Monday, March 25, 2019

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise - Dan Gemeinhart

Summary: Five years.

That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.

It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.

Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.

Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...

Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”
  (Summary and pic from

My Review: I feel like I’m preaching to the choir here, but there is some seriously legit fiction for younger readers these days. I have read a lot of Newbury winners, and there was one point when I even started at the very beginning and read some of the older ones. I’ll tell you, people, junior fiction has come a long way. I don’t know if the market wasn’t as dense, or the focus not as strong on young people (although those are my suspicions), but I’m telling you right now that most of that fiction couldn’t hold a candle to the JFic that is coming out today. It is heavy but light, poignant, fun, and has a way of touching audiences of all ages. It’s simple enough that young readers get it and get the point of it, but it is complex enough and the topics serious enough that adult readers can benefit from them as well.

I really enjoyed this book, and feel like it was on par with a lot of the really great (and probably my favorite) fiction I’ve read in the JFic genre. It had everything I like—weird, likeable characters, which aren’t too perfect and are completely relatable, even if I’m nothing like them and my circumstances are nothing like theirs. I think this ability to create characters with this kind of depth helps readers understand (and hopefully train up young readers, and those adult readers who are still struggling with it as well) to be able to understand other people even if they aren’t just like them. It creates empathy and understanding, and more love and acceptance overall.  There was a great cast of characters in this book, including animals, which is always fun. And who doesn’t love some really great animals in a book? I think most JFic readers really appreciate a situation where animals play as much of an important part as the humans. In fact, I think many adults do, as well. Our own lovely reviewer Court certainly does!

Another thing I really enjoyed is that had a really compelling story. The story itself was fun, but also had that hint of realistic feeling trauma and sadness that was able to give it a weight that it would not have had were it just a girl and her crazy dad traveling the countryside in a bus for fun. It’s one thing to have a crazy, zany story, but if that story is just crazy and zany, it goes from weak comic book fodder to something that actually means something. (Yes, I know there are deep comics. I’m talking about the lame ones that basically mean nothing).

The end of this book is hard, but I do think that it is a great resolution. It teaches the lessons it needs to teach, and I think that it will really reach the readers that will read it. There are, as you might imagine, some situations that maybe wouldn’t have gone that way in normal life, but that’s okay. It doesn’t reach the level of magical realism by any stretch (and I do enjoy some good magical realism) but it does count for some situations going a very specific way in order for it to all work it.

I highly recommend this book. The writing is excellent, the story is great and unique and fun and the characters are totally lovable and relatable. If you are a reader of JFic, I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not, it’s a great read.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean, but there is a traumatic event that resulted in a loss of family members that might be triggering for some.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Alma y Cómo Obtuvo Su Nombre / Alma and How She Got Her Name) - Juana Martinez-Neal

Summary: ¿Cómo terminó Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela con un nombre tan largo? Mientras Papi le cuenta la historia de cada uno de sus nombres, Alma comienza a sentir cómo cabe perfectamente en ellos. 

What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.   (Summary and image from

NOTE(for my English-speaking Friends): There is an English-language version of this book.  However, as I bought this book in it's original Spanish version, I've opted to include a review in Spanish.  If you don't speak Spanish, that's okay.  Just skip down a little for my English review.  If you speak both...well, as you will soon be able to tell, my Spanish isn't that great.  Please don't laugh at me or send me hate mail.  I'm trying/Estoy tratando.

Mi Evaluacíon:  Me llamo Mindy y yo hablo español.  Pues.  Hablo un poquito. Con lo que sé y la ayuda de mi esposo y "Google Tranlsate," ojala que puedo decir lo que quiero decir en español y que no he masacrado la idioma.  Empecemos!

Mi primer hija tiene el nombre de su gran bisabuelo, su abuelo, y nuestro nombre familial.  Es un nombre muy antiguo, de Finland, y difícil de pronunciar. A veces, ella no le gusta el nombre.  "Es horrible! Nadie puede decirlo," ella dice!  Mija y la niña en este libro tengo algo en común.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela no le gusta su nombre.  Ella piensa que es muy larga y no le cabe.  Su padre se sentó con ella para explicar el origen de cada de sus nombres.  Ella apprendió que cada nombre representa uno de sus antepasados.  Alma realizó que ella tiene algo en común con cada persona.  Aquí es un ejemplo:

Que linda, sí?

Cuando encontré este libro a una feria de libro, me enamoré al instante. Era tan hermoso y con un mensaje muy importante, yo tenía que tenerlo.  No habia un version en ingles en la venta el dia, pero yo no me importé. Aunque mis niñas no hablan español (todavía), yo compré el libro para un cuento de acostar y esperanzé que podria traducir.  Es un cuento bellamente escrito, con dibujos fascinantes en cada pagina.  Pero, el mensaje es mas importante.  Pienso qu el cuento mostra como apreciar nuestro historia y que nuestros diferencias eran lo que nos hacen especial.  Ojala que yo podria decir mas, pero me falta las palabras.  En conclusión, si tiene niñas o nietas (especialmente aquellas con nombres muy largas), tiene que comprar este libro en cualquier idioma que requieran.

Mi Clasificación: 5 Estrellas

Para el lector sensible: No hay nada a ofender.


My Review:  My eldest daughter is named after her great-great-great grandmother, as well as my mother, and has our family last name.  Both her first and last name are old-fashioned, Finnish, and difficult to pronounce.  Occasionally, it gets to her and she says something along the lines of -- "I hate my name! It's horrible!  No one can say it!"  She and the little girl in this book have quite a lot in common.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela does not like her name. She thinks it's too long and she feels it does not fit her. When Alma complains to her father, he sits down with her to explain the origin of each of their names and she learns that each name represents one of her ancestors.  As her father tells her about them, Alma discovers that she has something in common with each of her namesakes.  For example, in the first picture (above) she learns that her grandmother Sofía loved books, poetry, jasmine flowers, and her son (Alma's father).  In the second picture, Alma realizes that she loves books, flowers, and her Papa too!  The name Sofía does fit her!  And so on and so forth with the rest of her names.  Beautiful, right?

