Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scot Chessman

Synopsis: Nineteenth-century Paris comes radiantly alive in the richly imagined novel about the intimate relationship between celebrate Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt and her sister, Lydia, Cassatt's fragile, beloved muse. Told in the voice of forty-one-year-old Lydia, who is dying of Bright's disease. Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper opens a window onto a burgeoning world of art and ideas as it captures the extraordinary age in which these sisters lived. This sweeping narrative features real-life figures like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, Cassatt's mercurial, charismatic mentor and includes five full-color plates of Cassatt's paintings. It is a graceful and enchanting exploration of the duels between art and desire, memory and identity, and romantic and familial love. (from the inside cover of the book)

Review: This is an ethereal, romantic work. Lydia Cassatt is dying. Both she and Mary – whom the family calls May – haven’t come to terms with this. Mary dreads a world without her sister. Lydia resents that her life is defined by loss, illness, and desires that will never be. As she poses for her sister over the span of a few years, Lydia confronts the past and the never-to-be future. There is a bittersweet feeling, a happy sorrow, a gentle letting go by each of them.
Chessman uses an almost poetic style of writing – combining gorgeous lyrical prose and poetic stylizing of the text to convey the sense of art and desire, of sorrow and love, which ties the two sisters together. Chessman attempted to stay true to Mary Cassatt’s life, taking only a small amount of writer’s license with the characters. This makes the book even richer – knowing that most of what you read is true. The book is divided into five chapters, each centered around one of five paintings May did of her sister. Included as glossy, vibrant, color pictures of each painting. This makes the book rich and gorgeous. 
For anyone who enjoys art, particularly Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists, this book is a must. I would recommend it as a vital part to any art-lovers library. 

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-452-28350-7
Year Published: 2001
Date Finished: 8-21-2016
Pages: 164

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Thai: The Essence of Asian Cooking by Judy Bastyra and Becky Johnson

Synopsis: Starting with a short but interesting history of Thailand, the book moves into detailed and colorful information about each ingredient you might find in the recipes. Each one includes a picture, a description of the taste and use, and where do possibly find it. From there, the book moves into recipe in the categories of poultry, beef, fish, rice, noodles, salads, desserts, and appetizers. The recipes are easy to read, easy to follow, has pictures, and includes cooking tips.

Review: I made my first recipe from the book. Beef Stew with Star Anise (p142).
Looks good, right? It was. It was fan-freaking-tastic. Seriously, I ate two helpings – and would have eaten more but I’m trying to regain my girlish-figure. It’s important to remember, I am not a particularly good cook. So, if I can manage to follow a recipe and come up with something edible, it’s a cookbook worth experiencing.  The book lays open nicely, which makes cooking from it easy.
1) It is Thai cooking, which means there are a lot of ingredients. But most of them can be purchased at a local Asian market, as they are common to most Asian cooking (mung beans, fish sauce, lemongrass, star anise, Thai basil,). But if you haven’t ventured into an Asian store before, it’s a bit daunting. Be warned.
2) The book has the measurements in both American and British/Australian/European amounts. Meaning that it will say 30ml/2 tablespoons. This doesn’t detract from the recipes or cooking instructions, but it is important to note that it is a book for any English-speaker, regardless of what measurement system you are familiar with. 

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None (that I know of!)

ISBN: 1-84309-724-9
Year Published: 2003
Date Finished: 8-17-2016
Pages: 256

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Synopsis: Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016. It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places. (from the inside cover)

Review: Everyone's read this. It was...okay. I know as a die-hard Harry Potter fan (seriously, I have a wand and a robe and a jar of lemon drops from HP world), I'm suppose to love this book. But I didn't. I enjoyed seeing the characters as adult, seeing that they still have to grow as people, seeing their children. 
I admit, it was the time travel. I detest time travel in stories, as a story-telling device. Rowling handled it better than most authors, and seeing these characters experience it revealed who they were in unique ways. But still, it irked me. I'm thankful to Rowling for giving us more Harry Potter, however, and once again, taking us back to this world. 

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None (Yet!)

