Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 2015 Book Reviews

I've been trying to read more poetry this month as it is National Poetry Month. My attempts at doing poetry for Kids Cafe have kind of fallen flat, but I did write a couple of new things for it, so I'm happy about that. I'm taking a bit of a break from Advanced Reader's Copies, but should be starting up on them in a week or so. I am currently reading How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-To-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. I am also listening to a more modern version of Geoffrey Chauncer's The Canterbury Tales. Both are slow going but for different reasons, one being nonfiction (and reading a lot of short books while I'm reading it) and the other just being an insanely long epic poem. The crazy thing is with Chauncer is that the poem is unfinished, and it is still over 600 pages already. I have recently finished watching the new Outlander tv series, Season 1 and completely fell in love with it. So I will definitely be buying the book as I do not have cable and probably won't be able to see the next series for about a year and I'm dying to know what happens next (as they left the series on a total cliffhanger ending!). Hopefully the rest of the series will be easy to find at my local library. 

I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children's books that I enjoyed. 

Tall by Jez Alborough
     I was looking for books for my Toddler Jungle Storytime. I thought this one was too simplistic, but it was cute. Bobo the little monkey just wants to be tall, so he keeps climbing on the shoulders of his friends so that he can be taller. That is, until he gets up to high and his momma has to rescue him. Then he is glad to be small. Recommended for ages 2-4, 2 stars. 

How to Cheer Up Dad written and illustrated by Fred Koehler 

     This book was super adorable, not only the content but the illustrations too. You can tell the author/illustrator is the parent of small children as this plays out pretty much like a real-life situation. Dad is taking care of his young elephant son Little Jumbo, who is misbehaving and he is, of course, getting super frustrated. Of course, his son has no idea why his dad is so upset, as children never do. Little Jumbo wants to cheer him up so starts doing things to make him feel better, like getting ice cream and hanging out together. Great book for Father’s Day, single dads and maybe just for moms wanting their sons to connect more with their dads. My son and I both enjoyed this book. Recommended for ages 3-5, 5 stars. 

        Mustache Baby written by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang 

     This book has been on to-read list for a while, so finally got a copy. So glad I did, this book was hilarious. Baby Billy was born with a mustache and his parents are obviously worried. But it turns out his mustache is a good one, as exemplified when he pretends to be a cop or a cowboy. But soon enough his good mustache turns into a villainous one with curled up ends, and he starts a life of crime, which is cut short by his parents. The ending of the book hinted at a new book in the series, called Mustache Baby Meets His Match, which I’ve already put on hold. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars. 

Huff & Puff written and illustrated by Claudia Rueda
     My son loved this book, just like I thought he would, as it is interactive. It is a very simply done version of “The Three Little Pigs” story with a twist ending. The interactive part is the kids getting to help the wolf huff and puff through a die-cut hole in the center of the page. Instead of eating the pigs or trying to at least, the wolf blows out his birthday candles on the cake the pigs baked him. Everyone is happy after eating the cake. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

     Have You Ever Seen a Sneep? Written by Tasha Pym, and illustrated by Joel Stewart
     A young boy is just trying to enjoy his summer day by having a picnic, reading some books, swinging across a swimming hole, and other adventures, and he keeps getting interrupted by the Sneep and his mischievous friends. He is amazed that none of these creatures live where the reader is, and so is determined to move there to get away from them, but the Sneep and his friends want to move with him! Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

      Chameleon’s Colors by Chisato Tashiro
     I originally picked up this book as a possibility for a Jungle Toddler Storytime, but quickly realized it was too long. My son liked all the crazy color combinations the little chameleon came up with in the story. Chameleon hates blending in to everything, so when Hippo tells him how jealous he is of his changing colors, Chameleon agrees to help him change. Soon all the animals in the jungle want to change colors, which is fine until they realize that this affects how they eat and hunt! So they demand Chameleon change them back, but he is thankfully saved by a rainstorm, which washes all their colors away. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars. 

      My Teacher is a Monster! (No I Am Not.) written and illustrated by Peter Brown 

     Bobby has a problem. He thinks his teacher is a monster, until the day he runs into her in the park outside of school. He helps rescue her hat and they end up running around and playing together. Their perception of each other naturally changes after this. My son didn’t pick up on all the nuances of the book, but enough to appreciate it. My son loves "reading along" with me while I read him this book, even the author's comment in the back. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars. 

