Ophelia’s Muse

Ophelias Muse

Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron

To be published: Sept 29, 2015

William Deverall - Twelfth Night, 1849-50

William Deverell – Twelfth Night

The book is about Lizzie Siddal, a muse and model for several members of the PRB or Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England, in the middle of the nineteenth century. She starts out as a hat-maker’s assistant and shop girl, supporting her family who used to upper middle class but have since fallen on hard times. It is there that she is first discovered by a PRB member named William Deverell, who uses her as his model for Viola (dressed as a red-haired pageboy in his Twelfth Night painting). He falls in love with her only to have his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti come over to see his fabulous new model, and become smitten with her himself. The difference is that Rossetti hold her up as an ideal, his Beatrice, and does not really plan on marrying her. She, of course being a young woman in the nineteenth century, is well aware of women who become models and how society perceives them and their reputation, and does not paint a pretty picture. The title alludes to one of the most famous paintings she was part of, namely Ophelia by John Everett Millias. It is with this painting that she becomes well-known, and is able to secure a patron in art critic John Ruskin, who also helps to publicize her own artwork. Her tempestuous relationship with Rossetti will eventually lead to her downfall though. 4 stars.

Siddal - Pippa Passes, 1854

Lizzie Siddal – Pippa Passes, 1854

The artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (which I have also posted about on my previous blog here) are some of my favorites and have been since I was about sixteen and first saw an exhibition of their work. I love the style and subject matter of their art. I actually have a bit of an obsession over Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s work in particular, and his relationship with Lizzie Siddal. So naturally, when I discovered this book on Netgalley,  I had to get a copy. I felt sorry for Lizzie, who was stuck in a bit of a sticky situation. Honor was such a bit part of Victorian life and while men could be total whores and get away with it (got to love those double standards), but women who got the slightest whiff of impropriety were deemed “loose women” and shunned (regardless if they actually did anything or not). Lizzie had a very tempetuous relationship with DG Rossetti, who had a very roving eye for all “stunners” as he called them, and probably slept with most of his models. I do kind of wonder what would have happened if she and William Deverell had been allowed to marry. She would’ve had a proper marriage, but it would’ve been really short because of his bad health and she probably would’ve have become as famous as she later did because of her relationship with Rossetti and her association with Ruskin. I would’ve liked to see color plates of the paintings named in the book or links to the paintings on the internet because it is sometimes hard to visualize the paintings if you haven’t seen them before. I will say that the reader really feels like they are part of the world of the 19th century with the sights, sounds and descriptions of the artwork.

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from Kensington Books on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.



Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

To be published: Sept 22, 2015

Crenshaw is a giant seven-foot-tall black and white cat that is the imaginary friend of a ten-year old boy named Jackson. He was originally invented by the boy five years earlier after his family suddenly became homeless and started living in their car, after his father was diagnosed with multiple schlerosis. Jackson can’t believe his eyes when Crenshaw shows up again just as the family is facing eviction from their apartment, as he’s not thought of him in years. The story jumps back and forth between the original homelessness and the family’s present situation. His parents try to downplay their financial struggles to Jackson and his five-year old sister, but Jackson knows better. He’s seen it all before. Crenshaw is a cat who will tell the truth no matter what and wants to help Jackson through this tough situation. Will his help be enough though? Recommended for ages 8-12, 3-1/2 stars.

This book is a great example of those times when you read an excellent award-winning book and are so excited when the author comes out with a new one, that you jump at the chance to read it. Katherine Applegate wrote the Newbery Award winning book The One and Only Ivan, which I adored and am actually planning on using in November for my tween book club. Another reason this book grabbed my attention was the imaginary friend aspect. I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a child, but if I did, a giant black and white cat would’ve been a cool one for me to have as it reminds me of the cat we had as a pet as a child. Overall, I enjoyed the book but not as much as Ivan. As a parent, I know how hard it is to keep up appearances when you don’t have as much money as you would like, especially to provide for your kid. While I have not become homeless myself, I can understand the parent’s attempts to hide the fact from their kids and make things as normal as possible. As this reviewer put it, “It was very difficult as a parent to watch Jackson try to be so brave and not let his emotions show his parents how angry and frustrated he really was.” I did like that Crenshaw was like Jackson’s conscience, who encouraged him to do the right thing and speak his true thoughts, even if doing all that is really scary.

Disclaimer: I received the Advanced Readers Copy from MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review.

