Tag Archive: fantasy


1st Book Review Post of 2014

I’ve started this year off right with 10 books read so far. I’ve just gotten back into reading Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARC) from Netgalley, and finished my first book a couple days ago, so I’m happy with that. I’m halfway done with A Storm of SwordsA Song of Fire and Ice #3 by George R.R. Martin, though I know it will take me forever to read it as I keep stopping to read more ARCs. Plus my ebook copy, with all the appendices and maps, comes out to nearly 1100 pages (which is a lot for anyone to read). Thankfully I own it, so no big deal. I’m currently reading an ARC called Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Carri Lynn and Kelli Martin, as well as listening to Rick Riordan’s audiobook of The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus #4).

As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge, which I started May 2012, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews. I’m also starting the Newbery Challenge, reading the winner and at least one honor book from every year of the medal, namely 1922 – present.

Children

1-2-3: A Child’s First Counting Book written and illustrated by Alison Jay

I first picked out this book for my son because he is working on remembering numbers and how to count, but also because I love Alison Jay’s crackled illustrations. This book features a young girl who falls asleep and dreams she is in the world of fairy tales, and starts counting things like “three little pigs” and “seven magic beans”. The pictures are interesting enough to entertain the kids and the parents reading it to them. The back of the book features a page that lists all the fairy tales featured throughout the story. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga written and illustrated by Christopher Wormley

Sneeze from Puff Puff Chugga Chugga

My son has just been obsessed with this book. Every time he is at home, he wants me to read it to him. I must say, it is a cute concept for a book. You can tell the author/illustrator is British from the terminology in the book. I had never heard of the book before, but since my son loves trains so much, I figured I would give it a try. It is also one of the hardest books to find in print (at least in the US and assuming you don’t mind paying $25 for a picture book).

The book is about a conductor who runs a small 3 car train. On his way from his house to the town, he picks up three passengers: Mrs. Walrus, Mr. Bear and Mrs. Elephant. He doesn’t think any of them will fit in the cars, but they do somehow. He warns them not to get too much shopping when they get into town, but of course they do. Everything manages to fit into the train cars until a bee flies up Mrs. Elephant’s nose and she makes the most enormous sneeze, blowing everyone out of their seats and upsetting the groceries and the train cars. That is my son’s favorite part: He loves making the giant sneezing noise with me (not exactly in the book, but the sound effect is funny so I added it in so he could understand what was going on).  With all these groceries everywhere, what are the poor animals to do? Invite all their friends and family to have a picnic, of course! Soon the place is swarming with all ages of walruses, bears, and elephants chowing down on all sorts of new things. They right the train and then promptly take a nap after gorging on all that food. The conductor takes his train home. Recommended for ages 2-6, 5 stars.

Trains!: Steaming, Huffing, Puffing written by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

This was another book I found to feed my son’s train obsession. The rhyming text tells of all different kinds of trains and what they do. I enjoyed the mixed-media collage illustrations, which included clip art, maps, original drawings and etchings, though at times they seem a little cluttered. Recommended for ages 2 – 6,  4 stars.

Trouble on the Tracks written  and illustrated by Kathy Mallat

My son found this more interesting that I did, though I mostly think this is because it was about trains. The story was too short. A train puffs along the countryside but is overturned by Trouble, which comes in the form of a large black cat. The engineer, played by a young boy, picks up his model trains and set them back on the track and the train starts up again. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

One written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi

I found this by accident while browsing the ABC section. I fell in love with it, although it definitely went over my son’s head in terms of the meaning. I ended up sharing it with my mother who enjoyed it as well. The book is a neat take on teaching colors, numbers, and how to stand up for something you believe in (or in this case, against someone). Blue is a lonely color. He is frequently bullied by Red, who announces that Red is the best color and Blue is not. None of the other colors stand up to him to refute this. That is, until the number 1 shows up and refuses to be bullied. One by one, the other colors stand up to Red as well, including Blue, and they become colored numbers. They “all count”. As this reviewer points out , “The other lesson [besides bullying] is the lesson of individualism. The concept that everyone counts relates to the concept of everyone being equal.” Recommended for ages 3+, 5 stars.

