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In a world where most people have a invisible, unsensible 'fairy', which gives good luck in a particular thing, not all fairies are created equal; and some can be downright difficult. Our heroine, attending a high school for sports stars, finds her parking fairy especially difficult to live with, and so she's taking steps-- by never riding in cars or other transport, she hopes to starve away her fairy. The unintended consequences of her plan tangle her up with a fairy expert, a girl with a boy-crazy fairy, and some difficult choices.

This is a fun, funny, teenage angst novel with magic-like elements, which is why our 11-year-old picked it up and enjoyed it. While there's some moral in here (our heroine finds out first hand why having a boy-crazy fairy isn't a good thing, and why the owner of such a fairy has social troubles, not to mention that her big, famous hometown might be just a *little* parochial), there's no heavy-handedness here. This is a fun read, and at least to me, reads true to teen thought processes. Adults may be concerned about some remarkably stupid choices of some of the characters, but again, that's true to life too-- even if it merits a family discussion among the readers.
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Someone I read complained about how unliberated the concept of this manga series was: a young girl wants to find the 'prince' who saved her life and cook him the best dessert in the world. I was intrigued, especially when I looked into it an discovered that the heroine also wants to be a world-class pastry chef like her parents.

All the females in our house plowed happily through all 10 cream-puff volumes of this series. The plot is frothy and with the usually girl manga elements-- which guy will she chose? How can she get along with the mean girls? How can she (and other characters) balance family, personal, and friend ties? What will she do with her life? On the other hand, there are serious touches (someone dies, for instance), and the heroine makes (good) life choices and uses food to bring folks together. MeMe Roth would disapprove of Kitchen Princess' comfort food focus, but her desire to teach others is a plus in my book.

Graphically presented recipes for the main dish in each episode appear at the end of the books. Dessert making isn't my thing, but I did like the presentation.

I don't feel the need to own this series, but it did get me started reading manga, and I thoroughly enjoyed these. And no, I didn't feel it was particularly unliberated, except in the usually tween-fluff way.
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Miss B. was just finishing a book, and I knew she'd be casting about for something new, so I handed her Mister Monday by Garth Nix. (Ok, I'd suggested it before, but she had taken it to Florida and then left it in a knapsack with a decaying lunch; it was now aired out enough and I'd re-read it.) She said she'd read it next. A little while later, I saw her reading (something) and asked her how she liked Mister Monday. "Oh, I haven't started it yet." So, was she planning to read it? "Not until you've suggested it to me three or four more times... like I always do." Yes, I know she was kidding, but after having to routinely steal back books I was *IN THE MIDDLE OF READING* from her, having her say she'd try something and then not... I realized I had been bashing my head against the way in frustration.

Bleah. I give up. I told her that a) I wasn't going to recommend any more books and b) she was no longer allowed to borrow my library books. If she wanted to read books, she'd have to pick them out and check them out herself. She could go back to "reading that drivel like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dear Dumb Diary" for all I cared.

Of course, the first thing that happened was that she snagged-- and had removed from her-- one of my requested library books (Cabinet of Wonders); and then her father pointed out that she'd LOVE another one that I got out. Since I'd finished it, we went back to the library and returned it while I got my other requests-- and she asked the circ staff to pull Dussie from the to-be-reshelved truck so she could check it out.

How long will I hold out? I said, Until I forget. So, until I slip up and recommend something to her, she's just stuck. *smile*

Onward and upward to the reviews.

Dussie. Nancy Springer
I happen to love Nancy Springer's work to begin with, but this slight novel is still well-handled, while playing on the Greek Myth trend popular these days. It's only when 13-year-old Dussie wakes up with a head full of snakes the day after getting her first period that she learns that her mother is in fact one of the Gorgon sisters, and Dussie herself is half-immortal. Dussie reacts in a perfectly reasonable adolescent fashion, mad at her mother and unwilling to talk to her. That the turban her mother always wears conceals a coif of vipers is bad enough, but unlike Dussie, her mother doesn't hear her own snakes talking-- and doesn't believe Dussie does. Once Dussie tries to leave the house with facial-mudded snakes disguised as dredlocks, things get worse. A visit to "The Sisterhood" suggests there may be a way out, and a kindly acquaintance might also help... but Dussie herself makes the final choices.

Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski
Oooh! Steampunk with some humor for tweens, set in Bohemia, with complications, magic, and the usual appurtenances. Petra Kronos and her magical metal spider Astrophil are appalled when her father is returned from the capital minus his eyes-- the prince's 'thanks' for creating the most beautiful, magical clock ever. Eventually, Petra sets out to do something about it. (Compare to the tween fantasy The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes by Roderick Townley for a completely different treatment of some similar plot elements, and a male protagonist.) Well written, with sympathetic characters, a magical-steampunk storyline that is internally consistent, and a minimal and light touch on pubescent 'learning experiences'. The author's love for Bohemia shines through-- fans of Eva Ibbotson's Star of Kazan will find a similar worldsetting touch here. In a lot of ways, this is a classic hero's journey (with family rescue) fairy tale, with classic Eastern European elements. But who can resist Astrophil, or fail to like plucky (i.e., brave but not thinking things through, followed by dogged persistence) Petra? It remains to be seen whether sequels will be as good.
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The Death-Defying Pepper Roux. Geraldine McCaughrean.
This slight but death-defying YA adventure has overtones of Le Miserables mixed with Sid Fleischman. Le Pauvre, as his family calls him, has lived his entire life under the shadow of his Aunt's vision that he will die before he is 14. On his 14th birthday, he finally breaks away from home and ends up pursuing a number of wildly divergent and mishap prone careers, taking on several different identities, helped by the fact that "people see what they want to see" but always feeling the fearsome pursuit of saints and angels on his back, come to claim him. Adults will quickly suspect what a kindly if eccentric mentor finally tells Pepper at the end of the book, but the breakneck adventures and the oddly poignant characters and writing will keep you reading.

Goblin Baby. Berlie Doherty.
This first chapter book is a cuddly retelling of the classic theme: older sibling rescues younger sibling stolen by the fairies. Not very substantive, but with a few deft touches. Nice line drawings, too.

The Society of Unrelenting Vigilance. Glenn Dakin.
Subtitled The Candle Man, this is another YA adventure, more than a little reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book crossed with Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. The usual orphan child raised by sinister caretakers, devoid of all human contact; but when he is rescued, things begin to go strangely. For fans of youth gaslamp fantasy. Would adapt beautifully into a videogame. :)
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Wade Rouse. At least in the city someone would hear me scream: Misadventures in search of the simple life.

Rouse convinced his partner, Gary, that they should move out of the big city (Chicago) to their summer house in an area he calls "Gayberry", so that he (Rouse) could live a modern day Thoreau-like transformation.

For someone who admits to having run away from his rural area childhood and sculpted himself into the perfect socialite writer stylish gay guy, this is a big step, fraught with pitfalls, or should we say pratfalls, and Rouse milks it for all the humor he can get. He also talks about what he learned. This is The Egg and I in reverse, in some ways. And yes, it is funny.

Now, true to a certain gay guy self-parodying over-the-top subculture (he mentions that his partner's mother gets him the best presents, apparently because she seems to envision him as a 13-year-old girl, and that says it all, doesn't it), he's gotta be bigger than life and more pansy-than-thou, so I kept losing suspension of disbelief at the funniest parts: how could you grow up in the Ozarks and not expect a septic tank? Can anyone really be that obsessive about shoes and still be able to write? Do people really spend this much money? For that matter, if you're still so wierded out by the average human being, why do you live outside the rarified urban lifestyle? Yes, it set off all my "My god, people aren't really *like* this, are they?" buzzers.

On the other hand, well, yes, people sometimes really ARE like this, no matter how much it wierds me out, and if they are willing to develop Third Thoughts about their lives anyway, I'm all for it. There's an a lot more diversity of thought process here than in, say, Alison Bechtel. But then I never tried to read this guy's actual memoir, either. Also, it's refreshing to run into someone who writes something like this who actually has a spiritual life of a more mainstream sort, a feeling of connection with God-as-they-understand him. That's one of the best parts in the book.

