I can’t believe this year is almost over! I’ve done pretty good with my reading total this year. It’s been updated twice, though I’m not sure I’ll be able to make to 300 in a month and a half (we’ll see). I’m up to 265. I’ve been trying really hard to finish to finish my Caldecott Challenge by the end of the year, and I think I’m under 40 books left. Same as the last couple of months, my adult books reading total has been rather crappy as I’ve not found much that interests me. My best book-related good news is that the publishing company that sent me Without Mercy back in September is going to send me another book to review! So I am looking forward to receiving that one.

I just started reading Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay, and it sounds pretty interesting. Though I’ve read a couple of poems by Keats, Byron and Shelley over the years, I don’t really know too much about the poets from the early 19th century, so this book seemed like an interesting way to learn. I’m also listening to Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett’s hilarious apocalyptic book Good Omens on audiobook, which I’ve had as a book forever but have never been able to finish.

I had started A Storm of Swords (The Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R.R. Martin, or as I like to call it for others who have no idea what I’m talking about, Game of Thrones Book 3, but had some issues. There was a huge hold on the book at the library, so I thought I would be better off buying a used copy, only they are really hard to find, so when I saw an e-book version for a great price, I jumped on it. My Kindle has been on the fritz for the past couple of months, hence why I couldn’t read any ARCs (Advanced Reader’s Copies), but suddenly started working the other day. So I read the first chapter of the book and then it promptly died on me, freezing on that last page. I’m supposed to be getting a new Kindle for Christmas, so I’m not worried about finishing it, but it is just uber-frustrating.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, as I apparently have been really busy, at least with children’s books. 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

How to Potty Train Your Monster written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Michael Moon

How to Potty Train Your Monster

I found this book at the library book sale and knew it would be perfect for my son. He is curious about the potty but we haven’t started potty training him yet. This is a great way to introduce the idea of potty training to a toddler/preschooler. The book features brightly colorful funny-looking monsters who are getting rid of their diapers and learning (with their parents) how to properly use the potty. It is well-done enough to be funny for parents and their children, which is convenient as you will most likely have to read this multiple times in the future. Recommended for ages 2-4, 5 stars.

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Mister Seahorse

I picked up this book because I am fascinated by seahorses and I know my son likes Eric Carle. This book was especially interesting as it had really bright colorful watercolor illustrations and acetate overlays that hid pictures painted in the book underneath them. Mrs Seahorse has laid her eggs in the belly of Mr. Seahorse, and leaves him to raise the children. On his way out and about, Mr. Seahorse meets other dad raising the children on the own including, Mr. Tilapia, Mr. Kurtus, and Mr. Catfish. At the end the story, the babies hatch and are on their own. It was an informative and fun read, and my son loved the illustrations, especially the hidden pictures! Recommended for ages 2-6,  4 stars.

Thomas’ 123 Book by Wilbert Awdry, illustrated by Richard Courtney

I picked this up for my 2 yr old son as he loves trains and needs help getting numbers in the correct order. This book is a counting book from one to twenty and tells the story of Thomas and his friends bringing supplies to an event on the island of Sodor. I had no idea that each of the trains in the series are actually labeled #1-20, until I read through the book a second time, so that helps with the counting. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

I had picked up this book for my son because I had previously thought that I liked the look of some of Karma Wilson’s other books. Plus the illustrations were adorable; my son loved looking at the pictures. In this book, Bear is feeling lonely when he visited by all of his friends, who bring him food. He keeps saying “Thanks” but wants to really show them his appreciation. But he has no food to share. His friends assure him that he has plenty to give, all his stories, and that will be more than enough for him. So he and his friends sit down to a feast and he entertains them with his stories. This is a great book to teach toddlers/preschoolers about Thanksgiving, especially as it illustrates other things one can give besides food. Recommended for ages 2-6, 5 stars.