August Book Reviews 2015

I have been rather busy reading for the last month or so. I am on a bit of a tight schedule at the moment because of so many good-looking ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) coming out in the next couple of months. I’ve finished the book club selection for August early, Colum McCann’s Transatlantic, which I rather enjoyed. I just started an ARC called Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron, about the Pre-Raphaelite model Lizzie Siddal and the artists of that group, which is pretty amazing so far. I will review both of these next month. I should be pretty busy with ARCs until the new year.

The cool new book news I have is that I’m about to be in charge of a Tween Book Club, which I discussed previously a bit in the first paragraph here. It has finally been named Page TurnersWe will be reading Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins first, then Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, and finally The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. All were books that I loved, so I figured they would be good books to start with. If it goes well, we’ll be continuing it in the new year and I can pick some books I’ve not read yet.

On to the book reviews. I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children’s books I enjoyed.


Digger Dog written and illustrated by William Bee Digger-Dog-interior-3

I found this book for my Toddler Dog Storytime and just adored it, though the story does get pretty repetitive, especially if you are reading it out loud. The kids loved the fold-out pages. Digger Dog loves to dig up bones but can’t seem to dig this one up, so he gets progressively bigger diggers to help him. It would also be a good book for a Construction Storytime. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Stanley the Farmer written and illustrated by William Bee

I discovered this book after browsing the children’s section for more William Bee books. He’s done a series of Stanley books and my son just loves this one. The illustrations are simple but really stand out. Stanley has a farm and has decided to plant some wheat. The book goes through all the steps needed to plant, take care of and harvest wheat. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Sea Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle Sea Rex

I love these books because they are so expressive and fun, plus the illustrations are always great! I got so excited when I saw the latest one at a local bookstore and immediately reserved a copy at the library. This installment sees the two children and their dinosaur friends going to the beach to play in the water and sand and leads to some interesting adventures. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Dragon Stew written by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Lee Wildish

I originally picked this book up to use as a back-up book for my Toddler Dragon Storytime but decided not to use it because it was a bit too long. But I figured my son would think it was funny because it mentions poop and burning bums (he did). A group of Vikings are bored and don’t know what to do, until one suggests getting a dragon and making dragon stew. They have no idea how to do this, but go for it anyway. I loved that the dragon is very posh drinking tea with a little top hat and bow tie! He naturally objects to being cut up into stew and attacks them, setting their bums on fire. They decide rather quickly to do something else. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dinosailing written by Deb Lund, illustrated by Howard Fine

Since we had read the second and third book in this series, it made sense to go ahead and read the first book. This one was not as good as the other two. Our intrepid group of dinosaur adventurers decide to get a ship and go sailing, but things aren’t as easy as they originally thought. They hit a squall and all get nausceous and decide they have no more sea legs. They are happy to return to their families. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Orion and the Dark written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett

Orion and the Dark

I picked this up for my son while browsing in the library because it looked intriguing, and it was. The book is about Orion, a little boy with a very active imagination, who is scared of everything. He is especially scared of the dark, and one night he gets so fed up that he screams that he “wishes the dark would just go away.” Instead of that happening, it turns into a physical manifestation and invites Orion to explore his fears to see what they really are. After a while, Orion realizes that he has nothing to be scared of and gains a best friend in the process. Both my son and I really enjoyed this book, and it had fabulous illustrations that really drew you into the book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Conductor by Laeticia Devernay

I’ve been trying to find more wordless picture books for my son, so I leaped at getting this one. The problem is , I just didn’t connect to it. It is about a conductor who climbs up a tree in a forest and makes all the leaves turn into birds and fly off the trees. This goes on for many many pages until all the leaves are gone. Then he climbs down and buries his baton in the ground, where it sprouts and turns into a tree. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Goat in a Boat written by Lesley Sims, illustrated by David Semple

This was one of a group of phonic learner beginner books we had gotten in to the library but the illustrations were funny, so I decided to give it a chance. My son loved it. The goat likes to eat oats, but wants something different for dinner. So he decides to go fishing in the moat with his best friend Stoat, but Stoat is busy. So he goes by himself and starts catching only suits of armor someone has dumped there, and his friend Stoat joins him later in the boat. They see an approaching army but can’t shout loud enough to be heard (and Stoat can’t shout at all because of his sore throat), so the resort to banging on the armor. The guards finally hear, raise the drawbridge and the two friends save the day. Plus they get fish for dinner. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Bee Makes Tea written by Lesley Sims, illustrated by Fred Blunt Bee Makes Tea

