Archive for February, 2013


Book Reviews #2

So I’m very psyched because I’ve got a FT Library Assistant interview this week, my first of the new year. So fingers crossed that I do well on that. I will take all the good luck and good vibes I can on this. I’ve been trying to keep busy with books and have done a pretty good job so far this year. Aside from finishing the Caldecott Challenge, my goal this year is to read more adult books, as I’m always getting teased by my dad for just reading “20 page books” aka children’s picture books. One way I am accomplishing this is by listening to some classics in audiobook format. I just finished Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott and I have just started the epic poem Gilgamesh. I’m about to finish a YA book called The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which I have thoroughly enjoyed, though it is a bit longer than most YA books I read. I’ve gotta get on the ball and copy the recipes from the cookbooks I’ve borrowed from the library as I seem to constantly have books overdue because I forget that I have so many out. So yes, even librarians have overdue fines, lol. On to the book reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge, which I started last May, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. This year, I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.

Children

Hail Mary by Sabrina Bus, illustrated by Xavier Deneux

This is a very short board book which explains the Christian prayer Hail Mary, in a way that can be explained to young children. The illustrations are simple but effective in further breaking down the text. I am very interested in checking out the author’s second book on the Our Father prayer as I think both of these books would be excellent to have in the Nursery at the church where I work. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 stars.

Tumble Me Tumbily by Karen Baicker, illustrated by Sam Williams

I originally picked this up to read to my son because the title was cute as were the illustrations. It is divided into three acts and features rhyming poetical text about a young baby/toddler waking up, eating and going to bed. The illustrations are soft and adorable, and really bring the book to life. My only gripe, and the reason it is not getting more stars, is that it is way too long for the intended age group. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss

This was a collection of seven Dr. Seuss short stories that he created for magazines in the 1950s-60s. These were thought lost until Seussian scholar Charles D. Cohen discovered mentions of them in his research and unearthed them. My favorites were “The Bippolo Seed,” as it was a comment against being greedy, “The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga,” as it was a trickster tale like the Anansi stories and “Steak for Supper” as it reminded me of my favorite Seuss book There’s a Wocket in my Pocket. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Bailey at the Museum by Harry Bliss

I am always on the lookout for cute picture books which take place in a museum. I rather liked this one, where a young dog named Bailey goes with his elementary school class to the Natural History Museum (the Smithsonian one is still one of my favorite museums) and gets to see dinosaur bones, cave men, and Native American exhibits. He makes a friend and gets a gift. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Semolina-SemolinusA Greek Folktale by Antony L. Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter

This was a version of Mercer Mayer’s story East of the Sun West of the Moon. In this variation, Princess Areti creates the perfect man out of semolina, almonds and sugar. He is stolen away from her by an evil queen, so Areti (which means virtue in Greek) searches the whole world to find him. After receiving three gifts from the sun, moon and stars, she tries to win back her love and eventually succeeds. I love the illustrations from Giselle Potter, especially the end pages which feature elements from the story. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

“More More More,” Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

I had read Ms. Williams 1983 Caldecott Honor book A Chair for My Mother and enjoyed it, so I knew I would like this 1991 Caldecott Honor book. The book features these great bright and colorful illustrations done with gouache paint, which tell the story of three babies named Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird, who are caught by their father, grandmother and mother and cared for in a loving manner. My favorite is probably Little Pumpkin because I love my son’s ten little toes too and nibble them to make him laugh. Great book for ages 1-4, 4 stars.

A Child’s Calendar poems by John Updike, Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

