I’ve been kind of slow with book reading the last month. I’ve finally gotten into the swing of working FT again and it leaves me with very little time to read anymore, with the exception of lunch breaks, in between my son’s bathtime and bed, or after he’s in bed and on the weekeends. I hope to try to dedicate more time to it on the weekends. I’ve had some cool things happen bookwise in the past week. I was contacted by an author’s publicist/marketing person to see if I wanted to review her book. An intern of the publicist had seen this blog and liked it so much that they recommended me. So yesterday I received a copy of the book and I’m hoping to tackle it starting this weekend, after I finish my current book The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth (which is what the BBC show Call the Midwife is based off of, at least the first season). The to-be-reviewed book is a historical fiction romance.
I also won a huge Mother’s Day blog giveaway and have been receiving e-book versions of some of the books, but expect a few more books, a bracelet making kit, a $25 King Arthur Flour Gift Certificate and 6 DVDs. I’m also listening to Virgil’s The Aeneid on audiobook, with a very good translation by Robert Fagles, and read by the amazing actor Simon Callow. I am going to look for more books narrated by him as he’s so expressive with all the different male and female voices. I’ve seen him do his impressions of Charles Dickens on film/stage, and I was very impressed by them. I am a little annoyed because I’ve been listening to Michael Scott’s series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel on audiobook and there is a long wait for the last book in the series, so I’ve got a hard copy of it to read once I get through these next two or three books. 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.
Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater
A cute story about a bear and a mysterious friend who keeps leaving the bear tasty treats so the bear shares with the friend and discovers that he is a bunny. Very adorable illustrations, though my biggest gripe was that the book went on forever. I know both my son and I were getting bored by the end of it. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.
Nighttime Ninja by Barbara Da Costa, illustrated by Ed Young
I picked this up for Liam because I thought he might like it. I had no idea that it was illustrated by the awesome Ed Young, whose cut paper, textured cloth, string and colored pictures illustrations were truly amazing. While the book was a little too nuanced for my son, it is a fun look into a young ninja’s mission training, that is until he is interrupted by his mom and sent back to bed. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.
What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
A cute question and answer book about manners, this book won a 1959 Caldecott Honor award. This book is way better than the “A Very Special House” that he illustrated for Ruth Krause, which won the Honor Award in 1954, and the illustrations really made the book awesome and funny. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.
Umbrella by Taro Yashima
This book won a Caldecott Honor, in 1959. And although the story was pretty good, I just did not like the artwork (though it was definitely more colorful than Crow Boy). Momo, whose name means peach, is a little Japanese girl living in NYC. When she turns three, she is given red rubber boots and an umbrella, but it is the wrong season so she can’t use them until the fall. She is so excited once she does use it and the rain makes music on her umbrella (which went on for freaking ever, though my son was amused by the words/sounds). The first time she used her umbrella is also the first time she walks by herself without holding her parent’s hands. I personally liked one of the other Caldecott honor books that year What Do You Say, Dear? way better than this book. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.
Frog Went A-Courtin’ by John Langstaff, illustrated by Feodor Rojankofsky
As they say in the introduction to this book, the story/ballad of “The Frog and the Mouse” was brought from Great Britain to America. I remember hearing it as a kid and could sing along to some of it, but I had never heard the full version. The basic story is that a playboy frog goes to marry a country mouse, but needs the permission of her Uncle Rat first. He consents and everyone is invited, included a tom cat who breaks up the party and chases everyone away. I love the detailed folksy images by the illustrator Feodor Rojankovsky, primarily in green and black, but with splashes of color (yellow, red, blue and brown) every couple of pages. This book won the 1956 Caldecott Award. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.