I love this phonics reader with rhyming text and precious illustrations! The story is so cute. A Bee is making a birthday tea for her Queen Bee, but she can’t get it all down to the beach. So her friend Ant and his friends help out, but her giant birthday cake doesn’t make it out of the house, before falling apart. But Ant saves the day when he suggests she make the broken up cake into a bee-shaped cake, which of course the Queen loves. I love doing all the voices for this book and my son liked helping saying some of the lines in a tiny bee voice. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Llamas in Pajamas written by Russell Punter, illustrated by David Semple

Another phonics book with cute illustrations, this one was a cute story about four llama friends who get together for a sleep-over. They decide to stay up and tell each other spooky stories, but are frightened by scary noises that the house makes when their grandmother comes to bring them a midnight snack. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Wolfie the Bunny written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Wolfie the Bunny

Dot and her Bunny parents come home one day to find a baby wolf on their doorstep. Dot warns them “He’s gonna eat us all up!”, but they are just taken by how cute he is. This becomes her refrain for the rest of the book, and she seriously doesn’t trust little Wolfie. He is raised with the Bunny family and fed carrots, growing bigger every day. One day he eats all the carrots and Dot must go to the store to get more, but Wolfie wants to go with her. She is about to put the last carrot into her shopping bag when Wolfie puts on a scary face and Dot is convinced that he is finally gonna eat her. A large bear has decided to make Wolfie his meal and Dot stands up for him. They are a lot closer afterwards. I loved the illustrations. This is a great book to read to children who have recently gotten a younger sibling, or experience a bit of sibling rivalry. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Is There a Dog in This Book? written and illustrated by Vivianne Schwartz

I discovered this book by accident at the library while browsing, although I knew about the author/illustrator from reading her stuff before. My son loved this very interactive lift-the-flaps book about three cats, Moonpie, Andre and Tiny, and a dog they find and befriend inside of the book. I loved doing the voices for each of the three cats. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

There are Cats in this Book written and illustrate by Vivianne Schwartz

There are Cats in This Book

I liked the third book in the series so much, I hunted for one of the first two books and this is the book I could find. I really like Ms. Schwartz’s stuff as it is very original and funny. Like Is There a Dog in This Book?, this book is the story of the three cats, Moonpie, Andre, and Tiny and their adventures with the reader throughout the book. They play with yarn, go fishing (sort of) and play with pillows. Again, the voices were fun to do and my son liked to do them too. It was a fun and silly book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

I Will Take a Nap! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

How can you not love a book about naps! This one was totally silly and me and my son had a lot of fun with it, especially all the sound effects. Gerald just wants to take a nap, as not taking one is making him tired and cranky (I know the feeling). He dreams that his friend Piggy has woken him up, and of course over-reacts to this happening. She decides to take one too, but is so loud that Gerald cannot nap. With turnip-headed animals and singing stuffed animals, this book is a lot of fun. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Regards to the Man in the Moon written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

I picked this book up because I love Ezra Jack Keats’ work and I needed a book for a Moon Preschool Storytime. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for, and would be better for a more general Space Storytime. Louie and his parents are planning a journey “right out of this world” on his ship the Imagination I, which no surprise, runs on lots of imagination. Early the next morning, him and a girl named Susie blast off into space seeing seeing all kinds of planets and galaxies. Eventually they bump into two of their friends, Ziggie and Ruthie, who have followed them into space but ran out of imagination and are now stuck. They manage to make it through an asteroid field and back home again. Then of course, all the kids want to take off on adventures of their own. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Ancient Persians written by Virginia Schomp