At first, I thought, ok, this guy is a loser. Then I thought, Hey, he's kinda funny. Then I thought, omigod, he's SO milking the stereotypes. Then I thought, hey, wow, he's not a bad writer. Moving back to "is anybody really that shallow, and if so, is it moral to admit it in public?" And then, 'hey, that was spot-on, and this is pretty deep. Well, he's not a complete loser after all.. wait, was that a Bette Midler impersonation... what?'

There's a certain gay Gladys Taber effect going on here, as well. Yes, his heroine is Erma Bombeck and it shows, but Erma just didn't have the same material to work with for the serious parts.

Yeah, I'd probably re-read it and recommend it to you all. I'd even pick up a copy if if I saw it cheap or remaindered.

His explanation of small town friendliess and how it complicates life (spot on), followed by the sentence "The first thing that gay men must do when they move to the country is rearrange the woods" makes p. 162 the best in the book, but since I'm too lazy to transcribe it, go read a different excerpt here: http://waderouse.com/content/books_city_scream.asp?id=Excerpt
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Up and down the Scratchy Mountains, or, The search for a suitable princess. Laurel Snyder
Grade-school book with a playful reverse take on the princess theme, and massive riffing on responsibility, the perils of not talking about things, and the problems of rigid adherence to 'rules'. Admittedly, 12-year-olds are getting engaged, but it's smart and funny. When her timid friend Prince Wynstan is dragged off by his royal father to get ready to select a princess, Lucy the milkmaid sets off into the Scratchy mountains in search of her mother. She's been told her mother is gone, but nothing about her or what happened to her. Along with her she takes her rebellious young cow, and she picks up a companion in a lost prairie dog. Miss B. loved it. Certain echos of Suzanne Hayden Elgin's Ozark trilogy are detectable, either because of the scene-setting or because of the themes. Great illustrations

Peace, love, and baby ducks. by Lauren Myracle
At first offputting because of it's rarified setting (richest of the rich in Atlanta Georgia) this YA novel about finding one's own voice and maintaining sisterly relations is actually a decent read. Sophmore Carly's all peace and love and retro-60s, but her little sister, Anna, now a freshman, has suddenly blossomed into a Girl With A Figure. Carly wants to help Anna with the hassles her new looks produce, but she also admits to feeling kind of jealous and having a bit of don't-I-always-help. Carly is also trying to find out what, in the rarefied atmosphere of high-achieving Christian high school Holy Redeemer, she believes and wants-- and she's also searching for her 'ironic love boodle'. I first thought "oh lord, who lives like this?" but it's well written, and apparently Ms. Myracle DID grow up like this.

McDuff and the baby Rosemary Wells ; pictures by Susan Jeffers.
In this picture book, 1920s terrier McDuff has his comfortable life taken over by his owners' new baby. He tries various ways to discourage the baby, who is oblivious, and finally resorts to not eating, whereupon his owners realize what is wrong and take steps to restart his favorite activities with the family. Cute illustrations.

Bunny party Rosemary Wells.
Bossy Big Sister Ruby is giving Grandma a birthday party and has invited 10 guests, including 7 of her stuffed toys-- and none of Max's. Little brother Max, with his trademark silent subtlety, slips in his three favorite toys in disguise. Very cute, of course, with repeated counting. I was Ruby once; I still love Max & Ruby.
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A Gift From Zeus: Sixteen Favorite Myths. Written by Jeanne Steig, Pictures by William Steig (Joanna Cotler Books, 2001).

These retellings of some of the major myths are amusing, but it requires a certain kind of humor to enjoy William Steig's illustrations. I personally don't think his illustrative style adds enough humor to the text; and I wouldn't consider the retellings "juvenile literature" but I do think the book is fun for adults and young adults. The 16 stories are Prometheus, Demeter, Midas, Daphne and Apollo, Leda, Pygmalion, Europa, Venus and Adonis, Daedalus and Icarus, Arachne, Hero and Leander, Perseus, Echo and Narcissus, Bellerophon, Theseus, and Orpheus & Eurydice.

