Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: Victoria 500 Christmas Ideas: Celebrate the Season in Splendor by Kimberly Meisner

✰✰✰ Every page of this festive book includes a gorgeous full-color photo of the ideas being highlighted. You'll find suggestions for sparkly ornaments as well as decorations inspired by nature. There are ideas for decorating the inside the home as well as the outside. Additionally, there are tips for decorating with trees, candles, and flowers as well as table top suggestions and party favors for hosting the perfect dinner party.

Besides the introduction and the detailed index, this book is divided into five sections: Home for Christmas; All the Trimmings: Festive Gatherings; Traditions and Crafts; and The Christmas Pantry. While there are no extensive projects included, there are a few "mini" projects that are simple enough for anyone to do. On the other hand, the book includes an assortment of holiday recipes for both sweet and savory treats; these recipes do require some previous baking experience.

The Bottom Line:
With over 500 colorful photographs that correspond to the tips, this guide to Christmas decorating ideas is sure to elevate your holiday spirit and bring sparkle to your home. There are plenty of traditional ideas, and it's so much fun leaf through the pages. Just pick your favorite examples and replicate in your own home. Recommended for anyone interested in examples of holiday decorating. It's a useful book that will look great on your coffee table.

Victoria 500 Christmas Ideas: Celebrate the Season in Splendor by Kimberly Meisner. Hardcover edition published by hearst Books in 2009. 480 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58816-766-8

Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Stick Man by Julia Donaldson

✰✰✰½ He's not just a stick; he's Stick Man, who just wants to be "with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three." Then one fine Spring day while out for a jog, a dog wants to play with him. Despite Stick Man's protests that he is more than just a stick, a sword, a bat, or a pen, no one will listen to him. And so it goes that the Stick Man finds himself on an unwanted adventure that takes him far away from home.

Months go by and Stick Man is tossed into the fireplace. Will he ever see his kids and his Stick Lady Love again? Just when he fears that all is lost there's a noise from above. What could it be? Why, it's a Stuck Man in the chimney who delivers a surprise holiday ending.

The Bottom Line:
Stick Man is full of silly whimsy. Kids will love the bouncy rhyming, and there's plenty of repetition for early readers. Axel Sheffler's full-color illustrations are whimsical, festive, and sure to please the little ones. Plus, parents will appreciate the family theme. It's the perfect read-aloud for a holiday story hour; kids will love to chime in. Recommended for kids ages 3 - 7.

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Hardcover edition published by Arthur A Levine Books in 2009. 32 pages. ISBN: 978-0-545-15761-2

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: A Rumpole Christmas: Stories by John Mortimer

✰✰✰½ Crime never takes a holiday and neither does Rumpole. Every year Rumpole and She Who Must Be Obeyed exchange the obligatory Christmas presents: a tie for him and a bottle of lavender water for her. Sounds simple enough; yet, it isn't. Rumpole manages to find himself involved in five holiday mysteries.

'Tis the season for mischief as Rumpole encounters a suspicious Father Christmas, endures a heath spa, visits a church, entertains children, and defends a suspected terrorist, all in typical Rumpole fashion. Enjoy this treat to the fullest as this collection is likely to be the last publication featuring "new" Rumpole stories. Sadly, John Mortimer passed away in January, 2009. All of the stories in
A Rumpole Christmas have previously appeared in magazines, but this is the first time they appear in book format.

The Bottom Line:
Rumpole is probably John Mortimer's most beloved and memorable character. Whether you have time to read just one story or all, there's a story in this collection that's just right for you. Delightful reading as always. Recommended for mystery buffs who enjoy short stories. Rumpole is sure to liven up your holiday spirit.

A Rumpole Christmas: Stories by John Mortimer. Hardcover published by Viking in 2009. 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0-670-02135-2

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: The Little Red Elf by Barbara Barbieri McGrath

✰✰✰½ This adorable holiday adaptation of The Little Red Hen is sure to please. A reindeer, a penguin, a hare, and a little red elf all live and work in a workshop at the North Pole. However, it seems that the little red elf is used to doing all the workshop work by herself.

When she finds a pinecone one day, she asks the others for help. When her friends turn her down, the little red elf must once again do all the work alone. She must plant it and water it, bring it indoors and decorate it. But when presents suddenly arrive will the little red elf share with her lazy friends? Or will she open all the presents herself? Wait and see...everyone is in for a big surprise.

The Bottom Line: The Little Red Elf is super cute. Author Barbara McGrath's holiday take on a childhood classic teaches kids the gift of sharing. Meanwhile the softly colored acrylic paintings of Rosalinde Bonnet enhance the story and bring it to life. It's the perfect bedtime story for kids ages 3 - 7. Girls especially will love it.