             Bats (Scholastic Science Readers: Level 1) by Lily Wood
    I'm using this book, and other beginner's books like it, as an incentive for my son. We're trying to finish potty-training him and I figure giving him these books is two-fold. Besides being a surprise incentive, they are also a cool nonfiction book that is easy to read, so when he does start reading (which will hopefully be soon), he can start with this book. We both like bats, so I figured this would be a fun topic. It is a very basic book about bats and tells the reader a little bit about them and features a lot of great huge pictures. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

          An Island Grows by Lola M. Schaefer
      I picked this book for my Volcano Preschool DiscoveryTime because it was a was a cool way to describe the way an island forms from an underwater volcano. The magma comes out of the volcano into the water, where the lava cools and hardens building up layer by layer until it comes out of the water and becomes land. Then plants, animals and people come to the island and soon it is thriving. It’s almost a nonfiction picture book except that it is describing islands in general and not one in particular. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars. 

Snoozefest written and illustrated by Samantha Berger  

     Oh my goodness I loved this book! I mean how can you not love a book about sloths, sleeping as an event and the cutest name ever for a book character, Snuggleford Cuddlebuns. Plus the illustrations were great. Snuggleford is the best sleeper in town, and can do it for months at a time. Her favorite event of the year, Snoozefest is coming up, and she's so excited. She gets on the bus, goes to the festival, settles into her hammock, buys the swag and gets ready for a great snooze. They have performers guaranteed to put you to sleep (on purpose), they sell hot milk and honey, and there is a designer fashion show, with pun-y names like Diane von Firstinbed. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

      The Circus Ship written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

I will say that I picked this one up for my Toddler Circus Storytime, quickly realized that it was way too long, but thought it would be a fun read for my son. He enjoyed it too. It is a rhyming book, based off a true story, about a ship full of circus animals that crashes off the coast of Maine. The animals make it to a small island in the state and are adopted by the locals after the tiger saves a young girl. When the angry circus owner comes to claim them, the locals hide the animals and they end up staying there forever. This was a very fun book to do accents with, especially the angry British one for the circus owner. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars. 

       If Not For the Cat written by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand
     I usually don't like Jack Prelutsky stuff all that much, with a few exceptions. This is one of them. I love these haikus and the watercolor and ink illustrations are amazing. They are all about animals, so would be a great way to introduce haikus to kids. My favorites are the one about the hummingbird, the jellyfish, and the sea otter. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars. 

Young Adult
Rivals in the City (The Agency #4) by Y.S. Lee
     Mary Quinn and James Easton are engaged to be married, but Mary has to sort out a few things first. She loves him, but is enjoying her independence. The Agency has asked her to find Mrs. Thorold, who has tried to kill James before. On top of all that, she believes she may be related to a Chinese fighter that has recently come into town. Will she be able to bring Mrs. Thorold to justice, save James, and find out about her family? To find, read the exciting conclusion to this amazing mystery series. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.
     I have been waiting forever for this book to come out, only to realize that my library only had the first book in the series and had no plan to get the fourth. So I had to get an inter-library loan, but it was worth the wait. I really love Mary’s need to be independent, and was glad she wasn’t pining over James the whole book (like a lot of other YA books). I missed the banter between James and Mary though, it was there but they were separated for the majority of the book so there wasn’t as much of it. I enjoyed the twist ending, and Mrs. Thorold really did think her plans through. I’m sad to see this series end, as it is hard to find a well-written strong multicultural female character these days. I hope the author’s next books are just as awesome. 
       Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
    I thought this was a very fascinating re-working and combination of two fairytales, i.e. "Sleeping Beauty" and "The Six Swans".  The book starts out with the death of Princess Aurora's mother, the Sleeping Beauty, who transfers her fairy magic to her daughter. Only it doesn't work like it did for mother. Aurora (known as Ror) is never allowed to have romantic love, only platonic. Ror and her brother Jor are raised by the fairies, but constantly being hunted by the evil troll queen Ekeeta. One day, her brother is captured and Ror must dress as a boy to find an army that will help free him. On the way, she meets Prince Niklaas who is desperately looking for Princess Aurora so that he can break his curse. If he does not marry before dawn on his eighteenth birthday, he will meet the same fate as his ten older brothers. Ror blackmails him into helping her find an army to free her "sister" from the Troll Queen. Will Niklaas be able to be free of his curse? Will Aurora be able to rescue her brother in time? Will she ever tell Niklaas the truth about herself? To find out, read this fabulous book. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars
     I had originally wanted to read it when it was just an Advanced Reader's Copy, but I didn't have the time. This review has taken me forever to write because I kept forgetting about it. I love fairy tale re-tellings and this one was really good. It had some great quotes in it, like this one on page 54, where Ror is talking about herself: "Sometimes it seems a small price to pay for my fairy gifts. Sometimes it makes my body ache with a loneliness so profound I fear my soul will forever be bruised. I am a prisoner in a cell of my mother's good intentions and I will never, ever escape." Or this one on page 122, where Ror and Niklaas are talking about women and Ror wonders why any woman should have to learn the truth about the world and he responds "Because they are strong enough to know the truth, and proving that to themselves will make them stronger. And perhaps, if men were brought up to be gentler people, women wouldn't have need of protectors." And then there's this profound quote about love, which Niklaas tells to Ror on pages 252-53: "...that's what searching for love is like. You keep pushing on, breaking and being broken, until you find the person you want to hold safe, the only one who knows how to keep you in one piece." Le sigh. And when Ror and Niklaas finally did kiss, it was magical and then sad. Hard to explain without giving away storyline, but believe me when I say this book is definitely worth a read.
    Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kouno
      I had been looking for a book on the atomic bomb from the Japanese perspective for a while, and this was one of the books I had come up with in my search. It tells the story of the Hirano family told over the span of about sixty years, from 1945-2004. The first part, Town of Evening Calm, is about a young girl named Minami who works in a dress shop in Hiroshima ten years after the bomb dropped, but it keeps flashing back to ten years before and how the Hirano family faired on that day. Minami has survivor’s remorse because her father and sister passed away either on the day or shortly afterwards, but she and her mother survived. The book does go into some details about what it was like when the bomb dropped, and that part was hard to read. One of the most powerful parts of the book is when Minami says “All I know is that somebody wanted us dead. They wanted us to die, but we survived. Nobody talks about it. I don’t really understand what happened even to this day.” Minami is soon courted by a young man who works at the shop named Uchikoshi. She suddenly gets really sick from delayed radiation sickness, and dies.
     The next section, broken into two parts, is Country of Cherry Blossoms. The first part starts in 1987 with a seemingly unconnected family who have just moved to a new city. The daughter Nanami is about ten years old and is obsessed with baseball, and joins the local team. Nanami and her friend Toko sneak away to the hospital to visit Nanami’s brother Nagio, who has asthma. The second part is set seventeen years later, and Nanami is convinced that her father is senile as he keeps disappearing for days and racking up the phone bills. So one day she follows him and runs into Toko at the train station. While she is following her father, the story flashes back to his youth and how he met Nanami’s mother. Eventually we find out that he was visiting Hiroshima because he is Asahi, the brother of Minami, the girl from the first story. The book includes explanations of the text (which really explain a lot because I was rather confused as to the identity of all the characters and how they were connected), as well as a map of Hiroshima, and an afterword by the author/illustrator. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