Gods and Goddesses [Ancient Greece] by John Malam (Peter Bedrick Books, 1991)

I really like this version because it covers not only some mythology but also has information about religious practices and superstitions, including temple design and oracles; the picture book is illustrated with primarily classical era art (ceramics, sculpture, etc) and studded with quotes from classical literature. Also includes a nice family tree of the gods, something most mythology books seem to be skipping these days.

The Book of Goddesses by Kris Waldherr (Beyond Words, 1995)
A juvenile book based on a subset of the goddess illustrations in Waldherr's Goddess Tarot, and absolutely gorgeous. I'm not 100% happy with the goddess profiles, because they seem to pick and chose their facts, but the book is worth it for the variety of goddesses -- a number we don't usually talk about-- and for the gorgeous illustrations.
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I've been pursuing some of my favorite "make your own dollhouse furniture" books from my childhood. While this one isn't one of them, if you're interested in Minatures, it's a good read.

Marian Maeve O'Brien. Make Your Own Dollhouses & Dollhouse Minatures.. (Greenwich House, 1975).

While a bit dated, especially since it makes references to pricing and suppliers, this practical book gives practical instructions and patterns for making your own minatures. Of particular interest is her section on what tools and equipment are useful. The writing is pedestrian but practical, the photos a bit crowded and small scale, but the patterns and drawings are excellent. Instructions for making dollhouses from scratch and from supplier's materials are also included.
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Short notices...
Camann, William, and Kathryn J. Alexander, Easy Labor: Every Woman's Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth. (Ballantine, 2006)
For those who are interested in what the medical birth pain management options are nowadays, and for those who just like reading birth stories. Obviously, the information here is likely to be dated pretty soon, and it's definitely pro-pain management. But the stories are pretty worth it, including the hilarious one about the OB giving birth a bit early, when her husband had pneumonia, *her* OB was in the same hospital recovering from a hysterectomy, and her preferred anesthesiologist was skiing in Colorado. Includes sections on alternative methods of pain management, pain management for c-section, and the intriguing "How painful is it -- really?" Lots of pull out boxes and interview responses with caregivers.

Churchill, Gordon. Expecting: One Man's Uncensored Memoir of Pregnancy (HarperCollins, 2000)
This science journalist's account is probably the most readable of the men-talking-about-pregnancy books. Part memoir, part research notes-- typical journalist, Churchill deals with his pre-fatherhood jitters by interviewing people and doing research. Very interesting coverage of the "couvade" concept and various current scientific/evolutionary/biological research on it. Also interesting were his interviews with male friends about their pregnancy experiences, with a few sidelights into the portrayal of pregnancy/birth in the history of media. While not consistently funny or even trying to be humorous-- and sometimes painful to read, such as when he acknowledges discomfort with the changes in his wife's body-- this is a good read with plenty of humor.
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Caroline Osborne, Small Scale Modelling (Ramsbury, Wiltshire: Crowood Press, 2000).

Yes, I'm back on the minatures/dollhouses kick again, even though (or because) my real house is such a mess. Anyway...

This lavishly color illustrated paperback concentrates on the author's collection of houses, scenes, shops, etc. of 1/2" to 1 foot scale or smaller. As the author points out,
Most collectors and modellers swiftly discover that in an average-sized house (including full-size humans), three or four 1/12 scale houses are delightful. Twenty is an embarrassment of riches and suggests it is time to open a museum.

The author writes with a sense of humor (somewhat British) as well as a great deal of enthusiasm, though one could merely page through the book and marvel at her creativity.
I have a completely unique distressing system for furniture: I just leave it in my studio (the garden shed) for two of three months, and the combination of damp and pottery dust usually does the rest. This only recommended if you want real Victorian/Dickensian dirt.

The author makes many of her own scene houses and dolls, though she also uses a generous selection of purchased items. Sections of the book include Making minature people & animals, furnishings, building your house, minature gardenign and landscaping, interior decoration, accessories, pottery houses, paper mache houses, cold porcelain projects, Shops (of 1/12, 1/24, and 1/48 scale size), period projects, outdoors designs, and complexes. Her take on making minature gardens is especially intriguing; I've long wanted to make a model medieval garden and her work gives me a place to start. The Grocer's shop and the Alchemist's house are likely to appeal to history buffs and herbalists as well.

