Friday, July 29, 2016

Review: I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas

Synopsis: Told with lyrical poetry against gorgeous illustrations, I Have Heard of a Land tells the story of the first black Americans to settle in Oklahoma. With hope, hard-work, and determination, they created a life of freedom and prosperity. The story focuses on a single female, and her dreams of a place of her own.

Review: Excellent tale for kids - with both beauty and adventure. The pictures are gorgeous and worth the book alone just for those.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: 1999 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator Honor to Floyd Cooper, illustrator of I Have Heard of a Land, written by Joyce Carol Thomas

ISBN: 0-06-443617-9
Year Published: 1998
Date Finished: 7-15-2016Pages: 18

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: The Virginia Housewife or, Methodical Cook: A Facisimile of an Authentic Early American Cookbook by Mary Randolph

Synopsis: Originally published in 1824, this influential, classic guide by a noted Virginia hostess is widely regarded as the first truly Southern cookbook. Compiled and written by Mary Randolph (reputed to have been the best cook in Richmond), it contains a treasure of cooking instructions for everything from hearty soups to exotic cordials. Included are time-honored recipes for a wide range of beef, veal, lamb, and pork dishes, along with fish, poultry, sauces, vegetables, puddings, cakes, preserves, and more. In addition to such traditional Southern fare as okra soup, curry o catfish, barbecued shoat (a fat young hog), field peas, beaten biscuits and sweet potato buns, readers will also find scores of recipes for dishes, condiments and beverages rarely seen on today’s dinner table: sweetbread and oyster pie, grilled calf’s head, shoulder of mutton with celery sauce, fried calf’s feet, pheasant “a-la-daub,” tansy pudding, gooseberry fool (cold stewed gooseberries with custard and whipped cream), pickled nasturtiums, walnut catsup, vinegar of the four thieves, ginger wine and many other edibles from a bygone era.
More than just a collection of recipes, however, this comprehensive cook’s reference also provides a fascinating introduction to the food and customs of the antebellum South, as well as handy instructions for making soap, starch and cologne water, cleaning silver, drying herbs and much other useful advice.
For this edition, Jan Longone, a specialist in antiquarian wine and food books, has contributed an informative new introduction that outlines the singular qualities of Mrs. Randolph’s book and its preeminent place in American culinary history. Any cook, antiquarian or lover of Americana will enjoy this rare glimpse into the kitchens of the past. (from the back of the book)

Review: This was an intriguing and amusing book. The recipes! Crazy! Everything seem to take a pound of sugar or salt, or brandy, and it all takes hours and hours to cook. It's amazing how many different dishes they made with the same ingredients. If you wanted to try to recreate them, you could, but the amounts are a bit off and there is no mention of how many each dish feeds - so you might end up with enough stew for a whole plantation! Some of the cakes and roasts look tasty and I might try my hand at making a version more suited to our era. Worth reading!

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-486-27772-0
Year Published: 1824 (Dover Edition, 1993)
Date Finished: 7-11-2016
Pages: 180

Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Patrick Henry's Comments on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness selected, arranged, and annotated by Michael Jesse Bennett

Synopsis: Bennett is a professional actor. He has appeared in over fifty films and 500 radio and TV commercials. His theatre work has taken him to twenty-one states and the District of Columbia. Although well respected for his acting skills in ensemble pieces, Mr. Bennett is best known for his one-man shows, and the most particularly for his Patrick Henry, which he wrote in 1986 for the Bicentennial of the Constitution. Since then he has given approximately 250 performances of the show, including more than 100 in public schools in seven states for over 30,000 children. This intense focus on the life of one of our greatest patriots has been the major impetus to the creation of this little book. Mr. Bennett’s shows always conclude with question-and-answer session with the audience, and the resulting discussions indicated to him a need for such an informal and easy-to-use reference source. Having lived with (and, as actors do, become) Patrick Henry so many times Mr. Bennett has often been heard to say to an audience, “Patrick Henry – I have come to love that extraordinary man!” (from the back of the book)

Review: The concept for this book was good, but the execution was not. Disjointed, jumbled, and repetitious, the book doesn't do justice to Henry's works. Bennett's has a clear command and love for Henry as a person, but he isn't a writer. Sadly, there are other, better works about Patrick Henry, although I doubt you can find one done with more enthusiasm.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1991
Date Finished: 7-8-2016
Pages: 65

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: The Spirit of 1776: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness During the American Revolution sel. by Peter Seymour

Synopsis: A collection of spoken and written words from the Revolution, capturing the spirit and passion of those who fought for America's freedom

Review: This is a fine collection of sayings, many of which are familiar. Like parts of The Declaration of Independence, Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, and the opening of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Colorful illustrations are interspersed with the words, many from the time period. This is worthwhile collection and an excellent place to start with some of the works during this violent and passionate time.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 87529-212-7
Year Published: 1971
Date Finished: 7-7-2016
Pages: 61

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Synopsis: The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.

