Sunday, July 31, 2011

New feature? Week in review.

I know a lot of you do different posts that talk about things other than books and I wanted to give it a shot. I like to talk about food, family, movies/tv, Etsy finds, and now this baby on the way, so I think I may start a "Week in Review" feature on Sundays. It may stick around, it may not, but for now, this week's Week in Review:

Books:

I'm struggling with A Visit From the Goon Squad, a read for my book club. Still only at about page 75, trying to push through, but I just don't think this one is for me. 

Finishing up All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin. This one is coming out in September and is getting great buzz. A little slow in parts, but I'm enjoying it. 

Listening to and LOVING The Help on audio. I know I'm one of the last to read the book, but I knew I wanted to wait until close to the movie release before picking it up. If you haven't read it yet, or even if you have, the audio version is absolutely gorgeous. I never want to stop listening to it! 

I got my hands on a much coveted copy of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I've only read about 50 pages, but this is most definitely a novel to savor. Beautiful writing and an enchanting story right away...I have a feeling I'm going to fall completely in love with this book. 

TV:

Project Runway premiered this week! I've a reality tv junkie and this is one of my favorites. One season a year just doesn't cut it for me, so I'll be attached to my television every Thursday night for the next couple of months. No favorites yet, but I'm sure I'll share soon. 

Food:

I want this in my life right now. Someone please make it for me. 

The husband and I are starting to stock up on freezer things, in anticipation of the possibility of bed rest during this pregnancy (no worries, that hasn't even been brought up yet, just planning ahead knowing how the last pregnancy went). Tonight's adventure included homemade meatballs and a huge vat of sauce. If you have recipes for things that freeze well, I would love an email!

Again, I'm begging....make this for me. It's just too hot to make it myself. 

Etsy:

The husband and I have decided on a hippo theme for the bean's nursery and I'm in love with these. I think they would look fabulous above the dresser, but a bit pricey. Might be our own splurge!

Baby:

This week, the bean is the size of an avocado. Fitting, I had 1/2 an avocado with my lunch today :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Season to Taste review

Imagine wanting nothing more in the world than to be a chef. You start at the bottom of the barrel, as a dishwasher, learning from one of the most amazing chefs in your city while scrubbing pots, but you LOVE it. And then you're hit by a car and you completely lose your sense of smell. Without smell, you cannot taste, and if you can't taste, you can't be a chef. 

This is what happened to Molly Birnbaum, a young woman who dreamed of attending the Culinary Institute of America, but who suffered the ultimate loss of a sense vital to her career choice and overall happiness with her life. We read about the deep depression Birnbaum falls into while recovering from her physical injuries, is forced to quit her job, and cancel plans for proper training in the culinary arts, and how she works to rebuild her sense of smell, while learning a whole lot about what our noses do for us. 

Part food lit, part memoir, with some science mixed in, I lost myself in this book and managed to read it in one sitting. Even the more technical aspects about smell and taste as Birnbaum investigates whether or not she has chance of recovering, are incredibly interesting and I didn't gloss over as I usually would. The descriptions of smells no longer detectable were absolutely amazing and made my mouth water as I read them! I would never have given a second thought to not being able to smell and how much a person can't do because of that. Can't taste, can't tell if food has spoiled, couldn't smell smoke in one's house, etc. 

A truly fascinating story, I definitely will not be taking my sense of smell for granted anymore! 

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way
Molly Birnbaum
320 pages
Non-Fiction
Ecco
9780061915314
July 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, July 25, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Elephants!

So, I love elephants. Not quite sure why or how I got into them, but they are just such gorgeous, majestic creatures that live quiet and peaceful lives. The husband and I were even pretty close to having an elephant theme for the bookworm-on-the-way's nursery, but it was outranked just a tad by another animal. More on that in a later post. Back to the elephants!

I had a chance this season to review two awesome elephant books and both are pretty fantastic and would make nice additions to any middle grade or high school library shelf. 

The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M. Jackson with photographs by Caitlin O'Connell and Timothy Rodwell

This one is part of the AMAZING "Scientists in the Field" series that I've featured a ton of times on the blog. Following American scientist Caitlin O'Connell as she studies African elephants, we learn about how O'Connell started in the field and all sorts of cool facts about elephants and their families. It's so incredibly fascinating to me how these huge animals care for one another and work together to help their young prosper and survive, as well as how they aren't afraid to stand up to one another or protect each other. 

