Fabulous Friday (A Little Early)

As tomorrow is a busy day off for my family, I decided to post Fab Friday a day early.  Everyone have a great weekend!

Title: An Undone Fairy Tale

Author: Ian Lendler

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Pages: 32

Ages: 4-8

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess who made delicious pies. Her stepfather, the king, loved her pies so much that he locked her in a tower to keep the pies all for himself. Many knights tried to save her, but none met with success. Until one day, the brave Sir Wilbur appeared in the castle before the king. And this is where the story gets a little, well, unusual.

You see, Ned, who paints the illustrations for the book, can’t paint fast enough to keep up with the pace of your reading. So pictures are left half done and some substitutions have to be made. Like using a tutu to dress Sir Wilbur instead of the suit of armor Ned had planned. And having the tower guarded by a fierce, fire-breathing…. pretzel.

Silliness abounds in this well-written, superbly illustrated story. I wasn’t sure how my Panel of Experts would respond, as they are not big on ordinary fairy-tales. I needn’t have worried. We ended up reading it four times in a twenty four hour period. Muffin declared it “hilarious”, while little Cupcake laughed herself silly over the tutu-wearing knights. They both enjoyed the girl-power ending of the story, where it’s the princess who rescues herself and Sir Wilbur. This one is definitely a keeper!

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Most Un-Fabulous Friday

I am sorry to say that I have to skip this week’s Fabulous Friday children’s book review.  I’ve been in bed for two days with a migraine headache, so my Panel of Experts and I got absolutely no reading done this week.  But not to worry: starting today, Muffin is on her Winter school break for over two weeks and both girls will be with me quite a bit.  We’ll have plenty of reading time and will be sharing with you some of our favorite books.  And I’ll be back in a couple of days with a review of a fun new Fiction book that I think you’ll enjoy.  Have a great weekend!

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Great New Book for Foodies!

Title: As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto

Author: Joan Reardon

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Pages: 448

Genre: Non-Fiction- Biography

Julia Child- her very name conjures visions of Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, and butter. As a confirmed foodie and Julia fan, I was fascinated by As Always, Julia. The book is made up almost entirely of the letters exchanged by Julia Child and friend Avis Devoto during the years 1952-1989, with a bit of explanatory filler by the author, Joan Reardon. Their correspondence and friendship began when Mrs. Child wrote a letter of appreciation to Mrs. Devoto’s husband regarding a magazine article he had written on kitchen knives. Mrs. Devoto answered the letter on her husband’s behalf and the two women became pen pals, with Mrs. Devoto becoming the champion of Mrs. Child’s book in the publishing world.

A great deal of the letters focus on the developing and publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the cookbook that made Julia Child a household name. But there is so much more of interest to be found in the correspondence. Much is said of the McCarthy era, when so many people were unjustly accused of being Communist sympathizers. The many references to little-known intellectuals and politicians of the period made for hard reading sometimes- the author had to make a number of footnotes to explain who was who and what was what, which was both helpful and distracting. It was worth soldiering through, however, as I gained so much insight into both of these captivating ladies and the society they lived in.

I highly recommend this book to any Julia Child afficionado or food-lover. If you are not immersed in the world of food, you might not enjoy this book, as there are so many food references. That being said, the glimpse into the world of the fifties and early sixties may be interesting enough to hold anyone’s attention.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes. It was released on 12/01/2010.

Published in: on December 14, 2010 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fabulous Friday Once Again!

Title: Petunia Pepper’s Picture Day

Author: Cathy Breisacher

Publisher: Warner Press

Pages: 32

Ages: 4-8

Poor Petunia Pepper. Every year, her school picture turns out perfectly awful. This year she is determined to have a picture that everyone wants a copy of. She starts out looking nice in a purple dress with a matching bow. But the Fates conspire against her- anything and everything that could ruin her picture happens. Missing the school bus, rain, and a collision with a hot dog cart make it seem that her picture will surely be a bust. Petunia is up to the challenge, however, and her story takes a turn for the better when she rescues a poodle caught in traffic.

This was a cute story, teaching kids that sometimes the best laid plans will go astray, but usually things work out anyway. It was well illustrated and the storyline kept moving without bogging down. I must give one caution, though. At the end of the book, there is a page entitled “Take Time Out for God’s Word” that quotes a few Bible scriptures and gives the message that God loves you just the way you are. There is no indication in the story that this is a Christian-oriented book, so this page at the end came as a surprise. If the message does not fit in with what you are teaching your child, it can easily be removed from the book and no one would be the wiser.

Now, what did my Panel of Experts think of it? Muffin, characteristically, had quite a bit to say. “She didn’t like her old school pictures, so she decided to make this picture perfect. But her dress got all messed up and she had ketchup on it. And then the old lady lost her poodle, so Petunia had to rescue it. I liked when she rescued the poodle because I’ve never seen somebody rescue a dog in the street, so it entertained me.” (Wow- I’ve got a future book reviewer on my hands!) Cupcake was a little more succinct. “It was a good story. I like the picture where her hair was puffed up. Puffy hair is funny.” I have to agree- it was a good story and puffy hair is funny!

