Archive for April, 2014

Of Monsters and Madness

Of Monsters and Madness

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Published September 9, 2014

The book is based off real events from author Edgar Allan Poe’s life, as well as characters and story elements from the poem “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven” , his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart”, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Although I overall enjoyed the book, I felt like she was trying so hard to pay homage to these great writers that Annabel’s story gets a little lost in the process, making her seem a little one-dimensional. That was sad because she had so many interesting things going for her and plus so many things to learn and adjust to in a completely different society. I kept waiting for it to be spine-tingling and creepy like “gothic horror story” title makes you think it will be, but it wasn’t.

The year is 1826. Annabel Lee has had no contact with her father since her birth, but suddenly she is sent two tickets by him to move from Siam (Thailand) to Philadelphia. Her mother was supposed to go with her, but she died shortly before Annabel received the tickets. She is excited to come to America as she helped her mother as a healer in Siam, and she had planned on studying medicine and becoming a doctor. When she arrives in Philadelphia, her father is rather shocked to see her and is cold and rude towards her. He is totally immersed in his work as a doctor, which makes getting to know him impossible. He is also totally against female doctors because he thinks they would be too week and emotional. But her father is far from blemish-free, as she soon discovers the truth about him from his assistants Allan and Edgar. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, there is a series of gruesome unsolved murders that she learns may have been committed by someone in her household. Will the murderer be brought to justice? Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.


Today is Shakespeare Day in the UK, as it actually is the Bard’s birthday (or a close enough approximation as it the records weren’t that good back in the day, but they know he was baptized on April 26th, 1564). Coincidentally, he also died on April 23 in 1616. April 23 is also St. George’s Day, who is the patron saint of England. I have posted on the unofficial UK holiday in 2012 on this date with historical facts, and again in 2013 with some more factoids and some English poetry. I always liked to celebrate St. George’s Day as I am an Anglophile and my hubby is English.

Shakespeare and Quotes

Back to Shakespeare, like most people, I had to study the Bard in high school and I took a class on him during my undergraduate career as well. In middle school, my favorite play was Much Ado About Nothing, mostly because I was obsessed with the Kenneth Branagh 1993 film version. As I discussed in a previous post about the play (linked above), I also really like the Joss Whedon movie version of the play. To this day, it is my favorite play and this is the one from which I can still quote lines. In high school, my favorite play was Hamlet, which we did read in class. Mostly this was because of my loving Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film version (what can I say, the man is a good actor and director). I’ve written about more of my favorite Shakespearean film versions in this post. I know a lot of people like to poo-poo studying him because of the language barrier (Elizabethan English can be quite confusing). I guess I never had that issue because although it does sometime take some interpretation, it is worth it because the man is a genius at word play, insults and fantastic memorable monologues, plus its just good writing. If you can, try to see the plays performed. When I was growing up, we used to go to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival to see plays and musicals, and this is where I got to see Hamlet performed on-stage.

Catherine Tate and David Tennant - Much Ado About Nothing

(I think I might have a nerdgasm if I had gotten to see the two of them in this play!)

If you want to get into character for the day, so to speak, check out this link on how to talk Shakespearean. Here are some really cool ways that people are using Shakespeare in our modern world, like helping autistic children communicate and socialize better, and the Sonnet Project, which is about getting all 154 Sonnets read by actors in various locations throughout NYC to make Shakespeare more modern and accessible. This website has a great list of resources and ideas for educators who want to teach Shakespeare. If you would like to read any or all of Shakespeare’s plays, check out the Digital Text Library from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

On to the poetry. Naturally because it is Shakespeare Day, I have selected two sonnets of his. Everyone knows Sonnet 18, so I won’t use that one (although it is one of my favorites). I noticed that a lot of the sonnets dealt with marrying and having children, something I never picked up on before (though truthfully I’ve never really study them all that closely). I picked Sonnet XIV (which is amazingly read by David Tennant on the Spoken Word CD From Shakespeare – with love and I had not heard or read it before listening to him read it) and Sonnet CXVI, because I enjoy it.

Sonnet XIV

 Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet methinks I have Astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

Sonnet CXVI

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

My Paris Kitchen


My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz

Published April 8, 2014

I’ve been following the author’s food and travel blog for awhile now, after discovering his dessert cookbooks (which are amazing by the way). So when I found out Netgalley had a copy of his latest cookbook, I had to check it out. He starts off the cookbook by discussing his reasons for moving to Paris, adjusting to life there, and dealing with a much smaller kitchen. He also discusses frequently used ingredients in the recipes and how they differ in America and France. He is so thorough with the introductory sections that he reminds me of Mark Bittman (who I also really like).

