Friday, March 29, 2019

Stern Men - Elizabeth Gilbert

Summary:  Before Elizabeth Gilbert wrote her beloved memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she wowed critics everywhere with Stern Men -- a wise and charming novel set off the coast of Maine.  Ruth Thomas is born into a feud fought for generations by two groups of local lobster men over fishing rights for the waters that lie between their respective islands.  At eighteen, she has returned from boarding school -- smart as a whip, feisty, and irredeemably unromantic - determined to join the "stern men" and work the lobster boats.  As the feud escalates, Ruth proves herself to be an unforgettable American heroine who is destined for greatness -- and love -- despite herself. (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray Love -- a memoir I adored but likely read before I started this blog.  As such, it isn't reviewed here, though you can read our review of her novel, The Signature of All Things.  I picked up Stern Men because I loved my experience with her memoir, the plot looked interesting, and because it was lauded by the San Francisco Chronicle as "howlingly funny."

Stern Men starts out with a "once upon a time" kind of vibe. You know, the one where the omniscient narrator gives a quick history of the island and settles in to tell a story, already knowing how it ends.  I really thought I was going to love the book at this point -- the history of and long standing war between two islands over lobster fishing and introduction of a peculiar cast of characters was particularly irresistible.  The history finally comes to a head with Ruth Thomas, returned from school to the only home she has ever known.  All right, here we go! Up to this point, though lovely, it felt like mostly set up, but this -- rubs hands together to warm up reading fingers -- is where the story will take off.  Unfortunately the characters and backstory just kept coming and, interesting though they were, I started wishing for a glossary of characters to keep things straight in my mind.  Eighty pages later, I was still waiting for things to get cracking and more confused than ever about who was who and what was what.  On top of that -- the swearing.  I consider myself a fairly desensitized person when I am reading for myself (it's a different story if I'm reading for my kiddos) but even I was bothered by the sheer volume of profanity.  I realize that the language is probably perfectly in keeping with the salty lobster man stereotype, but it overwhelmed some of the characters to the point that I just wanted them to stop. talking.   I had waded a third of the way through the book before I realized that I was forcing myself to read a book I no longer had an interest in reading.  This  'howlingly funny' book...wasn't.  I didn't feel like a basic plot had emerged, the promised feud hadn't escalated, and destined love hadn't even hinted at appearing. Ruth hadn't even set foot in a lobster boat yet, and I was sick and tired of waiting for all of it.

One of the many reasons I took a break from book blogging a few years back was that I felt weighed down by the number of books I felt compelled to read and review out of a sense of duty.  I'd start one with hope but end up slogging through, my once unquenchable desire to read completely quelled by the onerous task of having to finish that book before I could move on to anything else.  I call it being "book blocked".   I promised myself when I returned to blogging that I would no longer read out of a sense of obligation.  I'd give a book 100 pages of my time (maybe more if it was gigantic) and if I simply wasn't feeling it, that was that.  There are just too many potentially amazing books in my stack to waste time stumbling over a book block. 

If you haven't guessed at this point, I did not finish Stern Men.  The characters and backstory were varied and compelling, but the lack of movement and sheer volume of profanity are what guided my decision.  A less sensitive, more patient reader might find more to love, but I did not.  

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I can't speak to anything past page 106, but there was a massive amount of profanity, especially of the F and GD variety, often spit out with machine-gun rapidity.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Asterix the Gaul - René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

Summary: The year is 50BC, and all Gaul is occupied. Only one small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. But how much longer can Asterix, Obelix and their friends resist the mighty Roman legions of Julius Caesar? Anything is possible, with a little cunning plus the druid Getafix's magic potions! Their effects can be truly hair-raising... (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review: When I was a kid, I loved looking at my dad's extensive collection of Asterix books.  Aside from one, however, I couldn't read them, because they were all in French.  It wasn't until I was able to later find English translations at the library that I was able to more fully appreciate the delight that are the Asterix books.

This little village of Gauls refuses to give in to the Roman Empire, and that makes for the main conflict nearly every time.  In this first story, we learn about Asterix, his best friend Obelix, and the other Gauls in the village, who have a secret that keeps them from having to succumb to the Roman army--a magic potion brewed by their druid Getafix that bestows the drinker superhuman strength for a time.

I've always loved the humor of Asterix.  It's witty and clever, and the name puns are always great (Crismus Bonus, anyone?).  This first installment is particularly fun, as Asterix turns trickster when he goes to save Getafix and they have a laugh all at the expense of the Romans.  The dangerous situations are always treated lightly and are more comic than frightening.  

The characters are also just so delightful.  Asterix's friend Obelix is another favorite, and though he's not in this one as much as he is in the others, we get to appreciate his kind of dull-witted demeanor which counters Asterix's very sharp wit, but which doesn't dampen their tight friendship.  We also get an introduction to the village bard Cacophonix (whose music nobody likes), Getafix the wise druid, and the chief, Vitalstatistix (see, these names, they kill me!)

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: lots of cartoon violence, the Gauls delight in and are constantly beating up Roman soldiers.

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 goodreads.com)

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 penguinrandomhouse.com)

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 el idioma.  Empecemos!

Mi primer hija tiene el nombre de su bisa, su abuelo, y nuestro nombre familiar.  Es un nombre muy antiguo, de Finlandia, y difícil de pronunciar. A veces, ella no le gusta el nombre.  "Es horrible! Nadie puede decirlo," ella dice!  Mi hija y la niña en este libro tienen algo en común.

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela no le gusta su nombre.  Ella piensa que es muy largo 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 entendió que ella tiene algo en común con cada persona.  Aquí es un ejemplo:

Que linda, sí?

Cuando encontré este libro en 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 a 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 muestra como apreciar nuestra historia y que nuestras 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 goodreads.com)

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 goodreads.com)


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 goodreads.com)

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 goodreads.com)

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 amazon.com)

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 goodreads.com)


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 goodreads.com)

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 scholastic.com, 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 goodreads.com)

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. 

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