I have been very busy the past week and a half taking care of my son and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep on top of house work. Despite my husband’s prediction that I will sustain myself on ramen, I can actually cook and have been doing so every other night since he’s been in England. I’ve discovered that my son likes both avocados and homemade mac ‘n cheese, so we’ll be making more of that tonight. My hubby was supposed to fly in tonight at 6pm, but because of a gigantic delay on the European flight, he’s not coming in till tomorrow morning. I am VERY ready for him to be back home. Just having another adult in the house to help take care of things will help out a lot. I was let go on Friday from my job, which was partially anticipated after my evaluation (apparently I’m not chipper enough on the phone, though I thought I was doing a good job, and not passionate enough about my job). I’m sorry but I can’t be fake happy, it’s not in my nature. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the job was because I never had enough to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I like free time at work, but when you’re going to work and only really working maybe 2 out of 4.5 hrs, it’s easy to get bored. It was never supposed to be a permanent job, but rather an in-between one. But that’s enough dwelling on that subject. So I’m redoing my résumé again and applying for jobs once again. Let’s be honest, I never really stopped looking, but now it is more in earnest than it was before. On top of all of this, my best friend is in the hospital with blood clots and hemorraging and no word yet if they are going to have operate on her. So I’ve got plenty of things to worry about.
Enough of the frustrating and on to the fun stuff. I am currently listening to the audiobook version of Garth Nix’s Sabriel, narrated by the brilliant Tim Curry. I’ve decided to start attending another bookclub, this one is a crafting and reading bookclub. It’s cool because they pick a category and you can pick whichever book you want to read and discuss. The category for June is nonfiction and I’ve picked this book called The Perfect Nazi,which is a combination of nonfiction and biography. As with all my book reviews, I rate the books on a scale of 1-5 stars (1 being the lowest and 5 the highest). Enjoy!
The Goblin and the Empty Chair by Mem Fox
This book was weird. I’m glad that I read the write-up on the story on Goodreads or I would have no idea what was going on. A goblin sees his reflection and is so scared that he resolves never to be around anyone or show his face. Years go by and he is alone. Then one day, he happens upon a farmer who while working in the field, sighs and covers his face. The goblin decides to help him out, trying not to be seen, but is secretly seen by the farmer. The same thing happens with the farmer’s wife and daughter. One day they are getting ready to sit down for dinner and there are four places set but only three people (therefore I’m guessing the fourth person died). They set out food at the fourth place and wait for the goblin, who eventually comes and sits down to eat, after revealing his true face. The reader never gets to see him, so maybe he’s the son they lost, but I’m not really sure. The ending was abrupt. The only thing I liked about this book were the illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon (who also illustrated the Caldecott award-winning books “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears” and “Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions”). Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
A very simple picture book about a man formed out of leaves, this book explains how the wind decides where the leaf man goes. On his way around, he sees chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, fruits, turkeys, bunnies, cows, fish and all other manner of things. I like the end pages with their illustrations of individually named leaves in all kinds of colors. The author apparently liked to collect leaves and had a leaf file, where she kept them so she could illustrate them, which is how she came up with the idea for this book. This book really makes me miss the autumns back east. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.
One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer
Another great imaginative monster book by Mercer Mayer, this one is a story about a girl who writes a letter to her friend. It gets intercepted by all sorts of monsters along the way. Another reviewer mentioned that it seems Mayer is channeling Seuss with all the crazy made-up words in this book and I’ll have to agree with her. I like that he included a dodo in the background of a couple pages of the book, in addition to the Stamp Collecting Trollusk, Letter-Eating Bombanat, and the Wild-‘n-Windy Typhoonigator. Recommended for kids aged 5+, 5 stars.
The Octonauts and the Only Lonely Monster by Meomi
I had no idea that there was a Disney cartoon show about these books, but I’m not surprised as it is seriously the cutest book I’ve ever seen. The illustrations of the Octonauts are like cartoon versions of kawaii (Japanese for cute – so cute it should be illegal) animals. The Octonauts are made up of a polar bear, kitty, penguin, dog, otter, bunny, octopus/bear (only thing I can describe it as)and a vegimal (vegetable animal, in this case a turnip). They live under the sea in the Octopod, which is being attacked/hugged by a giant squid aka nutopus, who is lonely. They search for another one but find out Archie is the only one, but he now has 8 new friends. I don’t think my son would get it this early in life, but maybe when he’s five I’ll let him borrow my copy that I will get. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.