Pumpkin Moonshine written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

I love Tasha Tudor’s illustrations and this was a perfect book for Halloween to read to my son. The title refers to what we now call Jack O’Lanterns and is not related to alcohol. The book tells the story of a young girl named Sylvie Ann who wants to carve a pumpkin for Halloween, so she goes to find the biggest one, which promptly loses control and runs pell-mell down the hill towards the farm. It is finally stopped and the girl and her father carve the pumpkin, place a candle instead and then wait in the bushes for people to get scared by it. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Utterly Otterly Day by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt

Utterly-Otterly-Day

I love otters, so when I saw this at the library book sale, I had to get it. I love the watercolor and sketched illustrations of the little otter, his world and his family, and my son did too. The book is about Little Otter’s adventures out in the world. He eats clams and plays out in the open, all the time avoiding Mom and Dad’s warnings to “Stay close!” and “Be Careful!”. Things are going great until he encounters a cougar who wants to make a snack out of him, but with the help of his family, he escapes back to the safety of his burrow. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho

I can’t remember where I first saw this book, but the title sounded amusing, so I thought I would give it a try. It was a quick fun read and would a great series for boys just learning how to read longer chapter books. I adored the quirky illustrations in the book and they made me laugh!

Alvin Ho is scared of everything, including the dark, kimchi (“pickled cabbage that explodes in your throat and makes you cry” – that cracked me up), girls, and school. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts, which is famous for being where the Revolutionary War started and the home of several famous dead authors. Alvin’s so shy, he doesn’t even speak at school. He’s starting the second grade and is trying to survive life in general. He has no friends, except for Flea who is a one-eyed peg-legged girl, and always wants to sit next to him at school. This, of course, means that he is shunned by all the other boys. Alvin is being taught how to be a gentleman by his father, who also teaches him how to swear Shakespearean style (but not in polite company). Can’t wait to read the other books in the series! Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Pedro the Angel of Olvera Street written and illustrated by Leo Politi

This book immediately reminded me of Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets, which is on the same topic, although this book was done earlier thirteen years earlier. Both books’ core story is about La Posada, the journey that Mary and Joseph make in Bethlehem, when they are trying to find a place to stay, so Mary can have the baby Jesus. The title comes from the title character Pedro, who sings so sweetly that he is called “the Angle of Olvera Street,” which is where he lives in Los Angeles and the site of the original Latino settlement in the city. Pedro is asked to sing, as an angel with red wings, at La Posada at the head of the procession. He dreams of getting a small music box from the piñata, which is broken after the people in the procession find a place to stay, and he is lucky enough to receive one. The book, as did his Caldecott Medal winning book The Song of the Swallows, contains the author’s original music and lyrics. This book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Castle by David Macaulay

Although this one was just as well-done as his “Cathedral”, I liked the other better. In this book, we see a 13th Century Welsh Castle being built from the ground up during the reign of Edward II. It is a step-by-step guide to its construction and what life in a castle was like. When I was a kid I used to love to explore a castle informational computer game my dad had bought. This book kind of reminded me of that game. It even mentions siege warfare techniques once the castle was built. Recommended for ages 7-12, 3 stars.

The Contest written and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogrian

This was a rather odd story, and the difficult-to-pronounce Armenian names really distracted me, making it hard to finish. In this story based on a Armenian folktale, two robbers are engaged to the same woman, though neither of them knows it. One day while on the road, they run into each other and find out, and so create a contest to see who is the best and most clever robber. One operates only during the day, and the other only at night. The winner will get the girl. Only they don’t really determine who is the best, but instead decide to keep robbing the area as it is very profitable. Their girl ends up moving on to someone else. Recommended for ages 7-10, 2 stars.

Always Room for One More retold by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian

This book won the 1966 Caldecott Medal. It was a very interesting choice as the book is adapted from a Scottish folk song and the author has left in enough Scottish words to let you know the heritage. There is a glossary of terms in the back of the book to help you out if you get lost though. The story is about Lachie MacLachlan, his wife and their ten children. They live in a small house but always have their door open for “one more” person, and the father is always inviting people to their house parties. This is all well and good until the house literally breaks apart. However, the good people he has shown hospitality and friendship to return the favor by rebuilding his house to twice its original size, so there is “always room for one more.” It is interesting to note that the author’s pseudonym was Sorche Nic Leodhas, which means “Claire, daughter of Louis” in Scots Gaelic,  but her real name was LeClair Gowens Alger. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 1/2 stars.