My version sadly did not have the lovely book jacket cover. I had to get an interlibrary loan of this book because the only version they had in my public library was a braille edition. I loved this book! The poems were great and short, and the illustrations were fabulous. The book was originally published in 1965 by the same author but different illustrator (Nancy Ekholm Burkert who was a Caldecott Honor recipient and the original illustrator of “James and the Giant Peach”). While the poems are great on their own, the illustrations of a bi-racial family living in Vermont, just bring them to life. The book features one poem for every month of the year, plus one full color full-page and one-quarter page illustration. My favorite poems were March, April, September, October, and November. The best illustrations were the full-page February, April, June, August (I can totally see my son doing what the little boy did in the painting), and November. I also like the quarter page illustration for October, with the kids jumping a giant pile of fallen yellow and orange leaves (see above illustration). Highly recommended for ages 3-8, 5 stars.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I had never heard of William Carlos Williams before picking up this book for the Caldecott Challenge, but overall I found it a fascinating book. It won a 2009 Caldecott Honor. I thought it was an interesting introduction to the doctor poet, who according to the author in her note in the back of the book, was a poet whose “most important contribution to American poetry was his focus on everyday objects and the lives of common people.” I enjoyed the collections of his poems in the beginning and end pages of the book, and the poet’s timeline in accordance with world history, and the bibliography in the back of the book for further reading. The illustrations, which are explained in the illustrator’s note in the back of the book, were definitely the most interesting part of the book. Done in watercolor, collage and mixed media, it featured parts of books, paintings and poetry on scrap paper. Recommended for ages 7-11, 4 stars.

Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel

illustration from Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins

I had never heard of this story before. I found out it was a 1990 Caldecott Honor book, so I picked up a copy. It was a bit too long for my son, but I read it to him anyways. According to this website, “Eric Kimmel uses the Yiddish folk trickster character Hershel of Ostropol (Hershel Ostropolier) to tell his story.”

In the book, Hershel happens upon a village who is not allowed to celebrate Hanukkah because of the goblins that infest the old synagogue in town. Hershel uses his wits to outsmart the goblins and their terrible king and bring happiness and the celebration of Hanukkah back to the village. Trina Schart Hyman once again dazzles us with her amazing detailed illustrations, especially in her use of dark and light and the creation of the many faces of the goblins. As another reviewer pointed out here , this book is a “A great story about standing up for your religious beliefs; it picks up the theme of overcoming adversity that is present throughout the history of Judiasm.”

Kimmel’s story first appeared in Cricket, The Magazine for Children. When I first read it, I immediately thought about the fairy tale “The Brave Little Tailor” because of the trick Hershel did with the egg in the beginning of the story. I love the fact that the book translates most excellently to theater, especially with puppet shows. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 5 stars.

Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, translated by Malcolm Arthur, illustrated by Fred Marcellino

This classic French fairy tale, originally collected and published by Charles Perrault in 1697, is translated by Malcolm Arthur for this version. I’m sure I have read the story before, but did not remember it. Of course, I had seen the Shrek spin-off movie and yes my cat did have a Spanish accent because it is easy to do when I was reading the story to my son. In the story, Puss is the inheritance given to the youngest of three sons. The youngest thinks he has gotten the short end of the stick, as his brothers got a donkey and a mill to make money, that is until Puss begins to work towards his master’s benefit. Puss is cunning and uses lies and gifts to build up his master, whom he has dubbed the Marquis of Carabas, to the local king. In fact, Puss is so good at lying for “the Marquis” that by the end of the book, the master is married to the king’s daughter, and gains huge tracts of land and a castle. For another explanation of the text and other examples of the book, check out this website by the author of one of my favorite children’s books. What really makes this book so fantastic are the illustrations by Fred Marcellino, which according to this Kirkus review of the book, “recalls Van Allsburg in its studied compositions, striking points of view, and sculptural figures; but the cheerful, soft colors, the historical detail honoring the story’s 17th-century origins, and the delightful touches of humor in the characters’ stances and expressions are all uniquely Marcellino’s. The page design is also felicitous–expansively arranged type printed in soft gray nicely balances the illustrations’ gentle tone.” This book won a 1991 Caldecott Honor. Highly recommended for ages 4-11, 5 stars.

Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert

color-zoo-animals-480

I like Lois Ehlert books, as I think she is very well-attuned to very young children and what they like. This book teaches colors, shapes, animals and numbers if you count the sides of the shapes. My son was fascinated with the book and it was one of the few that could keep him quiet and occupied, even though I think the animals might be a bit over his head. This won a 1990 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 stars.

Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman, illustrated by Stephen Gammel

This book, which won the 1989 Caldecott Award, is about a grandpa who used to be in the vaudeville circuit when he was a young man. He performs his old routine for his grandchildren when they come to visit. It includes singing, tap dancing, playing the banjo and jokes, and the kids love it. The illustrations weren’t Stephen Gammell’s best, I liked his illustrations for The Relatives Came better. Although I know what vaudeville is, it might’ve been nice to include a bibliography on nonfiction books on the subject for those that don’t know about that form of entertainment. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Bill Peet: An Autobiography written and illustrated by Bill Peet

This book won a 1990 Caldecott Honor, and it is a tie between this one and The Talking Eggs for my favorite book that year. This was the longest Caldecott book I have ever read, at 192 pages, but I was totally fascinated by the story. The author/illustrator, who I had never heard of before, grew up during 1920s and the Great Depression, and was a great artist before he hit the big time and began working for Walt Disney. Being a huge Disney fan, I was intrigued by his behind-the-scenes story of working for Walt. Peet started drawing Donald Duck for the cartoons and then eventually graduated into the drawing and storyline of the feature films. He worked on everything from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to The Jungle Book, as well the 5 minute cartoons about Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House and Lambert the Sheepish Lion (a story he came up with himself). He then had a second career illustrating children’s books, which is how this book came to be nominated for a Caldecott. While I loved his illustrations for the book, I wished they were in color. Recommended for ages 7-12, 4 stars.

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

I really enjoyed the poem, by Walter Dean Myers, which illustrated the history of African Americans in Harlem. Lines like “a new sound, raucous and sassy cascading over the asphalt village,” and “caught by a full lipped, full hipped Saint washing collard greens in a cracked porcelain sink” make this poem just pop. The artwork, by Christopher Myers, was a combination of ink, gouache and collage. I didn’t like it as much, though it was good enough to win a Coretta Scott King Honor award for Illustration, as well as a 1998 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 7-12, 3 stars.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Lime Green from Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

I never knew there were so many different shades of green until I shared this die-cut book of shapes and colors with my son. The brilliant gorgeous acrylic paintings really pop on the page and I liked how the cut out shapes are one things on one page, like leaves on the forest green page and fishes on the sea green page. My favorite illustrations were lime and sea green. It is no wonder that this won a 2013 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small

I loved this book and thought it should’ve won the Caldecott Award, but it was awarded a 2013 Caldecott Honor instead. Elliot is a very well-behaved and put together young man. One day his dad takes him to the aquarium, and he discovers Magellanic Penguins and decides to take one home (clearing it with his father first of course). He lets the penguin skate in his room, checks out book at the library on penguins, and take a bath in his tub. It is only then, when his father goes to take his own bath, that he discovers the penguin and we are introduced to Captain Cook. Very cute story with fantastic illustrations. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Extra Yarn - Animals in sweaters

One day, a girl named Annabelle finds a box of rainbow yarn and starts knitting sweaters for herself and everyone she knows. And yet, there is still extra yarn. Soon her black, brown and white town is bursting with color after Annabelle has knitted sweaters for all the buildings and landscape. Soon people from all over want to see her creations, and an evil archduke comes to buy the yarn from her. She refuses, and he hires men to steal it but it doesn’t stay with him for long. I loved Jon Klassen’s illustrations because everything starts out so drab-looking and then all of a sudden, there are these little pops of color from the knitted sweaters. I liked this better than “I Want My Hat Back,” which won the Caldecott award this year. This book won a 2013 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

I really loved this book and thought it should’ve won the 2013 Caldecott award, but instead it was awarded a Caldecott Honor. Jasper Rabbit really loves carrots, especially those from Crackenhopper Field, which he picks and eats all day. One day, he suspects that the carrots are following him home but he can’t prove it. For the next couple of days, they try their best to scare him and eventually he decides to put up a fence so that they can’t get to him. In the end they rejoice at scaring him away! I loved how Peter Brown makes all the illustrations black and white except for the pop of orange to highlight the carrots or things Jasper is scared by. It makes the illustrations look like they were lifted from an old silent horror film, which is so creative. I especially like the end pages, where the carrots are angry at the beginning and happy at the end. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Tales of a Sixth-Grade Muppet written and illustrated by Kirk Scroggs

