Best Books I read in 2016

I am so glad 2016 is over! Though I didn’t read as many books as 2015 (mostly because a lot of what I read was fan-fiction, which I love, but doesn’t count towards my reading goals for the year), I still read a decent amount of good books (232 total). I read a ton of mangas (71 – impressive when you think they’re about 2oo pgs each) and there were a lot of really good ones there. This is the first year I’ve had a separate category for mangas on my end of the year list. The theme for this year appears to have been romances, though not intentionally, mostly just because of issues in my personal life reflecting into what I chose to read. 

Picture Books

jack-frost

  • Jack Frost (Guardians of Childhood #3) by William Joyce – I love William Joyce’s books and this one was a visual masterpiece. I love the Guardians of Childhood series and this is graphically amazing younger children’s version before he brings out the full-on book for the chapter book series. A new interpretation of the Jack Frost myth, and it is this book whose story was featured on The Rise of the Guardians movie that came out in 2013. 
  • I Love You Already by Jory John – brought to you by the same guy that did Goodnight Already!, which I adored. Hilarious sequel about Bear and his neighbor Duck, who annoys the crap out of him but who he still likes. Reminds me of parents and kids. 
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  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

brown-girl-dreaming

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I read this for our tween book club and really enjoyed it, but it is a 337 page verse novel, which can kind of be scary for some kids. It is an autobiographic poem essentially about the author. 
  • The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud – I love pretty much anything this man writes, but this one was a great continuation of the Lockwood & Co series. I have described this as “Ghost epidemic in the UK with kids as ghost hunters but the ghosts can actually kill you, and only kids can see them”. Glad Lucy finally got back with Lockwood, George and Holly. 
  • funny-bones
  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh – tells the story of one of the most famous Mexican illustrators who created a lot of the images we know today about Dia de los Muertos (one of my favorite holidays, along with Halloween)
  • The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – a wonderfully creative biography of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, whom I discovered last year, who could hear colors and see sounds
  • Narwal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1)  written and illustrated by Ben Clanton – a recent discovery that was too cute for words. How can you not love a Narwhal and Jellyfish who love waffles, imagination, reading, and creating their own unique pod full of friends?
  • the-marvels
  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – this one had been on my to-read list for ages and finally got read it. It is a masterpiece like pretty much all of his work, which he writes and illustrates. Everyone should read this. The book, which starts in 1766 and ends in 2007, is about the Marvel and Nightingale families and their connection to each other. But it is also a story about love in all its forms, acceptance, understanding, and the complicated relationships within families (which really hit home for me this year). 
  • a-new-hope-the-princess-the-scoundrel-and-the-farm-boy
  • A New Hope – The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken – picked this one up as a way to get my son who loves Star Wars more into audiobooks. I loved it, more than him. It had all the cool sound effects, a lot of the movie dialogue, and a whole backstory on Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Am definitely listening to the other two adaptations. Highly recommended as an audiobook, though more suited to 9-14 yr olds than 5 yr olds.

Young Adult

  • The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, and Winterby Marisa Meyers – probably the best series I’ve read in a while. I love fairy-tale retellings and this one is an awesome sci-fi version with cyborgs, genetically-engineered wolfmen, space pilots, and psychotic Lunars (as the name suggests, people from the Moon). Plus the romances are fantastic and varied. 
  • fangirlcarry-on-book-collage
  • Fangirl and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – definitely two of the absolute best books I read this year. I adore all the stuff I’ve read so far from this author, and look forward to reading more in the future. You should read Fangirl first and then Carry On, though they can both stand on their own, as Carry On is literally a big part of the first book. I was totally Cather Avery and wished I could find someone like Levi. Sigh…

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
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  • Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda – another unconventional fantasy romance (seems to be the year for them) about a half wolf/half man who meets the love of his life and their children. Great anime as well. 
  • Library Wars Vol 14
  • Library Wars Vol. 14- by Kiiro Yumi – I love the craziness of this manga. I love the ideas of a militarized librarians protecting censorship. 
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol 1-11 by Bisco Hatori – loved the anime so decided to read the books to see if there was any extra awesome and there is. 
  • Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1-25  by Karuho Shiina – This is one of the sweetest mangas, heck romances, I’ve read in awhile. I can identify
  • Demon Love Spell, Vol 1-6 by Mayu Shinjo – the most ridiculous idea and worst name ever for a manga, but it made me LOL and keep reading till I finished the series. 
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  • Horimiya Vol 1-5 by Hero – another great manga romance series on an unconventional topic; Two high school students, who are not all they seem, fall in love and start a relationship. They are seriously the cutest, most awkward couple ever, which makes it so fun to watch the story unfold. 

Adult

  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I picked up because it reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (another awesome aging adult book). It was a bit of a romance, journey to lead you to new discoveries – i.e. your self after a traumatic event, in this case the death of Arthur’s beloved wife. 
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – read this one for my bookclub and just loved the story of two very different sisters in the French Resistance during WWII
  • Dragon Age: MageKiller (Magekiller #1-6) – An ARC I was lucky enough to review this year, I want to read the whole series now. 
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – I’ve loved her books for years and so gladly picked this for my bookclub and enjoyed it as well
  • Poison or Protect: Delightfully Deadly #1 and Imprudence (Custard Protocols #2) by Gail Carriger – 1st one is a novella about one of her characters from the Finishing School series, which was a fun little romp. 2nd one is all about her dad going crazy, a bit of sex education, and the crap really hitting the fan in regards to the G0d-breaker Plague (a continuation of events that happened in her first series, my favorite The Parasol Protectorate).
  • The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #1-2) by Bernard Cornwell – fabulous series, that they also turned into a miniseries, about life in King Alfred the Great’s court. It is set in the 9th century and told from the viewpoint of a young boy raised by the Vikings who is actually a Saxon lord. Very much looking forward to reading more books in this series