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night illustrated by Peter Spier

Another book based off a folk song, I was curious to see what he could do after reading his Caldecott Medal-winning book Noah’s Ark. Spier’s artwork, which alternates between black & white and color, is just as detailed as that book, although the subject matter in this book is definitely not for younger children. A fox has gone to a farm to get food for his family, and catches and kills a duck and a goose. He has to run quickly back home with his spoils to avoid the angry farmer. Once he gets back home, the story gets very anthropomorphic as his wife and cubs quickly dress and cook the poultry, enjoying the meal. There is the original song and lyrics in the back of the book. Apparently Burl Ives used to sing the song in the 1950s and I would be interested to hear it. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Little Bear’s Treasury by Else Holmelund Minarek, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This treasury included three books, Little Bear, Little Bear’s Friend and the Caldecott Honor book for 1962, Little Bear’s Visit. Apparently I had read Little Bear, the first book in this treasury, back in 2009 but didn’t remember it. Oh well, it wasn’t any better the second time. I know this series is really popular but I just didn’t like it. The text flow was off and the stories were awkward. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak are pretty much the treasury’s only redeeming quality. I liked Little Bear’s Visit the best, though didn’t even manage to get through Little Bear’s Friend. It told the story of Little Bear visiting his grandparents and the stories they told him and what he ate. Little Bear reminded me a bit of my son. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Baboushka and the Three Kings retold by Ruth Robbins, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov

I have read this book before, as it was one of the books I kept from my childhood, but couldn’t remember much about it. So I re-read it for the Challenge. It is based off a Russian folktale and tells the story of the Three Kings, as viewed through the eyes by Baboushka. Don’t you just love saying that name? She is a Russian grandmother who meets the Three Wise Men/Kings and offers them lodging, which they refuse and say they must finish their journey to meet the Christ Child. They invite her along but she turns them down, only after they have left, she decides that the baby must really be important and she sets out on a quest of her own to find him. Baboushka becomes a Santa Claus figure as that is who Russian children wait to bring them gifts on Christmas Day, just like she tried to do for the Baby Jesus. The ink pen drawings are done with primary colors. This book won the 1961 Caldecott Medal. There must’ve not been very much competition that year as the other book to win the Honor wasn’t very good either. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill, illustrated by Evaline Ness

I think I just must have a thing against books written or illustrated by Evaline Ness. This one had better illustrations than Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, but the same ugly 1960s illustration coloring (mustard, red, avocado and black). It won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. I actually kind of liked the story, though it was pretty long-winded. My son loved the cricket. The book is about a first-grader named Jay who wanders all over the countryside around his parent’s farm and finds interesting things to put in his pockets, including a grey feather, an arrowhead, striped beans and a cricket. He adopts the cricket as his pet and brings it to the first day of school and almost gets in trouble for it, but then the teacher saves Cricket and it is his first show-and-tell instead. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 1/2 stars.

Inch by Inch written and illustrated by Leo Lionni

I really try to like Lionni’s work, but I just can’t get into it. This is the fourth book I’ve read of his, and the fourth in the Caldecott Challege. All four won Caldecott Honors, including this one in 1961. The story was about an inch worm who prides himself on being able to measure anything, including his own escape from a nightingale trying to eat him after he is unable to measure the bird’s song! I just thought it ended too quickly. The cut-paper illustrations are quite good though. My son had fun trying to find the inchworm in the tall grass of the garden. Though I wasn’t a fan of it, it would be a great book to encourage kids to learn how to measure with rulers. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale retold by Arthur Ransomme, illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

It took me forever to get into this story, but I enjoyed it once it finally got going. When the Fool starts picking up men for his flying ship, I immediately thought of Baron Munchausen, which was originally a book written by a German author named Rudolph Enrich Raspe and also turned into a 1989 cult classic movie called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which happens to be one of my favorite childhood movies). I enjoyed the illustrations by Uri Shulevitz, as they definitely helped move the incredibly long story along, and helped him win the 1969 Caldecott Award.