When I found this book at our school book fair, I fell in love with it instantly.  It was so beautiful and with such an important message that I had to have it.  There wasn't an English version at the sale, but that didn't matter to me.  Although my children don't speak Spanish (yet), I bought the book as a bedtime story and hoped I would be able to translate it.  I made it work and my girls really enjoyed it.  This book is beautifully written with fascinating illustrations on every page, but the message is the most important part.  It teaches readers to appreciate their heritage and that what makes us different can also make us special.  If you have a little girl (and most especially a little girl with a long family name), or if you are a girl with a long family name, you should probably pick this one up in whichever language version you require. 

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

Summary: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I’ve said this many times, but one of the things I love about a good book is the ambiance it creates. I love reading books about places I know, but I also really love being transported to a place I’ve never been, and it’s a whole new ballgame if it’s a place I will never be able to go to. Now. Will I be able to go to the swamps and backwaters of the North Carolina coast? Maybe. I mean, I could probably physically get there if I flew there and then hired some guy to take me to the swamps, but could I ever really visit the time and place of this book? Or get into the culture of it? Nope. And that is super intriguing. My undergrad degree is in sociocultural anthropology, and it is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever studied and I still love it. I love culture, I love seeing different cultures and people in it, and I am especially intrigued if those cultures take place in my own country in a surprising way. I love that we’re not all homogeneous. It’s super easy to think that we are, really, especially now with the internet and social media. It seems like we’re all the same. But no. We’re not. There are still pockets of people out there living completely differently than you could ever imagine, and this book embraces that and all the questions that come with it.

This book is not without its heartache. The main character experiences so much abandonment and abuse and trauma in her life, and that obviously takes a toll on her (and the reader, by extension). However, I loved the people in the book who surrounded her. There were a few kind people who were brave and willing to befriend her or include her, and that made a huge difference. There were other not-so-brave ones, but that made the book feel authentic and challenging. In fact, this is one of the things that I really appreciated about the book—it made me question myself and the people around me. Am I as kind as I should be? Am I willing to give people the benefit of the doubt? Do I judge people unfairly just because they're different from me or I don't understand them? I think that any reader of this book should ask themselves those questions, and then seriously consider the ramifications of what happens in this book and how we can prevent those things from happening in the real world.

I really enjoyed the story in this book. I thought it was compelling and had a lot of depth to it. There were a lot of surprises, but they felt natural and like they took the natural route instead of being contrived by the author who had an agenda or an idea of what was supposed to happen, even when the characters and story didn’t warrant it.

Owens is a very talented author, and her quiet prose is beautiful and poignant. This is the kind of book that you appreciate reading while you’re reading it. It’s hard to read because some of the content is painful, but she guides you through it so gently that you find yourself grateful for the opportunity. I think this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some language and difficult sexual situations. It is not overly violent or the language too offensive.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Pinduli - Janell Cannon

Summary: Pinduli's mama has always told her that she's the most beautiful hyena ever. But Dog, Lion, and Zebra don't think so. Why else would they make her feel so rotten about her big ears, her fuzzy mane, and her wiggly stripes? Poor Pinduli just wants to disappear--and she tries everything she can think of to make that happen. Yet nothing goes her way. Nothing, that is, until a case of mistaken identity lets her show the creatures of the African savanna how a few tiny words--bad or good--can create something enormous.

Janell Cannon, the creator of the bestselling Stellaluna, introduces yet another endearing character in this triumphant story about self-image, self-acceptance, and treating others with respect.

Includes notes about hyenas and other animals of the African savanna. (image and summary from

My Review: Hyena are often seen in a bad light, which makes me sad because I actually am rather fond of hyenas.  The hyenas in this book are of the striped variety.

Pinduli is a cute little story about not worrying about what others think of us, but it is also a trickster story.  Pinduli knows her mother says she is the most beautiful little hyena, but she lets others' opinions make her change her appearance until she becomes unrecognizable, and that is where the trick begins.

It also goes to explore how words can be dangerous and their effects can last far beyond where they were originally meant to fall.  Each of the animals that insult Pinduli were in turn insulted by other animals in a chain that carries on since they themselves are insecure, and teaches that we should be careful what we say.

Cannon's adorable illustrations tell two stories--the full color pictures that follow the main story of Pinduli on her little adventure, and the pen and ink doodles on the other page that follow Pinduli's mother anxiously searching for her.  She wonderfully captures the animals of Africa in her story, highlighting an animal that is lesser known and making her the hero of the story.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: nothing offensive 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Virgil Wander - Leif Enger

Summary: The first novel in ten years from award-winning, million-copy bestselling author Leif Enger, Virgil Wander is an enchanting and timeless all-American story that follows the inhabitants of a small Midwestern town in their quest to revive its flagging heart.

Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is "cruising along at medium altitude" when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals--from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man; to Tom, a journalist and Virgil's oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town.

With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a "formidably gifted" (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Leif Enger is the kind of writer who reminds you that it’s really, in the end, all about the writing. The story is obviously key as well, but if there’s a good story it doesn’t matter if the writing sucks. A writer, in the sense of Enger, is able to come up with a good story and then execute it to the point that the story is just awesome. It elevates it; takes it to a new level. I don’t know if you’ve read Peace Like a River, which was one of Time magazine’s top-five novels of the year in 2001 and was a bestseller. His second novel, So Brave, Young, and Handsome was also a bestseller in 2008. I’m just saying—the man is worth reading. If you haven’t read these books, I assure you that you can trust in him to write a good story and execute it in such a way that you just know he’s an exceptional writer.