I liked all the background stories about the food, which include how the author first discovered the food, and how he prepares it at home. I also liked when he went into details about the differences between French and American people. The recipes start with a back story description and why the recipe is included, and then actual recipe itself (titled in French and English). This is probably just because it is an advanced reader’s copy, but sometime the ingredients are first before the description, which can get kind of confusing as to where one recipe starts and the others end. The recipes are broken down into appetizers and salads, entrees (first course), main courses, desserts and basic pantry items like stock, vinaigrette and flavored oil. My favorite recipes included anything with Buckwheat, Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil, Leeks with Mustard-Bacon Vinaigrette, Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic (which sounds way more decadent when you look at the ingredients than just the description), the Chocolate Terrine with Fresh Ginger Crème Anglaise, and the Spiced Speculoos (the Biscoff Spread) Flan Crème Caramel. My only gripe is that there wasn’t a photo of every recipe, which helps when you’re making semi-complicated French food (especially the desserts) or food you’re not familiar with making. 4 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743 to wealthy parents. In honor of his birth, I decided to write a bit about the man and include some Revolutionary Era poetry. He started building his home Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. He did own slaves, and according to the Monticello biography, “In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia.” Most people are aware of his owning slaves because of the Sally Hemings debate. I can’t verify that part, but I do know that all of his slaves at Monticello were part of the Hemings family. For another insight into the man, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Monticello's West Front with Larkspur

He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, and served as a local magistrate and member of the House of Burgesses, which was the legislative branch of government in Virginia, and later became their General Assembly or State Government. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and is most famous for having written the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statues of Religious Freedom . He left the Continental Congress in 1776, and was governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. He became the American Ambassador to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin in 1785, and in 1790 became the Secretary of State under our first president George Washington (though he resigned three years later). According to the Monticello biography,

“In 1796, he became vice-president (even though they belonged to different political parties –check this website for more information on Jefferson’s Democratic Republican beliefs) after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes. Four years later, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812. ”

Boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase

Despite already doing so much, he did even more in the last seventeen years of his life. He donated his book collection at Monticello to the federal government to help form the Library of Congress. At age 76 he founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He got the legislature of Virginia to approve the charter for the school, found a place to put it, “designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first [president].” He died on July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the new United States adopting the Declaration of Independence.

For Revolutionary –Era poetry, I picked Phyllis Wheatley. She is significant because she is the first African-American poet to be published, and a female to book, in London 1773. Her poetry was popular and well-received. The second poet is Philip Freneau, called “The Poet of the American Revolution.” One of his most famous poems was A Political Litany, created before the Revolutionary War, which is explained here.

To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth

  by Phillis Wheatley

HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd,
Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
  No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.
  Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
Such, such my case.  And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
  For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heav'nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

A Political Litany

  by Philip Freneau

Libera Nos, Domine.—Deliver us, O Lord, not only from British dependence, but also

From a junto that labour with absolute power, 
Whose schemes disappointed have made them look sour, 
From the lords of the council, who fight against freedom, 
Who still follow on where delusion shall lead them. 

From the group at St. James's, who slight our petitions, 
And fools that are waiting for further submissions—
From a nation whose manners are rough and severe, 
From scoundrels and rascals,—do keep us all clear.

From pirates sent out by command of the king 
To murder and plunder, but never to swing. 
From Wallace and Greaves, and Vipers and Roses,
Whom, if heaven pleases, we'll give bloody noses. 

From the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti, 
Who plunder Virginians at Williamsburg city, 
From hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear, 
The little fat man with his pretty white hair.

From bishops in Britain, who butchers are grown, 
From slaves that would die for a smile from the throne, 
From assemblies that vote against Congress proceedings, 
(Who now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings.)

From Tryon the mighty, who flies from our city, 
And swelled with importance disdains the committee:
(But since he is pleased to proclaim us his foes, 
What the devil care we where the devil he goes.) 

From the caitiff, lord North, who would bind us in chains, 
From a royal king Log, with his tooth-full of brains, 
Who dreams, and is certain (when taking a nap) 
He has conquered our lands, as they lay on his map.
From a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears, 
We send up to heaven our wishes and prayers 
That we, disunited, may freemen be still, 
And Britain go on—to be damned if she will.

Book Reviews April 2014

I am taking a mini-break from poetry to write my monthly book review post. I am proud of myself for reading nearly 100 books so far this year. I’m reading David Leibovitz’s newest cookbook My Paris Kitchen and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow. I started listening to Robert M. Edsel’s Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasure from the Nazis, which is quite good, but will have to put this book on hold while I listen to another book I’ve been waiting ages to read, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.  I’ve not been reading too many award-winning books as I kind of got burned out on them, and am taking a bit of a break. I haven’t read many children’s books in the last month as before because I was reading for a Winter Reading Program last year with my son, hence many more books.

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 18 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all the award winners and at least one honor book.