Fraggle Rock Classics Volume 1 by Stan Kay
I never even knew there was a Fraggle Rock comic. I grew up watching the show and loved it, so when I found this while browsing the children’s section the other day, I figured it would be good. It had all the classic characters: exploring Gobo and his famous Uncle Traveling Matt, frantic Red, hippie Moki, sock-loving Goober and paranoid Wembley. It also had the Doozers, those crazy building fiends, and the doozer named Cotterpin who wants to be a Fraggle, and the creatures from “outer space”. While I liked reading about them, I think it’s better as a show. Thankfully the show is on Netflix now, so I can watch it with my son. Recommended for ages 7+, 3 stars.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
Amos McGee works at the zoo. Every day he takes care of his friends, which include an elephant, penguin, owl, rhino and tortoise. One day he gets sick and can’t visit them, so they come to his house and take care of him. I thought it was a very sweet story and I love the woodblock printing with pencil drawings. This is the first book I read for my Caldecott challenge, this one won the 2011 Caldecott award and is the first of 177 I need to read. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Another book I read for my Caldecott project, this one being a 2012 award honor. The book was a cute mini-biography about Jane Goodall. She, along with her stuffed animal chimp Jubilee, explore the nature and animals around her house. She loves reading about them in books and hopes one day to study the animals of Africa. She gets her wish when she is able to study chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park. There is a further biography of Dr. Goodall in the back, as well as a letter from her encouraging kids to “make the world a better place for humans, animals and the environment.” I would’ve given this book more stars, but I wish that they would’ve included more information in the actual text and not just the addendum in the back. My 9 1/2 month old loved the pictures and illustrations in the book, as did I. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 1/2 stars.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
I really enjoyed this story as seen through the eyes of a child and the sculpted bushes that Grandpa Green creates. Grandpa Green had wanted to study horticulture, but was drafted into World War II, where he met his wife. They had a lot of kids, grandkids and then the main character, their great-grandchild who leads the reader through the story and his great-grandfather’s garden. Grandpa Green created all the sculptures for him to remember his life story. I think this should’ve won the Caldecott 2012 award, instead of just being an honor book. This book was read as part of my Caldecott award winners/honors challenge. My son loved the illustrations as well as I did. Recommended for ages 10 months – 5 years, 5 stars.
Children and Young Adult
Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan
In this volume, Will is a full-fledged Ranger and about 4 years have passed since the last book. He is on his first assignment to Seacliff and right away he helps them out by stopping a group of Skandians from raiding and pillaging the area. Halt and Crowley order him, through his friend Alyss the courier, to go on a secret mission in Norgate Fief to Castle Macindaw, which is at the northernmost part of Araluen, on the border between it and Picta (the equivalent of Scotland). The interesting point is that Will was travel as a jongleur, basically a traveling minstrel, which is convenient as apparently Will is an amateur musician. Alyss ends up being his contact person at Castle Macindaw, disguised as the airheaded Lady Gwendolyn.
Overall I thought it was a pretty good book. There were some twists and turns, and you could never quite figure out who was bad and who was good until the end. nice change of pace. I like that Alyss is a smart confident young woman. I liked the idea of Will as a minstrel, a person who is well-liked even though they are strangers, in comparison to Rangers who people distrust even if they don’t know them. The Will/Alyss romance, which was hinted at in previous books, was a nice addition. The ending was very abrupt, but I know the story will continue in the next volume of the series. Recommended for ages 10+, 3 1/2 stars.
Natalie’s Good Fortune: A Tale of Piracy and Adventure: The Adventures of Natalie Brennan by Anthony R. Fanning
I was asked by the author to review this book, and as I love pirate books and ones with strong female leads, I said yes. It took me forever to read this book, partly because I was busy and partly because I couldn’t decide if I liked it enough to finish it. Once I really got into the story though, I enjoyed reading it.
