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My Empire of Dirt by Manny Howard

Book: My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm

Author: Manny Howard

Summary: My Empire of Dirt is a cautionary tale of how Manny Howard took on an assignment from his agent to write an article about how he turned his suburban backyard into a farm and ate only what grew in it. Manny Howard is a writer who grew up in New York, now with his wife and two kids he sets out to produce enough food to feed him and his family for one month. He has little knowledge of the plant world and even less on creating an urban farm capable of producing that much food. But what he does have is a can do attitude. Starting with a backyard of nothing, layers of baked clay that is family barely spends any time in and barely conceived plans for what he has dubbed “The Farm” he sets out on an adventure that changes him and his family.

My Thoughts: With in the first few chapters of this book I was met with animal carnage and the prospect of “The Farm” hadn’t even been pitched. That’s when I knew this was going to be a good book. Howard has a way of writing that pulls you into his mind and convinces you that his half-baked plans and impulse way of doing things is the only way to go about these sort of things. Throughout the telling of how he transforms his backyard into The Farm he also gives you insight to how his family transforms and his reasons for continuing the project after every possible thing could go wrong. Admittedly he does go off on long tangents that seem at odds with the rest of the book, for instant there was a multi-page history lesson on the city mid way through the book. I’m still not sure how that plays in the grand scheme of the book and the story but history lessons aren’t all bad. I really enjoyed reading this candid story of starting an urban farm, and even though I have dreams of possibly doing the same thing in the future it made me realize how much there will be too. It’s something that changes you from the inside out; mind, body and soul. I recommend this book for anyone thinking of tackling even the smallest of urban farms, or thinking about getting a few chickens and planting a few veggies to help with food costs.

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The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Book: The Grimm Legacy

Author: Polly Shulman

Summary: Elizabeth Rew is feeling lonely in her new home and school. With her father working more to pay for her step sisters’ college tuition and her best friend moving to California,  her closet confidant is a rag doll that once belonged to her late mother. After a particularly lonely day Elizabeth is offered a part-time job at a local repository. From that day on Elizabeth’s life is not the same. Getting to know her new coworkers is giving her spirits some lifting and is allowing her to learn and see new things, surrounded by objects from all over the world and throughout history. But there are whispers and a tension that is permeating through her new workplace. Everyone is talking about recent thefts attributed to an old page, yet are still occurring. And what is this Dungeon she keeps hearing about but yet no one will be straight with her about it? She’s warned to take care with a possible abnormally large bird stalking pages and patrons alike. But when she’s finally let in on the secret will it be too late for her?

My thoughts:First I found out about this book on while browsing Pinterest. And it was an instant “Must Read This Book!” moment. The description attached to the pin was this:

Have you ever wondered what they keep in the super special collections at libraries? Elizabeth Rew is about to find out. She takes an after school job as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, which houses a collection of objects ranging from plastic buttons to Marie Antoinette’s wig. But as Elizabeth becomes more comfortable at her new job she begins to see that there is something odd going on. Two of the previous pages left the Repository under suspicious circumstances…

I’ve always been attracted to special collections, the rarer the better. But even simple historical objects are a big thing to me. If objects could talk the stories they could tell. And who hasn’t ever thought about a super special collection hidden away behind a secret door in a library? I have, plenty of times, especially those old ornate libraries that have you thinking if you pull on the right lever or knock in the right place a swish and a swoosh will happen and before you will be an old passageway leading to great secrets. That’s the feeling Shulman tries to infuse into this story. It inspires great fantasies of what libraries could be or are. I find that this was indeed a great read, simple and sweet if you will. I started it and finished it one day, and it’s a decent size teen book. It just flows really well, and the writing is smooth. There’s action, romance, mystery, and suspense but none of them is overtly strong…they’re pretty balance resulting in a fun read. I think this will make a great addition to my library and I hear there is a sequel but yet I can’t find actual proof that it has been published. But I think young teens would enjoy this book, especially if they have a liking of libraries, history, mystery or all three.

