Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Don't be Afraid of... The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, A Review

"Look up in the sky... It's a bird... It's a plane... It's a egg-salad sandwich." NO! It's just Captain Underpants on one of his amazing adventures courtesy of the mind of Dav Pilkey!

I read the first book in The Adventures of Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey for Banned Book Week. Yes, Captain Underpants has been challenged and Banned, even more so than Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Well, probably for the same reasons young boys love reading this series. It's silly and fun, sprinkled with pranks by two young boys, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, and "the bad guy" is the adult, who actually becomes Captain Underpants with the help of a 3-D Hypno-Ring. Wow, did I just fit all that in one sentence?!

First off, why has this book geared towards 9 - 12 year olds been challenged? Offensive language? Well, the principal is called "that old guy" and "mean", but that's about the gist of it. And he is the bad guy after all. Violent? Well, the boys do defeat a couple of bad guy robots, with the appropriate warning before reading the chapter: "Warning: The following chapter contains graphic scenes showing two boys beating the tar out of a couple of robots.!" Lighten up book burners, this is just plain silly and a lot of fun. Not to mention that the two boys, one is black and one is white, show a positive inter-racial friendship.

What about the story? George and Harold are fourth graders who are kings of the practical joke. They sprinkle pepper in cheerleader pom-poms, pour bubble bath in the marching bands instruments, and they love switching the letters around on the Jerome Horwitz Elementary School sign to say silly things. They also are the creators of a comic book called The Adventures of Captain Underpants that they share with all their friends. Why Captain Underpants? Well don't most superheroes look like they're in their underpants?! Principal Krupp hated the boys for all their pranks and silliness, but could never catch them in the act... until one day... With the evidence in hand, Mr. Krupp blackmails the boys to be his slaves (I don't want to ruin the story and tell you what they did and how they were caught), and to be the best students in school. Growing tired of all that, the boys devise a plan to get the evidence back. It involves th 3-D Hypno-Ring, which inadvertently turns mean old Mr. Krupp into, yup you guessed it, the real Captain Underpants! That's where the adventure starts and has bad guys, robots, a machine to end the world and fake dog doo doo. There's even "flip book" pages to create live action pages. All just a bunch of fun.

I've read a lot of positive reviews on this one, and seems safe to say, it's a winner. Do we want to encourage young boys to be pranksters? No. Do we want them to disrespect our Principals? No. We want young boys to read, and that's what The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey is all about- reading! The Captain Underpants books are chapter books with great illustrations, and each book is a separate adventure.

No kids here, but I enjoyed this chapter book all the same. I might even read a few more of them, there are 9 more Captain Underpants adventures to enjoy after all!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Sunday Salon and Banned Books Week

Welcome to the Sunday Salon! It's been a crazy week here in Connecticut, but I couldn't let the week go without saying hello and that I READ BANNED BOOKS!…

Every year the American Library Association, along with authors, bloggers, readers, book sellers and anyone who shares a love for reading, celebrate Banned Books Week. I love banned books week! I discover all sorts of interesting books AND I also learn about fear. Most banned books are banned out of fear… that book will promote sex or violence or turn my teenager/child/baby into a serial killer, drug addict, alcoholic. I get it. I understand that not every book is appropriate for every child (Is Fifty Shades of Grey really appropriate for kids? NO!) but this is where parents should be involved in their child's reading. Discuss what a book is about, TALK to your child, but don't take the privilege of reading a particular book away from everyone because you don't want your child to see it. Of course some parents are not involved with their child's reading, so they have to rely on librarians, teachers and other parents to be a guide. And speaking out either way is a right. BUT, leave the fear behind.

Barbara Jones, who directs the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom say, "People focus on a word, or a handful of words, and often lift them out of the context of the books." But this year the number of banned or challenged books is lower than usual. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Jones said, "We'd like to think it's because people finally understand that pulling a book from their shelves isn't going to solve the problem they're worried about it."

This year Banned Books Week (Sept 21 - 27th) focused on graphic novels. Spiderman and Batman have gotten challenged, but also Maus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel about the Holocaust. Here's a list of the most challenged graphic novels from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website.

