Tag Archive: Newbery


Book Reviews June 2014

First off, I would like to apologize for the infrequency of my posts lately. I just finished my second week at my new job in the Youth Services dept of my local public library (which is awesome by the way) and even though it has less hours than my last job, I am more busy than before. Plus I’m also watching my son on my off days, so I don’t get as much computer time as I normally have been getting. I am really backed up on writing up book reviews as a result. I’ve finished all the ones for May and a few for June, but still have about 14 to do, so those will be on next month’s post. I kinda got burned out on the Newbery Medal/Honors List this last month, but will try to pick it up again after a break. I have managed to read 155 books so far this year, which is pretty good since the year is half over.I’ve been having pretty good luck with my Advanced Reader’s Copies too and there are a lot of interesting books coming out soon, so there will definitely be more posts about them in the future. I’m currently listening to Lloyd Alexander’s 3rd book in The Chronicles of Prydain series, called The Castle of Lyr. This sounds like it may be the most exciting book in the series so far! Crazy to think that these books were written in the late 1960s as they seem very modern and timeless. I just started an interesting nonfiction book called Sorry! The English and Their Manners by Henry Hitchings. I’m hoping to get some insights into the English, as I am an Anglophile and my husband and his family are from there.

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 11 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all the award winners and at least one honor book.

Children

Dog Loves Counting written and illustrated by Louise Yates

Dog Loves Counting

I adored her other book Dog Loves Books, so when I saw this in the library, I decided to get it for my son as his teacher says he needs to see more numbers in print form. It had the same precious illustrations as the last book, but even cuter (if that’s actually possible) with the addition of a dodo and a baby sloth! Dog loves books but loves reading so much he can’t fall asleep. So he picks up a book on creatures and starts counting them from 1 – 10 and back down again. I’m looking forward to checking out Dog Loves Drawing as well. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Little Chicken’s Big Day by Katie and Jerry Davis

Little Chickens Big Day

This book just grabbed my attention at the library with its bright happy colors and simple illustrations (I thought it was adorable), so decided to get it for my son. Little Chicken does everything his Momma orders him to do and always responds with “I hear you cluckin’ Big Chicken!”. One day while out with him Momma, he wanders off after a butterfly and gets lost. She soon finds him and they go home, where they read a story together and go to bed. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Hey Mr. Choo Choo, Where Are You Going? written by Susan Wickberg, illustrated by Yumi Heo

Another train book I picked up for my son, the rhyming text and collage/painted illustrations really bring you into the story of this train taking children to the beach. My only gripe was that the book was a little long for my son. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

And the Train Goes… written and illustrated by William Bee

And the Train Goes...

I think my son’s favorite part of this book were the end pages with the many different colored train wheels. It’s kind of amazing that this whole book was done, illustration and text, on a computer. It’s also funny that without realizing till the end of the book that the author was English, I gave most of the characters English accents. The book is about a train leaving the station and all the people and cars of the train. At the end, a parrot repeats everything that was said, all the sounds and phrases. I liked the book but got bored with it as it just kept going on forever. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2-1/2 stars.

Waking Dragons written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Derek Anderson

This has been a repeat read for my son, though the story is very simple. A young knight’s mother has left him a note to wake the dragons, so he does and gets them ready for the day. They take off their jammies, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, say goodbye to their mother and fly the young knight to Knight School (of course!). Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners written and illustrated by Laurie Keller

When I saw this at the library, I knew I had to check it out. I love otters and as always, my husband and I want our son to have good manners, so this seemed like the perfect vehicle for that. The book is about Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, an Otter family. He is telling another animal how he hopes the new neighbors aren’t rude, like his last neighbor, but have good manners and gives examples. It was a cute book but a bit long-winded. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dinosaur Train written and illustrated by John Steven Gurney

Dinosaur Train

I think my son loves this book for the cover image alone. He kept going on and on about the giant feet and the T-Rex inhaling all the smoke. It is about a young boy named Jesse who really loved dinosaurs and trains (just like my son), and after drawing a picture of the two together, he gets invited on a real train operated by them. After exploring the train car by car, the whole train leans over to look at a volcano that Jesse has seen and it topples over. After helping to right the train, he gets to ride up front with the engineer and they head back to Jesse’s room. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train (Mr. Putter and Tabby #8) written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

I thought this was a pretty cute book, but I think my son was a little lost. Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby are friends with their next-door neighbors, Mrs. Teaberry and her bulldog Zeke. Mrs. Teaberry calls up Mr. Putter and asks him to join her on a short train trip. He reminisces and says how much he loves trains, even though he’s not been on one since he was a boy, and then agrees to go if they can take their respective pets. She assures him that it is possible but when they go to buy tickets, the ticket seller says no pets allowed. So they smuggle them on-board and have a grand old time. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Another Dr. Seuss book I’ve never read, I picked this up for my son because I know he likes the author/illustrator. This was an odd book. It was almost like he took all these single 2-page rhymes with illustrations that he had lying around and put them all in one book because it is not one continuous story, i.e. the fish, but a bunch of little stories. It was fun to read though, as it was rather silly, just a bit long for a nearly 3 year old. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2-1/2 stars.

Zella, Zack, and Zodiac written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I rather enjoyed this little story from Bill Peet, as did my son, who has become one of my favorite children’s book writers this year. Zella the zebra discovers an abandoned ostrich chick and rescues him by letting him ride on her back. She adopts him and names him Zack. As he gets older and can no longer ride on her back, they become distant. Eventually she has her own child, an awkward colt named Zodiac who is always tripping over his own hooves, a real danger when predators are lurking all around. Zella believes she has lost Zack forever until he rescues Zodiac from a lion. From then on, he is Zodiac’s protector. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Caldecott

Book of Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli

Book of Nursery & Mother Goose RhymesOld Mother Hubbard from Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes

I will admit since this is my 3rd out of 4 Nursery and Mother Goose books I’m having to read for the Caldecott Challenge, that I skimmed this one. It was massive, for a children’s book, at 192 pages! This book won a 1955 Caldecott Honor and I knew the illustrator because of her book Yonie Wondernose (which I rather enjoyed), that had won Caldecott Honor exactly ten years prior. I thought they were a delightful mix of black & white small pencil-drawn illustrations and full-color single page illustrations with a variety of known and previously unknown nursery rhymes. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

I will admit that I did not want to read this book for a long time because it is about dolls, as I’ve always found them a little creepy. This book won a 1951 Caldecott Honor book, and is about a little girl named Dulcy (this name really dates the book) who has a large collection of dolls to play with but has just lost a doll named Angela she just received as a gift from a friend of the family. She goes on and on about the doll, each time inventing better and better things that it does. When she finally finds it again, she realizes that it didn’t do anything of things she said it did, but she was just imagining it. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.

Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

Marie Hall Ets, the bane of my existence. Just kidding. This is actually one of her better books that won some sort of Caldecott, this one having won the 1952 Caldecott Honor. It’s a rather random story though. The title refers to the name of a mouse who lives with a shoemaker, along with a cat and a dog that are constantly fighting with each other. One day, the shoemaker goes out to run some errands and his meddlesome sister stops by and sees the shop in an absolute mess from the cat and dog. She decides that she must move in with her brother and take care of him, so she and her annoying repeating parrot move in without his permission and the first thing she does is get rid of the dog and the cat. The shoemaker comes back home all confused but is too nice to tell her to leave. He rescues the cat and dog from outside and they all plot together with the mouse to get rid of the sister (she is scared of mice). They do and all three and the shoemaker live the rest of their days in harmony. The illustrations are rather plain in black and white but tell the story nicely. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Young Adult

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) by Laini Taylor

First off, I would like to say that this book is very hard to summarize, especially for anyone who has not read the rest of the series. The author is so good at storytelling and universe-building that she reminds me of George R.R. Martin, as they’re universe and character lists are so huge. So I recommend reading the first two books first so you won’t be totally lost by what I am going to describe. Let us proceed to the summary.

The Angels (Seraphim) have come to Earth and humankind is freaking out, thinking it is the apocalypse. The Angel’s leader Jael heads right to Rome and tells the humans that the Beasts (Chimera) are coming. This is really just a ploy to get his hands on some human weapon technology to finally destroy the Chimera. Akiva and his sister Liraz have managed to convince the Misbegotten Angels to combine forces with their former enemies, the Chimera, so they have a chance to defeat Jael. The mysterious Stelian Queen Scarab tries to kill Akiva but can’t as she discovers that his mother was Stelian. Throughout the book, we learn more background about Akiva and his mother Festival, and the Stelian’s role in Eretz and beyond.