I found this in the new children’s book section and just had to get it. Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge Muppet fan. So anything new of theirs I try to get my hands on (even though I was kind of mad that the Jim Henson Company sold the Muppets to Disney, but I will admit that they have done really well with bringing them back). The book reminded me of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda with the large amount of illustrations along with a chapter book story, that made it almost seem like a graphic novel. This is the first book in a series about a young daredevil named Danvers who tries his best to emulate his hero, the Great Gonzo, with the help of his best friend Pasquale. One day, Danvers wakes up to discover that he has become a Muppet himself, down to the flip-top head and orange felt-covered body. Suddenly all the Muppet characters he watched movies or shows about are suddenly popping to life in his town. He ends up interning for Gonzo at Muppet Theater and joining a Muppet boy band named Mon Swoon as part of Gonzo’s stunt act. Meanwhile, Danver’s scheming evil younger sister Chloe is trying to sell his story and make some money off of it. Check out this book to see if Danver ever turns back to a human and what really happened at the Ice Festival with Mon Swoon and Gonzo.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good first book, though as another reviewer pointed out, it seemed as though they were just trying to fit in as many Muppets as possible without really developing their individual stories (which is disappointing). I would be interested to see what happens in the further adventures of Danvers in the next three books that the author/illustrator has created. Recommended for ages 9-13, 4 stars.

Young Adult

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

So I read this book (the generic mass market paperback and not this particular version) the first time when I was about 13 and fell in love with it. It was one of my favorite books growing up, and is part of the reason I am such a huge Tolkien fan today. My reason for re-reading the book now is first because it has been ages since I first read it and because I was curious to see how much Peter Jackson added in when he decided to remake “The Hobbit” into three movies (here’s my opinion of the first movie in case you’re interested but there are some spoilers). I enjoyed reading the book again as there were definitely a lot of things that I had forgotten, basically large chunks of the second half of the book.

So the basic gist of the story is that Bilbo is selected by Gandalf the wizard to join a team of 13 dwarves, led by Prince Thorin Oakenshield, to reclaim the treasure of the Lonely Mountain. The dragon Smaug has occupied the mountain since the time of Thror, Thorin’s grandfather, when he took control of the mountain and ran the dwarves away from it. In return, Bilbo must act as the burgular and strategist for 1/14th of the dwarven treasure left in the mountain, assuming they can kill Smaug. So they start on their epic journey, with a very reluctant Hobbit, 13 eager dwarves and one wizard. They are almost eaten by 3 trolls, but Bilbo saves them. They are captured by goblins and wargs but manage to escape, after being rescued by the Giant Eagles (this is where the first movie ended). It is in the goblin tunnels that Bilbo finds the ring (the One Ring that is the focus of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and manages to escape Gollum’s clutches. Then the party runs into Beorn, a shape-shifting human who can turn into a gigantic bear. I enjoy his character as much as Tom Bombadil, so I’m hoping they don’t leave Beorn out of the movies like they did Tom. They proceed to Mirkwood, where they are nearly eaten by giant spiders and kidnapped by a greedy Elven King, but thanks to Bilbo’s quick thinking, they are saved again. Eventually they make their way to Laketown before heading to the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo again saves the day by learning the dragon’s weakness, which is eventually told to Bard, the champion of Laketown, who slays Smaug. I had forgotten that it was a man and not the hobbit who kills the dragon. The dwarves take control of the Lonely Mountain and its treasure, right before the humans and elves decide they want a piece of it too. A battle nearly breaks out between Thorin and Company and the elves and men, when a huge army of goblins starts attacking from the north (i.e. The Battle of the Five Armies). I was wrong about them not mentioning the Necromancer in the book, he was very briefly mentioned at the end of the book to explain where Gandalf disappears to before arriving to help in the battle. The Giant Eagles save the day and eventually Bilbo is honored by Thorin, Bard, and the Elven King and slowly makes his way home. I’m curious to see what else they add to the movie as it comes out the next two years. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton

My version is 13 discs. This is seriously the best book I’ve listened to in a long while. It was a crazy seriously nerdy story, but I really enjoyed it. I originally picked it up after listening to Wil Wheaton read another awesome book, Bill Willingham’s Peter & Max” A Fables Novel. When I looked up his list of other recorded books, this was one of the first ones there. It’s no wonder Wil Wheaton is awesome as he helped the book win a 2012 Alex award for its audiobook version.

