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26 April 2017
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24 April 2017
Spring has definitely sprung in central Pennsylvania! Thanks to a changing climate, everything is blooming at the same moment: forsythia, tulips, forget-me-nots, lilacs, maple trees, serviceberry, fruit trees -- you name it, it's in flower. While it makes for a lovely yard, my eyes are itching, and I've been sneezing. Ugh.
In better news, We've been getting the deck set up, where we spend the bulk of our time in the summer, although I'm waiting a couple more weeks before buying plants for sprucing up the outdoor space. Nothing better than catching a few minutes of sunshine right out my kitchen door.
- The Crown Tower by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit Books): As you know by now, I'm a huge Michael J. Sullivan fan and I've been working my way through his novels, which all take place in the same universe. The Crown Tower is the first book in the second series, The Riyria Chronicles, which takes us back in time and fills us in on how our heroes first meet. The books can be read in order of publication (my choice) or in chronological order -- either way, you'll fall in love with Hadrian and Royce, the fighter and the thief who experienced hate at first sight but later became the best of friends. As you can expect in these epic fantasies, the book is full of intrigue, action, fantastic characters, good humor, and multiple plot lines. Stay tuned for more. Audiobook: Thank the gods that Tim Gerard Reynolds returned to narrate this book. He is perfect for Sullivan's novels. (Recorded Books: 12 hr, 49 min)
- Edgar & Lucy by Victor Lodato (St. Martin's Press): An 8-year-old boy, his young widowed mother, and his protective grandmother each fight their own inner demons. I can tell this novel is likely deserving of all the buzz it's been getting, even though I'm not really connecting to any of the characters, who -- by the way -- barely connect with each other. Unfortunately, I started the book on audio, which is read by the author. I'm only a couple of hours in and am at that point where I have to decide to continue to listen to the author's choppy, clipped, annoying narration or ditch the audiobook and pick this up in print. (Macmillan Audio, 19 hr, 52 min)
- On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): This novel was just what I needed. I loved getting to know Faith Frankel and her family and friends. The dialogue is snappy, the characters are the good kind of quirky, and the plot moves along at a nice pace. So what if Faith's new house may have once been the scene of multiple murders, so what if her fiance turns out to be a jerk, so what if her new boss wrongly accuses her of embezzling, Faith's family and handsome co-worker are there to see her through. I've never read Lipman before, but I'm adding her to my list. Side note: good portrayal of modern Jewish families. Audiobook: Mia Barron picks up on the soul of this novel and does an excellent job bringing the book to life. Solid characterizations and great timing for delivering the humor. (Dreamscape Media; 9 hr, 10 min).
- Looking for a fun college graduation gift? Just want to do some light soul searching? Give Cristina Vanko's ADULT-ish a try (TarcherPerigee). The book is a guided journal for, as the subtitle says, recording "your highs and lows on the road to the real world." some pages ask for lists (music to help you focus on work), some pages are for drawing (sketch of your dream house), and some pages are for self-reflection (describing a success or failure). Although everyone can benefit from journaling, this book would be perfect for twenty-somethings in their early years of independence.
- Shannon Hale's Real Friends (First Second) is an autobiographical comic illustrated by LeUyen Pham. This book totally nails elementary school friendships. Girls can be so hard on each other. Hale's experiences are common to most girls in America, at least in the last century: always a struggle to be popular, kind, true to yourself, and independent all at the same time. Who are your real friends? Is it worth being in the cool group if you're constantly worried about kicking out of it? Lots to think about in this book, and I bet it'd make a great book club pick for young readers. Pham's illustrations are expressive and move the book along both in action and in emotion. Recommended for women and girls of all ages.
Next week is the 98th annual Children's Book Week, and in celebration, I have several middle grade round-ups, features, and reviews planned for later this week and most of next week. Children's book week celebrates all kinds of children's books, from picture and board books to books geared to young adult readers. For more information on the event and how to get involved, visit the Every Child a Reader website. I love this year's poster, designed by Christian Robinson:
22 April 2017
We all know how difficult it is to sort out the nutritional information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Eat meat, don't eat meat? Eat carbs or shun them like the devil? How is the regular person supposed to determine what is best for her health and well-being?
When filmaker Michal Siewierski became a father, he set out to discover the best human diet by talking with food experts. His 2016 documentary, Food Choices, sums up what he learned at the end of a three-year journey of talking to experts in the nutritional and wellness fields.