The photographs are an essential portion to these books, illustrating just how "into" a species these scientists get. They're brilliant and clear, some even suitable to be art on the wall! 

Covering a huge range of information, this book, along with others in the series would best be used in a classroom setting or for projects, not as simple reading material (unless you are like me and love this stuff!). There are even cool sections in the back including instructions to watch O'Connell's elephant experiments, different pachyderm terms, and even how to adopt an elephant. 

The Elephant Scientist
Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M. Jackson
80 pages
Non-Fiction
Houghton Mifflin
9780547053449
July 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Elephant Talk by Ann Downer

Focusing more on the actual communication aspects of how elephants communicate with one another using different sounds and movements. The author writes a lot about the scientific studies that following the sounds, smells, and movements the elephants use to stay in communication with each other, as well as the relationship between elephants and humans, including poaching and treating elephants as gods in certain parts of the world. 

Definitely not a book to just sit down and read, the sections in the book could easily be used alone or in conjunction with another book to teach a unit on communication in the animal world. I was again impressed with the level of photography and how well it solidifies the information in the text. Visual learners, like myself, need the aid of photographs to really "get" what the author is trying to tell us. 

Readers can also go "beyond the book" and download educational resources at www.lerneresource.com. Great for teachers!

Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication
Ann Downer
112 pages
Non-Fiction
Twenty-First Century Books
9780761357667
January 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joy for Beginners review

Kate is facing one of the biggest challenges of her life. Having beat breast cancer after a long, hard fight and a double mastectomy, she has agreed to do the one thing that has always truly terrified her: white-water rafting through the Grand Canyon with her daughter. As a condition to agreeing to go on the trip, Kate gives each of her close friends...the women who rallied around her during her illness and remain her best friends...their own personal challenge. 

The chapters alternate between the women as they face their challenge: Hadley, a young widow; Caroline, learning how to be single after a rough divorce; Marion, the eldest and most matriarchal who needs to learn to do something only for herself; Sara, bit by the travel bug as a young woman, but as a mom to three has no time to herself; Daria, a free spirit determined to never settle down; Ava, the lone friend who feels guilt over not being able to be close to Kate during her illness; and finally, Kate herself. 

The woman and their stories are realistic and feel completely honest, like a group of woman you could easily know yourself. The chapters are long enough for the reader to really get to know each woman, her past and her present, and why Kate assigned each the challenge that she did. Some of the challenges even seem a bit ridiculous (like for Marion: get a tattoo), but it doesn't take long to understand how the perfect challenge is given to each character. 

My favorite section was Daria's and her challenge to learn to make bread. The descriptions the author uses are luscious and rich, pulling you into the story and, in my case, keeping me up way past my bedtime. The book certainly isn't a thriller or even a page-turner in the "excitement" sense, but you'll become so wrapped up in all the amazing detail and the raw openness of each character that you won't be able to begin a woman's story without finishing it out to the end. 

I loved The School of Essential Ingredients, Bauermeister's first novel, and am really anxious to see what she has next. These are the types of books that I love to gift to friends and that I want to have on my shelves, so guests will ask me about them. I'm a picky book owner, as I have limited space to store my books, only choosing the ones I really love to stick around. BOTH of Erica Bauermeister's books have found space on my shelves.   

Joy for Beginners
Erica Bauermeister
288 pages
Adult Fiction
G.P. Putnam Son's
9780399157127
June 2011
Library Copy

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette audio review

This third installment in the series about four sisters is bound to please fans of the previous books, as it's filled with all the sweetness and whimsy that readers have grown to love. Summer has come back around and this year the Penderwick family is splitting up for two weeks. Dad and his new wife head to England for their honeymoon, Rosalind heads to New Jersey with a friend for some much needed "teen time," while her sisters embark on a beach vacation with Aunt Claire at Point Mouette in Maine, leaving Skye in charge as the OAP (oldest available Penderwick).

Skye, Jane, and Batty have a wonderful time at the beach, while old friends and new make appearances at the beach house. There are of course "incidents" woven in to keep the summer vacation interesting. Aunt Claire hurts her ankle, leaving Skye even more in charge than she anticipated, Batty decides she wants to learn to play an instrument, Jane falls in love for the first time, and Jeffrey makes a startling discovery.

Totally charming and fantastic for reading aloud as a family this summer. The characters are all developed beautifully and the concept of children enjoying themselves without the use of technology is always refreshing!