Meanwhile, humans have discovered the resurrection pits left behind by the Chimeras and are mystified and horrified by them. A young woman named Eliza is one of the scientists allowed to study the bodies, and she believes that the Beasts are from another universe. It turns out that she knows this because she is descended from an angel, which becomes evident when she starts spouting Seraphic in front of everyone. Will Eliza ever figure out who she really is and what her purpose is? Will Akiva and Karou be able to stop Jael and have a chance at peace and a better life? To find out read this exciting conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Recommended for ages 15+, 5 stars.

It’s been at least a year since I last read the second book in the series, and it definitely took me awhile to remember what last happened in the book, as there were hardly any clues at the beginning of this one. I forgot how confusing this book can be trying to remember all the place and character names. It took me about 100 or so pages to really get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. It’s nice that the romance between Akiva and Karou is still one of the main focal points. I liked that despite all the bloodshed and pain, there was still time to dream about hope, love and a home together. Cassandra Clare definitely has some competition for who can write the best kisses, as Laini Taylor is quite good with the lead-up to them and the description of love. I loved the section about Zuzane and her mad eyebrow warfare skills in Italy! If I had to fight at the end of the world, she is definitely someone I would want on my team because she fights so hard for the ones she loves. I also loved (and was totally blown away) by the encounter between Jael and Akiva in the Papal Palace. He is one badass angel. I loved the story and I was sorry to see it end, though I’m glad it ended the way it did.

Ask the Passengers written by A.S. King, narrated by Devon Sorvari

Seventeen-year-old Astrid Jones feels really unappreciated by her friends and family. Her younger sister Ellis gets all the love and attention from their mother. Their dad is too stoned to really care about anything other than his office supplies at work. No one can understand why her friend Kristy, one of the most popular girls in school, hangs around her. Astrid may possibly be in love with her best friend Dee, who is already out of the closet. She lives in a really small town where everyone gossips about every little thing you do, so she has to worry about that as well.

The only thing she really enjoys is her AP Humanities class, where she is learning about Greek philosophers. In an attempt to feel more wanted, she sends waves of love towards passengers flying in airplanes above her house and everyone she sees. She does this even if they ignore or hate her. When she is sending out love to the anonymous passengers of the airplanes, every now and again, we hear their stories. It seems at first that these people have no connection to her, but after awhile, we can see that their stories are kind of like an extension of Astrid, if she were older.

Astrid feels like she is straddling two worlds. The very private one she shares with Dee and the public one she shares with Kristy and her family. Will she be able to figure out who she is and what she wants? Can she be truthful with everyone? Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I had gotten the idea to read this book from Tara, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!, and because she raved about it so much, I decided to give it a try. I’ve never read anything by the author but have heard for years that her books were good. I enjoyed hearing about the AP Humanities class and her learning about Greek philosophers, and how well it surprisingly blended with the story. I loved that she gave Socrates a first name (Frank) and made him kind of her protection, when things get too weird in her life. I’ve lived in small towns before and I know how limiting and frustrating it can be, so I could really identify with Astrid’s views on living in one.

Astrid’s mom, wow, she was a piece of work. I can identify with one parent loving your sibling more than you, but getting drunk with your teenage daughter is a whole other thing. And she thinks she’s the normal one in the family, geez.

Adult

City of Devils: A Novel by Diane Bretherick

Bittersweet: A Novel by Colleen McCullough

The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life: Cruelty-Free Crafts, Recipes, Beauty Secrets and More by Melisser Elliott

I’m always trying to get as much information as I can on the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle as I become more interested in joining it. I will admit also that after reading about how all types of meet including veal is processed in great detail, I was rather put off meat for a couple weeks. The book features useful information for those new to the idea of going completely vegan, which aside from eating a plant-based diet with no dairy or meat, also entails not wearing it in any form for clothing and shoes. For example, in addition to leather, you can’t wear wool from any animal, no fur naturally and silk. The author includes becoming involved with activism, profiles of vegans who have various food and apparel businesses and/or websites centered around the fact that they are vegans. I particularly liked the profiles as they not only had some good websites for references, but also seemed to profile real people and ask them why they went vegan, their favorite dish, favorite “accidently vegan” treat, item they can’t live without and more. She also discusses vegan companies that provide skincare products. The back section of the book is all about food and recipes, and I’d like the try the Tangy Cabbage Beet Slaw, Brussel Sprouts with Crispy Tempeh Over Soft Polenta, and Moroccan Chickpea and Kale Tangine with Quinoa. 3 stars.

Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite by Sarah Copeland

Ok, first things first. This is not strictly a vegetarian cookbook but rather a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish) one. That out of the way, the recipes I found were delicious-sounding and easy to make. The photos they had were gorgeous, though I wish there were more of them. I in particular wanted to try the Mushroom-Almond Milk Soup (as I’m trying to use more cow’s milk alternatives), Cheese Grits with Black Beans and Avocado, Artichoke Enchiladas, Sunny-Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas with Avocado, Quinoa Bowl with Avocado, Red Cabbage and Walnut, and the Peanut Butter/Amaranth Cookies. 4 stars.

Book Reviews April 2014

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

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

Children

Oliver and his Alligator written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

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

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

Over in the Meadow

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

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

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

Fox in Socks written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caldecott Challenge

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

T-bone the Babysitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheel on the Chimney

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

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

Children and Young Adult

Newbery Challenge

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

Flora and Ulysses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Adult

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

A Bride's Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole time I was listening to this book, I thought that the story was one of the weirdest ones I’d ever heard, yet at the same time it was also such a crazy study of human nature that I couldn’t stop. This was a very hard book to summarize as there is so much going on at once. For a really good insight into the book, check out this link (http://www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/Killer_000.htm – warning there are spoilers). The book started off as a short story, and was later transformed into a book, after the author wanted to write a book about an older Ender Wiggin, but needed some back story about the character first.  I am curious how they managed to pull this off as a movie, as I think it would be hard to abridge. Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.

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

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

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

Adult

Bohemians edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger

Bohemians

Published April 15, 2014

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

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

Samurai Gourmet by Kana Himiya

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

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

Slices of Life

Published April 1, 2014

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

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

Children and Young Adult

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1) written and narrated by Chris Colfer

the_land_of_stories_map

The author plays Kurt Hummel on the TV musical show “Glee”, and he is one of my favorite characters. I had no idea that he was a writer as well, and but I love fairy tales retellings, so I figured why not give the book a try. I thought he did a pretty good job considering this is his first novel. I especially liked him singing the Magic Harp’s song. The story was a little predictable, but there were enough twists to keep it interesting. I am interested in what happens with the rest of the series.

The book is about twins Alex and Conner, who couldn’t be more different. Alex is an incredibly smart and perceptive bookworm, who most of her classmates resent and tease because of it. Conner is completely laid-back and is constantly falling asleep in class, but never lacks for friends. The twins’ dad died in a car accident about a year ago, and they had to sell their house. Their mother takes double shifts at the hospital to pay for the growing number of overdue bills, and can’t see her children as much as she would like. So the whole family is dealing with a lot. For their twelfth birthday, the twins receive the book their paternal grandmother always read to them growing up, The Land of Stories. They quickly learn that this is not the average book, as the fall into it and end up in another world. Once they arrive there, Alex does not want to leave, but feels she owes it to her brother to try. So they set out on a quest to find the mythical Wishing Spell, by following a map and journal, and meet many famous fairy-tale characters along the way. The only problem with this quest is that they’re not the only ones trying to find the items for the Wishing Spell, so the twins have to get there first. Will the twins ever be able to make it home? Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 ½ stars.

Newbery Challenge

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I’ve heard about and seen this book for years, but never managed to pick up a copy until I needed one for my Newbery Challenge. This book won the 2007 Newbery Award and rightly so, as it was a great book, though a bit random. Lucky was a quirky fascinating character and I kept hoping that things would get better for her, and they eventually did. I liked how the author described in the interview after the book how she “wanted to create a book that makes you cry and hope, like Charlotte’s Web.” I know I did.