Winter

winter

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer

Winter isn’t completely the completely useless crazy princess all the nobility on Luna maker her out to be. She is beloved by the common people, something her stepmother Queen Levana has never been, and the Queen hates her for it. Winter, in turn, despises her stepmother for using her Lunar gift to permanently scar her face and not allowing her to be with the love of her life, Jacin, a palace guard. She allies herself with Cinder, Emperor Kaito, Cress, Thorne, Wolf and Scarlet as they plot to take down Levana and install Cinder as Queen of Luna. Will they be able to defeat Levana and each be able to find their happy endings? To find out read the exciting conclusion of The Lunar Chronicles! Recommended for ages 14+, 4-1/2 stars. 

I reviewed the other Lunar Chronicles books here and here, and although I ultimately loved this book, it was so freaking long I nearly gave up several times. It took me about a month to finish on audiobook, though that was with several interruptions. I mean c’mon, it was 19 discs. We’re almost getting into Game of Thrones territory here (it had 28 discs). I really think it should’ve been divided into two books as the story took so much buildup to get to the point, which was to take down Levana and install Cinder on the Lunar throne as queen. The theme of this book was about Winter, the stepdaughter of Queen Levana who has been mentioned in previous books but you hadn’t heard much about until this book, and was a reference to the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Winter was so flighty and weird that at first, I kind of hated her character, but as the book progresses the reader realizes that her odd behavior isn’t completely her fault. She has chosen to withhold the Lunar gift (mind control) and therefore has essentially driven herself crazy. 

I loved the character and relationship development between the couples: Kai and Cinder, Thorne and Cress, and Wolf and Scarlet. Kai and Cinder are so awkward when the book starts, probably because of the kidnapping but once he understands everything, they are too cute together and apart (especially when he is dealing with Levana). Wolf and Scarlet were interesting because she was tortured and he was genetically modified, but they are still so in love with each other no matter what has happened. Thorne and Cress are my favorite relationship and characters, aside from Cinder. Cress is very brave despite feeling insignificant all of the time. And Thorne is such a dashing rogue (very Han Solo in my opinion), though at the same time completely petrified at the thought of losing Cress, even though he can’t seem to voice it until the very end.

I found the part at the end, the face-off between Cinder and Levana in the audience room to be completely insane but fantastically written by the author. The way Levana keeps using Cinder’s friends against her physically and keeps thwarting all her attempts, even pretending to surrender; it honestly was kept on the edge of myself till the last minute wondering who was going to come out on top. Apparently there’s a short story about one of the characters getting married in the author’s book  Stars Above, so I am definitely going to check that out later. 

Moment of Zen: Oct 21-27

This has been an insanely long week for a number of reasons I won’t go into right now. Suffice it to say, that I am very much looking forward to the weekend, especially as my favorite holiday is coming up, aka Halloween! Plus it will be a nice distraction for my son to play in his newly finished costume and have a little fun. 

Fri: Human Body DiscoveryTime went better than I would’ve thought. I found this adorable Brain Hat and used it in the storytime, which went over really well. So well that a colleague wants to use the idea this weekend for one of his programs (so yay for Brain Hat! or as my friend called it, the Brain yarmulke!). 

brain-hat

Sat: Going to Bilingual DIY storytime for Dia de los Muertos with Liam at the library I work at, led by my friend Joanna and new acquaintance Cassi, where I learned how to do “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Spanish. Then he got to decorate sugar skulls as an ofreda, offering for a Dia de los Muertos altar. Then we went up to the 5th floor, so he could pick out another adult dinosaur book. 

Sun: Oct Bookclub meeting, where we discussed The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and ate some yummy French food prepared by our members. We had seven people and had a nice discussion about love and war. 

Mon: Eating the second half of my sandwich from Wildflower Bakery – the Roasted Sweet Potato, it’s amazing and enormous : roasted sweet potatoes, fresh mozzarella, fig confit, arugula, marinated fennel and balsamic vinaigrette on Herb Focaccia, whilst reading more of A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Also started listening to Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, for our November bookclub as a refresher, as I have read it before. 

Tues: 5 years of blogging on WordPress! Creating an activity sheet for my Construction DiscoveryTime for Friday, glad to feel semi-productive as I’ve been pretty distracted. 

Wed: Getting to go to my son’s school and observe him and his teacher in his slightly advanced Kindergarten class. I was fascinated by what they did, and managed to cram into 3 hrs of school, which included: phonics, reading, comprehension, learning to tell time, math, and learning rhythm with drums in music class. 

