Moments of Zen: Dec 17-23

My son is on his Winter Break and at daycare while I work for the last week of the year (ok will work next Monday too). We’re going to Alabama to visit my maternal grandfather and my brother and his family are going to be there as well. It will be a long drive from Arizona to Alabama, and I still need to find some things for my son to do. Overall, it was a good week. 

Sat: Got to see A Christmas Story: The Musical with my parents and son, and he managed to sit still and watch it for 3/4 of the show. I was very impressed with that, though probably helped that we were right next to the stage. Yay for free tickets!

Sun: Dinosaur battle, on my lap, between the good and bad dinosaurs (determined by whether or not they were smiling) that my son had gotten the previous night. Oh and a Tie-Fighter and the Millennium Falcon were also helping the fight. Also, getting to finally sit down after work and relax, whilst eating salmon and playing DA2. 

Mon: Working on a new DA story, and listening to more DA: Inquisition party banter and completely cracking up. 

Wed: Finally got to see Rogue One with my parents! I enjoyed it because it was definitely a Star Wars movie – good with a lot of personal sacrifices ultimately triumphs over evil, and had better storyline and aliens than Episode VII (my guess is because it wasn’t in the constraints of being in a trilogy and therefore they had more freedom to get creative but still stay in the SW universe). The ending was sad and I would’ve hoped for a smooch, but all they had time for was hand-holding before life ended as they knew it. Also got to have snuggle time with Boo to watch our new copy of Big Hero 6 together. Yay cheap movies at library book sales!

rogue-one

Thurs: Work Christmas party and even though I was late, I still got enjoy it and see everyone (even my recently promoted friends). Finally finished the all-mages-all-the-time story line for DA 2, which I had never played before. I actually really enjoyed romancing Anders even though he totally betrays you and uses you to get his own way, but I stuck by him, didn’t kill him, and fought with him against evil templars (aka Knight Commander Meredith and the come-to-life statues). 

Fri: Reading volume 13 of Ouran High Host Club and loving the new storyline. The anime only went up to about Vol. 11 or 12, so everything past that is brand spanking new and the story has finally picked up. Currently our heroine is trying to figure out who she likes, while the guy she likes is clueless and the other one that likes her can’t decide what to do or how to behave. It is awkward cuteness at its fineness! I must say though that I like Hikaru better than Tamaki, even though I’m pretty sure she picks Tamaki. Ideally I would want her to pick Mori, as he’s my favorite, followed closely by Kyoya. Those are the two pairings I usually read fanfiction about the most. 

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex

Heroine Complex (Heroine Complex #1) by Sarah Kuhn

To be published: July 5, 2016

Ever since the demons started coming out of inter-dimensional portals eight years ago, Aveda Jupiter has been San Francisco’s on-call heroine. She loves kicking butt, taking names and collecting all the fame and attention that goes with it. Evie Tanaka is her long-suffering personal assistant (and best friend) who very much prefers to be behind the scenes organizing Aveda’s schedule and handling her tantrums. Lucy, a martial arts instructor and bodyguard, and Nate, a demon scientist and physician make up the rest of Aveda’s team. Staying in the shadows is hard for Evie when she also has to be the caregiver for her unruly teenage sister Bea. To top it off, her boss is injured after a demon fight and Evie must take her place, and her secret powers emerge.  On top of that, she finds herself in a very unexpected romance with a co-worker. She suddenly realizes that being a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Can she figure out how to handle her superpowers, her love life, her boss and best friend and her sister, all while trying to save the world from a demon invasion. To find out, read the exciting first book of the Heroine Complex series! 4 stars. 

I honestly thought this was a Young Adult book until I picked it up and discovered the prodigious use of the the F-bomb in the beginning (the content/storytelling style makes it more New Adult). My only gripe with it was the beginning didn’t really grab my attention like I was hoping and I had to kind of force my way through it. Once the story got going however, it was great. I picked this one up because it’s about kick-ass Asian heroines, which is something you don’t see too often, and I love a good multicultural superhero story. The book reminded of the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the feisty-heroine- fights-demons-with-her-assorted-talented-friends-and-hunky-love-interest kind of way. I loved Evie’s character and the way she fell in love with the guy that always annoyed her but turns out she has a secret crush on. I’m sure this has happened to pretty much everyone at some point in their life (I know it has for me). Nate was totally the hot nerdy guy I always seem to fall for. I completely was not expecting the twist at the end of the story, but it definitely made for some interesting reading. So if you are looking for a fun light read with snarky humor about awesome heroines,  nerdy references and guys, karaoke contests, and a touch of romance and sex, then this is definitely the book for you.