Lucky is a 10 year old girl whose birth mother is killed by a lightning strike in the beginning of the book. Her father’s French ex-wife takes up guardianship of her, and they live together in her mother’s trailer in Hard Pan, California (population 43). Her best friend is Lincoln, a quiet sincere boy who loves to tie knots. Lucky’s dog is named H.M.S. Beagle, after Charles Darwin’s exploration ship to the Galapagos, and Lucky wants to be a famous scientist like Darwin. She carries around a survival kit because you never know what will happen.

Lucky cleans up trash outside the FoundWindchimeMuseum, which is home to Hard Pan’s 12 Step programs for Alcholics, Overeaters and Smokers. She is convinced after listening in on a couple of the meetings that she needs to find a higher power, but she doesn’t know what that would be. After hitting rock bottom, she decides to run away. Will Lucky ever discover her higher power? Will she find the love she has been seeking since her mother died? To find out, read this great story. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Maniac Magee written by Jerry Spinelli, narrated by S. Epatha Merkerson

I probably would never have picked up this book if I wasn’t reading it for the Newbery challenge. This book was the 1991 Newbery Award winner. The description is not very appealing. However, the writing is fabulous and vividly descriptive. It is a great story for kids (especially boys), as the author made it sound like a classic tall tale, plus it has short chapters to keep them interested longer. I loved the story about McNab, the baseball pitcher at the beginning of the book and the interactions later between Grayson and Maniac. The narrator, S. Epatha Merkerson (you probably know her from the TV show “Law & Order”) did a fantastic job at getting all the nuances of how kids talk and their incredulity at Maniac’s story. I was totally drawn in by her narration of the story.

Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee’s parents died when he was little and he lived with his aunt and uncle for about 8 years before finally having enough at age 11 and leaving. He starts running and eventually ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, where he starts creating his legend. He ends up staying and creating a family, first with the Beall’s in the East End of town, with a lonely old man named Grayson at the baseball stadium, with the McNab family (although this was short-lived) on the West End of town, and finally again with the Bealls.

There is a lot in the story about race relations and prejudice, as the town is very definitively separated into white (West End) and black (East End) sections of town. These two topics are very hard to discuss, especially with children, but I think the author handled it really well. Maniac never seems to understand the term “black,” as he doesn’t see the inhabitants of the East End as such. He sees them as “gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.” In the end, it doesn’t matter that he is a homeless white kid, he is welcomed by everyone, and makes friends on both sides of town. Highly recommended for ages 9-13, 5 stars.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter, narrated by Lincoln Hoppe

I picked this one because it seemed the most interesting out of the 2014 Newbery Honor award winners. I enjoyed this story way more than I thought I would, to be honest. I guess it’s because I can always identify with children who are slightly different from other kids, as I was always seen as a bit of a weird loner as a pre-teen/teenager. The narrator, Lincoln Hoppe, really grew on me through the course of the books. I liked that the story was semi-autobiographical, and the main character’s real name is even closely related to the author’s name.

We are introduced to the protagonist, Vincent, although we don’t find out his name till the very end of the book, in the summer of his eleventh year. He is living in segregated Memphis, Tennessee in 1959. He has a stutter, and uses what his speech therapist calls “gentle air” to push his letters out, so he stutters less. Vincent is looked after by his African-American live-in housekeeper, Ms. Nellie, who he calls M’am as it is easier for him to pronounce. As a result of his stuttering, he is kind of isolated from other kids and most adults just think he is slow-witted. Vincent tries to pronounce his name, but has trouble with the consonants that start it. He is best friends with Art, who he calls Rat because it is, again, easier to pronounce. He is an excellent baseball pitcher, but accidently busts Rat’s lip when Rat was catching for him one day. So Vincent decided that he would take over Rat’s paper route for the month of July while Rat was at his grandparent’s farm.

The paper route is a big deal for the narrator, who is not only taking on more responsibility, but also must put up with some interesting characters on his route during the week and on Friday especially, when he is charged with picking up subscription money. He sees a young boy with his face right up against a TV and nicknames him TV Boy as he is always watching the screen. Vincent meets Mrs. Worthington, a housewife who drowns her sorrows in whiskey, with whom he is smitten (probably for the first time in his life). My favorite character is Mr. Spiro, a Merchant Marine, who spends all his spare time reading books. He doesn’t talk down to the narrator like the other adults in his life tend to do, and the narrator loves listening to him talk and having conversations with him.

The other adult that he deals with on a regular basis is Ara T, the local African-American junk man. M’am does not like him and is always warning the narrator to stay away from him, but usually his curiosity gets the better of him. He loans Ara T his knife for him to sharpen, but Ara T won’t give it back. Once M’am finds out about the knife, she disappears for a few days and comes back all beat up. What is really going on between M’am and Ara T? Will the narrator ever get his knife back? To find out, read this well-done book. Recommended for ages 9-12 (though B**** is used a couple of times), 4 stars.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd

Good Masters Sweet Ladies

I have been fascinated by Medieval History since I was probably about 12 years old or so, so I am always interested to read books about the period. This book has been on to-read list for awhile, but I’ve not managed to get around to it until I decided to do the Newbery Challenge. I think it is so cool that this 2008 Newbery Award winning book was created by a children’s librarian/storyteller/playwright whose kids were studying the Middle Ages and she wanted to create monlogues for them all to have a part. I loved the illustrations by Robert Byrd! I also find it fascinating that the author uses so many period terms and phrases. For example a “villein” is a term to describe a person who is owned by the lord and is essentially a slave and a “sniggler” is someone who catches eels.

The book follows a group of children that live in the manor, work for the local lord, and/or live in the village surrounding the manor. It’s pretty fascinating because the text of the monologues is taken from all the different children’s perspectives and backgrounds, like the lord’s daughter who gets mud on her silk dress (which is now ruined), followed by a girl who threw mud at her because she was frustrated with her lot in life (but realizes that deep down they’re probably not that different). There is  the miller’s son who no one likes because they think his family cheats them and his only friend, the village half-wit (who is actually pretty clever in some ways). It also gives informational text for the history and culture brought up in the text, like why the Crusades happened, why people in the Middle Ages went on pilgrimages and Jews in Medieval Society. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

The Mushrooms from The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

I had already read One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia as one the Newbery Honor winners for 2011, but I love owls and poetry, so I decided to give this book a try as well. It was a very quick read, as the poems are only one page long and the opposite page is one giant print and then there is a small scientific description on what is featured in the print/poem. I loved the gorgeous illustrations by Rick Allen. They reminded me of artists like Mo Willems, not for the style but for the fact that each page and nearly every picture featured a little Red Newt (Willems always puts the Pigeon in his books, usually in the end pages). The poems, as the title suggests are about creatures that only come out at night. My favorite poem is the one about the owl, aka “the dark emperor”, because it is a concrete poem and it is in the shape of an owl. I also enjoyed the one about the baby porcupine, which are called porcupettes. I thought it was a really-well done book that is not only informative, but fun to read as well. Highly recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Dust of Eden written by Mariko Nagai

The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Adult

The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets by Bart Moore-Gilbert

Around the World in 80 Dishes by David Loftus

 I got to say that despite not really caring for most of the recipes, I thought the concept of this cookbook was ingenious. As you probably guessed, it is a riff off of the Jules Verne classic “Around the World in Eighty Days,” except it is 80 dishes. I’ve never read the original book, but after reading this cookbook, it is definitely on my to-read list. Each section starts with a selection from the book and the area that it details. Our voyage starts in London, goes from there to India, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, across the US to New York City, and from there back to London. Loftus got his good friend Jamie Oliver to contribute several recipes, in addition to other famous chefs like Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal and many more. The food photography in the book is stunning. I marked a couple of recipes including Overnight Lamb Shanks with Figs and Honey, Aouda’s Champagne Cocktail, Chilled Minted Cucumber and Honeydew Soup (would be great for the summer here in Phoenix), and Pomegranate and Persimmon Salad. 4 stars.

The Ghost and the Graveyard (Knight Games #1) by Genevieve Jack

Grateful Knight is a down-on-her-luck nurse, whose ex-boyfriend ran off with all her money. Her father bailed her out by setting her up in a house in Red Grove, a place out in the country, for her to put her life back together. The only thing he neglected to tell her was that it was right next to a cemetery. Oh yeah, and it is haunted by two ghosts, one of which helped bring her into this world. On her way to the house, she notices the incredibly hot cemetery caretaker named Rick, who is very interested in getting to know her better. The only problem is, one of the ghosts named Logan, is also very appealing to her. Who will she choose?