Unlike some of my other favorite doll's-house books, this volume gives merely verbal directions and ideas rather than patterns, but it covers a much wider variety of materials, and is the best kind of 'idea book'. The tools and materials section and the section on making dolls are more detailed. The list of sources and magazines in the back will be dated by now, but the book benefits from a good but simple index.
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Ysabeau S. Wilce. Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog.

Magical castles/castle-butlers, a huge power struggle between two sets of conquering nobility, unreasonable parental expectations, a crazy relative and a cast of unusual sidekicks. A lot to get into a few hundred pages. Flora Segunda is the surviving second daughter of the Fyrdraaca family of Califia; she lives in a decaying mansion whose magical butler/castle presence has been banished by her mother. In a few weeks, she will reach her 14th birthday, become an adult, and be sent to military college-- all the Fyrdraacas are soldiers-- but she doesn't want to go. She meets the butler in an inaccessible part of the house and sets out to save him (along with a few other people along the way) but in the end needs to hunt for help for herself. The plot line, though complicated, is fascinating. There are echoes here of Garth Nix's Abhorsen and Keys to the Kingdom series, older Patricia McKillip, and even a certain amount of Ellen Raskin-ness. Despite her spirit and inventiveness, Flora is also subject to the angst of a 14-year-old girl; I see myself in her.
Definitely recommended.

Melissa Marr. Wicked Lovely.

Despite the title and the expectations raised by the cover art, this is not, thankfully, another teen vampire book, though there are some plot similarities. This is Urban faery fantasy in the Charles De Lint vein, though with some threads of folktale retellings. The settings are dark, dangerous, and sometimes bloody. Aislinn has Second Sight; she can see the fairy folk, though her grandmother has drilled her to never let on to them that she sees them, never attract their attention, never speak to them. But suddenly, two powerful faery figures are watching her and taking an interest in her life. Keenan, the Summer King, hopes that she will be able to take up the mantle of Summer Queen and free him from his mother's domination-- but every girl who has tried in the last 9 centuries has failed to be *the one* and ended up the Winter Girl, bound to cold and winter until the next candidate agreed to the trial. Donia, the current Winter Girl, is sworn to discourage Aislinn from trying, not only to fulfill her vow but to protect herself and Aislinn-- but Donia also wants to see Keenan freed. On Aislinn's side is Seth, a slightly older friend of Aislinn's whose attraction to Aislinn she feels unsafe in exploring. The ending is . . . unexpected. There's certainly a certain amount of Princess Diaries type characterization, but the writing is cinematographic (is that what I mean?)-- we don't get deep backstories for most of the characters, and there's a lot of changes of point of view. I liked it, but a lot of reviewers felt it lacked character development; I don't think it did, but perhaps I just liked it that much.
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Both from the kids/ya section:

Diane Stanley, A Time Apart.

When 13-year-old Ginny Dorris's mother is diagnosed with serious breast cancer and needs to undergo treatment, Ginny is shipped off to her father in England who she has never gotten close to. However-- this is the twist-- her father is running/on site supervising an Iron Age "living archaeology" project. So, here's Ginny thrust into a primitive environment against her will, terrified for her mom. She does pretty well, too-- she's done some pottery before, she knows how to cook, and she actually does a good job at minding five-year-old Daisy, so we don't have the 'incompetent city girl thrown in over her head and whining' meme, thank goodness. The author used notes her mother had made about the "Living in the Past" Iron Age project the BBC did, so it's not completely off base, either. The best thing about this book is that it evokes various genres of standard (or unstandard) stories, but manages to avoid their cliches.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The Unseen.

Less lighthearted, more disturbing and definitely more decidedly supernatural than most of Snyder's works, especially the more recent ones. Snyder combines bits of family story with the story of a young girl granted a tool to see "The Unseen"-- creatures that are all around us but that we usually can't see. Some of the unseen are pleasant; others, not so much. Now what?
Unlike Snyder's earlier works, which had relatively happy endings with a few supernatural hanging threads, this has a relatively placid ending, with the supernatural rather tidied up and the family story left more hanging. Still, a curious and intense book.
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So, this morning, I finished reading Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew by Ursula Vernon, the creator of Digger: http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/digger.php
a serial graphic novel in which the main character is a wombat.

