Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Bizarre World: A Collection of the World's Creepiest, Strangest, and Sometimes Most Hilarious Traditions

Since it's the day before Halloween (you know, the one day a year we in the States actually encourage our children to dress like hooligans, run around after dark, and take candy from strangers), I find it only fitting that I post a review of Bizarre World: A Collection of the World's Creepiest, Strangest, and Sometimes Most Hilarious Traditions.  

but...first things first: This book was given to me for free in an exchange for an honest review.

Summary:  Your world just got WEIRDER!

What's more strange? Attending a Finnish business meeting clad only in a skimpy towel, or wearing a mitt filled with ferocious bullet ants in the Amazon?

What's more confusing, Ethiopia's thirteenth month, or their cow-jumping ritual?

How does Roadkill Cook-Off-winning Predator Prey Chili from West Virginia taste compared to tribal Papua New Guinea brains?

Would you rather use a spiky leaf lance at the Fight Club-esque Usaba Sambah Festival in Bali, or sharpen your teeth with chisels to attract the opposite sex in Indonesia?

In E. Reid Ross's Bizarre World, you'll discover all kinds of creepy, hilarious,chilling, and downright bizarre world practices that will give you a new understanding of how quirky our plan can be.  And maybe you'll be convinced to buy a plane ticket and participate in Belgium's Krakelingen Festival (read: live and whole fish slurping).  (Image from SimonandSchuster.com - Summary from back of book)

My Review:  Bizarre World is quite the trip.  I agreed to review it because it reminded me of another book I reviewed (and loved) back in February -- The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid.  Where Atlas focuses more on geological and architectural marvels in a kid-friendly way, Bizarre World focuses more on world cultural practices, beliefs, and traditions in a decidedly more grown-up fashion.  I loved reading about all the different traditions practiced around the world and was thoroughly aghast, amused, and downright mind-boggled at some of the stuff that people get up to (and the reasons they get up to it).  I especially appreciated any sections that described special etiquette or behavior that should be observed in other countries as it's always good to know how not to piss off the locals when traveling.  Each section is only a few pages in length, so it's hardly a deep anthropological dive, but it took me a lot longer than it should have to finish the book because I was often so intrigued by certain facts (Ethiopia has an extra month, people!) or specific traditions (like 'land diving' in Vanuatu, Nigerian wife-stealing, Austrian finger wrestling, etc.) that I kept putting it down google stuff or watch related Youtube videos.  It was slow going, but fascinating!

Bizarre World is divided into eight sections that cover Health & Childbirth, Rites of Passage, Marriage & Courtship, Work, Entertainment, Food, Nature, and Death.  These sections have various subsections that address a specific group of people or tradition.  These subsections are small enough that you can read as much or as little as you want without worrying about getting lost.  I think it would make a fantastic book to keep on your nightstand for a little light reading before bed or, may the author & publisher forgive me, in your bathroom for, you know, whenever you have some extra time on your hands.  You just might want to have your phone too, so you can look up Youtube videos of the things you read about.

Now, bear with me as I'm going to get the teeniest bit weird about format and I have to explain myself. Thrown into the subsections are a few visually distinct text boxes of information at least loosely related to that tradition but not part of the main text.  While relevant and often entertaining, those boxes drove me nuts.  Aesthetically, I get it.  The boxes broke up the main text and made the book more visually stimulating.  However, on each page I had to choose to A) continue reading the main text through to the end of the section and then flip back through the pages to read the extras OR B) stop reading the main text and read each box as it came up on the page.  I tried both of these options and didn't like either of them, as felt like they each interrupted the 'flow' of the book.  It's entirely possible that this little issue will only bother a small portion of the population (me), but I still wanted to mention it.

In Bizarre World, the author often approached and described the different cultural traditions with his own blend of humor, hyperbole, and cultural conjecture thrown in.  Some of his commentary was downright hilarious, but sometimes it landed a little closer to disrespectful.  Humorous quips about ferret legging (the English tradition of shoving live ferrets down ones pants and seeing how long a man's sensitive parts can handle it) were a lot easier to laugh at than, say, the lighthearted mockery of the religious beliefs/practices of an indigenous people.  While I adored learning more about all the world has to offer, I also wouldn't have minded if he had dialed back the wisecracks a smidgen.  It bothered me that someone could read this book and see their own beloved tradition somehow diminished or handled so lightly.  After all, one person's bizarre is another person's perfectly normal, right?

Ultimately, how you feel about this book will almost entirely depend on your sense of humor, cultural perspective, and sociological sensitivity.  Serious anthropologists might want to steer clear lest they become apoplectic, but those interested in an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek peek at the world's most bizarre traditions need look no further.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  A few instances of profanity, some crude and/or crass comments, discussion of various cultural practices involving genitals, and treatments of animals that might make animal lovers cringe.  Could potentially be construed as culturally insensitive.    