 

My Dragon Age Obsession

All DAI characters

Companion Cast from Dragon Age: Inquisition. From L to R: Sera, Cassandra, Solas, Varric, Dorian, Blackwall, Iron Bull, Vivienne, and Cole

For the past couple of months, I have been completely obsessed with the video game Dragon Age: Inquisition (DA:I), the third game in the series. I currently have about 200+ hours of game time on it so far and four characters (two mages, a rogue and a warrior). I’ve finished it twice and we have the Game of the Year edition, so I am attempting to play through the Trespasser DLC but have gotten stuck. I have started a Pinterest board to keep up with the obsession. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I recommend you check out the Dragon Age universe wiki. This will give you a detailed description about the storyline of the three games if you so wish. For a briefer description, check out the edited comic below (which is linked on the Pinterest board) from Erika Moen & Matthew Nolan.

Edited Explanation of Dragon Age

Bioware, the company that also creates the Mass Effect series (another fantastic series if you love great storylines), has created the Dragon Age games. I love the series because they have great narrative storylines, the player can get really invested in the characters (both the main, as you can minutely create your hero down to the last physical detail, and secondary ones), and yeah the fighting is cool too. Plus there are progressively better graphics (really the difference between the first and third games is staggering) and hilarious companion conversations before/during battles really crack me up.

My favorite characters in DA:I are Iron Bull, Dorian,Solas and Cullen. Iron Bull and Dorian because their witty random comments are very entertaining, Solas because the intellectual/nerdy side of me loves his character and wants to do him even though he is kind of a bastard, and Cullen because he’s so awkward and shy it’s freaking adorable. Needless to say, these are also the characters I have romanced in-game.

I discovered fanfiction and have been reading that for awhile now too. It’s cool to see what other people can create from a beloved video game or TV show. Some of the writing is horrible (not just badly written but also bad grammar – sorry but the grammar nazi in me is coming out here). Some, however, is really good and you can tell that people put a lot of effort into writing good stories/books (some with over 100,000 words – the same as a PhD dissertation, in the UK at least) and genuinely want to hear feedback/comments from the people who read their works. I also discovered that the game series has released five books and a series of graphic novels. So excited to read them!!

I just finished The Last Flight (Dragon Age #5) by Liane Merciel and thought I would share my review on here. The book is set half during the Fourth Blight and right before the Fifth. The Blight is basically when the darkspawn (a group of tainted creatures like ogres – think of orcs and goblins from The Lord of the Rings trilogy) who corrupt an Old God and turn it into a dragon called an Archdemon, which in turn causes all the darkspawn to come up from underground and raze the countryside of Thedas. The Grey Wardens are the fighting force sworn to protect everyone from the darkspawn and kill the Archdemon. The story starts out with Valya, an elven mage coming to the Grey Wardens to help research info from the Fourth Blight as the darkspawn are stirring for another uprising. The book switches between the main storyline happening right before the Fifth Blight (which occurs during the first Dragon Age game, Origins), and the end of the Fourth Blight (about four hundred years earlier). While researching, Valya discovers a hidden diary from Isseya, a Grey Warden mage and twin sister to the hero of the Fourth Blight, Garahel. The symbol of the Wardens has always been a griffon, but I had no idea that they actually rode them into battle and Isseya’s diary is full of the battles with the darkspawn as well as how her brother managed to kill the Archdemon. Will the diary be able to help the Wardens on the onset of the Fifth Blight? 3 stars.

ThedasPoliticalMap.jpg

Map of Thedas

I was so excited to get the book because it has Wardens flying and fighting on griffons, which is pretty badass. It was cool that they described a bunch of cities/countries like Antiva, Nevarra, Starkhaven, and the Anderfels, which get only a casual mention in the games. I’m actually hoping the next game will be located in these areas. I liked Isseya’s character, though I would’ve liked more information on the mage Calien and being a member of the Crows, as well as being a blood mage in general. My biggest gripe was that the story was a little bit long in its grinding descriptions of the Wardens killing the darkspawn, which took up a significant portion of the book and just glossed over most of the characters, including the hero of the Fourth Blight, Garahel.

This is how I feel about video games, in particular playing a really good one like DA: I. Add in staying up till 1-5am because I’m so involved in the story that I completely lose track of time and you’ve pretty much got me.

Video Games Then and Now

Children and Young Adult Book Review Nov 2015

Hi everyone! Long time no see (my fault I know). These aren’t all the children’s and YA books I’ve read in the past couple of months, but a selection of ones I liked, as they tend to be the ones I read most often. It’s not been good for the last couple of months for reading in general. I’ve been in a bit of a slump in regards to personal life/health and reading, but those things are starting to get sorted out so I should be more on track in the future. Hopefully everything will be better in the New Year. I’m looking forward to reading more ARCs (Advanced Readers Copies). There’s a bunch of good ones coming out in February and March, so should be fun in January and February. I’m currently listening to the end of Insurgent by Veronica Roth, and although I enjoy it, Tris’s character is really pissing me off because despite how strong she was in the first book, she’s so whiny and pathetic in this one. I love love love Tobias though!! Everytime I try to start a new book, I keep getting distracted by the entire Kamisama Kiss manga series, which I started reading in October. I’m nearly finished with it, just have 5 more volumes to go. I just started a new ARC called Georgia by Dawn Tripp, a historical fiction about Georgia O’Keeffe as she has been a bit of an obsession of mine as well ever since I really learned about her and her art in the summer.