I had originally set this out as an additional book for a Kids Cafe I had done on the Ancient Assyrians and Persians, but it looked cool, so I picked it up for myself. I’ve been fascinated by the Persians for a while now, and I’ve tried (and failed) to read “The Shahnameh (Persian Book of Kings)”, so I thought this might be a better introduction to Persian literature. The book gives a small introduction on the Persian empire and its early history until the 7th century CE. It talks about the teachings of Zarathustra, the prophet of the Zoaroastrian religion, which was one of the first monothesistic ones in the world, and influenced Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. The book features the Persian Creation story and the Triumph of the Light over the Dark, the First Sin, and four epic hero tales from the Shahnameh (an epic poem on ancient Iranian myths and Zoroastrian traditions). The back of the book has a Glossary of terms used in the book, a breakdown of the major texts used in the book, a booklist and websites to explore and find out more information. Recommended for ages 8-12, 4 stars.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus written by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile. It won a 2015 Caldecott Honor and the 2015 Sibert Medal. I adored this book and its illustrations, done by the same team that did the Caldecott Honor-winning book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, about the famous American poet. The illustrations really helped the book come alive and do look as though a child wrote them out and included snapshot illustrations of his life throughout the pages to bring everything together. Peter Roget loved lists. He began making them early, after the death of his father. He was a shy child and started writing a book with these lists at age eight. When he was a teenager, scientist Carole Linnaeus was developing his classification system for plants and animals, to make them easier to study, so it seemed natural for teenage Roget to continue his lists as well. He was a bit of a genius, entering medical school early and was only nineteen when he graduated. He decided to become a tutor for awhile in France, before coming back to England to become a doctor to the poorest families in Manchester. He finished his book in 1805 and used it daily. He joined scientific societies and was asked to give lectures, and he used his book to help him with those talks. He married late and had a couple of kids and eventually published his Thesaurus in 1852. The publication of the text has been continuous and updated since 1869 by Roget’s family. There is an author and illustrator’s note in the back of the book, along with a bibliography and further reading materal list. I would love to own this book.  Recommended for ages 8-12, 5 stars.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe by Susan Goldman Rubin

Ok, so I’m a late Georgia O’Keeffe convert. I knew about her art of course, but had never really studied it until I decided to do a presentation on her for Kids Cafe. I found her art and life fascinating once I started researching her, so I decided I wanted more information and got this book for that purpose. I liked that she decided early to become an artist, but changed her mind based on personal illnesses, but then decided she wanted to do it full-time. And this was a time when very few women had a career, and even fewer were unmarried. Though she did eventually marry Alfred Stieglitz and he helped publicize her name, I like that she didn’t let him hold her back and started painting more and more original works like her famous flower painting, and the abstracted desert landscapes with animal skulls. I no longer believe her works are hyper-sexualized like some people believe because they look like women’s genitalia, but yes they were rather sensual. For a woman who was competing with dozens, if not hundreds of men that were artists during the same time period, she did really well for herself and was famous during her own lifetime. I really enjoyed this book and would love to add it to my personal collection. Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.


Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston

The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew is, above all, about manners, respectability, and having a stiff upper lip. He lives alone after the death of his wife a few years before, in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary. His brother Bertie recently passed away and the Major has been feeling a bit adrift. Right after receiving news of his brother’s death, he inadvertently blurts it out to Mrs. Ali, the local corner shop owner, who he’s never spoken to before. As the Christian Science Monitor review says, “He strikes up a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed local shopkeeper, and they bond over Kipling [which made me want to read more of the author] and the loss of their spouses. It doesn’t hurt that Mrs. Ali is a lady of quiet thoughtfulness and innate dignity – whose tweedy neighbors don’t even see her because she is Pakistani and runs a shop.” The book is the story of their friendship, which eventually grows into love and shows that everyone has a chance at finding happiness, no matter your age. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

This book immediately made me think of my best friend, who is also Pakistani, and made me want to share this with her, as I know she could identify with parts of it. It is a hilarious but honest look at following your heart no matter what others may say, and I really loved it. I have seen first-hand how small English villages and towns can sometimes react towards foreigners, and it isn’t always pretty, so the author’s descriptions of that part of the story were pretty accurate although not pleasant. I liked the secondary story about Mrs. Ali’s nephew and his love troubles. It was a little hard to believe that this was the author’s first novel as I thought it was rather good.

Lord John and the Private Matter (Lord John Grey Book #1) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodman

It is 1757 and Lord John Grey is in turmoil. The major has witnessed something shocking about his cousin’s betrothed Joseph Trevalyn and is trying to decide what he should do about it, to avoid a scandal. Meanwhile, the British army has asked him to investigate the murder of a possible traitor, an officer in his company. He soon discovers that the two events are linked and must figure out how. 5 stars.

This book was my first foray into her spin-off books and she does not disappoint. I had always liked Lord John’s character in the Outlander books and was happy to learn of this second series. I read this one before the short story Lord John and the Hellfire Club, so I was a bit confused at some mentions of the previous story, but gathered enough not to be completely lost. This one was jam-packed full of intrigue, spies, secret relationships, prostitution (both male and female), and multiple mystery murders. The book definitely delves into the seedy underbelly of London of the eighteenth century and its relation to the outer more respectable parts of the city and its inhabitants. While it doesn’t tell you too much more information than you already might know from reading the Outlander books, it was enough to keep me thoroughly interested and wanting to read more.