Free Fall by David Wiesner
Another awesome wordless picture book from David Wiesner, this one won a 1989 Caldecott Honor award. In this book, a young boy is dreaming about far off places. A chess set comes alive and soon the boy is next to a peaceful dragon and some knights, queens and page boys. The boy becomes a giant, in a scene that looks like it was taken straight out of “Gulliver’s Travels”. My favorite image is of fallen leaves turning into swans and fishes. On the jacket flap is a poem, which I’m guessing the entire book is based off of. As this book reviewer said, “Scenes reminiscent of Raphael, Escher, and Magritte make your mind flip with the use of juxtaposition and other curious twists of truth. While this book is certainly not your traditional picture book and therefore, perhaps, hard for young children to follow, it is delightfully unique, an adventure throughout a realm of oxymorons. With an artist’s watercolors in place of a magician’s wand or a writer’s notebook, this book is just as pleasing as any literary novel.” Recommended for ages 7+, 5 stars.
The Boy of the Three-Year Nap by Diane Snyder, illustrated by Allen Say
This year, 1988, was a particularly good year for picture books. Mirandy and Brother Wind and Free Fall were two books that also won the Caldecott Honor, which were really well done. This one comes a close second in my opinion. In this story, Taro is always sleeping and never working, which earns him the title, “the boy of the three-year nap”. One day a rich merchant moves into the town and Taro envies all of the merchant’s belongings, including his beautiful daughter. He decides to play a trick on the merchant and dresses up like a god and orders the merchant to marry his daughter to Taro or she will be turned into a pot. When his mother finds out what he has done, she has some tricks up her sleeve too. Cute story, but definitely greatly improved upon by the lovely illustrations by Allen Say. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.
Three Jovial Huntsman: A Mother Goose Rhyme by Susan Jeffers
This short book was based off a Mother Goose rhyme about three huntsmen who are so enjoying the act of going out and talking amongst themselves that they lose track of the prey they are following. They come back home empty-handed. This book won a 1974 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs retold and illustrated by Wanda Gag
I’ve been waiting forever to get my hands on a copy of this book, which won a 1939 Caldecott Honor award, and the last one I needed to read for that year. Wee Gillis is still my favorite from 1939. This is a good version, with cute little illustrations at the top of the pages, though the dwarves look more like gnomes. It is one of the most accurate versions I’ve seen, i.e. following the real Grimm Brothers story instead of the Disney-fied happy ending version. It was a bit too long to hold most preschoolers attention span, but the older kids would probably like it. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.
The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #3) by Michael Scott
I think this is the best book in the series so far! It was nonstop action from beginning to end. I will say that everytime Josh complains about snakes (which he hates), I always think of Indian Jones and the “Snakes?! Why did it have to be snakes?!” that he always says. I also think that the author is genius with the way he keeps adding more and more famous/infamous people to be immortals, but it’s always a little surprising as well to find out who. Niccolo Macchiaveli may be my favorite immortal in the series.
Nicholas and the twins have escaped to London, where they meet up with a friend of the Count’s, a Saracen knight named Palamedes. It is at Palamedes’ junkyard that they meet a former pupil of both Flamel and Dee, William Shakespeare. He apologizes to his former master for betraying him to Dee and helps him contact Perry, who is still trapped on Alcatraz. She has been busy there, as she has found the Good Elder Areop-Enap, the Old Spider, and with her help has imprisoned the Morrigan (who was sent to kill her). Palamedes, Shakespeare, Nicholas and the twins are attacked by Dr. Dee and Cernunnos (pronounced Kerninus), the Horned God and ancient leader of the Wild Hunt. Will they escape the wrath of Cernunnos? Will Perry ever get off the island? To find out, read this exciting adddition to the series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.
The Necromancer (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #4) by Michael Scott
I liked this book a lot in the beginning, but it seriously dragged in the middle and was way longer than it needed to be. However, the ending made up for that by being totally exciting and a bit crazy. I loved how the author added more world mythology into the story, including Pre-Columbian, Mesopotamian and Greek gods/Elders. I also liked how they dug into the past of the Witch of Endor and the Arcons.
