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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post! Trucks and TROBO the Storytelling Robot

A very good friend of mine, from high school, has formed a company that makes an interactive plush robot named TROBO. TROBO is adorably cute, and they are currently fundraising on Kickstarter for their first production run. You can go now and pre-order your own TROBO. Chris has agreed to write a guest post for Books. Lists. Life. and as a parent of a toddler, has chosen to send me a book review. That seems fitting, no?
 
(Chris is the one in yellow.)
 
 
Trucks Get Stuck – A Board Book Review
 

 
I’m a father with a 2and a half year old named Asher.  He loves cars, trucks, and trains.  Our bedtime book collection heavily reflects this.  At about the 8th book into our collection of truck books, I began to see a theme with truck books.  They all get stuck somehow or have to get someone else unstuck.  On the surface, it seems like “truck” and “stuck” rhyme, so why not make a book about it?  In fact there is an adorable favorite in our collection who’s title is a little too on the nose for this blog, called, “My Truck Is Stuck”.
 
So since there is a common theme, I am reviewing a few of our favorites.  Since I mentioned “My Truck Is Stuck”, by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk, let’s start there.  Though the title, in this context, is a little obvious, the storytelling totally works.  This poor chap does get his truck stuck, and enlists the help of many different vehicles, including a Jeep branded Wrangler to help him get out, finally succeeding with the help of a… well let’s not give it all away.  But here’s the fun spin on this yarn, his truck gets stuck, because a pile of sneaky beavers set a trap, and they’re slowly over the story, whittling away his huge payload of bones.  You don’t catch it until the end, but it creates a wonderful little chuckle every time you’re reading it before bedtime.  The rhyming is slightly repetitive, but the meter flows pretty well.  I recommend this book for its creative spin on why the truck gets stuck and the subplot of the great bone caper the beavers pull off.  Lastly, the artwork is jut adorable and inspires me to whip out my pastels and try the style for my own characters.
 

Next up, “Red Truck”, by Kersten Hamilton and Valeria Petrone, is a delightful tale of not how our truck gets stuck, but how our tow truck is perfect for getting others out of a jam.  This one has less overall verbiage than I may like, but the experience still works.  It also incorporates special effects on some words, like “zoom”, and “vroom” encouraging mom and dad to sound out the story, making it more interesting than just a poetic read.  We follow the tale of how our red truck saves a stalled school bus full of children trapped in the snow.  It took me a little time to get used to the artwork, as some of the perspective seems off.  But then again, it’s a children’s book and is clearly crafted with intention.  My favorite page is a two-page spread on page 7, where the truck goes up a large, squirrely hill.  It’s text says, “Can Red Truck make it up the hill? Red Truck CAN, Red Truck WILL!”  - what a nice metaphor for overcoming tough obstacles. 
 

Lastly, I’d like to highlight a series that is a character-driven, personal favorite. “Little Blue Truck”, by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry is built around a meek old farm truck, that gives friendly honks and advice to frogs, other cars, and people.  Little Blue Truck (LBT) finds himself in tough situations and uses kindness and friendship to solve his story problems.  First, in “Little Blue Truck Leads the Way”, we see LBT mosey into the city.  Although we don’t get to know why he’s there, we can assume from the art that he’s bringing melons in from the farm to sell.  He gets mesmerized by everything being larger than he is, and quickly runs into stereotypical New York crabby-cabbie style cars, that just want him to get out of their way.  A traffic jam ensues, and LBT helps everyone calm down and get out of it single file.  The meter in the text is pristine, making for a friendly, poetic read, that you can spontaneously turn into song, should you choose to do so.  The artwork is very complex and detailed.  Though a good Photoshop rendering can fool anyone, I believe this is a refreshing use of traditional paints (either acrylics or oils).   Jill uses a lot of dry brush techniques to communicate motion, and though her attention to building detail is remarkable, my favorite page is 15-16, where a big street sweeper is kicking up a mountain of dust.  Asher’s is 19-20, where he gets a bird’s eye view of the traffic jam, full of cars and buildings. 
 
The second book we got was, “Little Blue Truck”, which was published a year earlier.  This jaunt through farm country introduces us to all the friendly animals LBT knows well.  One day a huge, extremely arrogant dump truck rumbles through, being rude to everyone, and lands himself in an enormous mud puddle.  Since he wasn’t nice, he has no one willing to help to get out until LBT steps up.  The artwork is beautiful and light-hearted, and my favorite panel is page 9-10, where the big dump barrels on through.  The only minor flaw in this book, is that they call the dump truck, “the Dump”, to help a rhyme work, which feels a little awkward.   My wife and I thought only these two titles existed, but during this blog, I’m pleased to have just found “Little Blue Truck's Christmas”, which I am ordering next.  And as my wife , Asher, and I say on the last page, “Thanks little blue truck” for all the happy bed time readings.
 
