Monday, April 28, 2014

The Years Of Zero by Seng Ty

The Years of Zero by Seng Ty"I remember seeing young boys returning home on the backs of their water buffaloes and hearing the music of cowbells in the evening. Frogs croaked and crickets chirped. It was pure innocence on our big land..." Thus begins the story of Seng Ty, youngest child of 11, the son of a doctor and kindly mother in Cambodia on the brink of civil war.

This is an AMAZING book. No, it's not always easy to read, war is traumatic and what the author and others experienced during those "Zero years" will break any feeling person's heart in two. But what a beautiful storyteller! While I was reading this I couldn't help but bookmark passages that especially spoke to me. When the Khmer Rouge took over, the author was just a boy. These are his words,

""What are the Khmer Krahom, Mother? " "They are revolutionaries, " she said. The word "revolutionaries " sounded strange. I knew that krahom meant red, so I thought maybe they were red skinned Khmer, like the farmers who worked in the sun all day."

His descriptions were so perfectly apt and observant: "One of my sisters and I went around gathering scraps of wood and leaves for a fire. We noticed that some people had hanged themselves in the trees because they couldn't take it anymore. Their dead bodies hung like some strange fruit from poisonwood trees. I can still see them in my sleep."

""Mother, look there!" I said, pointing. The Khmer Rouge were coming like crows and ravens, all black with their red beaks (they wore red hats) pecking into our fearful hearts. Their dark eyes pierced us."

By now we were so used to seeing dead people that we weren't afraid. There were skulls and bones everywhere. Beyond the bodies there was rice in abundance, enough to bring all those dead people back to life."

"Suddenly we were caught up in a flood of people on this destroyed highway littered with bomb craters. No cars had been seen driving on it for four years. Now [people] came looking for their missing relatives. It was as if everyone was emerging from a grave, like zombies in search of daylight."

I felt like I was there, holding the author's hand while I read his words. This isn't a book about atrocities. yes, there are atrocities described but primarily it is a message of hope. Although bad things happen, we don't have to let those things change our own humanity and compassion. We can turn the tables so to speak on our enemies. Listen to this interview between Seng and a Time Life correspondent:

""Do you believe in revenge? " "Yes," I told him. "Do you want to kill those who killed your parents and siblings?" "No, " I told him. "My only revenge is to be the best person possible, and to be as good a man as I can be.""

What can I say, you just have to read this! Don't dismiss it as just another book about war, it's not. It's a book about a person. A little boy and an even more amazing survivor.

On a side note, I also liked that the author gave the reader a solid peek into his life once he arrived safely in the States with his adopted family. His first impressions were of incredulity. The wealth. The beauty. The food available in one's cupboards. But things weren't always fair sailing. There were misunderstandings, the food tasted nasty, there was culture shock (his toilet stories were hilarious!) and flashbacks (especially when his adopted family decides to take him on their annual camping trip).

Wonderful book! 5 Stars easy!


SEX: None. Rape is mentioned but not described
VIOLENCE: Strong. Civil War is ugly and the author doesn't spare us from all the sights.
PROFANITY: Pretty Mild. Some "potty profanity" at end while discussing toilets.
PARANORMAL ELEMENTS: A woman reads tarot cards and Seng's "future" is told.


*I received a free signed book from the author in exchanged for my honest opinion

If You Were Me and Lived in Australia by Carole P. Roman

It seems I have missed something that other reviewers who gave this 5 stars saw. I don't want to be mean or critical, just honest. According to my Goodreads 2 star rating, the book "was ok". I just can't go higher than that and still be honest.

If you were 8 years old, sitting in the classroom and the teacher says, "you all need to read a non-fiction book and write a report on it", than I have to say that this is book is as any to do it. But seriously, if I'm being painfully honest... it's dry as dust.

Wikipedia-type facts and trivia about Australia are assembled into a storybook with pictures. There are pronunciation keys on every page. I thought these were distracting and unnecessary, especially when the story is interrupted to teach you how to pronounce such words as Jack, William, Mummy and Daddy. Interestingly, there is a page at the back of the book in which the pronunciation key is reproduced and I thought that that was a more reasonable place to put it. Why both? I'm puzzled...

So it's ok. Just know what you're getting.

I'm going to pass this onto my two nephews (age 6 and 8) who homeschool and I'm sure this will be useful for some class study.