Lord John and the Hand of the Devils by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

This book is a collection of Novellas of the in-between stories in one collection, namely Lord John and the Hellfire Club, Lord John and the Succubus, and Lord John and the Haunted Soldier. Jeff Woodham is again the narrator and thank goodness because he definitely makes the books a pleasure to listen to, even when the story isn’t all that interesting. I was not really a fan of the Hellfire Club, it was just too weird and way too short. The Succubus story was better and we really got to know Stephan von Namtzen, the dashing Hanoverian commander. The Haunted Soldier required you to have read the second book Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade to really have any idea what was going on in the novella. Overall, I would give the collection 3 stars.

Lord John and the Hellfire Club (Lord John Grey #0.5)

It is the autumn of 1756 and Lord John has finally returned from temporary exile in Scotland. He witnesses the murder of a recent acquaintance named Robert Gerald. At the request of a relative of Gerald’s, Lady Lucinda Joffrey, he agrees to look into who murdered Gerald and find out who is trying to slander the poor dead man. He quickly discovers that the man to question is Sir Francis Dashwood, and Lord John gets himself invited to a party at Dashwood’s house. It is here that Lord John discovers the truth about the Hellfire Club and George Everett’s (a man from Lord John’s past) possible involvement in Robert Gerald’s murder. 2 stars.

Lord John and the Succubus (Lord John Grey #1.5)

It is 1758 and Lord John is an English liason officer to the Hanoverian army in Germany. He is also in charge of local issues in the town he is stationed. A young Hanoverian and an English soldier have been killed and the locals are blaming it on a succubus, a demon female who seduces men and claims their seed. Needless to say, this has severly spooked the armies. Lord John is staying at the castle of a local noblewoman named Louisa, Princess von Lowenstein, who is trying as hard as she can to flirt with him. He is also trying not to fall for another nobleman, Captain Stephan Von Namtzen, also staying at the castle and the head of the Hanoverian troops. Will he be able to discover who the succubus really is? 5 stars.

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (Lord John Grey #2.5)

It is 1759 and Lord John has been brought up before the Commission of Inquiry after the battle of Crayfeldt at the end of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, as a cannon exploded and the officer in charge of it was beheaded right in front of Grey. Some of the members of the commission are trying to blame Grey for the explosion saying he was negligent and others say that it was his half-brother Edgar who manufactured the powder, but Grey soon realizes that there are other forces at work behind the scenes. Will he be able to find the culprit in time? 2 stars

I’m not actually sure who the Haunted Soldier is supposed to be. My gut tells me it is Captain Fanshaw, but Lord John kept seeing ghosts too, so I’m not sure. This one was rather slow, and if you didn’t read the previous book, you would be pretty lost. But the volume did tell the reader more about Lord John’s family, and I thought the side trip to discover Philip Lister’s wife was interesting as well.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Lord John Grey #2) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

It is 1758, and John’s mother is getting re-married. This has dredged up memories of his father, the Duke of Pardloe, who was found dead and charged as a Jacobite rebel seventeen years before. After pieces of a missing diary of his father start showing up, Lord John is nearly killed twice. He seeks the help of Jamie Fraser, who is working as a stablehand at the house of a friend of John’s family for the truth about his father’s possible Jacobite connections. It is the middle of the Seven Years’ War and Lord John and his brother Hal (the Earl of Melton and commander of the company) are with the army fighting with the Prussian army. Will Lord John be able to find out the truth about his father? 4 stars.

Diana Gabaldon wasn’t kidding when she said that this book is all about honor. Of course, men in England have been obsessed about this for ages, so it’s not surprising. For those following the Outlander series, this book is set during the time that Jamie was a prisoner in England, although he is a minor character here. I would just like to say “Yay, about time for Lord John Grey to have a love interest!” Though of course, Gabaldon almost completely ruins it by figuratively getting rid of him by the end of the book. I was so happy to see Stephen Von Namzten again and wished that him and Lord John would get together (Gabaldon is such a tease with their relationship!).