Oliver and his Alligator written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

Most of the reason this book is getting any stars at all is because I love Paul Schmid’s illustrations. The story, however, left a little to be desired. The concept was that Oliver is going to his first day of Kindergarten, but he is scared, so he picks up an alligator along the way to school. Anything that scares him, the alligator eats. This could’ve been a really cute book, but the alligator eating everything just made it creepy to me, and a little bit like “let’s all ignore our problems kiddies and they’ll just go away (or rather be eaten by an alligator)”. The alligator eats everything, including Oliver’s new teacher and all his classmates, but then Oliver realizes that he’s kinda bored. It sounds like of cool things happening inside the alligator so he goes inside too and then he starts having fun. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Over in the Meadow retold by John Langstaff, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky

Over in the Meadow

Langstaff has once again created a delightful picture book with illustrator Feodor Rojankovsky. Their previous book Frog Went A-Courtin’ won the 1956 Caldecott Medal, and I loved the little detailed nature illustrations. It was based off a folk song and this book is based off a nursery rhyme counting song (the lyrics and music are in the back). The story/song is rhyming and through each verse, the animal, number and activity change. For example, for the number 7, there are one mother frog and her seven pollywogs who hop in the bog. I really enjoyed this book, though I was a little sad that my son wasn’t as enthused as I was. Recommended for ages 4-6, 4 stars.

I Wish I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo Lesieg), illustrated by B. Tobey

I got this for my son as he likes Dr Seuss and I only had a copy of his books at home. This was not as good as I wanted it to be. The boy uses his imagination to think about what his life would be like if he had things like duck feet, an elephant’s trunk and a whale spout, or even better all of them together. But then he realizes that he is better just being himself. Of course, it took him over 65 pages to realize this, and the story dragged on and on. My son got bored pretty quick, as did I. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Fox in Socks written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

I knew there was a reason I never read this book. I’m not good at tongue twisters, and that is pretty much the entirety of the text. The story features a fox, in socks naturally, and a man named Mr. Knox. The fox loves to say tongue-twisting rhyming phrases, but Mr. Knox does not. However, eventually Mr. Knox gets so tired of the Fox that he out-rhymes him to end the game (which is my favorite part of the book, mostly because the fox is kind of annoying). In some ways, this book reminds me of the two characters that play off each other in Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham”. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

How to Train a Train by Jason Carton Easton, illustrated by John Rocco

I thought the book had a really cute idea for a story. Basically it is all about how kids can “train” a train like you would a pet. It’s funny because the storyteller kid is dressed up like an African game hunter. It goes step by step on how to find, catch, and the daily upkeep involved with a wild train. Even though my son doesn’t 100% understand what the book is about, he still is fascinated by it because it is a book about trains. I especially liked the naming process, my favorites being Sir Foomaloo and Picklepuss. I also liked that trains especially like being read aloud to, and reminded me of our dog who will sit with us while I read to my son. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars

I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

I remembered this book, while I was reading the title story to my son, as another one of the Dr. Seuss books I had as a child. The first story is about a boy who believes he can beat up thirty tigers, but the longer he is with them, the less he thinks he can beat. I liked the story although my son I don’t think understood most of the nuances of it. The second story is about the king of cats who didn’t like his tail to drag on the ground, so he hired someone to carry it. And then they felt important and didn’t want theirs to drag either, and so they hired someone and on down the line until the smallest cat decides he’s had enough of carrying other people’s tails.  He quits quite loudly and the rest follow suit, and that’s why cat’s carry their own tails now.

The third story was hard to explain to my son, but I rather enjoyed doing the voices for it. A young girl usually imagines pretty fluffy things, and then uses her Un-Thunker to make them go away. One day, she decides that she wants something more substantial, and so thinks really really hard and comes up with the Glunk. He is a large green monster who immediately starts using the girl’s phone to call his mother long distance, even though it is dreadfully expensive and will make her father go broke. He ignores her and keeps talking until, with the help of her brother, they Un-Thunk the Glunk together. From then on, she is back to pretty fluffy happy things. In a way, that story is rather sexist. Specifically because the girl only has fluffy thoughts and the one time she tries to really concentrate, she creates a monster, that she can only get rid of with a boy’s help because she is too weak. Aside from that, overall the stories were ones that me and my son enjoyed. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

T-Bone, the Baby Sitter written and illustrated by Clare Turlay Newberry

T-bone the Babysitter

I’m glad I’m doing the Caldecott Challenge, even though it’s taking me forever to finish, as I get to discover so many awesome authors and illustrators. Newberry is just so good at illustrating cats, and T-Bone is the biggest fluffiest cat I’ve ever seen. This book won a 1951 Caldecott Honor, and it is a nice quick read. T-Bone is a great babysitter for Mrs. P’s baby girl. She’ll sit in the basket with her, sit on the dresser and purr during naptime and allows Mrs. P to get all her housework done. One day, T-Bone wakes up and decides she is tired of being a good kitty and decides to cause a little chaos. Her actions drive her owner to distraction, and she sends the cat away to the farm. T-Bone doesn’t like the farm as he isn’t given any special treatment. The baby does not like that T-Bone has left and won’t stop crying for days. So Mrs. P sends her husband to get the cat back. Everyone is happy. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 ½  stars.

