Tuesday, November 28, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards by Kevin Major

Illustrated by Bruce Roberts
2005, A Groundwood Book, House of Anansi Press, Toronto & Berkeley
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 3.91 - 22 ratings
My rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Red striped background with collage of antique Christmas postcards
Illustrations:  Facsimiles of oodles and oodles of vintage postcards.  Drawings of Aunt Olga and the little girl look like pen and ink and watercolors.

1st line/s:  "Great-great Aunt Olga is ninety-five.  She calls herself a nonagenarian!  We all think the world of her."

My comments:  This is a wonderfully special book for me.  It's about Christmas and poetry and aging and familial grandparent-type/child relationship.  Its about memories and art and poems that both rhyme and don't rhyme.  There's quite a bit of text, but not so much that snuggling with a child older than a toddler and a gingerbread cookie wouldn't remedy!
Goodreads:  Anna’s great-aunt Olga has collected Christmas postcards all her life. She’s ninety-five, and many of the cards are very old. The holidays are the perfect time for Aunt Olga to share her postcards and her memories with her favorite niece. Decked out in red, Aunt Olga is ready for fun as she teaches Anna how to write her very own Christmas rhymes. Written with warmth and humor, this lovely story is a perfect starting point for discussions of the “olden days”, as well as a charming introduction to the joys of collecting.

Monday, November 20, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett

Illustrated by the author
2009 in England
2010 US McMillan Children's
HC $17.99
Goodreads rating:  4.24 - 760 ratings
My rating: 5 - This is going to be along-time favorite, I love it!
Back cover:  “The Rabbit Problem:  This book is based on a problem that was solved in the 13th Century by the Mathematician Fibonacci, but it is NOT (I repeat NOT) and book about math.  It is a book about rabbits… Lots of rabbits!”

My comments:  First of all, the book is made so you can SEE how it’s made, you can see the ¾-inch long stitches, you can see the four signatures, you can take a look at the spine and see how the book is put together.  For me, that’s cool.  Secondly, the book is made like a calendar.  Once you open to the first page you have to rotate the book and read it vertically.  There are even holes punched all the way through the book (including the cover) so that it could hang like a real calendar.  And then the cleverness starts.  So thirdly, each double-page spread has a small “something” attached that you have to read (and totally enjoy!) before you turn the page.  And fourthly (spoiler alert!!!):  the last two pages are a magnificent pop-up.
          An invitation; knitting directions; Bunny’s baby book; The Ministry of Carrots RATION BOOK (all filled in); “The Fibber”, Fibonacci Field’s only local newspaper; and the Carrot Cookbook are all totally delightful and hysterical.  Read every work, these are a riot.  Actually, the entire book is a riot.  Perfect for older kids and even adults for a good ha-ha-ha.
          And Fibonacci’s Principle is fully discovered, disclosed, and discussed.  There’s even a math problem involved if one desires to try to figure it out (I do!).  Every page bears details to delight one and all, so look carefully everywhere, and take your time.  What a treat!  Hugely recommended.

Goodreads:  Hop along to the Field and follow Lonely and Chalk Rabbit through a year as they try to cope with their fast expanding brood and handle a different seasonal challenge each month, from the cold of February to the wet of April and the heat of July.

PICTURE BOOK - The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling by Allison Inches

2009, Little Simon (Little Green Books)
3.99 in paper
24 pgs.
Goodreads rating:  4.11 - 83 ratings
My rating: 4
There looks like there's another book called The Adventures of an Aluminum Can that is published by the same publisher.

My comments:       This story is told in diary form, from the point-of-view of crude oil flowing at the very bottom of the ocean.  He’s pumped onto a ship, then to a refinery, made into small plastic bits, then molded into a water bottle.  After the bottling plant he’s purchased by a boy who, after guzzling the water, refills it and gives it to his mom with a flower.  After it’s done its duty as a vase, they recycle it and it’s sent to another place where he’s boiled down, made into spaghettis of plastic, then into a synthetic fleece sweatshirt that astronauts wear.
      There’s no mention of how long plastic takes to break down, which would have been another interesting aspect of the story.  But for a discussion about recycling, this would be a great introductory story.

