06 July 2015

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle StevensonSometimes I'm hesitant to read a book that everyone else loves because I'm worried my expectations will be too high. But I'm glad I didn't put off Noelle Stevenson's Nimona; it's a fun read with a tough, impulsive heroine,; good humor, and terrific art.

What's it about: Nimona shows up at the headquarters of the realm's infamous villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart, offering to become his sidekick. Blackheart is understandably unenthusiastic: not only has he been fine all these years by himself but he wonders how a teenage girl could possibly help him finally defeat his lifelong nemesis, the hero Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. As it turns out, Nimona is a game changer in the fight between good and evil.

What's it really about: This smart, funny comic starts out as a kind of mashup of common superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi stories. We have an academy that trains knights, complete with jousting. We have a hero-villain pair with a complicated history. And we have Nimona, who quickly reveals that she's actually a powerful shapeshifter. Oh and don't forget the futuristic technology (computers, weapons). After a relatively light beginning, the story evolves into something darker and more thoughtful. The big question is, Who or what is in need of being saved?

Themes: friendship, good vs. evil, breaking rules

What surprised me: The complexity of the characters. Nimona, Blackheart, and Goldenloin are introduced as stereotypical characters in a familiar story line, but Stevenson adds layers to their personalities and histories, allowing us to see them in new ways. I was expecting light and fun and got so much more.

The Art: I loved the contrast between the angularity of the character's faces and the rounder shapes of their bodies (click on the cover to get an idea of what I'm trying to say). The colors are vivid and the panels have just enough detail to give us a good feel for the action and emotions. The facial expressions are simple but telling.

Things to know: Nimona started out as an art project, which eventually became a web comic. Noelle Stevenson has won several awards for her work.

Who should read this: Um, everyone? Seriously, if you're at all inclined to read comics, you'll probably love this book. I'm not sure why Nimona was published under the Harper Teen imprint because there is nothing particularly young adult about the story. Noelle Stevenson's Nimona breaks new ground with a fresh look at a seemingly familiar story.

Published by HarperCollins / HarperTeen, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062278234
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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04 July 2015

Weekend Cooking: Sour Cherry Pie

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

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copyright cbl for www.BethFishReads.comHappy July 4 to all my American friends. Because it's the holiday and because sour cherries appeared at my local farmers market this week, I thought I'd share my recipe for a wonderful summer treat: sour cherry pie.

This recipe has been in my files for years, and I no longer remember its origins. The pie has just the right balance of sweet and tart for our tastes, and I think the almond extract is a brilliant addition.

Now where's that vanilla ice cream?

Sour Cherry Pie (from the files of Beth Fish Reads)
1 nine-inch pie
    copyright cbl for Beth Fish Reads
  • 1 double pie crust
  • 5 cups pitted sour cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 splash of almond extract
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the bottom of the pie pan with one crust. Note: You can blind bake the bottom crust if you're worried about sogginess, but I usually skip this step.

In a large bowl, combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and almond extract. Gently mix until the cherries are coated and the sugar and cornstarch look like they're beginning to dissolve. Put the cherries (and juices) into the crust-lined pie pan.

Cover the top of the pie with the second crust, crimping the edges to seal. Cut a few slits in the top crust to let the steam out. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the crust is brown and the filling is bubbling.

Let cool completely on a rack before cutting.

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02 July 2015

8 Books to Satisfy the Nonfiction Reader in You

The other day I was chatting with friends on Twitter about reading nonfiction and was encouraged and inspired by them to write about true stories that I've read and/or that have caught my attention. Here then is roundup of eight nonfiction reads picked at random from my shelves. Look for more suggestions in the coming weeks.

Science and Medicine

Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean; The Nurses by Alexandra RobbinsMargaret Lazarus Dean's Leaving Orbit (Graywolf, 9781555977092, May 2015): This award-wining account of the end of the American Dream in space is both well researched and very personal. If you're too young to remember the first manned space program or weren't yet born when we first stepped foot on the moon, it's hard to convey the collective excitement and interest Americans had for NASA and space travel. Dean brings those feelings alive in Leaving Orbit, detailing a variety aspects of the U.S. space program, from the vehicles to the funding issues to the personalities. I agree with the Kirkus reviewer who predicts that you won't be able to stop reading.

Alexandra Robbins's The Nurses (Workman, 9780761171713, April 2015): This book-length piece of investigative journalism looks at the women and men who become our anchors when we're at our worst. Robbins followed four RNs for a year, shedding light on the truth of what it's like to be a nurse. These important healthcare providers are caught between patients and doctors and between policy and compassion, working long hours under enormous pressure. But The Nurses isn't just a song to the profession, it's an insiders' look at the way hospitals really work. Be prepared to be both shocked and awed.

