Norse Mythology

norsemythology_hardback_1473940163

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 7, 2017

Taken from Goodreads.com: In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I’ve never had the opportunity to advance read one of Mr. Gaiman’s books, so I jumped at the chance when I saw it on Netgalley. Plus it’s about one of my favorite subjects that I have loved since a child, and I could identify with Mr. Gaiman’s similar experience, in regards to the introduction of Norse mythology into his life, in the foreword. His writing is beautiful as it always is and I discovered stories I had never heard before, but I guess I just thought it would be different and a better interpretation because of his past work involving Norse mythology (Odd and the Frost Giants and American Gods). 3-1/2 stars. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publishers, WW. Norton & Company on Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review. 

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. 
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  • 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?
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  • 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). 
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  • 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. 
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  • 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

1953 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

My Early Life, 1874-1904

My Early Life, 1874-1904 by Sir Winston S. Churchill, narrated by Frederick Davidson

Sir Winston S. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, according to the Nobel Prize website for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” This is a link to his speech if anyone is interested. He wrote 42 books in 72 volumes, and all but 5 were published by 1953.

I’ve been interested in learning about Churchill for awhile now, but was a bit hesitant to try and tackle his massive 6 volume history on World War II or 4 book volume on The History of the English-Speaking People, which are supposed to be excellent but exceedingly long (from over 1700 – 4700 pages). So when I found this autobiography on Audible, I jumped at the chance to get to know more about this great man.

Whenever I think of Winston Churchill, I always think of the much older WWII Prime Minister version of the man, the bulldog-looking man with a cigar in one hand, getting down to business (as the image above attests). But of course that is how he is remembered from the end of his life, so it was intriguing to get a glimpse of his early life. In fact, when my son was a baby we used to call him Winston Churchill in the gruff voice one associates with the man because he looked like the grumpy old man.
Lord-and-Lady-Randolph-Churchill-CHAR-28-41-46

Jennie and Randolph (Winston’s parents)

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born prematurely at his family’s ancestral home of Blenheim Palace (I have been there and it’s gorgeous especially in the English springtime) in Oxford, England to Lady Jennie Jerome (one of the many American heiresses who came over in the late 19th century looking for rich English husbands, one of the “Dollar Princesses”) and Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill on Nov 30, 1874. Winston is the oldest of two boys. He thought of his mother as a “fairy princess,” and she was a great beauty in her youth. Winston spent his early years, until age four, in Ireland before coming back to England to attend a boarding school in Ascot, and later Harrow School and Sandhurst Military Academy. It is interesting to note that it took him four tries to get into Sandhurst and he taught himself advanced mathematics in four months to accomplish this. At Sandhurst, Winston trained to be in the cavalry, contrary to his father wishes for him to join the infantry, and enlisted in the 4th Hussars in February 1895 as a 2nd Lieutenant. His father passes away a few months later, probably of a brain tumor.

Churchill in 4th Hussars gear, 1895

Churchill in his new 4th Hussars uniform, 1895

Winston is first stationed with the cavalry in India from late 1896-1899 and it was here that he really started playing polo in earnest. Unfortunately, he had to stop playing after injuring his shoulder (an injury that plagued him for the rest of his life), but not before he led his team to a championship against the all-India team. But like all young men, he was anxious to see some military action and decided to go to Cuba as a war correspondent during the 1898 Cuban War of Independence from Spain. He is there for a grand total of sixteen days, as a guest of the Spanish military. It is interesting to note here that despite his grandfather being the 7th Duke of Marlborough, his immediate family was pretty broke by the time he joined the cavalry, which is why he supplemented his income by writing books and becoming a war correspondent for the newspaper the Morning Post for many years. I assumed (apparently wrongly) that he would’ve attended Oxford or Cambridge like other members of the upper class. But aside from attending Harrow and Sandhurst, he was entirely self-taught.Winston actually called this period, “the university of his life,” and he became extremely well-read. Consequently,  he was well-known for his cleverness. His mother sent him scores of books and he educated himself in his spare time. History was Winston’s favorite subject, which became apparent later in life when he won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to authority on the subject. He published his first book The Story of the Malakand Field Force in 1898, which was about his experiences in the cavalry in India in 1896, for which he won the India Medal.