Little Critter Little Red Riding Hood: A Lift-the-Flap Book retold and illustrated by Mercer Mayer

A cute lift-the-flaps version of Little Red Riding Hood, as told by Little Critter’s sister. In this version, Little Red Riding Hood is sent to her Grandmother’s House to cheer her up, and who wouldn’t be cheered up by a basket of cookies and cupcakes! On the way there, she meets an old beggar, who is really the wicked wolf in disguise. Running commentary is provided by a mouse throughout the story. The wolf climbs through an open window into Grandma’s House, ahead of Red, and ties up Granny with a rope and puts her in the closet. He then disguises himself to look like Grandma, then comes the traditional part of the story “What big ears you have, what big eyes and teeth you have…All the better to eat you with” and the wolf leaps up out of bed after Red. Luckily a woodcutter is passing the house and sees the wolf inside, and chases the wolf away with his ax. They find Grandma and untie her and they all enjoy the goodies provided by Red’s mother. Needless to say, my son had fun lifting all the flaps and discovering what was underneath. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Dewalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Quit - Green

I had been reading about this for awhile, but had never been able to find a copy until Wednesday. I enjoyed this book a lot more than my son did (I think it was just a bit too wordy for him). The crayons have had enough. One by one, each crayon in a Duncan’s crayon box write him a letter saying that they’ve done either too much coloring or not enough and tell him they are quitting. I, in particular, liked the letters from Orange and Yellow about what color the sun really is. To solve their problems, he uses his imagination to create a picture using all the colors in the way they want him to use them. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mole’s in Love written by David Bedford, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

I picked up this book for my son, mostly because the title was cute and you almost never see books with moles (with the exception of Brian Jacques Redwall series, which portrays them so perfectly). It was a cute story, though I know I thought it was funnier than my son did. It is about a mole who wakes up to a new spring and is ready to fall in love. He can’t see very well and literally falls in love with every animal he sees, only to be “rejected” by them. Then a girl mole gives him a pair of glasses and he realizes that all the things he loved about the other animals are right here together in this mole. They live happily ever after, the end. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Mr Tiger Goes Wild

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile, but the copies at the library were always checked out. I adored this book, way more than my son did, mostly because it’s more adult-friendly than geared towards kids (though the older ones would get it better). It is set in what looks like Victorian times. All the animals act and dress like a proper human would from this time period and live in houses that all look the same. Mr. Tiger yearns to act differently and so he starts “going wild” – not wearing any clothes, walking around on all fours and acting like a real animal. The other animals are scandalized. After retreating to the jungle, he realizes that he’s lonely and goes back to visit his friends, and they’ve all started to “go wild” as well. Highly recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

Steampunk Alphabet written and illustrated by Nat Iwata

I love steampunk books, so I figured I would give this a try. I’m not sure what the age range on this book should be, as it is way too much text for the same kind of book. My son enjoyed looking at the pictures. There are descriptions of each letter and the rhyme that followed the letters. It was a cool concept, just didn’t really work well in my opinion. Recommended for ages 5+, 3 stars.

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or At Least Save My History Grade) written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat

Oh No Not Again

I really enjoyed the first book, where our main character builds a killer robot for her science fair project and the illustrator made the background seem like a Godzilla movie, complete with Japanese signs. In this book, our heroine, has just gotten an A on a history test (not an A+ horror of horrors!), after missing one question about prehistoric cave paintings. So she decides to build a time machine, illustrated and explained on the end pages of the book, to change it so she can ace the test. Only things don’t exactly go as planned and she ends up failing the test in the future. I won’t say too much to give the story away, but it involves curious cave-men. Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 ½ stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Tom Tit Tot: An English Folk Tale illustrated by Evaline Ness

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off this book for awhile because of the name and the fact it was illustrated by Evaline Ness, whose illustrations I’ve gotten to unfortunately know throughout the course of the Caldecott Challenge. I know part of it is the time period she was working in, as they just liked weird color pairings in children’s books like mustard yellow and red, or avocado and black. Normally I like woodcut illustrations, but I just can’t get into her work. Then there’s the language of the book, written like the story was probably originally created in 19th century vernacular, which is not ideal for reading out-loud.

