31 July 2010

The World in Ancient Times set

The World in Ancient Times SetI just finished making an audiobook of this series for my boys to listen to while we're overseas. They read the entire series this past year, but I hadn't read through all the books till now.  I'm still happy with the set after reading it, although I understand some of my boys' complaints about it better.  They didn't like the book about China at all, and I was disappointed with it too.  The writing isn't at all engaging in that book and the chapters are long.  My older son who was in 5th grade and read like an average 5th grader struggled a little with the reading level (which is why I recorded it since he loves audiobooks).  It's definitely middle school level.  My then-3rd grader didn't have a problem though.

One thing I noticed more after reading through the entire series is that the Greek and Roman civilizations get a lot more coverage than other parts of the world. I'd have been happy with combining those two civilizations into one book, or expanding some of the others. The Persians in particular got the short end of the storytelling because they didn't quite fit into any one book perfectly, except possible the Near East book, and there just wasn't room in that book to do them justice. So most of what you learn about the Persians in this series is from a Greek perspective which isn't exactly unbiased.

But I certainly haven't changed my mind at all about thinking that this is an excellent series for middle school/logic stage ancient history.  With the exception of the book on China, the writing is interesting, and in all the books the history is solid and detailed.  I know my children learned a lot, and I learned more than I expected to.

Highly recommended.

30 July 2010

When the Wind Was a River

When the Wind Was a River: Aleut Evacuation in World War IIA few weeks ago one of my neighbors mentioned that she is Aleut and told me a little about their evacuation during WWII from the Aleutian Islands.  I only had the barest knowledge about what happened, so I found this book about it.  There are a couple of other book I'll try to find, but this looks like the most extensive book about the evacuation.

Unfortunately, this book is really dry.  It's very detailed and well-documented, but I just had to slog through it.  I learned a lot, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it unless you're very interested in the topic.  Hopefully I'll find something a little more engaging.

27 July 2010

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)I thought this was a fun book, but that's about it. My boys loved the series and I'm glad they read it because they both like Greek mythology, but I think that's the most redeeming part of this book.  Like I said, it's just fun.

24 July 2010

Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew ItWell, that was a quick read.  Life As We Knew It is definitely one of those books that you just keep plowing though.  I liked it.  It's intense, but not over-the-top (the author could have made it a whole lot worse), and it was believable (well, mostly, since I'm still skeptical about what sets the disaster in motion).  It's not a cheerful book, but it's a hopeful book.  And the narrator/journal keeper sounds like a teenager, in just the right way.

There's a lot you could talk about with this book and it's worth reading.

23 July 2010

Not-Stuffed Zucchini

I've always wanted to try stuffing vegetables, but it just seems like a lot of work, and it seems the vegetables would be rather mushy, which isn't my favorite.  But it sounds so good.  So instead I made a bulgur filling and while the bulgur was cooking, I added some chopped zucchini.  It was delicious and easy and quick.

Olive oil
1 chopped onion
Ground meat, if you want (I used pork because it was in the freezer, but that's not exactly traditional- lamb or beef would be more appropriate)
2-5 cloves garlic, chopped
a couple of tomatoes, grated
2 cups bulgur
3 cups boiling water or broth
salt and cayenne
chopped zucchini (I used 6 little ones and forgot to weigh them- probably 2 big ones)

Saute the onion in the olive oil for a few minutes, then add the meat and cook till it's browned, then add the garlic and stir for a minute and add the tomato. Stir that around for a couple of minutes then add the bulgur, then the hot water. Season. Bring to a boil and let cook for a couple of minutes, then add the zucchini (you can add the zucchini with the water, if you like). Cover and simmer for about 10-20 minutes, or till the zucchini is done to your taste. The bulgur will take about 10 minutes to cook and you might want to stir everything around at about that point if you're lid isn't very tight, like mine. Uncover and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving with yogurt.

Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics)Can I just say how much I enjoy Wallace Stegner? This is his third book I've read, after Angle of Repose and Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Crossing to Safety is easily as good as either of those.  I still probably like Angle of Repose best, but Crossing to Safety is very much worth reading.

A friend of mine was reading the back cover when I had it out on the playground the other day and said it didn't sound like it was about much, and it isn't.  Stegner has has a gift for writing about the quiet parts of people's lives, not the drama (the narrator of Crossing to Safety makes it clear throughout that nothing is going to happen).  And that's why I like him.