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The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu

I picked this book up after getting a recommendation from a friend. The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu is another beginner primer for anyone rethinking their eating habits. The thought behind the book is to not just say you are part of a food movement whatever that might be, but to change the way you approach the kitchen as a part of your life. The topics in this book range from how you grocery shop, to preserving your food, cooking your food and serving your food. She has also speaks about the appliances in a conscious kitchen, the products you use to clean your kitchen to create a conscious way of living.

Zissu shows you how to navigate the farmer market, the small neighborhood grocery store and the giant mega supermarket, all with the purpose of bringing home fresh and healthy foods without spend loads of unnecessary cash. She makes her argument for a home garden and buying locally for both environmental and health reasons.

What I like most about this book was that there was a lot of knowledge to gleam from it and it was presented in a way that I didn’t feel overwhelmed with new vocabulary and ideas.

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Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I usually write my book reviews for Sundays but since I already have another post planned for that day I thought I’ll do this review today. Plus I’m off for the day as comp time for working this past weekend.

Back in June of last year I wrote about not being about to finish a book, Faerie Wars Chronicles by James Herbert Brennan. Today I’m going to be doing the same thing except for a whole series. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson was on my to read list for about a year. I remember seeing the first book while working as a Page before going to grad school. I checked it out and never got around to reading it. Then I found a copy for next to nothing at a Border’s. It took me another year before I would actually read it.

I remember tweeting about the weirdness of reading a book about evil librarians while in school to become a librarian. It messed with my mind. The first book was lacking to say it nicely. I don’t hate it but I don’t love it. The story sets up with Alcatraz inheriting special sand that a cult of evil librarians are willing to kill to get. The characters are great and the plot is interesting. What ruined the book for me was the gimmick the author employed over and over. He goes off on supposedly fun tangents and at first I thought these tangents were suppose to be weird forms of foreshadowing. And some are, but mostly they are distracting.

It is a juvenile series so I thought I’m over thinking it. It was a fun story and even though the book ends terribly in the regards of a cliff hanger, I kinda wanted to know what happened next. So I waited some months to find the second book and again I was let down. I was hoping for more of the characters and plot development and instead I got even more gimmicky writing. The second book picks up right where the first book ended and ends no better. It’s a decent size book for a youth series but the plot didn’t really advance much. I remember feeling this way when I read books 5 and 6 of the Harry Potter series, they really could have been one book in regards to plot advancement.

So another few months went by and I was on the fence on reading book three, but here’s the thing I really wanted to like this series. So last weekend I read book three…and again a book full of gimmicky writing. But worst, because the main characters went all angsty on me and I felt lost their charm. The plot dragged along and in the end once again there was no real rhyme or reason for it. Honestly the book could have been much shorter and gotten the same bang for my buck.

Will I read book four? I highly doubt it, at this point it would be just to finish out a series and plus they are short reads. I think a lot of people who like this series and would like this series. I’m not one of them, maybe it’s my librarian teaching that has clouded my mind so that I can’t appreciate the genius of this series, but I just kind of like stories that actually have a plot to them. But if you have the time check out book one from your library and give it a go. Let me know how you feel about it.

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“Frugavores make the most of what they have, supports best practices in farming, wastes nothing, and grows their own food when they can.”

Frugavore by Arabelle Forge

I picked this book up soon after it came to my department with a batch of new books. The coworker who shares the office with me is in charge of creating a Spring Garden Series every March through May. Every year she tries likes to update the collection with new books, which is great for me especially with regards to my 2012 goal of becoming a locavore and my life goal of living healthier. My family has always labeled me the most frugal of the bunch. In truth I believe I waste quite a bit, especially when I read a self-proclaimed frugal person’s blog and see some of the “resourcefulness” people are capable of. But it’s true I am more willing to use something till it’s broken beyond repair and squeeze the last bit of whatever till it has no more to give. So picking up this book I thought it would be a great weekend read. And I was not disappointed.