The audios of these books are done in such a way that I could listen to them over and over again and not get bored with the voices Susan Denaker does. Though there are four sisters and multiple other female characters included in the story, you'll always be able to distinguish between the characters. Not to mention she does such a silly Batty that I am constantly giggling when the story weaves its way into her day. 

Definitely a series to pick up on audio for long car trips this summer or the physical books for family read alouds. Love these books!

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette
Jeanne Birdsall, read by Susan Denaker
Random House Audio
9780307915313
May 2011
Library copy

Monday, July 18, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Rescuing Rover

Ever since adopting our pit bull-mix pound puppy, Shae, almost five years ago it seems any book about rescue dogs seems to find its way into my pretty little hands. Fiction, non-fiction, doesn't matter, I like to read as much as I can about the way dogs are rescued, cared for, and eventually adopted to families like mine. Not all of the books that cross my path are great, but Rescuing Rover was fantastic. 

When reading non-fiction aimed at children, I always look for a great visual presentation along with readable text that is not only educational, but also entertaining. This one has it all! Author Raymond Bial gives a brief overview of the relationship between humans and dogs, followed by an overview of what animal welfare organizations do, and what life in a shelter is like for dogs. 

Great photographs of dogs and such a wealth of information in a great format! Readers can learn about what foster homes are, the dangers of purchasing animals and the connection to puppy mills, the process of adopting a dog, and how an animal shelter is actually operated on a daily basis. 

A special fact section on the ASPCA rounds out a wonderful book that is very close to my heart. 

Rescuing Rover: Saving America's Dogs
Raymond Bial
80 pages
Non-Fiction
Houghton-Mifflin
9780547341255
May 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Picture Book Saturday

I'm featuring one of my favorite illustrators this week and a bit of Maisy. Hopefully you'll find something to read with your family!

King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen

One of my favorite picture books, both to read and to sell, is The Circus Ship, so I was really excited to see Van Dusen's newest in my mailbox. 

This one tells the tale of a King who is a tad bit too confident! When his pompous attitude meets Tessa, a sorceress, she places a spell on the King, causing his head to swell. It keeps growing and growing until he can no longer fit in his own castle!

The hilarious story is paired with even funnier illustrations. Seriously some of the silliness, laugh-out-loud worthy illustrations I've ever seen. Your kids will be laughing, you'll be chuckling, and both of you will develop quite the fondness for this flawed, yet ultimately sweet, King. 


Definitely a great pick for a read aloud! 

King Hugo's Huge Ego
Chris Van Dusen
40 pages
Picture Book
Candlewick
978076365049
July 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Maisy's Amazing Big Book of Learning by Lucy Cousins

I love Maisy books. I think the brightness of the colors are incredibly appealing to the toddler/preschool age group and the concepts taught are simplistic and presented in a easy-to-understand format. 

This latest includes lots of cool flaps and TONS of cool stuff to learn. From days of the week to animals and counting, shapes, patterns, it really has a bit of everything, yet the information is presented in very small increments, allowing your child to really grasp what Maisy is doing. Too much on the page is just information overload in my opinion. 

A really nice book for just beginning the process of teaching these concepts to your kids. No need to go through the entire book, let the child pick the page to work on. That makes it fun! Great for ages 2+

Maisy's Amazing Big Book of Learning
Lucy Cousins
64 pages
Picture Book
Candlewick
9780763654818
July 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The False Princess review

Princess Nalia spends her days at the castle getting into mischief with her best friend Kiernan, reading in the library, or attempting to solve an ancient code using books and her obvious intelligence. When she turns 16, her entire world is ripped out from under her when she is told she is, in fact, not the Princess Nalia, but rather a false Princess, raised in the castle in order to keep the actual Princess in hiding. 


Nalia, now known as Sinda, is cast out of her home and away from the only family and friends she's ever known,  sent to live with a less-than-friendly Aunt in a village far away from her life of privilege. While morphing into a hardworking peasant, Sinda discovers she has a magical ability and though, at first, unsure what to do with it, knows it can change her life and help her to solve the many secrets back at the castle. 


A lovely book, filled with detailed descriptions and beautiful characterization. I was transported to Thorvaldor and was totally engaged from start to finish. There's drama, there's some romance (though nothing overly mushy), and just enough magic to make this a special story. I'm a HUGE fan of Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern series and I felt like this could have easily been one of them. 

Sinda has courage and drive and gives readers a great example of a strong female character, without forgetting the guys. Kiernan was funny and sweet and I totally had a literary crush on him. All the characters were incredibly realistic, even with all the magical elements, and again, such great descriptions!