ISBN: 978-1-338-09913-3
Year Published: 2016
Date Finished: 8-13-2016
Pages: 321

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: Made to Crave: 60 Day Devotional by Lysa TerKeurst

Synopsis: Last year, author Lysa TerKeurst released the book Made to Crave, providing the Biblical answer to why people diet, regain the weight they lose, and continue to find themselves stuck in this vicious cycle. Made to Crave helped thousands of people finally achieve victory in their weight loss journey. But, according to TerKeurst, “We need more than 19 chapters to stay motivated and on track. That’s why I wrote this daily devotional with 60 inspirational entries. There is plenty of new material not in the original book. Rest assured, I also included your favorite nuggets of wisdom from Made to Crave.” Just like the Made to Crave book, this Made to Crave Devotional is not a how-to get healthy book. It is the road to finding the lasting ‘want to’ that extends far beyond the surface issues of weighing less and wanting to wear a smaller clothes size. Says TerKeurst: “There’s a spiritual battle going on. It’s real. And it’s amazing how perfectly the Bible gives us specific ways to find victory with our food struggles. “Even for girls who don’t crave carrots.“ (from the back of the book)

Review: A companion to TerKeurst's Made to Crave book, this is composed of 60 short devotionals. Each is proceeded by a verse and a "Thought of the Day" which often a quote from the book. After a 1-2 pages read, there is a prayer that goes with the theme of the day.
As with the book, I found bits and pieces helpful, but over all, it was mostly fluff and nonsense. Again, nothing blatant or clearly wrong theologically, but there was something off about some her writings. If you found her book helpful, then you will also find this helpful. There was some repetition, but not enough to detract from the devotions. Not my cup of tea, but it will appeal to others, I'm certain.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-310-33470-5
Year Published: 2011
Date Finished: 8-1-2016
Pages: 199

Monday, August 15, 2016

Readings on the American Revolution

During July, my goal was to read only books about the American Revolution. I read other books as well, which meant I didn't read as many on this subject as I planned.

Here is what I read:

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

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

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

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

A People's History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael (People's History Series by Howard Zinn)

Under God by Toby Mac and Michael Tait

Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi

The Journal of Major George Washington, Sent by the Hon. Robert Dinwiddie, Esq; His Majesty’s Lieutenant-Governor, and Commander In Chief Of Virginia, to the Commandant of the French Forces on Ohio. To Which Are Added, the Governor’s Letter, and a Translation of the French Officer’s Answer facsimile edition printed by Colonial Williamsburg

Come All You Brave Soldiers: Black in the Revolutionary War by Clinton Cox

Sea Road to Yorktown by Harvey Haislip

I read 9 total, which isn't many as I wanted, particularly non-fiction, but I'm pleased with my progress. And there is always next July.

August is a free-read month, but September and October is all Harry Potter, in preparation for our Harry Potter Themed Halloween Party!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: Sea Road to Yorktown by Harvey Haislip

Synopsis: At the outset of this rough-and-tumble tale of sea dogs and sea fighting during the American Revolution, Midshipman Tommy Potter had already seen much of the blood and danger of war. But even though he had been a protégé of John Paul Jones, with a stint as prize master under his belt, Tommy was still in his teens…and he had a lot to learn before he became a man. Under orders from Ben Franklin to return home from the shores of France where he had been cast up by the tides of war, Tommy decided instead to throw in his lot with the motley assortment of men who piloted the sleek privateer, Princes, an “unauthorized” vessel of the French and the American Colonies. In charge of the restive, hybrid crew were a sick captain, Muldin, a surly and rebellious second mate, and First Mate Gascoyne, a wily, dashing Frenchman who preferred to conceal his noble birth. Aboard the Princess, Tommy was to follow a perilous course that would lead him to Martinique and the Spanish Main, where smuggling under the threatening bows of English frigates – and the attentions of a beautiful French colonist – would soon hasten Tommy on to manhood.  And before the end of this swashbuckling novel, Tommy Potter was to find himself and the Princess in the service of the French Admiral, Comte de Grasse – and the young midshipman would be counted on t play a vital role in the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. (from the inside cover of the book)