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes. It was released on 07/01/2010.

Published in: on December 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

New Review- Believe It, Be It

Title: Believe It, Be It

Author: Ali Vincent

Publisher: Rodale Books

Pages: 192

Genre: Nonfiction, Self-help

I must admit that I am usually skeptical of self-help and personal-empowerment books. They are usually either filled with common sense that everyone should already know or psycho-babble that means nothing. But sometimes you need to see something put into writing for it to make an impact on you. Ali Vincent’s Believe It, Be It struck a chord with me, not just because I am a fan of The Biggest Loser, but also because I have weight issues myself. For those of you not familiar with The Biggest Loser universe, Ali was the first female to win the Biggest Loser, winning the season five contest.

The first part of the book contains lots of inside information about the process of becoming a TBL contestant and life on the ranch. This is followed by a section on what Ali’s life has been like in the time since the show’s finale. In the final chapters, Ali provides practical advice, both on losing weight and, more importantly, on the mental and emotional changes that go along with the weight loss.

Ali is plain-spoken and presents the details of her journey without being preachy or resorting to trite platitudes. Instead, she shares her personal truths in a conversational style. For example, she writes, “In order to have any chance of success, I’ve learned that you have to accept yourself and let go of past failures or weaknesses that have been holding you back… Once you know what you want your life to look like, you can figure out how to make it happen.”

More than once, Ali speaks of the importance of setting goals and working to achieve them. She mentions her goal of creating a Believe It, Be It Foundation, geared towards educating children, especially girls, about exercise, nutrition, and the basics of good health. In the meantime, she is a public speaker, sharing her story with women across the country.

I found this book an interesting, light read with a positive message and a few motivational concepts. I personally was inspired by the two lists that Ali mentions toward the end of the book. When she first arrived at the ranch, Jillian Michaels had the contestants make two lists- Why I Am Here and What I Want. Making my own version of these lists helped me realize some things about myself that I had never known before. If you are a Biggest Loser fan, or are looking for some weight-loss inspiration, pick up Believe It, Be It. I think you’ll find it helpful and entertaining.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher to be reviewed. It was published on 10/12/2010.

Published in: on December 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

What a Fabulous Friday!

It’s truly a Fabulous Friday here in North Florida.  The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and it’s 63 degrees.  Perfect!  Let’s get down to this week’s children’s book review.

Title: Big Bouffant

Author: Kate Hosford

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Pages: 32

Ages: 3-8

On the first day of school, Annabelle looks around her classroom in disappointment at the proliferation of ponytails and braids worn by her classmates. No one does anything original with their hair! So she sets out to find a style that will set her apart from the crowd.

Annabelle’s mother suggests several hairdos. “How about a bob or an elegant bun?” But for Annabelle, only one ‘do will do- a big, beautiful bouffant, one like her grandma wore in a picture she found. The rest of the story covers Annabelle’s quest for the perfect bouffant and the reaction it gets at school.

I found this book entertaining and engaging. My 4-year-old Cupcake enjoyed it, too. Her appraisal was: “I liked it. I liked it when she wore her big, silly hair to school.” I did have to explain a couple of words to her, one of them being bouffant itself. (She also didn’t know what sneering was.) But the story was simple enough for her to follow along and comprehend what was going on. I was not able to get a slightly older take on this book, as Muffin was in school the day we read it. I would recommend this book just for the fun of it, but especially for lower-grade schoolgirls who are struggling to find a balance between being ‘normal’ and defining their own sense of style.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes. It will be released on 04/01/2011.

Published in: on December 3, 2010 at 1:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Grilled Cheese, Please

Title: Grilled Cheese, Please

Author: Laura Werlin

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC

Pages: 158

Genre: Cookbook

Mmmm, grilled cheese. What could be more homey and comforting? In this new cookbook by Laura Werlin, the humble grilled cheese sandwich is taken far beyond it’s Wonder-bread-and-American-cheese roots. From breakfast (Monte Cristo Sandwich) to dessert (The Sweetest Thing), from North (Philly Cheese Steak) to South (Pimento Grilled Cheese), from East Coast (The Vermonter) to West Coast (The Californian), all manner of grilled cheese is covered here.

The first section of the book could have been labeled Grilled Cheese 101. The basics of the sandwich are covered here, including choosing the right bread and maintaining the right temperature. Who knew that you should grate your cheese for maximum meltage? Werlin encourages the use of a sandwich maker for many of the recipes, so if you have one in your kitchen, this book is for you.

There are so many tasty recipes in this book to talk about, but my favorites are the Sweet-Tart Cheddar and Chorizo, with yummy Braeburn apples; the Creamy, Cheesy, and Smoky Croissant, made with, mmmm, Brie (notice I keep saying “Mmmm”); and above all, the Cuban, complete with recipe for Cuban roast pork. And, while I could never eat one because my doctor would have a cow, the Cheesus Burger intrigues me. It’s a 1/3 pound hamburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. That is both delicious and disturbing.