Overall I enjoyed the book, especially because although it was clearly a romance/erotica story, the majority of the book was about the Grateful discovering who she really is and the supernatural elements that are attached to that. My only gripes were the corny aspects of the main storyline, particularly the explanations of how she will come into her powers, the main character’s name, and the ending (it ended rather abruptly). After awhile, though the name seems to matter less, and is definitely a memorable one. I’m curious to see what will happen in the next book. 3 ½ stars.

A Fine Romance: Falling In Love with the English Countryside written and illustrated by Susan Branch

This book was recommended by my friend Rebecca because she thought I would like it, as my husband is English, I love traveling around the UK, and I am a bit of an Anglophile. I was lucky to find it via interlibrary loan from Albuquerque. It’s an interesting book because it reads like a diary, but includes drawings, watercolor illustrations, and photographs taken by author.

The book is about the author meeting and falling in love with the man who would eventually become her husband in 1987, despite the fact that she had given up on love after a messy divorce. They visited England in 2004 together and loved it, but had always wanted to go back and explore the country more in-depth. So for their 25th Anniversary, they take the trans-Atlantic ocean liner Queen Mary 2 back to England. It is a very luxurious ship and reminds me, as the author also notes, of movies from the 1930s and 40s, when everyone traveled by boat across the Atlantic.

They landed in Southampton, England and then had to tackle driving on the other side of the road and car (with no prior experience), which was rather hilarious to read. I’ve lived in Scotland, so I know how confusing the signs and roads can be at times, as a passenger or pedestrian. Susan and her husband have roughly two months to visit the country, and start driving and visiting the South (called the Garden of England), and heads up towards the Lake District in NW England, where she finally gets to visit Hill Top (the farm of Beatrix Potter, who is someone the author really admires). From there, they go to York and then the Cotswolds. They visit small villages, a lot of National Trust historic properties, and a Cathedral. They also get to stay in a lot of gorgeous cottages. The book also features recipes of food that they ate along the way, such as Roasted Shallots, Pimm’s Cup, and Orange-Lavender Polenta Cake. 4 stars.

Book Reviews Feb 2014

This year I am trying to read at least 300 books again. I’m doing pretty well so far, having read 39 books. I’m hoping to tackle more Newbery books in audiobook format as they are usually so short, and I’m on a bit of an audiobook lull at the moment (at least in regards to adult books). I finally finished Book 3 of the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to the uninitiated). I’m currently reading an ARC called The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets by Bart Moore-Gilbert. I’m currently listening to another Newbery-winning book The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

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. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all the award winners and at least one honor book. I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.

Children

The Goodnight Train written by June Sobel, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

The Goodnight Train

Feeding into my son’s train fascination, this book is another great example of imaginative writing. Set to a rhyming text, the story is about a train full of beds and small children that is going through a magical countryside, on the way to Dreamland. My son loves this book and has requested it pretty much every night for a week. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Love Trains! written by Philomen Sturges and illustrated by Shari Halpern

This was a cute but very simple book about a young boy who loves trains, not only the different parts of the train, but also because his daddy works in the caboose of one. I like the brightly colored blocky illustrations, which are perfect for toddlers. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

No T. Rex in the Library written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

I like books about the library and am always on the lookout for picture books in that setting. I figured this one would interest my son as it has dinosaurs. A woman puts her daughter Tess in time-out for ten minutes for being a “little beastie” in the library and causing mischief, and while there Tess imagines a T Rex coming out of one of the books she knocked over and causing plenty more mischief and mayhem in the library, including ripping books. For this, Tess punishes the dinosaur by putting it in time out and back inside its book. I get that they’re trying to teach kids to have good behavior in the library, but that message kind of gets lost about halfway through the book.  My son loves it though, mostly just because there is a roaring rampaging dinosaur, so this book gets three stars from me instead of two. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Boy Who Loved Trains written by Jill Kalz, illustrated by Sahin Erkocak

I picked this one up because my son likes trains. Not the best book, as I thought the story fell a little flat and the illustrations weren’t that good, but it would be good for a beginning reader, which is the intended audience. The book is about a young boy who is obsessed with trains, in fact the only words he will say is “Woo! Woo!”. It is his birthday and he gets a new present from his aunt, a shiny race car, so soon afterwards he is obsessed with cars and the only words he will say is “Vroom! Vroom!”. My son enjoyed the book more than me. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

The Little Engine that Could written by Watty Piper, illustrated by Loren Long

I never really wanted to read this book, though of course I knew about it as it has been around since 1930. Again, influenced by my son, I picked it up in desperation after not being able to find many train books at the library. I actually enjoyed the story, though it is rather lengthy for reading out loud to small children. My son loved the story though, so that made it worth it.

A small happy train is pulling cargo of toys and good things to eat for the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain, when he suddenly breaks down. The toys ask three passing trains to help them to get to the children before daybreak, but each refuse. When all seems lost, a fourth smaller train happens by and she agrees to take them, though she has never hauled cargo before. All the way up the mountain, she chugs “I Think I Can” to herself, and manages to make it to the top. The toys are ecstatic as they make their way down to the little town in the valley of the mountain. This is a cute story that teaches children about determination and perseverance. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Caboose Who Got Loose written and illustrated by Bill Peet

THE CABOOSE WHO GOT LOOSE

I’ve been fascinated by Bill Peet ever since I read his autobiography for the Caldecott Challenge. I knew he wrote some children’s books, but had no idea that he did so many (34 total). His work reminded me a lot of Dr Seuss, with the crazy rhymes for the book. I guess you have to get pretty creative when working with the word “caboose”. He worked for Walt Disney and you can definitely see the influence in the way he draws houses and even Katy Caboose, from his work on the animated shorts Susie the Little Blue Coupe and The Little House.  I loved the rhyming storyline and it had great illustrations. As this was a train-related book, my son kept wanting me to read it over and over to him.

Katy spends her day at the end of a very long freight train and longs to be free and surrounded by nature. It is only after she is near a switchman’s house that wants to be her because her life looks so glamorous that she gains appreciation for herself. Her wish for freedom is unexpectedly granted when the train she is hooked up to is coming up a steep curvy mountain track, and she is accidentally uncoupled. She flies off the track and is caught between two evergreen trees and the rescue team is unable to find her. And so she lives out the rest of her days in nature with a great view. Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Smokey written and illustrated by Bill Peet

Yay for Bill Peet! While I didn’t like this one as much as Katy the Caboose, my son kept wanting me to read it. Smokey is an old engine who is a bit worn down. After overhearing some other engines talk about how will be retired to the junk yard, he decides to go on an adventure. He is chased by Native Americans who misinterpret his smoke signals (this part was a little racist, but the book was written in the 1960s, so congruent with the times). He is almost run off the rails by a fast freight train and end up in a farmer’s duck pond. After the farmer complains to the North Central Line, they come and rescue him and bring him back to the train yard. His smoke stack has been bent in his fall into the pond, and now he can puff letters and numbers. A teacher returning from summer vacation sees the letters and gets her school board to buy Smokey from the North Central Line, where the kids fix him up. He goes from a sad black and white engine to a colorful one, after the kids paint him. He learns simple words and happily teaches the kids for many years. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 1/2 stars.

Steam Train, Dream Train written by Sherrie Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Steam Train Dream Train - Turtle Cars

I loved the book Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site, as it was a great book for my son, so when I found out the author/illustrator did a train book, I leapt at the chance to read it. She did not disappoint. How can kids not love a book with trains, animals, and dinosaurs! The book tells the rhyming story of a group of animals who help load a train with supplies and when the finish, they board the train and go to sleep. My son especially liked the polar bears and penguins loading ice cream, the elephants loading colorful paint and the dinosaurs. It has fantastic illustrations that really draw you into the story. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Sidney, Stella, and the Moon written and illustrated by Emily Yarlett

Sidney, Stella and the Moon

I picked this one up in the New Book section of the Children’s Room. It looked interesting and it was about the moon, which my son loves reading about, so I gave it a try. I must have British book radar, because I always seem to gravitate towards British writers, even if I have no idea where they are from are to begin with. I really liked the artwork, which was a blend of digital art and collage. The story was kind of boring though.