Arabella Forge’s Frugavore is an excellent primer for anyone looking to think differently about their consumption. It’s not a thick book so don’t expect her to cover every single thought or resource out there but she doesn’t point you on many great paths of discovery. She also breaks down a lot of the labels and subgroups that are making up the forever growing food movement. Before this book I had never heard of groups like ‘Slow Food’ (anti fast food), Localism (buy food produced locally), organic, biodynamic, and so on. I didn’t know the difference between some people who consider themselves locavores based on the environment impact and those who call themselves the same thing but do it for health reasons. She breaks the book down into different arenas like The Frugavore Kitchen, Stocking your Pantry, Veggie Patch, etc, and shares great recipes to help you take full advantage of personal gardens, community gardens, local farms and farmer markets.

The point of the book is to take a note from the past and see how efficient and frugal generations were before us and realize that they had a life full of wonderfully tasty food and wasted nothing. This book has inspired me in many ways to reconsider I approach my time in the kitchen and I’m so glad it was my first book on this new journey.

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Book:Amulet: The Last Council

Author: Kazu Kibuishi

Summary: In book four, our gang has finally made it to Ceilis and think they can finally find the help they need, but things aren’t always what they seem. A town that was once filled with bustling crowds is now empty and tinged with the feeling of fear. Emily and her family are soon separated from the rest of the gang, and then Emily is separated from her family. Because she is a stonekeeper she is forced to compete for a spot among the council itself. Soon she comes to realize that she is but a pawn in someone else web of deceit and a danger that is best left buried will come to light.

My Thoughts: I feel like a broken record when I do a review for Kibuishi’s Amulet series…but his artwork is just that good and it gets better with each book. While I meant to do this review a while back I can remember the story as if I read it yesterday. In my last review I noted that the third book was nothing but foreshadowing which worried me about the series being overly dependent on each book in relationship to the other books. I’m glad to report that book 4 finally gave you some “meat and potatoes” once again. Something to really sink your teeth into the story and have you waiting for book five to come out.

And as a side I just recently found out that Warner Brothers’ is set to make a movie based on this series to come out this year. Not sure how I feel about that…rarely does the movie live up to the book. And the imagery would have to be out of this world to do the story any justice, just saying.

Other reviews in this series: Book One, Book Two, Book Three

Click image to download this image as a desktop. Courtesy of Multiversity Comics.

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Image found at Amazon.

Book: The Magician: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

Author: Michael Scott

Summary: In the second installment of Michael Scott’s Secret of Nicholas Flamel we find our group of heroes traveling the Parisian countryside, from the Eiffel tower to dark catacombs below the city the twins with their guardians leave their mark on the city of love. Back in the country he called his home for many years Nicholas Flamel is at a lost of whom to trust and who is out to get him. Dr. Dee is not far behind and reaches out to Niccolo Machiavelli, another immortal serving the Dark Lords. Nicholas Flamel knows he needs to get Josh’s powers awaken and somehow figure out how to keep them safe and help them save the human race. Perenelle has her own problems locked away on Alcatraz, and Josh and Sophie must come to terms with their new life.

My Thoughts: Book two continues on the trend of introducing the facts behind the myths and legends that most of us know from grade school. We meet some of the great legends all residing in Paris. The book reads with great pace, the beginning however was a bit slow, but picked up at the end. Josh and Sophie are starting to come in to their own, Sophie is having a hard time dealing with the power she now possess while Josh is ready and wanting to have the same power. In the first book I liked how Scott portrayed these teenagers, they were level-headed while being thrown into a centuries old war. He still does this in book two but adds more personality to these two characters, book one felt more like Nicholas Flemel’s story, with the addition of the twins; book two is showing that perhaps really this series is the twins’ story. This book’s climax is great but with series I’ve found that the followup to the climaxes are somewhat confusing and can be a let down, not with this series. Scott does a great job choosing when to end the current storyline.