Thurs: Finishing up Liam’s Halloween costume with the help of my friends Marlene and Caren (and it is pretty damn adorable) and getting to see the gleeful look on his face when he got to put it on. He’s so excited for this weekend and Monday. Pics below. 

costume1                                                  Toothless Costume Front View

costume2                                               Toothless Costume Back View

costume3

Slightly Clearer view of wings and tail

Scarlet and Cress

Scarlet

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

Linh Cinder has busted out of prison in New Beijing with fellow prison Carswell Thorne in tow, and now has the entire Eastern Commonwealth, Emperor Kai and Queen Levana on the search for her. Meanwhile, in a small town in France, Scarlet Benoit is searching for her lost grandmother, Michelle, who everyone believes has run away and committed suicide. But she knows here grandmother wouldn’t do that. While looking for her, she encounters Wolf, a lone street fighter and he joins her on her search. He says he may have some information about Scarlet’s grandmother, but can she really trust him? Eventually Cinder and Scarlet’s paths collide as they find out they are searching for the same person. Can Michelle Benoit be the key to unraveling Cinder’s past and future? Will Cinder be able to escape Queen Levana and save Kai from the Queen’s evil clutches? To find out, read the exciting second volume in The Lunar Chronicles series. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

I was excited to find out, when I picked up this second volume, that it wasn’t just the Cinderella story that was being retold, but a new one was added for each book in the series. In order to introduce Scarlet and Wolf, Cinder pretty much takes a back seat in this volume. We are also introduced to Carswell Thorne, a rakish rogue character (reminds me a bit of Han Solo) who escaped and teamed up with Cinder and whose ship she is on for the majority of the book.

This one, as you can tell from the book cover, is about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, but with a bit of a twist. Scarlet is a teenage pilot and works on her grandma’s farm, and it is near instant attraction when she meets Wolf even if she is wary of him and his attentions towards her. I would’ve liked to hear more about the grandmother, Michelle Benoit, and her exploits involving the lunars. Wolf is a street fighter (I’m not hugely fond of this term, I would say he’s more of a fights in illegal underground matches for money – street fighter always reminds me of the video game of the same name) and engineered soldier who fights against his “programming” and falls in love with Red (aka Scarlet) almost against his will. At the same time, however, Scarlet is basically going through Stockholm Syndrome by falling in love with her captor. However, they do go through a lot together and he’s essentially being forced by the Lunars to kidnap her and take her hostage. Plus there’s just the whole sexy wolf thing, can’t explain it, it’s just there and I like it. 

Cress

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Linh Cinder, Scarlet Benoit, Wolf, and Carswell Thorne are traveling together on Carswell’s stolen ship, trying to evade the Eastern Commonwealth and Queen Levana’s troops. They also plan to overthrow Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth. Cinder and the gang are watched and aided by Cress, the prisoner of Sybil, thaumaturge to Queen Levana. She lives in a satellite orbiting earth and has been helping Cinder and the gang hide from the other lunars (especially the Queen). Cinder and the rest decide to rescue Cress but things don’t exactly go as planned. Kai in order to save his people from more deaths and destruction has reluctantly agreed to marry Levana, even though he loathes the woman. As Cinder becomes more aware of her role as Princess and how best to serve the lunar people, a daring plan forms to save Kai from marriage to Levana and stop the queen. Will they be able to succeed? To find out, read this exciting third volume in The Lunar Chronicles series. 5 stars. 

This book was a twist on the Rapunzel story, the difference being Rapunzel is a teenage girl who has been trapped in a satellite (I can’t even imagine how stir crazy she would get). She has been trapped for the past ten years by a lunar thaumaturge and forced to help Queen  Levana in all her nefarious plots against the Earthans. Cress has been saved from insanity by being able to access the Net, becoming a master hacker, and even creating a companion. Even though Cress’s character was a little sad, I thought she was a fun and spunky to the existing group of main characters. 

Rebecca Soler did a fabulous job with the narration again, especially as there are so many different nationalities in the cast of characters. I can’t believe that the author tried to kill off three main characters in the first three CDs! It made the beginning of the book super exciting and hard to stop listening to. Then there was the torture, which thankfully wasn’t as graphic as say Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (which I loved but was a bit hard to read at times). My biggest complaint with the book is the length. Thirteen disks is pretty long for a teen novel and the story was dragging a bit in the middle. It felt like the author was trying to cram too much story into one book. That being said, it was definitely action-packed and kept you on the edge of your seat and wanting to hear what happened next. 

This book was great for further character development. I really got to like Cress. She was so unused to being around anyone and to have been thrust into the situation she was so quickly and be able to adapt despite all the crazy stuff that kept happening really made me admire her. I loved the blossoming romance between Cress and Thorne, it was literally squeal-worthy! I liked Wolf as a teacher trying to help Cinder control her mind-commanding powers. He stayed mostly dark and broody the whole book, mostly because he was unconscious for a good part of it, but I loved it when he admitted to Cress that Scarlet “was his alpha, like the brightest star in a constellation.” I also loved that Kai was thinking about Cinder and secretly glad that she has evaded capture for so long, and was given some hope (despite the future prospect of being married to the evil Queen Levana) because of his thinking that Cinder was looking for Princess Selene.  And when Kai and Cinder finally got together, was awkward and fantastic (i.e. totally brilliant). 

The Woman Who Would Be King

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut's Cartouche

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, and so when I was browsing for a new audiobook to read, I grabbed for this one. This book was a very intriguing glimpse into the Egyptian royal family in the Eighteenth Dynasty, religion/mythology, and culture. I figured that naturally a pharaoh’s wife/daughter would be involved in religious ceremonies, but I had never heard of her duties as “god’s wife of Amun”, or that it would be so sexual. It was a bit odd to think about the Egyptians believing that the world was started by a god masturbating. The intricacies of palace life are a bit over my head, but I know that I would not have wanted to be a royal woman in Egyptian times as their lives were so rigid and controlled.