*I received a free book from the author along with fun little bits and bobs- pencils, keychains, a blow up globe and Australian flag in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Whistle On The Wind by Nan Shipley

Whistle on the Wind by Nan Shipley3 1/2 Stars

I'm rating this based on how much I enjoyed it, not on the quality of the writing which is 5 star.

Basically, a young woman gets on a train to join her new husband on his job assignment: a rail road boss stationed at Mile 210 in the wilds of Canada. The "settlement" is merely a few boxcars housing railroad workers and their small families. Her job is to find what satisfaction she can in a bleak, stark, and barren world. Her husband, more married to his work than to her, is a strong, unbending perfectionist who expects all railroaders to have his same worth ethic. There is no room for sentimentalism or fellow feeling and definitely no room for mistakes. If workers are suffering in their personal lives than they can "snap out of it" or he'll find someone else to take their place. Obviously an essential man for the railroad but should he have married? Personally, I say no.

Do you remember in the old Disney adaption of Oliver Twist when Nancy sings that song about Bill Sykes 'As Long As He Needs Me"? (*insert finger down throat*) Well, I felt that they could have started the music to that song around page 186. The sad thing is, He doesn't need her. So while I applaud her heroics, it's all seemed...rather... pointless.

Whistle On The Wind has many of the same elements as Mrs. Mike. Arctic cold, accidents, typhoid,a forest fire, grief, marital unhappiness, good and bad neighbors etc. But if you were to choose Mrs Mike or Whistle On The Wind, I would absolutely say grab Mrs Mike. Which is a good thing since this book is pretty rare!

While this book is well written, it's not as detailed or as exquisitely executed as Mrs Mike. And it is a bit depressing. The ending is ok,(for those who need a HEA) but there is far more closeness between Mrs. Mike and her Canadian Monty husband than there ever was or would ever be between Lyn and Don in this story.

Bottom line: Good but not awesome


SEX: None, but an infidelity is alluded to.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Making and Using Vinegar by Bill Collins

So, who wants to read a book about vinegar?

I'll admit that it's not something that "grabs" most people right off, but actually, its not as dry as it looks. Anyone who enjoys "homesteading ", pickling, canning, or just cooking in general will want this cookbook in their collection.

Its not a diatribe on the history of vinegar (although it touches on vinegar's beginnings),  nor is it a health book (but if you want to get into it,  vinegar does have its uses). Primarily, this is a book to teach you how to make your own vinegars from 'mother' and alcohol. There's also a section on herb infusions if you like the idea of getting fancy without the "boil and trouble".

And then there's tons and tons of recipes from pickles to chocolate cake to barbecue. All in all a well rounded book.


*I received this ebook free from NetGalley

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No More A Roving by Sylvia Thorpe

No More A-Roving by Sylvia Thorpe3 1/2 stars
Another fun romp by Sylvia Thorpe!

In this story the heroine finds herself betrothed to a man she grew up with from a neighboring plantation in Barbados. He loves her in his own way but is controlling and jealous. Meanwhile a convict ship comes in and Bethany's father goes to check out the slaves for sale. He finds a tall man of arrogant stature and cool gray eyes and buys him along with a few others...need I say more?

What follows is accusations of insubordination, a flogging, Bethany's virtue is called into question, there is a show down, a shipwreck, pirates, a slave uprising and a mystery involving a 'royal' birth. Sounds like a lot but somehow Sylvia works it all out.

It's not my favorite Thorpe but it's still a good solid 3 stars and I can recommend it to others who like a clean romantic adventure set in another time and place.

SEX: None
VIOLENCE: A flogging (not graphic) and muted talk of rape among pirates
PROFANITY: Mild to None

MY Rating: G to Mild PG

The Story of the Unlucky Teacher and Her Koalas by Nina Johnson

The Story of the Unlucky Teacher and Her Koalas by Nina Johnson
This is a cute story with a positive message.

It encourages children/students to "tap into their inner strength" and realize their potential despite even horrific limitations and the prejudice of the village.

In the story, the obstacle was an "impossible" one: participating in the village's 'Big Mountain Climbing Contest' why was this such a problem? Because the 'unlucky teacher's ' students are disadvantaged. They have no arms or legs. No one knows why. Villagers suspect that its because these koalas are malnourished or were born on the wrong side of town and were so violent they maimed each other and were best left alone.

If the unlucky koalas listened to all the gossip, they probably would have given up before they started. But with the support and encouragement of the 'unlucky teacher' read how the impossible becomes possible, obstacles are surmounted and dreams are reached.