Sidney and Stella are twins who do everything together. One day, they are fighting over a bouncy ball, when it slips from their grasp, bounces way up and shatters the moon. What are two children to do! Why, they must fix it before anyone can find out. Of course, it is all over the news so it is not a secret for long. Sidney eventually finds a partially eaten round of cheese to replace the moon and with his sister’s help, the put it back in the sky. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

No Such Thing written and illustrated by Bill Peet

This was an odd book. It was almost like Peet was trying too hard to be like Dr. Seuss with his descriptions of crazy original creatures and their abilities. My favorites were the colorful narcissistic horses called Fandangoes and the Snoofs, mountain goats whose horns are so long they can use them for skis. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 1/2 stars.

The Adventures of Obadiah written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle

The Adventures of Obadiah

I love Obadiah! He is so precious. I was so excited after having read the Caldecott honor winning book Thy Friend, Obadiah by the same author, that he did a few more books on our Quaker boy Obadiah.

In this book, Obadiah keeps getting in trouble with his teacher and family for telling outrageous fibs. The family’s big event in the story is a sheep shearing and fair, where they go with all the other Quaker families to socialize. Obadiah is warned against going to the sideshow tents. While there, he is separated from his family but finally makes his way back to them at the end of the day. He tells them what seems like another crazy story about him riding an out-of-control sheep when he was saved by a sideshow performer who showed him around the area. He got to see fire-eaters and go dancing. That is pretty exciting stuff for a young Quaker boy. They don’t believe him, until his story is confirmed by a neighbor. Recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

Tea Rex: A Young Person’s Guide to Tea Party Etiquette written and illustrated by Molly Idle

Tea Rex

I really picked this up for me rather than my son, though I thought he might like the dinosaur. I enjoyed the concept of this book, but the execution would be hard for small children to enjoy. A lot of the story ideas were visual, which were hard to explain to a two-year old. It would be fun for a slightly older child who can pick up on visual clues.

The book is a guide for children who want to have a tea party and shows the correct and not-so-correct ways to handle guests and put on a successful tea party. As a child who grew up with tea parties, both real and imagined, I found the idea of a huge roaring T Rex trying to be genteel and hold a cup of tea hilarious, and the pictures made it even more so. Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

The Flying Tortoise: An Igbo Tale retold by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by Barbara Spurll

The Flying Tortoise

I found this book at the library book sale this weekend and picked it up because I love folktales and my son loves turtles. The story reminded me of the West African stories about Anansi the spider, as he is also a trickster, although Mbeku the tortoise seems much more greedy and unredeemable compared to Anansi.

The story comes from the Igbo people of Nigeria. Mbeku the tortoise had a beautiful shiny shell. He tricked the birds into giving him their feathers and becoming their spokesman after they were all invited to the Skyland for a feast. Mbeku got his friend the lizard to create some wings for him, which he uses to fly up with the birds and eat all their food. In punishment, they destroy his wings and leave him stranded in the sky. He plans on jumping down, but after the birds learn that he has fooled them for a third time, they sabotage his soft landing. Mbeku falls and breaks his shell, and his friend the lizard tries to repair it but it is now rugged and ugly. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Fish in the Air written and illustrated by Kurt Wiese

I managed to slip this short read into our bedtime story routine in one night. The book won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. This is only my second Kurt Wiese book but he seems to predominantly write books about China and the books are a little dated, as evidenced by the clothing in the story. This was a cute story about a young Chinese boy named Young Fish who wants to fly the biggest Fish kite. His father, Old Fish, buys it for him and on the way to flying it, Young Fish promptly gets swept away by a strong wind and end up in the river. He is caught by a napping fisherman, and rescued by his father. He quickly decides that he would much rather have the smallest fish kite. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Bambino the Clown written and illustrated by Georges Screiber

I wasn’t a huge fan of this book because it just came off as super creepy and slightly pedophilic to me, though I know it wouldn’t have been considered this way when it was written. It won a 1948 Caldecott Honor. Bambino the Clown is a man who sees a little boy crying and decides to take him under his wing by inviting him back to his house to see how he turns himself into a clown. He is invited to the circus the next day and we are treated to Bambino’s show with his seal companion Flapper. Recommended for ages 4 – 7, 2 ½ stars.

Children and YA

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus #4) by Rick Riordan, narrated by Nick Chamain

This book was a non-stop action fest, but also had plenty of character development as well to keep the story going. As usual, this series introduces me to lesser-known Greek and Roman mythology that I might not have seen unless I was very thorough. I applaud Rick Riordan for his addition of a gay main character, something I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting from a well-known children/young adult author who also happens to be Southern (I am also Southern and unfortunately we are not known for our open-mindedness – with exceptions of course).

The story picked up right where The Mark of Athena left off. Frank, Piper, Hazel, Leo, and Jason are taking the Athena Parthenos statue to Epirus, Greece to stop Gaia and close Doors of Death from the mortal side. Nico has joined the crew as well, as is the only one who can locate the doors. Meanwhile, Percy and Annabeth who fell into Tartarus in the last book are attempting to close the Doors from the Underworld. Only no mortal has ever survived walking through Tartarus, so there is a lot of pressure from their end. All of the demigods do a lot of growing up in this book, which in Frank’s case is literal and everyone else’s figuratively. The Greek and Roman gods are warring with each other, so they’re no help at all. The demigods must rely on themselves and each other if they are going to get through this. The book ended on a cliffhanger though, so I’m dying to know what happens next (have to wait a year till next book comes out L). Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

            Newbery

The Dark-thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

I probably would not have picked this book up except that it won a 1993 Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Author award. But I’m very glad I did. The book is a fascinating glimpse into African-American folktales from the Southeastern US. I’ve never heard any of them. Patricia McKissack is a fabulous storyteller. There’s a little bit of everything in this book: ghosts, voodoo, Sasquatch, daring escapes, demons and protector spirits and monsters. The woodcut illustrations by Brian Pinkney are great, though I wish there were more of them. My favorites were “We Organized”, “The Woman in the Snow”, and “The Gingi”. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

A Single Shard written by Linda Sue Park, narrated by Graeme Malcolm

At first, I was wondering why they picked this particular narrator to voice a story about a young Asian boy, but Graeme Malcolm had a very nice range of different voices and intonations and did an excellent job. I could picture Tree Ear in my mind after listening to his narration and really rooting for him to succeed. This book made me smile and cry, but still ended on a happy note.

Tree Ear is an orphaned boy about twelve years old who lives with his friend one-legged Crane-Man under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a small Korean village, a place known for its fine celadon pottery. One day, Tree Ear’s curiosity gets the better of him and he accidentally breaks a piece done by Min, the finest potter in the village. As penance, he has to do back-breaking labor for nine days for free. After completing this, he is taken on as an apprentice to Min, though he will not let him throw a pot on the pottery wheel. To create a beautiful vase is Tree Ear’s dream, so he is heartbroken. One day, an emissary comes to the village to select a potter for a royal commission. One of the other potters in town Kang has created a new style of incising designs into the pottery. He gets a royal commission because it is new and different, but the emissary prefers Min’s work as Kang is not as skillful. Tree Ear is charged with bringing two vases with the incised style done in Min’s more skilled hand to the emissary. Will he be able to make it? If he does, will he finally learn how to throw pots? To find out, read this beautifully written book, which won a 2002 Newbery award. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 9 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

I had totally forgot about this series until I was browsing manga on my local library’s website the other day. This series is a little predictable, but I still enjoy it and want Kasahara to find true love, whether or not that turns out to be her “prince”.