What am I reading for Banned Books Week? The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. It's a 10 part series (I'm reading the first book) that follows the adventure's (and pranks!) of two ten-year-old boys, who create a superhero called Captain Underpants. It's banned because of offensive language (they call their teacher "that old guy" and "mean"), nudity (Captain Underpants is, well, in his underpants), and for promoting the disobeying of authority (thus the pranks). I'll fill you in on all the bad of this book in a review and hope that it does not encourage me to fly around in my underpants (we are what we read after all, right?!)... although that may amuse a few people.

Banned Books Week, what do you think?

Happy Banned Book Reading... Suzanne

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson, a Review

"They came at first light, when the eastern skies were still gray and before anyone on the manor had risen. Shadows lay across the land: across the hall upon the mound and the fields surrounding it, across the river and the woods and the great dike beyond that funds from sea to sea. And it was from those shadows that they came upon Earnford, with swords and knives and axes: a band of men perhaps as few as a dozen in number, perhaps as many as thirty. In truth no one knew, for by the time enough of us had woken, armed ourselves, and gathered to stand against them, they had already turned and fled, slipping away amid the trees, taking seven girls and women front the village with them."

Welcome to Earnford, the summer of 1070 and a fabulous tale of honor among men, vengeance to your enemies, swords and arms, knights and the battles they fought to  protect the lands that they claim. James Aithcheson has earned my praise for creating an amazing story that wrapped itself around me and held me until I turned the last page and then as the story released me from its grasp, I desperately wanted more. Strong characters, well drawn setting, great plot.

The landscape of the Norman Conquest was not new to me, but it was far from being a part of history I  paid much attention to past high school. During this period of Britain's history, the English, Welsh and Normans were all struggling for control of England. James Aitcheson creates a hero we grow quickly to embrace, and helps us navigate the war torn Country known as England. Tancred a Dinant is our hero, a man good with the sword who is eventually rewarded with a lordship and manor to call his own, as he proves valiant in battle. Why did I love him? He is honorable, confident, appreciative of those around him, not full of himself, and has a good head on his shoulders. He's a born leader, though a reluctant one at times. And why did I love this book? Because with each turn of the page, I became more part of the book, until I felt as if I was right in the midst of everything. James Aitcheson created such a realism with his characters and setting that it didn't feel like a story after a while. And why wouldn't Aitcheson do such a good job of writing about this time period? While studying history at Cambridge, he fell in love with the time period surrounding the Norman Conquest and did extensive research. To put his knowledge to work in a piece of historical fiction was easy for him. Fortunately for him, and us,the writing flows easily too.

The Splintered Kingdom navigates the battles well known for this time period without getting bogged down and boring. It does this through the eyes of Tancred a Dinant, a Norman, who seeks vengeance for the death of his Lord, the deaths of the men he has fought besides and the death of his one true love. We follow Tancred as he protects his lands and the people under his new found lordship, as he is called to arms to fight for his Country, and as he lives through victories and defeats. We get a feel for the way people lived during the middle ages and how fleeting life can be. There is a hint of romance here and there, but the meat of the book is how Tancred lives his life in battle and in 11 century England.     Tancred's story is wonderful and so is the writing. I became addicted!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion… A Review

Want a fun, light-hearted read with a good dose of sweetness? A romantic comedy with quirky memorable characters? The Rosie Project by Gaeme Simsion is just that and more! I devoured it in a couple of days and enjoyed every minute of it and wanted more (and I'll get more because there's a sequel coming out!).

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics and is looking for a wife. The problem is that conventional dating is not working very well. Don has some peculiarities that make him seem a bit eccentric. He has difficulty in social situations, has a schedule that he must adhere to (down to the minute!), and has a hard time with expressing his emotions. Don suffers from an undiagnosed case of Aspergers. But when he devises a rigid questionnaire to meet the woman of his dreams, Rosie comes along and turns Don's world upside down.

Rosie is everything not acceptable on the questionnaire! (she smokes, she drinks and a zillion other things as well... except maybe her BMI does measure up). But when Rosie needs a geneticist to help find her biological father, Don becomes her knight in shining armor… and eventually someone realizes that the questionnaire may not be the best way to find a mate.