This story was taken from a collection of Russian folktales from the beginning of the 20th century. It is about a boy named the Fool of the World who goes in search of a flying ship to give the Czar so he can marry his daughter. On his way into the world, he meets an old man and because of the Fool’s kindness, the old man tells him how to find a flying ship and instructs him to pick up everyone he sees on the way. The Fool does as he is told and soon the ship is full and on its way to the Czar, who of course, must present challenges for the Fool to complete before he just gives his daughter away to a common peasant. With the help of his new friends, the Fool completes the challenges, becomes rich and powerful and wins the Czar’s daughter. Recommended for ages 4-10, 4 stars.

 One Wide River to Cross retold by Barbara Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley

One Wide River to Cross

I totally think this book should’ve won the Caldecott Award in 1967, instead of a Caldecott Honor. Of course, I’m a bit biased because I think Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine is one of the worst children’s books ever written/illustrated. This book was way better illustrated, with beautiful whimsical woodcuts and pages in bright happy colors. The story is based off an African-American spiritual on Noah’s Ark, and the song is included with music in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Thy Friend, Obadiah written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle

Thy Friend Obadiah004

Frankly when I first saw this book, the first things I thought was “Man, this sounds really old-fashioned,” and “Who names their kid Brinton Turkle?”. However, this book has taken me by surprise, in a good way. I had never heard it before I picked it up as part of the Caldecott Challenge, as it is 1970 Caldecott Honor award winner.

The story is about a young Quaker boy named Obadiah, who lives with his family in Colonial Nantucket. He is befriended by a seagull he follows him around everywhere, and Obadiah is quite frustrated by the bird and wishes he would go away. The bird is eventually driven off by the boy, only to have the boy wish he was there to help guide him out of a snowstorm. He searches for his friend the seagull and is unable to find him until one day he is down by the docks and sees the seagull caught by some fishing lines. He frees the bird and they become friends again. Finding friendship in new and different places is the theme of the book. I love the illustrations. The author has created a couple more Obadiah books and I would love to read those as well. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer, illustrated by Marvin Bileck

Rain Makes Applesauce

This was a very odd book, which won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. I’m not totally surprised by it as books from the 1960s-70s had weird subjects, like Where the Wild Things Are or Sam, Bangs and Moonshine or Pop Corn and Ma Goodness. If you didn’t know it was meant to be a nonsense book, you would probably think the author and illustrator were high when they created it. It’s kind of crazy to think that the author worked for NASA. The story is a nonsense lyrical poem with silly statements like “The stars are made of lemon juice…and rain makes applesauce,” or “My house goes walking every day…and rain makes applesauce.” Although as another reviewer has said, “the illustrations can be overwhelming at first glance, but are extremely complicated and detailed.” I thought the book was very imaginative and a fun read. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.

If All the Seas Were One Sea illustrated by Janina Domanska

Based off a Mother Goose rhyming poem (though I had never heard of it), this book uses brightly colored geometric etchings to tell the story of a great tree, ax and man and what would happen if these three got together. I was not a fan of the illustrations. Recommended for ages 3-7, 2 stars.

Skipper John’s Cook by Marcia Brown

I must say that I have fallen in love with Marcia Brown while reading for my Caldecott Challenge, though this is not one of my favorite of her books, it was a cute story. Si and his dog George live by the sea, and Si’s best friend is Skipper John of the ship, the Liberty Belle. The crew of the ship refuse to leave port until John has gotten a new cook. They are sick of beans and that is all they ever eat while at sea. So Skipper John puts up an ad for a new cook, and they hire Si because his dog looks well fed. The only problem is Si can only cook fish and beans. When they get back to port, Skipper John starts looking for another cook. This book won a 1952 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 3-8, 3 stars.