Natalie Satterfield is a 15 year old upper class English girl whose Irish mother has recently died and her paternal grandfather sends her to Charles Town (modern day Charleston) to live with her absent father. On the way there, the ship she is riding on is attacked by pirates and she escapes to a deserted island. This is where it turns into a 1930s swashbuckling film. It turns out the island is inhabitated by brown-skinned savages who happen to be cannibals, and she escapes them by being rescued by the island’s other resident, a pirate named Black John Hayes. At first she dislikes him, but after spending a year with him rebuilding a ship from shipwrecks, she comes to trust him and calls him a friend. They go to New Providence (an island in the Bahamas) and end up with two extra crewman who travel with them to Charles Town. The reunion with her father doesn’t go the way she planned, and she ends up back on Natalie’s Good Fortune, the ship that she built with Captain Hayes. They end up finding the pirates that not only raided and sank Natalie’s ship, but also killed John’s wife. Will they be able to claim vengeance for the pirate’s misdeeds? To find out, please read the exciting first book of the series. I hope there are more books to come.
Overall, I think it was a great read. It was very descriptive in the beginning, which I personally like and I’m glad the author took the time to explain the nautical terms as not all seafaring books do that. I will admit that the violence in the book made me question the appropriateness for young adults, even with the kind of things that are out there now in YA literature. I realize that with pirates you are going to get a certain amount of violence given their line of work. That being so, I would recommend this to ages 16+, 4 stars.
Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi
I decided to give this one a try after I remember it was on my to-read list, as I found it in the library today. I know about Lewis & Clark from history class but that was ages ago, so I figured this graphic novel would help me brush up on my history a bit. The overall look was very busy and it took me a bit to get used to how they laid out the design, but once I got into it, I devoured it quickly. Meriweather Lewis was sent by President Thomas Jefferson, a man he greatly respected, to find a water route from the US territories to the Pacific Ocean in 1803. Remember that this is right after the War of Independence and before the the War of 1812. So there was a lot of un-British sentiment, which was tricky as the British, French and Spanish controlled the rest of what would become the US. Luckily for Lewis and Clark, Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, which gave the US land from St. Louis following the Mississippi all the way over to where it meets up with the Columbia River. It took them 3 years to complete the journey, and then Jefferson makes Lewis the governor of the Louisiana Territory and Clark the Secretary for Indian Affairs. Lewis seemed to have lost his sanity a bit on the trip and killed himself shortly thereafter. The author kind of left the Sacagawea story hanging a bit, not sure if that was intentional or because there was no more information on her. Recommended for ages 14+, 3 stars.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
Normally I can’t get through nonfiction/biographies in audiobook format because I get bored, but this book was definitely the exception. I had seen a good review on it, and since I’ve always been interested in World War II history, I thought I’d give it a try. It was a really fascinating book and gave a glimpse of the start of Hitler’s regime from 1933-34, as seen through the eyes of a lowly history professor turned American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. He took his wife, daughter and son with him and the evolution of the Nazi state is seen through their eyes. The book features many first hand accounts from not just the Dodd family, who kept extensive memoirs and diaries, but also from other Embassy officials, the friends of the Dodd family living in Germany, and close associates of Hitler. Seeing the collapse of the Weimar Republic (Germany after WWI to before Hitler becomes dictator)from the inside and how the German government sincerely thought that they would be able to control Hitler is intriguing. I find it so crazy and yet fascinating that this slight man who was shy and did really bad in school was so mesmerizing in his speeches as to brainwash an entire country into doing what he wanted. While I think Dodd did the best he could do given the situation he was in with the American government (particularly the State Dept not being on his side), I think he did a good job in Germany. I haven’t quite decided if I like the man as a whole, but he is an interesting character nonetheless, as is his daughter Martha. The books makes me want to further research on Hitler and how he controlled the minds of the German people before and during WWII. 5 stars.
BB Wolf and the Three LPs by J.D. Arnold
I can’t decide if I liked this graphic novel or not. I do believe that it was a very clever re-telling of The Three Little Pigs story, as well as a comment on racism between African-Americans and whites in Mississippi in the 1920s (heck that could be from right now in the Delta, things haven’t changed much in nearly 100 years).