Children

Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury

Ezra Jack Keats characters

I have been in love with Ezra Jack Keats’s work ever since I saw an exhibit about him at University of Southern Mississippi about eight years ago. So when I got the chance to check out this collection of ten stories, I jumped. His stories are a little bit dated, but I just love the characters and stories, they are so relatable and fun. The introduction was written by Anita Silvey and there are stories from famous children’s book author/illustrators like Eric Carle, Reynold Ruffins, Jerry Pinkney and Simms Taback documenting their experiences with the Keats himself. There is also Keats’s booklist and a biography of the author/illustrator in the back of the book . The first book is the Caldecott-winning book A Snowy Day (1962), which I just love and have reviewed before. Next is Whistle for Willie (1964) about Peter (the African-American child from A Snowy Day) who wished he could whistle and tried so hard to do so and practiced so much, that by the end of the book, he can! His parents and Willie the daschund are so proud of him. A Letter to Amy (1968) is the 3rd book and is again about Peter. This time he decides to write a letter to his friend Amy to invite her to his birthday party, and plans on mailing it, but it blows out of his hand during a rainstorm and he ends up chasing it all over the place. In the process he kind of upsets her because he runs in to her, but won’t let her see the letter because he wants it to be a surprise. He thinks she will not come, but she does and makes his birthday party special because of her presence. The fourth and fifth stories are Peter’s Chair (1967) and Goggles! (1969), both of which I have reviewed before. The sixth story is a new one to me, called Jennie’s Hat (1966). It is about a young girl named Jennie who is waiting for a hat from her aunt, but when it arrives, she is disappointed because it is such a plain hat. She imagines the kinds of things she could have on a hat, and then goes outside to feet the birds. She was still thinking about hats the next morning when she observed the women with colorful flowered hats outside her window and at church. As soon as she gets outside wearing her plain hat, all the birds bring “red and violet flowers, and leaves, colored eggs, and a paper fan” as well as “pictures of swans and pink valentine” and decorate her hat. She is delighted with her new hat now! Hi, Cat! (1970) is the next book, and it is kind of a weird one. It is about Archie, one of Peter’s friends, gets into a giant paper bag puppet named Mister Big Face. He is attacked by a cat who bursts through once side and Archie goes through the other. Then they try to do a “tall dog show” but the cat interrupts again. This was probably my least favorite story. Apt. 3 (1971) is the next story and it is about Sam and his little brother Ben who live in an apartment building in the city and hear someone playing a sad harmonica song but can’t figure out who it is, so they wander around the building trying to figure out who it is. Eventually they discover that is is the blind man in Apt 3 who was playing and he plays some more “purple and grays and rain and smoke and the sounds of night” (great way to describe the colors of the sound of music). The ninth story is with Louie, the kid with the bag on his head, and is called Louie’s Search (1980). It was another of the really weird stories. Louie goes searching through his neighborhood and sees a truck with furniture on it. A music box falls out of the back of the truck and the owner (a man named Barney) jumps out and accuses Louie of taking it. He eventually apologizes, and lets Louie keep the box. Barney takes a shine to Peg, Louie’s mom, and keeps coming back to visit her. Eventually he marries her. The last story was Pet Show! (1972) and involves Peter and his friends Archie and Roberto. They see a sign for a pet show and go to collect their pets. Everyone stands in a line and gets “a prize for something.” Archie comes up with an original pet and also gets a blue ribbon. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3-1/2 stars.

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (DK Readers L2) by Emma Grange

This book is a very basic introduction the the movie “The Empire Strikes Back,” but is great for parents who have just introduced Star Wars to their kids. The kids will love it because it has Legos and Star Wars. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Gluey: A Snail Tail by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Siebold

Gluey is a carpenter snail who lives on top of a charming little house, which he owns and takes care of. One day, a lonely rabbit named Celerina discovers the house and moves right in. She breaks one of her favorite vases and is amazed to discover it fixed the next day. Gluey starts fixing all her broken things, but she thinks it is magic and no one believes her when she tells them. So she decides to invite all her friends to a party at the house. Gluey finally manages to introduce himself to Celerina and she thinks he is a pest and hurls him into the meadow. He cracks his shell and discovers the Wee people, who not only help him repair his shell but reveal the truth about his house. Celerina’s party gets out of hand and the house and all her things end up getting broken, but with a little magic, they live happily ever after. Honestly, I would probably give this book 2 stars for the story but I rather liked the quirky illustrations, so it gets an extra one. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (Alvin Ho #2) written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho

I absolutely love Alvin Ho! He is so hilarious. He is still scared of everything, and now he is scared of the dark, forests, and peeing in the dark as well, which is definitely not going to be to his advantage when his dad decides to take him camping with his sister Anibelly. His brother and sister try to prepare him by using dad’s emergency credit card to buy some high-tech camping gear. Alvin tries to make lists and ask “What Would Henry Thoreau Do?” in this situation. We get to see more of his alter ego, Firecracker Man who is not scared of anything, deal with being outside in the dark, as well as how he can escape things (like bears – which he is also scared of) like Harry Houdini. Alvin gains a new friend, who also has an alter ego, and Alvin survives camping with his help. My favorite part of this book was definitely his dad when he got super frustrated at his kids for accidentally getting him stuck in a tree and finding out about their unauthorized purchases and starts cursing Shakespearean style (something I had forgotten from the previous book). Highly recommended for ages 5-8, 5 stars.