I thought this book was excellent. I loved Peace Like a River, and when I began reading this book all those fuzzy warm feelings came back to me. Enger’s writing is old-timey and nostalgic, but it is also very real and doesn’t dance around harsh realities or struggles. Virgil Wander, in particular, has some dark times. The book itself is gently humorous. I loved Virgil Wander, the main character. His voice was just so specific that I felt like he was my friend, and yet I discovered things about him all the time. He wasn’t an entirely reliable narrator, which was so well done in this instance. I do love a good unreliable narrator. This one was no exception.

The characters in this book feel real. They have real problems and real flaws, but they are also endearing and good—just like real people, ya know? There are quirks that make this town in Minnesota feel so real and yet nostalgic. It’s an interesting mix of being able to watch the town and just knowing that you could show up and find these characters living their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they actually existed. They felt real. On the other hand, it’s so beautiful and nostalgic-feeling that you can’t help believe that it’s also a story—and a good one. The town is quirky, the people are quirky, the story is quirky, and you can’t help but just love it all and appreciate Enger gently guiding you through this little slice of America. I firmly believe that Enger could take any piece of America and any collection of lives and make them seem notable and story-worthy.

I think this is a great piece of fiction. I wish all fiction books were more like this—well-written, well-executed, and an interesting story that doesn’t weigh too heavily nor move too lightly for what it is. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of love scenes, but nothing graphic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tintin: The Black Island - Herge

Summary: Investigating a mysterious plane crash, Tintin discovers he's onto something big! The case leads Tintin to Scotland, where he learns of a monster that stalks a lonely island. (image and summary from

My Review: The Tintin books are so much fun, and you don't even have to read them in any particular order.  I'm a fan of most of the albums, but I really like this one, as it is just full of so many funny twists and turns and adventures.

For anyone unfamiliar with Tintin, he is technically a reporter, though aside from his very first adventure he never actually does any reporting.  He's more of a sleuth and adventurer, traveling to different countries to solve a crime or a mystery along with his faithful dog, Snowy.

This particular tale involves counterfeiting and some villainous types that Tintin is more than familiar with.  His detective skills take him to Scotland this go round, where he gets to don a kilt and head to a mysterious island.

One of my favorite things about Tintin is the humor--there are a lot of funny goings on in what could otherwise be scary situations.  Someone that helps out with keeping this light is Snowy.  Tintin's little fox terrier speaks throughout the comics (though his contributions are lessened when a new character, Captain Haddock, comes on the scene in later albums).  It's never really known if anyone else can hear Snowy's words, but he provides a good comic relief.

It's also fun to see Tintin's relentless spirit, nothing can get him down, no, not even if he's been shot!  Seriously, you would be amazed the number of times this kid ends up in hospital only to check himself out later that day.  He is a serious go-getter, always determined to stop the bad guy and deliver justice to any who have been wronged.  He's not always that clever, however, and Snowy often has to help him get out of trouble.

The art is always impeccable, Herge always does a grand job of illustrating these global ventures, and the detail is grand for the scope of what is being illustrated.

Any fan of a good mystery, a good adventure, and some good humor will enjoy Tintin.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Tintin gets into a lot of predicaments, like being shot, but they're dealt with lightly and he always comes out on top.  Snowy is also a bit of a lush, and gets well drunk in this book.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Rule of One - Ashley & Leslie Saunders

Summary:  Their past is a crime.  Their future is a rebellion.

In their world, telling the truth has become the most dangerous crime of all.  In the near-future United States, a one-child policy is ruthlessly enforced.  Everyone follows the Rule of One.  But Ava Goodwin daughter of the head of the Texas Family Planning Division, has a secret -- one her mother died to keep and her father has helped to hide for her entire life.

She has an identical twin sister, Mira.

For eighteen years Ava and Mira have lived as one, trading places day after day, maintaining an interchangeable existence down to the most telling detail.  But when their charade is exposed, their worst nightmare begins.  Now they must leave behind the father they love and fight for their lives.

Branded as traitors, hunted as fugitives, and pushed to do discover just how far they'll go in order to stay alive Ava and Mira rushed head-long into a terrifying unknown. (Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  I love dystopian fiction.  It's totally my jam.  As such, I snapped this book up in a hurry when I found it at the library.  I love the premise.  Ava and Mira are twin girls born into a society that only allows one child per family. Initially, it bore a strong resemblance to the Netflix show What Happened to Monday as the twins learn to match in more than just appearance to avoid discovery and take turns venturing out into the world.  The book was fairly fast-paced, so it wasn't long before their secret was uncovered and the girls were dodging evil government henchman and finding refuge and allies in unexpected places.  Now wanted fugitives, the twins must disguise themselves and remain unnoticed in a surveillance state that has both advanced facial recognition software and the ability to track their very scent and heat signatures.  In their race to safety, they learn of a rebel faction simmering under the surface of society, waiting for its opportunity to rise again.  Will they flee or join the fight?  Like, I said -- I love the premise.  I just have a problem with the delivery.

The Rule of One had all the fundamental characteristics of a dystopian fiction novel, there just wasn't a whole lot of depth to it.  While the authors gently touched on issues like gun control, climate change, privacy rights, illegal immigration, governmental overreach, and psychological warfare, they didn't seem to "dig in" to any one thing and it felt more like Dystopia Lite.   Perhaps that's okay for a YA audience, but I still wanted something I could sink my teeth into and savor a bit and this just wasn't meal enough to satisfy.  The overall conflict in this book resolved a bit too quickly for my tastes, especially towards the end where certain aspects of the story seemed rather far-fetched (in a Wow.  That one needle sure found that other needle pretty darn fast, considering they were in that big old haystack kind of way).  Again, it was probably not something that would bother your average YA reader, but it left my eyes a-rollin'. 

The Rule of One ended with a little bit of a cliff hanger.  It's sequel, The Rule of Many, doesn't come out until May 2019, and while I believe the premise of the novel could drive me to pick up the next book were it out right now, I'm not sure that my interest will hang around for three whole months.  I probably would read the sequel if I happened upon it at the library, but I doubt I'll go searching for it. 