Review: A favorite since I first read it in high school, I come back to it every few years. This time, I read it because we watched the recent movie. Which changed too much of the book to be good, despite holding mostly true to the theme. The book, however, using simple language to create a complex world, a world that seems possible. Worth reading.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: The 1994 Newbery Medal , The 1994 Regina Medal, The 1996 William Allen White Award, American Library Association listings for "Best Book for Young Adults", "ALA Notable Children's Book", and "100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.", A Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, Booklist Editors' Choice, A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

ISBN: 978-0-547-99566-3
Year Published: 1993
Date Finished: 7-5-2016
Pages: 225

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: Cast Two Shadows: The American Revolution in the South by Ann Rinaldi

Synopsis: It's 1780s, and the war has come to Camden, South Carolina. Caroline's father is in prisionl her brother off fighting for the Loyalists; and she, her mother, and her sister are confined to one room as a British colonel occupies their spacious plantation house. But when Caroline learns that her brother is injured, not even a British colonel can stop her from rushing to his aid. She does agree to take her "secret" grandmother - a slave on her own plantation - with her, and together they face trigger-happy soliders and desperate revels on a trip that turns Caroline's already tumultuous world upside down. (from the back of the book)

Review: Being that I have an ancestor that fought in the Siege of Charleston during the Revolutionary War, I have a particular interest in stories set in that era and place. This is set 120 miles from Charleston, on a plantation. Dealing with her father’s imprisonment for being a Rebel, her brother at war for the British, and her sister’s increasing infatuation with the colonel who occupies their home, the main character must also sort through her emotions about her history – that she is the daughter and granddaughter of a slave. At fourteen, she is faced with choices outside her experience or comfort – but war does that to people.
Rinaldi doesn’t spare the reader the realities of war. Not everyone gets a happy ending. She accurately captures the confusion, pain, loss, love, hope, courage, and cowardice that permeated the South during the war.
My only complaint was the prose. It was a bit – juvenile – compared to what I expected. I understand this is a story for young adults, but I think the prose could have been tighter, more adult, more complex, maybe? It doesn’t detract from the story but it does a disservice to the reader, by underestimating their intelligence.
The edition I have contains an author’s note, bibliography, and questions in the back, all of which facilitate quality discussions about the topics approached in the story.
This book is worth reading, particular for older school children or for those interested in the American Revolution.  

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-15-205077-9
Year Published: 1998
Date Finished: 7-3-2016
Pages: 281

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

Synopsis: Olivia Dunne, a studious minister's daughter who dreams of becoming an archaeologist, never thought that the drama of World War II would affect her quiet life in Denver. But when an exhilarating flirtation reshapes her life, she finds herself in a rural Colorado outpost, married to a man she hardly knows. Overwhelmed by loneliness, Olivia tentatively tries to establish a new life, finding muchneeded friendship and solace in two Japanese American sisters who are living at a nearby internment camp. When Olivia unwittingly becomes an accomplice to a crime and is faced with betrayal, she finally confronts her own yearnings and comes to understand what she truly believes about the nature of trust and love. (from the back of the book)

Review: I stumbled upon the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie of this book and was smitten with the story. The movie, as it turns out, deviates from the book, most noticeably in the ending. The book's ending is not pretty and happy, as the movie. And, while I enjoyed the happy ending of the movie, the book's ending means more. With depth and complexity, Creel tells a story of loneliness, redemption, betrayal, and what makes a heart and home.
Her prose is surprisingly descriptive, but without being flowery - somewhat like the desolate beauty Olivia finds in the country. With deft language, Creel sets us in rural America during WWII, and shows us what it was like to be behind the scenes, to farm, to live, to work, to exist, when all the world was focus so far away.
Watching Olivia change into who she didn’t know she wanted to be, was magnificent. I enjoyed the subtle growth in her character. Told in first person, Creel really lets us see the turmoil inside this girl. As for the secondary characters, each was complex, distinct, and well-written.
There is a bite to this romance that comes from the true-to-life mistakes and frailness of the human condition. I highly recommend this work. It was a fantastic read.
Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-14-200090-6
Year Published: 2001
Date Finished: 6-30-2016 
Pages: 274