With the help of his mother’s social connections, he was allowed to go the Sudan in Omdurman/Khartoum under the leadership of General Herbert Kitchener (who made his name famous with the victory at this battle). Apparently Kitchener really didn’t want him to go and expressly forbade him to do so, and so therefore Jennie Churchill was a real worker of miracles in knowing everyone important and getting her eldest son where he wanted to go. Winston’s life was saved by his Mauser pistol, which he had to use instead of a sword, because of his previous polo shoulder injury. According to the Churchill Centre, “It was a very violent battle. The British suffered 175 casualties, their Egyptian allies 307; but the Dervish force had 9,700 killed, between 10,000 and 16,000 wounded and 5,000 taken prisoner. For Churchill’s service in the Sudan, amounting to six or eight weeks, he received the Queen’s Sudan Medal and the Khedive’s Sudan Medal with clasp for “Khartoum.” He later in Nov 1899 published The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, a history of the campaign, his most ambitious book to date, and still today one of his greatest books.”

Sudan

Afterwards, he returned to India for about six months.  Churchill resigned from the army in April 1899 to start his political career. He promptly lost his first election and decided to again become a war correspondent for the Morning Post newspaper, this time in South Africa during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. Now this is a war that I have never truly understood until I was listening to this autobiography and learnt that the whole fight with the Dutch in the Transvaal was over gold mining. This, to me at least, seems rather typical of the late British Empire (especially if you think of all the trouble they had in India, the rest of Africa and Asia because they couldn’t give up control of the colonies to the natives and their determination to hold onto the colonies to “protect” them from other European superpowers).

Churchill as war correspondent for Boer War, South Africa 1899

 Churchill as war correspondent in South Africa, 1899

Winston was captured by the Boers, aka the Afrikaners or the descendants of the original Dutch settlers in South Africa, on an armored train and taken to a POW camp in Pretoria (the Boer capital city) in Nov 1899. About a month later he makes a daring escape, as explained again by the Churchill Centre, “He climbed over the prison wall, hopped a freight train, hid in a coal mine and, with the help of friendly Englishmen, eventually rode another train to freedom over the border to Portuguese East Africa.” You would think he would decide to just return home after that ordeal, but instead he decided to obtain a cavalry commission in the South African Light Horse. He also obtained a commission for his younger brother Jack, who was promptly wounded. Churchill publishes his first and only fictionalized novel, Savrolain February 1900. “He was to write two books about his South African adventures: London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria (published May 1900), featuring the armored train incident for which he first became famous, with the train depicted on its cover, and Ian Hamilton’s March (the sequel to Ladysmith, published later the same year in Oct) was based on his newspaper articles.” He left Africa in July 1900, famous worldwide because of his adventures in South Africa, and won his first seat in the House of Commons at age 25.

Churchills Wanted Poster in South Africa

Churchill’s Wanted Poster (in Dutch and English) after he escaped the POW Camp in Pretoria, South Africa

Soon after becoming a member of the House of Commons, in December 1900, Winston goes on a lecture tour of the United States, Canada, and England for a year. He meets one of his idols, Mark Twain in Boston, Massachusetts. He is earning more than any other journalist and rakes in $10,000 in one year, a princely sum at the time, and promptly invests it. His first speech in the House of Commons is on Feb 18, 1901 and was very successful. Winston published another book, Mr. Brodrick’s Army in April 1903, which was a collection of his speeches on Army reform. He meets his future wife Clementine in March 1904 and according to the Churchill Centre, “is transfixed and tongue-tied; Clementine however is unimpressed.” And that’s pretty much where this first part of his autobiography ends. For more basic info on the great man and all that he achieved, I would recommend the Churchill Centre’s timeline.

Winston_Churchill_(1874-1965)_with_fiancée_Clementine_Hozier_(1885-1977)_shortly_before_their_marriage_in_1908

Winston with his fiancee Clementine Hozier, 1908

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and listening to Winston’s story, which was alternatively gripping and a bit tedious, especially when describing all the army skirmishes in India and South Africa. It’s kind of amazing that this man accomplished so much so young and did all of it before he was 25, not to mention the fact that he was completely self-educated past secondary school. I’m curious to know more about him and read some of his actual works, perhaps the novel or some poetry. 4 stars.

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.

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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.

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.

Children

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.

Adult

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.

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.