This one is being marketed to YA, however, I would easily give it to a 12 year old or even a bit younger. Concepts are easy enough to understand and the story is simply wonderful. I am a bit disappointed with the change in cover from ARC to finished copy...definitely makes it look like it's for older YA, but I'm going to handsell like crazy!


I can't wait to see what else O'Neal writes!

The False Princess
Eilis O'Neal
336 pages
EgmontUSA
9781606840795
January 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Story of Beautiful Girl review

In 1968 a white woman and a black man show up on the doorstep of Martha, a widow content in her quiet, hermit-like ways. She skeptically lets them in, though wary of how the strange pair is acting, and then spends the next two decades raising the baby they hid in her attic. 

Lynnie, the baby's mother, dealing with what appears to be a developmental disability, ends up back at The School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, while the love of her life, Homan is on the run, deaf, unsure of where he is going or if he will even survive.  

Told in alternating chapters by Martha, Lynnie, Homan, and Kate, a nurse at the School, the story is not simply one of a baby girl, but also a telling of the horror of institutions during that period in our country's history, of how no one truly understood the disabled and how to best assist them, and of the power of love above all. 

From the first pages I fell in love with the story and with Rachel Simon's writing. I had never experienced her books before and I knew I would totally connect with Martha after just a few sentences. The setting and descriptions of other minor details placed me right where each character was and had me experiencing what they were experiencing. 

I did find that the book dragged a bit in the middle, becoming slow in plot development and where the characters "went." I also had a hard time with Homan's portion of the book as Simon wrote it from the perspective of a deaf man that had never truly learned to communicate. Definitely a feat to write, but also, at times, a tad hard to understand. I found myself having to reread his chapters, sometimes more than a couple of times to get exactly what he was thinking/doing/believing. 

I absolutely ADORE the cover and the writing expands on the beauty we first see in that silhouette. Despite the few slow portions and the difficulty I had with Homan's character, I truly enjoyed my reading of the book and the thinking the author made me do. I don't have a disabled person directly in my life, so I don't often think about how a person may or may not be treated based on whether or not they have a disability. She opened my eyes, while weaving a thought-provoking and lovely novel.

The Story of Beautiful Girl
Rachel Simon
352 pages
Adult Fiction
Grand Central Publishing
9780446574464
May 2011
Library Copy

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why I'm in a reading/blogging/general "slump"

So, for the last couple of months, I haven't really wanted to do anything. A bit vague, yes, but seriously, I don't want to read, I don't really want blog, I just lurk on Twitter rather than actually posting. I don't want to go to the gym, I definitely don't want to work. The list goes on. I'm. just. so. tired.

Most might think something is wrong with me, but I have a pretty good reason. A baby Snow is on the way!

Most of my long-time readers know that we've definitely struggled to have a family. We lost our son Jacob at four months old, after he was born very prematurely, and then we've hit additional bumps along the way to have a second baby. But, now we're into the 2nd trimester (HOORAY!) and things are going as well as they possibly could.

We weren't sure that I should share with the entire "internet" world, but I'm incredibly optimistic this time around and I also wanted to provide a reason for the lack of blogging and chatting. I miss you all and I miss BOOKS, so I'm really hoping the exhaustion moves away pretty soon.

If you pray, please keep us in your prayers, and if not, just cross your fingers things continue going well!

Hooray for babies!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Theodosia and the Last Pharoah review

I'm a big, big fan of the Theodosia books with the smart, snarky main character and the fun, fantastical elements. In this latest installment, Theo is on her way to Egypt with a mission in mind. 

The cover for the trip to Egypt is to help her mother on a dig, but Theodosia always has an ulterior motive. This time, she needs to return the Emerald tablet before it falls into the hands of the any of the Serpents of Chaos. That would be very bad. Of course, she is met with challenges along the way, including things going missing, but she also learns a bit more about her own history than she ever imagined she would. 

I loved that the book took place in Egypt...not that London was a bad locale, it was just nice to move around after three books. I also enjoyed all the details in the little things, typical of LaFevers' writing. I actually don't mind these books being almost 400 pages long, even with being middle grade. 

Lots of action and mystery with a strong, intelligent girl character that keeps me interested from book to book. I would definitely recommend starting with the first in this series and even with the main character being female, I wouldn't hesitate to hand it to boys as well. Another great one for Theodosia!


Theodosia and The Last Pharoah
R.L. LaFevers
384 pages
Middle Grade
Houghton Mifflin
9780547390185
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher