I’ve been doing pretty good this year with reading. I’ve read 103 books so far, which includes everything from children’s picture books, to cookbooks to YA fantasy and adult nonfiction. I’ve been a little slow with the children’s books lately, mostly because my library seems to be taking forever with holds and that is pretty much the only way I can get books nowadays. I started my new administrative job as part-time but I’ve gone full-time as of last Tuesday, which is nice money-wise but gives me less time to do things like go to the library more than once a week. But I am doing the best I can in the reading department, having recently started the adult narrative nonfiction book Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book. It is about the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scroll discovered around the turn of the 20th century by Hungarian-British explorer Aurel Stein. To find out more information, check out this article from The Huffington Post. I found the book by accident at the library and it looked fascinating, and it is to read as well. I’m also listening to Michael Scott’s YA The Sorceress (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #3). The story has definetly gotten better since the end of the 2nd book. 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.
Ribbit Rabbit by Candace Ryan
I picked this cute book up for my son because I liked the bright cover and simple illustrations. It was a sweet rhyming story about two friends, Frog and Bunny, who love to play together. Sometimes they argue and fight, but they always make up by working together. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 stars.
Peepsqueak! by Leslie Ann Clark
I actually discovered this book after finding the second book in the series in a book contest, and then found this at the public library. Peepsqueak has just hatched but already he wants to fly. It doesn’t matter that roosters don’t fly, he will try and try again until he does. And eventually, with the help of the Old Gray Goose, he gets his chance. Once that is done, he wants to swim. I loved the seriously cute brightly squiggly illustrations of Peepsqueek, the other baby chicks, Big Brown Cow and the sheep. My son liked the text and sound effects I made while reading the book. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.
The Story of Noah and the Ark illustrated by Gennady Spirin
The text, taken directly from the Book of Genesis of the King James Bible, is quoted at the top of the pages. The story tells about how God wanted to punish mankind but spared Noah and his family, as long as they built an ark to house two of every kind of animal/insect in the world. Paintings completely circle the text, then it is followed by several two page full-color spreads of incredible detail. The paintings are a mix of tempera, watercolor and pencil on watercolor paper. The back of the book features a blurb about the author and the story. I think my favorite illustration is of the building of the ark itself. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.
Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack
A picture book with few words (literally only “good news” and “bad news”), it was nevertheless really funny. I do think it is meant for a child slightly older than my son who can pick up on the visual hints given by the illustrations. This book was part of a Best of 2012 Picture Books list. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.
The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Francois Roca
I’m always on the lookout for Bible picture books to read to the kids in the Nursery and my son. It was interesting to find out that Katherine Paterson was a missionary for four years, as well as being married to a minister and the child of missionaries before she became a writer, especially as her book “Bridge to Terabithia” has caused so much controversy for its subject matter. Anyways, the book is basically a well-done summary of the life of Jesus from conception to his death. The book is greatly enhanced by the gorgeous paintings of Francois Roca, who actually makes Jesus and the rest of the people in the book look like the area they came from and not lily-white like most stories like to portray him. Recommended for ages 3-8, 4 stars.
Clementina’s Cactus by Ezra Jack Keats
I had never even heard of this story before finding on the Ezra Jack Keats website. Since I live in the Southwest, I’m always looking for books on the topic for me and my son. I had no idea that it was a wordless picture book (apparently it was the only one Keats ever made), but I enjoyed the cute story about Clementina and her father. They find a cactus in the desert and the little girl is so intrigued by it. They have to leave because of an upcoming thunderstorm, but the little girl can’t get the cactus out of her head. The next morning she goes out to find that the cactus has flowered overnight and looks very pretty. Keats’ illustrations are gorgeous watercolor paintings that really capture the look of the desert, and I love all the bright splotches of color. My favorite illustrations is the nighttime scene in the desert, and the reverse illustration is featured on the front/back covers of the book. A cool animated version of the book is featured on the Ezra Jack Keats’ website: . Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.
Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat
This book almost plays out like a 60s Japanese sci-fi movie, as it is about an escaped science fair project (a robot with laser eyes, dog mind control and a super claw) that is terrorizing a young girl’s city. The detailed illustrations are what get me, as they are genius. For example, the girl’s school is “Home of the Fighting Jackalopes” which are a made-up rabbit/antelope hybrid; or all the signs in Japanese; or the dogs wearing aluminum helmets to protect themselves from the robot. The girl tries to stop her creation, realizing along the way that her techniques aren’t working. So she does the only thing she knows how to do, creates another super monster, a giant toad, which dispatches the robot but is hard to control. I love the endpages, as the beginning one shows the specs for the robot and the end show how she created the magnifying machine to create the toad. I’m not sure that most children would get all the jokes in the book, but I know parents would. Recommended for ages 7-12, 4 stars.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams
This was on a list of best picture books of 2012, plus I liked the fact that it was written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a very famous and influential priest in the Anglican church), so I decided to give the book a try. It was based off a true story from Tutu’s childhood in South Africa. Desmond has a new bike, and he goes riding it through his neighborhood when some white boys call him a very mean word. It makes hims so angry that he wants to say something mean in return, but is convinced by his local parish priest, Father Trevor, that it is better to forgive. He does yell at the boys a different mean word, but finds it does not make him feel better, but only worse. Desmond ends up apologizing first to the white boy and forgives him. They make peace with each other. It has fantastic illustrations done as oil paintings. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.
Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagerinski
Not sure why, but this 2013 Caldecott honor award winner took forever for the library to order and get to me. Luckily, it was worth the wait. The book is about a little girl who did not want to go to sleep, so her parent’s don’t push her about bedtime, but ask that she put on pajamas and clean up. She gets into bed herself, “lying as still as an otter floating in a stream,” and her parents explain how everything in the world sleeps, including bears, snails, whales, bats, tigers, cats and dogs. I liked how she adopted the habits of these animals while settling down to sleep. I adored the whimsical illustrations, which were done with mixed media paintings on wood and computer illustration! Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 5 stars.
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
This book won a 1956 Caldecott Honor. I’d seen it in several children’s collections, but had never picked it up. It was an unusual story, but a good one. Chibi, which means “tiny boy” is afraid of the teachers and students at his school, and is for the most part ignored by them, when he is not bullied. He does not do his lessons like the other children, but instead entertains himself by looking and watching things inside and outside the classroom. But he comes to school every day very faithfully for six years, never missing a day. The kids get a new teacher named Mr. Isobe, who befriends Chibi and is amazed by him. Every year the school puts on a talent show, and this year (for the first time) Chibi is performing the different voices of crows. He is able to do this because he observed the crows every day for six years while walking to and from his home in the mountains. The kids and parents love his impressions and realize how wrong they had been about the little boy. It is afterwards that he earns the name “Crow Boy” from the villagers, which he seems to enjoy. Recommended for ages 4-12, 3 stars.
Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
The book is about two young girls enjoying summer vacation on the islands of Maine near Penobscot Bay, though the story is a bit odd because it is told in 2nd person narrative. The girls spend the summer exploring the island and the bay, swimming, and preparing for a hurricane that suddenly hits the island at the end of the summer. I wish I could afford to live on an island for the whole summer and not have to work, especially if I got my own sailboat. I love the illustrations in the front part of the book (up to pg 43) but the ones afterwards look like they were done by someone different. The book won the 1958 Caldecott Medal. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.
Children and Young Adult
The True Meaning of Smekday written & illustrated by Adam Rex
I picked this up on the recommendation of a librarian acquaintance. The narrator, Bahni Turpin, was fabulous and did a great job with all the different kind of alien and human voices (It’s no wonder that she won a 2011 Odyssey Award for this). I will admit that the premise is really weird, and probably wouldn’t normally pick it up. However, I was pleasantly surprised, as it is a hilarious witty adventure that seemed to make the main character way wiser than her 11 years. I’m sure the book version is more awesome than the book since the author is a pretty great illustrator as well, so I plan on picking it up too.
Gratuity Tucci is writing an essay, which will go into a time capsule to be opened in 100 years. Smekday is the day that the Boov, an alien race, claimed the Earth as their own and renamed it Smekland after their hero, Captain Smek. It also happens to be on Christmas, the same day that Gratuity’s (nicknamed Tip) mom was abducted by the Boov. The aliens decided to move the entire human population to Florida. So Tip takes a car and her cat Pig to Happy Mouse Kingdom (Disneyworld, though I liked how the author couldn’t actually use the term, copyright issues and all) and meets and befriends a Boov fix-it boy-boy named J-Lo. The trip to Florida soon becomes a cross-country trip to Arizona, where the Boov have relocated the humans after deciding they liked Florida because of the oranges (though funnily enough Arizona also grows a lot of produce). It was pretty cool that the author chose Arizona as that is the state I have been living in for nearly two years, so I recognized a lot of places that he mentions. The ending was surprising and well-done, and really makes me want to read more of Adam Rex’s books. Recommended for ages 9-13, ( although I think adults will appreciate the humor more). 5 stars.
Hardcover edition review: I enjoyed checking out this version after listening to the audiobook because I knew how awesome the author’s illustrations are from reading his picture books to my son. The pictures were hilarious, especially the history of the Boov and of the Nimrods aka the Gorg. For more information on the book, check out the website.
Empire of Ruins (The Hunchback Assignments #3) by Arthur Slade
I was excited to get my hands on this 3rd book of The Hunchback Assignments series! I liked that there was more character development of the main character, Modo and that he just yearns to be loved like anyone else, and that he and Mr. Socrates not all business.