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) by Jack Gantos

The last book in the Joey Pigza series, in this volume, we see an older and mature Joey. He’s kind of had to be, since his father abandoned them again at the end of the last book after getting a face lift, and his mother was left alone to take care of Joey and Carter Jr., his baby brother by herself. Both him and his mother adore Carter Jr and believe he is the redeeming Pigza because he is not “messed up” like the rest of his family. Joey’s mom loses Joey’s medication, has a breakdown while suffering from postpartum depression and leaves Joey and his brother alone in the house and forbids them to open the door to their father. Joey has to stop going to school to take care of his brother, and make sure no one finds out that him mom has left them alone. The only person he has to get through things with is his on-again off-again blind girlfriend Olive, who is one of the few people who doesn’t lie to him. Will he be able to cope? Can he find some of his medicine? When will his family go back to being a normal family? To find out, read this exciting conclusion to the series. Recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

God Got a Dog written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marlee Frazee

page from God Got a Dog

I knew when I picked up this book of poetry that it was pretty much guaranteed to piss people off, which is of course why I had to show it my mother (an Episcopal priest) to get her view on it. She thought it was very fairly blasphemous, but could understand the humor and cleverness as well. The book is a series of sixteen poems, taken from an earlier work by Rylant, describing God doing a variety of normal things, like owning a nail salon, getting a dog, and getting arrested. I liked it because it didn’t show God as your typical omnipotent old man with a long beard, as most Christians like to see him, but he was a female nail salon owner, he was a small child, and got things like a nasty head cold. God was more human, had faults, and doubted him/herself which is a lot easier for me to identify with than the other version we commonly see. The author took only a day to write the book, which is crazy because some of the poems are really good. As someone who occasionally writes poetry and frequently goes back and changes things around days afterward, writing something perfect in one day is really miraculous. The book is geared towards ages 9-12, but I think it could be great for any age. 4 stars.

Smile written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Telegmeir-Smile

I picked this one up mostly because I wanted to read Drama as it was a banned book, but figured I should read this one first as I figured it was her first book. Smile is the story of the author/illustrator in middle school. At the very beginning, she accidentally loses her two front teeth and has to have them re-attached but they come in shorter, so she has to get braces and head gear to correct the problem. She has a harder time than usual dealing with everything and the book follows her through middle school and into high school, where she ends up with a different group of friends than she started with, has a long-standing unrequited crush, survives an earthquake and falls in love (unexpectantly) with the Disney movie The Little Mermaid. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

As someone who had both braces and headgear in middle school and with the book set during my childhood, I completely adored this book and could totally identify it. She’s a little bit older than me, but growing up in the 1990s is about the same whether it was at the beginning or end of the decade. I can’t wait to read Drama next!

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Drama

Callie is a middle school girl who loves theater, but can’t sing or dance, so she loves working on the sets behind the scenes and dealing with props. Her school is putting on a musical “Moon Over Missisippi” and she wants to make the sets worthy of Broadway. Her personal life is crazy too. She embarrasses herself in front of her crush at the beginning of the book, but then meets two brothers who also like theater and want to be friends with her. What’s a girl to do? Check out this creative and realistic look into middle school life. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

It was worth the wait. I could identify with the female lead character so I just loved this book. I was a theater nerd wannabe in high school because our drama teacher was very biased to only pick certain people and even though I kept trying out and could sing and dance, I never got a part. So I painted sets at community theater musicals instead, and those guys turned out to be even cooler. The graphic novel was hilarious and a bit goofy, but full of interesting twists and turns and a surprise ending.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Emily Bevan

The book, narrated by Lucy Carlisle, starts out with Lockwood & Co investigating a string of murders at a local boarding house and their ghostly connections. The reader finally learns the truth about Lockwood’s sister Jessica and get more of a glimpse into Lockwood’s past and personality. Because of their success described in the previous book, The Whispering Skull, Lucy, Lockwood and George have been taking way too many cases and getting burned out. Lockwood decides it is time to hire a part-time assistant, and promptly hires the super-efficient and perky Holly Munroe. Lucy takes an immediate dislike to her. One important case that falls in their lap are bloody footprints found in a townhouse, and the solving of this case leads to them being involved in the main part of the book, a giant ghost outbreak that has been taking place in Chelsea for the past two months. Will the team be able to overcome their differences and work together to solve the Chelsea outbreak? Will Lucy ever tell Lockwood how she really feels? Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