This is a specialty cookbook, so it probably won’t see daily use. But if you enjoy grilled cheese and want to get a little creative with it, this book is worth investing in.

Note: I received an electronic galley of this book for reviewing purposes. The book will be published on 03/08/2011.

Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Distant Hours

Title: The Distant Hours

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Limited

Pages: 673

Genre: Fiction

The Distant Hours is really two stories that intertwine. The first story is that of Edie, a single girl with a great job, living on her own in London. Her father is recently retired and at loose ends. Edie is not close to her mother, who is somewhat aloof and formal. One day, the mother, Meredith, receives a letter mailed to her in 1941. The letter upsets Meredith and she begins to cry, but will not tell Edie what the letter was about. Edie decides to investigate and so their story begins.

The second part of the story is of the Blythe sisters, Percy, Saffy, and Juniper, who live together in the decaying Milderhurst Castle. Their father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a famous children’s book, The True Story of the Mud Man. These sisters hold their own secrets, including the true story behind writing of the Mud Man, a mystery that scholars and fans have wondered about since it was written. Edie visits the castle to meet the Blythe sisters and answer the questions she has about her mother. But she begins to discover more than she bargained for.

I have to say I didn’t really connect to any of the characters on a personal level, as I had little in common with any of them, but the story was so engrossing that it didn’t matter. I did, however, find myself caring about Edie, Meredith, and the Blythe sisters and what happened to them, especially Edie. The characters were well developed, as if Morton had gotten to know each one personally before writing about them.

Despite the book being just a bit too long, I felt that Morton maintained a high level of suspense throughout the narrative. Each time I thought I was about to solve a piece of the puzzle, a whole new mystery popped up. I found the two storylines, that of Edie and her mother and that of the Blythe sisters, to be well executed, one never impeding the other. All of Morton’s books contain shifts in time, going from the present to the past and back, but she seems to have mastered the use of that plot device, and no confusion arose as I read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I do all Kate Morton books. It is definitely worth the time you invest in it. Don’t be intimidated by the size of this book: you will get caught up in it and breeze right through. It may even be one you lose sleep over!

For an interesting article on Kate Morton herself, read this: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/gothic-delight/story-e6frg8n6-1225943628385

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Extra, Extra!

Hey everybody!  If you have a minute, pop over to The Book Lady’s Blog, http://www.thebookladysblog.com/and share what you are reading right now for FridayReads.  Or, if you’re on Twitter, comment with the #fridayreads hashtag.  There are “bookish prizes” to be won and that’s always a good thing.

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 6:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kicking Off Fabulous Fridays

Today is our first official Fabulous Friday! Mom and I are just back from our annual Black Friday shop-a-thon. This year we started at midnight and shopped through the night until 9:30 am. As usual, the kids made out like bandits. I bought a pair of those toning sneakers, so that means I’ll have to revive my defunct fitness plan and start walking again.

And now, on to the review! This Fabulous Friday review is of a very popular book at our house. Let me introduce you to our Panel of Experts. (I’m not comfortable putting my ‘honorary’ nieces’ names on my blog, so I’m going to use their nicknames.) Muffin is 7 1/2 years old, please remember the ½. She is just beginning to explore chapter books, but still loves to be read to from picture books. Cupcake is 4 years old. She can’t read yet, but is wicked good at memorizing books and ‘reading’ them back to you. They will be weighing in at the end of the post.

Title: Parts

Author: Tedd Arnold

Publisher: The Penguin Group (Puffin Books)

Length: 32 pages

Ages: 3-8

Parts is the story of a boy who is falling apart. Literally, it seems. His problems start when he combs his hair and discovers some strands left in the comb. Could he be going bald at five? Then he finds some mystery fuzz in his bellybutton. Is his stuffing coming out? The comic misadventures continue for the unnamed little guy until he works himself into a frenzy of worry. “The glue that holds our parts together isn’t holding me!” he frets.

I appreciate the way the story builds kid-friendly suspense without actually scaring them into wondering if they, too, will come apart. The writing is simple enough for a younger child to easily follow the story, while older children will enjoy it also, if for no other reason than the slight gross-out factor. (Think boogers and brains on the floor.) The illustrations are detailed and really compliment the story. (I like his little superhero action figure that keeps popping up.) And the lesson that certain bodily functions are normal is gently presented. Look for the bonus lesson that parents are not always perfect in their parenting skills.

If you enjoy this book, there is a sequel called More Parts that deals with common phrases that can easily be misconstrued by a little one, like “I’ll lend you a hand.”

What the Panel of Experts Thought

Muffin enjoyed the book, although she loftily told me she knew all along what was happening. Cupcake was laughing so hard, she couldn’t give an opinion. I took it as a success when it became the bedtime book of choice three weeks running.

So, what kids’ books do you find yourself reading over and over?

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm  Leave a Comment