My Rating:  3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some swearing (about 10-12 instances of the SH, D, F, B variety).  There is some brief unwanted groping and innuendo when the girls come across some unsavory characters and some violence.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears - Verna Aardema

Summary: "In this Caldecott Medal winner, Mosquito tells a story that causes a jungle disaster. "Elegance has become the Dillons' hallmark. . . . Matching the art is Aardema's uniquely onomatopoeic text . . . An impressive showpiece."
-Booklist, starred review.

Winner of Caldecott Medal in 1976 and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977. (image and summary from

My Review: When a lone mosquito won't stop annoying Iguana, Iguana put sticks in his ears so he won't have to listen.  This leads to a misunderstanding that he is ignoring Python, who freaks out and startles some hares.  This chain reaction ultimately leads to an accident that ends in the death of a little owlet, and since the mother owl is grieving, she cannot call the sun and it won't rise.

What follows is getting to the root of the problem--who is to blame for the little owlet's death?  This book works with repetition, which is one of the staples of children's storytelling, repeating the cause and effect backward to figure out why things happened so that the perpetrator can be punished and the mother owl can wake the sun again, and we also learn the reason for the title of the book.

I love classic folk tales like this, simple and straightforward, but also with a good moral, that one small thing can lead to bigger things, for good or ill.

The Dillons are masterful artists, a husband and wife team whose illustrations are almost always different in every book they do, keeping things interesting and never sticking to one style in particular.  Their art for Mosquitoes was a unique take which fit the tale perfectly, and as a fun side note, I got to meet Leo and Diane Dillon several years ago, and they said while they liked doing this book and it won the Caldecott, they would never use the method of art they used to create the art in Mosquitoes again, since it was too difficult.

This book has been a favorite for years, and will continue to be a favorite of mine for years to come.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: as mentioned above, this story does deal with the death of a little baby owl.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Before We Died (Rivers, #1) - Joan Schweighardt

Summary: In 1908 two Irish American brothers leave their jobs on the docks of Hoboken, NJ to make their fortune tapping rubber trees in the South American rainforest. They expect to encounter floods, snakes, malaria, extreme hunger and unfriendly competitors, but nothing prepares them for the psychological hurdles that will befall them. Before We Died, the first in a three-book "rivers" series, is a literary adventure novel set against the background of the South American rubber boom, a fascinating but little known historical moment.  (Summary and pic from

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:  I’d like to think that I am pretty open-minded when it comes to reading. I read a wide variety of books in a wide variety of genres, and even those genres that I’ve declared aren’t my favorite, I will often find books in them that I enjoy. I try not to discriminate just on the genre, although, like anyone, I have my preferences. I especially enjoy a book if I feel a connection to it. Admittedly, I read a lot of books that I have no known connection to and have liked them quite a lot, but finding a book that I have a connection to is also very enjoyable and rewarding.

I chose this book because my Granny’s parents owned a rubber and tea plantation in Malaya (now it is Malaysia). Although she is Scottish, and they had a family home in Scotland, she was actually born in Malaya. (My Granny is the coolest.) This ancestral home was later confiscated by the Chinese when they invaded, and it has now been made into a museum (that I would love to see someday). The whole point of this story is that I chose this book because it was about tapping rubber. Granted, this book takes place in South America, but I knew that the actual circumstances of braving the jungle and tapping the rubber might have had some similarities, especially because the era is the same. Truth be told, I actually don’t know. However, my interest was piqued when I read the description.

This is one of those books that is able to transport the reader easily into the times and lives of the characters. The writing is such that it reflects the speech and thoughts of the characters, and although this made for some colorful and somewhat grammatically incorrect writing, I enjoyed it and thought that it made the book feel authentic. The story itself was just…wow. I mean, every time I read good historical fiction I learn something new—and this is one of the reasons I love it. I would have never been able to understand what it would have been like to be rubber tapping in the jungle (and obviously there are lots of similar experiences when one might be extracting other jungle resources) had I read this book. It was well-researched and had that air of truth around it that only comes when truth is stranger than fiction. Now I’m not saying that I have never read anything like this, because indeed I have actually read one of the books on her resources list (The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard), and that one was shocking as well. It’s just so hard to imagine what other peoples’ lives are like until you experience them, and most of them are experienced through books. I wholeheartedly believe that those who read and those who are exposed to other worlds and other lives through reading are by far the most sympathetic and understanding human beings around. How could they not be? Even if you don’t agree with what you have read, the exposure alone is huge.

This novel moved along at a good little clip. The story was interesting, and the main characters were pretty well developed. The peripheral characters were very obviously peripheral, and I think a lot more detail could have been given to them, but since this is only the first book in the series I think that could be upcoming. The writing and story weren’t completely tight, but I’m chalking that up to inexperience and I think that as the series goes along this probably won’t be an issue.

If you’re looking for an interesting historical look into something that isn’t covered extensively (like, say, WWII) I think this is a good book to go with. The story is good, it moves along quickly, and I think you’ll definitely learn something.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language in this book, much of it is Irish slang, and there is also some light and vague discussion of sex.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing - Judi Barrett (Illus. Ron Barrett)

Summary:  In Ron and Judi Barrett's world, pigs, sheep, and other animals don sweaters, shirts, and hats, and young readers are invited to take a peek.

Why shouldn't animals wear clothes? Brightly colored, humorous illustrations that accompany the brief, large-print text reveal just why not. Eating out of a trough while sporting a crisp white shirt and neatly-knotted tie makes things "very messy" for a pig; a sheep wearing a heavy muffler, sweater, and hat over his heavy white fur "might find it terribly hot."