OMG I freaking loved this book! I found out about it by accident as I subscribe to Jonathan Stroud’s author thing on Goodreads and he mentioned that was coming out soon. I thought it was a totally unrelated book to this series, and was shocked that I hadn’t heard anything about it before (as I really have been loving this series). Emily Bevan did a great job with the narration, really capturing Lucy’s character (which was brilliantly described by the author) and her angst about the whole situation with Lockwood. The build-up during the main parts of the story was incredible and really kept me hooked on the story all the way through. The Whispering Skull was one of my favorite parts, as it was always snarky comments about Holly Munroe with Lucy. The only thing I didn’t love was the cliffhanger ending and making me wait for another year before I find out what happens to everyone.

Young Adult

Kamisama Kiss Vol 1-5 written and illustrated by Julieta Suzuki

Kamisama Kiss

From top left: Mizuki, Tomoe, Nanami, Kurama, and Kotesu and Onikiri (the Onibi-warashi)

I picked up this manga series because I enjoyed the hell out of the anime show, but was frustrated when it ended because it was right in the middle of the story. Plus I was curious if the story was more developed  in the manga (it was a little – Tomoe definitely liked her sooner). I have this crazy attraction to anime shows with fox or fox-like demons (i.e. Inuyasha) and this show is no exception. I’ve not read mangas for awhile, with the exception of Library Wars, and I’m enjoying this manga series a lot. Hence why I have read so many volumes back to back. It gives you slightly different glimpses into the characters that you don’t get with the show, plus the show only lasted two seasons, so I’m hoping I’ll get more back story to better understand it. The main storyline is so crazy and gets more unbelievable as it goes on, but I think I love the silliness of it. They are fun easy-to-read quick stories. Each volume has a glossary in the back to explain the different Japanese terms used in the volume and the honorifics, suffixes added to the end of a word to explain the relationship of each character. It is a little difficult to explain things especially in the beginning, but bear with me and it should make sense. Warning: this will be a really long review. In fact it is so long, I’m gonna have to break it into four sections spread out over a couple monthly book reviews posts.

