Best Books I read in 2017

I ended up reading a lot of books this year, despite it being a completely crazy year for me personally. It should be about 235 for the year, which was a bit more than I figured it would be. I tend to get uber distracted and ADD the crazier things get, so really it was miraculous that I managed to read this many books despite all of this. I discovered a lot of interesting manga and graphic novels and comics series once again, and read a ton of mangas (72 total this year), and even got to read a few as ARCs. The following books were my favorites for the year. I read too many to limit it to a small number, though I have tried to abbreviate the list. For all the ones my son also loved, I will add “Kid approved” to the titles. 

Children

The Very Fluffy Kitty: Papillon (Papillon #1) by A.N. Kang – It’s so adorable, I’m gonna squeal! Kid approved. 

Papillon-5

Pretty much all of Ryan T. Higgins’ books, as they are hilarious and have fabulous illustrations. Very much Kid Approved:

Wilfred (my favorite illustration below) – I want Wilfred for my friend! 

Wilfred

Be Quiet! – This book feels like trying to explain “quiet” to kids and then the 4 million “why?” questions start. 

Be Quiet

Hotel Bruce (Bruce #2) – I love Bruce’s facial expressions. 

Hotel Bruce

Bruce’s Big Move (Bruce #3)

Bruces-Big-Move

Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrations by Sydney Hanson – you can’t help but do this in a cute little French accent. Kid Approved. 

Escargot

The Not So Quiet Library written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora – I love his illustrations and this book is adorable! Plus he always includes a character from a previous book (the bear was in Wolfie the Bunny). 

the-not-so-quiet-library-interior-zachariah-ohora

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez Gomez – loved the slightly creepy but lush illustrations of this graphic novel, plus the heroine uses her imagination to escape

Nightlights

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Editions by J.K. Rowling – Re-reading these to my son and loving them much more than the first time I read them. The illustrations really make these amazing and so accessible to children. Can’t wait to read Volume 3! Kid Approved.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Young Adult

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – I liked this book so much, it ended up in one of my fanfiction stories. Can’t wait for book 2 in the series!

Strange the Dreamer

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan – hilarious audiobook for teens but really best understood by adults (I thought the title looked cooler in Hebrew). 

The Dark Prophecy - Hebrew

The Prince and the Dressmaker written and illustrated by Jen Wang – I loved this graphic novel about being yourself no matter what

The Prince and the Dressmaker2

The Other Side of the Gate and The Empty Sea by Craig Michael Curtis – a series my friend wrote, they’re awesome, please check out his works! Third book will come out soon.

The Other Side of the GateThe Empty Sea

Manga: To check out more info on most of these series, and why I liked the leading males in Manga/Anime, please check out this previous post!

Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 28 Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 27 , and Kimi Ni Todoke Vol 26 by Karuho Shiina

Kimi Ni Todoke

High School Debut Vol. 1- written and illustrated by Kazune Kawahara – I am Haruna and I need some help. Where’s my hot teacher? Also, Yoh is super adorable below. 

High School Debut

Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition Vol 1-12 written and illustrated by Natsuke Takaya – after watching the anime again, I felt like I needed to read the original manga version and it was even better than the anime. This might be one of my favorite series’ ever!

Fruits Basket vol 21 Ch 120

Library Wars: Love and War Vol 15 written and illustrated Kiiro Yumi – last volume 😦

Library Wars Vol 15

Adult

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn – also coincidentally the best audiobook I listened to as well; I have always been a fan of the Chiss, but had never read anything about Thrawn in particular. Loved Thrawn –>Eli–>Governor Pryce as top three characters. Plus it was awesome to listen to the audiobook then literally a few weeks later see both characters in Star Wars Rebels Season 3.

Thrawn

Saga Vol 1-7 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples – best comic series I’ve read in a long time, hands down!

Saga

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, The Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell 

Black Dahlia

The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore – Tie between this book, Thrawn and Black Dahlia for the most interesting book I’ve read this year.

Wonder Woman

Black Dahlia, Red Rose

Black Dahlia Red Rose

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell

To be published: Oct 10, 2017

The Black Dahlia murder case remains a brutal unsolved mystery murder case. Committed by someone familiar with surgical techniques, the murder of twenty-two year old Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia because of the lingerie she wore and her jet-black hair. The investigation has never been solved, but I believe Piu Eatwell has finally done that. Using previously unreleased FBI and LAPD files, in addition to the first-hand accounts of people like news reporter Aggie Underwood and Dr. DeRiver, psychologist of the LAPD during the time of the murder, the author makes a compelling argument about the identity of the killer. She also explains who else might’ve been behind the scenes of the murder, as well as the corruption and cover-up perpetrated by the LAPD and their associates. Highly recommended, 5 stars. 

I personally loved the way the author set the story for Los Angeles in 1940s post-war America. Narrative nonfiction doesn’t always work, but I really liked the way she blended fact and story to get a let’s-face-it not pleasant topic across. Elizabeth Short was brutally murdered, according to the author’s website, by being “bludgeoned to death, her mouth slit wide on each side. Severe post-mortem lacerations had been made to the body. Most shocking, the corpse had been hacked in two.”

The influences of Hollywood are all over Los Angeles (as they have been since the movie industry has been in existence), but there is also the influence of of gangsters and their cronies, like Mark Hansen, who peddled sex and drugs, and encouraged women to sell themselves body and soul to get into pictures and become famous. I had heard stories about the corruption of the LAPD but to read about it and the depth to which it went, was fascinating, and really makes me want to read a book about that all on its own. The lengths to which they went to in order to cover up the dealings of certain members of the force, basically sabotaged the entire Black Dahlia murder investigation. After reading this book, I can very much imagine a scene as described by the author, between the man who ordered Elizabeth Short’s murder and the man who actually committed it, just like Henry II telling his knights to “get rid of this troublesome priest” when they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket. I found it very fascinating that the author, at the end of the book, discovered Leslie Dillon’s daughter was named Elizabeth, adding that just extra bit of creepiness to an already creepy story. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from W.W. Norton & Company in exchange for my honest review. 

 

 

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. 
  • mother-bruce-spread-liams-favorites-copy
  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

brown-girl-dreaming

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

Young Adult

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

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
  • wolf-children2
  • 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. 
  • miyamura
  • 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.

hatshepsutbust

Seated Hatshepsut statue

Hatshepsut as King with feminine attributes

Sept 2015 Book Reviews

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

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

Children

Shape by Shape written and illustrated by Suse Howard

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

Beautiful Birds written by Jean Roussen, illustrated by Emmanuelle Walker

Beautiful Birds

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

I am Going! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

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

Can I Play Too? written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Can I play Too

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

If You Plant a Seed written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

If you plant a seed

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

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

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

The Boy and the Airplane written and illustrated by Mark Pett

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

The Big Princess written and illustrated by Taro Miura

The Big Princess

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif

Oliver

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

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

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

Children and Young Adult

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Young Adult

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Adult

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

Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron

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

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

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

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

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