Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Job, New Place to Live and Book Reviews

I'm starting my fourth week at the new job and I really like it so far. I get to meet a lot of interesting people and it's a pretty easy job (a lot of typing envelopes, answering phones and putting information into databases). We've narrowed down our search for a new place to live and have found a condo that my hubby and I both like. I have to drop off the paperwork today after work and pay application fees, but hopefully our application will get approved in a couple days and we can go ahead and put down a deposit before someone else grabs it up. Meanwhile, I'm trying to mentally place furniture so we can make sure everything fits as we have definitely gained some furniture since the last time we moved.

I decided to stop using Maricopa County libraries as we are moving soon and there is no branch really close to me where we will be living, plus the main branch of Phoenix Public Library is literally 3 minutes from where I work, so it is super convenient and there will also be a branch library down the street from the condo. I'm still listening to Madame Bovary, which has some wonderful language in it, but then gets boring and tedious with long French place names and 19th century medical practices. Despite this, I am still interested how badly Emma will to screw up her life, with the totally oblivious Charles, before the end of the book. I have also just started a graphic novel version of Fahrenheit 451, which is a little bit easier to get through than the audiobook version. I don't know what it is about books written in the 1950s-60s, but I seem to have trouble staying focused on them.

It seems that I have managed to read 28 books since my last review posting. Those are predominantly mangas, children's picture books and cookbooks, since my attention span seems to be at a loss lately, but that is a pretty impressive amount nonetheless.

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
A very well done story about slaves with excellent illustrations, courtesy of Kadir Nelson. Henry was born into slavehood and at first lived with his mother and sisters until his master died and they were separated. When he arrived at his new master's tobacco factory, he met a girl who later became his wife and they had three children. When his family is sold to another man, he decides he needs to be free. So he ships himself to Philadelphia in a box, and gains his freedom. Recommended for ages 7 -12, 4 stars.

Flotsam by David Weisner
David Weisner is a genius! It's no wonder this book is an award winner as even though it is wordless, it is such a brilliant, original work of art. The illustrations are so good you literally are transported into another world. I love the one with the octopi. The book is about a young boy who likes to study things on the beach, such as crabs and starfish. He discovers an old-fashioned camera on the beach and goes to develop the photos. He gets these miraculous photos back and is amazed. He takes a picture with the camera and then throws it back in the ocean for someone else to find. Recommended for ages 5+, 5 stars.

The Three Little Pigs: An Architectual Tale by Stephen Guarnaccia
A cute picture book about The Three Little Pigs but each has a different architectural style that they imitate, like the third pig has a house that looks like Frank Lloyd Wright's house, Falling Waters. I enjoyed the end pages which featured architectural elements such as furniture, houses and housewares that were used in the book. It can be read to kids younger than five as the story is pretty simple, but only older kids and adults would appreciate the architectural/design elements of it. Recommended for ages 5-10, 3 stars.