Monday, October 28, 2019

With the Fire on High - Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary: Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I know I’ve said this before, but there is some seriously legit young adult fic out there. Some of my favorite books are in the young adult genre, and if you haven’t partaken of some of the beauty and wisdom available for these younger readers, I’m telling you right now—you’re missing out. One thing that I really love about YA Fic (and all fic for young people, actually) is that the authors have the freedom to tell it like it is. I don’t know if we lose our tough skin as we get older, or if we just don’t like to have to face the truth, but I very much appreciate the forthright manner in which youth fiction addresses tough issues. It’s not like kids don’t have to face the same issues adults do, right? They may have to face them in a different light and from a different perspective (i.e. it’s obviously different to be the one getting divorced versus the kid whose parents are divorcing) but they have to experience the issue nevertheless. They also experience things that maybe have not been seen in older generations. I know each generation has its unique challenges, and young adult fic these days does an excellent job of addressing it. Now. I’m not a young adult. Shocking, I know. I have a young teen and then just little kids trailing down the line after that, so I don’t have kids who are experiencing young adult issues yet, but I would like to think I’m not completely obviously to the things going on in the lives of young adults. However, I do think that I’m not alone in my generation (or the younger ones) in really appreciating the large repertoire of exceptional young adult literature available.

Enough prelude. Peeps, this is some legit YA fic. I really, really enjoyed this book. First and foremost, I loved the voice of the main character, Emoni. She is sassy, she is smart, she is vulnerable. She has problems, but she has some great strengths, too. There are people in her life who are really great, and there are people who aren’t so great, and sometimes she’s not always a reliable narrator so that was some nice spice as well. Additionally, I loved how not only was it written in first person, but how she was addressing the reader, and the author, Elizabeth Acevedo, did an excellent job of having Emoni narrate her own story and move the story along as well. There were chapters when time would pass from the previous one, and Emoni did a great job of letting us know that time had moved on. She shared much of her life, but not all of it, and as a reader I felt privileged to have been a part of what she had allowed us to see and experience with her. Seriously, it was masterful. Emoni is one of my fave YA fic characters I’ve read in a really long time. She was relatable and understandable, but not necessarily because we have a lot in common—we really don’t—but because she was so honest and vulnerable and did such a great job of helping me understand her life. I couldn’t help but love her and feel connected to her. The other characters were great, too—don’t get me wrong. I really loved her ‘buela and her bestie…and so many others. And I understood better the complexities of human life and human relationships because of these people and their real strengths and understandable weaknesses.

A good main character is not enough to completely make a book. Sure, a bad character can break it quite easily, but great characters and a good story are both key to work together to make an excellent book. This is such a book. The story is excellent. As mentioned in my first paragraph, there are a lot of issues that young adults have to deal with (as with all young adults throughout time), and I love that there are YA fic books that are not afraid to take those issues head on. I loved the way that Acevedo did this—it was natural and although there were so many issues brought up, many were not discussed in-depth because they didn’t have to be. You don’t have to hammer an issue on the head for forever for the reader to get the point. In fact, sometimes just mentioning the issue or the tough circumstance helps readers relate to the story in a way that makes them feel less alone or like they’re represented or heard. I loved that about this book. I also loved the cultural discussions in this book. I love reading about other cultures, especially ones that are part of my larger culture of a whole. It’s the ultimate melting pot book in that I learned something new about Emoni’s black Puerto Rican heritage, and yet I identified with it as an American culture overall. It was subtle and yet not. It was beautifully handled.

I think one of the main issues in this novel that was handled so well was the issue of teen mothers. Emoni is a teen mother, and that has changed everything for her in life. Although there are many young adults who won’t relate to it, I love that she was represented so well and in a way that would hopefully bridge a gap between teens who don’t have children and those that do. Emoni is facing many of the same issues all teens are facing—college, grades, love interests, family, etc., and any time a reader is able to make common ground with a character who maybe doesn’t share their background or circumstances is a bridge created.

People, this is the key to solving all the world’s problems. A bridge created. Do I think this book is going to save the world? Probably not. Do I think that it will help some readers understand some of their classmates or others different than them? Absolutely. And that’s the bridge. We need more literature like this to create a bridge. I highly recommend this for adult lovers of YA fic, and for older teens.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and discussion of sex. It wasn’t overly graphic, but it is detailed enough that I would not let a young teen read it.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Freeform Friday: 36 of our Favorite Read-Aloud Children & YA Books

I love reading to my children.  When I get to introduce them to a new character or delightful story line, and see their faces light up as they get hooked, there's nothing like it!  

Studies have shown that more than simply conversing with your child, the best way to help children develop word mastery and grammatical understanding, is to read to them. 
With that in mind, here are a few books & series that we have enjoyed reading to our kiddos.  Some are suitable for older or younger readers and others are for just about anyone.
Have fun perusing!