It's a classic children's story of The Hobbit: or There and Back Again format, with illustrations by the author. Nurk, who is a homebody with a vague yearning for adventure-- much like Bilbo, and very like Mole in the The Wind in the Willows, thinks wistfully of the adventures of his grandmother, the fierce, adventurous Surka. When he accidentally opens a letter that is probably addressed to the vanished grandmother, he ends up setting out to find the sender and apologize. There are, of course, adventures after that, which he survives by doggedness and practicality and a clean pair of socks.

I love it. I love the illustrations. I think it's very cute, and much better than, say, Redwall. But then, I'm a Mole/Baggins at heart, what can I say. :)


Nov. 27th, 2007 05:22 pm
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Top picks in books about medieval daily life, from the About.com Medieval guide:
If you haven't read these, you should.
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The 2nd Revised Edition of The Traditional Bowyers Encyclopedia by Dan Bertalan (2007) recieved excellent reviews from Library Journal.
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For years I've been hunting for a dollhouse book that the Seymour Library in Brockport used to have (though looking in their catalog suggests they no longer have it), that was full of useful tips for making dollhouse furniture from things around the house. I still haven't found it, but I wanted to mention two books that do a similar thing.
Read more... )
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Laurence Pringle. Wild Foods: a beginner's guide to identifying, harvesting, and cooking safe and tasty plants from the outdoors. New York: Four Winds Press, 1978.

I picked Wild Foods up while researching my Wildly Weedy Herbs class. If you are interested in harvesting non-traditional edibles, this would be both a great place to start and fun leisure reading. Only a few, easily identified, plants are covered: Maple, Dandelion, Plantain, Japanese Knotweed, Poke, Cattail, Wild Strawberry, Sheep Sorrel, Watercress, Elderberry, Milkweed, Wild Mint, Wild Raspberries and Blackberries, Daylily, Lamb's-Quarters, Purslane, Wild Blueberry, Sumac, and Wild Grape. Many of these are old world; some are new world. I, personally, never eat Pokeweed, but I do know that it is possible to eat the young shoots safely, and the author gives all appropriate cautions.

The book has got a number of good features. It scores over other similar texts in the intriguing recipes: Dandelions in cream sauce, Cattail corn on the cob, Wild Strawberry no-cook jam, Sweet and Sour Lamb's-Quarters, Purslane soup, among others. While I wouldn't necessarily use these exact recipes (except for the directions for preparing cattails), but they show how the plants can be used.

In addition, a chart shows when which plant parts are likely to be harvestable, and there is a section on preserving the wild foods (by winter gardening, freezing, drying, etc.) The author covers similar-looking poisonous plants and gives clear instructions for differentiating. The clear and simple drawn and photographed illustrations help identify the plants, and the author gives good harvesting and cooking advice (for instance, how to blanch plantain plants; why you don't boil your maple sap indoors; don't wash or boil sumac fruit for best flavor).

The author's writing style is chatty but not memoir-like, and the reading and cooking level are well within the range of a young teen with adult help. (Recipes kindly include both lists of ingredients and lists of equipment). This would be a good book to share with others the family, and to use as a basis for family wild-foraging expeditions.
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Ok, this is non-serious reading, but I wanted to share it with others (I'm also working on a list of books La Beck has liked, since other people probably struggle with what to give a pre-teen Pottermaniac to read.)

Rick Riordan. The Lightning Thief. Hyperion, 2005
Book one of the Jackson & The Olympians series.

I picked this one up because it reminded me a bit of Ye Gods! by Tom Holt, though on a kid level. Basically, it turns out the Greek gods are still around, and still doing what they do best-- mating with humans to produce demigods. Percy Jackson, who has been kicked out of 5 schools in 5 years, finishes up his disastrous year in Yancy Academy by fighting off a Fury, formerly his pre-algebra teacher, during a school fieldtrip. Turns out Percy is the son of an unspecified Greek god, and to keep him safe, his mom gives in an sends him to a summer camp for children of the gods. But Percy is apparently in big trouble-- too many mythological creatures are out to get him, perhaps in connection with a mysterious theft. Desperately, his instructors assign him a quest and send him off with a daughter of Athena and a young satyr (in the classical sense) to retrieve something from Hades. Along the way he meets (and battles) a number of mythological characters and elements, challenges more gods than is safe, and finds out that the situation isn't what it seems.