The premise is that it is 2044, and everyone in the dystopian world is connected to this virtual reality MMORPG sensation called the OASIS, as the real world sucks. The creator of the Oasis is a man named James Halliday, part of gaming company, who, five years previously, left his 240 billion dollar fortune to the person who can solve three puzzles and gates. Halliday was obsessed with 1980s culture and a gaming community named the Gunters springs up studying everything 80s and Halliday, to try to find the egg. Wade, aka Parzival, is a high school senior and the main character of the book. He becomes the first to get the first key and go through the first gate. Right after he gets the key, he runs into Art3mis (pronounced “Artemis”) who he later falls for. Parzival’s best friend is a guy named Aech (pronounced “H”), and he also ends up in the top 5 of the contest, along with two Japanese “brothers” Datto and Shoto (to see a fan-drawing of these characters, check out the book’s website). Parzival and friends are battling it out against the Sixers, a task force created by Halliday’s rival gaming/internet company IOI, who do not play by the rules. They will use anything to win. Will Parzival and the others be able to win against such great odds? Will Parzival ever be able to tell Art3mis how he really feels? Will anyone meet in person? To find out, read this amazing book! Highly recommended for ages 12+, 5 stars.

The Color of Heaven (Color Trilogy #3 ) by Kim Dong Hwa

I had been wanting to read this one ever since I inhaled the first two books in the series. My local public library had lost their copy (I’m guessing because of the content at the end of the book), so I had to get this book via interlibrary loan. I liked this one better than the second one, which as another reviewer commented on, seems to be mostly a rehash of the first book. Ehwa is sixteen and the love of her life Duksam has to flee the area after disobeying his master. Now both she and her mother are waiting for their lovers to return. In the meantime, she thinks about all the boys she has fallen for over the years. When Duksam does eventually return, he immediately proposes marriage and Ehwa is given permission to marry by her mother. My favorite part of the book was the actual marriage ceremony itself, which was an interesting glimpse into traditional Korean culture and symbolism. The end of the book sees Ehwa thoroughly enjoying herself with her husband (which I admit seemed a little creepy as it was written by her son) and her mother feeling lonely at Ehwa’s absence but glad to have the picture man’s company. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I originally picked this book up because it won the Pura Belpre Author Award, a Printz honor award, and the Stonewall Book award winner for 2013. Plus I must admit the title and cover art intrigued me. It was a beautiful, sweet and sad book about two Mexican-American teenagers growing up in El Paso, Texas in the late 1980s and discovering who they really are. Ari (short for Aristotle) has always been angry, due to the fact that he has an older brother in jail, who his parents never discuss, and a distant father who never speaks to him after serving in Vietnam. This makes Ari keep to himself. Dante is the complete opposite. He is happy, outgoing, and everyone loves him, yet he is also a loner. They meet each other the summer before their junior years in high school and their friendship changes everything. As this reviewer said, “The book’s real focus is friendship and how the perspective and love of a good friend can make you look at yourself differently and motivate you to change for the better.” I know that I have the good fortune to have an awesome friend like this, and I hope everyone is this lucky, at least once in their life, to have the same. This is my second favorite book that I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) by Laini Taylor

I was very excited for this book to come out because I loved the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone so much! While overall, I thought it was a very well-written book, it was very hard to read as it shows the brutality of war and torture. It does however make it clear that striving for war and death is not right and you should instead work towards peace no matter how difficult and how many struggles you must overcome to get there. One of my favorite passages from the book was towards the end: “It is grotesque to imagine that killing and mutilation and terror could ever deliver to us a life worth living. They will bring what they always have: more killing, more mutilation and terror…You have more to live for than you know (pg 395-6).” Honestly, I had forgotten what the original book (see my review or check out other Goodreads reviews) was about, but the first 200 pages or so gave you a pretty good overview, so I wasn’t totally lost. Plus you learn more about Karou’s previous life as Madrigal. Although I must say that the ending was incredibly frustrating as I now have to wait until April 2014 to see what happens!?!