I’m already gearing up for book three…

Web Application: Rollip

New find: Rollip. You remember those wonderful Polaroid photos your parents have, and their parents have floating all over the place. When you look at them you wonder what it use to be like back then? Do you wish you could make your own pictures look aged and ephemeral all at once, but you don’t have an Polaroid camera, you aren’t nowhere near skilled enough to work with special lens and don’t even get you started with how Photoshop is the devil.

Then Rollip is your web app. Especially if you don’t want to pay for the Hipstomatic App for your Iphone or if you don’t even have a Iphone. Don’t believe me? Well how about this:

I took this photo during my internship, don’t this old card catalog look automatically ten times cooler? IKR! Rollip allows you to apply 40 different filters to any picture you upload (I added the frame afterwards in Photoshop). You can download the picture or share it through Facebook. Still not convince…well fine, how about this one:

Come on, you have to love this one. I took it in 2010 but it looks like it could have come straight out of the 70s. I did the frame in Photoshop, tried to make it look as old as the photo looks. It works for me. You can do this with a number of apps, and there are ready-made Photoshop actions that you can download if you have the software (which costs almost $400), but right now I’m digging Rollip (it’s free and you don’t have to download any software).

Attempted Reading

For the last month I’ve attempted to read the first book in the Faerie Wars Chronicles by James Herbert Brennan. This is another young adult fantasy series that usually would take me about a week or so of nightly reading to get through. But that’s not the case with this book. It’s not a necessarily hard read or complicated by any means. On the back cover that I have you can see that it was once the YALSA top pick, it was also ALA‘s “Best Book For Young Adults”.

So going in I had high hopes, really I did. Fantasy action with fairies…key ingredients for a fun read. The first chapter started off well, the writing style was easy to follow and the main character seemed likable. However it left off on a weird note. Something that didn’t really seemed to mesh with the rest of the chapter, almost like he wanted to through some controversial drama in to make people keep reading. That’s what a writer usually does but it wasn’t necessary and it didn’t fit. So right there I could feel my interest waning. However I’ve never been one to completely give up on a book, especially after the first chapter. I might sat it down and forget about it for a year only to rediscover it in an old bag hidden in the back of the closet…at any rate I kept reading.

Only to find that the second chapter changed topics completely and read as a second book. I’ve read books like that read like two separate story lines and found that some authors struggle to bring the two stories together and some are a master at it. But when it doesn’t work…it just doesn’t work. Obviously Mr. Brennan has some talent and this book has some lovers out there, but I’m afraid I’m just not one of them. I’m about halfway through chapter nine and I have never been so confused about the premise of a young adult book. My main issues boil down to a few main points.

1. The set up is extremely long and arduous, like I said I’m at chapter nine and the story is still in set up mode as in what I think are the main characters are just meeting and obviously there is something amiss.

2. Pieces are missing in the set up. Meaning the author seems to think the reader is going to catch on to the setting and how things work in each world. Which is weird when you switch from what seems to be reality and a more fantasy world but isn’t all that different from reality.

3. Why that weird cliffhanger. It bothers me so much.

One day I’ll finish this book and rather or not I read the rest of the series is a different question. Now spill is there a book that you just can’t bring yourself to read and/or finish? What about book that got great raves but didn’t live up to the hype?

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+book cover image taken from author's site

Book: The Pharaoh’s Secret

Author: Marissa Moss

Summary: The Pharaoh’s Secret is the story of Talibah, who with her father and younger brother Adom are finally making the trip to see Egypt. The place where both their parents were born and raised. After receiving a strange gift from a mysterious passer-byer Talibah finds herself dropped in the middle of a mystery that reaches back thousands of years ago. Now she is being plagued by nightmares and a ghostly voice urging her to find the answer. What started off as a nice family trip to the homeland has now turned into a quest to find out what happened to the Pharaoh Queen, Hatshepsut and her high priest, Senenmut and will end ultimately discovering who she is as a person.