This book won a 1966 Caldecott Honor. The story is a version of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, and reminded me of Harve & Margot Zemach’s Duffy and the Devil (a Caldecott winner from 1974), which I had read previously. In this book, a young witless girl is pushed into a marriage with the king after he heard her mother say that she could spin 5 skeins of yarn a night (in reality, she was complaining about her daughter, but didn’t want the king to hear). The daughter is treated to luxury, all the meals and clothes she could want for 11 months out of the year, but has to spin her 5 skeins a night every night for a month, or the king will kill her. She doesn’t know what to do, enter a little man who promises to do the skeins for her if she will give herself to him (rather than the more common version of “give me your 1st born child”) or if she can guess his name. The month runs out and the queen is desperate to find out his name and learns it after hearing a story from the king, telling the little man and making him disappear. Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.

The Wave retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Blair Lent

I was rather excited when I found out that Blair Lent illustrated this, as I have enjoyed his work in the past for the Caldecott Challenge. The artwork in this book wasn’t as good as his other books, such as Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky. This book won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. However, the story was interesting enough. It is harvest time in a small fishing village in Japan, when suddenly the sea starts withdrawing from the shore. A wise old grandfather knows what is happening and tries to warn the villagers by burning his rice fields. They see the smoke and come running. He saves them from the ensuing earthquake and tidal wave. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

Just Me written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

Despite my aversion for this author (I have had to read way too many of her books for this Challenge), this book had a cute story. A little boy goes all over a farm and imitates the animals. It won a 1966 Caldecott Honor.  Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

I had seen rather good reviews on this book, plus I’ll admit the cover/title was interesting enough to draw me in as well. It took me about 150 pages to really get into this book and I didn’t really figure out what was going on till about ¾ of the way through. It is a very intriguing premise though if you stay with it. I’ve heard rumors that this may be one of the books nominated for a Newbery award.

Aletheia was once full of magicians, before the plague hit and wiped out the majority of the population. Now there are only a handful of magicians left in a small community called the Barrow, surrounded by a huge forest, outside the capital city of Asteri. Oscar was adopted by Caleb, the most powerful magician on Aletheia. He gathers and grinds plants and other natural ingredients for the potions and magical items that Caleb sells in the shop. Oscar is content to be by himself, with the cats, and just tries to stay out of the way of Wolf, Caleb’s Assistant. That is, until a horrible accident happens, and Wolf and another Assistant are killed. Oscar who does not know how to speak and act towards people is forced to take care of the shop. He is assisted by Callie, the Healer’s Assistant. Suddenly the children of the Asteri start becoming sick and no one can figure out why. It is up to Callie and Oscar to work together to help them. Is it the plague or some other illness? What is evil is skulking in the forest? What really happened to the magicians of Aletheia? To find out, check out this compelling book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 1/2 stars.

Newberry Challenge

The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao

I’ve been curious about this book for awhile, because it is definitely fascinating to narrate a book from the viewpoint of a gorilla. It won the 2013 Newbery award. The book was based off the true story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lived 26 years of his life in captivity in a circus-themed mall, before he was moved to the Atlanta Zoo.

This was a sad story, but an enjoyable read. We see the world through the eyes of Ivan, who barely remembers life in the jungle before he is adopted by Mack and brought into the circus mall to spend his life in a cage. He is joined by Stella, an elderly elephant who tells great stories and Bob, a stray dog who has befriended the two and sleeps on Ivan’s stomach at night. One day, to get more money and have more people visit, Mack procures a baby elephant named Ruby. Stella adopts her and starts taking care of her, even though she’s never had a baby of her own. She knows how scary a place like this can be for any new animal to the mall. Sadly due to an old injury and Mack’s negligence, Stella passes away and Ivan is left in charge of Ruby and has promised Stella that he will not let her remain in this cage. Ivan, in the book, is also artistic like the real gorilla he is based off of and starts off coloring pictures in crayon and eventually moves to finger paints. It is through this medium that he hatches a plan to escape, with a little help from some humans. Will he and Ruby make it? To find out, read this quick but excellent book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 4 stars.