In this volume, Kasahara is acting as bait for a groper in the library, who felt up the deaf girl Marie. Once the groper is caught, Marie is given a whistle to blow in an emergency. Since finding out that Instructor Dojo is her “prince”, things have been awkward between the two, especially after she blurts out that she’s grown out of her prince one day. The test for the next rank of Sergeant is coming up, and Kasahara and Tezuki have to take a written test and a skills test, which involves entertaining a group of kids. Kasahara passes the skills test with flying colors, and barely passes the written (thanks to tutoring from Instructor Dojo), while Tezuki aces the written and manages to hold the attention of the children. Kasahara realizes that despite her best efforts, she may be falling for Instructor Dojo for real. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 10 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

In this volume, the enemy of the Library Task Force (the Media Betterment Committee) is censoring a piece of artwork in the Museum of Modern Art in the hometown of Kasahara, and she is chosen along with Dojo and the others to represent the Task Force in the town. They are going to protect the freedom of speech of the artist. The only problem with this is that Kasahara’s parents do not like the idea of her being in the Task Force to begin with, as they say it is unladylike. Once there, Kasahara is tormented by the female librarians, who do not like that she is there with the Task Force. She manages to work her way through it and holds her own, which Dojo praises. The bonus manga was very fascinating, and makes me wonder if Dojo really likes Kasahara as well. Can’t wait till the next volume comes out! Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

Adult

Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kelli Martin

At the King’s Table: Royal Dining Through the Ages by Susanne Groome

As I am fascinated by British Royalty and food history, this seemed like a very appropriate topic for me to read. It gives a history of royal dining from the time of Richard II in the mid 14th century to the present day. As far as styles of cooking goes, there was a lot of French influence on the British court, depending on whether or not they were at war with the French at that time or not. The earlier courts pretty much up until King George II had prodigious appetites, then there was a lull during the reign of Mad King George III due to his illness and his wife’s pickiness. The banqueting picked up again during George IV’s reign as he was a prodigious eater, followed by a lull during the Victorian era due to Victoria and Albert’s strict upbringing of their children, and renewed again by their son Edward VI. He was a lover of all things French and it was during the Edwardian era that the French style of cooking really came into prominence in Great Britain. Once you get into modern times, the World Wars effectively put an end to the multiple-course menus. I loved all the illustrations in the book, which really set the stage for the history. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire #3 by George R.R. Martin

I thought the last book was crazy, but this one was even more so. I ended up giving this book 4 1/2 instead of 5 stars because it really dragged in the beginning and middle. I guess that’s because he was building up so much storyline to really sock it to you at the end, and boy did he. I mean how ballsy is the author to kill off 3 ½ major characters (the half part is explained in the epilogue) and at least two secondary characters all in the second half of the story!

This book picks up about where the other book left off. First, we visit the Starks and family, which leads into the rest of the major characters. Catelyn Stark has gotten this crazy idea in her head that if she releases Jaime Lannister to the care of Brienne of Tarth (her sworn protector after Renly Baratheon was killed in the previous book), and delivers him to King’s Landing that Cersei will give her back Sansa and Arya. So she does and that causes a mighty uproar with her son Robb, the King in the North, as he was a valuable bargaining chip. We actually get to see Jaime as a real person and not just as the “Kingslayer”. Jon Snow has joined the wildings, under orders from a Night Watch superior, to see what they are planning for the Black Brothers. He definitely gets a little life experience under his belt after he claims Ygritte for his own. I found the character of Mance Rayder to be particularly interesting as there were only hints of his character before. John really came into his own in this book and grew up a bit.

Arya is still on the run and falls into the hands of Lord Beric Dondarrion, the lightning lord, who runs with group of commoners. He is another follower of the Lord of Light. She spends some time with the Hound, who has been on the run ever since Stannis Baratheon was defeated at the Battle for King’s Landing. She also manages to tick a few names off her death wish list, some through her actions and some through others. Bran, Hodor and the Reed heirs (retainers of his father) have escaped from Winterfell and are heading North. King Joffrey breaks his marriage plans to Sansa and is engaged to be married to Margery Tyrell, the former wife of Renly Baratheon. Sansa spends most of the book being bullied by Joffrey and his thugs. After the Battle for King’s Landing, and despite his great role in protecting the city, Tyrion is essentially discarded and his father Tywin takes over the role of Hand to the King. Daenerys is becoming totally bad-ass after conquering a few eastern cities and getting a warrior-eunuch army to follow her. The dragons are growing up.

Davos Seaworth gets rescued and brought back to “King” Stannis who first throws him in prison and then names him Hand of the King. The Others, the undead horde that keep following the Night’s Watch, attack the small army set up by Lord Commander Mormont. Samwell Tarly kills one of the Others with an obsidian blade given to him by Jon. Afterwards, they are staying at Craster’s (a wildling who sometimes gives aid to the Black Brothers) house, when some of the remaining Brothers rebel, and kill Mormont. Samwell manages to escape with the help of Gilly, who has just given birth. He must bring them back to Castle Black to safety.  To find out more about the story, read this excellent third book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. 4 1/2 stars.

Murder as a Fine Art written by David Morrell

I picked this book on a recommendation from one of my favorite historical fiction/mystery YA authors, Y.S. Lee. She had read the book and gave it positive reviews for accuracy and I love this type of book so decided to give it a try. I had no idea that the author originally became famous for writing First Blood, the book that first introduced Rambo to the world. Morrell was very thorough in researching for this book, and shares his sources in the back. Although I had never read anything about Thomas de Quincey, I had heard of his famous book. I am definitely interested after reading this book.

A man brutally murders a young family and their servant in the East End of London and the city’s newly created Scotland Yard is on the case. Inspector Ryan and his associate Constable Becker are assigned to the case and begin to explore what might have happened. Eventually they decide to involve the author Thomas de Quincey in the investigation. He is the author of the infamous book The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, the world’s first real book about drug addiction, a very taboo subject during the Victorian era. Thomas de Quincy believes the murders are from a copycat killer of an earlier set of murders done in the same area of Ratcliffe Highway. They are meant to cause panic and riots so that the police won’t be able to catch who is responsible. De Quincey and his daughter Emily help Ryan and Becker, but De Quincey is himself implicated in the murders due to his continued laudanum use and the fact that he knows so much about the earlier killings. Will Ryan and Becker be able to stop the murderer before he strikes again? Will they be able to solve the case and free de Quincey? To find out, read this incredible Victorian thriller. 5 stars.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman

How can you not love a man who is both detailed in research and precise in cooking directions? I’ve been a fan of Mark Bittman for awhile, and after reading his VB6 book and liking the idea but wanting more vegetarian options, I got this book. This book is a behemoth at about 900 pages, but like I said before, Bittman is very thorough in his description of every kind of vegetable and fruit imaginable, plus whole grains, different kinds of breads and a small dessert section. I figure I found at least 20 new ways to prepare things, but with recipes that won’t overwhelm me. Some of the recipes I’d like to try include Raw Beet Salad, Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Peppers, Goat Cheese  and Mushroom Tart with Potato Crust, Smashed Edamame and Potatoes with Miso, and Plum Rosemary Upside-Down Cake. 5 stars.

Book Reviews #12

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I changed my blog layout/design. I just needed something new and different. Plus this is my 150th post on this blog, so it seemed fitting. Well, this has been an interesting year for reading. I’ve done my best to read a diverse group of books. I’m nearly at my 300 books read this year total, which I am rather proud of, despite being incredibly distracted all year. I’ve knocked out almost all the books for my Caldecott, only about 30 left out of over 320 (all of which I have to get from Interlibrary Loan or through my local public library’s special Caldecott Collection). While I’m wrapping up the last part of this challenge, I’m starting another.

I’m planning on doing a Newbery Challenge, reading the winner and at least one honor book from every year of the medal, namely 1922 – present. So I’ve at least 180 books to read out of 393. Here’s a little bit of history on the Newbery Medal, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, from the ALA website: “The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children’s Librarians’ Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children’s librarians, and Melcher’s official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922.” It basically allows me to read slightly longer children’s books.

I’ve also read/listened to quite a good number of good adult books. I am currently about halfway through The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, which started out really slow, but is just starting to pick up. I’m also listening to the excellent biography/nonfiction audiobook I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban written by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, narrated by Archie Panjabi, with the Prologue read by the author. 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. I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.

Children

The Cow Loves Cookies written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Marcellus Hall

My son and I enjoyed this story about a cow’s favorite food. The rhyming text of the book tells all about how the farmer takes care of the animals on his farm by feeding them the food they like best, hay for horses, slops for pigs and so on. There is a secret reason for the cow to like cookies though, which is revealed at the end of the book (my hubby thought it was a little weird). Great illustrations by Marcellus Hall definitely enhance this fun and silly read-aloud story. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I’m a Frog! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is acting like a frog, but Gerald can’t figure out why. She explains to him that she is pretending to be one, something that everyone does and encourages him to do the same. He pretends to be a cow. My son loved this book and was acting like a frog for days after me reading it to him. My only gripe was the excessive amounts of ribbits in this book, which can get annoying if you’re reading it aloud to a child.  I do like this book for its imagination. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 ½  stars.

