The Classics

On Wednesday morning after doing his hair for crazy hair day at school, E noticed the small collection of cloth-bound classic novels we have on a shelf in our living room.  He asked what type of books they were and I explained that they were novels some of which were written over a hundred a years ago.  He thought that was so cool and asked if he could read them.

I steered him toward Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland since it was the most kid-friendly and he read happily until his carpool came.

Since then he hasn’t picked it back up again to read; I think Diary of a Whimpy Kid has lock on his interest at bedtime right now.  But since then he has TALKED about reading novels a lot.  He thinks they’re cool which warms my former English-major, book-loving heart.

Review and Giveaway: What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor?

Bowls of Happiness
Bowls of Happiness

I was recently sent two books published by the China Institute to review, Bowls of Happiness and What was it Like, Mr. Emperor?  When I was in college I took a few Asian history classes and a Chinese calligraphy class and have been interested in Asian studies ever since.  I was interested in see what the books were like and what my kids would think.

Bowls of Happiness ($10.91 at Amazon) features Piggy, a little girl whose mother is a potter.  Piggy’s mom makes her a ceramic bowl and as they try to decide how to decorate it Piggy enters the world of traditional Chinese pottery motifs.  The second half of the book is more academic in tone and contains more detailed information about pottery designs.

Excerpt from "Bowls of Happiness"
Page from “Bowls of Happiness”

The book is lovely with a letterpressed cover, cute illustrations, and colorful photos of real Chinese bowls.  It’s a pleasing way to learn about different Chinese pottery motifs.  At the same time, I’m not quite sure who’s the target audience for this book.  While the story about Piggy may hold the attention of preschoolers, the more academic second-half is more for teenagers and adults.  While it’s a charming little book, I can’t see myself purchasing it on my own.

"What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?"
“What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?”

I really enjoyed, What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? ($8.90 at Amazon) It is an installment in the “We All Live in the Forbidden City” series by the China Institute in America.

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? is a well-illustrated, info-packed look at the everyday lives of Chinese emperors.  The illustrations are done in a kid-friendly cartoon style.  The book covers a lot of material in an accessible way: notable emperors, how the emperor was chosen, how he was educated, what type of food he eat, who lived in the palace with him, etc… I was so entertained that I sat down and read the book straight through.

Page from "What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?"
Page from “What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?”

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? is recommended for ages 8 and up and I think that’s appropriate.  E loves catalogs of information (Pokemon, anyone?) and he has enjoyed learning interesting facts from the book. Younger kids will enjoy the illustrations and diagrams while older kids can more fully absorb the text information.

I would recommend the book if your child is interested in China.  It seems like a lot of kids I know are studying Chinese and I can see this book coming in very handy for school reports 🙂  It’s a good one to have in your library.

The publisher has kindly offered to send one reader (in the U.S.) a copy of What Was It like, Mr. Emperor?

To enter, leave a comment on this post by midnight (Mountain Time) on Saturday, March 19, 2016.

A winner will be chosen at random and contacted by email.  Good luck!

Hour of the Bees

We had a really good weekend.  We took the kids to see Zootopia which we all enjoyed and then N and I went on a date and had some delicious Pakistani food.  I want to write more about both of those things, but today I wanted to let locals know about a fun event.

Lindsay Eager’s debut middle reader novel, Hour of the Bees*, is being released today and there’s a book launch party tonight.  Lindsay is my friend and neighbor’s daughter and while I haven’t read Hour of the Bees yet (I’m picking up my copy at the party tonight) reviews seem to like it.

The synopsis from the publisher:

While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina–Carol–is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandparents she’s never met into a home for people with dementia. At first, Carol avoids prickly Grandpa Serge, who is meaner than a rattler and speaks in dizzying circles. But as the summer wears on and the heat bears down, Carol finds herself drawn to him, fascinated by the crazy stories he tells her about a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and the bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought. As the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible–and what it means to be true to her roots.

If you’re local and enjoy children’s lit or have a kid you think would like the book (me on both counts), come to the release party tonight!  There’s going to be an author presentation, salsa bar, local honey tasting, and cupcakes.  I’m going to be there 🙂

March 8th, 6:30pm
The Gardens at Dry Creek
877 North 100 East
Lehi, UT

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links

The One You Need: Quilting Books

I have two main weaknesses when it comes to impulse purchases: cookbooks and crafting books. I enjoy both types of books for the same reasons: lovely photos, clear instructions combined with personable narratives, and the chance to daydream of a world in which I create beautiful dinners every night and make heirloom quality crafts for all family and friends. And once in a while I even get off my butt and actually use them to cook or make something 🙂

Some craft books are definitely better than others. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you so if you’re interested in a certain craft you wouldn’t have to waste your precious time scrolling through reviews on Amazon and waffling over your options. Benefit from my wasted time and money!

First up, quilting. I started quilting about two years ago and while I love looking at quilting books for inspiration the book I keep going back to for its clear instructions and photos is The Practical Guide to Patchwork* by Elizabeth Hartman.

The how-tos in this book are great; I still pull it out every time I bind a quilt to double-check that I’m doing it right 🙂 You can find tutorials that cover the steps of quilt-making online, but I like having a book that I can refer to again and again.   

Besides the basics of making a quilt, Hartman includes instructions for 12 quilt projects.  I haven’t made any of the quilts yet, but they’re modern and stylish and a great source for inspiration.  I particularly like how Hartman includes alternate color schemes for each project.

If you’re looking for a book to help you start quilting, The Practical Guide to Patchwork is a great choice.

*This post isn’t sponsored in any way, but those are Amazon affiliate links.  