The Angry Moon retold by William Sleator, illustrated by Blair Lent

sleator_angrymoon

I rather enjoyed this story, though it did take awhile to get into it and it was way too wordy for my son. The book won a 1971 Caldecott Honor. The story is based off a Tlingit Indian legend from the Pacific Northwest, and tells the story of a young girl named Lapowinsa who makes fun of the moon and soon kidnapped into the sky. Her friend Lupan goes to rescue her by shooting arrows into the sky, which form a ladder. He is helped along by a grandmother figure, the sun. It’s the illustrations which really bring this story alive. Blair Lent, who did the awesome illustrations for The Funny Little Woman and Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky: An African Folktale. It’s cool details like Lupan needs food for his long journey up the arrow ladder, so he puts a branch on his head and it grows and produces bush full of berries. Recommended for ages 9-12, 3 ½  stars.

May I Bring a Friend? by Bernice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor

My son and I rather liked this Caldecott Award winning book from 1965. The repeating rhyming text is about a young boy who is invited to dine with the king and queen and every time he brings a friend. These include lions, a giraffe, a hippo, a seal, an elephant, and some monkeys. At the end of the book, he invites them to come visit his friends at the zoo. The illustrations were in bright orange, pink, red and yellow when they depicted the boy and his “friends” and black and white when describing the king. Though they were rather cartoony, I enjoyed them. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Children/Young Adult

Dead End in Norvelt (Norvelt #1) by Jack Gantos, narrated by the author

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile, so when I found a copy available at the library, I immediately picked it up. It won the 2012 Newberry Medal. Jack Gantos is one of my favorite children/YA authors after I read Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, met the author and got the book signed. This book is semi-autobiographical in that the author did live in Norvelt and did meet a woman like Miss Volker (though he changed her name). This audiobook was read by the author, which is always awesome because he wrote it and he knows all the nuances of the book.

The Jack Gantos in the story is an almost 12 year old who lives in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, a community created by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The plot is set in 1962. Due to him having shot his father’s Japanese rifle, which is off-limits, he is grounded for the entire summer. He ends up spending his time with Miss Volker, an “original Norvelter” who is the medical examiner for the town and a nurse. She also is in charge of writing the obituaries for the original members of the community, but is unable to physically write them due to some extremely arthritic hands. Miss Volker uses a fantastic mix of modern and past history to make them more interesting, which sparks Jack’s interest and fascination with history. As usual, Jack Gantos is hilarious in his storytelling, especially when he talked about his epic nosebleeds, his best friend whose dad owns the town mortuary (and Jack is afraid of dead bodies), his dad’s crazy idea to buy a plane and build a bomb shelter, Hell’s Angels, curses and a murder mystery. Highly recommended for ages 10+,  5 stars.

Adult

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders

I started getting interested in true crime back in high school after my first trip to London. I’ve always loved history, and there was this cool museum there called the London Underground (not the subway system) that was about the less-savory parts of London, i.e. the guillotining, murderers and torture instruments. I think it has since closed down or renamed itself. Anyways, it was probably a bit macabre for a 15 year old, but I found it intriguing.  They had an exhibit on Jack the Ripper and I’ve been hooked on true crime ever since then. I think it’s because I’m fascinated with the psychological aspects of the killers themselves, like what drove them to do it. This book is a by-product of the fascination with murder and the sentences that went with them that was glorified by the Victorians. They definitely helped to make minor celebrities out of murderers through newspapers, plays, penny dreadfuls, and even puppet shows for children. Because the only form of entertainment in those days came from the written word, the public relied on authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens to create works based on the famous murders of the day. I found the connection between Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jack the Ripper, and how Jack the Ripper influenced the creation of Dracula by Bram Stoker, to be especially interesting. There were definitely a lot of murderers I had never heard of, in fact the only one besides Jack the Ripper that I had heard of was Burke & Hare. The need to control the rash of murders that seemed almost constant from the beginning of the 19th century helped to create organizations like the Metropolitan Police and the CID (which later became MI-6, Britain’s version of the FBI/CIA), and book characters like Sherlock Holmes. My only gripe with the book is that it was a little long-winded. Aside from that, it was a excellent read (though you definitely need to read happier book afterwards, to get away from all the death and destruction).  4 ½ stars.

Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and Millais by Dr. Susan Fagence Cooper, narrated by Sophie Ward

I really enjoyed this book! The Pre-Raphaelites are one of my favorite periods of art, so I’m always glad to read a story related to them. Effie Gray was a beautiful educated young woman when she married art critic John Ruskin at age 19. Ruskin had become obsessed with her at age 12, but when he saw her on their wedding night, it was not what he had expected. I did some research on him after reading the book and it looks like he was not homosexual as some have suggested but may have been a pedophile, although looking at child pornography was not illegal or considered dangerous during the Victorian Age. It can be linked through several of his relationships with young girls that he usually fell in love with them at a very young age, but was less interested once they got older. In any case, he did not consummate his marriage to Effie, even though they were married for 6 or 7 years. Effie wanted to get out of the marriage, and so filed for annulment and Ruskin was pronounced impotent. While she was married to Ruskin, she fell in love with Ruskin’s young protégé, John Everett Millais, whom she later married.

This first half of the book was fascinating and very well-done. Although Ruskin is made to look like a crazy pervert and his parents come off rather creepy as well, I’m still very curious about his books as they sound fascinating. It seems that Effie did marry a very brilliant man, but one with almost no social skills. I rather think the author should’ve stopped the book at the halfway mark, but she decided to continue and talk about Effie and Millais’s (or Everett as he was known) marriage, their children, and Everett’s art career with and after the Pre-Raphaelites. There was a lot of talk calling Everett a sell-out after he left the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB), but I think he was ingenious. Unlike a lot of other artists of the period, he had to support himself and his wife and eight children, so he did whatever he had to do to survive and make money. So yes, his picture style naturally changes from the Medieval/detailed look of his earlier pictures to the more Aesthetic-looking pictures of his later career. Pretty much everyone knows who Millais is from one of his PRB paintings Ophelia. I liked how much Effie and her family were and how much she depended on them to deal with her marriages and loss of children. I thought the chapter on Sophy Gray, Effie’s younger Gray, particularly interesting. As to whether or not Sophy and Everett had an affair, I cannot speculate on that. It is intriguing to note that there will be two movies out in 2014 about Effie Gray, though I think I will see the one written by Emma Thompson. 4 stars.

A Clash of Kings (The Song of Ice and Fire #2) by George R.R. Martin

The more I read this series, the more I like it, and the more I think the books are better than the show. It was definitely easier to tackle in book-form, and had the added bonus of appendices of the breakdown of the houses and their retainers in case you got lost (which is easy to do with over 100 characters per book). I will try to explain the story, but this one, like the first book, is very complicated. This book is seen through the viewpoints of nine characters: Catelyn, Arya, Bran and Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Ser Davos Seaworth, Theon Greyjoy, and Daenerys Targaryen. I love the story with Jon Snow and Dany, and Sansa has managed not to be so whiny in this book. Tyrion is still my favorite character though.

As the title suggests, this story is the civil war created by the men and woman who claim the Iron Throne or do battle against it. These people include Joffrey, the heir apparent after his father Robert Baratheon died; Robb Stark, the King of the North who doesn’t want to swear fealty to Joffrey; the Greyjoys, who also want the North; Mace Ryder and the wildings; Stannis Baratheon, who claims the right to the Iron Throne as the eldest Baratheon (as he believes Joffrey to be a bastard); Renley Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother who also claims the Iron Throne, and Daenerys, who also seeks to be the ruler of the Iron Throne (though she’s still not on the same continent yet). Catelyn spends the whole book as part of Robb’s camp or as his emissary, as he fights Lannister men led by the Queen Regent Cersei’s father Lord Tywinn. Arya has fled the capital and is being herded towards the Night Watch, as she is dressed like a boy. Bran has to be the master of Castle Stark while his brother Robb is away fighting the Lannisters, and he continues to have shape-shifter visions of himself as his direwolf Summer. Sansa is still being held captive in the capital by Joffrey and his mother, until they figure out what to do to her. She adopts a drunken knight as her protector. Tyrion becomes the Hand of the King, until his father can come take the role and does his best to stay above the craziness at court and protect himself and his whore Shae. Jon Snow is adapting to life as the Night Watch Commander’s servant and has gone with him on a mission to find out what the wildlings are planning. Ser Davos Seaworth, a new character, is a vassal of Stannis Baratheon and we see Stannis’s campaign to the Iron Throne through his eyes. Theon Greyjoy, the former ward of Castle Stark, goes back to his home and receives an unusual welcome from his family. He must redeem himself in their eyes in order to be welcomed back. Daenerys, the dragon mother (she has three dragons which hatched at the end of the 1st book) travels to Qarth, a rich port city on the Jade Sea to find someone who will fund her and take her back to Westeros to claim the Iron Throne. Can’t wait to read the third book! I got a good deal on the next book as an e-book, but it will be about a month before I can start it. 4 stars.

Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition by Unknown, translated by Seamus Heaney

I’ve been wanting to read this poem for ages, as it is classic, but just never got around to it. Then about 2-3 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see world-renowned medieval musician Benjamin Bagby, do a performance in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), with Modern English projected subtitles and an Anglo-Saxon harp, of the first third of Beowulf. I was fascinated by it and he (was really good and fun to watch. He was extremely animated as he told the tale and it really felt like you were in a mead hall listening to a bard perform the story, just like it would’ve been in the 9th or 10th century when the poem was written. I had no idea that the work was so long, nearly 3200 lines, or really what the subject matter was about. I had watched the animated version that they released in 2007, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was accurate (it wasn’t). I had read the Laxdaela Saga before, an Icelandic epic poem, so I had some kind of idea what I was up for and it didn’t stray too far from that track, i.e. a hero’s list of accomplishments with a bit of back story on his lineage. This version of the poem was cool because not only was it an excellent translation by the Nobel Prize winner poet Seamus Heaney, but it was also illustrated, which I think definitely helped to understand the poem better. The language, even in translation, can sometimes be tedious to wade through as you try to interpret what exactly the poet was trying to say.

Although the Unknown poet is from 9th or 10th century England, the poem is set in 6th century Scandinavia (though these dates change depending on who you ask), mostly in Sweden and Denmark. Beowulf is the nephew to King of Geatland in Sweden and has come to Denmark to help out King Hrothgar, who is being plagued by an evil demon/monster named Grendel. He does not like the merriment and drinking in the mead hall called Heorot, and so Grendel takes out his fury by nightly killing Hrothgar’s men. Beowulf lays a trap for Grendel and they fight without weapons and Grendel’s arm is ripped off, and put up as a trophy outside Heorot. Grendel later dies from his wounds. Beowulf is richly rewarded by King Hrothgar, but then the town is plagued by Grendel’s mother, a “swamp hag” who seeks revenge for the death of her son. Beowulf goes in alone to her lair to finish her off. He is rewarded again by King Hrothgar and then leaves to go back to Geatland. He presents his bounty to his King Hygelac, who also rewards him. When Hygelac dies, Beowulf becomes King. He is a fair and wise king and rules for 50 years, until a dragon is awoken and starts rampaging Geatland. Beowulf himself goes to fight the dragon with one retainer (the rest have run away), and kills it, but also succumbs to his wounds. 4 stars.

The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores will Devour by Kim O’Donnel

I was excited to get this cookbook, as I’m always on the lookout for good meatless options. However, the recipes were pretty general and similar to ones I’ve found elsewhere. I did like four in particular, that sounded particularly yummy: Caramelized Onion, Pear and Goat Cheese Filling for a Savory Crostata (free-form tart); Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce; Pepita-Crusted Tofu and Red Lentil Dal with Cumin-Fried Onions and Wilted Spinach. 2 stars.

Emeril’s Kicked Up Sandwiches: Stacked with Flavor by Emeril Lagasse

Review to follow soon. 4 stars.

Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution

by Kris Carr

Review to follow soon. 4 stars.

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