America’s Ethan Allen written by Stewart Holbrook , illustrated by Lynd Ward

I will admit, that I was a little hesitant to read this as the last book illustrated by Lynd Ward (The Biggest Bear, which won the 1953 Caldecott Award), I was really not a fan of as it involved bear-killing for sport. This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor. My biggest complaint about this book is the length. It’s about 96 pages, granted that’s with illustrations, but still, that’s a really long book for a child. This is especially true because the subject matter sounds like it was taken almost directly from a history textbook, with a bit of a dramatic flair added. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t know much of anything about how New Hampshire and Vermont were created, so that part was interesting. Despite the length, I found it to be an interesting read.

Ethan Allen, who I associate with furniture (although I don’t think there is actually a link), was in reality a man born in the early days of the American Colony. He had a great capacity for learning and business and succeeded in both. He eventually bought land through the New Hampshire Grants, and settled his family there. The only problem was that while they were selling it to settlers in Connecticut, they were also selling the land to New Yorkers. The Connecticut folks were settling there, while the New Yorkers were just using it to sell on to others and had no intention of actually living there. Ethan Allen became the head of the “Green Mountain Boys” an untrained militia that protected the New Hampshire settlers from the Yorkers. The year 1775 rolled around and Ethan Allen thought it would be a great idea to take Fort Ticonderoga, occupied by British troops. So he gathered a small army and set out for the fort, where they were met by an actual Colonial officer Benedict Arnold, who had been sent to lead the army. This didn’t sit well with the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen, who allow him to be at the head with Allen but not lead. The patriots easily take the vulnerable Fort Ticonderoga and a smaller second fort. Allen tried helping the Continental Army take Montreal, but they failed and he was captured, along with about thirty of his men, and sent back to London for execution. But the English did not kill them, and instead sent them on a boat back to the Colonies. The British tried to offer Ethan a commission in the British army, but he turned them down, as he was a fierce patriot. He spent three years in a Colonial prison managed by the British until he was finally released back to the New Hampshire Grants, though Ethan’s home was now called Vermont. He died in 1789. Vermont became a state and part of the new United States in 1791. Recommended for ages 7-10 years old, 3 stars.

All in the Morning Early retold by Sorche Nic Leodhas, pseud. [Leclaire Alger], illustrated by Evaline Ness

This was another fascinating book by Leodhas, which was almost completely ruined by Evaline Ness’s horrible illustrations. This 1964 Caldecott Honor book is based off a counting Scottish folk song that the author grew up with. A boy is going to the mill to grind some corn into flour, and along the way he meets sheep, gypsies, farmers, geese, and all sorts of other things which join him on the way to the mill. I am very interested in reading more by the author. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Wheel on the Chimney written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Tibor Gergely

Wheel on the Chimney

This was a very unexpected book for me. I knew nothing about it, other than it was written by Margaret Wise Brown, whose work I’ve come to admire through the Caldecott Challenge. It won a 1955 Caldecott Honor and rightly so. I was pleasantly surprised with not only the story but also the illustrations.

The book is a story about storks, who like to nest on the unused chimneys of houses in Eastern Europe in the spring. The locals believe it is good luck for them to nest on their house and so they will tie wagon wheels to their chimneys to act as a base for the stork’s nests. The stork families built their nests, have babies and then in the winter, they all fly down to Southern Africa. The book also told the story of one stork that got lost and ended up staying on a boat heading for Egypt for a bit, then rejoining his stork brethren later on. I loved the happy detailed illustrations from Tibor Gergely, of the storks and the environments that they inhabit through the different seasons, which makes me want to check out more work of his.

Children and Young Adult

Newbery Challenge

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Flora and Ulysses

I absolutely love this book. I have no idea where the author came up with the idea for this book, but she is a genius. I enjoyed her other books, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Tale of Desperaux. However, this book won the 2014 Newbery Award, so I had to check it out. The chapters are short, only 1-4 pages. The book is hilarious, but the illustrations make the book even funnier. I think my favorite scene in the book is where Flora and her father are in the Giant Do-nut. I loved the epilogue!

Flora Belle Buckman is a nearly-eleven year old girl whose parents have been recently divorced. She lives with her mother, who writes romance novels on a typewriter. Flora loves reading comics, especially reading about Incandesto, her favorite superhero. One day, her neighbor Mrs. Tickham (aka Tootie) gets an incredibly powerful vacuum, which escapes the house, goes outside, and swallows a squirrel. The whole surreal scene is seen by Flora who rescues the squirrel, which miraculously survived, and names him Ulysses. She believes he is a superhero, as he can do some pretty amazing things, like picking up the vacuum by himself, typing and flying. Tootie has her great-nephew William Spiver, who has gone temporarily blind due to trauma, and Flora can’t decide if she likes him or not. The only person that really doesn’t like Ulysses is Flora’s mother, who demands Flora’s father gets rid of the squirrel, which he doesn’t. Flora’s father then tells her mother that the squirrel will be living with them, but after she comes upon the squirrel typing late one night, she cracks. What will be the fate of the furry defender of Flora? To find out, read this fantastic story. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, narrated by Elaina Erika Davis

I would probably have not picked this book up on my own, mostly because I hadn’t heard of it, but the book had won the 2005 Newbery Award so I decided to give it a try. The book is interesting becauseit is told after the events of the book by the main character, looking back on her childhood and life with her sister. The narrator was really good at switching between her normal accent, a Japanese accent, and one from the Deep South.