Recommended for both teachers of special needs children and all children in general.

*I received a free copy of this from the author in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you!

Tex-Mex from Scratch by Jonas Cramby

Tex-Mex from Scratch by Jonas CrambyI've never eaten authentic Tex-Mex. And yes, three IS such a thing. I've always considered Tex-Mex as Americanized Mexican food, you know, like breaded jalepeno poppers dipped in barbecue sauce. It's not.

In the author's own words,"Real Tex-Mex is...the result of a culture clash. German immigrants brought their smoky sausages and creamy potato salads to Texas, and these food traditions were soon merged with the cowboys' simple prairie grub and the Mexicans' beautiful food culture- which in turn was a fusion between the Spanish and American Indian cuisines. The result became simple food that is easy to like and makes you happy."

Living in the Southern USA (and having a Mexican brother in law) we eat our share of authentic Mexican food and I enjoy making buckets of pico de gallo in the summertime and I have to say, my sister's tostadas and enchiladas are to die for. But we never go to Mexican restaurants (ore rarely) because they are simply not authentic. If you've had the real thing, imitation doesn't satisfy. So this book attracted me because it's Tex-Mex FROM SCRATCH. Yes, please.

I love all the salsa and pickle variations and for those who've never made their own corn or wheat tortillas there's recipes for that as well. There's drinks, desserts and of course tons of meat barbecuing tips. I'm vegetarian so I skimmed those recipes but the spice combinations and cooking suggestions for these look really good, and a couple I want to try and vary for vegetable or fish dishes.

Funny enough, the author is a Brit (While visiting Texas he fell in love with the cuisine)and he's written this book for a British audience so there are substitutions suggested for things like Queso Fresca and Tomatillos.This would probably help any reader who doesnt live near a Latino community, even in the States.

Highly Recommended

*I received an ecopy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cozy Classics: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Jack and Holman Wang

Cozy Classics by Jack WangSo this is another board book in the Cozy Classics series.

Other books presented are Cozy Classics: War and Peace, Cozy Classics: Les Miserables,Cozy Classics: Emma,Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice,Cozy Classics: Moby Dick,The Cozy Classics: Oliver Twist,Cozy Classics: Jane Eyreand Cozy Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Wow! I just wish I had these years ago, they are too awesome!

One classic. Twelve words. Twelve needle felted scenes.

Some of the words/scenes from this book are RIVER (cover picture), SCARED, MAN, GO, TALK, THINK, TRAPPED, PAL, PLAN, RUN and FREE. Really clever because each word and accompanying felt scene tells a vital part of the classic story and they're words that are sometimes complicated to explain the meaning of without showing the action and this book does that so well.

As I mentioned in my review of Tom Sawyer: the book can be read as any other board book just teaching words by flipping pages or the story itself can be shared (providing the parent/guardian knows the story) and the pages flipped at the appropriate time as the story is shared aloud. The latter, I think, is the best way to enjoy these books.

Love this series!

*I received a free digital copy from NetGalley in exchange for review

Cozy Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Jack& Holman Wang

Cozy Classics: The Adventures of Tom SawyerSo how do you tell the story of Tom Sawyer in twelve WORDS? That's right; not PAGES, but WORDS.

Well let me tell you about this, I think its is such a brilliant idea~ This is a board book with one word per page and a picture. But not an ordinary picture. These are needle felted works of art taken from scenes of the book.

For example, page one is the word HIDE. The picture to go with that is a needle felted Tom Sawyer hiding behind an illuminated "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 1" title page with a pot of jam in his hands.

Page two is PAINT and the picture is the one that is on the cover.

Other words are KISS, CRY, PLAY, CAVE etc and each one features the characters and events from the book.LOST is a scene of Tom and Becky lost in the cave with Tom holding a candle and bats flying over them; Becky is ducking her head.

So, really you could use the book as any normal picture book just flipping the pages and learning words OR, what I would do is tell the story of Tom Sawyer aloud and turn the pages as you get to that point in the story (because the pictures are consecutive with scenes in the classic).

I think its an awesome way to introduce very young children to the classics. Very cool indeed!

If this was out 16 years ago when my daughter was little I would have bought the whole set!

*I received a free digital copy from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Devnaa's India by Roopa Rawal

Devnaa's INDIA: Delicious Vegetarian Home Cooking & Street FoodI love Indian food.