Great characters, a heart-warming story, and wonderful writing! A quirky love story ready to melt the most jaded reader. A Charming tale of true love! My recommendation…. READ IT!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Sunday Salon and Sunday Cooking with… Down South by Donald Link (A Review and RECIPE!)



Welcome to the Sunday Salon! It's that one day of the week we talk BOOKS! And today I want to share a wonderful cookbook! Way back when I was growing up, Sunday's use to be family and food. A big Sunday dinner with family and friends to share the hours with. Things are a bit different now, but I still think of Sunday as a day for cooking, and what better way to spend it virtually then with our heads in a cookbook! Not only am I sharing the cookbook, BUT a great recipe the publisher gave me permission to share. A recipe I tried out to see just how good these recipes were. At the very bottom of today's post, you can see some of the photos from the "cooking journey"...

OMG, talk about gorgeous covers and that's not where it stops! Absolutely beautiful food photography all throughout the book AND mouth watering, easy to follow recipes to boot!


When I first picked up Down South by Donald Link and Paula Disbrowne, it was love at first sight. The cover was gorgeous, the book itself had a nice heft to it and of course, the recipes were something my Southern boy at home was going to enjoy- " a collection of remembrances and recipes meant to make you hungry, make you laugh, and convey what it's like to be both a chef and an eater in today's South."

Down South starts out with "Drinks", such as a Chuck Berry made with fresh blueberries and Prosecco, or an Antiguan Julep made with rum and Simple Syrup (also included as a recipe). Then we move on to "Cocktail Parties", with appetizers that are tempting just reading about them. There's Parmesan Bacon Gougeres, Crab Louis with Toast Points, and Shrimp Remoulade, which can be either an appetizer or a light meal (this is the recipe we made to give this cookbook a tryout and did it pass with flying colors!! psst… I'm going to share this recipe with Ya'll!) And we cannot forget about the Spicy Roasted Peanuts! It's a take on the spicy boiled peanuts you'll find everywhere down South, and if you've never had them, you need to drive there to have some!

Then we move to the main courses… "Cook it Outside", grilling and some smoking, with recipes such as Chicken Chivito Sandwich with Ham and Olive Spread, made with boneless, skin-on chicken thighs, and smoked ham or Grilled Chicken with Alabama White Barbecue Sauce. "Roast, Braise, Simmer and Fry" with recipes including Smothered Chicken, Tupelo Honey-Glazed Ham and Guinea Hen Gumbo. "Heads, Feet, Necks and Bones" with recipes for how to make your own Breakfast Sausage, Pork Rillons, and Beef Short Rib Sugo. "Seafood from the Gulf and South Atlantic", including recipes for New Orleans Barbecued Shrimp, and Crisp Fried Frog Legs.

We wrap up the cookbook tour with… "Fresh, Seasonal Southern Sides", including Smoked Ham and Rice Salad, Ham Hocks and Crowder Peas, and Cajun Macaroni Salad. And of course desserts, or "Southern-Style Sweets" including Salted Caramel Peanut Brittle Ice Cream, Spiced Apple Pecan Bread and Banana Pudding with Moonshine Whipped Cream.

Each chapter has an introduction to the particular types of recipes and the foods involved, and the story behind them. There's a little tidbit or "introduction" to each recipe too, talking about its origins, a cooking tip on preparation or buying, or how it's related to Southern cooking. It's another reason why this is so much more than your average cookbook. Down South is packed with Southern Charm. It's good food, a good story and rooted in great tradition. It's an oversized cookbook with large enough print to read the recipes with ease. AND the recipes are easy to follow with fully explained directions. Nothing too hard here, with ingredients that should be easy to find too. Want to see for yourself?! Follow this link to read the FIRST CHAPTER!