Goodreads:  Learn about recycling from a new perspective!  Peek into this diary of a plastic bottle as it goes on a journey from the refinery plant, to the manufacturing line, to the store shelf, to a garbage can, and finally to a recycling plant where it emerges into it's new life...as a fleece jacket! 
          Told from the point of view of a free-spirited plastic bottle, kids can share in the daily experiences and inner thoughts of the bottle through his personal journal. The diary entries will be fun and humorous yet point out the ecological significance behind each product and the resources used to make it. Readers will never look at a plastic bottle the same way again!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - Me and you and the Red Canoe by Jean E. Pendziwol

Illustrated by Phil
2017 Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, Toronto
HC $18.95
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating:  3.83 - 82 ratings
My rating:  5
Endpapers:  Solid Red
Illustrations are acrylic on wood paneling!  Very cool
1st line/s:
"I woke before the sun was up,
before the moon closed its eyes,
before the stars twinkled out,
when the whole world was just thinking
about the new day,
and everything was
purple and magical."

My comments:  Although I'm not a fisherperson - and it doesn't interest me at all - and this book is about going out onto a lake fishing, I still consider the book a work of art, both in words and illustration.  It's written in verse form, and would be a wonderful sample of free verse to share with a tween or teen.  Gorgeous writing.  The illustrations are really, really beautiful, there's no white, and even the page of text has a background paint-y collage that's lovely. I love that the illustrator is "Phil."  No surname.  Both author and illustrator are Canadians. Highly recommended.

Goodreads:  In the stillness of a summer dawn, two siblings leave their campsite with fishing rods, tackle and bait, and push a red canoe into the lake. A perfect morning on the water unfolds, with thrilling glimpses of wildlife along the way.
          The narrator describes the experience vividly. Trailing a lure through the blue-green depths, the siblings paddle around a point, spotting a moose in the shallows, a beaver swimming towards its home and an eagle returning to its nest. Suddenly there is a sharp tug and the rod bends to meet the water. A few heart-stopping moments later, the pair pull a silvery trout from the water, then paddle back to the campsite to fry up a delicious breakfast.
          The poetic text is accompanied by stunningly beautiful paintings rendered on wood panels that give a nostalgic feeling to the story.

PICTURE BOOK - Finding Christmas by Lezlie Evans

Illustrated by Yee Von Chan
2017 Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago
HC $16.99
Simpson Library
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating:  3.75 - 24 ratings
My rating: 3
Endpapers:  a medium solid evergreen color
Illustrations are very sweet.  The entire book is sweet. 
1st line/s:  The Little Burrow was nearly ready for Christmas.  Hare sang as he decorated the tree, Squirrel sprinkled sugar on the hazelnut cookies, and Mouse scurried out the door."

My comments:  This was a quiet, sweet story of three friends who share a home.  It's about sharing, and doing for others, and a little bit about procrastination, to tell the truth!  I'm not super big on anthropomorphism, so my rating may be a little slanted.  It really is a sweet story, and the illustrations are very nice.  There's lots and lots of white space on the pages, which is also a bit of a turn-off for me, but I did enjoy it.  Recommended.

Goodreads:  Squirrel, Mouse, and Hare are getting ready for Christmas. While Mouse is out looking for the perfect gift for Hare, she finds Swallow sick in the snow. The three friends bring Swallow home and try to nurse the bird back to health. Squirrel and Mouse realize their Christmas gifts will help Swallow get well. As they give up their presents to help Swallow, they find the Christmas spirit.

PICTURE BOOK - Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Illustrated by Jarvis
2017, Candlewick Press
HC $16.99
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 4.1 - 70 ratings
My rating:  4
Endpapers"  Small, simple snowflakes on lt aqua background
Illustrations:  Chalk, pencil, paint (and colored digitally, whatever that means)
1st verse:
"Pick a pine tree
from the lot ---
slim and tall
or short and squat.
One with spiky needle clumps,
scaly bark, or sappy bumps."