(And just in case you'd like a more in-depth look, 
I've linked up any that have been reviewed on the blog.)  

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
So creative and awesomely illustrated... 

I Like Myself
A great message with kooky, colorful illustrations... 

The Crayon Box that Talked
A great way to teach acceptance and the importance of diversity...

The Book with No Pictures
Get ready to delight your children with some fairly
ridiculous noises.

The Emperor of Absurdia
The illustrations and alliteration are my favorite part...

The Velveteen Rabbit
I adored this one.  Such a great experience to read aloud.  

Eight Animals on the Town

La Princesa and the Pea
This book is maravillosa!

Alma y Como Obtuvo su Nombre
I prefer to read this one in Spanish (it's just so pretty!), 
but there is an English version as well!

Remarkably You
A great way to encourage kids to be themselves!

Shel Silverstein ...just anything.
(Except the Giving Tree...that one makes me sad!)

Bunnicula
Disclaimer:  This bunny freaks me out.

Caddie Woodlawn
My girls adored this read-aloud!

The Spiderwick Chronicles
My daughter re-read this series as soon as I finished reading them to her!

The Junie B. Jones series
Because everyone needs a little Junie B.

Sideways Stories of Wayside School

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
You might get a little choked up with this one!

The Little House Series
A classic read aloud!  
My little s and I are on "By the Shores of Silver Lake" right now.

Where the Red Fern Grows
This was read to me when I was in elementary school.  
The story never leaves you.

The Giver
My high school English teacher read this book aloud to the class 
(you are never to old to be read to) and it blew my mind.

Harry Potter Series

(because, duh).  The illustrated editions are pretty awesome too, 
though only 1-4 have been released right now!

Fablehaven Series
Another series that my kids have re-read since I read it to them...

The Percy Jackson Series
This series brings Greek Mythology to life in a whole new way!

Gallagher Girl Series
My older daughters loved Cammie Morgan and her kick butt spy stories.  
If you read them aloud, be prepared to practice a variety of teen voices.

Anne of Green Gables Series
I will say that the key to reading this one is skipping a good chunk
 of the shrubbery descriptions, as I suspect 
my mother did when she read them to me.

The Hunger Games Series
This is for the older set (Yes! You can still read to them).
Suzanne Collins is the queen of cliffhanger chapter endings.  

Where the Wild Things Are
Can't beat Maurice Sendak's illustrations. Perfection.

The Monster at the End of This Book
This book is particularly silly and young ones will love it.

Matilda

Coraline

The Little Prince

Fortunately the Milk

These 3 Singable Picture Books illustrated by David Catrow



 Better dust off those vocal chords and sing silly songs set to well-known melodies.

The Little House
Bound capture the attention of young and old.

We hope that you have found something exciting
 to read to your children!  

Feel free to share and have a happy Freeform Friday!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Firefly: Big Damn Hero - James Lovegrove, Nancy Holder, & Joss Whedon

Summary:  The first original novel from the much-missed Space Western Firefly, produced with Joss Whedon as consulting editor, set in the heart of the series.

A perilous cargo
It should have been a routine job, transporting five crates from the planet of Persephone to a waiting buyer.  And Lord knows, Captain Mal Reynolds needs the money if he's to keep Serenity flying.  But the client is Badger, and nothing that involves him is ever straightforward.  The crates are full of explosives, which might blow at the slightest movement.

A missing captain
Just before take-off, Mal disappears.  As the cargo grows more volatile by the minute, and Alliance cruisers start taking an interest in the tenacious smuggling ship, it's down to Serenity's first mate, Zoe, to choose between rescuing her captain and saving her crew.

A vengeful army
Meanwhile, rumours are spreading on Persephone of a band of veteran Browncoat malcontents who will stop at nothing to be revenged on those responsible for their terrible defeat.  Is Mal harbouring a dark secret from the war?  And can the crew of Serenity find him before it's too late?  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I am a huge fan of Firefly -- a TV show that ran for one beautiful season before being cancelled by Fox.  After I finished watching it for the first time, I dragged my anti-tv husband into the living room, sat him down, and told  him we were watching a show together.  He loved it. In fact, I bought him a Jayne hat (you know the one) and Blue Sun t-shirt for Christmas last year that he actually wears in public. That man ain't afraid of anything, I tell you.  After we introduced our teenagers to it this summer (with the occasional scene fast-forwarded), I experienced stronger than usual Firefly withdrawal.

What's a girl to do but put all the Firefly books on hold at the library, amiright?

That's exactly what I did, hoping to find something that felt like a continuation of the series or a 'missing episode'.  The first books I was able to read were graphic novels that I reviewed last month.  They were...not really my thing.  Then came Big Damn Hero, a straight-up novel which slides right in between Episodes 12 (The Message) and 13 (Heart of Gold) in the series.  I love that the story is told within the time frame of the show because that meant all nine of my favorite characters were on board Serenity.  Each chapter followed a different member of the crew, so I felt I got to spend time with everyone, though I would have liked to see more of some.