And by that I mean authentic Indian food, not what most Indian chain restaurants churn out, but rather honest to goodness down home cooking. And just as much as I love Indian food I love just as much to cook it myself. So as you can imagine, when I spotted this title on Netgalley I grabbed the chance to request it :)

And now I read it and can tell you in perfect honesty that this is a great book!

I have several Indian cookbooks, some I go to more often than others. This is definitely a "go to " cookbook. The recipes are very straightforward and pretty simple. In fact, I would really recommend this one for someone just starting out in Indian cooking because the recipes are very do-able in that they use the same basic 10 or so spices,( including your onion, garlic, Chili and cilantro). So its not overwhelming. You could stock up on the basic spices and actually make almost every recipe in the book without needing to rent a storage unit to house your spices. Really truly.

Even for someone not easily overwhelmed and who likes to play with truckloads of spices (*cough* that would be me) sometimes time is of the essence and you need something you can whip up on short notice that still tastes awesome. This fits the bill.

In fact I really wish I had this in paper (not just digitally) because I know I would use it over and over again if I could grab it off the shelf. Looks like the Scrooge will have to buy herself a hardcopy... :)

And by the way, there's a color picture for every recipe! Now that is what I like to see!

I received a free ecopy of this book from Netgalley and the publishers in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you!

The Insect Cookbook by Arnold Van Huis

The Insect Cookbook by Arnold Van HuisSo why did I pick out this book?
Good question.

Ive been vegetarian for 30 years and you would THINK that insect cookery would be the ultimate ick factor. And it did have a bit of that "fear factor" appeal to me at first. But strangely it's really not that gross. I mean, I'm not salivating over pictures of roasted grasshoppers or anything but given the choice...I think I would eat mealy worms over chicken legs any day..

Isn't it funny though? I mean, people eat prawn cocktails all the time and when you think about it, I mean really think about it, prawns look rather insect like. It's kind of... well, icky. But we're used to it. And we eat honey which basically is bee vomit and love it. What's up with that?

I think what sealed it for me was the fact that we already eat bugs every day without even knowing it (it's in our peanut butter, chocolate, apple juice etc) and we haven't died yet, so it's not that big a deal. It's just a bit taboo. You know, like, eating bugs is for starving Ethiopians not "civilized" Americans (or some such nonsense). Fact is, in other countries people eat bugs NOT because theyre starving but because they actually taste good. Go figure. Us poor Americans are really missing out. Hey!

Anyway, I thought it was a pretty cool book. It explains the background of Entomophagy, how insects are used around the world in cooking, how they're making a showing in places like the Netherlands, San Francisco and New York, and it even has tons of recipes and full color pictures for your enjoyment. What's not to love?

Funny thing, I was with some friends today, one who is fairly open minded and a "mighty hunter" to boot. He has no problem butchering a deer or other animal and eating it. I mentioned this book and he thought it was totally gross. What a wus.

*I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Year Of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub

Year of No Sugar by Eve O. SchaubI'm a little mixed on this. I did enjoy it, very much actually, but the title is a little wrong. I don't want to be pedantic but it was not 'a year without sugar', it was an attempted year with no sugar; and there's a big difference. I know because Ive done it myself.

I had "no sugar in any shape or form, no substitutes and no cheating" for 18 months, several years ago. Yes, I had a health reason for doing so (and therefore more impetus) but I'm just saying it can be done. Diabetics do it all the time.

This was more of a "We're having no sugar for an entire year~ except dextrose, glucose syrup, rice syrup, mashed dates and of course one REAL cheat a month. What?? I know, I know, I'm a spoilsport, but sugar alternatives aside, ~I'm not going to touch that one~ I don't think there should have been monthly cheats. Period. Full stop. It's either "A Year without Sugar" or it isn't.

Anyway, you're probably wondering why I still gave it 4 stars.

The fact is, I enjoyed it. It's a fun read. It's honest and REAL and I think most people will relate to the "we're only human and its gelato for goodness sake" ideology.

I also felt pretty nostalgic while reading it since the authors background and my own was so similar. Even down to the ethical vegetarianism, growing up in Vermont,the 80s, affection for maple syrup, rhubarb and other things that make up "me".

So it's not a health book, like "Sugar Blues", (which by the way is excellent if you're looking for a health book) its more of a memoir of trying to make healthier choices in one's own family, and how that panned out in reality.