The Custom of the Army (Lord John Grey #2.75) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

This was an odd book. It started out in 1759 with Lord John attending an electric eel party in London (who knew such things existed!?!), went through a bit of trippy dream sequence in which he is involved with a duel. The story ends with with an army promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and on his way to Canada to bail out friend Charlie Carruthers who is being court-martialed under ridiculous circumstances. The scenes with the Native American Manoke were quite hilarious, and I enjoyed those immensely. Lord John arrives in Canada in time to participate in the Battle of Quebec with General Wolfe. This was thankfully a short novella, as I had listened to all the previous books back to back and needed a bit of a break from his story. 3 stars.

I Am Livia by Phyllis Smith

Livia is the daughter of a Roman senator loyal to the republic. He knows about the plot to kill Julius Caesar, but does not take part in the actual stabbing. Livia is married to at age fifteen, and has a rather loveless relationship with her husband Tiberius Nero, even though she does bear him two children, Tiberius and Drusus. Octavianus (aka Octavius) is Caesar’s adopted son, and wants to take revenge on those who murdered his adopted father. Livia finds herself strangely drawn to Octavianus, even though he is her family’s political enemy and proves himself as a personal enemy over the years. After Octavianus has gotten rid of all his adopted father’s killers, and also rids himself of Pompey and Mark Antony, his next move is to marry Livia. She has to ask her current husband to divorce her so she can be with Tavius (as she affectionately calls him), even though she is pregnant with her second son by Tiberius Nero. The story ends just as Tavius becomes emperor of Rome. 5 stars.

I have been fascinated with Livia ever since I watched I, Claudius in college. So when I saw this book at the library, I had to read it. It was almost completely different approach to her, as compared with Robert Graves’ example, especially as this book ends before Octavianus becomes Emperor Augustus and that’s where the book/series started. It seems she was an incredibly smart and shrewd woman who lived an incredible life during a period of immense change in the Roman Empire. I’m honestly surprised that she managed to survive as she did given all the crazy circumstances she managed to live through, especially that fire in Greece. Her relationship with Tavius, as portrayed in the book, was intriguing to say the least. I rather enjoyed this book and would be interested in reading other books by the author.

Heritage by Sean Brock

I had originally seen Sean Brock on the PBS series The Mind of a Chef and so I knew about the kind of cooking he did. As a Southerner, it is always fascinating for me to see how others interpret the cuisine, and he definitely has an interesting approach. He is big on heritage ingredients, especially those around Charleston, so you have an emphasis on things like Carolina Gold rice, benne seeds, heritage beans and other veggies. And the man is not afraid to use bacon and other pork products, which are staples in Southern cooking. So when I heard about this cookbook, I definitely wanted to check it out (it’s been on to-read list forever). I finally grabbed a copy from the library. A lot of the recipes are really ingenious, with several takes on classic dishes. Mostly I’d rather go to one of his restaurants to have the food because I’m sure I couldn’t really recreate his masterpieces at home, even with instructions. I did however want to try the Chilled Fennel Bisque with Citrus-Cured Scallops and Almond Oil, Cornmeal-Fried Pork Chops with Goat Cheese-Smashed Potatoes and a Cucumber and Pickled Green Tomato Relish, Stone Crab with Cucumber Juice, Fennel Jelly, and Raw Apple (which gets the award for the most creative looking), and Grilled Tilefish with Asparagus Broth and Oyster Mushrooms. He also had a couple of recipes for pickled veggies and eggs that I wanted to try as well. 4 stars.

In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes From Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti The author/photographer decides to take a trip around the world. His grandmother worries that he will not eat well and makes him his favorite dish before he leaves, Swiss Chard and Ricotta Ravioli with Meat Sauce. He tells her not to worry and he will eat well. He goes to 60+ countries and visits with and gets recipes from 60 grandmothers and includes their picture, recipe, and story in the cookbook. It was an interesting concept and I had originally wanted to read it as an ARC, but didn’t have enough time to do so. There were three or four recipes in here that I would want to make again. 3 stars.