Because I Said So! + Giveaway

My brother-in-law (and former Jeopardy! champ)  Ken Jennings has a new book out this week.  In Because I Said So!, Ken debunks and sometimes validates the warnings and wisdom parents pass on to their kids.  You know, things like don’t sit too close to the tv, wait a hour after eating to swim, don’t swallow gum it will make you sick, etc…

It turns out that (shocker!) many of the things our parents told us and that we probably tell our own kids are total bunk.  After you read it you will feel satisfyingly smug and enlightened whenever you overhear someone reciting a bit of kid-related folk lore you now know to be totally untrue.  You’ll also have an impressive arsenal of anecdotes you can fall back on when chatting at holiday parties.

Because I Said So! makes a nice gift.  Parents will enjoy it but it’s also the sort of book that most people will enjoy reading because they everyone was once a kid themselves. 

Leave a comment on this post by midnight MST Monday, December 10th to enter to win a copy of Because I Said So!  I’ll select a winner at random and get them a copy of the book.

This is cozy little blog so I think it’s safe to say that your odds of winning are pretty good 🙂 

Japanese Valentine

Even though I told N not to get me anything for Valentine’s day (I’m counting the kitchen update as my own Valentine’s day/anniversary/birthday present), he surprised me with a set of the English translations of Oishinbo!

I know, what a sweetie, right? I received the first volume of Oishinbo for my birthday last year and ever since then I’ve been wanting to read more.

Oishinbo is a popular, long-running Japanese cooking manga with over 100 million volumes in print. The story follows a young journalist and gourmand who has been assigned the task of creating the “Ultimate Menu,” a meal which will encompass the very essence of Japanese cuisine.

But our young hero’s father which whom he is estranged is working on creating a competing menu and they have all sorts of impassioned arguments over different aspects of Japanese cuisine.

I really enjoyed the first volume and I can’t wait to read the others. These English translations are compilations organized around a specific theme so sometimes the plot jumps around a little bit but VIZ has done a good job overall of editing the content together into an entertaining story.

They’re fun to read and when you’re finished you’ve actually learned something. If you’re interested in Japanese food at all I think you’ll like Oishinbo.


My brother-in-law’s new book is coming out next Tuesday! Right now I’m reading an advance copy and I’m really enjoying it.

If you, like me, you tend to read more fiction than nonfiction don’t let that scare you off. Maphead, or {muh-FEED} as some of us call it, covers fascinating ground in an down-to-earth way and is funny to boot. It’s fun to read AND every time I set it down I also feel a bit smarter–bonus! Plus, there are some great bits about my adorable sister-in-law Mindy in it (which you will probably like even if you don’t know her).

So yeah, you should probably pick up a copy. Amazon has Maphead for preorder at $15* If you don’t get one now, keep it in mind come Christmas time. Anyone who has at least a vague interest in the world and how it works will enjoy it but I think it would make a particularly great gift for those hard-to-shop-for guys in your life (especially if they run towards being smart and funny and a little/a lot on the nerdy side like the ones in my life.)

*This is an affiliate link. I was not compensated in any way for this review beyond the warm fuzzy feeling I get from sharing something I like with my readers and getting to brag a bit about my family.

The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter

I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants recently and loved it. I read it while I nursed Mimi in the mornings and it was fun enough that I didn’t mind hauling myself out of bed for the 5:30 am feeding because it meant I got to spend some time reading it. (It might be a while until another book has this effect on me.)

I wanted to share this excerpt I liked; you might have seen it around. As a new mother to a baby girl it Spoke To Me. (But it has a couple of sort-of-swears in it if that kind of thing bothers you.)

“The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” from Tina Fey’s Bossypants

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her

When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that S***. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


P.S. – I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day celebrating the women in your life and being celebrated a bit yourself.

I myself am keeping my fingers crossed for a lovely nap.

The Way of Kings

I’ve been reading more than usual lately. I polished off three or four novels when I was up in WA and since I’ve returned I’ve been staying up later than I should churning through best-sellers. I read the first two books of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy* (a bit uneven but gripping) and this weekend I gave in to curiosity about what everyone on Facebook was talking about and read the Hunger Games Trilogy trilogy (fun and engrossing but not amazing).

But the book that I’ve enjoyed the most recently was The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. (Disclaimer: It’s hard for me to be totally objective since N and I are friends with Brandon and his charming wife Emily BUT the only reason I’m posting about The Way of Kings is because I really liked it and think that you {or a fantasy-novel-reading nerd you love} might like it too.)

The epic novel is set in a world where ultra-violent storms scour the land which has lead plant, animal, and human life to develop in unique ways. It took me about 40 pages to really get engrossed in the world Brandon’s created but once I was there I was there. The setting and the world’s history and culture are essential to the story but don’t feel obtrusive or awkward like they sometimes do in fantasy novels.

The point-of-view rotates through three main characters: a slave, a scholar, and an aristocrat. Brandon does a nice job of controlling the pacing and each individual plot so there are multiple cliff-hangers that keep you turning the pages. At times (mostly when it’s past one in the morning and you’re tired and need to go to sleep) it can be a little frustrating to have the book jump to Character X when you just want to know what happened to Character Y but it makes for a good page-turner.

A note on the physical book itself–it is nice. Full-color maps begin and end the book and full-page illustrations are found every few chapters. I don’t buy a lot of hard-bound books but this edition is really lovely. (And Amazon has it for $15 which is a great deal.)

The Way of Kings is the first book in a planned 10-book series, The Stormlight Archive. I’ve read my share of epic fantasy series (nerd!) and this is one that I’m very excited to follow.

(*FYI, these are Amazon Affiliate links which means that if you click on it and order something I get a tiny cut.)