In Volume One, we are introduced to the main character. Nanami Momozono is a totally normal 16 year old girl who has a dad with a serious gambling problem. Because of his addiction, she is evicted from their apartment and is now homeless. She is resting in a park when she sees a man being attacked by a dog and rescues him. The man, who she later finds out is Mikage, thanks her and gives her a kiss on the forehead. He tells her she can stay at his house, as he is no longer there. She thinks this is odd, but goes to find it anyways as she has no place else to go. Once at the house, which is actually a shrine, she meets Tomoe, a fox demon (a yokai) acting as shinshi (a servant/familiar) to Mikage, the land god (tochigami or kami), who has been missing for 20 years. He refuses to work for her and leaves to go to the underworld. At first, she refuses to be the kami, but later relents. Nanami quickly realizes, however, that she will need help and has to go find Tomoe with the two Onibi-Warashi  (spirits that help out at the shrine). She essentially tricks him into becoming her shinshi and they seal the contract, literally with a kiss. The next day she wakes up to find things changed at the shrine, and Tomoe is incredibly angry at her for having to serve a human girl instead of a real kami. But he is determined to make her worthy and starts trying to train her in her duties as tochigami. A retainer of Mikage’s, a Catfish yokai named Himeko of Tatara Swamp wants to come and pay her respects to the new tochigami, but Tomoe doesn’t want Nanami there because he thinks Himeko will try to become the new land god in her place. At first Nanami relents, but later decides to join the conversation after she thinks Tomoe is in danger. Himeko wants Nanami’s help in wooing a young human man named Kotaro, but doesn’t want to appear as a yokai. Nanami agrees to help and Tomoe makes Himeko look like a human girl, so she can meet Kotaro for the first time in ten years. They end up hitting it off and Nanami is pleased. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Two: Nanami is thinking about school when she finds out that Kurama, a superstar idol is going to attend her school, so she decides to go back to school. Tomoe embarrasses her by making her wear a silly hat to cover the mark of the tochigama on her forehead, so yokai don’t try to kill her and take her job. She gets rather upset after Kurama and Tomoe are bullying her, and Kurama can’t figure out why she is not fawning all over him like everyone else has been doing. Tomoe is watching over Nanami from outside the school when he discovers that Kurama is actually a Tengu, a proud yokai with wings. My favorite part is probably when Tomoe turns Kurama into a ostrich and he goes running through the school. The goddess of thunder, Narukami-hime decides she will take Tomoe for her shinshi and become the new land god. So she goes to Nanami’s school to intercept her and when Tomoe comes to her school, she uses a magical hammer (named “the mallet of good luck”) and turns him into a child. He is even cuter than he normally is, if that is actually possible, and he can’t use his powers. Narukami-hime takes Nanami’s mark and becomes the land god. She can’t take Tomoe to a human doctor, so she takes him to Kurama’s house and tries to nurse him back to health, but he goes back to the shrine and Narukami-hime. Nanami goes to rescue him and tricks Narukami-hime into making her the land god again and turns Tomoe back into his normal self. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Three: This volume is where we first meet Mizuki, the white snake shinshi. She saves him from being tortured by some of her classmates, and he puts a red mark on her arm, essentially announcing his intention to marry her. Tomoe is, of course, outraged when he finds out what she has done and decides to come to school to protect her. Nanami is kidnapped by the white snake and brought to his shrine, which is in a hidden dimension (which makes it difficult for Tomoe to find her later). Nanami tries to escape, but is trapped there. She quickly discovers that Mizuki’s water goddess Yonomori has left since she is no longer needed by the local people and he has been alone for many years, waiting for her return. Tomoe finally finds the water shrine and rescues Nanami. She feels sorry for Mizuki and promises to watch the plum blossoms bloom with him when he gets lonely. Nanami gets sick and Tomoe must transform himself into her likeness to take her place at school. The funniest thing in this one was Kurama hitting on Tomoe because his version of Nanami is more “girly”. Tomoe fights a monster that is attacking girls in the locker-room. While Tomoe is at school posing as Nanami, she is at home being visited by Mizuki, who is trying to convince her that Tomoe is not all he appears to be. He takes her soul back in time to see the real Tomoe, as he was 500 years prior. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Four: Kurama talks to Tomoe on the roof of the school about being careful with Nanami in case she falls in love with him. Tomoe doesn’t believe this to be true. Kei, a friend of Nanami tell her that she should act cute around Tomoe to show she likes him. So on the way home, she and Tomoe go to the aquarium and then go to the top of the a tower to see the view of the city. She confesses that she is falling in love with him, but he rejects her and she starts crying and falls off the building nearly killing herself before she allows him to touch her so he can save her. He vows not to touch her again after that. To cheer her up, her friends Ami and Kei, invite her to the beach. Tomoe and Mizuki aren’t invited, but come anyways, and Tomoe says he can’t go in the water. Ami is pulled into the water and starts drowning, so Nanami begs Tomoe to save her, which he does begrudgingly. A man named Ryuu-ou, who calls himself the Dragon King (god of the ocean), steps out of the water and captures Tomoe, saying that 500 odd years ago Tomoe stole his right eye (which grants immortality). Nanami begs Ryuu-ou to free Tomoe, but he says he won’t unless she can get him his eye back in two days. She goes to Mizuki and asks to use the time-bending incense burner to go back in time and get the eye. While in the past, Nanami sees the real reason for his stealing the eye was because he was in love with a human woman who was ill. She can’t steal it from a dying woman, and so goes back to the present to see the yokai Isohime to get her to take from inside her own body (she discovers this a little before she saw the human woman). Isohime tries to kill her but Nanami is saved by Mizuki, who becomes her familiar. Nanami was obviously shocked at the turn of events, but went with him to rescue Tomoe at the Dragon King’s palace. According to the Kamasama Hajimamashita (the Japanese title of the show) wikia, “Nanami spoke to him [Tomoe] about going back to the past and that it was okay even if he doesn’t accept her. Nanami hugged Tomoe while saying she won’t ask for anything in return anymore. After letting go of the hug, she told him that even if he doesn’t face her, that won’t change the fact that she loves him and that is enough for her, then finally asking for them to go home together”. Tomoe is, of course, pissed off that Mizuki is joining them as another shinshi. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Volume Five: This one is mostly about Tomoe still being pissed off that Mizuki has joined the household and being really vocal about it. The best part is when they are at the Summer Festival and Nanami uses her god voice talent (basically because she is a god, she can command them to do things for her) to force the two of them to hold hands until they can be nice to each other. Mizuki is just happy that he is not alone anymore. Nanami decides to hold a festival at their shrine to let local people know that it is not haunted and scary as everyone thinks it is. She is determined to dance the Kagura, the lion dance, a very complicated sacred dance done by shrine maidens (priestesses of Shinto shrines). But learning it turns out to be a total challenge because Nanami is completely uncoordinated but determined to prove everyone wrong and make Tomoe proud of her. Otohinko, the wind god and a friend of Mikage,  shows up and turns things on their head for awhile. He decides that Nanami must be graded as the new kami and proceeds to screw with her by creating a fake Tomoe to trick her. Despite this, Nanami ends up dancing the Kagura perfectly and butterflies (Mikage’s symbol) dance all around her. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 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.