Come Hell or Highball

Come Hell or Highball

Come Hell or Highball (Discreet Retrieval Agency #1) by Maia Chance

To be published: Sept 15, 2015

Set in the early 1920s in New York City, socialite Lola Woodby’s philandering husband Alfie has finally died and the book opens up at the funeral. She is, of course, glad to be rid of him and looks forward to spending his money. Unfortunately she is stopped in this pursuit by his slimy brother Chisholm, who now has ownership of her house, and the knowledge that Alfie left her completely bankrupt and in debt. She sets herself up in Alfie’s secret love-nest with the only staff member who stood by her, Berta, her Swedish baker and her Pomeranian. She decides to take up the offer from one of Alfie’s girlfriends to rescue a film canister from one of her former friends. But everything is not as it seems and she soon notices a man following her. He is a private investigator named Ralph Oliver. What does he want? Are they hunting the same thing? Will she be able to find the film canister and gain back some of her respectability? To find out, read this highly entertaining mystery. 4 stars.

First off, I loved the title, time period and the fact that the main character is a curvy girl down on her luck. The book played out like a 1930s comedy mystery, like Nick and Nora Charles, complete with cocktails. I loved the witty repartee between Lola, Berta, her cook and Ralph. I also liked the fact that she usually had to rely on Berta to keep her head above water and from rushing into things. Lola has great fashion sense and an extreme love of chocolate, and a was bit fluffy-headed. And yes, the characters are a bit stereotyped, like the goofy lug who works for his gangster boss but has a soft spot for Berta, the aristocratic British butler who makes a great highball, the nosy female reporter who is always in the right place at the wrong time, and scheming film stars. For me that was part of the charm, and it does make for a fun romp into the glamorous twenties.

Kids Cafe Art Lectures: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura

I had a lot of fun with this one. I had originally learned about Vermeer and the Camera Obscura after watching a documentary about a modern guy from Texas (I think) who recreated a Vermeer painting, The Music Lesson, using just that technique. If you are interested in art or art techniques, I highly recommend it. It was amazing really. I got to share my love of Baroque art, tricky really when you consider a lot of that type of painting is full of naked women and men and we’re trying to keep this PG rated. I’d love to do a presentation on Rembrandt! With this lecture, I learned a lot about the camera obscura (aka the pinhole camera) and how to create your own DIY version and once I finally figured out how it worked, I was blown away. Sadly I didn’t get to share all the cool things with the kids because of time. I didn’t get to play the snapshot memory game, which would’ve been fun. I didn’t even get to use my camera obscura. We ended up using Vermeer coloring sheets, which was a total cop-out after the interesting lecture. Oh well.

KC Jan Vermeer and the Camera Obscura – April 17

Vermeer - Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, c. 1664-65

  • Biography of the Artist
    • Born Oct 1632 (aka Johannes Van Der Meer) in Delft, a rich trading city near the coast in Southern Holland
    • Son of a silk weaver/art dealer who owned a tavern
    • Admitted to the Painters’ Guild in 1653, when he also became a master painter
    • He liked to paint in yellow and blue
      • The Lacemaker
      • Johannes Vermeer. The Lacemaker. c.1669-1670. Oil on canvas, 23.9 x 20.5 cm.

        Johannes Vermeer. The Lacemaker. c.1669-1670. Oil on canvas, 23.9 x 20.5 cm.

        • Domestic scene of a lady creating a small piece of lace
  • Contemporary Painters
    • Vermeer’s work is part of the Baroque style of painting, which encouraged natural realism and dramatic use of light and shadow; other famous Dutch Baroque artists included Frans Hals and Rembrandt van Rijn
      • Franz Hals – Jester with a Lute, 1620-25
      • Frans Hals - Jester with a Lute, 1620-25
      • Rembrandt van Rijn – Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630
      • Rembrandt - Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630
  • Influences on Dutch Baroque Art
    • The new wealth of the merchant or middle class also affected the style of Dutch Baroque art, as this was the primary patrons of Dutch artists
      • The new middle class used the paintings to show off their wealth, which is why you have paintings with oriental rugs, fancy clothes, jewelry and musical instruments
        • The Music Lesson
      • The Music Lesson, 1662-65
      • Vermeer - The Music Lesson,1662-65
        • We have a young woman getting a music lesson from her instructor. She is playing a virginal, a keyboard instrument related the harpsichord. The virginal is painted with flowers and sea horses. There is an oriental carpet on the table. There is viola da gamba, similar to the lute and guitar.
  • Camera Obscura
    • Vermeer was obsessed with optics and his paintings were created with a filmless version of the modern camera, called the camera obscura
    • Using a series of lenses, this machine lets the viewer isolate and focus on a single subject with incredible clarity.
      • Show example of camera obscura
      • Science behind Camera Obscura
      • Camera Obscura2
    • Paintings Where He Used the Camera Obscura
      • A camera obscura was probably used for his painting ofThe Girl with the Pearl Earring and his ten other paintings showing pearls.  Clues of this are the soft, blurry edges of the portrait and the magnification of the close up view.  Officer and Laughing Girl also shows signs of the assistance of this tool with lenses.
  • Officer and Laughing Girl, 1656-60
  • Vermeer - Officer and Laughing Girl, 1655-60
    • Painting shows a young girl talking to and flirting with a young officer; a map of Holland appears in the background
    • You can see the way Vermeer used the camera obscura with the way he showed perspective (objects in front are larger the ones in the back) and the way it almost looks like a photograph
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665-67
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring, oil on canvas, 1665.