The Little Red Elf by Barbara Barbieri McGrath. Illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet. Published by Charlesbridge in 2009. Hardcover edition, 32 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58089-236-0

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cookbook Review: Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen by Georgeanne Brennan

✰✰✰✰½ July is a great time to plan ahead for your Christmas gift giving. If you are thinking of trying something new this year, Georgeanne Brennan's book, Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen, is just what you need to get things started. How about whipping up a recipe of Plum-Vanilla Preserves? Or a batches of Chocolate Shortbread and Chewy Ginger-Molasses Cookies? There's also Savory Palmiers, Kugelhopf, and Sugar and Spice Pecans. All would make excellent gifts to give to your special someone.

This book is chock full of easy-to-follow recipes that are sure to delight even the grumpiest Scrooge on your holiday gift giving list. The book is divided into the following chapters: Introduction; Cookies; Cakes, Bars & Breads; Candies & Confections; Savory Treats; Preserved Delights; and an Index. Many of the recipes have full color photos. Plus, the book includes tips for how to present and package your homemade goodies.

The Bottom Line: While this cookbook assumes some previous baking experience, there are recipes for bakers of all levels. Recommended with enthusiasm for everyone.

Details: Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen by Georgeanne Brennan. Published by Oxmoor House in 2009. Hardcover edition; 111 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8487-3295-0

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Book Review: Country Living Merry & Bright

✰✰✰✰✰ Looking for fresh ideas and tips to help you create that perfect holiday atmosphere can be daunting unless you have the right book. Country Living Merry & Bright: 301 Festive Ideas for Celebrating Christmas is packed with full-color photos that correspond to craft project ideas, seasonal decorating tips, and festive recipes. The ideas included in this paperback will add holiday sparkle to your home, but won't break the bank.

You can get an early start to your holiday planning by perusing topics for decorating, entertaining, tabletop decorating, crafting, and baking. The directions for the craft ideas are easy to follow with supplies readily obtained from your local hobby and craft store. Even the craft challenged will be pleased with the selection. Similarly, the book's recipes use simple ingredients found in even modest pantries. With the step-by-step directions, even beginning bakers will turn out professional tasting holiday treats.

The Bottom Line:
With over 300 ideas, there's something for everyone. Even if you don't have time to decorate or bake, this book is great fun to leaf through the pages and enjoy the festive photos. This book will appeal to all levels of bakers and craft enthusiasts. Highly recommended for everyone looking for new and classic holiday ideas.

Country Living Merry & Bright: 301 Festive Ideas for Celebrating Christmas by The Editors of Country Living. Paperback published by Hearst Books in 2009. 223 p. ISBN: 978-1-58816-782-8

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: Grumpy Badger's Christmas by Paul Bright

✰✰✰✰✰ "Christmas is for sleeping..." declares the Grumpy Badger. There's excitement all around as the Grumpy Badger checks his pantry for supplies and settles in for a long winter's nap. However, the forest animals keep bothering him with their plans and preparations for a Christmas party.

All the Grumpy Badger really wants is some peace and quiet so he can get some sleep. But when the mole gets stuck at the top of a Christmas tree, will the Grumpy Badger sleep through the crisis? It seems that the Grumpy Badger knows just what to do. But can he make up for his grumpiness? Read this charming Christmas tale and find out.

The Bottom Line: Both the young and the young at heart will love Grumpy Badger's Christmas, a charming picture book that highlights the gifts of friendship and sharing. Children will love the adorable animals beautifully illustrated in acrylics by Jane Chapman. Highly recommended for all.

Grumpy Badger's Christmas by Paul Bright. Illustrated by Jane Chapman. Published by Good Books in 2009. Hardcover edition, 24 pages. ISBN: 978-1-56148-673-1

"Christmas in July" Book Reviews

Summertime in Chicago is hot, hot, hot! What better way to cool off than to think of snowflakes and winter fun? This month Mini Books Bytes is featuring book reviews with winter and holiday themes. I'm thinking along the lines of holiday crafts, baking, and picture books for the little ones.

Believe it or not, this is a great time of year to plan ahead. The holiday season will be upon us before you know it. My philosophy is that it's never too early to start planning. With that in mind, upcoming book reviews for this month include:

  1. Grumpy Badger's Christmas by Paul Bright
  2. Country Living Merry & Bright by The Editors of Country Living
  3. Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen by Georgeanne Brennan
  4. A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer
  5. Stick Man by Julia Donaldson
Happy Reading & Stay Cool!