The war between the two sides is over, after fighting for a thousand years and the Empire has won. Karou has decided to join the Chimera cause to fight back against the Seraphim and Empire by becoming their resurrectionist. Karou creates new soldiers to the specifications of the Chimera leader Thiago, just outside the portal. Meanwhile, Akiva has come back to Eretz and joined his siblings in the Seraphim army. But he has decided that he no longer wants to kill anymore and instead hopes to atone for his nickname “Beast’s Bane,” which he earned in the war after Madrigal was killed. He wants to strive for the peace that they had dreamed of together, before they were separated the first time. Just what is Thiago’s master plan for the Chimera? How much will Karou have to go through until she finally gains courage and fights for what she believes in? Will Karou and Akiva ever find each other again? To find out, read this great sequel. Because of the graphic nature of the text, including an attempted rape scene, I would recommend this book for ages 15+, 4 stars.

Adult

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

This version of Ivanhoe was a BBC audiobook production entirely voiced by actor Christopher Lee, which I thought was pretty cool, as he did all the characters. The story was a little hard to follow with all the French/Norman names and the difficult prose, but eventually I got the gist of it. I will say that if this book wasn’t in audiobook format, I probably would’ve given up on it. I liked that Robin of Locksley was in the book, though I couldn’t really figure out why, other than Scott must’ve have needed another former crusader on the side of Richard.

I apologize in advance at the ramblingness of this summary. It is a little over 100 years after the Norman invasion of England, when King Richard the Lionheart is in the Holy Land for the Crusades, his brother John is trying to seize the throne and the Saxons still don’t like their Norman overlords. The story takes place in Yorkshire, and centers on a Saxon family led by a man named Cedric. His son, Wilfred (aka Ivanhoe) is in love with Cedric’s ward, a beautiful young woman named Rowena. However, Cedric is determined to marry her off to Athelstane, another more well-off Saxon noble, and disinherits his son because of this. According to this blogger (http://coversgirl.blogspot.com/2007/09/book-review-ivanhoe-by-sir-walter-scott.html), “Prince John takes it upon himself to find an advantageous, Norman husband for the Saxon princess Rowena, and Cedric wants her to marry Athelstane in the hope that the two together will form a powerful figurehead for a Saxon rebellion.” Ivanhoe goes with Richard to the Crusades, but secretly returns to fight in a joust with the Knight Templar Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert. Isaac of York, a Jew, and his daughter Rebecca get involved with the proceedings the night before the joust and get sucked into the book’s turmoil. On the way back home after the joust, all of the Saxons and the Jews, who are carrying away an injured Ivanhoe, are attacked by a disguised group of robbers and taken to a Norman castle. Rebecca is taken by Sir Brian, who tries to force himself on her. Later she is taken with him to the Templar stronghold, and is accused of being a sorceress because of her healing abilities. The book is very anti-Jew and women-are-helpless- stupid-creatures mentality, but that is in keeping with the time the book was set in. Will Ivanhoe ever be able to see the fair Rowena? Just who is the mysterious Black Knight and what is his true purpose? Will Rebecca be saved from her awful fate of burning at the stake for supposedly being a witch? To find out, check out this adventure novel. To see another good review of Ivanhoe, check out this blog.  3 stars.

Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King

I am reading the paperback version of this book with 192 pages. I have tried reading this book several times before, but the denseness of the text (especially material dealing with math and engineering) made it impossible. Thankfully, I have a lot of free time with my job and was able to finally finish it.