Young Adult

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, narrated by Amy Rubinate

I have one MP3 CD instead of Audio CDs. I had heard good reviews on this book, and decided to give it a try. At first the narrator annoyed me, but she grew on me as the book progressed. My one big gripe with the book was the length, as it seemed to drag on forever, never wanting to end the story. It did have some excellent writing though, and some really great insights into becoming an adult, like this quote: “I really wondered why people were always doing what they didn’t like doing. It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size…I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you’d have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed.”

Fourteen year old June Elbus adores her artistic Uncle Finn. Even though she is a shy social outcast, she always feels at home with Finn. He is painting her and her older sister Greta’s portrait. Only he might not get to finish it, as he is dying of AIDS. The story is set in 1987, and being gay and having AIDS is just not something discussed in public. When Finn does die, it devastates June and her mother, Finn’s sister. Shortly after the funeral, June receives a letter from a mysterious man who was at her uncle’s funeral. He wants to meet up with her so they can discuss Finn. After hemming and hawing, she decides to meet him. The man is Toby, her uncle Finn’s partner, who was part of his life for ten years, but June never knew it. In fact, after spending time with him, she realizes that some of the things she loved about her uncle came from Toby. Even though June can’t decide whether to love or hate Toby, she realizes after spending time with him that he is helping her come to terms with Finn’s death, and as this reviewer puts it “June starts to understand that everything in life is a lot more grey than she’d imagined.”

I could identify with June, from the point of view of someone who was shy growing up and everyone saw as a little weird. I liked that she was obsessed with Medieval Europe, as I went through a similar phase as a teenager. Life is hard and dealing with something as complex as your beloved uncle dying of a disease hardly anyone knows or talks about and then meeting a man who loved him just as much as you did, but never knowing he was a part of his life, is even more complicated. Really, the fact that she comes out of this in one piece and dare I say it wiser is miraculous. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

Adult

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, narrated by Archie Panjabi

I learned about this book after watching some clips of The Daily Show with John Stewart, and seeing her promote and speak about it. She was very articulate and the book sounded fascinating, so as soon as the library started ordering copies, I put one on hold. It is a very in-depth history/biography and some of the story was hard to listen to, especially the parts about all the terrorism and violence. Honestly it made me worry about my best friend and her family as they are from that country. Malala is a brave young woman and I hope she is able to make it back to her homeland in the future. The narrator was good and it was nice to have the author read the prologue to set the stage for the book.

The book was a mini-history lesson about the creation of Pakistan, its leaders and detailed history of the country from the viewpoint of Malala, a now 17 year old Muslim girl. She is from the Swat Valley, a beautiful mountainous area of the country that used to be part of Afghanistan. She tells the history of Pakistan and the Swat Valley, in order to set the stage for events that have occurred to her and her family from her parent’s childhood in the late 1960s to the present. Her father started a couple private schools, which Malala attended through the years. As a result of her father’s occupation and political activism, she became fascinated with politics and started petitioning and speaking out to the local and country’s government to provide girl’s education for all females. The Taliban, which originated in Afghanistan, took control of the Swat Valley around 2008 and demanded that the females in the area remain in purdah, which basically means isolating themselves from men, putting up barriers around the house, and remaining covered  up at all times – it is better explained here. They did not like that Malala and her father were so outspoken, especially about girls’ education, and so in 2012, Malala was shot in the head on her way home from school. She survived with the help of a lot of talented and dedicated medical professionals in Pakistan and England, and continues to fight for free education for all to this day. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good by Mark Bittman