Review: Written with in the same swashbuckling adventure style as Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian or the Hortatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester, this book is set during the end of the American Revolution. An American sailor has many adventures – epic sea battles, daring escapes, first loves, smuggling sugar, and dangerous enemies – before finding himself in the Comte de Grasse fleet as this brave French sailor heads for the Chesapeake Bay and the last great battle of the Revolution. Haislip maintains historical accuracy while dragging us from one narrow escape to the next.
I enjoyed seeing the war from the point of few of the French navy who blockade the Bay and forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Haislip, being a naval man, has an excellent grasp of how ships work at sea and his depictions of the actual sailing is exceptionally detailed – if a bit tedious at times. His characterizations are a bit flat and stereotypical, but enjoyable –and let’s be honest – we aren’t reading this because it’s high literature. It’s an adventure novel, and it is a fine example of one. Worth reading. Would be excellent for a summer day on the beach, with a cold drink and the blue water at your feet. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1960
Date Finished: 7-31-2016
Pages: 288

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review: Come All You Brave Soldiers: Black in the Revolutionary War by Clinton Cox

Synopsis: This book tells the story of the thousands of black men who served as soldiers fighting for independence from England during the American Revolutionary War. (from the online description)

Review: Written in simple prose with basic vocabulary, this book is intended for elementary or middle-school aged children as an introduction to the part African-Americans played in the War of Independence.
Starting with Crispus Attucks, who died in the Boston Massacre, Cox moves chronologically through the war, introducing the reasons for the war and how they affected both free and slave alike. There is a limited amount of information about blacks during this time, as formal record keeping was sketching at best, and so much was destroyed. Often, the prose feels like a basic review of the war - but that isn't Cox's fault. He does a fine job of putting in information about blacks. He also does a good job of giving an unbiased few. He speaks of both the honor and the injustice faced by blacks, giving an overview of the country. He is honest, though, and doesn't hide how horrible it was for blacks during that time, how unfairly they were treated.
I highly recommend this book to teachers and home-school parents. It's an excellent source for learning, with a plethora of topics for discussion. It's easy enough for younger children to read, but challenging enough it isn't topic to engage older children.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN 0-590-47577-0
Year Published: 1999
Date Finished: 7-31-2016
Pages: 181

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Synopsis: The year is 1792. The French Revolution, driven to excess by its own triumph, has turned into a reign of terror. Daily, tumbrels bearing new victims to the guillotine roll over the cobbled streets of Paris.… Thus the stage is set for one of the most enthralling novels of historical adventure ever written. The mysterious figure known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, sworn to rescue helpless men, women, and children from their doom; his implacable foe, the French agent Chauvelin, relentlessly hunting him down; and lovely Marguerite Blakeney, a beautiful French exile married to an English lord and caught in a terrible conflict of loyalties—all play their parts in a suspenseful tale that ranges from the squalid slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of London, from intrigue on a great English country estate to the final denouement on the cliffs of the French coast. There have been many imitations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but none has ever equaled its superb sense of color and drama and its irresistible gift of wonderfully romantic escape. (from the online description)

Review: I read this many year ago and it was a favorite back then. It's still excellent - although I can tell my tastes have changed over time. I don't remember it being quite so  - sappy. But then, I think I read it during a sappy time. My favorite trivia about this book is it is generally considered to be one of the main sources of inspiration for Batman/Bruce Wayne. And considering how clever Blakeney is, one has no trouble believing that. With humor, love, adventure, and much daring-do, this is an fine read, perfect for rainy days on couch or sunny beaches by the water. Highly recommend, particularly if you enjoy light literature or need a break.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1905 (This edition, N/A)
Date Finished: 7-29-2016
Pages: 256

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Review: The Journal of Major George Washington, Sent by the Hon. Robert Dinwiddie, Esq; His Majesty’s Lieutenant-Governor, and Commander In Chief Of Virginia, to the Commandant of the French Forces on Ohio. To Which Are Added, the Governor’s Letter, and a Translation of the French Officer’s Answer facsimile edition printed by Colonial Williamsburg

Synopsis: Printed in 1753 just a few days after his return, this is Washington's journal and account of his journey from Williamsburg,Virginia, into the far reaches of the Ohio Territory. Washington's errand was simple: To deliver a letter from Dinwiddie to the French Commander, which, in the most polite words possible, said "GTFO of Ohio." To which the French Commander responded, again, in the most respectful tones, "No. We called dibs. F-off."  And thus we have the origins of the French and Indian War.
Washington did not know his journal would be published, and indeed, it was done so quickly he had hardly time to make any edits. It was an instant best-seller, with it being quoted in popular society and periodicals of the time. It brought the young surveyor much praise and set him on a road towards the Presidency. 