Katie is a five year old Japanese-American girl in the mid-1950s who lives with her older sister Lynn and her parents in Iowa. They run a Japanese market in the town, but it closed down, and her parents decide to move to Southern Georgia. Her uncle lives there with his family and works in a chicken hatchery separating the males from the egg-producing females. This is where Katie’s father will work too. Her mother will work in a chicken processing plant. Lynn and Katie grow up in Georgia, are very close to each other. Her mother later has a son named Sammy, who completes their family. The whole family has to deal with racism while living in Southern Georgia, as they are subtly ignored by the white population there. When Lynn is sixteen years old, she starts to get ill and has to go to the hospital a lot. Lynn later dies and Katie, now eleven years old and her family must come to grips with Lynn’s death. The title comes from the Japanese and it means sparkling or glittering.  I think it refers to Lynn and how she was viewed by her family and in turn, how they looked at the world, especially Katie. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 stars.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, narrated by Cynthia Holloway

I’ve known about this book for awhile, but never got around to reading it. It won the 2010 Newbery Award.  Frankly I was confused for most of the book trying to figure out who exactly was sending Miranda the mysterious notes, and even when they did reveal it, I was still a little confused. It definitely kept me on my toes though, which was nice.

This book tells about a twelve year old girl named Miranda living in New York City whose mother wins a spot on the gameshow, The $20,000 Pyramid in 1978. Miranda spends most of the time helping her mother drill for the show which is about a month away, with the help of Richard, her mother’s boyfriend. Miranda is dealing with problems of her own. Her best friend Sal is randomly punched by Marcus, another kid at their school, and they start drifting apart. She starts hanging out with Annemarie  and they ending working for lunch at the sandwich shop, known as Jimmy’s, down from the school. Someone starts leaving notes for Miranda and she can’t figure out who they are from. She is freaked out by the entire situation, as the person knows things they shouldn’t. Will she ever find out who is sending the messages? Will her and Sal ever talk to each other again? Who is Marcus and what is his deal? To find out read this fascinating book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 stars.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights written by Russell Freedman

I had heard of Marian Anderson before, but never had the opportunity to read a biography of the singer. I had also heard that Russell Freedman books were quite good, not only because he had won so many awards but because his books are well-researched and on interesting topics, so I was excited that he had written this book. It had won a 2005 Newbery Honor award, as well as the Sibert Medal for that year (which honors great nonfiction books for children). It was a very personal biography of a fascinating woman with great determination and perseverance, who opened the doors for future generations to experience new realms of possibility.

Marian Anderson grew up in Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. Her African-American family was poor, but she was a very talented singer from an early age and helped out her family financially throughout her life. It was hard for African-Americans to get recognition of any kind, and it was even harder in music performance. She had to suffer through many hardships related to Jim Crow Laws and segregation in America. She was a huge hit in Europe in the 1930s and came back to the US to conquer her native country as well.

She set about doing just that until 1936, after performing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at the White House (who thought she was amazing), when Howard University tried to get a booking for Constitution Hall on her behalf. It was the biggest auditorium in Washington DC and the home of the Washington Opera and the National Symphony. The Hall, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), allowed only whites to perform there. Eventually it was decided that Marian would have her concert no matter what, and so a free un-segregated concert was held outside in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939. It was attended by 75,000 people. After this event, Marian became more involved with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the fight for civil rights for African-Americans. The setting of the Lincoln Memorial was used again in August 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech at an event that was also attended by Marian. She broke the color barrier in the operatic world in January 1955 when she appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She eventually married Orpheus Fisher, who she had known since high school, in her 40s and they lived together on a farm in the Connecticut countryside until his death. Highly recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Young Adult

A Bride’s Story, Volume 1 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story

I loved Mori’s manga series Emma, so I decided to give this one a try as I am on a bit of a book lull at the moment. This was a nice quick read, as most of the illustrations had very little words. It tells the story of a family in Turkmenistan in Central Asia, whose youngest son Karluk at age twelve marries a girl of twenty named Amir from a neighboring village. The girl is quite different from the boy who is shy and keeps to himself and his family, while Amir is outgoing, vivacious and a great bow-hunter. They are slowly getting to know each other, and you can tell they care about each others with the little gestures that they do. For example, she kills some rabbits for them to eat and then uses the fabric given to her by her in-laws to make him a rabbit fur-lined tunic, and he goes to search for her after he learns there may be wolves where she’s decided to hunt. His family is just starting to like her when her eldest brother stops by with some cousins and demands that her in-laws return Amir to them. They refuse and the grandmother, who originally came from their family, stops Amir’s family with an arrow. My favorite scene in the book was when they were on their way to Karluk’s uncles’s family, and they found pomegranates along the way and she was so excited. And the whole scene where they were going to sleep in the yurt (a movable house tent) was priceless. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 2 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