The text and illustrations allow readers to easily understand and interpret what's happening in the book and will prompt discussions about why animals are content to live in their own ready-made clothing — fur, prickles, or blubber, to name just a few. This book's unique and original approach will help emerging readers understand why animals and humans are different in a lighthearted manner, and it is sure to be read again and again.  (Summary and image from, additional image from Simon & Schuster)

My Review: My kindergartner won Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing in a prize-drawing at her elementary school.  When she brought it home I was absolutely thrilled.  Judi and Ron Barrett (the author and illustrator) are the creators of my favorite children's book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its slightly less delightful (but still pretty darn cool) sequel, Pickles to Pittsburgh.  Both books are incredibly imaginative with a unique illustrative style that compels you to examine each page.  I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but even though this book was originally published in 1970, I had no idea it existed until my daughter waved it in my face.  Hence, my excitement.

The basic gist of Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing should be pretty darn obvious, but the hilarious illustrations are what make the book memorable.  Each page showcases an animal meets fashion disaster...

  • A porcupine with quills poking through its pink polka dot dress
  • A camel with hats on its humps
  • A snake slithering straight out of its britches
  • A mouse stuck under a hat
  • A sheep sweltering in a sweater
  • A pig eating slop in his Sunday best
  • A chicken with an egg stuck in its pants
  • A kangaroo with way too many pockets
  • A giraffe with way too many neckties
  • A billy goat making a meal of his mufti
  • A walrus in a sopping wet wardrobe
  • A moose tangle up in his suspenders
  • An opossum dressed upside down
  • An elephant in an embarrassing situation 
Here's a little example of what I mean...

Can we talk about how funny a chicken looks with an egg stuck in its pants?  Hysterical.  And quite controversial for the time it was originally published, I think.  

Each fashion faux pas had my little one in stitches and while only a handful of words went with each illustration, she insisted on carefully studying each page.  This was fine by me, as I just love Ron's particular method of drawing.  I could look at it for ages.  While Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing didn't have a story line to chew on like the aforementioned Cloudy or Pickles, it still made for a great bedtime or anytime book.  I'll definitely be keeping it around. 

In looking for a cover image for this book, I found that there is actually another one along the same vein called Lot More Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing.  I look forward to the encounter. 

My Rating: 4.25 Stars.  It's not Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  But its pretty darn cute.

For the sensitive reader:  Many different animals wear many types of clothes.  They stay clear of the undergarment issue (I was SURE there was going to be a bra on a camel, but there wasn't) so unless you're offended by a chicken laying an egg in its pants you should be fine.   

Friday, March 1, 2019

150 Best Waffle Maker Recipes: From Sweet to Savory - Marilyn Haugen & Jennifer Mackenzie

Summary: Now home cooks can enjoy scrumptious restaurant-quality sweet and savory waffles.

To say that waffles are enjoying a moment is an understatement. The Waffle House sells 145 waffles per minute - 877 million waffles and counting since they opened - and almost 10 percent of North Americans eat waffles at least once a week. But the really hot trend in waffles is taking the experience beyond breakfast to create savory sandwich-style meals for lunch, dinner and beyond. If the lineups outside waffles-only restaurants are any indication, waffles are here to stay in a big way.

As bestselling authors and highly respected recipe developers, Marilyn and Jennifer have created 150 delightfully delicious and inspired waffle recipes, from the classics and delectable breakfast and brunch options to snacks and light bites, grab-and-go burgers and sandwiches, main dishes for one or two, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free waffles, and tantalizing desserts and treats.

Breakfast dishes such as hearty Huevos Rancheros with Cornmeal Waffles or the indulgent Pumpkin Spice Waffles with Coconut Cream are guaranteed to get anyone's day off to a perfect start, but if you're ready to take it up a notch, try innovative options like Pico de Gallo Chicken Quesadillas, Black Bean Burgers with Creamy Avocado or a Club Wafflewich - a club sandwich taken to all-new heights.

Throughout the book, Marilyn and Jennifer offer up ingenious tips and techniques that will have you making waffles like a pro in the same time it would take you to go out to a restaurant! (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I like waffles. My family LOVES waffles. I have some kids who prefer them to pancakes (which is a debate every time we have breakfast foods). I’m always on the lookout for fun new recipes to try, and this book looked so fun, what with its non-traditional and expanded uses of the waffle maker.

I have two waffle makers—one of those normal waffle ones, and then a Belgian waffle maker that makes two at a time. I mention this (other than the fact that I’m totally sure you’ve always been wondering about my waffle maker sitch) because this cookbook was much more easily enjoyed having both of them. Some of the recipes were better served with a traditional waffle maker, and others were better with a Belgian waffle maker.

There were a lot of cool things about this book. First off, I love making normal kitchen tools do more for me than just their normally scheduled job. I’m not an inherently creative person this way, in that I don’t necessarily look at a waffle maker and think, “I sure could make a great biscuit in this thing!” No, I’m a rather square thinker. So when I opened this book up I was impressed and excited about the different things that I could do with my waffle maker. Obviously the authors were very creative. The waffle maker is so convenient that you don’t have to heat up an entire oven to make these recipes, which is great. It creates a platform and provides recipes for many of your fave recipes to be made in a small, easy-to-clean tool (your waffle maker!). Another thing that I found really cool is that these recipes were for just a few servings, which is nice. I mean, if I’m going to make dinner for my whole passel of children, using something bigger like the oven might be quicker and more economical. However, I do have boys who are always eating All the Things and these recipes were simple enough that were I to show them and help them the first time, I think they’d be able to do it and it could even possibly keep the fiasco in my kitchen to a minimum. Which is always a bonus.

There are a surprising number of recipes in this book—of all genres. Don’t think you’ll just be making new and improved breakfast waffles (although there are definitely those). No, this takes you through appetizers and main courses and snacks and sides, and desserts and fun things you have just never even thought of. It turns the normal waffle maker into a multi-tasking tool of surprising variety and convenience. And the recipes are delish, which is obviously key.