What lifts this above the usual 'mythological fantasy' is Percy's smart-aleck sense of humor and the author's choice of mythology to handle. The sense is light but the touch is deft. Charon, for instance, has a weakness for cream-colored Italian suits; satyrs, being part goat, snack on Coke cans; Dionysis, banished to earth as a grumpy camp director, has to drink Coke instead of his favorite wine as part of his punishment; the pre-algebra teacher looks "mean enough to drive a Harley right into your locker." In many cases, I couldn't guess who the mythological references were before I got to the give-away moment. The gods still have their more-than-human hubris and squabbles, though some things-- like the entrance to the Underworld, in LA, are a bit modernized (the EZ-Death line?).
In a way, it's nice to know there are Greek gods out there, because you have someone to blame when things go wrong. For instance, when you're walking away from a bus that's just been attacked by monster hags and blown up by lightning, and it's raining on top of everything else, most people might think that's just really bad luck; when you're a half-blood, you understand that some divine force really is trying to mess up your day.

While it's nowhere near the level of sarcasm of Tom Holt, this is still an amusing read. Given that it's target audience is ages 9-12, that's about right. The issues of parental responsibility, reliability/unreliability of adults, and the usual personal responsibility growth common to books for this age group are not addressed heavy-handedly. Some elements are not handled as deftly as others, but I'd definitely give it a 3.5 or 4 out of 5.
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Just finished Flowers in Medieval Manuscripts (Medieval Life in Manuscripts), by Celia Fisher, University of Toronto Press (2004). This book answers all the questions I had when I was putting together our library's exhibit A Medieval Garden of Botanical Illustrations http://www.drew.edu/depts/library.aspx?id=5773

It covers the development of flower patterns in manuscripts, which countries and which artists led the styles, and what the possible meanings of flowers were in their contexts. The text itself is short, more of an essay than a book, but the pictures are oh so worth it. In our library collection, I found only the Low Country examples of botanical illumination (squashed-bug), but this book goes further into the Italian origins of the style.

The text is directed at the art historian, but it would be useful both to the student of historical gardening and plants and the illuminator. While the author does not give details about how the plants depicted would have been grown, or in fact give a complete list of plants depicted, the mere profusion of known flowers listed in the book, and the inspiration of the paintings, is helpful for those researching medieval flower types. For the illuminator, technical details of the paint colors and strokes are not available, but the discussion of why and at what time period/place illuminators chose to include specific plants-- along with the lovely examples-- is very helpful.

It would not have occurred to me, looking at the small number of manuscripts I've examined, to suspect that the illumination sheets and the decorations around the text might be by different hands in the same manuscript, but it's easy to understand in retrospect. I do think some knowledge of the history of books (though not an extensive study) is helpful in understanding the book. The author discusses the differences between books of hours and breviaries, as well as other texts, but doesn't go into detail.

The color reproduction is superb, well worth it for a book that cost me under $20 at Kalamazoo. This is definitely a book to have for garden and C&I aficionados!
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My potterer (?) friends have already seen this one, but it's new to me and wow...

Michiel Bartels. Steden in Scherven: Vondsten uit beerputten in Deventer, Dordrecht, Nijmegen en Tiel (1250-1900) [Cities in Sherds: Finds from Cesspits in Deventer, Dordrecht, Nijmegen and Tiel (1250-1900)]. (Amersfoort: Stichting Promotie Archeologie, 1999). 2 volumes.

In Dutch with English captions and a small English summary. Volume 2 is the inventory of finds, with English translation of terms, which includes redware and other types of pottery, ceramics, glass, metal pieces, and some pipes. Of special interest to me were the 3-4 pages of period chamberpots, but other items, like the moneyboxes, pipkins, frying pans, etc. are enough to make anyone's mouth water.


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August 2017

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