It is not a light read, but a rather detailed look at one of the most architecturally gifted genius, Filippo Brunelleschi, who started out as a clockmaker and goldsmith. He created the largest dome in the world for Florence’s cathedral Santa Maria della Fiore. The dome itself was 140 feet in diameter, and was completed without any wooden supports, something completely unheard of in those days (The only comparable dome in size and diameter is the Pantheon in Rome). Instead the dome was supported by a rather complex set of stone chains and arches, and a pointed dome within a dome. He also invented the machines that helped bring up the 70 million tons of marble, brick and other building materials to the top of the church. He was so paranoid about his ideas and people stealing them that he kept everything secret and wrote ideas in code. The dome and lantern design took him over 25 years to complete, and he never did get to see the lantern finished. To see a cool video on the engineering/architectural aspect of the dome, check out this webpage. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

To check out my review/commentary on the poem, check out my blog post.

Seafood Basics: 86 Recipes Illustrated Step by Step by Abi Fawcett

Although I have cooked with fish and shellfish before, but nothing has been as complicated as the recipes in here (primarily because my spouse is not a fan of fish). I did like how the broke all the steps down and had so many color photographs of the dish as it was being made. You can tell it is a British cookbook by the type of seafood used, i.e. smoked haddock, turbot, and sole. I found three recipes I would want to try, the Classic Fish Stew, Fish and Seafood Ragu, and Louisiana Seafood Gumbo. I’d love to try other variation of the illustrated step by step cookbooks. 3 stars.

Alex Mackay’s Cookbook for Everybody Everyday by Alex Mackay

I rather enjoyed this cookbook that I randomly picked up at the library. I must say it reminded me of Gordon Ramsay’s dinner cookbooks when I first picked it up, and figured that the chef must be British. I liked he broke it down by types of ingredients, sauces or leftovers and then created recipes from them. For example, at the beginning of one section is a baked salmon and the recipes, that I liked, that proceeded that were Salmon with apple, grapefruit, crème fraîche & watercress, Salmon with sprouts, bacon & mustard cream sauce and Salmon curry with chickpeas, mango salsa & mint yoghurt. The recipes are quick and easy to understand, perfect for dinners for the whole family. I also liked that he included tips for serving the meals to babies and toddlers. 4 stars.

Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff

Canning and preserving always seemed a bit intimidating to me, to be honest. My grandparents always had a garden and canned tomatoes and whatever else they grew every summer. I understood the point of it, but it just seemed a bit over my domestic capabilities, which I’ll admit are not the best. Liana Krissoff, as in her whole grains cookbook, makes canning really easy to understand and attempt. She has a lot of traditional recipes in here that everyone will recognize. However, there are also a lot of very ingenious interpretations that will grab a foodies’ attention like Strawberry and Lavender Jam, Do Chua (Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon pickles), Preserved Ginger, Apricot and Vanilla-Bean Preserves, and Blood Plum and Apple Jam with Rosewater. I would love to give some of those a try. 4 stars.

Goblin Market

Sorry about not posting sooner. The carpel tunnel in my hands/arms/elbows has been really bad the last week or two and I’ve just not felt like typing anything because of that. Today was a good day. My hubby and I managed to submit my taxes very early this year and got our refund back today. So I have paid my last auto loan payment and now officially own my car! I went with my mom and son to our local Children’s Museum and had a blast. We had never gone to this one, but my son had a lot of fun and did a lot of running around. Then we went out to an early Birthday lunch (mine is tomorrow), and my son managed to eat most of my mother’s grilled fish. I had a Portobello Mushroom pizza with caramelized onions and garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella and feta, and Greek olives. It was scrumptious!

Yesterday I read the Christina Rossetti poem Goblin Market, originally published in 1862, and a commentary by Joyce Carol Oates. Here is the poem in case you want a copy. I enjoyed Ms Oates’ commentary on it, as I had never read anything on it and it was a very fascinating poem with lots of subtext.  It was also a nice edition because of the William Morris background designs and Christina’s brother’s paintings. I did find it interesting that the paintings they used were all of Jane Burden Morris, William Morris’s wife and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s mistress and muse, especially given the sexual innuendo in the poem itself. The poem is about two virginal unmarried girls, named Laura and Lizzie, who can hear goblin merchants hawking fruit near their backyard. The fruit is seen as a deadly temptation, and eventually Laura succumbs and sells a lock of her hair to taste the forbidden fruit. She begins to waste away after eating the fruit and desiring more but unable to attain any, and she literally turns old and gray in the process. Her sister Lizzie braves the goblins to save her sister.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s illustration for the original 1862 edition of Goblin Market