Another well-researched and fascinating glimpse into the lives of young brides in Turkmenistan. This volume is a continuation of the story from the first volume, featuring the same bride, Amir. She meets a new friend Pariya, a younger girl whose parents are having trouble marrying her off because she is very vocal about who she is and what she wants, at the communal ovens. She can’t embroider, but makes amazingly detailed breads. Amir takes her under her wing and tries to teach her how to use the bow and arrow. On one of their outings with Amir’s husband Karluk and the English observer, Mr. Smith, they come across a sort-of shrine thought to bless women who want to have children. On the way out, they run into a riding party made up of Amir’s family, who have decided to come en masse and force her to marry a wealthier man. Mr. Smith comes up with an ingenious way to separate Amir and Karluk from Amir’s family, and temporarily saves them. They rush back to the village, and tell Amir’s father and grandfather the news. All of the villagers decide to take arms against the intruders. Even young Karluk helps to defend his wife. They are successful and the family is driven off again.

Mr. Smith asks about the cloth preparation, a term used by Amir’s family. It means that girls at a young age gather cloth, needles and thread to start creating the sheets, clothes and other embroidered material that will become part of their dowry when they marry. Karluk’s niece is of age to start this, so her parents start gathering the material. He follows the women in the family as they go to their storeroom to show the girl the patterns used by the family, and she finally finds one she likes. Letters from back home and a messenger soon arrive for Mr. Smith, who reluctantly leaves to go to his original intended destination. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 3 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

I was a little sad to say goodbye to Amir in the last volume, as I really enjoyed getting to know her character, but thankfully she made an appearance in this one as well. Mr. Smith, who has taken a very backseat role in the first two volumes, is front and center for the next few books. I’m hoping they’ll give more back story on him to fill in a lot of the gaps. As in the other books, the artwork is stunning even in black and white, and full of so much detail.

At the end of the last volume, Mr. Smith had left Karluk’s family and was headed to a nearby city to meet up with his guide. When he gets there, he and a young woman both get their horses stolen. They are returned by the local magistrate and the woman named Tala invites Mr. Smith back to her and her mother-in-law’s yurt as a guest. The young woman has had a very unfortunate history, which her mother-in-law (who she simply calls mother) relates to him. The mother had five sons and Tala was married to her oldest son. He died of an illness after a year, and they had no children, so she married the next oldest. In time, all five of them had died and the mother’s husband was so heart-broken, he died soon afterwards. This left Tala and her mother-in-law to take care of their sheep and themselves. While Mr. Smith is there, he gets to know Tala and enjoys her company. One day, an uncle of the young woman comes in demanding her hand for as his son’s second wife. The mother refuses because she knows the girl will basically be a slave in the household and have no rights, and tells the uncle that Mr. Smith has asked for Tala’s hand in marriage. Of course, then Mr. Smith walks in and is rather surprised by it all. He decides that the best thing to do would be to leave.

So he goes back to the city and immediately gets arrested after the uncle, unhappy with the answer from the mother, got Mr. Smith put in jail on trumped-up charges (they think he is a Russian spy). After spending a period of time in jail, his guide, Karluk and Amir finally come to the rescue. Tala follows shortly afterwards. They try to make Mr. Smith look less foreign, so he won’t get into trouble in the future. Tala finds him again, worried after she learned that he had spent the time apart from her in jail. Mr. Smith has developed feelings for her during his long time to think in prison and ends up promising to come back and find her, leaving her with his gold pocket watch. As he escorts Tala back to her yurt, they find out that her mother has married the uncle to appease him and he is now considered the young woman’s father. He obviously dislikes Mr. Smith and refuses to let them see each other, and her mother-in-law tells him to forget Tala. He is heartbroken but leaves with the guide, and Amir and Karluk go back to their home after eating an enormous meal together.  It turns out Mr. Smith was originally destined to go to India, where he has a small house, but got sidetracked in Turkmenistan. He heads there now with his guide Ali, though it will be a very long trip. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 4 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

After devouring the first three volumes in the series, I was anxious to get my hands on the fourth volume. This story was a little bit different from the rest, mostly because there wasn’t as many things going on. It starts out with Mr. Smith heading with Ali to Ankara (sp?) but they get sidetracked after he falls off his camel into the Aral Sea and is rescued by twins Laila and Leily. When they realize he is a doctor, they immediately take him to their grandfather, who has a dislocated shoulder. He quickly fixes that problem and soon everyone in the village is waiting for him to help them. Laila and Leily are trying to catch rich handsome husbands, but not having much luck in their small fishing village. Eventually, their father and his friend decide that they will be just fine for their father’s friends’ sons, Sarm and Sami. They’ve all grown up together but never really thought much of each other until they are forced into the situation. The twins decide that these boys aren’t so bad after all, and pick which one best suits them. They are preparing for the wedding at the end of the book.