Review: Only 8 of the originals survived to the modern era. My edition, printed in 1959 by Colonial Williamsburg, is a faithful copy of the one in their collection. It’s a fine facsimile. They have kept the odd arrangements, the grammatical errors and awkward spellings. Reading it is like being back in time. Since the spellings are different (all the s look like f) it can make reading it a challenge – but a fun one.
As for content, it’s interesting to read about his trip. Traveling in the cold winter (before global warming), with snow piled high and rivers layered with ice, it’s a testament to his determination that he and his companions survived. He isn’t one for descriptions of nature, but he was a keen observer of human nature and was honest about his concerns and difficulties. He paid particular attention to the Native Americans he meet, to his relationship with them – and theirs to the French. It is evident he was concerned about the Native Americans being swayed too much to side with the French and understood their importance to the colonies.
This pamphlet, and my edition in particular, as a fine addition to any patriot’s library, and it’s perfect for any American history buff.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1753 (This edition printed in 1959)
Date Finished: 7-28-2016
Pages: 28

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi

Synopsis: The American Revolution has not yet begun in earnest, but already there are signs of rebellion in the Emerson household. Brought up in a relatively liberal home, Jemima Emerson is quite a challenge for her tutor, John Reid, who is known as a Tory with strong ties to England. How can Jen’s parents be friends with a man who opposes American liberty? Jem longs for freedom within her home and throughout her homeland, and John Reid represents the forces that restrict her. Jem and her family soon find themselves join the revolution in whatever ways they can. Before long, Jem discovers that there is much more to John Reid than she ever imagined. (from the back of the book)

Review: Outspoken and head-strong, Jemima "Jem" Emerson is caught at the edge of the great events that shaped our America. With her refined sister is married to a British captain, her tutor a hated Tory, her older brother an officer in the Continental Army, and her youngest brother burning to fight the British, Jem's family struggles to navigate the turbulent storms at the beginning of the American War of Independence. Jem herself is caught between childhood and womanhood - forced to relinquish her wild ways, to learn, to grow, to leave her sheltered life and move into her place in the world. She does that with honesty, courage, naivety, and no small amount of sass - which makes her an endearing character. The contrast of her character with that of her sister, her Quaker friend, and her tutor create a tension in the story that adds nicely to a fast-paced plot and excellent twists.
The story remains accurate to the history of the early war. Taking place in Trenton, where several major battles took place, Jem survives these, but not without cost. As she confronts canon fire, occupying British officers, prejudice, and love, she learns about herself and the cost of becoming an adult.
The main theme of the book is courage, and the hard lesson that doing the right thing doesn't always lead to happiness. Sometimes, it leads to pain and loss. But we should always have the courage to do the right thing, even knowing what it will cost us. Jem learns this from watching those around her sacrifice, and when the time comes for her to make that choice, she does so, even with a trembling heart.
I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in Young Adult or Historical Fiction. This would be a good book for middle-school children, as there are a plethora of topics for discussion in the story. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Award: None

ISBN: 0-440-22850-6
Year Published: 1986
Date Finished: 7-28-2016
Pages: 249

Friday, August 5, 2016

Review: Under God by TobyMac and Michael Tait

Synopsis: In the same uncompromising style of Jesus Freaks, bestselling authors Michael Tait and TobyMac of dc Talk now urge readers to take their stand for America's future--by examining our past. Using unforgettable accounts of both famous and little-known Americans, Under God examines the stories of men and women who forged our nation. Against these, they pair the dark side of America's legacy--racism, slavery, injustice--in order that a new generation might seek God's face and avoid repeating sins of the past. The authors draw on the resources of WallBuilders, a national organization that distributes historical, legal, and statistical information and helps citizens become active in their communities. (from the online description)

Review: Arranged in short non-fiction stories, this book covers many events and people from the beginning of American history to modern times. Each story emphasizes the faith in God of the people involved, and the choice they made to honor God, no matter the cost. Many of these stories do not have happy endings. People died for their beliefs. People lost everything when they stood up for what was right.
The stories are not arranged chronologically, which can be distracting. Also, the focus was heavily on slavery and the civil rights movement. While this was not a bad thing, I had hoped for a more inclusive book. For example, few-to-none of the stories spoke about WWI or WWII, about the sciences and arts, about the Cold War or Prohibition or Women's Rights.  I understand they could not include ever good story. But there was a lack of balance.
That being said, this is an excellent book - one might even use it as a devotional discussion or the starting point for a history lesson. I highly recommend for use at home or at school. 