Since this was a 'regular' novel (and not a graphic novel) I could imagine the characters however I wanted and so, of course, the entire cast of Firefly set up shop in my head for several hours.  It was awesome!  Well, hello there, Mal...Fancy meetin' you here!  Hey Kaylee...everything shiny?!  Yes, Jayne. We know.  You'll be in your bunk.  And so on.  I could see and hear them perfectly, even if the story did read a bit like fanfiction, and I felt like the author, James Lovegrove, managed to capture the characters well.  Mal sounded like Mal - brusque, dependable, and downright hilarious.  Jayne said things only Jayne would ever say.  You get the idea.   The story also provided additional information on some of the more mysterious characters, a decent backstory on Mal, insight into Book's past, and more. While I didn't get all my questions answered, there were some extra details that had me grinning like moron.  The story itself was action-packed episodic fare, imperfect, but with funny one-liners and little nuances here and there that really gave it heart.  It was delightfully familiar and exactly the kind of 'missing episode' I was hoping to read.

The major criticism I have is that the author tried so hard to give nods to the original series, that he might as well have been a bobble-head. It felt inorganic and forced, particularly in the beginning chapters, where the author inserts references to past episodes far more than was really necessary within the confines of the story.  Thankfully, the 'nods' tapered off further in the story or, rather more likely, as the story picked up I stopped noticing them.

Overall, I think fans of Firefly will enjoy this book.  It isn't the be-all end-all of the canon, but I felt it fit into the series nicely and fed my need for more Firefly, when there was no more to be had. *SOB*.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Honestly, this book was a lot 'cleaner' than the tv series/movie.  Mostly because Inara isn't "working" in the strictest sense of theword.  There are a handful of English swear words and significantly more Chinese ones (I assume.  I don't speak Chinese.)  There is occasional mild innuendo (usually from Jayne) and one particularly icky moment where Wash makes an incest joke.  Two characters have sex, but it's only mentioned and not described.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Black Witch - Laurie Forest

Summary: A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a straight up YA fantasy—magic, dragons, different races of fantasy characters (who don’t get along, of course), good overcoming evil in a epic, world-blowing way…ya know. The usual. It’s pretty great for the season, right? Can’t have Halloween and fall without leaning into that which makes it the season.

When I first started this book, I wasn’t sure what to think. I have to admit that I’m not a huge high fantasy reader, and I think that this book could qualify for some high fantasy. However, being as it is YA fic, it wasn’t bogged down with many of the things I don’t like about high fantasy, one of those being a million characters and plots that are very difficult to keep track of, many whose names are so foreign (because they’re made up) that it’s hard to delineate between who is who without a character guide (which they’ll have, but I don’t want to read a character guide). I’m a simple person, what can I say? This book did have many characters, don’t get me wrong, but there were just enough that I could keep track and knew who they were without having to read up on them every time a new name appeared (or appeared again, but I couldn’t remember).

I think one of the strengths of this book was the world and the back story. There were some pretty great historical happenings going on, and because of the way things progressed in the story, there was opportunity to explore opposing views of history as well, which was, of course, very interesting. The history had enough similar characteristics of our civilization’s history that it was relatable. I think this works for a YA book—it gives the readers opportunity to evaluate their own culture while viewing another. I think it’s a great way to teach YA readers how to listen to history critically i.e. who is telling the story of the historical event and who benefited of that telling versus another opinion of what happened and how it impacted other members of the population.

I enjoyed the story in this book. It was interesting and has a lot of room for future installments, which I’m excited about. The even better part of this is that because this book is a few years old, the next book is already out! There are a few adjacent eBooks available as well, which, depending on how the second book goes, I may have to read to placate myself while waiting for the third book.

I always enjoy a good story about destiny and characters realizing their strengths and abilities. This book is a slow burn in that way, and even at the end of the first book, we don’t know all what’s going to happen or whose destiny will be realized and how it will all play out. There’s definitely some room for growth from many of the characters and, like all good books with a sequel, leaves quite a bit to be discovered and ends on a cliffhanger.

The first part of this book was not as quick-moving, but once the story got going, I read it quite quickly, even though it is a large book. It was quick reading. The characters are relatable and there are lots of interesting plots and subplots, which I enjoyed. Because it takes place at a magical school, it had some Harry Potter-esque feelings about it, which are always fun, but it is quite different and I wouldn’t say that it’s a rip off. However, I think that it may attract readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series in a similar manner.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some sexual innuendo, including same-sex attraction.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Freeform Friday: 15 of my Favorite Book Memes

Sometimes a meme comes along that said it all just right.  Here are a few of my favorites:
















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