I have been thinking about switching over to vegan or vegetarian for awhile now. I honestly get tired of eating so much meat, and I know it’s not healthy for me. My husband has been making an effort to make sure that we are eating more vegetables at dinner, but I need to do more. This program seemed like a good compromise for me, though I know really getting into it would be challenging. Along with the whole Vegan-Before-6pm rule, you’re not supposed to have sugar, anything with white flour, and obviously since it is a vegan diet, no dairy or meat. I’ve not really thought about it before, but I have sugar and dairy nearly every day, in morning coffee for example. I believe cheese would be the hardest thing for me to give up. I think the big part about this diet is planning ahead and having options. Bittman is really good about laying out not only the technical part of why it is healthier to be vegan, but also strategies and tips for staying on track, meal plans and recipes. I’ve even found out that the book/idea is so popular that they’re creating an entire VB6 Cookbook to come out in 2014.  4 stars.

Dublin’s Strangest Tales: Extraordinary But True Stories by Michael Barry and Patrick Sammon

I randomly found this in the new history section, where I have found a great many good books, and decided to give it a spin because it was a relatively quick read. I’ve never been to Dublin, so it seemed like a good way to introduce me to the city’s history. Most of them, truth be told, weren’t extraordinary but just odd. My favorites were the one about the one on page 36 about early academic library practices, pg 42 about the most famous harp in Ireland, pg 61 about the Irish resurrectionists, and on pg 88 the true story about author Oscar Wilde’s parents. 3 stars.

Vegan For Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Ginny Messina and J.L. Fields

The majority of the book expounded on the health benefits of being becoming a female vegan, and covered medical conditions that can be avoided or damages lessened by maintaining a plant-filled diet. I learned the importance of magnesium and Vitamins B12 and D supplements for all women, but especially for vegans as these vitamins and minerals are important for a healthy body. Magnesium is especially important if you have a history of migraines, as I do. The back section of the book had vegan recipes, and I marked a few, including Coconut-Mango-Avocado Smoothie, Mediterranean Beans with Greens, and Creamy Kale Miso Soup. There are also resources for Vegan Women, including books and resources about veganism, vegan fashion and activism. Overall it was a good and complete guide to veganism for women. 3 stars.

Seoultown Kitchen: Korean Pub Grub to Share with Family and Friends by Debbie Lee

I have been waiting forever for this cookbook, and finally found a copy via interlibrary loan. It sounded so fascinating, a Korean-American girl raised in the Deep South, who uses aspect of both regions in her cooking to create Korean pub food. While there were a few good very original recipes, overall, I was not that impressed. The cookbook is divided into Food on Skewers, different kinds of Kimchi, Noodles, a whole section on Pork, Ground Meat, Fish, Tofu, Chicken/Egg, Vegetarian, and Cocktails. In addition, there is a section for general recipes such as stocks, an illustrated section on how-to’s (for example, how to clean squid or prepare rice cakes), and a list on online resources. 3 stars.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Another blog turned into a cookbook, I had heard good reviews on this from other blogs that I read including Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and David Leibovitz. So I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The author is from NYC and cooks from a tiny apartment kitchen, is self-taught and and features a lot of amazing looking vegetarian food, as well as meat and sweets. She has anecdotal stories before each recipe, which makes them more personal. These are recipes you can make at home without too much effort, and she has lovely twists on traditional recipes like the Gingerbread Spice Dutch Baby. I grew up eating German pancakes, which are very similar, so I’m sure this breakfast pancake would be awesome. The Whole-Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones just look and sound amazing. Her vegetarian recipes like Vinegar Slaw with Cucumbers and Dill, Sugar Snap Salad with Miso Dressing, and Cranberry Bean Salad with Walnuts and Feta all sound easy enough to make and delicious to eat. That’s not even counting the Peach Dumplings with Bourbon Hard Sauce (insert drool) or the Blueberry Cornmeal Butter Cake that just look like food porn. After reading this, I signed up for her blog posts. 5 stars.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

