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.