The one thing this book doesn’t have is the slick and beautiful photography and presentation. The pages are just normal paper pages, but I didn’t find that to be a problem. There are a few pictures, and albeit they aren’t the numerous glossy blogger-turned-cookbook type, they certainly did what they needed to do and the recipes were clear and easy-to-follow, with lots of options for variations in each recipe. I was thinking that this would be a perfect recipe book for a bridal shower (along with a waffle maker, of course) or college-bound student, because these recipes are simple enough to follow and contain easy-to-find ingredients. It would be very palatable for people cooking on a budget and who want convenience. However, don’t get me wrong, there was plenty to tantalize my palate as well. I found it to be a diverse and useful cookbook.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Don’t worry. It’s clean. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dealing With Dragons - Patricia C Wrede

Summary: Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart - and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon - and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for. (picture and summary from

My Review:  I used to read this book a lot as a kid, and it always made me laugh, and I wanted to read it again since it's been many, many years.  It's very tongue in cheek, which is delightful, poking fun at all the fantasy and fairy tale tropes, turning them smartly on their head.  It also gives us a very unconventional princess in Cimorene, which is refreshing, and she's always been one of my favorite book characters.  She doesn't want to be a princess and do needlework and be saved by princes, heck, she doesn't want to have anything to do with princes, so she hangs out with dragons instead.

In her upbringing, Cimorene would sneak away from her princess lessons and instead learn fencing, Latin, and magic.  Her exasperated parents finally decide she will be married to a prince from another kingdom, but Cimorene isn't having that and instead goes and volunteers to become a dragon's princess, something that just isn't done (princesses are always captured, they never volunteer).

We also have Kazul, Cimorene's dragon.  When it comes to dragons, she is a sensible one, and a perfect match to Cimorene.  Together, they work to sort out the mystery of what the wizards in the land are up to, and I love the friendship between them.

Wrede's writing is just so cleverly fun, her dialogue and characters are cheeky.  For fantasy fans, the world is a familiar one, but because of Cimorene, we get to see that world in a new light.  Witches, wizards, princesses, dragons, curses, magic, they all take a new light in Wrede's world, and it's one that just makes me smile every time I read it.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: not much of note, this book is clean and fun and very lighthearted.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Big Book of Paleo Slow Cooking: 200 Nourishing Recipes that Cook Carefree, for Everyday Dinner and Weekend Feasts - Natalie Perry

Summary:  Treat yourself to a lifetime of nutritious, delicious, and easy-to-make paleo meals in this big and inspiring book of 200 recipes by a leading paleo blogger.  Natalie Perry takes fresh and easy-to-find paleo ingredients and uses the magic of the slow cooker to make dishes with an incredible richness of aroma and depth of flavor.  Enjoy!  (Summary from book - Cover Image from - Review images are my snaps of Natalie's pictures, used with permission)

DisclaimerNatalie Perry of Perry's Plate is, among a great many other things, a former RFS reviewer (you can read her reviews here).  I also know her personally, as eons ago we went to high school together.  I purchased this book and didn't even tell her I planned to review it until I was nearly ready to publish this review.  Regardless, this is an honest review and I'm not receiving any compensation for it or any links contained therein.  

The second thing you should probably know about me is that I'm not strictly Paleo or gluten-free.  I like gluten.  I like dairy.  I like grains.  For the purpose of this review though, I tried to adhere as closely to Natalie's recipes as possible and only substituted when absolutely necessary for time (generally with using store-bought stock or mayo, because I haven't quite mastered the knack of planning ahead).  

My Review:  In a world of Deep Fried [Insert Virtually Anything Here], it can be rare to come across food that is both good and good for you.  Well, The Big Book of Paleo Slowcooking is a pretty freaking amazing combination of both with recipes that are well-balanced, made with real ingredients, and so delicious. Honestly, I cooked almost exclusively from it for nearly a month and my family has rarely eaten better.

One of the first things I noticed about this cookbook, besides the mouth-watering photos, is that it makes for generously sized meals.  Personally, I hate working my way through a recipe only to discover  that it only serves 3-4, and then frantically trying to double things in a way that won't screw up the recipe.  No thank you.  These recipes serve between 6-8 people, with the occasional 10-12 thrown in.  Can you say leftovers you can actually look forward to eating?!  Hallelujah.

Another great thing about this cook book is that, although it is written for use with a slow cooker, the author/chef provides a free Instant Pot Conversion Chart on her website, which means that for most of the recipes, I had the option to cook with either crock or Instant pot.  When I began the review process, I didn't have an Instant Pot, but was gifted one when I was about halfway through, and so I was able to use both modes of cooking.  It allowed me to choose the perfect way to make yummy, nutritious meals for my family.  Busy morning?  Instant Pot dinner.  Insane Afternoon?  Crock pot it is!  I loved the flexibility.

Now, on to the even better stuff -- the recipes. I've included three linked recipes from the actual cookbook that are available to try for free online.  They're peppered throughout the review, so happy hunting.  I haven't been able to work my way through all 200 recipes (yet), but as I write this review, I've managed to make 23 of them.  I selected recipes based on what I thought my family would be most excited to try and on what I felt would be easiest for me to recreate.  My skill level as a chef is novice.  If there is a level lower than novice, that's me.  Basically, if I can make them, anyone can.  Here are my thoughts on the recipes I tried.

First, the appetizers.   Woah, baby.  Yum.
  • Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • Sweet and Smoky Mixed Nuts
I made these first three recipes for my husband's Super Bowl Party.  The dips were a hit and quickly consumed.  My husband went gaga for the Caramelized Onion Dip (top left), but personally, I think the Buffalo Chicken Dip (top right) was my favorite.  It tasted amazing with celery and went quite well with some decidedly non-paleo tortilla chips.  Now, as for the Sweet and Smoky Mixed Nuts.  I may have cooked the nuts a little longer than necessary, so a few were a little too "smoky", but the rest were thoroughly snackable and tasty.  I even wrestled my daughter for the last handful.  Not my proudest moment, but I won.  I wish I could say the same for the Rams.  Anyway, on to the SOUPS.

