Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: 'The Swallow' by Charis Cotter

✰✰✰✰✰ Polly and Rose are two lonely 12-year-old girls who feel invisible to everyone. Set in the 1960s in Toronto during an outbreak of meningitis, the girls live right next door to each other. One day the girls discover that they can communicate through a shared wall in the attic. Besides being the same age, the girls learn that they are nearly exact opposites. Polly comes from a large family, while Rose is an only child. Polly is boisterous, while Rose is reserved. Polly wishes she could see ghosts, while Rose wishes she didn't. In fact, Polly is so convinced that Rose is actually a ghost, she sets out to prove it.

Follow Polly through the many twists and turns of this gothic ghost story with a surprise ending. You won't be disappointed.

The Bottom Line: This is a bittersweet story of friendship.Written from two points of view, each character has a distinctive voice. I enjoyed the use of mood, setting, and hints employed by the author to keep readers guessing. Readers will appreciate the short chapters making this book a very quick read. Check it out if you enjoyed the movie "The Sixth Sense." Very highly recommended for tweens interested in ghost stories and paranormal fiction. This would make a great gift.

Details: The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2014. 322 p. ISBN: 978-1-77049-591-3  Note: I received a free copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: 'Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies'

✰✰✰✰ The holidays roll around just once a year. There's so little time to try out complicated and time-consuming recipes. That's where the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies cookbook comes in handy. Featuring easy-to-read recipes with full-page, full-color photos, this cookbook is perfect for your baking needs. The book begins with "Cookie Success Secrets" and "Bar and Brownie Success Secrets," which include choosing the proper equipment, storage tips, and choosing ingredients. Each recipe includes nutrition information, preparation time, start to finish time, and the number of cookies or bars each recipe makes. The numbered step-by-step instructions are clear and concise. There is also information on "Cookies as Gifts," a "Metric Conversion Guide," and an Index. Yummy recipes to check out include "Mini Whoopie Pies," "Linzer Cookies," "Chocolate Chip Reindeer Cookies," "Strawberry Cheesecake Bars," "Striped Peppermint Cookies," and Bourbon-Spiked Brownie Truffle Balls." Even if you don't bake throughout the year, there's something for everyone in this cookbook.

Taste Test Notes: There were so many tempting recipes, but I decided to try to make the "Red Velvet Rich-and-Creamy Cookies." The ingredients were super easy to locate at my local grocery store. That's always a plus. Once I had everything gathered, I found that this recipe was very easy to make. While my cookies weren't quite as red as those in the photo, they were very tasty. These cookies aren't big, so you can easily enjoy two or three with your afternoon tea and not feel too guilty.

Here are all the ingredients needed to make this simple recipe!

Here are the finished cookies (without nuts).
Nana's Baking Tip: If you don't like chopped nuts, just omit them and decorate with red sugar crystals instead. Also, these would be a festive treat for Valentine's Day as well.

The Bottom Line: This cookbook will appeal to bakers of all levels. There are recipes for drop cookies, shaped cookies, filled cookies, bars, brownies, and cookie cut-outs. These cookies come in all flavors too like chocolate, raspberry, and peppermint. You can also find a variety of gluten-free recipes. The cookbook is easy to use and the layout is attractive. Baking projects that are fun for kids are indicated, and the inclusion of "Tinsel Time Tips" for festive touches make the book interesting. All in all this cookbook is highly recommended; however, it would have been even better if the editors had included a skill level for each recipe.

Details: Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies by Betty Crocker. Paperback published by Betty Crocker in 2013. 208 p. ISBN: 978-0-544-16664-6

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 'No Biking in the House Without a Helmet' by Melissa Fay Greene

✰✰✰½ Award winning journalist Melissa Fay Greene and her husband already had four biological children when they decided to adopt a little boy from Bulgaria. Rather than accept the "empty nest" that their home threatened to become when the oldest children headed off to college, the couple kept adopting. The next child was a little girl from Ethiopia. By the time Greene and her husband were finished adopting, their family included a total of nine kids from three continents.

The Bottom Line: Melissa Fay Greene's writing style is approachable for most readers. She writes with humor, tenderness, and honesty as she covers both the joys and the challenges of raising a large family. Recommended for everyone interested in the study of families. Also, for potential adoptive parents.

Book Club Notes: The short chapters and conversational tone of this book made it a quick read. One member pointed out that it was reminiscent of Erma Bombeck's writing style. The discussion was lighthearted as we worked out way through questions available in the reading guide from Macmillan. The anecdotes made for fun reading, and it was easy to get sidetracked by our own stories as we defined what it means to be a family. The discussion turned lively as we debated the pros and cons of domestic vs. international adoption. Furthermore, many of us agreed that we wanted to hear more about Greene's husband, Donny. Some members commented that the book could have been shorter. Also, several members noted that the stories were not all in chronological order. Overall, the group gave the book 3.75 stars and enjoyed reading it.

Details: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Paperback published by Sarah Crichton Books in 2011. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-374-53338-0

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: 'Dr. Mütter's Marvels' by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

✰✰✰✰½ The world-renowned Mütter Museum in Philadelphia features collections of anatomical specimens, medical instruments, and models. Visitors come from around the world to marvel at the various specimens. But how did these collections come to be housed together? Author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz brings us the story of the man behind the collection.

Thomas Dent Mütter was orphaned as a young boy. Despite suffering from illness all his life, the young Mütter went on to pursue a degree in medicine. Eventually, his curiosity led him to the practice of plastic surgery, where he dedicated his skills to helping people labeled as "monsters" by society. Mütter's ideas and surgical techniques proved to be innovative, but his flamboyant style and popularity with students sometimes clashed with other doctors. Mütter's forward thinking lead to advances in cleanliness in the operating room, the use of anesthetic, and compassionate care.

Throughout his career, Dr. Mütter collected all types of specimens. While some may view these collections as medical oddities, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter collected the items with the intent of supplementing his medical lectures. Due to continuing ill health, Dr. Mütter died young, but before he did, he left behind the legacy that is now the Mütter Museum.

The Bottom Line: Despite the length of the book, this was a fairly quick read. Author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz approaches her subject with enthusiasm and compassion. Dr. Mütter was a fascinating man. He was a pioneer in his field who made many lasting contributions to the field of medicine. I especially enjoyed reading the notes written by Dr. Mütter. This well-written biography is highly recommended for readers interested in medicine, surgery, medical collections, and American history. A background in medicine is not required to understand and enjoy this book; however, descriptions of surgical procedures may bother some readers. This book contains more than 80 black and white photos and illustrations.

Details: Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. ARC published by Gotham Books in 2014. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1-592-40870-2 NOTE: I received a free copy from Gotham Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program atLibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Review: 'The Costume Copycat' by Maryann Macdonald

✰✰✰✰ Big Sister Bernadette always has the best Halloween costumes. Everyone thinks so. That's why little sister Angela decides to wear Bernadette's costume from the previous year. Unfortunately, being a costume copycat doesn't make Angela a star. After several years of being a costume copycat, Angela decides to maker her own costume. She's in for a pleasant surprise when the neighbors see her handmade costume.

The Bottom Line: Sometimes it's better to be yourself than to follow in someone else's footsteps. This is a cute tale of sibling rivalry. Charming watercolor and ink illustrations by Wilsdorf bring the text to life. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades Pre-K - 1. This picture book would be great for storytime too.

Details: The Costume Copycat written by Maryann Macdonald & illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 9780803729292

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: 'The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster' by Kay Winters

✰✰✰½ The Spook and Spirit Club is sponsoring a Make a Monster contest for Halloween. All the ghosts in the teeny tiny classroom are excited except for one, the teeny tiny ghost. For the teeny tiny ghost, making a monster is too scary. As the other ghosts draw their monsters and make fun of him, the teeny tiny ghost finds inspiration in an unexpected place. With the help of his two teeny tiny black cats, the teeny tiny ghost just might have a chance of entering the contest after all.

The Bottom Line: This story is for any child who has been picked on and bullied. It can be read to a class, to open up a conversation about bullying. Best for kids in grades 1 and 2.

Details: The Teeny Tiny Ghost and the Monster written by Kay Winters & illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-028885-X

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: 'Pumpkin Cat' by Anne Mortimer

✰✰✰✰ One late spring day, Cat wonders how pumpkins grow. Cat's friend, Mouse, decides to show her by helping her plant pumpkin seeds. As the days and months pass, the seeds grow into plants. With time and attention, flowers appear followed by little pumpkins. By the time Halloween rolls around, Mouse has a wonderful surprise for Cat.

The Bottom Line: This gentle story is perfect for any time of the year. It's a charming tale of friendship and gardening. Mortimer's beautiful illustrations are soft and colorful. This picture book will appeal to little ones and their parents. Teachers for grades K - 2 will find the "Instructions for Growing Pumpkins" at the back of the book useful as well.

Details: Pumpkin Cat written & illustrated by Anne Mortimer. Hardcover picture book published by Katherine Tegen Books in 2011. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-187485-7