Kid Lit Review of “Quest” by Aaron Becker

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Quest continues the excursion through the imagination that Becker began with his award-winning book Journey. This, too, is a wordless book that features a girl, her new friend from her neighborhood, their magical bird companion, and most importantly, markers with which they can draw new adventures for their enchanted travels.

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Again and again, the children have to draw their way out of danger, find the end of a rainbow, and help rescue a captured king.

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Becker combines the precision of ink with the soft and dreamy quality of watercolors to create architectural wonders and exotic landscapes that are full of wonder, and lots of fun. A myriad of tiny details ensure that kids will pour over these pages for hours, filling in their own narrative, and maybe dreaming up their own alternative universes.

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Evaluation: This book, like Journey, is another delight for the eyes and the mind.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2014

Review of “Resolution” by Robert B. Parker

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Robert Parker is well known for his 50+ detective novels featuring Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. But he is also quite good at creating westerns, which feature his terse and saturnine gun toters, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Resolution, published in 2008, may be the best of the bunch.

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This time Hitch, who is looking for work, stumbles upon a job as the “lookout” chair (in today’s parlance, the bouncer) in a somewhat sleazy bar in the newly formed and virtually lawless town of Resolution, somewhere out west. Resolution is small, but control of the town is being hotly contested between Hitch’s employer, Amos Wolfson, and Eamon O’Malley, the owner of a local copper mine.

At first, Hitch is more than capable of handling the local rough stuff alone, but things get dicey when O’Malley hires a couple of well known gunslingers (Cato and Rose) whose formidable reputations precede them. Fortunately for Hitch, his long time buddy Virgil Cole shows up in town to even the odds. The tension escalates as Wolfson and O’Malley each hire additional gunmen. Both bosses turn out to be unscrupulous evil doers, and Cole, Hitch, Cato, and Rose ultimately end up on the same side protecting innocent ranchers from marauding Shoshones and Wolfson’s efforts to steal their land.

In the process of establishing a just society, Cole and Hitch have occasion to muse on the writings of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (Cole calls him “Russo”) concerning the nature of law and government and whether man is virtuous in “the state of nature.” Parker’s art is demonstrated in the fact that the characters’ philosophical speculations are articulated in incredibly short sentences and with a keen ear for cowboy dialect.

This being a western, the book also features some well-wrought confrontations between violent macho men. A lot of nonverbal intimidation and tough talk precedes most of the violence, which makes it all the more entertaining.

Evaluation: This is a fun read from start to finish, especially if you’re a fan of cowboy westerns.

Portrait of the Reviewer as a Young Cowboy Western Fan

Portrait of the Reviewer as a Young Cowboy Western Fan

Rating: 4/5

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of the Penguin Group, 2008

Review of “A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory” by Sara Midda

This is a beautiful paean to food made up of pastel watercolors, photographs, recipes, memories, food trivia, and quotations.

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As an example, there is a section on Eggs, which begins with a quotation from Samuel Butler: “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” The author then tells you about the symbolism of eggs and associated superstitions; a lovely picture showing you eggs in many of its variations (hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, etc.); and an explanation of The Egg Dance, a traditional Easter dance in olden times.

There is information on herbs and greens, fruits, vegetables, spices, jams, guides to setting the table, and having a picnic, inter alia.

This would make a gorgeous gift book, or addition to your kitchen or coffee table to savor when you’re looking for just a soupçon of savory inspiration.

Evaluation: This is another high quality gem from Workman Publishing, which regularly creates the kind of books you want to give or receive as gifts.

Published by Workman Publishing, 2014

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wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend 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. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

Review of “Unleashed” by David Rosenfelt

This is book #11 of the stand-up comedy/mystery/dog-related legal procedural series featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter and his golden retriever Tara.

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Andy hates to work and has enough inherited wealth to avoid it, but somehow cases keep falling into his lap. In this instance, his computer expert Sam asks Andy if he would take a case from Barry Price, the guy who married Sam’s high school sweetheart Denise. Andy says “I’m retired.” But the next day, Price is dead, Denise is arrested, and now Sam begs Andy to help Denise. Against Andy’s better judgment, he finds himself interested and agrees to represent her. The only problem is, everyone he wants to interview about the case ends up dead.

But Andy has some aces in his pocket, including his girlfriend, Laurie, who is an ex-cop, and a group of eager and talented computer hackers who have been taking an IT class with Sam. These aren’t your average computer geeks: as Andy explains, the youngest among them is probably eighty. But they are smart, persistent, and besides, they bake treats.

Before long, even the FBI gets involved. Andy, with his witty repartee disguising a razor-like legal mind, figures out what’s really going on, which is of course nothing like what it initially appeared to be.