Can I just say, Natalie excels at soup.  Here are the ones I have tried so far. 
  • Un-Tortilla Soup
  • Russia's Palace's Borscht
  • Mulligatawny
  • Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
  • Smoky BBQ Beef Chili
If I had to pick my family's favorite soup from this lot....there would be three of them.  Yes, three.  Honestly, I was a little skeptical that something as simple as Un-Tortilla Soup (bottom left) would be any good.  And yet it was simply fantastic, flavorful, and (even better) allowed my kids to customize their own bowls.  I had always heard of Mulligatawny (botttom middle), but never had the opportunity to try it until I made it myself.  I have no idea if it tasted how mulligatawny is supposed to taste.  I only know that I made it twice short succession because my family loved it so much.

My personal favorite soup was the Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (bottom right).  It was the perfect kind of savory, with a broth that was just everything. Everything.  I want to bathe in it. The Russia Palace's Borscht was a beautiful, vibrant violent.  I loved it, but my kids turned up their noses.  They like pickled beets, but apparently beet soup crosses some sort of previously undetermined line for them.  It was, get this, too pink and too purple.  Umm.  Okay?  My family gave mixed reviews on the Smoky BBQ Beef Chili.  Some devoured it, others did not.  Personally, I liked it and I will say that it made for some pretty good (again un-paleo) chili nachos the next day.  If you'd like to try your hand at Natalie's Creamy Mushroom Soup with Bacon, you can click right HERE for the free recipe.

We eat a lot of chicken in my house.  More so than any other meat.  Here are the chicken recipes that I tried:
  • Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken
  • Orange-Sesame Chicken
  • Maple-Mustard Chicken with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts
  • Strawberry-Balsamic Chicken
  • Southeast Asian Coconut Chicken Curry
  • Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower
All of the chicken dishes were well received by my kiddos, with the Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken and the Orange-Sesame Chicken earning rave reviews.  Both were a great way to satisfy my Panda Express craving, without all the guilt.  I enjoyed the new flavor combinations in the Maple-Mustard Chicken and Strawberry-Balsamic Chicken (bottom right). I'd never thought of a strawberry balsamic combo before, and the flavor is quite unique in a very good way.

The entire family agreed that the Southeast Asian Coconut Chicken Curry (bottom left) was tasty, but it had little more fish sauce than my husband likes.  I think that's down to his personal taste more than a recipe failing, but I slightly reduced the fish sauce in a few other recipes and he never mentioned it again, so I'll definitely be making that change the next time around.  The only recipe I don't think I'll be making again is the Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower.  My family ate it without complaint (which is a miracle in and of itself), but they weren't much interested in the leftovers and I don't like food going to waste.  Also, it required me to remember to do stuff the day before.  I suck at that.  Still, five out of six recipes isn't too shabby!  Oh, and here's a link to another recipe in the book -- Green Chile Shredded Chicken.  Try it for yourself!

On to the other meats (ie pork, beef, and fish).
  • Balsamic Pot Roast
  • Mongolian Beef and Broccoli
  • Sweet Potato Foil Packet "Tacos"
  • Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf
  • Hot and Sweet Orange Pulled Pork (Try the recipe here)
  • Pesto Cod and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I actually made a huge substitution with the Balsamic Pot Roast.  It calls for a beef roast and I didn't have one, so I used a pork roast instead.  And you know what?  It was fantastic.  I'm guessing it would be equally fantastic with beef.  The Mongolian Beef and Broccoli was one of the first recipes that I tried and, while I overcooked the broccoli (novice, remember), the beef was amazing and definitely a family favorite.

I have been making Natalie's award-winning Sweet Potato Foil Packet Tacos for years.  I love the combination of savory meat, sweet potatoes, and saucy black beans and I always make a few extra packets to eat later on.  Although I don't often make meatloaf, but the Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf  (bottom left) was ridiculously easy, specially since I used Natalie's Instant Pot Conversion Chart to make it.  I served it with some less-than Paleo oven roasted russet potatoes and the crowd (ie. my family) went wild.

The Hot and Sweet Orange Pulled Pork (bottom right) was the first recipe I made from this book and it. was. inedible.*GASP*  I know. I had to throw most of it out.  It was so very bad and all my fault.  I used liquid aminos instead of the called-for coconut aminos, thinking they were the same thing and THEY ARE NOT.  Liquid aminos are much saltier.  Still, I could tell that underneath all that excess salt was a dish with "good bones" and I wanted to try again.  The next time I used the correct aminos (and even halved the required salt just to be safe) and it turned out much better.  If you'd like to give this recipe a try for yourself CLICK HERE to get the free recipe.  Finally, Pesto Cod and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  My husband raised a skeptical eyebrow at this one and I get it.  On paper it looks like kind of a weird flavor combination, but it was actually really delicious.  I've already used the pesto/fish combination a few times since with great success.

Alas, I didn't make any of the decadent-looking desserts.  It's part of my resolution to not learn how to make desserts I will likely end up making and not sharing.  Sorry, guys.  However, I did make a few of the side/miscellaneous items.
  • Cauliflower Rice 
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning
  • Balsamic BBQ Sauce
My kids gobbled up the Cauliflower Rice (see right).  My only problem with this is that my kids GOBBLED UP the cauliflower rice! I hardly got any!  I have been a die-hard fan of Perry's Plate Homemade Taco Seasoning since it first debuted on Natalie's website.  She's tweaked it a bit since then to make it gluten-free and it tastes amazing.  I'll never ever go back to store bought.  I used the Balsamic BBQ Sauce on the yummy Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf we just talked about, but I've also used it before on BBQ chicken and roast potatoes, to great success.  I love that it's so versatile!

There are still some great pantry staples and meals that I plan to try as I keep exploring this cookbook.  I've included a few pics to get you salivating....