Simeon's Gift by Julie Andrew Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton
Honestly I gave this book five stars because of the amazing Renaissance-like illustrations, that were so detailed and absolutely gorgeous. Definitely going to have to find more books illustrated by Gennady Spirin. The book comes with an audio CD of actress/singer Julie Andrews Edwards performing the book, which was created by her daughter Emma and herself.
The story is about a young lute-playing minstrel named Simeon who is in love with a noble lady named Sorrel. He thinks his meager income won't be enough for his girl so he sets off to gain more experience so he can write a song worthy of her. He sees and hears many wonderful things including great cities, soldiers, an abbey choir, and all manner of instruments. His head is so confused that he cannot really write his song properly, so he leaves the city and heads back home. On the way, he befriends a bird, fish and doe. When he arrives back home, his beloved is overjoyed at his return and his newfound friend, and suddenly his song pops back into his head fully completed and Sorrel loves it. He goes on to write many more. Recommended for ages 8+, 5 stars.
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange
The book is a very well-done biography, in the form of poetry, of civil rights activist and wife to Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King. I loved the poem by Ntozake Shange, about as much as her poem for the children's book "Ellington Was Not A Street." Kadir Nelson's paintings are amazing as usual, even my 6 month old enjoyed looking at them. Recommended for ages 7+, 4 stars.
Just Mommy and Me by Tara Jaye Morrow
I picked this book out because my nickname for my son is Monkeypants because he is so wiggly and climbs everywhere, plus I just thought the cover image was cute. He enjoyed me reading this book to him. This is an adorable book about a son who imagines him and his mother are monkeys and do things like eat bananas, take naps in the jungle and watch the sunset together. As another reader has said, would be great to read for Mother's Day. Recommended for ages 6 months+, 4 stars.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker
I randomly found this one at the library after trying to find some new books for my son, and since my hubby works in construction, I thought it would be a good fit for them to read together. It is a cute rhyming bedtime book about the trucks that work at a construction site: Crane Truck, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Bulldozer and Excavator. It has details that kids would enjoy like the trucks sleeping with teddy bears and blankets. I think this would be a great book to get for my son when he's a bit older as the text was kind of long for him now. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.
Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet
I have been waiting to read this book for ages but never had the time until now. It is a folktale about a young girl who goes with her mother to the tea plantation. Tashi is not old enough to pick the tea leaves, so she plays with the monkeys that live near the mountain instead. One day, Tashi's mother becomes really ill and cannot work and doesn't have the money to get a doctor. Tashi tries to pick leaves herself but the Overseer of the plantation just laughs at her. She is upset and explains her story the monkeys, and then falls asleep. When she awakens, the monkeys have picked special tea leaves for her. The Royal Tea Taster makes a surprise visit and finds out that her special leaves are Cloud Tea leaves, and promises to pay her a pouch of gold coins every year if she can get him more of the leaves. She agrees and takes the money. Her mother gets better, they thank the monkeys with fruit, and live off the money while drinking the special Cloud Tea. Recommended for ages 8-12, 5 stars.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson
Heart and Soul is a very well done history of African Americans in the United States (1700s - present day), narrated from the point of view of a Southern African-American woman (in a conversational tone) whose family history stretches from the 1850s to the present day. It includes a timeline and historical note from the author. The illustrations are phenomenal paintings, modeled by the author himself and portrait of some of his family members, and definitely the best part of the book. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.
The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell
I picked this book by accident the last time I visited the children's department at the downtown Phoenix library. It was a good random find for browsing down the aisles of the fiction section. Although I figured out part of the storyline at the beginning of the book, most of it was a complete surprise and very well done.
The Aviary is about a 12 year old girl named Clara who has lived most of her life shut away in the Glendoover house, where her mother and a lady named Ruby take care of old Mrs. Glendoover. Clara's mother has always told her that she should never leave the house because she has a heart condition, and Clara has always kept away from the aviary where the five birds are kept, until one day she hears one of them say "Elliot," which opens up a mystery to the young girl. Who were the Glendoover family and what happened to their children, especially their baby son Elliot? What is the truth about Clara and her family's past? To find out, you must read this delightful little book. Recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.
Baby's First Year by Rick Walton
This was a very cute rhyming book about a baby's first year milestones, such as smiling, laughing, crawling, and walking. It would be good for a sibling of a new baby. Recommended for ages 6 months - 5 years, 4 stars.
Daisy and the Egg by Jane Simmons
Another cute picture book, with soft painted illustrations, for kids about to become an older brother or sister. Daisy and her mother are awaiting the arrival of Daisy's cousins and her new little brother or sister. Her cousins hatch first and eventually Daisy gets a new baby brother named Pip. Recommended for ages 6 months - 5 years, 3 stars.
China Modern: 1oo Cutting Edge, Fusion Style Recipes for the 21st Century by Ching-He Huang
I have made Vietnamese and Japanese food at home, but honestly Chinese food is pretty intimidating with the complicated recipes and ingredients I've never really tried. However, Ching makes the recipes easy to understand and most of them look really tasty. She has some traditional Chinese recipes, East/West fusion and Chinese mixed with other Asian cultures. Easy recipes like Chili and Pepper Squid, Lychee and Vanilla Ice Cream; to more complicated ones like Vegetable Bao (steamed buns) or Once-a-month Savory-Sour Vegetarian Noodle Soup. 4 stars.
Gary Rhodes New Classics by Gary Rhodes
I will say that the author/chef was very thorough in his research of the recipes and their backgrounds. That was the part that I really liked. However, after having read many cookbooks and websites on classic British cuisine, I have seen most of these recipes before so I didn't find many recipes that I wanted. The other problem is lack of money to buy specialty ingredients, like suet, which is cheap in Britain but expensive over here. 2 stars.
The Three Chimneys: Recipes and Reflections from the Isle of Skye's World Famous Restaurant by Shirley Spear
I enjoyed this becoming a chef memoir of the author and her recipes from her gorgeous little restaurant and B&B in northwest Skye. I had been to this western island of Scotland when I was studying there in 2004, although I only went to the SW portion (It is very ruggedly beautiful). The recipes and photos of the food were gorgeous, though a good number of the ingredients would only be accessible if you lived in the UK or could afford to buy them online. Neverless, it was an enjoyable read about a foray into the restaurant business from two amateurs that turned into an enormous success. 3 stars.
The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu
The cover looked interesting, so I picked this up in the Teen graphic novel section at the downtown library (although I don't believe it should've been in the teen section). It was a futuristic look at the Louvre in the fictional subbasements, where the collection is now stored. The graphic novel was making fun of art history and curatorial practices, which I found kind of funny as I majored in art history and museum studies in university. Overall, I thought it was pretty boring, though I liked the Escher-esque black & white art. 2 stars.

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