The book goes into great detail about Hatshepsut’s father Thutmose I, who was not the original successor to the throne but most likely a high powered general, and her mother Ahmose (the great wife – chief among all the wives and harem). Hatshepsut herself was married to her half-brother Thutmose II, who was the third in line to the throne originally, but was sickly and died early. She next ended up begin regent to her toddler step-son Thutmose III, and later because she was “intellectually ambitious” seized the chance to be co-king with him. She bought her support with the elites of the kingdom and started an extensive building program, originally started by her father Thutmose I. The co-regency was also a time of great peace and prosperity, as evidenced by her very successive journey to Punt.

Hatshepsut Expediton to Punt

Part of Hatshepsut’s wall painting of the Expedition to Punt from her Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri,  Luxor, Egypt

The Mortuary Temple of King Hatshepsut, aka the Djeser-Djeseru, the Holy of Holies

Entrance to Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri, Luxor, Egypt. Called Djeser-Djeseru, aka “Holy of Holies” [this is someplace I’ve always wanted to go, even before I read this brilliant biography]

As much as some historians try to claim that she was a ruthless power-grabber who took advantage of a precarious political situation for her own gain, I really think that she was trying to not let her father’s legacy die out and took the opportunity to rule a bit. Yes it was not traditional and she stretched all kind of boundaries, including revamping/re-sexing the gods but it worked for her and her people at the time. And if there was disension in the ranks, so to speak, Thutmose III didn’t speak up about it until he was pretty much full-grown. In fact he didn’t deface or knock-down her sculptures until the very end of his reign, and even then, it seems to be more about a succession issue (putting a son with no royal connections on the throne) than actual contempt of his aunt I think. It’s hard to make an accurate assessment of the time because there was no written record of how others felt about it, instead having to go on a lot of conjecture as the author/historian does in the book. So yeah, she makes a lot of assumptions, but I agreed with most of it. 5 stars.

hatshepsutbust

Seated Hatshepsut statue

Hatshepsut as King with feminine attributes

Sept 2015 Book Reviews

Ok, I will be the first to admit that my blog posting has been slowing down a lot lately, mostly due to a combination of tiredness, being bored with it, and not having any fresh idea for posts. My reading and reviewing have been even slower. I finished my last group of ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copies) at the beginning of Sept and am just starting the group that comes out in November.  Most of the November ARC books come out the first few days of the month, so I’m trying to read the books and write the reviews now so they’re out of the way. I am currently reading an ARC called The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. The description was interesting, but the main human character’s story is a bit boring and I’m hoping it gets to the painting’s history soon as that seemed more engaging. I was reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Outlander #6) by Diana Gabaldon, but since I own that book, it will be on the back burner until I can finish and write the review for the Rothschild book (even though I’m not allowed to post it until November). I’m finishing up Kara Cooney’s audiobook version of The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, which has been a fascinating read and the perfect setup for the class I will soon be starting on Ancient Near Eastern History.

I think this may be the last large book review I do for awhile. I’m getting kind of bored with them. I’ll probably still do the large children’s reviews because I tend to read so many of them and I like sharing the pictures. I think I might do more individual book posts, whatever I’m reading, including ARCs. And I like posting about my Kids Cafe Art Lectures, even if I don’t do them anymore. As always, I rate my reviews on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being the lowest, and I post pics of children’s book illustrations that I like.

Children

Shape by Shape written and illustrated by Suse Howard

I picked this book as part of my Toddler Dinosaur Storytime and it was perfect for it. I love cut-out books and this had cut-outs, shapes and a dinosaur, so what kid isn’t going to love it. I got the kids to identify the shapes as we went along. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

Beautiful Birds written by Jean Roussen, illustrated by Emmanuelle Walker

Beautiful Birds

This book is simply gorgeous with fabulous illustrations. It’s hard to believe it’s an ABC book. I like the the authors picked out-of-the-ordinary birds to introduce kids to new kinds, like “X is for xanthocephalus,” and “L is for Lyrebird”. It’s even cooler because the whole thing is voiced by a peacock, who proclaims himself “the most beautiful bird.” The front end pages features different kinds of eggs and the back has the eggs hatched with their corresponding baby birds. Highly recommended for ages 2-5, 5 stars.

I am Going! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie interrupts her play with Gerald to say that she is going, which of course sets Gerald off. He is devasted that she wants to leave, for who will he skip, play ping-pong and wear silly hats with? Piggie assures him that she is going to lunch, not leaving forever. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Can I Play Too? written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Can I play Too

My son just adored this book! Elephant and Piggie are about to play catch together when a little snake comes up and asks to join them. They are unsure of how this would work, but they will try. They start throwing the ball to him, but it keeps bonking him in the head. My son would giggle every time the poor snake got bonked. After many attempts, they decide to play catch a different way. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

If You Plant a Seed written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

If you plant a seed

My son has decided that he really likes this book and has asked to read a bunch. It’s about gardening, the benefits of being patient and kind and the pitfalls of selfishness. It stars a bunny and mouse who have decided to plant some seeds. They wait patiently and in time have a tomato, carrot and cabbage plant. Some curious birds want some of their food, and at first they refuse, a fight breaks out and all of their food is destroyed. Then the mouse does an act of kindness and their whole world is turned around. I absolutely adore the simple story and the gorgeous painted illustrations by the fabulous Kadir Nelson. Seriously, this man can do no wrong in my book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Ewe and Aye written by Candace Ryan, illustrated by Stephanie Ruble

A co-worker introduced me to this book and I thought it was cute enough to bring home to my son. Ewe (a female sheep) and Aye (a male lemur, I think) are friends. They both dream of flying but Ewe wants to do it with wheels and Aye with wings. Neither of them can achieve their goals individually, so they work together to accomplish them. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

The Boy and the Airplane written and illustrated by Mark Pett

A co-worker introduced me to this book and I liked it, so I brought it home for my son. A wordless picture book about (surprise) a boy and his toy airplane, but one that my son could easily tell me the story. The boy is so excited to get a new toy airplane that when he finally lets it fly for real, it immediately lands on the roof where he can’t reach it. So he plants a seed and waits for it to grow into a tree, so he can get it down. When it finally does grow high enough and he gets it back, he is an old man, so he gives it to someone who can better appreciate it. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Big Princess written and illustrated by Taro Miura

The Big Princess

My son and I have been waiting awhile for this book to come out, after completely falling in love with The Tiny King. This second book in the series tells the story about the Tiny King’s wife, the Big Princess, and how she came to be so tall. A King and his wife had a beautiful garden and yearned for children. One night, the King had a dream and a white bird came to him in the dream and told him that he would get a baby princess but she would come with a terrible curse that had the potential to crumble his kingdom. The next day, the Kind and Queen found a tiny princess smaller than a flower in their garden. They devised a tiny bed made out of a feather for her, but every morning the princess would outgrow it. She kept on growing and growing until they had to put her in the tower and it was then that King finally broke the spell and saved the kingdom. I love the illustrations for this series, as they are bold and colorful, but simple. Recommended for ages 4-7, 5 stars.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by John Klassen

This book has a cute premise, but I think Barnett and Klassen have done funnier/better books together. This one won a 2015 Caldecott Honor. Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole with their dog, looking for buried treasure. The only problem is they are always so close to it, but never quite reach it. And then they dig down so far, they end up on the other side of the world or another dimension. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex written by Lisa McClatchy, illustrated by John Manders

Another book I picked for Toddler Dinosaur Storytime, which didn’t work as well as I would’ve liked mostly because it dragged a lot. But it had an adorable premise. A little girl desperately wants a T-Rex to come to her birthday and writes him a letter saying all the stuff they will do together at her party. She gets her wish in the end. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Oliver written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif

Oliver

I adored this story of a little boy who is perfectly content playing by himself and making his own imaginary friends. Who doesn’t love a kid with a great imagination? One day he meets another little girl who does the same thing. They become the best of friends. He has found someone who completes him. I loved the quirky illustrations that went with this book, which really told the story, as the written storytelling left a bit to be desired. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

A Bean, A Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack written and illustrated by William Joyce and Kenny Callicutt

How can I not love this story?! It was created by William Joyce, one of the most imaginative and brilliant children’s writers and illustrators out there, plus Kenny Callicutt, an art graduate of my undergraduate alma mater, VCU. It is a clever take on the Jack and the Beanstalk story involving a young boy, a talking bean, a wizard, a massive drought and one stinky pinky. Check it out for the full story! It has great illustrations and a cute story. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Young Adult

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Adult

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

Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron

The Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey #3) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodman and Rick Holmes

This book was narrated back and forth between Lord John and Jaime Fraser, and their adventures together in Ireland. It is fourteen years after the Battle of Culloden, and Jamie has been working as a horse groom at Helwater House in England for the past three years. He is trying to avoid another attempt to re-instate the Stuart monarchy in England and organized by Jamie’s associate Quinn (an Irishman who was close to Prince Charles Stuart when Jamie and Claire were helping the cause previously in Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)). Lord John is trying to court marshall an officer in the army, Major George Siverly, who was accused of foul play by Charlie Carruthers, his friend who had died in Canada in the previous book, The Custom of the Army. Will Jamie and Lord John be able to stop the new Jacobite rebellion and figure out  5 stars.

The audiobook had great readers and I liked that they used two different people for the story, to complement the different narratives. I’m not sure why they can’t actually get a Scottish person to do the accent though. I honestly loved this book because it really gave you a glimpse into Jamie’s back story, especially his time at Helwater, his relationship with William, and how much he really missed Claire during the twenty years they were separated between Outlander books two and three. This information is hinted in other Lord John Grey and Outlander books but not implicitly stated. His story was really the main purpose of the book, as the title suggests, and Lord John is placed a bit on the back burner. Not to say that Lord John doesn’t have some fun times, i.e. finally hooking up with Stephan Van Namtzen! It’s about bloody time. They’ve been flirting with each other for the whole series so far, but nothing had really come of it minus a few kisses. Plus I loved that Stephan got Lord John a daschund to match his own. I never knew that daschund means “boar hound” and that’s what they were originally bred for doing. The author is not shy about sex, as the reader might have noticed from previous John Grey and Outlander books. I mean the first sentences in the book are about Jamie getting off after dreaming of Claire, not to mention the whole scene with Stephan and Lord John. I was intrigued to learn about Minnie, Lord John’s sister-in-law, and her father’s spy business in Paris and that she knew Jamie from when he and Claire were living there.

The Big Book of Slow Cooker, Casseroles & More by Betty Crocker

I love using my slow cooker but never really use it, so this seemed as good a place as any to look for some recipes. My mom always used her Betty Crocker classic cookbook when I was going up, so knew they would have some decent recipes. I made the Korean Beef and the Cheesy Tater-Topped Chicken Casserole, which were both okay but not sure I would make them again. I would like to try Jambalaya, Mediterranean Minestrone Casserole, Caramelized Onion Pot Roast (which used the slow cooker), and the Cheesy Gnocchi Florentine and Triple Ginger Pound Cake (which used the oven) in the future. 3 stars.

July 2015 Book Reviews

It seems I am finally getting some reading done this month, although the majority of it is picture books as I’ve been reading up a storm to my son, averaging about 20 books checked out at a time. In actuality, I’m rather behind on reviews (as per usual) and have included some I read a couple months ago, but forgot to review. I’m re-reading The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin for book club this month (here is my original review for it, under the adult section). I’ve been devouring Outlander books and will probably start reading #6: A Breath of Snow and Ashes soonI also started reading Diana Gabaldon’s spin-off series about Lord John Grey as I was always pretty curious about him in the original series. I’m now listening to Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, which is book #2 in the series, again narrated by the fabulous Jeff Woodman. She has written a bunch of novellas, and I’ve read 0.5, 1, and 1.5 in the series as well (reviews to follow next month).  Plus there’s always the possibility of getting to know a bit more about Jamie Fraser, with him being Lord John Grey’s obsession. I’ve been getting a little burned out on ARCs of late, but have just started a new one, Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston, which I am enjoying.

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.

Children

Quack and Count written and illustrated by Keith Baker

I picked up this cute counting book as part of a Toddler Duck Storytime. It is unique in that instead of just counting 1-7, it actually does a little simple addition as we follow the seven little ducks playing and finally flying off together. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Little Monkey Says Good Night written by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by David Walker

Little Monkey Says Good Night

I picked this story for my Toddler Storytime on Circuses. My son loved this book, which is all about a little monkey who won’t go to bed until he’s said goodnight to the whole circus. This includes the ringmaster, the strong man, the elephant , a horse, the clowns and a lion. Then he says goodnight to his momma and agrees to go to bed after saying goodnight to himself. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

1-2-3 Va-Va-Vroom!: A Counting Book written by Sarah Lynn, illustrated by Daniel Griffe

Ok I really read this book awhile back, as I bought it for my son at one his daycare’s book sales. He dug it out today while we were sorting out library books to bring back to the library and we sat down and read it. If there was a slightly larger book, it would be great for storytime. The counting is from the laps around the race track and the race is between three friends in rhyming text. I’m glad the little girl won, though all three of them share in the celebration. Va-va-vroom is the refrain and one my son and I like to say together. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Duck Dunks written and illustrated by Lynne Berry

Another book I used for my Toddler Duck Storytime, this was a fun little book, though a bit long for the toddlers. In rhyming text, it tells the story of a family of small ducks who go to the beach and play and swim and have a great time. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Dinosoaring written by Deb Lund, illustrated by Howard Fine

My son is obsessed with this rhyming book about flying dinosaurs. We’ve read it pretty much every other day for two weeks now. The book, another in the series of dinosaur adventures, is about nine dinosaurs who all manage to squeeze into what I think is a C-130 Hercules (the biggest transport plane there is). They can’t seem to get it off the ground, but after a few tries, manage to do so. They are in the air when they see that an Air Show is going on, so they start doing tricks like hanging from a trapeeze and dancing on the wings. Everything is great until the plane goes into a spin and the dinosaurs must parachute to safety. They vow never to be so reckless again, and try out tame things like sports, reading and cooking. That is until they find something new to do. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

An Octopus Followed Me Home written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

A book I plan on using for a Pet Toddler Storytime and an Octopus DiscoveryTime for Preschoolers, this is a cute take on pets. A young girl brings an octopus home and wants it to become her pet, but her father says no. She has already brought home a literal zoo full of animals and her father can’t take anymore pets. So she must say goodbye to her octopus, and they are both sad. It is fun to do the dad’s voice, which kind of sounds and looks like a 1950s dad with pipe and slippers. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Goodnight Already! written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies

Goodnight Already

Immediately when I first discovered this book at the library, I thought it sounded like my husband and I when my son refuses to go to sleep, so naturally I had to bring it home. Bear just wants to go to sleep, but his neighbor Duck is wide awake and wants to talk with him. Bear keeps trying to sleep and Duck keeps popping up, scaring him and keeping him awake until he finally goes back to his house and falls asleep. Bear on the other hand, is now wide awake. I absolutely love the illustrations as well. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Olivia Goes to Venice written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

I didn’t think I would like this book because it is set in Venice and I have a sort of aversion to that place, but it was cute. Olivia and her family go on a vacation to Venice, and spend the whole time eating a lot of gelato, trying to hide from the billions of pigeons in St Marks Square and trying to stay afloat in gondolas. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Olivia and the Missing Toy written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Olivia and the Missing Toy

This was my son’s favorite Olivia book so far, and I think it’s because it was a little creepy and he could sympathize with Olivia’s predicament. Olivia has to get ready for soccer practice, but hates her green uniform. She wants a red one and asks her mom to create one for her. She does and Olivia has to wait for it to be finished. After waiting forever, she realizes that her favorite toy is missing. She goes shouting to her brothers asking after it and looks under everything but can’t find it. Then one dark and stormy night, she hears a strange noise and realizes that her dog Perry has chewed it all up. She is of course devastated, but decides to fix it even though her daddy promises to buy her a new one (much to her mother’s consternation). She decides she doesn’t want a story about dogs that night, but she can’t stay mad at Perry forever, and he ends up sleeping in her bed that night. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Olivia Forms a Band written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Olivia and her family are going to go to a fireworks show, and Olivia decides that there should be a band there. She tries to get her family involved, but no one is interested, and so she creates a one-pig band to accompany the fireworks. The funniest part about this book is how she gets the instruments and all the sound effects for the instruments themselves. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Olivia Becomes a Vet written by Alex Harvey, illustrations by Jared Osterhold

An easy-reader spinoff of the Olivia TV show, in this volume Olivia goes with her friend Julian to the Veterinarian’s office to see what is wrong with his pet lizard. After the visit, she decides that it would be cool to be a Vet and tries to practice on her own dog. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku written by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Won Ton and Chopstick

Won Ton is the only pet in the house until one day his adversary arrives in the form of a puppy, which the kids call Chopstick. They do not get along and the puppy just annoys him as Won Ton keeps getting blamed for the puppy’s mistakes and his boy does not want to spend as much time with him. After awhile though, they warm up to each other and Won Ton realizes that Chopstick isn’t that bad, Then Chopstick reveals his true name. My son loved this one as much as the first, probably more because it had a dog in it, which he can identify with because we have one at home. I just love that he will sit through a poetry book with me, plus its a cute story. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Paddington Treasury for the Very Young written by Michael Bond, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Paddington

After watching the Paddington movie that came out this year, and because my son and I loved it so much, I decided it would be good if I could find a Paddington collection of books to read. This one was perfect for my son as the illustrations were huge and not very much text for him to get bored with. The series is so stereotypically British but with a fun kid twist. Paddington is a Peruvian bear whose elderly aunt can no longer take care of him and ships him to England to be cared for. He arrives at Paddington station, which is how he gets his name, and is adopted by the Brown family. He has an affinity for marmalade, and can usually be seen with his nose in a jar of the stuff. He is always getting into trouble for simply misunderstanding the situation. The book features 6 classic picture books: Paddington, Paddington at the Palace, Paddington at the Zoo, Paddington in the Garden, Paddington and the Marmalade Maze, and Paddington the Artist. My favorites were the original story of Paddington, Paddington at the Palace and Paddington the Artist. The illustrations were fabulous, this artist being one of two who have illustrated the series. Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree

Red Knit Cap Girl and her friend White Bunny are reading in the forest when their friend Squirrel says she has something to show them. She shows them a hollow tree and Red Knit Cap Girl decides this would be the perfect place for a reading nook. She and her animal friends gather together some books to add to the nook, her friend Beaver adds a bookshelf and soon they are all sharing books together. Soon it is a great place for everyone to gather and read! Owl makes a sign for it, and it becomes a library. Great book for sharing at a Books and Reading storytime! Once again, there is an adorable story and even better illustrations done on wood by the fabulous Ms. Stoop! Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Edmund Unravels written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb

Edmund Unravels

Oh my goodness! This book is so freaking cute. It’s about a ball of yarn named Edmund who starts off small and has to constantly be wound back up into himself by his parents. But he yearns to explore the world outside, and eventually grows old enough to do so. He visits all sorts of places and does all sorts of things that his parents would be surprised about, but eventually finds himself missing home. Soon thereafter, he is pulled back up “three very familiar steps” and back into the embraces of his family who put him back together again (figuratively and literally). It is such a great book about family and needing to unravel and recharge every now and then. Plus the most adorable illustrations ever! Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Big Words for Little People written by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell

I figured this would be a cute book that would teach kids important words and it did in a way, but not as effectively as I thought it would. I did like the upbeat attitude of the book though, but my son just didn’t connect to it. It teaches kids about words like cooperate, respect, patience, and being considerate. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

 

Young Adult

The Stranger by Albert Camus

About a Girl (Metamorphoses #3) by Sarah McCarry

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

 

Adult

To Have and Have Not and Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon

After landing in Georgia at the end of Voyager, Jamie, Claire, their nephew Ian and the crew make their way to North Carolina to Jamie’s uncle’s house, after witnessing one of the Ardsmuir prisoners being hanged in Charleston. They rescue an escaped prisoner named Stephen Bonnet. Jamie and Claire end up dining with the Governor of North Carolina, William Tryon and he offers them land in exchange for services later. Bonnet and a group of pirates later robs Jamie and Claire on the boat ride down the river to Jamie’s uncle’s plantation River Run, taking Claire’s gold ring (the one from Frank) and the gemstones they liberated from Geillis Duncan in Voyager. They make it to River Run, only to find out that Jamie’s uncle has died and his blind wife Jocasta is running things. They stay there for awhile until Jocasta tries to make Jamie the heir to the plantation, which precipitates them leaving to find the land promised by Governor Tryon. They find a likely spot up in the mountains and begin creating a home there with the help of local Indians. Jamie asks one of his former crewman Duncan Innes to go find as many of the former Ardsmuir prisoners and their family who had re-located to the colonies and invite them to the newly established “Fraser’s Ridge” community. Fergus, Marsali and their family settle there as well.

In the modern world of 1969, Brianna has discovered information on Jamie and Claire’s death in 1776 and time-travels back to Scotland in 1769 to try to save them. She of course doesn’t tell Roger this and he finds out after the fact and immediately tries to find her in the past. He ends up taking a boat piloted by Captain Stephen Bonnet, and inadvertantly meets and saves his ancestors, the wife and child of William Buccleigh MacKenzie (illegitimate child of Douglal MacKenzie and Geillis Duncan). Brianna and Roger eventually make their way to North Carolina, and meet up to consummate their relationship and have a hand-fasting ceremony, which temporarily marries them to each other. Then they have a huge row and get separated. She discovers the man who has her mother’s ring and goes on a quest to find it, getting herself raped in the process. She finally manages to find Jaimie, who brings her home to Claire and they spend some time bonding and getting to know each other. Roger eventually makes his way to Fraser’s Ridge, where Jamie tries to beat him up for knocking up his daughter and sells him to the Indians. Once Brianna finds this out, she is very pissed at her dad, who says he will go rescue him, but they lose Ian to the Mohawks in the process. Eventually Roger comes back and promises to raise Brianna’s son as his own, no matter who the father is. 3-1/2 stars.

