Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: 'Summer and Bird' by Katherine Catmull

✰✰✰✰ Summer and Bird are two very different sisters. One is fair while the other is dark and bird-like. However, when the girls wake up one morning to discover that their parents are missing, they set off into the forest together to find them. Along the way they encounter a magical patchwork bird, whose song leads them to the world of Down. In this frozen and barren world, the girls choose very different paths. Through different circumstances Summer and Bird learn about the Swan Queen, who is the queen of all birds and has been missing for thirteen years.

In the Swan Queen's absence an evil woman known as the Puppeteer has taken up residence in the Swan Queen's castle. While the bird-eating Puppeteer longs to be the queen of birds, she knows that she can never reach that goal without the true queen's robe of feathers. As each girl sets out to find the Swan Queen and her true heir, Bird falls under the spell of the evil Puppeteer. Meanwhile, millions of birds long to reach the long lost Green Home, but only the Swan Queen can lead them there. Without the queen, the birds face certain death. Summer and Bird must make their choices carefully in the quest to defeat the evil Puppeteer, find the queen, and save millions of birds, but time is quickly running out.

The Bottom Line: Summer and Bird is an enchanting read about two sisters who must find their own paths in life. Katherine Catmull paints with words to create a magical world filled with fantasy and longing. Throughout the story the girls learn about the importance of family and to trust their instincts. Both girls struggle to learn that there is more than one way of looking at something and that sometimes the truth is hard to hear. Anyone who has ever secretly dreamed of being a princess will enjoy Catmull's debut book. Also, the fairy tale quality and flowery writing style will appeal to girls in middle school. This story vaguely reminded me of several fairy tales, but especially of the Japanese tale, The Crane Wife; thus, I enjoyed the bittersweet ending.

Details: Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull. Advance Reader's Copy published by Dutton Children's Books in 2012. 384 p. ISBN: 978-0-525-95346-3 Note: I received an advance reading copy of this book from Dutton Children's Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cookbook Review: 'Betty Crocker Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook'

✰✰✰✰ The season of autumn features all of my favorite holidays including Thanksgiving, a time to celebrate family, friends, and food. With Thanksgiving being just around the corner, now is the time to start planning.

For tried and true recipes, I often turn to Betty Crocker cookbooks. Betty Crocker Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook includes just about everything you ever wanted to know about cooking the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. The book begins with a Q&A section, where the editors at Betty Crocker have answered questions that readers most frequently ask.

Recipes begin with a chapter about turkey, of course. There is also a chapter devoted just to gravies, sauces and stuffing which is helpful for the novice cook. Those with more experience looking to supplement their usual fare will want to take a look at the chapters dedicated to side dishes, breads, soups, salads, and desserts. The editors have also included additional main dishes like Baked Ham with Zesty Cranberry Sauce, Roast Goose with Apple Stuffing, and Roasted-Vegetable Lasagna. Most of the ingredients are easily found at your local grocery store. I also appreciated the helpful tips for substitutions, do-aheads, and special touches. Finally, recipes include nutritional information, and there is an index at the end.

Taste Test Notes: I was looking for something that I could serve on Thanksgiving morning for breakfast. I found this quick and easy recipe for Surprise Pumpkin Muffins and decided to give it a try. I had everything I needed in my pantry, except for one ingredient. Therefore, while the recipe calls for chopped nuts, I substituted mini chocolate chips instead. Here's the result:
Surprise Pumpkin Muffins are quick and easy to bake.
The muffins were a perfect treat to serve with scrambled eggs and sausage for a quick holiday breakfast. Yum! You can even bake these a day or two early and freeze them. Just take them out of the freezer 15 minutes before serving. Nana's Baking Tip: If using paper liners like I did, let the muffins cool 15 - 20 minutes before removing them. Otherwise, the liners will stick.

The Bottom Line: Preparing a Thanksgiving feast doesn't have to be stressful. Whether you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time or the thirtieth, you'll find something helpful in this book. The numbered, step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and the tips are helpful. Also, be sure to take a look at the count down menus including the Super-Simple Menu or My First Thanksgiving Dinner. The addition of full-color photographs and the use of black ink rather than maroon would have made this a 5 star book. Highly recommended for both beginning and experienced cooks. Even experienced cooks will find something to add to their holiday table.

Details: Betty Crocker Complete Thanksgiving Cookbook: All You Need to Cook a Foolproof Dinner by the Betty Crocker editors. Paperback published by Betty Crocker (an imprint of Wiley) in 2003. 192 p. ISBN: 0-7645-2574-3

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: 'The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One' by Ellis Weiner

✰✰✰½ Fraternal twins John and Abigail Templeton are in for an adventure when their father, Professor Elton Templeton, takes a new position at the Tickeridge-Baltock Institute of Technology, otherwise known as Tick-Tock Tech. Before the Templetons and their ridiculous dog, Cassie, even have a chance to settle in, things get interesting when an incredibly handsome former student, Dean D. Dean, accuses the Professor of stealing an idea.

Now the Professor is known far and wide for his inventions, so no one believes Dean D. Dean's claim. In order to force the Professor to admit that he stole the idea to put the Personal One-Man Helicopter (POMH) in a knapsack, Dean and his twin brother Dan D. Dean kidnap the twins and their ridiculous dog. However, the Dean twins may have underestimated the Templeton twins. You see, each Templeton twin is very clever in their own way. However, John and Abigail must find a way to work together to outwit the evil Dean twins and save their father before he signs over all ownership of the POMH to Dean D. Dean. Unfortunately, with time running out, it doesn't look good for the twins, their father, or their ridiculous dog.

The Bottom Line: After a slow start, The Templeton Twins Have an Idea really took off. This book is a little different from others due to the narrator who injects himself into the story quite often. At times the narrator is a bit too snarky and "talked" to the reader just a tad too much. However, the narrator does play a role in explaining things along the way. The narrator also provides Questions for Review at the end of each chapter; these "questions" were hilarious and fun.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the first book of this new adventure series. The author's emphasis on family, teamwork, and following through with ideas make this a worthwhile read. Additionally, Jeremy Holmes' illustrations were spot-on and fun to look at. This is a nicely packaged product that is humorous and fun to read. Kids in middle school will enjoy the snarky commentary. Recommended for boys and girls looking for a quirky new series to follow.

Details: The Templeton Have an Idea: Book One written by Ellis Weiner and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes. Hardcover published by Chronicle Books in 2012. 232 p. ISBN: 978-0-8118-6679-8 Note: I received a complimentary copy from Chronicle Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.