In the book, BB Wolf is a poor farmer who lives with his wife and cubs on his wife’s farm. He plays the blues and drinks a lot. One day, Mr. Littlepig comes to his house and makes up some crap about a loophole in the farm’s contract so that he can kick the wolves off the farm. The wolves are portrayed as African-Americans and the pigs are the whites. The PPP come and burn down his farm and kill his wife and all but one of his children. He is so enraged that he kills Littlepig and is on the run. He ends up in Chicago doing odd jobs and playing the blues. He runs into his pal from MS named Loop and he fills him in on what had been going on back home since he left (i.e. pigs burning down a bunch of farms and causing chaos). BB kills another of the Littlepig brothers and is about to catch the third, when he is arrested and executed. 3 stars.
Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode
The first rhubarb thing I ever ate was Marks & Spencer Rhubarb and Cream hard candy in the UK. Then when I married my hubby, he started making Rhubarb and Apple Crumble, and I discovered this vegetable in all its tart glory. I had no idea that rhubarb was used as a laxative by the Chinese, before it was used by Europeans in pies. I had seen rhubarb used in a curry, though that, I thought, was the extent of its savory capabilities. Boy, was I wrong! They use it here in the Good Medicine Lettuce Wraps (rhubarb and turkey appetizer), Turkey Tenderloins with Rhubarb BBQ sauce, Rhubarb Koresh (a traditional Persian lamb stew). I will say that the highlights of this cookbook seems to be the Salted Caramel Rhubapple Pie and the Eastern Sky Scones with Rhubarb and Mango. 3 stars.
The Big Book of Cupcakes by Betty Crocker
I’ve decided that I might make cupcakes for my son’s first birthday, so I figure this book would at least give me some ideas. I love that the recipes are so easy to make and even allow for recipes made with prepacked cake mix. There is a plethora of choices, so my decision on what cupcake and frosting to do should be easy. His theme is Rubber Duckies, so I figured I could maybe do Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting and a candy duckie on top. They have a recipe for Lemon Curd filled Lemon Cupcakes with Meringue, which I thought might be fun. Aside from that, there are many recipes that just look amazingly tasty, like the Aztec Chile-Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Chocolate Frosting, the Butterscotch Cupcakes with Salty Caramel Frosting, or the Dark Chocolate Chip-Mascarpone Cupcakes (whose topping sounds like Tiramisu). 5 stars.
The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knock-Out Dishes with Down Home Flavor by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
I’ve been wanting to read this cookbook for awhile as it has had good reviews. Also I was raised in the South and it is refreshing to see someone do something new to Southern cuisine as it can be rather heavy and boring. Overall, I thought it was an interesting twist on traditional Southern fare. I didn’t care for most of the recipes, but their drinks like the Watermelon Margarita looked awesome and I’ve never eaten collards but the Collard Greens with Poblano Chiles and Chorizo looked tasty. And who would’ve thought up Rice Pudding Pops with curry powder or garam masala? I would personally have mine with nutmeg or ginger, but might give one of the other two options a try. 3 stars.
Peter & Max: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham
I have read the Fables comic series through Volume 4 and absolutely fell in love with the story and the characters. Because I liked the comics so much, I figured the novel would be great, and Mr. Willingham did not disappoint. This book is a stand-alone story so you don’t have to have read the series, but it helps. Wil Wheaton, star of Star Trek Next Generation as Wesley Crusher, is fantastic as narrator. I would love to hear him narrate more books.
In this book, the story is juxtaposed between medieval enchanted Hesse and our present day world. It focuses on three main characters: Peter and Max Piper and Bo Peep. The Piper brothers are part of a traveling minstrel family, and one day their father decides to give the magical flute Frost to Peter (who is more talented even though he is the youngest). This action royally pisses Max off who basically swears to make Peter’s life a living hell and sends Max off the deep end. After the Empire attacks Hesse and starts taking over the country of enchanted swords and talking animals, Peter and Bo flee to the city of Hamelin. Later, Max teams up with a witch and receives the even more powerful magical flute named Fire, which he uses to get vengeance on all those who wronged him. Will Peter and Bo ever escape Max’s wrath? Will Fire destroy Peter? Will Max ever get his hands on Frost? To find out, read this fantastic book. 5 stars.