My comments:  Full of rhyme and rhythm, this buying-and-decorating-the-tree poem should be shared with kids just before they either go out to purchase a tree or lug the fake one down from the attic.  It'll get thim "in the mood."  Be sure to examine the illustrations well, there are lots of little things going on to notice.

Goodreads:  A festive read-aloud brimming with all the joy and excitement of Christmastime -- beginning, of course, with picking out a tree! 
Part of the magic of the Christmas season stems from the traditions that families and friends take part in every year: hanging up stockings; putting lights in the windows; and, one of the most important of all, picking out and taking home the Christmas tree. With style and warmth, debut author Patricia Toht and Jarvis, the author-illustrator of Alan's Big, Scary Teeth, evoke all the rituals of decorating the tree -- digging out boxes jam-packed with ornaments and tree trimmings, stringing tinsel, and, at long last, turning on those twinkling lights. Joyously drawn and rhythmically written, this celebration of family, friends, and the holiday season is as merry as the tradition it depicts. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MOVIE - Murder on the Orient Express

PG-13 (1:54)
Wide/Limited release
Viewed sometime around 11/15/17
RT Critic:  58  Audience:  54
Critic's Consensus:  Stylish production and an all-star ensemble keep this Murder on the Orient Express from running off the rails, even if it never quite builds up to its classic predecessor's illustrious head of steam.
Cag:  4.5
Directed by  Kenneth Branagh
Studio 20th Century Fox
Based on the book by Agatha Christie

Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench

My comments:  An excellent whodunit with an even more stellar cast.  I've never read this famous Agatha Christie novel, so it was really cool that I had no idea who the murderer was!  The locales and the cinematography was spectacular, as well as Kenneth Branagh's Hercule Poiret's amazing mustache!

RT/ IMDb Summary:  What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best-selling author Agatha Christie, "Murder on the Orient Express" tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone's a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again. Kenneth Branagh directs and leads an all-star cast including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

66. A Hard Man to Forget: The Jack Reacher Files by Dan Ames

Jack Reacher Cases #1  (Though it's marked #3 on Goodreads, I'm pretty sure this one is the first one.)
read on my iPhone
2017 Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
200 pgs.
Adult Mystery
Finished 11/14/2017
Goodreads rating: 3.86 - 499 reviews
My rating: 3

First line/s:  "The two men with guns walked behind the man carrying the shovel."

My comments:  I never really became engaged with this story, not even sure who the actual protagonist was until near the end, since the story jumped around from one setting to another.  It kept my interest, but I would have liked to have been pulled into the story more.  I was merely an observer for this one.

Goodreads synopsis: Book One in THE JACK REACHER CASES.
          Former FBI agent Lauren Pauling met Jack Reacher in THE HARD WAY, the 10th Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child.
          Now, in A HARD MAN TO FORGET, Pauling is a private investigator in New York and receives a mysterious letter with Jack Reacher's name, along with a phone number. Pauling calls the number and reaches a woman whose husband has gone missing.
          Even stranger, the woman claims she didn't contact Pauling, and has no idea who Jack Reacher is.
          Intrigued, begins to investigate and when the woman becomes the target of the same men who may have abducted her husband, Pauling recruits Michael Tallon, a former special ops soldier.
          Pauling and Tallon quickly realize they're dealing with much more than a missing persons case, and soon they're in a deadly race to stop a terrifying act of mass murder.

Monday, November 13, 2017

65. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

listened to on Audible
2017, Scribner
336 pgs.
Adult Mystery
Finished 11/13/17
Goodreads rating: 3.81 - 7705 ratings
My rating: 4.5
Setting: Contemporary Denver

First line/s:  "Lydia heard the first flap of paper wings as the first book fell from its shelf."