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

Synopsis: Did you think Cinderella married the prince and lived happily ever after, or that the three little pigs out-smarted the wolf? Think again! Master storyteller Roald Dahl adds his own comic trists to six favorite tales, complete with rambunctious rhymes and hilarious surprise endings. Fairy tales have never been more revolting! (from the back of the book)

Review: In my review of MacDonald's The Golden Key, I mentioned that I did not enjoy Victorian Fairy Tales. Probably because I very much enjoy fairy tales like the ones found in Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, and they are as un-Victorian as one can get. From Cinderella (who marries a jam-maker instead of a prince) to Little Red Riding Hood (who becomes a wolf-killer) to Jack in the Bean Stalk (who avoids the Giant by taking a bath) - these are just my sort of wickedly funny and irreverent tales. Several elicited a decidedly evil chuckle from me. I particular enjoyed how Red Riding Hood showed up in the story of the Three Little Pigs and how the ended badly for some and not for others.
This would be an excellent read for elementary age kids. Told in rhyming verse, they not only introduce kids to poetry, but also to the subversion of fairy tales, imagination, and creativity. After reading this, one might have kids write their own retold fairy tale, or their own poetry. Dahl, like Shel Silverstein, has a way of using silliness to convey life’s larger lessons. Worth reading for kids and adults alike. 

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-439-59848-5
Year Published: 1982
Date Finished: 6-27-2016
Pages: 47

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: The Golden Key: A Victorian Fairy Tale by George MacDonald

Synopsis: When young Mossy hears a legend that anyone who manages to find the end of a rainbow will be rewarded with a golden key, he beceomes determined to do just that. But finding the golden key is the easy part - discovering what it unlocks is much harder. He and a runaway girl named Tangle set out to find the key's purpose - and discover their own along the way. This beloved fairy tale is brought to life with the exquisite new illustrations from Ruth Sanderson. (from the back of the book)

Review: I asked to review this because I enjoy fairy tales, or thought I did. Turned out, I'm not a fan of Victorian Fairy Tales. Other reviewers commented on the depth, complexity, and meaning of the story - but I didn't see it. Half the time, it made no sense to me. Perhaps because I am an adult? Children find meaning and magic in places that we old folk cannot. We have forgotten how.
The story is not linear, but follows the very fairy tale method of time being relative, repetition in characters, how good and evil were clearly marked. The main characters were too insipid for my taste, but I found the flying fish that became fairies when you ate them, and how the old the Great Gods became, the younger they looked, to be clever and enjoyable.
The redeeming quality of this book is Sanderson's illustrations. They are magnificent. Detailed, magical, expressive - everything you'd want from the pictures in a fairy story. It's worth buying the book for the pictures alone!

Note: I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10 for the story / 8 of 10 for the illustrations

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5456-8
Year Published: September 2016
Date Finished: 6/27/2016
Pages: 136

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: First Flight by Chris Claremont (Lt. Nichole Shea Trilogy, Book 1)

Synopsis: Drifting farther and farther from any hope of rescue after a band of marauding space pirates leave her defenseless ship a wreck, Lt. Nicole Shea and her desperate crew make contact, humankind's first contact, with alien life forms. (from the online description)

Review: Chris Claremont is best known for nearly single-handedly reviving Marvel's X-Men comic book line. As a fledgling writer, he was given X-Men (because the line was so unpopular no one cared if he screwed up the story). He used his talent as a writer to give the characters a complexity and depth unseen before in most comics. He is credited with creating strong female characters and introducing high-literary themes into the stories. His work turned X-Men from an unpopular comic to one of Marvel's most successful franchises.
So with all this praise, I expected First Flight to be better. I concede this book is his first novel and all first novels have inherent flaws. And to be honest, I can't rightly pinpoint what about this book I didn't like. It felt boring, which is odd because there was plenty of action and romance and science and adventure and cliff-hangers - and yet, I had to make myself finish the story. It just didn't grab me as I though it should or would. Disappointing. Perhaps because I never connect with the main character? And again, I should have. She is a written as a strong, complex, realistic female. The other characters are equally as well-rounded, although slightly more stereotyped. The science-fiction aspects seem realistic, and all the ending is a bit showy, again, it’s a good story.
In the end, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a solid science-fiction read. Even though I didn’t enjoy it, since I can’t honestly say why, it would be wrong to dissuade others from reading it and forming their own opinion. And if I come across the next two in the series, I'll probably buy and read them. 

Prude Note: There are several sex scenes - a few that are mildly graphic. Both can be skipped without detracting from the story, although they are important to the relationship of the two characters involved. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-441-23584-0
Year Published: 1987
Date Finished: 6-27-2016
Pages: 243