The Flamels and the twins return to San Francisco, and for a minute it seems like things are relatively back to normal. But when they see a strange black limo pulled up outside their house, they become suspicious. It turns out that Scathach has a twin sister named Aoife that she hasn’t spoken to in centuries. Aoife (pronounced Ife) is searching for her sister because she felt her leave this world. Meanwhile, Dr. Dee has been declared utlaga (a man who needs to be captured and wanted alive) by the Elders, and is on the run from England. He encounters the immortal Virginia Dare and they join forces. As we saw from the last book, Joan of Arc and Scathach are still trapped in the Pleistocene era, but are quickly joined by Saint-Germain, Shakespeare and Palamedes. A mysterious one-armed man has just showed up as well. Niccolo Machiavelli and Billy the Kid managed to get off Alcatraz, after Perry stranded them there, but are almost immediately sent back by Billy’s Dark Elder Master. They are charged with releasing the monsters on the island onto San Francisco. Will Nicholas, Perry and the twins be able to stop the monsters? Will Scathach, Joan and the others ever escape from the Pleistocene era? Will Aoife find a way to help her sister? To find read the exciting 4th book in this series. Recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.
The Warlock (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #5) by Michael Scott
I know a lot of folks have given this book a pretty so-so review, but I really enjoyed it. Although I have to say that it ended with the mother of all cliff-hangers, as you’re trying to figure out just exactly it means to the story and the characters themselves. I think I have figured out just who the one-handed man is in the story, but I can’t quite figure out how he came into existence to do his special task in the first place. Hopefully they will explain everything in the sixth and final book.
One of the first things that happens in the book is that the Witch of Endor finally frees her husband, Mars Ultor from his prison in the catacombs under Paris and sets him on a mission to kill Dr. John Dee. She is joined by Isis and Osiris, two more Elders, who it seems are also after Dee. Meanwhile, the main characters of our story, Sophie and Josh Newman have split up. Sophie has kept with the Flamels and Josh (through manipulation) has joined Dee and Virginia Dare. Niten, Sophie, the Flamels and Prometheus end up at Tsagaglalal’s house, who turns out to be the twin’s “Aunt” Agatha. Meanwhile, Scatty, Palamedes, Shakespeare, Joan of Arc and Saint Germain go with the Hook-handed man to make sure that Danu Talis falls,(the original home of the Elders, from 10,000 years ago) so that the humani can exist afterwards. At the same time, we have Josh, Dee and Virginia Dare at Alcatraz and they are planning to set the monsters free, but Machiavelli and Billy the Kid are feeling confused about what to do. Will someone stop Dr. Dee? Just what is Dee’s plan now that his first plan to get rid of the Elders has failed? Will Sophie ever reunite with her brother? To find out, read this exciting fifth book of the series. 5 stars.
Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices #3) by Cassandra Clare
I thought this was a pretty good end to The Infernal Devices series, though goodness it was long (longer than it needed to be in my opinion). I also enjoyed the ending, though I will say that I was particularly surprised by the turn of events. Though I will say that the author may be the biggest tease on the planet, in one particular scene (you will understand once you read it). And I was a little disappointed by the lack of smooches in this book, a topic that the author is pretty awesome at writing about. This book was all about the drama and decisions.
Tessa is engaged to Jem, and she loves him. Unfortunately, she is also in love with Will, who is head over heals for her but won’t do anything because she is engaged to his parabatai (blood brother). Jem has to rely on his supply of yin fen to combat the demon poison in his system, but it is killing him. To make matters worse, the evil Mortmain has seized all of London’s supply of the drug to force the Shadowhunters to give him Tessa, so he can finish his plans of destruction. Will enlists the help of Magnus Bane to find a cure for Jem. Gabriel and Gideon Lightwood’s father has turned into a demon and they have to destroy him at the beginning of the book, leaving Gabriel without a place to live. Cecily, Will’s sister, is learning that she loves being a Shadowhunter. Meanwhile, the Consul of the Shadowhunters is trying to get rid of Charlotte and replace her with a lackey, and he doesn’t believe that Mortmain is where Charlotte claims him to be. Will Will be able to save Jem in time? Will the Shadowhunters be able to defeat Mortmain and his Infernal Devices? Just who will Tessa marry? To find out, read the exciting conclusion to the series. Recommended for ages 15+, 4 stars.
Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger
I will admit that I did not want to read this book for awhile due to the description, which just didn’t pique my interest. However, I had seen a review of it somewhere that changed my mind. I had loved Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series and it definitely helps to have read these books as some of the same characters pop up in the story, though it is not a prerequisite.
Fourteen year old Sophronia is a tomboy more interested in how things work and improving things than being a lady. Her mother decides to send her to finishing school to correct this, and Sophronia reluctantly agrees to go. On the way to the school, “Madame Geraldine”, another new student named Dimity and her brother Pillover are set upon by Flyawaymen (basically airborn burglars) who want to steal a mysterious prototype. It is only after they arrive at the school that Sophronia figures out the true nature the school. The school teaches, as the title explains, how to behave properly and how to become an intelligencer (spy) or an assassin, so she is picking up all kinds of new things including how to mix poisons and ways to covertly exchange messages. Sophronia gains possession of a mechanimal (mechanical dog), which she names Bumbersnoot and befriends the “sooties”, young boys who help keep the school afloat (it is a massive airship floating above the moors). Will Sophronia be able to find out the true nature of the prototype and where it has been hidden? Will she improve her lady-like qualities? To find out, read this exciting first book of The Finishing School series. Can’t wait to read the second book! Recommended for ages 12+, 5 stars.
Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters
I absolutely loved this book that I randomly picked up in the new nonfiction section at the library! It was a narrative nonfiction about Hungarian/British explorer Sir Aurel Stein and his now famous discovery of the Diamond Sutra (the world’s oldest printed book – a woodblock printed source from the 8th century) and a secret library of Buddhist texts that he discovered in Dunhuang, China in 1911. The story is set in Chinese Turkestan and charts his journey to the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas, and back to India and then London (the British Museum). The colorful cast of characters that accompanied Stein included his Turkish and Indian workers (porters, surveyor, cook and camel-man) and Chinese translator, all of which are carefully documented in the book, along with photographs. I also liked that the authors included their entire extensive bibliographies, so I could get further information on the topic, several of which were also mentioned multiple times in the text. The book was definitely a nice trip to another land and time, an exotic locale to be sure, and one that I would love to hear more about. One of the coolest things mentioned was the creation of this international digital resource for Silk Road manuscripts/scrolls and paintings, The International Dunhuang Project, which has over 400,000 images including the Diamond Sutra itself (which had to be removed from the public eye of the British Library to be completely conserved, and created this project to deal in part with requests to examine it). The information on the British collections relate primarily to the Stein collections. Highly recommended, 5 stars.
Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant by Amanda Cohen and Grady Hendrix, illustrated by Ryan Dunlavey
I picked this up in the New Cookbook section of the library last time I was there. Is it bad to say I loved the comic but was only so-so on the recipes? The chef/author worked with an artist to create this cool history on her career, the restaurant and theory/practice on how to cook vegetables. I found that part fascinating. The recipes were very inventive and definitely different than anything I had ever seen before for vegetarian food, but involved multiple steps and were the kind of recipes I’d rather eat in a restaurant than try to make at home. I marked a couple of them to try later though. 3 stars.
Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful & Healthy Vegan & Vegetarian Burgers: Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns and More by Lukas Volger
I loved his other cookbook Vegetarian Entrees That Won’t Leave You Hungry, so I figured I could give this one a try. It was a nice guide to easy veggie burgers, literally anything you could think of he had a recipe for and included toppings, sides, and buns. I am very interested to try the Easy Bean Burgers, Quinoa Red Bean and Walnut Burgers, Best Portobello Burgers, Red Cabbage Slaw, and Quick-Pickled Red Onions. 3 stars.