17 July 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the HedgehogThere's a lot I liked about this book, which seems to be loved by everyone (well, not everyone, the way The Help is loved by everyone, because I can think of a lot of people who love The Help that wouldn't love this).  But I have mixed feelings about it too- I felt like it was almost pretentious, almost too obvious.  Certainly the plot wasn't obvious though; I can't imagine that any reader would have predicted the last few pages because they were abrupt and completely unexpected.  And I skipped the musings on art and philosophy because that's not my thing.

I liked the characters, all of them, even though several were annoying.  I always think it's interesting when people from a different culture are part of a novel (in this case, a Japanese man is an important part of a book set in France), and this book uses that character well.  It would be interesting to compare how different authors use characters like that to convey certain ideas in their books.

14 July 2010

Curry Cuisine

Curry CuisineI really liked this book.  It covers lots of different countries and regions with a variety of different recipes.  There's even a section on South Africa which I liked because my first curry was a South African one. 

Street Food

Street FoodI thought this book was pretty good. There were lots of recipes that looked good, but not too much that was new to me.

I disagreed with the author that "The best way to experience the real food that fuels and drives a community...is to sample the street food."  It's a good way, but it ignores women, because women aren't involved in cooking or especially eating street food in many countries.  Home cooking is an essential part of any community and street food isn't the "most authentic."

13 July 2010

Christmas Plans

Fly to Bishkek to visit friends, then fly to Mashhad.  Take the train to Damascus.  Taxi from Damascus to Beirut, stay for a couple of weeks, then fly to Istanbul and back to Tashkent.  This all depends on Iran's willingness to give a family of Americans transit visas.

I'm thinking that train travel would be perfect for a two-year-old. I'd love to just take the train from Tashkent to Tehran through Turkmenistan, but it looks like that's currently impossible. 

There's also the possibility of taking the train through Turkmenistan and crossing the Caspian Sea to Baku, which would be so cool, but the only way to get from Baku to the Middle East is by bus.  And that doesn't sound like fun with a two-year-old.

It's hardly straightforward to get from Tashkent to Beirut.

11 July 2010

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow

Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking
 This book is based on the author's attempt to use her crockpot every day for a year and blog about it.  Actually, it's not based on that, that's pretty much what it is- a printed blog.  It's not a really cookbook, because when you buy a cookbook, you expect to get recipes that have been thoroughly tested.  These haven't; they're just recipes she tried once and then stuck in the book if she liked them (in the intro she says they've been tested by the readers of her blog, if that counts for you).  I can't imagine why anyone would buy this instead of just searching her blog for free (especially since you actually get the readers' comments there). And I got heartily sick of reading about her children's refusal to eat even the blandest-looking of dishes.

Every so often I think I ought to use my crockpot more, since it just gets used about 8 times a year and it's hardly worth the space.  But then I check a crockpot book out of the library and I remember why I don't use it much.  It just doesn't work with my style of cooking. This book didn't change my mind even though it does has some unique ideas.  But everything unique could be done as easily or more easily in another way.

Not recommended at all.


Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and LebanonI've poked through this one a few times at the bookstore, because I love Claudia Roden's book, but this week I sat down and read the whole thing.  It's a lot smaller than some of her other books (but those are huge) and it just focuses on Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon (and yes, the Lebanon section looked good).  I don't cook as much Middle Eastern food now as I used to, but I marked several here to try.  There's also quite a bit about food and cooking and their history in these countries.

08 July 2010

Download Your Free Audiobooks

You can download the second set of audiobooks now.  This week it's The Power of One and Over the End Line.

Ptolemy's Gate

Ptolemy's Gate (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 3)I finished The Bartimaeus Trilogy a few days ago and very much liked it.  I agree with others that the ending was abrupt, but I liked it and thought it was the right ending, especially since there's potential for more Bartimaeus.  There's a lot I won't say, because you might not have read it, so read this one yourself if you haven't.  It's good fantasy.

Death by Pad Thai

Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable MealsI knew I'd read this book as soon as I started it this week, but since I can't figure out why I didn't blog about it before, I'll do it now.  I remembered a lot of the essays from this book and enjoyed reading them again.  It's just a little book with a variety of authors and food people writing about memorable meals.  Since I love to remember meals like that, I liked this book.  It is heavy on American and European meals, despite the title, but the meals are good enough to read about that that didn't matter.

02 July 2010

Free Audiobooks All Summer

You can download two YA audiobooks each week this summer at Audiobook community.  It's easy (you need Overdrive Media Console, which you probably already have if you download books from your library) and I've downloaded this week's books.  There are some good ones coming up too.  It's worth a look.