I have waited forever to read this book, trying to debate whether I wanted the book or audiobook version and finally settling on the audiobook as it had the shorter queue. Plus its voiced by the author, which always makes the narrated story better in my opinion. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers because he’s so steeped and quite excellent at writing about mythology and incredible things that happen to quite normal characters. In this book, it happens to our main character, who is described throughout the story as a book worm. Those of us who read regularly, especially fantasy, know what it is to become so immersed in a book that it almost becomes our reality. As a friend of mine has said in her review of the book: “Our narrator here does us book worms credit, using the books he’s read as guides on how to navigate this world where reality takes a back seat.” I, as my friend did, found it interesting that only the women in the book had names and how powerful it was to know someone’s name. The folktale “Rumpelstiltskin” comes to mind when talking about this kind of power. My friend also said “The first thing I thought about [when considering the Hempstock ladies] were the literary archetypes of the crone, the mother, and the maiden.  Then again, I think those archetypes can also be found in the pagan traditions as well.” She is correct, in Greek mythology we have Hecate who shows up as the crone, matron and maiden, and in Celtic mythology, we have The Morrigan (aka Badb, Macha and Nemain).

Our narrator, simply referred to here as “the boy” is an adult when the book starts, but the story goes back to when he was seven years old and had an amazing experience related to the farm he is currently visiting in the present. He wanders down the lane of his town to discover an eleven year old girl named Lettie Hempstock who takes him to a world within a world on an adventure. Only there are consequences to this trip, which come in the form of a vindictive woman named Ursula Monkton, who becomes the boy’s babysitter while his parents are at work. She reminded me of The Other Mother character in Gaiman’s book “Coraline”.  She delights in torturing the boy and making others do the same. Lettie and her mother and grandmother are the only ones who can save the boy and they use their special kind of magic to do so. The book was a creepy fantasy with a touch of horror, but was such a well-written story that I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommended , 5 stars.

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written by Vaughn Entwistle

 See here

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Welcome 2014!

I hope everyone had a fabulous Holiday Season and I wish you a Happy New Years! Things have been pretty crazy the past couple of weeks at my house as my grandfather was visiting my parents for Christmas, so my hubby, my son and I were spending a lot of time driving back and forth to their house to visit. I’ve not seen him since last September (the last time he visited), so I was glad to do more than talk on the phone with him. He lives in Alabama and we don’t have any time off to come visit, but I want my son to know his great-grandfather, especially as he never got the opportunity to meet my grandmother. Liam said his first “I love you” to my grandfather as we were driving home the last time we saw him, the day after Christmas. It was so cute! Too bad my grandfather didn’t get to hear it. We had a very low-key New Year’s Eve, in fact I’m a little surprised we managed to stay up till midnight as my hubby was feeling poorly that night. When I was pregnant with my son a few years ago, we only stayed up till 10pm before falling asleep.

I have been enjoying my biggest Christmas gift, a new Kindle Fire HD, which is way lighter and faster than my 2nd generation Kindle (which died on me back in Oct). I am voraciously reading the third book in the Game of Thrones series, A Storm of Swords. I have found that I tend to read a little bit faster on the Kindle than a real copy, not sure why. This book is even longer than the second one, and is completely different from the 3rd season of the show (though there are some similar parts as well).

I definitely some things I would like to change/improve over the next year, which I guess you can call my resolutions. For one, I’ve decided to try eat healthier, i.e. eating at least one and hopefully two vegetarian meals a day, with emphasis on more whole grains and way less sugar. I’m sorry, but I can’t give up my iced slightly-sweet tea (guess that’s the Southerner in me), but will try some unsweetened hot teas to balance it out. I want to blog more and maybe even write some more poetry. I would like to read more, though that’s more of a long-term goal. I did pretty good last year with 308 books, though in 2012, I read the most in a long time (424). Below is a graph of my books read in 2013. It got a bit cut off, but the mythology section is “mythology and folk-tales” and the one across from it is fantasy and sci-fi. The “other” section is pretty much adult-age books and cookbooks, and the bottom left section is “birth-to-5-years”.