    Girl with a Pearl Earring, oil on canvas, 1665.

    • Eleven of the women in Vermeer paintings wear pearl jewelry.  He enjoyed painting the effect of concentrated light reflecting on these jewels, and 17thcentury Holland, pearls were probably an extremely important status symbol.  This is the most beautiful pearl in all of his paintings.
    • The model may have been his daughter Maria, who was about 12 or 13 yrs old
    • Vermeer spent too long on his paintings, he died bankrupt Dec 1675
    • 1st Activity: Snapshot Memory with Vermeer Paintings
    • 2nd Activity: Make my own version of Camera Obscura to share with the kids
    • 3rd Activity: Vermeer coloring sheets

The Murderer’s Daughter

The Murderers Daughter

The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

To be published: August 18, 2015

Grace Blades has survived a lot, but she is in now a respected adult psychologist who specializes in helping adult victims of violent crimes. At age five, she watched one parent kill the other and then kill themself. She was moved to a multitude of crappy foster homes between ages 5-11 before she finally found some good people to actually take care of her. The book switches back and forth between Grace’s past and the present day. Because of her crazy past, she is a bit of an adrenaline junky, which includes one-night stands. The two days before her vacation she meets a man and has an encounter with him. The next day he shows up as her last patient, having discovered her after reading an article she had written about the family members of murderers. That night he is murdered and the police come knocking on her door as her business card was found in his shoe. The killer is now after Grace, and she needs some answers fast. Who is this man and why is his killer targeting her? Who in his family is a murderer? To find out, you must read this book. 3 stars.

I honestly don’t read a lot of thrillers. I mostly picked this one up because the premise sounded interesting and I love a good mystery. Plus I figured it would be interesting as it is about a female psychologist who witnessed the violent murder-suicide of her parents at a young age, and I enjoy books that make you think about why people do what they do. I didn’t find out until after I started that the author is a noted child psychologist, who wrote a book on violent children, which is exactly what this book is about. As other reviewers have said, I enjoyed learning about Grace’s past and her figuring out who Roger/Andrew was and what her connection to all of it was. I honestly didn’t mind that Grace was a bit cold, despite being totally loving towards her patients, and I can even understand the andrenaline junkie thing after what she went through. My biggest problem with this book was the flow and the ending. In my opinion, everytime it went back to the present, the storyline kind of slowed down and lost a bit of the interesting momentum built up with her back story. The ending was annoying because the author kept building up and up to the climax and then it just wasn’t a satisfactory ending.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy book from Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

First Edition Project

I’ve been working on a committee with a local Arizona organization called SouthWest Human Development. This group is very active in the community as helps give out tons of free books to local kids, as well providing free services like the Birth-Five hotline to help parents (which is especially awesome if you are a first time parent and have no clue what you are doing), Head Start, counseling services for families, and other great programs. In Arizona, according to Literacy Connects, “Only 13% of Arizona children entering kindergarten meet benchmark early literacy skills. 74% of Arizona fourth-graders test below proficient in reading.” These are staggering statistics, especially as the Phoenix Metro area has the highest concentration of libraries for any place I’ve ever lived in.

new-First Edition Flyer-updated

The committee is called Books for Babies and Toddlers Too (or BfBTT for short) and the purpose is to raise money for literacy programs for the organization after some of its funding was cut. They are doing that by looking for authors who will create a developmentally appropriate picture book. For more info, check out the contest here. It is running from July 15-Sept 15.  So the Books for Babies and Toddlers Too committee, myself included, are asking for donations to help help fund literacy programs, and please take the time to support this worthy cause before the donation period ends on Aug 6. They are looking to raise $10,000 to help getting the book published. Please become a champion for literacy and help get this book published, so that SWHD can provide quality books for local children.