My comments: A couple of friends of GoodReads liked this book, so I thought I'd give it a try.  The story slowly pulled e in.  Took me awhile to get into it, but once I did I didn't want to put it down.  I really like the way it was written, it reminded me of gently folding a dry ingredient into a wet one when baking.  It had many, many layers to it, especially a well-flushed-out cast of characters.  The setting, Denver, Colorado, is almost like one of the characters.  As the tragic story unfolds, one gets a strong feeling about which way it's headed, but there are still many surprises, twists, and turns.  This is not a police procedural or any sort of murder mystery.  It's a solid psychological mystery and I very much recommend it.

Goodreads synopsis: “Sullivan’s debut is a page-turner featuring a heroine bookseller who solves a cold case with clues from books—what is not to love?” —Nina George, author of The Little French Bistro, and the New York Times bestselling The Little Paris Bookshop
          When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind in this fiendishly clever debut novel from an award-winning short story writer.
          Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.
          But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?
          As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Her distant father returns to the fold, along with an obsessive local cop, and the Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and, as she soon discovers, never completely left. Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very last page.​

Sunday, November 12, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - Robert's Snow by Grace Lin

Illustrated by the author
2004, Viking (OP, currently available used)
Bosler Library
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating:  4.02 - 51 ratings
My rating:  5
Endpapers:  Page divided into nine squares, set up like a tic-tac-toes board, large snowflakes ans the "tic" and numerous smaller snowflakes as the "tac."  Pale, pale blue and white.
Illustrations:  Most double page spreads have at least one, full-page edge-to-edge illustrations, very fun illustrations at that.
1st line/s:  "Robert and his family lived in a house that lookes a bit like a shoe.  Really it was a boot, but Grandpa had made a lot of changes to it."

My commentsRobert loves the snow.  I don’t.  So with trepidation, I began reading this book.  It’s adorable and clever, and I got a brainstorm about a great activity that could go along with it that I think kids would love.  Robert and his very extended mouse family live in an old shoe that is falling apart.  When winter comes, to be warm and safe, they barricade themselves inside.  Their rooms are snug and tidy.  They use pill bottles and loose change, bottle caps and dice, toothpicks and empty spools, alphabet blocks and tiny pieces of fabric, postage stamps and tiny boxes, corks and buttons.. They eat jelly beans and nuts.  The story, although mostly about winter weather, includes a tiny, very clever bit about Santa, but I wouldn’t consider this a Christmas book, particularly, though it includes the idea of giving to others.  And after the reading aloud (some pages have a bit more text than others, but the book shouldn’t take too very long to read), kids could each be given a small box, a variety of “found items,” and create their own cozy little homes for mice.  Oh, what fun.

Goodreads:  "Too much snow," Grandpa Mouse grumbles.
"Snow is just trouble," scoffs Aunt Vicky.
"Small animals like us," Mum says, "don't like snow."

But Robert, the smallest mouse, knows he likes snow, even though he's never touched it. When he finally gets his wish to go outside and play in it, Robert is overjoyed. Snow is wonderful! That is, until he can't find his way home. Is there anyone who can help him? There is, and even though little Robert doesn't recognize his rescuer, readers will--because it's . . . Santa!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Kitchen Shoppe Experience

Well, I was gifted an evening at the Kitchen Shoppe in Carlisle tonight.  I'd never heard of it.  First of all, without the "event," this is a wonderful, top-of-the line kitchen shop, with loads and loads to drool over (I miss Tucumcookery in Tubac).  After the meal/demo/entertainment the shop was open to check out.  And buy, of course.  With a 10% discount on anything.

"Under the Sea 4-Wine Flight Food and Wine Pairing Dinner" with Chef James Lupia was the calling card.  We were seated at three long, family-style tables in a smallish room with a huge , raised demonstration area that included bent mirrors on the ceiling and a TV over the stovetop so that you could see a little better.  There were about 50 people there, and it was pretty squished.  My back was partially to the chef, and I had to turn in my chair quite a bit to see what was going on.  There was a group of five women sitting beside us that talked throughout the entire time, drowning out much of what the chef and the wine expert had to say, which was quite disappointing and not to say a little frustrating.  Oh well.