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston To be published: August 4, 2015

Painter Laura Matthews has moved to the Welsh countryside from the busy city of London in the hope that a new setting might help her. After years of infertility, the one thing that Laura desperately wants is a child with her husband Dan. But this is made harder as Dan is working in London during the week and only in Wales on the weekend. She meets Rhys, a loner obsessed with Merlin and they have a brief affair. Laura’s story is interwoven with that of the magician Merlin and the short time he spent in the area with a young woman named Megan, who is the nursemaid to the children of a local evil nobleman named Lord Geraint. Laura has glimpsed a man and his wolf in the forest, but he never speaks to her and always disappears before she can reach him. Could this be Merlin or just her mind playing tricks on her? Is Rhys Merlin? Will she ever be able to have the baby she so desperately wants? To find out, read this intriguing take on Merlin. 3 stars.

First off, the cover was gorgeous. That originally drew me in to the book, then the possibility of a Merlin retelling of the classic legend was another draw. I, for the most part, liked Laura’s character (especially because she was an artist), despite her weakness. Because what woman hasn’t felt neglected at one time or another and then flattered when a good-looking mysterious guy pays attention to you? But then, her inability to get rid of Rhys drove me nuts, especially after she knew something wasn’t quite right with him, not to mention the whole cheating on your husband thing. At first, I was convinced that Rhys was Merlin (how badass would that be!), but then he turned out to be a creepy psycho. My biggest issue with this book was the jumping back and forth between Laura and Megan’s story. I felt like the author should’ve either divided the books into more chapters (like one for every switch of character/time period) or at least put one of those “~” marks in-between, so you could differentiate between the two. I sometimes got lost.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy book from St. Martins Press on Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

June 2015 Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of really long books lately, and so haven’t read as much as I usually do. In fact, according to Goodreads, I’m constantly about 9 books behind schedule for the year. I apologize in advance for all the book titles in bold, I’m having a bit of a formatting issue on this post and this was the only way to really make them show up. I am currently reading Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon, which was a little slow in the beginning but is finally starting to pick up a bit. I have really been enjoying that particular author’s books, but the first one was the shortest at over 550 pages and I think this one is 1000.  I started going to a book club last month which a work colleague originally started a few months before and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading more books for it. I am listening to Albert Camus’s The Stranger on audiobook, which is really odd so far.

I also have restarted my Nobel Prize Challenge, which I started back in Sept 2014. Basically it just means that I have to choose one book/poem/play written by a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, read it and write a review of it. I had previously read only 5 books from  111 winners, plus 1 poem from another winner, so I have a lot to read. I decided to do it as I didn’t know most of the winners and I thought it would be fascinating. This will take me a long time, but I’m okay with that. This month I have managed to get through two more, and working on a third.

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

Freddie & Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep written and illustrated by Vincent X. Hirsch

Freddie and Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep

This was a bit of an unusual book but I enjoyed it and so did my son. Freddie is a dinosaur and Gingersnap is a dragon, and they are both flying looking for a cloud for Freddie. Gingersnap keeps explaining that it is impossible. They happen upon two children, a boy and girl in a hot air zepplin who are singing about home. They’ve never seen a dragon and a dinosaur before and so have a billion questions. The kids decide to show them a little magic and suddenly they are all in a lightning storm. They sing until the storm disappears and they find their way back to their homes. Freddie sings their song after they go. The words/lyrics/music are written by the author and included in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Today I Will Fly! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is determined to fly, even though Gerald doesn’t believe she can do it. She starts by getting a dog to chase her, but only succeeds in jumping really high (as pointed out by Gerald of course). But it was a very high jump. After Gerald leaves, Piggie decides she needs help and enlists a bird (I’m guessing a pelican) to help her. Soon floating underneath the bird, tied to a string and Gerald is convinced she is flying. Now he wants to try it himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Watch Me Throw the Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Watch Me Throw the Ball

Gerald is way too serious about learning to throw the ball, whereas Piggie is just there to have fun. She throws the ball and it ends up going behind her and she thinks she is the greatest thrower ever and keeps making up all these things like calling herself “Super Pig” and making up little chants. It is up to Gerald to break the news to her gently.But she doesn’t care, she had a lot of fun doing it. Gerald me think of adults and how we tend to take things too seriously. Then of course, Gerald wants to have a little fun himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Big Plans written by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

I discovered this book on a website while trying to come up with some new books to check out in the children’s area. Honestly most of the appeal for me where the Lane Smith illustrations. I thought it was pretty cute, but it does go on for way too long. It’s all about this little boy who is always getting in trouble. While in his latest punishment in the classroom, he declares that he “has plans, big plans I say!” and that continues to be his mantra for the rest of the book. He means business, and puts on his dad’s shiniest tie and pointiest shoes for emphasis. He recruits a mynah bird to join him in his endeavors. He takes over a corporate board meeting and all the big-wigs listen to him because he speaks with such authority. He takes their helicopter, driven by the mynah bird, and heads over to the local football game to help the team beat the out-of-towners. Then he flies to the moon and puts his mantra there for the whole world to see when he flies back. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Chu’s Day at the Beach written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex Chus-Day-at-the-Beach-internal-shot-2