My favorite part has to be a tie between the twins’ grandmother hoodwinking them into working hard, pretending she is giving them a “charm” for future suitors, and when their mother gives them a crash course in being wives. These girls look so young to me, way too young to get married or even thinking about it (though I know the average age was probably 12-14 years old). Recommended for ages 14+, 3 stars.

The Dark Unwinding (The Dark Unwinding, #1)  by Sharon Cameron

I got this book as a freebie from the Tucson Book Festival. It had been on my to-read list for awhile, so I jumped at the chance of getting a free copy. The author did a good job of keeping me in suspense, as I spent most of the trying to figure out what exactly was going on. She didn’t reveal the whole plot until the very end and then it was a total surprise. I’m so excited that there are more books in the series and more story about Lane, as I found him one of the most interesting characters.

Katherine Tulman lives with her widowed Aunt Alice and her fat lazy cousin Robert. She is an orphan and must rely on their charity to survive. As her aunt’s bookkeeper, she has been taxed with going to see her Uncle Frederick Tulman and asserting that he has gone mad, so he can be put into an asylum. Robert would then inherit his money and Katherine believes she would have some measure of freedom. But things are not as they seem at her uncle’s estate. Frederick, who goes by Uncle Tully, has an enormous estate that houses two villages that work at the gasworks on site and support the house. He is a little eccentric, but Katherine is still undecided whether he is insane until she has all the facts. She will take thirty days to collect evidence against her uncle, though she feels guilty since there are so many people depending on him for their livelihood. Will she rule in favor of Uncle Tully or her Aunt Alice? To find out, read this intriguing book. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

A Spark Unseen (The Dark Unwinding #2) by Sharon Cameron

I quickly devoured the first book The Dark Unwinding, so I was excited to learn that she came out with a second book for the series. I will admit that despite not finishing books I started earlier, I was totally engulfed in finishing this one instead. This one, like the other, is a little slow in the beginning, but suddenly all these mysteries are revealed and it really keeps you riveted. This one had even more surprises than last time, and I hope that the author decides to continue the series as I know I would love another book.

Katherine has now been at Strathwyne for two years now, after she miraculously received her inheritance from her father and grandmother. Things are just starting to return to some normalcy after the events of the previous book, when suddenly she is awakened in the middle of the night by masked men trying to break into her bedroom. The situation is quickly neutralized with her maid Mary’s help, but they’ve got bigger problems now. The government of Great Britain wants to take Katherine and her Uncle to London to help them build weapons against the French, but Katherine knows that is not possible, given her uncle’s unusual behavior and manners. So she plots with her solicitor Mr. Babcock to take Uncle Tully, Mary and herself to Paris, to her grandmother’s estate, away from the government’s control. She is also trying to find Lane, who disappeared over a year ago and whom the British government has reported as dead.

The biggest problem she faces, aside from not speaking the language, is that her reputation has proceeded her. Her aunt has been spreading around gossip about her in London and it has made its way across the pond to Paris, where the upper classes escaping London have retreated. One of her aunt’s friends is living right next door to Katherine. Will her uncle be discovered? And if so, by the French or the English? Just what exactly happened to Lane? To find out this and more, check out this awesome second book to “The Dark Unwinding” series. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison and Cast

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, as I’ve heard it was good. Plus they recently released a movie version and I figured I should probably read the book before watching the movie. The speech of the students in the Battle School is hard to understand at times, as it is all slang. Honestly the first thing I thought while reading this is that it reminded me of a combination of the movie Starship Troopers (also a book by Robert Heinlein, though I’ve not read it yet), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and  The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggins is a third child, in a futuristic world where you are only allowed two. His parents have high expectations for him, namely that he get a place in Battle School for the Imperial Fleet. Earth has waged two wars against the Buggers, an alien insectoid race that attacked Earth about seventy years ago, and barely survived. All parents put their children into training for Battle School at two years old, but few make it through. Ender wins a place in the school at age 6 and must go away from everything he knows in order to pass all his classes and tests and ultimately become a battle commander. He is pretty much a genius in IQ but still has a lot to learn about relationships and his peers. Just as he is starting to settle into his own at Battle School, he is graduated early at age 10 and heads to Commander School. There he is taught by the legendary Mazer Rackam, who saved Earth from the Second Bugger Invasion. Will Ender be able to save the Earth from a Third Bugger Invasion and live up the expectations of everyone around him?

The teachers of the Battle School have little private conversation at the end of each section of the book, about Ender. It starts with these two guys, Colonel Graff and his superior at the Imperial Fleet. They talk about Ender and his progress, but they make him sound like a test subject in an experiment, which I guess he is in a way, as they plan to make him the savior of the International Fleet.

