the Black Diamond by Patricia Wells

I was first introduced to the black truffle in Italy, and fell in love. I had Tartufo, a black truffle sheep’s milk cheese and later in Scotland, I had Truffle Butter. Now I know the black truffle in Italy and France are supposed to be different, but I think this cookbook is more of a celebration of the black truffle in general. She researched her materials well, which shouldn’t be hard given that she lives in Provence in the middle of truffle-hunting country and the markets. Her introduction is very thorough and informative and I enjoyed the timeline, as I never knew the history behind the truffle which was “black as the soul of the damned” according to the Spanish Inquisition. I also enjoyed the quotes and stories scattered throughout the text, such as this one on page 62: “Lord Byron (1788-1824) kept a truffle on his desk because he believe it fed his imagination.” The legend about Napoleon was my favorite story. Most of the recipes I liked were because they featured both truffles and goat cheese, which sounds amazing together. 4 stars.

100 Magnificent Muffins and Scones by Felicity Barnum-Bobb

This was a British author’s take on muffins and scones, though not a very original one in my opinion. There are about four recipes in here that I would like to try, which caught my attention: Blueberry Cinnamon Scones, Sticky Ginger and Golden Syrup Muffins, Oatmeal and Raspberry Muffins and Lemon & Lavender Birthday Muffins. 2 stars.

The Korean Table: From Barbeque to Bibimbap 100 Easy-t0-Prepare Recipes by Debra Samuels

I did not know too much about Korean food, aside from their most famous noodle dish Japchae and Korean BBQ, so I decided to give this book a gander to see if I could learn some more about it. I like that it was written by a native Korean who cooks professionally and lives in Japan and an American  who discovered Korean cooking through her teacher, the other author of the book. The book gives a solid foundation for learning about Korean cooking and how it was developed. It is similar to Japanese food, in that it is based on five colors, though I believe it differs in the five tastes. The reader is introduced on how to stock your Korean pantry and a starter kit to Korean Cooking, which include rice, sauces, pastes and dressings which form the building blocks of each recipe in the book. Though I am pretty familiar with Asian food and ingredients, I’ve never eaten Daikon Radish, however the Daikon Kimchi is intriguing and might be my entrance into making homemade Kimchi. Aside from the basic sauces and pastes, I would be interested in trying the Egg Custard Beef Soup, Pan Fried Tofu with Mushrooms, and their recipe for Japchae (as the last time I tried to make it, it failed). 4 stars.

Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies

I picked this up by accident one day when I was at the library, and figured I would give it a try as it was a 2005 Eisner Award winner. It is a true story of the author/illustrator Brian Fies and his mother’s struggle with stage IV lung cancer and the brain tumor caused from it. It shows the effect not only on his mother, but what it did to him and his sisters as they took care of her through the rounds of chemo. I’ve known several family members and friends with cancer and I’m not sure I could be as strong as they would’ve had to be to survive, so I am very impressed with their strength and determination. Four stars.

Hanoi Street Food: Cooking and Travelling in Vietnam by Tom Vanderberghe

I really enjoyed this travel food diary by the author and culinary tour director, Tom Vandenberghe. He really gives you a behind-the-scenes view on street food in Hanoi, the Northern Vietnamese city most American recognize. I like that the book featured not just traditional favorites like Bun, various fried dumplings/rolls and Pho, but also a lot of recipes I had never heard of before, like the Vietnamese version of Beef Bourguignon called Bo Xot Vang. Learning how to make Bun cha (Grilled Pork with Rice Noodles), something I always get when I go to my local Vietnamese restaurant, is going to be awesome! 5 stars.

 Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Graphic Adaption adapted by Seymour Chwast

I read about half of Dante’s inferno in college with my Italian professor, so I know the basic storyline. But when I picked this up by accident at the library, I thought it would be interesting to see the Divine Comedy explained in graphic novel form. It was a good interpretation for the complicated text, which is filled with politics and Italian history, and is sometimes hard to get through. I really enjoyed Chwast’s adaptions of the Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. 4 stars.

