Cool Cars by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

This is one of my son’s favourite bedtime books. It’s a lovely rhyming description of cars with colourful, fun illustrations. The rhymes make it fun to read, and I like that it’s a good introduction to the concept of cars – between the words and the pictures, it’s helped my son and I talk about rules of the road, the mechanics of how cars work, and types of vehicles.

It’s a staple of our bedtime bookshelf!

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    The Dresden Files #6: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

    Read: 14 July, 2014

    Thomas the White Court vampire makes a reappearance when he asks Dresden to help protect a porn movie director from a dangerous entropy curse. Meanwhile, Mavra of the Black Court vampires has returned, and she’s out to kill Dresden.

    After the last few books, it was nice to see Harry move away from the “save the world from imminent destruction” plotline and instead focus on the “save Harry from imminent destruction” model. There are only so many times in a row that I can keep up my suspension of disbelief in the face of world destruction that can only be averted by one person.

    Unfortunately, the Mavra subplot felt a little tacked on. I think Butcher felt it was necessary to pad out a central plot that really didn’t have too much substance to it (readers – and even Dresden himself – immediately suspect the correct baddies) and as an excuse to bring in Ebenezer to speak to the personal reveals that occur in the book, but the plot itself does very little. Harry is attacked, he fends off his initial attacker, decides to go on the offensive, does so, kills the baddie, oops but did he really? So, in the end, Mavra came and went with no impact in the story (except for an injury that may or may not be important later in subsequent books, and a couple of reveals that really could have been made through other means).

    The personal reveals are clichés, but Butcher handles them well by doing the literary equivalent of having large neon signs on them reading: “Hey, look, a cliché! Right here! Isn’t this just sooo trite? Haha!” It works. Over and over again, I reached for a grown and pulled out a chuckle instead.

    The series is getting more interesting now that there is an expanded cast of characters, and they’re all amassing a fair bit of depth. This book, in particular, felt like a pause in the action to focus on moving character arcs forward. Unfortunately, both major plotlines felt forced, coming into play just so that Harry can have his big personal reveals. Even so, and even with the occasional sloppiness (how many breakfasts does Harry need in one day?), it was a fun read.

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      The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

      Read: 11 July, 2014

      When I was a kid, I watched the usual fare of The Little MermaidThe Last Unicorn, and other The Adjective Noun cartoons. But perhaps less usual, I absolutely loved old detective movies. I just gobbled them up! The Maltese FalconThe Big Sleep, and The Thin Man were three of my absolute favourites (and, to date, I think I’ve seen The Thin Man at least 50 times). So when I found a copy of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon at a garage sale, I knew I had to read it.

      And it’s pretty close to the movie. Really close to the movie.

      Hammett’s dialogue is fantastic and full of character, so it’s very easy to tell who is speaking even without added signifiers. Gutman, in particular, was fantastic. It made me appreciate how good the casting was in the movie version.

      Some aspects are dated (or ought to be, but that’s a rant for another day). The frequent references to Gutman’s fat, for example, or Cairo’s homosexuality (something that I hadn’t picked up on in the movie version for some strange reason, though in retrospect it’s quite clearly there, too).

      The romance is just as gag-worthy. Man meets woman, man knows woman for a handful of days during which she doesn’t do much except lie to him and rather obviously try to manipulate him, man falls so deeply in love with woman that he vows to wait for her while she serves her 20 year jail sentence. I mean, really? Couldn’t the love angle just be dropped? Or is it just meant to highlight what a tough cookie Spade is that he can be head-over-heels in love and still turn her in? Either way, it was the only aspect of the story that I felt was bungled.

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        A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel & Sariann Lehrer

        I love cooking, particularly hearty, flavourful foods. I love A Song of Ice and Fire. I also love Medieval Europe (touristing only, there is no way I’d like to live then). I think it’s rather obvious that A Feast of Ice & Fire is right up my alley. All three of my alleys, in fact.

        The book takes us to the different locations of ASOIAF: the Wall, the North, the South, King’s Landing, Dorne, and across the Narrow Sea. For each location, there are several dishes mentioned in the books (all include a breakfast) with recipes. Even better, many of the dishes are presented with two recipes – one drawn from medieval sources (using the term “medieval” loosely, as they actually span the period from the Roman Empire to the Elizabethan period, and some of them are not European in origin), and one modern variation.

        Some of the ingredients can be hard to find, but the book includes a list of substitutions.

        The best part is that all of the recipes are fairly simple, most having only a handful of steps. It would actually be feasible to put on a multi-course Game of Thrones dinnerparty without running yourself ragged.

        This is a thoroughly enjoyable cookbook, for regular use as well as for it’s novelty gimmick. It would make a great gift for a reasonably experienced cook who likes experimentation and trying new things.

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          Wheel of Time #0: New Spring by Robert Jordan

          Read: 2 July, 2014

          Moiraine is in training to be Aes Sedai when she learns of a prophecy that will change the world. Meanwhile, Al’Lan returns home to find a powerful faction has declared him king in his absence. 

          This book passes the Bechdel test and then some! Considering that my last modern fantasy read was Terry Goodkind (who seems to have a really weird relationship with the concept of feminity), it was so refreshing to see a novel with two female best friends who set a quest for themselves and carry it out, in large part, entirely without the help of men. Heck, a female friendship is refreshing to see in any genre!

          The use of the belligerent sexual tension trope was unfortunate, but I suppose it was in keeping with Moiraine’s character.

          I’ve been told to read The Wheel of Time by countless people and, so far, I’m enjoying the series!

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            As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White

            There’s a story on NPR about demographic shifts in the US, and how the publishing world has not been keeping up. The problem is a big one, and it affects all of us. It means that non-white children don’t feel represented in literature, which can affect engagement with texts and reading rates, the effects of which ripple through their future lives.

            It also affects white children, who benefit from access to narratives other than their own. I’ve frequently referred to fiction as “empathy training.” When we read fiction, we see the world through the eyes of another person, we experience things that we cannot and do not experience in our “real” lives. This trains our brains to consider the stories and backgrounds of other people, it helps build our ability to slip into their perspective and try it on. It makes hate so much harder.

            We need diversity in literature – especially in children’s literature. We need it for the people who are currently locked out, and we need it for the people who, unless they look really hard, often see only their own stories reflected back at them over and over and over again.