DG Rossetti Book Illustration for Goblin Market

I will say, that for a Victorian woman who never married, Christina Rossetti had a very vivid imagination, especially for a woman. Not to be derogatory, but women at that time were seen as not being interested in sex at all, and sex was definitely a taboo subject for pretty much anyone to talk about in public. For Rossetti to combine both a religious moralistic tone while having all of these sensual descriptions of fruit, goblins, and even sisters sharing the same bed is surprising to say the least (though not entirely surprisingly as I still think to this day, especially after reading a book about Victorians and sex, that they were the most secretly sexual society despite outward appearances). The first thing I would like to discuss about the poem is the religious connotations. You can immediately see the comparison between Laura and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I particularly liked the quote from this article on the poetry analysis: “Rossetti shows how the strength and fortitude of one woman against the temptations of sexual evil is enough to free someone she loves from the punishment of damnation.” Laura falls from grace after eating the fruit, or rather falls from the love of God. Lizzie, the more pure of the sisters is literally beaten up by the goblins as they try to shove the ripe fruit into her mouth. The only thing that can save Laura from her grief, old age and eventually death is, according to this article, “the antidote [which] is appropriately similar, though purged or purified (because it is her sister, and because the juice is the product of her triumph over temptation).  Like dissolves like.  The vaccine that saves is the deadly disease in a harmless form.” Lizzie’s sacrifice of giving up her body to the juices of the fruit, so that her sister can reverse the effects could be compared to the way Christ gave his body to save humanity.

Arthur Rackham’s White and Golden Lizzie Stood for the 1933 edition of Goblin Market

Arthur Rackham - White and Golden Lizzie Stood, Goblin Market

The sexuality in the poem is out in the open, as well as implied. As the author of this post points out: “She describes sensual parts of the body such as lips, breasts and cheeks. She also utilizes verbs such as to hug, kiss, squeeze and suck. Sexual connotations heighten the relationship between the male goblins and female maidens. Laura’s ecstatic experience with the goblin’s fruit is an indescribable high that is almost orgasmic. The goblins’ over-invasive and aggressive advances towards Lizzie could represent sexual invasion such as rape.” The description of the goblin men in the second stanza, for example: “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” and that’s not even counting the descriptions of the fruit. We have “Plump unpeck’d cherries…Wild free-born cranberries…Pomegranates full and fine…Bright-fire-like barberries, Figs to fill your mouth.” And this is not even counting the overtly sexual scene of Lizzie rescuing Laura from her decline by telling her to ” Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you…Eat me, drink me, love me” and also of Laura gorging on the fruit in the beginning of the poem:

Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow’d that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away

Young virginal women can be easily corrupted. After Laura devours the goblin fruit, she is seen as having lost her virginity (through the cutting of her golden locks) and is now a fallen woman. It is only through her sister’s intervention that she is able to later marry, bear children and tell this story to them.

A final look at this poem gives us some interesting conclusions. As the writer of this journal blog says,

“The Goblins represent everything that is taboo for young Victorian women, and Lizzie represents everything that a good young Victorian woman should be: pure, strong, sacrificing, innocent, beautiful, responsible.What is most interesting to me, is that Laura is redeemed. Most fallen women DIE. Especially in Victorian lit. Once you tarnish your purity, you are doomed. Excuse me, that should be with a capital: Doomed. But here we have a sister’s love (the non-masculine, purest kind of love) as *stronger* than the evil temptations of Satan/goblin men. It’s a sister-bond, a woman to woman relationship that saves the day, not a man, a husband, brother, knight-in-shining armor. This love is strong enough to forgive, to redeem without God’s permission – and that’s what makes this poem just a little bit subversive.”

In case you are interested, this is another interpretation of the poem and its meanings. On a totally unrelated note, I like that one of the goblins in the poem looks like a wombat, i.e. “One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry.” This may not seem that unusual but after reading a book on the Pre-Raphaelites, I found out that Christina’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was so obsessed with wombats that he kept a few of them as pets. I would give this book 4 stars.

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