Two Little Trains written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon

This book was originally written in 1949 by Margaret Wise Brown and re-illustrated in 2001 by Leo & Diane Dillon. My son loved the story of the two trains, one old and slow, the other shiny and fast. They are traveling west and go up hills, through mountains and over river bridges before getting to their destination. The book is cool in that all the destinations are in the imagination of the little boy that has these two toy trains, so when the train is going over the river bridge, it’s really driving next to a bathtub full of water. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Broke My Trunk! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

My son absolutely loved this book! He couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of an elephant breaking his trunk. I’ll admit it was great that after balancing two hippos, a piano and a rhino on his trunk, it doesn’t break but does after he runs to tell his best friend Piggie about what he did. Then of course, she breaks her snout telling someone else. Highly recommended for ages 2-7, 5 stars.

Octopus Alone written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan

Divya-01-octopusalone

 I absolutely adored this book, which I randomly found in the children’s section while hunting for books for my son. I love cephalopods, so to find a picture book with such amazing illustrations was amazing and makes me want to start of list of octopus picture books. The story is about Octopus who lives in a cave off of a beautiful reef filled with many colorful fish and invertebrates. Despite her surroundings and some animated seahorses who want to play with her, Octopus is shy and wants to spend some time by herself. So she leaves the reef and goes on an adventure to find a nice quiet place nearby, only to find it so noiseless that she suddenly misses her home and goes back to it. A great book for children studying the ocean, the end pages feature all the names and illustrations of the fish contained inside the book. Highly recommended for ages 2-7, 5 stars.

Let’s Go For a Drive! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Normally I love the Elephant and Piggie books, but this one was just too rambling and repetitive. In this book, the two are going for a drive and get everything ready for the trip, including a map, luggage, an umbrella, and sunglasses. And then they remember that neither of them have a car, so they can’t actually go anywhere. Oh well. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Little Naomi, Little Chick written by Avirama Golan, illustrated by Raaya Karas

Little Naomi, Little Chick

 I randomly found this book while browsing the children’s section of the library. It is an Israeli book translated from Hebrew. I’m not sure exactly the point of it, to be honest, as the two stories didn’t really have a correlation, unless the point was to show the differences. Naomi is going to kindergarten and is a good obedient child who does all that is expected of her, whereas Little Chick does not, but they both end up snuggling with their families at the end of the day. I liked the illustrations. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

A Big Guy Took My Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie found a huge ball but now a big guy has taken the ball and she wants it back. She asks Gerald to help her. He goes in the direction she has pointed and realizes the big guy is a REALLY BIG guy. He turns out to be lonely and really wants someone to play with him and his small ball. So Piggie and Gerald play with him. These books are a little too long for my son and his attention kind of wanders sometimes when I read them, as was the case with this one. Recommended for ages 4-6, 3 stars.

Cowboy and Octopus written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

I will admit that I mostly picked this one up because I love octopi and the combination of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. They just made such a great writing/illustrating team. This book was a bit weird. It was a series of interactions between the aptly named Cowboy and Octopus, like when Cowboy cooks beans for Octopus, and he eats them even if it is not his favorite meal (in fact he hates them, but eats them because they are friends). It was almost as if the two got together and were like hey, let’s think of a really random idea because it has worked for us before, i.e. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales which won a Caldecott Honor, and make a book out of it. Only it didn’t work very well. Recommended for ages 5-8, 2 stars.

John, Paul, George & Ben written and illustrated by Lane Smith

John, Paul, George and Ben

 I picked this one up randomly as I love Lane Smith’s work. It almost sounds like a Beatles story, but is instead a book about our founding fathers and revolutionary heroes. John Hancock (the giant signature on the Declaration of Independence), Paul Revere, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are featured in the book, although Thomas Jefferson is also mentioned. It gives a short half truth/half fictional account of each of their lives, and explains some finer points/questions in the back of the book. I thought this book would be a fun way to get kids interested in American History, which let’s face it, can be pretty tedious. As usual, his illustrations are hilarious and really bring the stories to life. Recommended for ages 7-10, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Hide and Seek Fog written by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

As I’ve done this Caldecott Challenge, I’ve gotten to read two of his previous Caldecott Honor/Award winners White Snow, Bright Snow and Rain Drop Splash, both of which I have enjoyed. Those, like this book, are about a natural event – in this case fog. It rolls in off the coast of a small fishing village and blankets the town and its inhabitants and vacation-goers for three days. Although the fog completely stops the lobstermen and other businesses in their tracks, it doesn’t deter the kids, who are out playing hide and seek in it.  It is hard to depict something like fog, but Roger Duvoisin, Tresselt’s regular illustrator, does an excellent job of depicting it in watercolors. For a detailed biography on the author and his works, check out this site. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.

Small Rain: Verses From the Bible text selected by Jessie Orton Jones, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones

Small Rain

Normally I hate it when books like this and songbooks win the Caldecott, because there is usually not any skill involved, you are just selecting parts of other people’s work. Cases in point, anything selected by Marjorie Torrey and illustrated by Opal Wheeler. This book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor. However, like “Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book” illustrated by Dorothy P. Lanthrop, which won the very first Caldecott Medal in 1938, this had charming little illustrations done by Elizabeth Orton Jones. It’s not that I have anything against kids reading Bible verses (I read a toddler Bible to my son occasionally), but I feel that by selecting text from a pre-established source you’re taking away an award from somebody who actually came up with a real story from scratch. Rant over. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.

The Song of Robin Hood edited by Anne Malcolmson, illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

The Song of Robin Hood title page

This book, much like the Caldecott Honor winning Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns edited by Marjorie Torrey and illustrated by Opal Wheeler, does not have an actual story per se but is a collection of fifteen songs set to music with lyrics about Robin Hood, some taken from old English tunes and others adapted from American traditional music. It won a 1948 Caldecott Honor. The really cool part of the book were the illustrations done by Virginia Lee Burton, who I’ve gotten to know rather well while doing the Caldecott Challenge as several of her books were award honor winners. She used pen, ink and scratchboard to create these incredibly detailed and predominantly tiny drawings of Robin Hood, his Merry Men and the other characters featured in the songs. Recommended for ages 7-10, 3 stars.

Roger and the Fox written by Lavinia R. Davis, illustrated by Hildegard Woodward

Roger and the Fox Skiing illustration

This book won a 1948 Caldecott Honor award. I really enjoyed this story about a city boy coming to live in the country and his quest to find a fox, something he has never seen before. He looks every day from the fall to the winter, even in heavy snow, before he finally sees one. The illustrations are what really make this story. Hildegard Woodward uses only about five or six colors in graphite and watercolor to lay the scene of the woods where Roger is looking for the fox, but as this reviewer has said ” I like the way the color – or lack thereof – on some pages evokes the cool, crisp weather.” Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 1/2 stars.

The Christmas Anna Angel written by Ruth Sawyer, illustrated by Kate Seredy

I will say that this was a very long book to read aloud, with not that many illustrations, but the ones it did have were pretty detailed and spectacular! Finding out that this author was the same author that did another Caldecott Honor winning book “Journey Cake, Ho!” makes more sense, as this was another odd duck book. The parts of the story that I didn’t get were in relation to St. Lucy’s Day, where Anna chases chickens around a yard and sings a song while doing it, to encourage to lay eggs throughout the year. It just seemed out of place. Plus there was that whole thing with the talking dog on Christmas Eve.

Ruth Sawyer obviously researched quite a bit to create this book, which was about a Hungarian family during a war. This book won a 1945 Caldecott Honor. It explains a lot about the Christmas traditions celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church, as carried out by Anna and her family. The story starts off with a visit from St. Nicholas himself, who asks Anna and her brother what they want for Christmas. Soldiers have already cleared out most of their harvest and food, and even though they don’t have the ingredients, the one thing that little Anna wants for Christmas is a Christmas Cake. She finally gets her wish when her very own Christmas Anna Angel (who looks just like her except with angel wings) makes magical Christmas cakes for the whole family to eat. Recommended for ages 7-10, 3 1/2 stars.

The Mighty Hunter by Berta and Elmer Hader

I’m never quite sure how to analytically handle books on Native Americans from before the 1970s, as I know most of them were very stereotypical and not very accurate. The book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor, though the only book I really liked from that year was A Child’s Good Night Book. The story is about Little Brave Heart, a Plains Indian (not sure from what tribe) who decides that instead of attending school, he will go hunting. He starts by hunting a mouse, who leads him to a prairie dog and on and on to bigger and better animals until at last he is hunting a bear. However, the bear is so much bigger and meaner than him, that he quickly decides it would be much better if he left and returned to school. So he does, in a hurry. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

In the Forest written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

in the forest parade

This book won a 1945 Caldecott Honor. I thought it was a cute imaginative story about a little boy who goes into the forest and starts marching through with a hat and a horn. Before long, a parade of animals are following him, only for us to discover that it was all make-believe. The illustrations were very basic and had no color, which was my only gripe. As another reviewer has pointed out, the story does kind of remind the reader of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 ½ stars.