The whole time I was listening to this book, I thought that the story was one of the weirdest ones I’d ever heard, yet at the same time it was also such a crazy study of human nature that I couldn’t stop. This was a very hard book to summarize as there is so much going on at once. For a really good insight into the book, check out this link ( – warning there are spoilers). The book started off as a short story, and was later transformed into a book, after the author wanted to write a book about an older Ender Wiggin, but needed some back story about the character first.  I am curious how they managed to pull this off as a movie, as I think it would be hard to abridge. Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 11 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

Ever since I found out there was a Volume 11 (back when I got Volumes 9 & 10), I’ve had this on hold. So I was very excited to get the newest book to the series. This volume was way more high-octane than the others I’ve read, in more ways than one. I wish it didn’t take so long to get English translations, as I know I will have to wait forever for the next volume to come out L.

At the end of the last volume, the Library Task Force was set to guard a controversial exhibit from the Media Betterment Committee (MBC), who wanted to get rid of it. The MBC, in this volume, attacks the Task Force and Kasahara experiences her first real battle with guns, which leaves her a bit traumatized, thinking she has killed people (she just stunned them). Instructor Dojo helps her work through it. After the attack is over, the Task Force heads inside where they are ambushed first by the Anti-Violence League and then by a couple of MBC operatives, who try to destroy the artwork. Their commander steps in front of the work, physically protecting it with his body and they try to gun him down. In a work room, the director of the museum (who has been working with the Anti-Violence League) tries to burn the exhibition pamphlets but the leader of the local military base stops her, but is injured doing so. Once Kasahara finally comes back home, she realizes the depth of her feelings for Dojo and finally tells her roomie the truth (she is of course overjoyed having known forever). Dojo tells her that they are to meet up for tea (an actual date!!) in a few weeks time. My favorite part was the bonus manga (double check this) at the end where Dojo, Kasahara and the instructor who likes Marie (whose name escapes me at the moment) are trapped in this un air-conditioned basement helping with holds and they start hallucinating. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.


Bohemians edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger


Published April 15, 2014

The book was about the history and culture of the people considered to be revolutionary in some way at the end of the 19th Century – early 20th Century. The book introduced me to a whole new group of people I’d like to learn more about, like Victoria Woodhull. Although I found the topic very interesting, it was hard to read. Not because of the subject matter (that was very well-researched) but because the text and graphics were so tiny. I thought maybe it was just the size of my Kindle, but I downloaded the book on my laptop as well to see if that improved the size, but it was the same exact size. I was not able to make it any bigger. I was straining my eyes to read each comic, which made me lose interest in it very quickly, and as a result only read about 30 percent. I hope the comics will be bigger in the paper format. I am not able to accurately rate it based on these conditions, but if the comics were enlarged and I could actually finish the book, I would probably give it 4 stars. As it is, I would give it 2 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Samurai Gourmet by Kana Himiya

I picked this one up because I love books on Japanese Food and am always looking for new interpretations of the cuisine. This book is fascinating because it not only has a slew of recipes, it also gives the history of type of recipes, which were specifically created to assist samurai. The author is descended from one of these families, and is a historian on the subject. I liked that the recipes represented both the ying and the yang, and were meals specifically created for different reasons, i.e. to give strength, fertility, a calm mind and stamina to a samurai and his followers. The cookbook makes me want to cook more with Daikon Radishes, as I’ve only recently discovered them and they seem to be such a vital part of the cuisine. I actually enjoyed the history more than the recipes. 3 stars.

Slice of Life: A Food Writer Cooks Through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin

Slices of Life

Published April 1, 2014

The author is a newspaper food columnist, for the Chicago Tribune, and I really enjoyed this book for the most part. It is memoir based off her “Home on the Range” columns for the above newspaper. I enjoy cookbooks where the author uses predominantly stories from her life and molds them around a recipe, which follows afterward. It has more meaning and significance that way, in my opinion. We follow the author as she is married, has a couple of kids and both her and husband start their career in the newspaper world. They move all over the US, and this influences what they cook, as well as what crises she is dealing with at the moment.  The author also has to deal with some pretty major issues, such as breast cancer, the death of her beloved father and the family dog. Some of my favorite stories were the parenting stories like “Goodnight Room” the one about her son getting rid of his little kid books – which was reminiscent of Goodnight Moon, as well as “Good and Scared” about cancer, “Under the Influence” about good food and drink ideas, and “Table Surfing” about vacationing with her family in San Francisco. Some of my favorite recipes were for the Halva Crème Brulee, Dumpling Pillows, Casual Cherry Pie, Basic Brisket and Mango Bubble Tea.

My biggest gripe about this book is the length. While I liked the stories, the book just seemed never-ending. I lost interest in the book for awhile because of this, which is the reason for the delay in writing this review. Maybe if the author shorted the amount of recipes or made it into a two-part book, it would work better. I also wish that there were some photographs of the food she made, or maybe even photographs of the author and her family. 3 1/2 stars.

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