Evaluation: This book (which can be read as a standalone) is not quite as funny as some of the others in the series, but it’s still plenty amusing and entertaining. It’s just the thing if you’re looking for a lighter crime novel.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a part of Macmillan Publishers, 2013

Review of “Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour” by Morgan Matson

It has been three months since Amy Curry, 17, lost her beloved father in a car accident. Amy was driving, and feels like it was all her fault. She now refuses to drive. Her mother has decided to move from California to Connecticut, and left Amy behind to finish out the remaining month of the school year while she sets up the house. Amy is alone at the house, since her twin brother Charlie is now in a drug rehab facility in North Carolina.

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Since Amy has to get herself and the car to Connecticut and she won’t drive, her mother enlists the son of an old family friend to drive her. Roger Sullivan, 19, is a freshman in college in Colorado, but needs to get to Philadelphia to spend the summer with his father. When Roger (who is much cuter than Amy remembers) arrives and sees the boring itinerary Amy’s mother has prepared, he seems disappointed. Amy is so relieved he wasn’t disappointed in her that she suggests they just go their own way: “As long as we’re there in four days, does it really matter which way we go?” Roger is delighted, and they set out to see places they always wanted to go.

They also schedule a few stops that have emotional import for them; Amy wants to go places that her father loved, and Roger wants to chase after a girl he likes who broke up with him.

Pretty soon they are off on a fantastic road trip, the details of which are interspersed with mixed media entries from Amy’s scrapbook: notes, doodles, map pages, receipts, playlists, and state trivia. As a result of spending all day and all night together, Amy and Roger get to know each other very well; help each other deal with the heartbreaks they have suffered; and work together to map out plans for better futures.

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Evaluation: This is just a wonderful story. Amy’s grief is palpable, but not in a way that drags down the upbeat mood of the story. The road trip details are not only fun and interesting, but will have you salivating to make such a trip yourself. And the friendships made and romance found along the way are just perfect. A great read for all ages!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2010

Awards:

An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Readers

Shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book Prize

A Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” book

Review of “Daily Zen Doodles” by Meera Lee Patel

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This collection of “365 tangle creations for inspiration, relaxation, and mindfulness” stands out from other interactive art books by virtue of the thought-provoking and often uplifting quotations that accompany each picture.

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So what are zentangles? An “official” Zentangle is an abstract drawing created on 3.5 inch square tiles, done in black ink on white paper.

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Zentangling has become a widespread practice: you can find instructional videos about it, newsletters, blogs, pinterest pages showing completed zentangles, pattern pages, and so on. Like doodling, one is encouraged to let lines and shapes emerge without planning ahead. [Unlike doodling, however, Zentangling has “theory” and “approach.” Nevertheless, it can be adapted as the more flexible “Zendoodling.”] All you need is a sharpie or marker of some kind, and you’re good to go. Or you can use colored pencils, these being perfectly acceptable for zendoodling rather than zentangling…. The practice is supposed to be efficacious for meditation and stress reduction, as well as increasing inner focus.

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The pictures in this book are actually just “starting off points” – you fill them in, expanding them or enhancing them or whatever appeals to you. As the author and illustrator explains: “Each page is an invitation to sketch, relax, focus, and reach toward inner peace.”

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Evaluation: For those who want more than just a doodle book, and more than just a collection of inspirational sayings, this compendium gives you both. It would make an excellent gift, especially for the many people who doodle while on the phone!

Published by Ulysses Press, 2014

Kid Lit Review of “The Baby Tree” by Sophie Blackall

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This book tells a very funny story of a little boy about to get a new sibling. He doesn’t understand where this new baby will come from, however, so he asks everyone he meets during the day. Each person gives him a different, very euphemistic, answer.

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At the end of the day, he finally poses the question to his parents, and they give him the correct answer (which is very well done). The boy then supposes he’s going to have to fill in his grandpa on where babies really come from!

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Sophie Blackall is not only a good writer, but a wonderful illustrator. Using ink and watercolors she depicts the products of the boy’s imagination as he tries to envision babies coming from trees, nests, in the mail, and so on. She adds great subtle background touches in her pictures too, like the pictures on the refrigerator, the recognizable children’s books that the parents read the boy, a smartphone plugged in on each side of the parents’ bed, and the parents shown having more than two arms as they manage all the morning chores of getting themselves and their child ready for school. I love too how the little boy looks just like his grandpa. Well, I could go on and on, but really, it all comes down to: Sophie Blackall: what’s not to like?

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Evaluation: This book is the perfect answer (in more than one sense) for parents looking for ways to clue in their kids on the birds and the bees.

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Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014

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