Next on my list for pantry/staple/side items: Cider BBQ Sauce, Homemade Ghee & Paleo-Friendly Mayonnaise (bottom left), Dry Ranch Seasoning Mix, Thai Spice Blend, Zucchini Flatbread (bottom right) , Creamy Dilled Cauliflower...

Next on my list for entrees to try: Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Zoodles, Jambalaya with Roasted Cauliflower Rice, Thai-Pulled-Pork Tacos with Creamy Chili Slaw (bottom left), Deconstructed Egg Rolls with Sesame Cashews (bottom right), Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops with Mango Salsa, Asian Beef Short-Rib Lettuce Wraps, Thanksgiving Turkey Meatloaf, Ranch Chicken and Broccoli with Bacon, and...well, you get the idea. 


Reviewing The Big Book of Paleo Slowcooking was a downright pleasure.  I came away with a ton of delicious new meals for the family and a newfound respect for some previously untried ingredients (ghee, nutritional yeast, coconut aminos, tapioca powder, etc.)   I also love that I'll be able to pull out some gluten-free or dairy-free meals for friends or family who have with those specific dietary restrictions.  I don't have to panic or scramble now!  I highly recommend you pick up this cookbook and give it a try.  If that's not in your budget right now, head on over to Perry's Plate and try a few of her online recipes.  You won't be disappointed.

Oh, and did I mention Natalie has a new cookbook out -- The Big Paleo Book of Pressure Cooking.  I bet you can guess what I'm up to now!  Trust me, if I love it (and I suspect I will), you'll hear about it.

My Rating:  5 Yummy Stars

Sensitive Reader:  If you're offended by meat, coconut milk, zoodles, or curry, this cookbook is not for you.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Girl in the Tower - Katherine Arden

Summary: The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop. (Summary and pic from

My Review:  The first book in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale, was very much in the modern fairytale genre. I enjoyed the taking of old Russian folk tales and making them into a cohesive story. This book is the continuation of that story, but I think that although it continued with fairytale and folklore characters, it was very much in the fantasy realm. It kind of surprised me, actually, as the first book was very folkloric and this one had a completely different feel about it. There is a third book, and I will be interested to see what the third book is like compared to these two. I don’t always love fantasy, especially high fantasy; it just really isn’t my thing. This book was pretty much in the high fantasy realm, but because of the characters and folkloric characters I had come to enjoy from the first book, I was able to talk myself out of my knee-jerk reaction to high fantasy. It isn’t always fair, I know, but it is what it is.

So. About the book. I did like it. It was different than the first one, like I said, and it was different enough that it took me a minute to get into the swing of it. Also, it just jumped right back into the story, and since it’s been awhile since I had read the book, it took me a few pages to get up to speed and feel like I knew what was going on again. The characters had matured since the last book, too, and they were in quite different positions than they were before. Because of that, I felt like it was a completely different book. I liked the changes in a lot of ways, and I really liked how the main character, especially, had matured. Because of these differences, though, I think that a reader could comfortably pick up this book and still enjoy it and understand it even while not having read the first book.

I enjoyed the story in this book, and I really enjoyed the female protagonist. Sure, she had to pretend to be a male for most of it, but she was scrappy and smart and did many things that the men couldn’t do. I love me a strong female character. She wasn’t without faults, though, which I think makes her feel more authentic. She’s young, too, so obviously some of the things she is faced with will be challenging to her. Her magical horse is awesome, too. Everybody needs a magical horse, no? A good book is not made by just one cool character and her magical horse, though, and I am happy to report that the other characters in this book were fun as well. They didn’t get as much face time in the book, and I think that as with many fantasy books this one had so many characters that it is hard to go into detail with too many of them, which is too bad. Some are just left hanging. There is one character in particular that I wish had had more background (and I’m avoiding being specific here because I don’t want to ruin it) but he turns out to be a lot more than one would think at first glance and I think a lot more description and background could have been given to him. Maybe that’s coming in the last installment?

This book is full of excitement and sword fights and challenges for the throne and all kinds of fun fantasy things. Mix in the magical folkloric characters and you’ve got quite the heyday of epicness on your hands. If you are into fantasy books, especially ones that are steeped in folklore and tradition, I think you would really enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is pretty clean, and even the battle scenes are not super graphic, although there is some peril.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Squids Will Be Squids - Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Summary: A collection of new and wacky fables with fresh morals, which are about all kinds of bossy, sneaky, funny and annoying people. A general moral offered by the book is, "If you are planning to write fables, don't forget to change people's names and avoid places with high cliffs". (image and summary from

My Review:  Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka have a delightfully irreverent way of telling stories that I have loved since I was a kid.  If you've read The Stinky Cheese Man, you'll know what I mean.

This particular book deals with fables related to the Aesop kind.  And just as Aesop used animals in his tales, Smith and Scieszka follow suit, using animals like echidnas, sharks, wasps, gnats, walruses, and also inanimate objects like toast, froot loops, matches and straw.

If you haven't caught on yet, these aren't your classic fables.  Each page brings us a new tale about certain characters that will teach us a lesson as fables are wont to do.  For example, the tale about Straw, who goes to play with Matches, but whenever he suggests something to do, Matches hijacks the situation, greedily making it something that will favor him and making Straw realize what a selfish person Matches is.  The moral?  Don't play with matches.

The off the wall humor of these stories has long been one of my favorite sorts, and is probably where I get some of my dark humor to this day (that and Monty Python).  All the stories follow this strange humor, and you never quite know where the tale will end up or what moral you'll get, but you know it will be ridiculous, which is the charm of Squids Will Be Squids.

Smith's art is also wacky and fun, and fits these fables perfectly.  A lot look like they've been pieced together from cutouts, and the characters are zany and unique.

I find books like this tend to pair well with reluctant readers, as they let kids see that stories can be hilarious and make them laugh, and even lend to kids creating their own such fables.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: these stories can be a little irreverent, as I've noted above, but there's nothing too extreme.


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