In this volume, Modo must assume a new identity with the help of Mrs Finchley to try to get information from a crazy man named King who might be able to help them locate the mysterious God Face. Soon he and Octavia are traveling with their master, Mr. Socrates, Tharpa their Martial Arts intstructor and Mrs. Finchley to Australia to track down the artifact. Of course, they aren’t the only ones looking for it, the Clockwork Guild is as well. Who will get to the artifact first and be able to control it for the good or bad of humanity? Recommended for ages 11+, 4 stars.
Island of Doom (The Hunchback Assignments #4) by Arthur Slade
Ok yes, I’m a little sad that this is the last book in “The Hunchback Assignment” series, but the good news is the author is trying to make a continuation story about Modo and Octavia called “Modo: Ember’s End,” and is a steampunk Wild West adventure. Check out the series website for more info and to help fund the project: http://www.hunchbackassignments.com/. I think it would be awesome.
In this volume, Modo and Octavia are on the search for Modo’s parents, with the help of Colette (the French Secret Service agent from Book #2), before the Clockwork Guild can do the same thing. The Guild has used the sample they got from Modo in the previous book to engineer Frankenstein-like monsters as their new weapons of choice. Modo, Octavia, Mr. Socrates and Tharpa discover the location of the Island of Doom, the Guild’s headquarters and things are set for a final showdown between the two organizations. Recommended for ages 11+, 3 1/2 stars.
The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #1 by Michael Scott
Nick Fleming owns a bookshop in San Francisco and employs Josh, a 15 year old boy. His twin sister, Sophie works across the street at a coffee shop. They have a relatively normal life, until one day, Dr. John Dee, a magician who works for the dark side, comes to take The Codex away from Mr. Fleming, who is really the famous alchemist Nicholas Flemel. The Codex holds the formula for immortality, the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone and the power to put the Elders back into power, and many other things as well. Thankfully, Dee and the Dark Elders are thwarted when Josh takes the last two pages. Dee captures Nicholas’s wife Perry, but Nicholas escapes with the twins. He believes they are “the twins of legend,” which the Codex mentions either save or destroy the world. Nicholas and the twins meet up with the Warrior Maid Scathach (Scattie for short) and set off towards Hekate, a neutral Elder. Will Hekate be able to awaken the twin’s power? Will Dee get his hands on the final two pages of the book? To find out, read this great intro to “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” series. I enjoyed Dennis O’Hare’s narration of the book, though the whole time I was picturing him as Russell the Vampire King from True Blood. Recommended for ages 10+, 4 stars.
The Magician (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flemel #2) by Michael Scott
This one was more interesting than Book 1 but Josh was still pretty whiny. My only big gripe with this audiobook series is they keep changing the narrator for every book, which I think makes the book lose a bit of its character.
In this volume, Nicholas, Josh, Sophie and Scatty arrive from Ojai (0-hi), California in Paris, via the Lay-Gate in Book 1. They are in Nicholas’s home town, but it is still not safe. Niccolo Machiavelli is an immortal working for the Dark Elders and teams up with Dee to capture the twins. Nicholas runs into some old friends of his and suddenly everyone is fighting Dee, Machiavelli and their associates. And thankfully Josh finally gets awakened, though to find out from whom, you will need to read the book. Very interesting ending with some awesome twists and turns, and the author definitely kept you on your toes. I am already listening to Book 3. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.
Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Perilous Realm is that of the realm of fairies, which includes being like dragons, giants, faeries themselves (in particular the faery king and queen), hobbits and other mythical beings. This audiobook contains four short stories written by Tolkien, which I had all heard of minus “Leaf by Niggle” (which was the most bizarre in my opinion and the least liked). “Farmer Giles of Ham” is about a Roman farmer who through sheer luck “conquers” a giant and later a dragon, and becomes ridiculously wealthy as a result, eventually owning the kingdom in which he lives. “Smith of Wootton Major” is about a smith who is exposed to the world of the faeries through a giant cake which is baked every 7 years for children in his village. He swallows a magic star, which later sprouts out the middle of his forehead and goes on many adventures until he turns it over to the Faery King to give to different child. “Leaf by Niggle” is about a man who imagines this great tree to be put in his painting masterpiece, but never manages to complete it, until one day he goes on a journey, ends up in a hospital and somehow ends up in the painting with his neighbor. They spend the rest of their days there in this magical realm. It is hard to explain and follow, which kind of makes me think that maybe Tolkien was smoking something when he wrote it. “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”, at least the part in this BBC adaptation, is taken from The Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin first set off on their adventure to get rid of the one Ring and end up in a scary forest, where they are nearly smothered by evil tree roots, until the mysterious Tom Bombadil comes to save them. He stays with them for awhile, before saving them again later on, this time from barrow wights. The actual book of verse entitled The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (which I have but not yet read) is a collection of 16 poems, though only two are actually about the man/god himself. This audiobook version was filed under adult fiction/fantasy, but I would recommend it for ages 12+, 3 stars.
