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!
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.
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.
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.
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.