Manners and Secrets

Sorry! by Henry Hitchings, Members Only by Julie TibbottHenry Hitchings's Sorry! (Picador, 9781250056153, December 2014): One of the many things I learned when I lived (briefly) in the UK was that despite our historical connections, social norms in England are not necessarily the same as they are in the States. I haven't read this one yet, but the publisher's summary caught my attention: "Sorry! presents an amusing, illuminating, and quirky audit of English manners." Hitchings uses a "blend of history, anthropology, and personal journey [to help] us understand the bizarre and contested cultural baggage" of what passes as good manners. Looks good, eh?

Julie Tibbott's Members Only (Zest Books, 9781936976522, February 2015): This is a fun and informative look at all things secret society. Ever want to better understand the Knights Templar, wish you knew what it really means to be a Freemason, curious about cults, or how about getting a peek inside the famous Magic Castle in L.A.? I loved learning the meaning behind various familiar symbols, the requirements to join exclusive clubs, and some of the associated stories and scandals. This was great fun to read.

Spies and the Mafia

The Wolf and the Watchman by Scott C. Johnson; Gotti's Rules by George AnastasiaScott C. Johnson's The Wolf and the Watchman (Norton, 9780393349436, May 2014): I'm not at all sure why I haven't read this yet because it sounds amazing. Johnson writes about what it was like to be the son of a real-life CIA spy. Here's what I've learned about Johnson's book: Although being the son of a spy sounds kind of glamorous, the reality is that your father makes his living by hiding the truth and manipulating situations to gain knowledge and data. In reaction, Johnson grew up to be a foreign correspondent, making his living uncovering the truth about wars and other global situations. Johnson writes about the tensions and reconciliations that colored his relationship with his father, especially when their careers were at cross-purposes.

George Anastasia's Gotti's Rules (Dey Street, 9780062346872, January 2015): What is it about the American Mafia that fascinates us? We can't seem to get enough movies, books, and TV shows about the mob. Anastasia takes a look at the Gotti family and the code they lived by to run the infamous Gambino syndicate. Using firsthand accounts, insiders' information, interviews, and FBI files, Anastasia unveils the truth behind the legend. It's probably no surprise that the Mafia code is less about honor and more about power and greed, but the details of the crimes and violence and of the behavior of the bosses are fascinating and startling.

History and Mystery

Napoleon by Andrew Roberts; American Ghost by Hannah NordhausAndrew Roberts's Napoleon (Viking, 9780670025329, November 2014): Biography is one of my all-time favorite genres, especially when as well-written as is this account of the famous general. Although other biographies exist, Roberts's is the first to have been based not only on historical accounts but also on the tens of thousands of surviving letters from Napoleon himself. This is an amazingly accessible and utterly fascinating story of a man who has often been misrepresented and misunderstood. He was smart and curious, loved art, and ran an army and empire while trying to stay true to his vision and hold off his detractors. From Napoleon's birth to his political rise and fall, you'll be glued to the pages.

Hannah Nordhaus's American Ghost (Harper, 9780062249210, March 2015): True confession: I'm never going to read this book! I'm pretty much a wimp when it comes to ghosts, and this true story is probably a little too creepy for me. My husband, however, is looking forward to American Ghost and will give me the scoop when he finishes reading about the author's great-great-grandmother and the reports of her haunting of a present-day Santa Fe hotel, which used to be her home in the 1800s. To determine the veracity of the stories, Nordhaus studied her family history and the pioneer life as well as twenty-first-century psychics and ghost hunters. Will Nordhaus's investigation prove the existence of the ghost? I'm waiting for somebody to tell me.

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01 July 2015

Wordless Wednesday 348

Into the Woods, 2015


Click image to see it full size. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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30 June 2015

Today's Read: When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord

When We Were Animals by Joshua GaylordSuppose your town had a dark, secret rite-of-passage for all adolescents. Could you keep your promise to refuse to participate? For Lumen, things became complicated. Years later, living in another place and using another name, she tells us what she remembers.

For a long time, when I was a girl, I was a very good girl.

You should have known me then. You would have liked me. Shy, undergrown, good in school, eager to please. At the diner table, especially when my father and I went visiting, I didn't eat before others, and I sometimes went without salt because I was too timid to ask anyone to pass it. . . .

I did all my homework. I ate celery sticks as a snack. I went to bed early and knew that the shrieking outside my window had nothing to do with me at all.
When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord (Hachette Book Group / Mulholland Books, 2015, p. 1)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: rural middle America, modern times
  • Circumstances: Years after Lumen has moved away from home, she lives a conventional life, overprotecting her son, just like she's supposed to. But memories of her youth bubble up, and she wonders how the teen she was became the unremarkable wife and mother she is now.
  • Characters: Lumen/Ann (young & old); people from her childhood: father, friends, neighbors; people from now: husband, son, friends
  • Genre: coming-of-age with Gothic and thriller elements
  • Themes: secrets, family, social pressures, escaping one's past, self-discovery, marriage, love
  • Words & thoughts from reviews: dark, fascinating, emotional, Gothic, different, a story of how childhood experiences shape adult perceptions, well written, couldn't stop reading
  • My thoughts: I haven't read more than a few pages, but I'm intrigued by both Lumen's past and her present.

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Copyright

All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2015. All rights reserved.

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