One thing that I wish was cleaned up a bit more was the language. There's several people I know who would like this book but I can't recommend it to them while it has both minor profanity (D's and H's and words like crap) and, more "moderately" (S, three times) and even the euphemism "motherfreakin" (that one kind of shocked me). I just know it would turn them off. And it really isn't necessary for the story telling. The "S" words especially were entirely unneeded, if you took them out no one would know where they 'went', they're that superfluous.
Just my opinion.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for my free copy to review.

Home Sweet Anywhere by Lynne Martin

Home Sweet Anywhere by Lynne MartinThis had a really fascinating start point. A married couple of retirement age sell everything and travel the world, not so much as tourists but as temporary residents, a month or two in each place. Very cool. Very gutsy. I applaud them.

So this is their story and I liked it.

Where they lost my interest a bit was the same old same oldness of each stop. While the country may be different, their pattern of living never really changed. So the days centered around eating, grocery shopping, getting a drink or two and trying to communicate and make friends with the locals (and if that wasn't possible, some likeminded English speaking tourists) . The author and her husband really aren't into lengthy scenic tours of the countryside/ architecture so the memoir doesn't travel too far from the hotel. In that way it was a bit boring. I felt 'grounded ' when I wanted to see the sights.

But! The reader has to keep in mind that this is a retired couple. They're not hitchhiking hippies. So the focus will be different.

Bottom line: I really think this couple deserve kudus for the guts to pack up and follow their hearts desire!

I received this ebook free from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feathers In The Fire by Catherine Cookson

Feathers in the Fire by Catherine CooksonAre you the type who reads "Frankenstein" and feels sorry for the monster? I admit that I do just a bit. Maybe that's why I love this book so much.

I first read this 10 years ago in 2004 and wanted to reread it to see if it still squeezed my guts. It did. *sigh* I just love this book. No, it's not your feel good, fluffy, life-is-wonderful kind of book. Its raw and even coarse in a couple of places but the story is just

So the master of the manor isn't quite so pious as he would like the townsfolk to think. When his young daughter finds him in a compromising position in the old malt house, his wife hears about his infidelity and soon goes into premature labor at 7 months (she could never carry babies full term) and gives birth to...

she tore the blanket first one way and then the other from the tiny form. They all stared down at the little creature. It had a head and two arms and a body but no legs. There were two fleshy protrusions where the legs should have been and from these hung two pieces of distorted flesh, what might have been termed, with a stretch of imagination, a pair of feet.
"Take...take it to the copse and drop it in the pool, the bog part..."

And that's where Amos nearly ended before he could start. It's not spoiling it to tell you it wasn't the end. Amos went on to become one of the most terrifying villains Ive ever read about, his arms as strong and agile as an octopus, creeping about on rafters etc. Eeeek! But knowing he was an unwanted "it" for his whole life you cant help feeling just an eensy teensy bit sorry for him...

Aside from the villainous Amos, "Feathers in the Fire" is also a love story and a story of growing and forgiveness.
One of Catherine Cookson's very best.

And by the way, if you like Catherine Cookson's style you might also try Jane Jackson's Eye of the Wind orThe Iron Road. Both are excellent and similar in style to CC.


SEX: (Fade to Black), infidelity and rape/attempted rape is mentioned.
VIOLENCE: Pretty Mild


Read in 2004 (1)
Read in 2014 (1)

Falconlough by Monica Heath

Falconlough by Monica HeathI really liked this. It is an atmospheric Gothic that starts in the ruins of Ireland and ends in a folly in California.

On the death of her guardian, Cassandra travels to Ireland, the land of her ancestors. There, while in an ancient church she is accosted by a man looking startlingly like herself.
"Shana? "
"You're mistaken, I'm Cassy"
"Ah Cassandra. Of course...Shana, you must never be frightened of me ..."

Thus begins a strange relationship between a man and woman who could pass for twins. While knowing next to nothing about this man Shane, (who both comforts and terrifies her), Cassy is drawn to him against her will and they travel together to a castle ruin in Northern Ireland.

Falconlough; the castle of the O'neills, now tipped into the sea. But that is not the end of Falconlough ...

There's a lot of interest in this story. Dopplegangers, falconry, caves and castles, family intrigue and a huge organ whose pipes dominate the very castle walls.

While somewhat predictable, there are enough twists and turns that I was still surprised by some of the revelations. Well worth a read!


SEX : None.
PARANORMAL ELEMENTS : One character is a self proclaimed witch. But not all is as it first appears.