The Speaker for the Dead written by Orson Scott Card, script written by Aaron Johnston, art by Pop Mhan and Veronic Gandini

I enjoyed this graphic novel a lot more than the regular book version of  Ender's Game. It is a lot easier to explain complicated sci-fi ideas in graphic form versus in print, at least in my opinion. The graphic novel is set about twenty-two years after the first book, and Ender is now a Speaker for the Dead, one that tells the truth about a dead person's life. While Ender's only aged an additional 22 years, because of light-speed travel, it is now 3500 years in the future. He is called to the remote planet Lusitania to find out the truth about the death of two Xenobiology researchers who studied the native inhabitants of the planet, the Pequeninos. They have been accused of murdering the two scientists, so it is up to Ender to figure out if that is true or not. The Pequeninos seem to know Ender's true identity and want him to leave the Hive Queen Egg (of the insect race, the Formics, which he killed off at the end of Ender's Game). What really happened to the xenobiologists? How are the Pequeninos connected? Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars. 

This was a very fascinating book. It was interesting that all the names were Portuguese sounding and that the Catholic Church was so prevalent there, and they were essentially the ruling class with the help of the Congress. The Descolada disease element was also intriguing, and that is even more true with the Pequininos (or "Piggies" as they are more coloquially known), their religion and birthing system. I hope there are more graphic novel versions of his books, if so, I would be very interested in reading them. 

I Could Pee on This And Other Poems By Cats written by Francesco Marciuliano
I had originally picked this up to use with Kids Cafe, but decided it was a bit too adult for that program. It was a cute take on what cats would write about, were they actually able to write poetry. Chapters are broken down into Family, Work, Play and Existence. I think my favorites are "Something's Wrong" about moving to a new place, "Unbridled Love" about the ways cats show affection, "Tripped" about kitty assassins, and "Most Amusing" about what makes cats laugh. This would be a good gift for cat lovers. 3 stars. 

Shojin Ryori: The Art of Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine by Danny Chu
     I've read this sort of cookbook before, so I pretty much knew what to expect. This type of vegetarian (actually vegan since it doesn't include meat, dairy or eggs) cuisine originally came from Buddhist temples, and depends entirely on seasonal fruits and veggies. The chef and author divided the food up into seasons, and like most Japanese food, the plates are very small, but there are a lot of them. I kind of wished that they would put all the basic recipes in the front, not just stocks and sauces, and not repeat them with every section. The food is simple and beautiful, and there were a few recipes that I would like to try at home like the asparagus with white miso and walnut sauce. Most of the recipes are ones that I would rather try at a restaurant. 3 stars.

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