Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

This book chronicles the life of Eva Thorvald, a woman who becomes one of the greatest chef's in the country that runs a pop up dinner night. Only one short part of the story is told from Eva's point of view; most of the story is told from the point of view of people she interacts with and not always people she interacts with in a very direct way, like the mother of an old high school boyfriend that enters a baking contest where Eva is a judge. This allows the book to make some statements about food and dining as well. 

To me the most interesting things in the book are the day to day lives of the characters. The author does a great job showing all the different personalities and lives of various characters. I wanted to know more about everybody and sometimes was sad that I didn't get to learn more about what happened to various characters. The character that remains the most elusive by the end is Eva herself as the narrators become further removed from Eva's day to day personal life. I know this book is supposed to be all about the food and there is definitely a lot said here about foodie culture and cooking and it's definitely interesting in that respect, but what really made this an enjoyable for me was the people.

The advanced readers copy was sent to my library by the publisher.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Reviews: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

I received this book as part of a Goodreads Giveaway. Voracious consists of essays where the author talks about a book she's read, how that book affected her as a person, what was going on in her life when she read it and a food from the book that really spoke to her. She then provides a recipe for that food. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. It brought back warm memories of reading some many of the same iconic titles as a kid or watching the movies. The essay on witches reminded me of watching Witches with my dad and being so traumatized by Anjelica Huston's portrayal of the lead witch that I never read the book; convinced it would be way too scary. I like that she provides context like that in her essays; like who gave her the book and why and how it made her feel. Her explanations of why the titles appealed to her have given me the impetus to try some books that I had always totally dismissed as being completely not for me before. 

The food all sounds amazing (minus some of the meaty things but that is a reflection on my not eating meat not on the writer's recipes.) She provides vegetarian substitutions when she can/it's necessary and I cannot wait to try making some of these things; especially Where the Red Fern Grows Skillet Cornbread with honey butter and The Aenid Honey Poppy seed cake. I'm a little bit intimidated but her directions are pretty explicit so I feel like I got this. 

I will also admit to having been stupidly excited upon reading the acknowledgements to see that the writer spent some time writing at The Anchored Inn in Brooklyn, where I spend most of my Sunday afternoons after practice. I love the food at the Anchored and it kind of just gave me an extra warm fuzzy.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Reviews: Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Micheline Helsing (yes she's a descendant of that Helsing) can see the auras of the dead.  Her family and the families of Stoker and Drake run a worldwide organization that tries to keep the world safe from vampires, zombies and ghosts.  Micheline is part of a crew with three others: Oliver, their tech geek, Jude, who can predict death and Ryder, a force to be reckoned with.  Micheline is the last of the Helsing line after a horrible attack that led to death of her brothers and mother many years ago.  Then her and her crew are infected with a curse known as a soul chain.  To save herself and her crew, Micheline will have to run from the organization and her powerful father.

A friend of mine brought this book back from a conference for me. Initially I wasn't going to read it because I thought it was straight up horror, but once I actually read the description and realized that it was about the descendents of Van Helsing, Stoker and Harker running a paranormal investigations type organization I totally got behind it. 

I thought the premise and world building within the organization was very clever and I enjoyed learning about the way the mirrors and camera worked. I would like to have known a little more about how society outside of the organization was run but that was more me being nosy then feeling like something was missing. I admit to being relieved by the lack of love triangle  as well.  Everyone had their own love interest, and although the road for Micheline and Ryder will hardly be smooth at least there was no competition for affection getting in the way of the story.  

I did not see the ending coming at all.  It was sad and gut wrenching and lovely. The book stands alone but there is room for a sequel as well, which also gives me warm fuzzies.  All in all a fun and interesting read.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Reviews:Falling Hard (Roller Girls #1) by Megan Sparks

Annie and her father move from London, England to her father's small home town in Illinois where her father plans on opening a cafe.  While searching for a place to fit in at high school Annie makes new friends (including artist best friend Lexie)and tries to decide whether her gymnastics replacement should be cheer leading or roller derby.

This was a nice coming of age tale that most tween girls will be able to relate to in some way.  There is a small love triangle forming but as the book is part of a larger series that was not the focus of the book and is in fact left hanging only partially formed.  The real focus of the book is Annie's journey to finding a place for herself and her new love affair with roller derby, which I thought was a nice change from other realistic fiction books I've read for this age group.  Annie has a nice relationship with her father and I thought the author did a good job with both that relationship and Annie's relationship with her mother.  

As a Non Skating Official who has worked with women's, men's and junior roller derby leagues I will say that the roller derby is fairly accurate.  The drills, amount of work and athleticism required were accurate although their timeline for passing a skills test and playing in a bout was a bit expedited.  The author also did a wonderful job illustrating the camaraderie that develops between those involved in roller derby and the sense of welcoming and openness that teams try to foster.

The relationship Jesse has with the players and team which may surprise people from other sports is accurate for the way roller derby officiating currently works.  The book was also written during the last rules set (for those that aren't derby familiar; in January a major revision to the rules of roller derby came out.)  That being said it was only one or two references and I don't think it would keep a reader from going to a game and being able to follow what's going on.