Frankly I thought the beginning part of this book was a little tedious, though being attacked by a guy you helped save was an interesting touch. For some reason, when I was reading the part about Roger taking the boat led by by Stephen Bonnet I totally missed the connection until much later after the rape. Lord John had an interesting role in this book, and one that led me to try out his spin-off series of books. I was so glad that Brianna and Jaimie finally got to meet, as it was so sad that Jaimie has all these kids he can never see. Although, I will say that I found Brianna to be pretty annoying in this book as she’s so flighty, makes stupid mistakes that she should know better about as a “modern” woman, and is kind of a dick to Roger (who bless his heart has been so bloody patient about everything). Roger I felt bad for, especially in regards to getting beaten up by Jamie and then held prisoner by the Mohawks. I will be interested to know more about him in the next book.

The Fiery Cross (Outlander #5) by Diana Gabaldon

The book starts where Drums of Autumn left off, at the Gathering at Mount Helicon in the fall, with Brianna Fraser preparing to officially wed Roger MacKenzie and Jocasta Cameron (Jamie’s aunt) about to marry his friend Duncan Innes. Only Brianna and Roger’s wedding ends up happening due to some political reason to do with Jocasta Cameron, and Jamie also makes sure to have Brianna’s son Jeremiah baptized. Everyone returns to Fraser’s Ridge and Jamie goes home with a letter from William Tryon that he must set up a militia to combat the Regulators, a group of men not obeying King George of England’s laws (think of them as the precursors to the American Revolution). Luckily they end up not having to fight anyone and head back home rather quickly. In the spring of the following year, Jamie, Claire and the family head to River Run to finally celebrate the wedding of Jocasta and Duncan, though that almost doesn’t happens as well as someone tries to sabotage it. Jocasta reveals the truth about what she knows about “the Frenchman’s gold”, the money King Louis XV sent to Charles Stuart that never arrived to save the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, which both Jamie and Claire had been part of. A few months after the wedding, the militia is summoned again by Governor Tryon and this time a battle does occur between the King’s forces and militia and the Regulators at Alamance. Jamie and Roger have been tracking Stephen Bonnet so they can entrap him, and they almost get him at the end of this book. Jamie is almost killed by a boar (seriously Gabaldon?!?) and Ian returns in time to save him. 4 stars.

Roger sure got the rough end of the stick in this book. We learn more about him and his parents, but he is almost killed at the Battle of Alamance, and I was a bit mad when I thought he might never sing or talk again. It seems all MacKenzies, with the exception of Morag and Roger, are conniving backstabbers. Brianna is less annoying in this book, just a regular mother complaining about her child and not getting to spend enough time with her husband (the plight of all young mothers really). Ian finally came back, yay!! And he brought back with him the journal of Robert Springer, known as Otter Tooth in the 18th century, who was a Native American time-traveler (who we first heard about in Drums of Autumn).  The whole thing with Jamie, Claire and the poisonous snake was seriously bad-ass! I can’t believe the nerve of Phillip Wylie, when he tries to put moves on Claire and Jamie actually though she encouraged him. The demise of Stephen Bonnet is deliberately hazy, so guess we’ll have to figure out if he actually did die in the next book. Definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series after I finish a few others first.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cummings

I have always liked Alan Cummings as an actor, and I had heard that this book was coming out and was good, so I decided to give it a go. Not even counting that the cover has a ringing endorsement from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. It was a bit hard to read as Cummings’ father was very abusive to his sons and wife, and basically treated them like crap while he went around with many women during the course of his marriage to Alan’s mother. The narrative switched back and forth between the present (2010) and Alan’s childhood. Naturally because of the abuse, Alan and his father did not have a very good relationship. So after not speaking to each other for sixteen years, his father drops the bombshell that he may not be his father and that his mother had an affair, which set the stage for his father’s indiscretions. Also in the present, Alan is on this show called Who Do You Think You Are?, which is a genealogical show which investigates an ancestor. He wants to know the truth about his maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, who mysteriously shot himself in Malaysia in the 1950s. The conclusion to the book was a bit surprising, and there were many twists and turns in the story to keep the reader interested. Reading about Mr. Cumming made me watch more of his shows, and this is what got me hooked on my current favorite show, The Good Wife. 4 stars.

The book had some great quotes, like this one on pg 124 where he describes what it means to be child-like, which I get described myself a lot like so I could identify, “Child-like, I realized, tends to mean open, joyous, maybe a bit mischievous, and I am happy to have all those qualities.” He played a drag queen in the 1970s in South Africa for the show Any Day Now, and afterwards had this to say about women on pg 182: “For yes, being a woman, even one with a penis and for the purposes of drama, really made me feel that women have been coerced into a way of presenting themselves that is basically a form of bondage. Their shoes, their skirts, even their nails seem designed to stop them from being able to escape whilst at the same time drawing attention to their sexual and secondary sexual characteristics.” Also, any person who has had to go through emotional or physical abuse should check out the letter he sent to his father the last time they spoke sixteen years before, on pgs 186-187, as they do (I think) accurately describe the pain he felt.