Now, I like to try out a recipe before making my "final judgement" on a cookbook I'm reviewing, and for that purpose I chose Shrimp Remoulade. I love shrimp and I love trying new sauces and this recipe filled both bills. Shrimp Remoulade is a cold dish. It's in the "Cocktail Parties" section, but it also states in the recipe it can be a light meal as well. How many times have you just eaten shrimp for dinner?! I was game and so was my Southern boy. Courtesy of  the Publisher, Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, I have permission to share the recipe with YOU! Here it is (with my photo)…

*Shrimp Remoulade 
(serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer or light meal)                                            1 Cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon cayenne
10 bay leaves
2 lemons sliced
2 pounds medium-large shrimp in the shell
1 cup Sauce Remoulade (recipe follows)
1/2 head iceberg lettuce thinly sliced                                                      
                                                                                                   

Combine the salt, cayenne, bay leaves and lemon slices in a large pot with 1 gallon of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp are bright pink and just cooked through, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Immediately pour 2 gallons of ice into the pot and allow the shrimp to cool completely in the poaching liquid. (this should take 5 to 10 minutes) Peel.

Toss the peeled shrimp with the sauce and serve over the lettuce.

*Sauce Remoulade
(makes 1 1/2 cups)

You'll need only a portion of this recipe for 2 pounds of shrimp. The remainder will keep in the fridge for two to three days, and will make a quick mean when tossed with more shrimp or crab, or slathered on a fried fish sandwich.

1/2 cup grated yellow onion
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or chervil
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Use a rubber spatula to combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

*Recipe Reprinted from Down South. Copyright (c) 2014 by Donald Link. Photographs copyright (c) 2014 by Chris Granger. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Since we were making this just for the 2 of us, I tweaked the recipe a little. I made it with only 1 pound of shrimp, and we halved the recipe for the sauce, and had plenty left to enjoy on other food. We also used super hot "fresh" cayenne pepper from the natural foods store, which may or may not have added extra heat to this dish.

Now let me tell you about the flavor… It was delicious! The shrimp absorbed all this wonderful flavor from the poach, and even as you bit into the shrimp, which were cooked perfectly at 3 minutes, and had the wonderful "hot flavored" creamy remoulade sauce on top, you could tell the shrimp had a heat all their own.

My final verdict… A+! If you enjoy cooking, like Southern food, or want to try some Southern cooking, this would be a great cookbook to have. Easy flavorful dishes that will satisfy all your tastebuds! There's something for everyone here. A Big Thank you to Blogging for Books for sending along this cookbook for me to review!

Here are some random photos from our cooking journey with Shrimp Remoulade...










The Final Dish…And it was YUMMY!



*FTC disclaimer… I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest              review.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sunday Salon and Addicted Reading...


Welcome to The Sunday Salon! This is the time of the week we all get together virtually to talk about what we love - Books and reading! This week I've had my head in a book and had to tear myself away to do my "chores", but now that I'm almost done (with the book, not the chores) I'm trying to slow down because I am going to hate to come to the end of this tale… Am I addicted?!

We've all been there… a book that just grabs a hold of you and won't let go. Sometimes it's a book that you've been anticipating, book #2 or the next in a sequel, or sometimes it's a book that is totally not what you expected or better than you expected. There is nothing more satisfying than starting a book reluctantly only to find yourself all wrapped up and having to remind yourself to breathe… and this week I was totally wrapped up in a book that isn't my normal reading, though I do love historicals, and took me to unfamiliar terrain that I just lost myself in. The sites, the sounds, the smells, the way the people lived, the honor among men, all of it swept me up before I realized it and I was hooked.

The setting for the book is the Normandy Conquest. English, Normans, Welsh, Vikings and the like all battling for the English land they all want to claim for their own. The book? The Splintered Kingdom by James Aitcheson, a book I got an email from the publisher about reviewing, and after reading a 60 page sampling of the first book, jumped at the chance to read it.

I haven't quite finished it, but the writing is wonderful. The characters are so well rounded and the landscape is so easy to visualize. Before I read the sample I was a bit apprehensive because Knights, war, and 11th century England are not what I normally would call fun, (mostly the war part not being fun) but this book and this series is terrific! Every free moment I've got my head in this book! I'm addicted...