 The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather’s Past and How Hitler Seduced a Generation by Martin Davidson

After listening to the most excellent biography “In the Garden of Beasts,” which was about the American Ambassador to Germany during the rise of Hitler, I was curious to know about how the common people fell under Hitler’s spell. This book was a good introduction to the reasoning behind while everyday Germans fell for the persuasiveness of National Socialism (Nazism to the rest of the world). The book is about the author’s grandfather, Bruno Langbehn, who joined the Nazis in the 1920s when membership was under 40,000 people and was committed to them until the war ended in 1945. He joined the SA when they were out terrorizing and beating up Communists in Berlin, then when their effectiveness was waiving, he managed to join the SS. While he didn’t help with the concentration camps, he knew the people that did and instead worked with foreign spy interests. He managed to escape persecution by changing his name and it wasn’t until after his death, that his family knew the extent of his crimes.

While Bruno’s story was interesting, I found the more commonplace history post World War I (the Weimar Republic), much more informative. When the Germans lost WWI, they blamed the Communists in Germany for their defeat, hence their enmity towards them which continued throughout the war and was the reason for the Eastern Front campaign. The Germans believed that “they had suffered not just military defeat, but a complete failure of nationhood. Only an act of national salvation could make Germany rise from the ashes (pg 69).” The country’s reasoning behind the hatred of the Jewish people was because they believed “they were financial predators, Communists, and global conspirators (pg 78),” therefore they needed to be eliminated, hence the Final Solution. This was the thinking of the party elite, but I wondered if common people really thought this, to which my answer came later in the book. After the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1938, more restrictions came on the Jewish people. They were being fired simply for being Jewish. As one older German told the author, “You have to understand, the Jews owned everything – the department stores and the newspapers. It just couldn’t go on (pg 192).” When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, it not only created a Great Depression in America but also Europe. Germany got his especially hard because they had a complete withdrawal of American money, which caused massive unemployment. “In 1929, 31,800 Berliners were out of work. By April 1931, the number was over 700,000 (pg 115).” All of these factors let to Germany supporting Hitler and his messages of support and nationalism, and eventually to WWII.

One thing I found intriguing was something that was mentioned “In the Garden of Beasts,” about a song that was always played at Nazi functions but I had never heard of before. It is explained in this book. Goebbels, as head of propaganda for the Nazi party, played up how members of the SA found and beat up Communist thugs and how this made them martyrs and fallen heros. One young man, Horst Wessel was killed and Goebbels raised him up as the ultimate hero, to the point that they “composed a marching song, which they entitled the Horst Wessel Song, and became the movement’s most potent anthem (pg 127).” They played it at every major party function and even just normal occasions, and everyone was meant to stand up and Heil Hitler while listening to it. Overall I thought it was a well-done history and biography, so I give it 4 stars.

The Meat Free Monday Cookbook by Annie Riggs

I had found the website for this idea of a Meat Free Monday awhile back and thought it was a great idea, so naturally when I found out they had created a cookbook for it, I had to get my hands on it. Convincing my husband to have a meat-free meal is another thing entirely, but I’ll definitely have ammunition now with all these great recipes. They broke the book down into seasons, and have 13 weekly menus per season. Every weekly menu has recipes for breakfast, lunch, packed lunch, side/snack, dinner and dessert. While I don’t particularly like the menus the way they have them listed, I think that there are a lot of fantastic recipes in there, that you can make up your own. Some of the tasties recipes are for Banoffee Pie, Spinach Tart, Peanut Butter and Banana Cupcakes, Apricot and Oat Bars, Basil-Scented Braised Fennel, Potato and Gruyere Foccacia and so many more. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

 The Healthy Baby Meal Planner: 200 Quick, Easy, and Healthy Recipes for Your Baby and Toddler

I had read the 2010 version of this book, and was excited to find a new one when I went to library the other day. This one has even better recipes, especially for stage 3 weaning (nine to twelve months) and toddlers, which is where my son is right now. Since he is getting older, I’m always on the lookout for easy to chew food for him, since he’s not really a fan of the purees anymore but he can’t chew very well either. This cookbook has recipes for Healthy Fish Sticks, Lovely Lentils, Popeye Pasta (with you guessed it – spinach, Gruyere and cream cheese), and Summer Fruits Muesli, just to name a few. 4 stars.

Classic Artisan Baking: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Muffins, and More by Julian Day

I found this in the new cookbook section of the library and decided to give it a try, as I love baking cookbooks. Turns out the cookbook is from an artisan bakery business in England that makes traditional baked goods, like Dundee Cake, Christmas Pudding, Rock Cakes etc. I know most of the recipes due the fact I’m married to a Brit, but they did have some interesting interpretations of classics that I wanted to try. The Ginger Cake, Coffee and Walnut Cake, Bakewell Slices, and Lavender Loaf all looked intriguing enough to try. 4 stars.

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