I learned a few little tricks and new ideas, but for the most part, although Chef James was fun and interesting to listen to, he expected everyone to know what he was talking about (he knew many people attending were returnees) so he did quite a bit with no explanation, which was a little disconcerting.  We WERE given the recipes, and pens were provided so we could take notes, although there wasn't much room on the table to do so. 

I wish I'd taken more photos, the one I do have was taken by my hostess of the evening, my friend Claudia.  It was her birthday, and I didn't even know it until halfway through the evening.  That, too, was a bit disappointing.

First course:  Orange-Tossed Crab Bruschetta with Red Onion and Tomato Pesto on Grilled Sourdough.
          The bread was soggy and limp, needed to be cooked for a much longer time.  The topping was very tasty, but you had to eat this with a knife and fork because said topping was really crumbly and kept falling off the bread.  I wonder what you could add to hold it all together a little more?

Second course:  Triple Brie Shrimp, Crab, & Bay Scallop Chowder
          This was my favorite of the evening.  It was perfect.  I was afraid I wouldn't like all the Brie that was added, but the tastes at the end were perfect.  It came out much thinner than I'd expected, which was a good thing.  Yummy.

Third course part one:  Shrimp Risotto Primavera with Sundried Tomatoes
          What a lot of work it is to make risotto!  Stirring nonstop for 20 minutes sure doesn't do it for me, although it was tasty.  I would've liked more primavera....not enough veggies, too much rice.

Third course part tow:  Parmesan & Garlic-Tossed Oven-Roasted Asparagus
          Too much Parmesan for me, scads of it.  The asparagus was really tasty, I'm sure in part because of the garlic.

Third course part three, the main course:  Crab-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Sauce Mornay
          I learned how to stuff a chicken breast after slicing it horizontally.  I watched him make a roux, and turn it into a sauce.  Good things.  They cooked the chicken downstairs in a big oven and then brought it up.  It was too dry, not enough stuffing, and cool in the middle.  However, I learned a lot for this course, and think I'd like to try something similar. 

Fourth course/dessert course:  Grand Marnier Chocolate Macadamia Nut Brownies with Milk Chocolate Frosting & Vanilla Ice Cream
          Nice, really nice.  The Frosting was to-die-for yummy, thick, creamy and chocolaty.  Fairly easy to make, too.  I don't enjoy nuts in food, and the macadamia nuts in the brownies didn't change that for me.  The brownie would have been extra-yummy without them.  The small scoop of vanilla ice cream was perfect and accompanied the brownie perfectly.

I'd sure love to have a mini-dinner party!

Each course was paired with a reasonably-priced wine. 
The first, was Quinta de Chocapalha Arinto Branco Lisboa 2014 ($13.99). This white wine I found very citrusy and acidic.  I only took a couple of sips.

Wine #2 was Fiuza Alvarinho Portugal 2015 ($14.99) The second of three white wines, this was good, and dry.  Since I'm not a dry-wine lover it too, several sips to accommodate my palate, but I was delighted to finish the glass.

Wine #3 was Semeli Feast White 2016 ($12.99)  With my limited taste, I found this very similar to wine #2, and enjoyed it.  A bit drier than I like, I had no problem finishing the glass.

Wine #4 was a red:  Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne of Patras ($11.99) a desert wine, reminded me of what I THINK port or sherry would taste like.  It's dry but a shot of sweetness accompanies every sip.  Ater three good sips I decided I didn't really care for it.  I've never really overly enjoyed red wines, but I'll keep trying!

It's a bit expensive, but add in the entertainment and wine and it's worth it.  Would I go again?  Yes, just for the experience.  Maybe it would encourage me to cook a little more, because I've thought a lot about how I could change the recipes to accommodate my likes and dislikes, which was fun.  And I LOVE kitchen gadgets...and my current kitchen, although tiny, is much more amenable to cooking that any of my previous kitchens!

The Kitchen Shoppe and Cooking School
101 Shady Lane
Carlisle, PA   17013
And you can sign up online....