The great part about this book, besides being able to read it courtesy of the publisher, is that next month James Aitcheson is going on a Virtual Tour and making a stop here!!! I'll be "officially"reviewing The Splintered Kingdom AND HAVING A GIVEAWAY!!! Yes, I have a beautiful hardcover copy of The Splintered Kingdom and another copy of the first book in the series Sworn Sword to giveaway to one lucky Chick with Books reader! All the fun starts Sept.4th! Mark your calendar! But in the meantime…

Let me know what books you have been addicted to lately! Any books surprise you when they swept you away?

Happy reading… Suzanne

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Sunday Salon and Anticipation...


Welcome to The Sunday Salon! It's that day of the week we sit back and talk about one of our favorite subjects… BOOKS! Yes, and this week there's some great books I want to share with you from some of our favorite authors!

Don't you just love it when an author you love reading is coming out with a new book?! I get excited… will it be as good as the last book? Will I love the characters? Will the writing take me away to places I can only dream of? It doesn't what genre you're favorite author write's in, it's all about the anticipation...


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami...  From Publisher's Weekly: Living a simple, quotidian life as a train station engineer, Tsukuru is compelled to reexamine his past after a girlfriend suggests he reconnect with a group of friends from high school. A tight-knit fivesome for years, the group suddenly alienated Tsukuru under mysterious circumstances when he was in college. For months after the break, not knowing what had gone wrong, he became obsessed with death and slowly lost his sense of self: “I’ve always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity. Maybe that was my role in the group. To be empty.” Feeling his life will only progress if he can tie up those emotional loose ends, Tsukuru journeys through Japan and into Europe to meet with the members of the group and unravel what really happened 16 years before. The result is a vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation

If you are a fan of Haruki Murakami, you will be chomping at the bit for this one! It's been 2 years since we heard from this wonderful author, whose quiet, yet insightful writing makes us think and almost listen to each word he puts on the page. This is the English translation of the same book that has sold a millions the first week it came out in Japan. The book has gotten 5 star reviews all around, so I can't wait! If you are new to Murakami, you should be able to enjoy this book as well. Coming out August 12th...

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell… Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life. For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born. A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting on the war in Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder. 

David Mitchell, whose list of  popular books could fill a page plus, and who wrote Cloud Atlas, which was made into a movie (which does not make it a great book, but does show it's popularity) is coming out with what seems to be another great tale, where fantastic stories come together for an incredible wrap up.  His stories always appeal to me, but I have yet to crack the spine on any. One of those in the TBR pile that should make its way up. I'm putting this in my TBR pile and making sure I don't forget it because this sounds amazing. Coming Sept. 2, 2014

The Children Act by Ian McEwan… Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child's welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. But Fiona's professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. But Jack doesn't leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

Ian McEwan is such a wonderful storyteller and writer. His writing is not all about furiously turning the pages, but wrapping yourself around the words and characters. I read just a small sampling of this book courtesy of the publisher and want more! He has won the famed Booker Prize and other writing awards, so it's no wonder that lovers of great fiction should make a note of his latest offering here, coming Sept. 9, 2014. Definitely on my TBR list!

What author's do you long for a new book from? I got some some of my wish list taken care of here, but there are plenty of great authors coming out with books this fall. AND next Sunday Salon, I'll be back with some more amazing new books from new authors coming our way (you won't want to miss them!)

Happy Reading… Suzanne




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

eReader versus Book… the Battle Continues


Monday, July 7, 2014

Memoir Monday and The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

About the Book, from the author's website… To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty years, the novel’s celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation—and a great friendship.

In 2004, with the Lees’ blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees’ inner circle of friends.

Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.

The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills’s friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle.

Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle Harper Lee, to be part of the Lees’ life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, how To Kill a Mockingbird affected their lives, and why Nelle Harper Lee chose to never write another novel. 

Here's another wonderful example of a recluse author opening up for us all to enjoy. The reviews of this book point out that there is nothing earth shattering revealed here, but a wonderful testament to Southern hospitality and a wonderful way of life. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, and I look forward to The Mockingbird Next Door! On my TBR list!
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