My Thoughts: I have to say after I read this book I cried. I know weird huh? But let me explain the back story before I get to why this children’s fiction story made a 26-year-old cry. Back in 2009 I had just moved into my new apartment to start Graduate school. A friend and I decided to make a trip to the local discount book store and I was wondering around just to see what they had I wasn’t planning on buying anything but I already had 3 books in my hand. Then I stumbled upon this book. I had seen the author before, Marissa Moss is best known for her Amelia books. I was intrigued because of the subject matter but I decided not to get it. I asked my friend to take a picture of the cover and send it to my phone (which at the time didn’t have a camera) so I wouldn’t forget the title and could find it again. That was the plan but the next time I got a chance to look for the book I couldn’t find it. Not at the original store, neither of the three larger chains, and none of the libraries. For two years I looked for this book, I kept the photo in every cell phone I switched to over the next two years as a reminder. Anytime I was in a space that sold books I looked for it. It soon became an obsession. It never occurred to me to look online at Amazon, although I did look online for the major book chains without any luck. Personally I just prefer to buy books in bookstores and not online, I’ve had bad experiences buying books online. I thought I would never find it again and cursed myself for not getting it when I had a chance.

A couple of months ago, Borders announced they were closing their store in Greensboro. So started the weekly visit to the store as they started cutting prices. I got a lot of great books that I was looking for. Towards the end they were quickly running out of books, and the children section was the first to go. One Saturday I told my friend that it would be my last time going as the pickings were getting really slim. I went in not thinking to find anything as the employees had assured everyone that they didn’t have any backroom product so what was out there on the floor was it. I was in the adult romance section, deciding to not even look in the children or teen sections or the normal sections I usually focus on, for some really cheap quick reads when I gasped and made a mad dive for the bookshelf. The women surrounding me were freaked out I know because they all started taking slow steps back. But I couldn’t help it, there sitting between a romance novel with a barely dressed woman clinging to a pirate on it’s cover and another one with equally undressed woman in the height of pleasure as two small red streams of blood decorated her throat and a pale man off to the side was the book that had eluded me for two years.

I know for sure that book wasn’t there before, I had systematically looked at each section, each row, each shelf, each book spine every single time I came in. And before hand I made sure I searched the computer for their in store stock every visit and it always said out of stock. So when had they gotten this book? When was it put out? Why was it in the adult section? I didn’t know and really didn’t care. It was mine! And for less than $3. You would have thought I would have came home and read it cover to cover but I didn’t. It was in the middle of the semester and I had already started another book. Plus I had a long list of books I needed to read from previous visits. But it kept nagging me until I gave in last week and read it.

With out giving away a lot I have to say the story speaks on the lost of a parent and how children deal with that lost. And what spoke to me the most was how this young girl was dealing with losing a mother at a young age and then to go to a place that focus a lot on the afterlife is an emotional thing. When I lost my father in 2009 I often found myself wondering where his soul had gone. Was he in Heaven and fulfilled or was he stuck somewhere because he was taken from us unexpectedly when he had wanted to do so much more. I was raised as a Christian so I know what the bible says but I’ve always liked learning about other religions and what they had to say about death. I’ve always had a fascination with Ancient Egypt in particular and I’ve read the Book of the Dead in highschool. And I know how important the soul was to them, and how the soul played out in the Afterlife. So when I lost my dad it was the first time that someone close to me had died and it forced me to actually wonder what would happened next. The story forced me to deal with emotions I didn’t realize I still had. Thoughts I’ve never vocalized. It was emotional overload and well I cried. I’m sure that’s not want Moss’s goal was but this story was written so skillfully that it evoke powerful emotions in me. And I think that was Moss’s goal.

Now that I’ve read it a sense of peace has come over me. The obsession had been fed and I kind of understand why I was possessed with the need to read this book. It’s weird that a book not originally written to help the reader come to turns with lost did exactly that for me. I wasn’t expecting such a reaction when I picked it up but there is a reason there is a saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I seriously think this book would be a great read for all ages.