If you follow the nutritional literature, you won't find many surprises in Food Choices. But the film is interesting nonetheless. Siewierski talked mostly to scientists, though we also hear from athletes and people in the general wellness lifestyle community.
The film takes a vegan stance, and blames meat eating for most of our health issues and for many aspects of climate change. On the other hand, Siewierski also made the point that just becoming a vegetarian or vegan alone will not guarantee good health. If you consume sweetened soft drinks and fatty and processed plant-based foods, you'll still risk obesity and will fail to achieve optimal health.
The end of the film moves away from talking about the human diet to focus on climate change, animal activist issues, and the ethics of eating other creatures.
Food Choices presents several perspectives of the vegan argument: nutritional, environmental, medical, and ethical. As I mentioned, Michal Siewierski doesn't reveal much new information for those of us who are fairly well informed, but the documentary makes a strong argument.
Unfortunately, we don't see much about the other side of things, and we end up with a single message: all animal products and fats = bad. All fruits and veggies = good. The documentary takes single-minded stance and rejects the idea of moderation, although I think at least one expert reluctantly admitted that a person could incorporate some animal products into her diet and still be healthy.
For more on the documentary Food Choices visit the official website, and take a look at the trailer (which is essentially the opening of the film).
19 April 2017
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18 April 2017
Thanks to the nice folks at HarperCollins Children's Books for giving me the chance to introduce you to two fun illustrated middle grade books that are appropriate for both boys and girls and will delight adults as well. In addition, they are providing the prize pack for the giveaway I'm hosting today.
Stick Cat by Tom Watson is designed to look like a lined journal, and the text is presented in an easy-to-read, large, sans serif font. The illustrations are simple -- after all, it is a story about a cat named Stick Cat -- but you and your young readers will fall for this kind tom cat and Edith, his best cat friend.
Stick Cat is the first book of a new series about two cats who visit each other once their humans have left their apartments in the morning. In this story, the cats notice that a man who plays the piano in an apartment across the alley has gotten into a bit of jam. Stick Cat and Edith decide they have to help him, but how do they get over to the other building, and once there, how will they help Mr. Music?
I love the personalities of Stick Cat and Edith and how they care about each other and about their neighbor. Stick Cat is very kind to Edith, who sometimes has impractical ideas. Despite their differences, they are true friends and understand each other's quirks. The scan to the right (provided by me) shows Edith, after she's discovered cats shouldn't lick those holes in the wall where the lamp gets plugged in.
For more about Stick Cat and Tom Watson's earlier series about Stick Dog, check out his website, where you can learn about all his books, including a new Stick Cat book coming out later this month. The author is also on GoodReads and has a Facebook page. The short video shows how Watson draws Stick Cat:
Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere by Elise Gravel is a super graphic novel with eye-catching red and black illustrations. The book is set up as Olga's journal, in which she records her thoughts, observations, and drawings of the world around her, especially animals.
Olga loves animals of all kinds and is fascinated by everything they do, even the gross things. Her best friend is a cute spider, but unfortunately, spiders aren't very cuddly. Olga thinks the two girls who live nearby are annoying, and she'd much rather observe bugs and birds and dogs than play with them.
One day Olga finds a strange, smelly creature that turns out to be friendly and, well, actually kind of adorable. Because Meh (as she named it) is quite unusual, Olga sets out to observe its behavior and learn everything she can about her new pet. Along the way, she amkes a couple of new friends, and discovers that the girls next door aren't so bad after all.
I really enjoyed getting to know Olga and admired her curiosity and how hard she worked to be a good caretaker of Meh. The message about giving humans a second chance at friendship was subtle and nicely done. Both boys and girls will fall for Olga and Meh and all the humans and animals they befriend. The scan was provided by HarperCollins and gives you an idea of the interior of the book.
To learn more about Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere and author-illustrator Elise Gravel, visit the book page at the HarperCollins website, where you'll find a excerpt from the book and a reader/teaching guide. For more about Gravel, visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her Facebook page. To watch Gravel draw Olga's friends, watch this short video:
Thanks to HarperCollins for allowing me to offer one of my readers a copy of Stick Cat and a copy of Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere plus art prints from each of the author-illustrators. This is a fab prize and all you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to have a USA mailing address and to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner via random number generator on April 25. Once the winner has been confirmed and the address has been passed to the publisher, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good luck.