There was one disparaging comment written about men's and women's roller derby being different games because men don't wear fishnets.  I know not everyone is a supporter of men's roller derby however I found the comment demeaning to both men and women's players.  The sport is about more then fishnets as the rest of the book spends a lot of time proving and while I believe there are differences in how the men play vs how the women play I thought the comment was unnecessarily disparaging of everyone.  

E-book copy provided by netgalley.

~Danger Prone Daphne, NSO

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Reviews: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Parsefall and Lizzie Rose work with Grisini, a foreign puppeteer who unbeknownst to them has amazing powers. Both Lizzie and Parse are orphans that he has adopted and is teaching to run puppet shows. One day they go to Clara's house, a rich young girl, to perform for her birthday. Clara is quiet and reserved. She is only surviving child of a cholera outbreak in the Wintermute home. As such you can imagine her parents heartbreak when she disappears the day after the performance. Lizzie Rose is quite sad as Clara was quite nice to them. What follows is an adventure as the children try to break from Grisini only to get caught in someone else's trap. 

I really enjoyed this. The children were interesting and smart. The true villain was very bad (and the witch clearly not as bad as she wanted to be). The descriptions were lovely (or horrible), the author did a wonderful job making you feel like you were there and the historical detail and information on how puppets work were lovely. While I was expecting some things what actually happened to Clara was quite a surprise; along with how strong she really was. I really loved the ending of this one.

My only complaint was an audiobook complaint. I felt like the voices the reader gave Parse and Lizzie Rose were too grown up sounding for them. Clara and practically all of the other characters felt so perfect otherwise that it was almost unsettling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Crafty Kids: Tie-Dye Butterfly

Since for March Crafty Kids I did a caterpillar craft, for April I decided that it would be fun to make a butterfly.  First I tripped over this and thought it was pretty much the greatest thing ever.  I also found another version that included a clothes pin for the butterfly body which I had left over from the caterpillar craft.  Unfortunately the link for that craft has since been deleted so I can't post that piece of inspiration.  

I did cover the tables with plastic table cloth before hand, had lots of napkins on hand and I was able to get inexpensive spray bottles for tiny fingers by shopping in the travel section at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  The kids loved the project and two grandmothers ended up asking me if they could make butterflies too which was great.  The coffee filters didn't take long to dry although I admit to speeding up the process by hanging clothes pinning them to my desk handles so they would dry even faster.  I had coloring sheets on hand for the kids to work on while they waited for their butterflies to dry.  


Coffee filters
Spray Bottle w/ water
Pipe Cleaners
Clothespin (optional)
Magnet Tape (optional)

1.  Color your coffee filter with markers.  Make crazy patterns but remember that everything is going to blur a little bit.  (Note:  If the markers you’re using are drying out the colors will not run as much later)

2.  Lay the coffee filter on top of a plastic tablecloth or layer of paper towels and spray 2-3 spritzes of water on to the coffee filter.  Allow coffee filter to dry.  (You can leave it laying flat but it dried faster when I hung it to dry.)

3.  (Version 1)  Pinch the coffee filter in the middle and use a clothespin to keep it pinched.  Fluff the wings if they look too scrunched.  Wrap a pipe cleaner around the top of the clothespin leaving the ends free to bend into antennae.  If you want to turn this one into a magnet you can put a strip of magnet tape on the back of the clothespin.  

(Version 2)  Pinch the coffee filter in the middle.  Fold the pipe cleaner in half and stick the pinched coffee filter in the middle.  Twist the top of the filter a few times leaving the ends free to bend into antennae.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: The Heart Of A Samurai by Margi Preus

Manjiro is a young Japanese teen stranded on a deserted island with four fellow fisherman. Eventually they are picked up by an American whaling ship that will not take them back to Japan due to Japan's closed door policy; foreigners and even locals that have traveled too far from Japan will be fired upon when entering the Japan's harbor's and put to death should they reach land. Manjiro proves himself to be a fast learner and endears himself to the ships Captain with his curiosity and intelligence. The Captain takes Manjiro home with him where they become a family and Manjiro goes to school, tries his hand at an apprenticeship, ships out on a whaling ship as part of the crew, becomes a gold miner and even eventually returns home and manages to avoid being put to death and becomes a diplomat. 

I just want to start by saying that I somehow I had gotten it into my head that this book was going to be about a girl breaking gender barriers, so as you can imagine I was a little surprised when I started listening and it was about a boy. 

There was so much to learn about whaling and life on a ship, mid 19th century life in Eastern United States, life for gold minders in California and Japanese life at that time period. The details are incredible. Clearly the author did a lot of research and I found the historical notes at the end of the book really helpful, particularly since Manjiro was a real person. I had never heard of him before but clearly he led a much more interesting life then the average person. 

The language sounded beautiful and almost lyrical sometimes. Unfortunately the narrator had a very nonfiction quality to the way he read the book that could sometimes be distracting.   However it wasn't all bad, he also did a great job with the japanese and how Manjiro would speak. Several days later I'm still torn between whether this serious matter of fact tone makes sense since it was based on a true story or whether it was in fact too distracting for me. 

About half way though the book I started thinking about this book and that it didn't feel like a children's book. It didn't even really feel like a middle grade or teen book. Both the tone of the book and the time span it covers make it feel more like adult literary fiction. It's an adventurous story but the adventure feels toned down by the language and the amount of introspection.