Newbery Challenge

Bomb: The Race to Build–And Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile, so when I saw it was on the Newbery Honor list for 2013 (which is my new Challenge for 2014), I had to get a copy. It was well-worth the wait. The book is a narrative nonfiction account of the US’s attempt to figure out how to build a plutonium atomic bomb, led by Robert Oppenheimer, in order to win the war against Germany during World War II. They were competing against German scientists who were also trying to build a bomb. The book was also about Russian spies in the US during World War II and how several builders of the bomb betrayed the US by passing atomic secrets to the KGB, which allowed Russia to build an atomic bomb by 1949. The US had built the bomb in 1945, and used it to end the Japanese part of World War II, but dropping one in Hiroshima and one in Nagasaki. I have always had very mixed feelings about the US deciding to drop the bombs on Japan, despite having a grandfather that fought in the Pacific during the entire war. Of course, I am looking at it from a 21st century viewpoint and was not there during the time it happened. It was interesting to read this quote from the then-president Harry Truman, on his decision to do just that: “It was a question of saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. I couldn’t worry about what history would say about my personal morality. I made the only decision I ever knew how to make. I did what I thought was right.” It is crazy though to read about the descriptions of the aftermath of the bombs, especially the figures on page 204, which explain that “Out of 76,000 buildings in Hiroshima, 70,000 of them were destroyed when the bomb was dropped. Also, 70,000 people died right away and 100,000 died from related injuries after the fact.” And that’s not even counting the longer term effects of people who got cancer from radiation poisoning. This book makes me want to read more on the atomic bombs and especially about Robert Oppenheimer as he was a intriguing character in the book. There is a very thorough bibliography in the back for those who want more information. Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

After reading Bomb: The Race to Build—And Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, I figured this would be a good follow-up Newbery book. This book won a 2012 Newbery Honor award. While reading it, all I could think of was thank goodness I didn’t live in Russia during the Stalin era. It’s not really about the Communism part, but more about the way you had no freedom of speech or expression, and had to watch everything you said to make sure your neighbor didn’t overhear something remotely incriminating that would land you in a Siberian labor camp or be killed by the KGB.

Sasha’s father works for the Secret Police. Everything is good for him and his dad until he is suddenly arrested without warning by the same people he works for and Sasha is left all alone. It is the day before Sasha is due to become a Young Pioneer, the most basic entry to the Communist Party for school-age children, followed by the Stalin Youth for teenagers, and then the Community Party for adults. It reminded me a lot of system in Germany during World War II. He has been waiting for this moment since he was 2 years old, and in an instant when he breaks the nose off a Stalin statue, his dreams are almost dashed until they are saved by an unusual ally. Will Sasha ever see his father again? To find out, read this short read about life in Communist Russia. Recommended for ages 9-12, 3 1/2 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel written by Deborah Hopkinson

I really enjoyed this unexpectedly good book that I randomly found in the children’s section of my library. My only gripe with the book was that the secondary storyline about the boy wasn’t as developed as I would’ve liked, but the author did a fine job researching the main part of the book and has many resources for students in the back of the book on the topic.

The book was about a 13 year old boy named Eel who lives in London and makes his living as a mudlark, someone who used to go into the Thames River and sell bits of things found there, like nails and coal, for a few pennies to buy food. For more information on how disgusting and smelly the Thames was and the Great Stink, check out this website. Eel ends mudlarking after both his parents have died and he has to take care of his younger brother Henry. They are trying to escape from Fisheye Bill Taylor. Eel also picks up odd jobs working for a brewery, cleaning up a tailor’s shop, and feeding animals at Dr. Snow’s house. The “Blue Death” refers to the Cholera Epidemic of 1854, which killed over 600 people in one area of London, and it is featured as part of the mystery in the book. Eel witnesses people that he lived and worked with die from the disease and Dr. Snow is helped by Eel to pinpoint how the epidemic spread from the area around the Broad Street Water Pump. They are trying to figure out who and what started the whole thing. Will they be able to prove that the infection is spread by water, and not by air like previously thought, and stop it at the source? Will Eel and Henry be able to escape the evil clutches of Fisheye Bill Taylor? To find out, read this great book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 4 stars.

Adult

Soulless: The Manga, Vol 3 written by Gail Carriger, illustrated by REM

I really enjoyed this manga, because it takes the very slow-paced action of the third book of The Parasol Protectorate series, and makes it much more fascinating, though I will say with a great deal more nudity than I would’ve imagined from reading the book (though this not necessarily a bad thing). I loved the “cabinet cards” in the front of Alexia and Madame Lefoux, and the middle of Conall and Professor Lyle (they are made to look like 19th century pin-up photographs).

This is the summary from my previous review of Blameless, which the manga is based off of: In this volume, Alexia has been turned out of her house by her husband Lord Maccon after he found out she was pregnant and assumed she had cheated on him (which of course she would never do). She stays with her family for a short time until she is forced to go elsewhere and decides to travel to Paris and then Italy to see if she can find out more information about being pregnant (apparently it never happens for soulless and even less so when combined with a supernatural like a werewolf). Meanwhile, the vampires of London have put a hit out on her and drones have been trailing her with intent for assassination since Paris. 4 stars.

Good Omens written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett, read by Martin Jarvis

I tried to read this book several times but never got more than about 20 pages into it, before I would get distracted by something else and stop. I love Neil Gaiman books, which is why I held onto it. So when I found out the library had an audiobook copy in the library, I decided to give it a try. The book started off good, but really dragged at the end (you can tell there were two writers). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse characters, namely Death, War, Famine, and Pollution really reminded me of characters from Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman. The ending was a bit anticlimactic, and maybe that was the point, I don’t know. I’ve never read any Terry Prachett books, but at least I know from reading quite a bit of Neil Gaiman that at least the book will be funny.

The book is about the Antichrist, a baby named Adam Young switched at birth by one of the Chattering Nuns of the Order of St. Beryl (a Satanic order, don’t ya know), who will bring about the Apocalypse one way or another. Heaven and Hell are obviously very interested in the outcome of the war between Good and Evil, and so have assigned an angel and a demon respectively, to watch over the child from a distance. These two come in the form of Crowley, a demon who very much likes his cushy job and material possessions and Aziraphale, who is quite content to obey his masters from the safety of his used-book shop. Crowley and Aziraphale form an alliance of sorts after spending so much time among humans, and neither of them looking forward to the Rapture. The title comes from the book that Agnes’ descendants have passed through the generations, as her “nice”, which means precise, and unlike most prophecies, predictions have been always correct. Its current owner is Anathema Device, who is also a witch and has recently moved into Tadfield, where the Antichrist lives. She plays the important role of information giver in the book, as it is through “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” that Crowley and Aziraphale truly realize that they’ve been tailing the wrong kid for 11 years. At its heart, it is a book about good and evil, what it really means to be human, having free will and knowing how to use it, as well as having a little faith. 4 stars.

Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and Moor from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

I found this by accident in the new cookbook section at the library. I love Japanese food, so I’m always on the lookout for new cookbooks. I had heard of Tadashi Ono after watching the PBS show “In the Mind of a Chef, which featured the owner/chef of NYC’s Momofuko, David Chang who liked to go to Japan to eat Ramen and get ideas for his restaurant. He met Ono on one of the shows. I really couldn’t do most of the recipes unless I bought the book, as most have multiple parts in different sections. Plus although I like a lot of the recipes they have in the cookbook, they’re the sort of things I’d rather eat in a restaurant versus at home as I’m sure professionals do it better. The authors were very detailed (which I found fascinating) in discussing the evolution of each of the dishes and how they are served today. I especially liked the recipes for Vegetarian Gyoza and Miso Dipping Sauce, Mabo Dofu Donburi, Tenshin Don (a crab/mushroom and veggie omelet served over rice), and the Genghis Khan (a lamb stir-fry). The book even has a list of Tokyo Comfort Food restaurants in the back, in case you ever find yourself in the city. I am looking forward to checking out more cookbooks by the authors. 4 stars.

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