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN 0-7642-0008-9
Year Published: 2004
Date Finished: 7-22-2016
Pages: 384

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: A People's History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael (People's History Series by Howard Zinn)

Synopsis: A sweeping narrative of the wartime experience, A People's History of the American Revolution is the first book to view the revolution through the eyes of common folk. Their stories have long been overlooked in the mythic telling of America's founding, but are crucial to a comprehensive understanding of the fight for independence. Now, the experiences of farmers, laborers, rank and file soldiers, women, Native Americans, and African Americans -- found in diaries, letters, memoirs and other long-ignored primary sources -- create a gritty account of rebellion, filled with ideals and outrage, loss, sacrifice, and sometimes scurrilous acts...but always ringing with truth. (from the back of the book)

Review: Written in easy-to-understand prose, with moderate vocabulary and captivating historic vignettes, this is a the perfect book for an introduction to the how the American Revolution affected the common people. This includes the more marginalized groups, like Women, Native Americans and African Americans. An excellent starting point for delving deeper into the struggles of the masses during the war. The book includes a plethora of quotes from first and secondary sources, and facts abound. Sometimes, the prose gets bogged down in those facts and quotes, but they help assure the reader of the through research Raphael did for this work. It is important to remember that even this is, again, only part of the story. Granted it is a side not often told, and that alone makes it worth reading, but often the choices made by those in charge make no sense to those following order. This doesn't excuse the out-come, but it behooves us to remember to read and study all sides while forming an opinion. That being said, this book is an excellent addition to a library about the American Revolution.  

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-06-000440-1
Year Published: 2001
Date Finished: 7-21-2016
Pages: 506

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot

Synopsis: The Poems that inspired the musical CATS by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Review: Whimsical and silly, deep and delightful - Elliot's poems about cats are just purrfect! Enjoyable by all ages, but I think kids would fine particular amusement in these jaunty rhymes. My particular edition is illustrated by the talented Edward Gorey.

Bookmarks: 8 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-15-668570-0
Year Published: 1939
Date Finished: 7-20-2016
Pages: 59

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Review: My Beloved: Classic Messages of Love ed. by Edward Lewis and Robert Myers

Synopsis: Containing poetry and letters of love from famous people to their beloved, this is a small, intimate collection of messages of love. The messages range from those written by Abelard (1079-1142) to those written by John Jay Chapman (1862-1933). All authors are Western.

Review: This collection is neither bad nor good. It's contains many moving passages - not surprising given the authors - but seems repetitive at points. Several writers are even repeated! Give the excessive writings on love the human race has produced, there is no reason to ever repeat an author. There is little to no organization, either by theme or country or year. This is not a book for study or exposure, more suited to a toke of love to a sweetheart one might wish to impress.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

Year Published: 1967
Date Finished: 7-19-2016
Pages: 62

Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Victorian Preserves, Pickles, and Relishes: Authentic Treats, Recipes, and Customs from America's Bygone Era by Allison Kyle Leopold

Synopsis: A collection of vintage recipes, with helpful hints, bits of lore and history, and lots of pictures.

Review: This isn't a recipe book. It seems like it should be and it does contain recipes, but it's more for fun reading on the side and not actual cooking. You could follow the recipes if you wanted, but there are not as many as you'd think and several have not be translated into modern measurements and so would be difficult to reproduce.  It's also part of Leopold's Victorian Cupboard series, which gets moderate reviews. If you are a die-hard enthusiast of Victorian, this is probably for you - but anyone else - skip and get a real book on canning. You can look up the historical bits on Google.

Bookmarks: 6 of 10

Awards: None

ISBN: 0-517-58315-1
Year Published: 1992
Date Finished: 7-18-2016
Pages: 44