I love the Chu books, although this one didn’t have as much pizzazz as the other two books in the series. However, the illustrations by Adam Rex were still awesome, cute and hilarious. Chu and his parents are going to the beach, and everything is going alright until the inevitable happens and he sneezes. He does it so hard that he literally breaks the ocean, parting it in two and the fish and other marine life (including merpandas!) are trapped on both sides unable to get through. The beach goers need to make him sneeze again so that everything can be put right, but for the first time ever, Chu can’t seem to sneeze. It’s not until Tiny the snail suggests that the bright sunlight might help him, and Chu takes off his sunglasses and immediately sneezes. Everything is relatively back to normal, or as normal as it can be with the hurricane force sneeze that flips everything around (my favorite is his parents who have actually switched bathing suits). Chu still has the best day ever. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Rules of Summer written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

I had seen this book on the Guardian’s children books readers had read for April or May 2015, and hoped that we had a copy at our library. We did, so I grabbed it for me to read to my son. I love Shaun Tan’s work usually, but this one just didn’t grab me the way he others have in the past. The book gave rules that two boys learned during one summer, and shows an event and the the effect of that event. For example, they boys go to catch some shooting stars and one of the boys drops his jar, and the text says “Never drop your jar”. The pictures got darker the further the story went. I think my son enjoyed it more than me. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars

I Am Albert Einstein (Ordinary People Change the World) written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos I Am Albert Einstein

I also found this book while browsing children’s review websites. I fell in love with the illustrations before I even read it, but they were even more adorable once you got into the story especially as they showed Einstein as a baby with white hair and a mustache. I loved that the first major thing he says is “My hair is awesome!” and other people mention it throughout the book. It was a basic biography of the scientist, but a nice introduction for children who may have not heard of him and what he did to change the world. Einstein thought in pictures instead of words (which made him take a very long time to speak his mind) and his fascination with a compass his father gave him plus music kept his curiosity alive throughout his life and wanting to keep asking questions. I loved the Einstein quote at the end of the book. Recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Young Adult

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Adult

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

The Book of Speculation written and illustrated by Erika Swyler

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

This book was the first book I read for the new all-female book club I recently joined with a colleague from work. It wasn’t so much of a memoir as a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into Ms. Poehler’s life and career as a comedienne. Plus a lot of name-dropping. I honestly knew next to nothing about her other than she was on SNL and also that show Parks and Recreation, which I didn’t find all that funny. The only things I could latch onto with this book was a quote she made early in the book on page 20, about being a plain girl and learning to accept that, and her sentiments regarding her kids and being a mom. 2 stars.

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel (Outlander #1.5) written by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen DG_exile_spread

This was supposed to be Outlander from Jamie’s perspective instead of Claire’s, but it ended up basically just being that book in graphic novel form. That in and of itself is interesting, but I privately call it the “big boobs” graphic novel as that is pretty much all you get out of Claire (you can see what I mean in the pic above). It was touted as 1.5 in the series, in-between Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and that would’ve actually been more intriguing as book 2 was rather long and way too slow until the end. 2-1/2 stars.

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager takes place twenty years after Claire went through the stones, pregnant with Jamie’s daughter Brianna. She gives birth to her back in the 1940s and stays married to Frank, who doesn’t believe her story, but wants to take care of Brianna. So they live together for twenty years until he dies and she goes to Scotland with her daughter to try to tell her the truth about her real father. While there, she enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son (who was a small boy in Outlander) and is now a full-grown Oxford historian taking care of the Reverend’s personal effects after his death. He falls hard for Brianna and agrees to help them. They find out that Jamie survived and decides to go through the stones to find him in Edinburgh, where he has set himself up as a printer/smuggler. After a smuggling operation goes bad and his nephew Ian is abducted by pirates, Jamie and Claire set off in one of his cousin Jared’s boats from France to the West Indies to find Ian. Will they be able to live together after so long a separation? Will they be able to find Ian? To find out, read this amazing third book in the series.

Ok yeah, I was pretty pissed off when I thought the author killed off Jamie at the end of the second book, and she was vindicated when it turns out that he survived after Culloden. I actually liked this book slightly better than Outlander because Claire was less whiny (despite the crazy situations her and Jamie always seem to get into, and there are a lot) and a bit less sure of herself as it has been so long since they’ve seen each other. But they fell right back into trouble and had no problem with the long separation. For some reason, older Jamie seems so much more appealing than younger Jamie. I’m sure he’s hotter, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. Geillis Duncan made a very surprising appearance at the end of the book and I’m still not 100% sure if she is actually dead, although I’m sure she’ll pop up in the story again at some point. I found the meeting between Lord John Grey and Claire fascinating, and I’m sure he’ll pop up in the next book as his feelings for Jamie were definitely evident in books 2 and 3. I adored the pledge that Jamie makes at the end of the book to always be with Claire, le sigh. The only thing I did think was a little weird was that she was able to bring back items from the future into the past, other than her clothes, i.e. photos and medicine.