Ten Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii
A cute guide to simple predominantly Asian-food bento box creations, and I marked a few recipes as ideas for future lunches. 3 stars.
Get Started: Preserving by Susannah Steel
I’m also on the lookout for new preserving/pickling cookbooks and this had some fun variations. Recipes such as Blueberry/Raspberry freezer jam, Cilantro/Walnut pesto, Membrillo (a Spanish quince paste traditionally served with Manchego), Plum Jam with Spiced Port, and Figs in Honey Syrup caught my eye. 3 stars.
Iron Chef Chen’s Knockout Chinese by Chen Kenichi
I love the Iron Chef show, so when I saw this Sichuan-influenced Japanese cookbook, I had to give it a try. Most of the recipes I don’t think I’d make because the ingredients would be hard to find, or too spicy, but his Meaty Miso with Noodles, Mild Mapo Tofu, Simmered Daikon with Shrimp (I’ve only just discovered Daikon but love it already), and Stir-Fried Tofu with Mushrooms look amazing. 3 stars.
Wild About Greens: 125 Delicious Recipes from Hearty Soups & Stews to Succulent Sautes & Smoothies by Nava Atlas
This has been on my to-read list for awhile, but I could never get a copy of it at the library because it was always checked out. And no wonder, as it is a really well-done cookbook. I am always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to do greens as I know how good they are for you, and my hubby is currently growing spinach and kale in our home garden. The book starts out with very basic prep and then adds them to pasta, beans, grains, salads, soups and more things. Plus I figure the recipes in this cookbook will allow me to branch out in my enjoyment of greens and tackle new-to-me greens such as Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas & Mustard Greens, Curried Sweet Potatoes with Chard and Chickpeas, Pad See Ew (Thai Rice Noodles with Chinese Broccoli), and Hoisin-Glazed Collard Greens & Sweet Potatoes. 5 stars.
The World’s Best Street Food by Tom Parker Bowles
This was a well-done cookbook and informational guide on street food and where you can find it. I liked that the cuisine was all over the globe and not just in one particular area. Each recipe starts with the title of the dish and what country it is from, what exactly is in the dish, what it tastes like, the origin, and a good place to find it in the country or origin (and most importantly, how much it costs to buy it). I was pleased to find a lot that I knew of, as well as a good many that I had never heard about. I, in particular, liked the recipes for Bo Bia (rice-paper Vietnamese rolls), Gozleme (Turkish stuffed flatbreads), Hotteok (South Korean dessert pancakes) and Jalebis’ (Indian sweets). 4 stars.
Viva Vegan!: 200 Authentic and Fabulous Recipes for Latin Food Lovers
So the co-author of the massive vegan cookbook Veganomicon has come out with a Latin Vegan cookbook, and I will say that it is pretty impressive how she changes a very meat-heavy food culture into veganism. This being said, I wasn’t a huge fan of the cookbook because of its reliance on TVP (textured vegetable protein), which I have no desire to eat. I did however think the Mango and Jicama Salad, the Chimichurri Baked Tofu, Zesty Orange Mojo Baked Tofu, Sweet and Nutty Roasted Stuffed Plantains, Quinoa-Oyster Mushroom Risotto, and Sweet Corn Ice Cream sounded pretty awesome. 3 stars.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but the audiobook version has been on hold forever, so when i found a print copy, I jumped at the chance to read it. I grew up loving The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but I had no idea that it and several other of his books were partially based on the real-life adventures of Dumas’ father, Alex Dumas. Born in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), Alex Dumas is born the son of a broke French nobleman and a slave. Eventually his father returns to claim his inheritance in France and brings his son along with him (well technically he sells him for passage back home then later retrieves him). It was very interesting to see how the pre and post-Revolutionary French society treated Alex and other mixed-race and black people, and is interesting to note that France was the first major European country to outlaw slavery and promote equal rights for all (thought that was later rescinded once Napoleon came into power). Not only was Alex Dumas very well-educated and an expert rider/swordsman, but he rose through the ranks from private all the way to General on his own merit. Plus he wasn’t one to fight on the sidelines like most generals, but rather fought up-close and personal with his troops, which was part of the reason he was so well-beloved by them. It was only during the invasion of Italy that he got royally screwed by Napoleon, who he had offended, and ultimately was responsible for his imprisonment (being imprisoned for two years in Italy and not being rescued by the French government because Napoleon was too busy throwing a coup and becoming “consul”) and dying penniless and unappreciated. There was apparently a statue erected in his honor in 1912, but it was melted down by the Nazis in WWII. This was a very well-researched book and told in a style that was easy-to-read and so very fascinating (although a little too in detail about Revolutionary France politics, in my opinion). 4 stars.