2013 reading chart

I need to get better about actually having some me-time, which would fit in with the more-reading goal as it is usually what I don’t have time for. This would probably also lessen my stress-levels, another thing I’ve been meaning to work on this year. I don’t deal with stress very well, despite my best efforts otherwise. I know part of that me-time I need to spend exercising. I’ve never been very good or put much of an effort into it, but as part of the healthier eating ticket, I’ve noticed my body not working the way it should and part of that is because of my lack of exercise. So I plan on using my walking shoes for their intended purpose. I will probably have to start doing it after work, as I have absolutely no desire to get up at 5:30am to start walking, plus if I take our dog, it will be less annoying to get barked at after work versus before most people are actually up.

Book Reviews #11

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.

Crucible: Star Wars

Crucible: Star Wars by Troy Denning

Crucible-starwars

I love Star Wars, especially the storytelling and mythology aspect of it (so much so I wrote a paper on it in high school). When they had the exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum back in 1997-1999 , I went to it so many times I pretty much memorized all the items in there. I have played a couple of the Star Wars games, for PC and online. Although I have watched all the movies multiple times, I have never read one of the many spin-off titles such as this one before. It made trying to visually picture some of the characters a bit tricky, but a good imagination helps.  I really enjoyed the book, and could imagine the ending as a good conclusion to Episodes 7-9, even though it got a little metaphysical. And yes, I liked that in this version the Jedi could marry – never liked that about the movie versions as it never made sense. My only complaint would be that it dragged a lot in the middle, which is part of the reason it took me so long to finish it.

The book is part of the “Expanded Universe” of Star Wars, set about 40 or so years after Episode 6, and focusing on Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian. Han and Leia have been asked by Lando to help him with a piracy problem. Lando operates a mine in the Rift, an uncharted area of space away from Alliance space. Someone is trying to buy up stock from local mining companies in the Rift in a massive power grab, i.e. two Columni evil geniuses who really enjoy torturing people. They end up capturing Han Solo with the help of some Mandalorians (elite soldiers), a Sith female, Mirta Gev (Boba Fett’s granddaughter) and a traitor within Lando’s company. Leia and her brother Luke, both now Jedis, are fighting to rescue Han in time. Will they make it? What else will they discover at the Columni’s secret hideout? To find out, read this exciting novel. 3 1/2 stars.

*I received this book as an ARC from Netgalley. It did not affect how I reviewed the book.

Disenchanted & Co., Part 1: Her Ladyship’s Curse by Lynn Viehl

I love steampunk books, so when I saw this in the Teen/Young Adult section, I had to give it a try. I will say that I don’t agree with their classification. I think a lot of people try to put all steampunk as a teen-only genre, and I heartily disagree with that.  I love that she got help from one of my favorite steampunk writers, Gail Carriger, while writing it. One of the first things I will say about this book is the author has superb world-building skills. The book is set in an alternate history version of the US, called Toriana or more appropriately “The Provincial Union of Victoriana,” and set in the middle to late 19th century in Rumsen, basically the equivalent of San Francisco in our world. In this history, the US has lost the Revolutionary War and are still British subjects. The author has gone so far as to create a whole dictionary in the back of the book to interpret words used in the book, a mixture of English slang and made-up terminology. Most of the stuff I could figure out living in Scotland and having an English spouse. In addition to the alternate history, add various kinds of mages and magic users and steam-powered carriages and mechs. It makes for one very interesting world. Then of course we have our main character Charmian Kittredge, Kit for short, who makes a living debunking magic frauds. That’s where the story opens up, on Kit getting another client, this one a nob from up on the Hill (where the most wealthy in Rumsen live). Lady Walsh is convinced that someone has cursed her and wants Kit to investigate, but when she does she gets dragged into a lot more than she wanted. For one, she has to deal with the slimy Lord Dredmore, a death mage who does not take kindly to her intrusion onto the Hill. She ends up meeting a ghost, which causes her to find out about her own family history. Will Kit be able to unmask the truth behind Lady Walsh’s curse? Will she finally figure out who her family is? To find it, read Part 1 of this exciting series! I personally can’t wait to read the second part, though I’m not sure I can wait till December. 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I was given this book as an Advanced Reader’s Copy e-book by Netgalley and but it has not influenced how I reviewed this book.

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