 
Chris Harden is a husband, father and the cofounder of TROBO the Storytelling Robot, a talking plush toy and interactive digital board book series that teaches kids 2-7 about science and engineering.  TROBO is currently live on Kickstarter at http://www.trobokickstarter.com

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal, Matthew Inman


Now that Mike and I are both full fledged running geeks, there are a lot of books on running being read.  In the last couple months I've requested three of them from NetGalley alone, and several more from the library. The best of the NetGalley books is this one: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal.  Most of you are probably familiar with the webcomic/books by The Oatmeal and this book is exactly that style. It's funny and sad and very very short.




Here's the summary, tho the title alone should explain it well enough:


This is not just a book about running. It's a book about cupcakes. It's a book about suffering.

 It's a book about gluttony, vanity, bliss, electrical storms, ranch dressing, and Godzilla. It's a book about all the terrible and wonderful reasons we wake up each day and propel our bodies through rain, shine, heaven, and hell.

 From #1 New York Times best-selling author, Matthew Inman, AKA The Oatmeal, comes this hilarious, beautiful, poignant collection of comics and stories about running, eating, and one cartoonist's reasons for jogging across mountains until his toenails fall off.

 Containing over 70 pages of never-before-seen material, including "A Lazy Cartoonist's Guide to Becoming a Runner" and "The Blerch's Guide to Dieting," this book also comes with Blerch race stickers.




As you would expect from The Oatmeal the humor isn't all politically correct, but it is pretty funny. He blames his running on being a inherently fat and lazy kid, and an adult who wants nothing more than to eat junk and look at a computer screen.  He pokes fun of everyone at the gym, and all the other runners. He wanders off on asides about Japanese hornets. If you are a runner you'll see a lot you relate to. If you're not a runner, you'll wonder why on earth anyone would want to be one.  If I had any complaint about  the book it's that occasionally he seems not just snarky, but snotty towards runners who do it differently from him. He clearly feels that his way is the best way (ie, extra long distances, no gear, no earbuds, just running through the pain) and anything else is doing it wrong.




This book will be published on September 30th.




Other running books I've read this summer and not yet reviewed:


Older, Faster, Stronger by Margaret Webb
Interesting, with lots of science-y details, but I have to admit I don't want to think of myself as "older" yet. I did admire what Webb was doing in trying to make herself the best she'd ever been, but I occasionally found her voice hard to take. She's a bit more brash than I usually enjoy- which is saying something in the same blog post as a review of a book by The Oatmeal! This one will be published on October 7th.







Monday, September 15, 2014

Hexagon update #23-2014

I haven't updated in a while! Summer has been so busy and we haven't had a ton of sitting around time. And maybe I might have tested out a new EPP pattern as well...

I've made 25 more flowers, bringing my flower total up to 50.

 

And then I saw someone's La Passacaglia quilt and fell in love. I've long been planning that my next EPP quilt would be mixed shapes and while I expected that I'd invent my own pattern, now I don't have to. I ordered a small set of pieces to test it out.

 

The pieces are so tiny that it's like a while new technique. In fact, I couldn't figure out how to thread baste them so I had to learn to glue baste. I've done very little- I'm reserving it as a reward for when I've had a long day or have worked "enough" on the pink quilt. This one will take me even longer than the pink one, in the end.

As always, linking up with Jessica at Life Under Quilts.

 

 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Swan Point by Sherryl Woods

Waaaaay back in college, my friends and I used to read a lot of romances featuring pregnant women and babies by choice. Not just because a series we liked went there. We sought them out. I know. One of the authors that we loved was Sherryl Woods. After college I moved on, and I relegated Woods to the category of authors who wrote books about babies and I never looked back. This summer a friend of mine mentioned Woods and I thought I'd take another look. Happily Swan Point has no babies at all on the cover. It does, however, have children in it.

 


Here's the summary:


#1 New York Times bestselling author Sherryl Woods draws readers back into the world of strong friendships and heartfelt emotions in Serenity, South Carolina

Determined to build a new life for her family after her divorce, Adelia Hernandez has bought a home in the historic Swan Point neighborhood of Serenity. Promoted to manager of Main Street's most fashionable boutique, she feels revitalized and ready for a fresh start as a single mom. But barely into this new independent phase, she crosses paths with the sexiest man to hit Serenity in years.

Gabe Franklin, back in town to make amends for past mistakes, has no intention of settling down, but Adelia's proving irresistible. Cheered on by their friends, "the Sweet Magnolias," Gabe is bringing long-absent passion and laughter into Adelia's life. To his surprise—and hers—sometimes a rolling stone is just what it takes to build the rock-solid foundation of a family.





So as I said, there are children. Adelia is a single mom of 4, fairly fresh out of a publicly embarrassing divorce. Her self-esteem has taken a giant hit, and she's pretty much brand new to the world of both dating AND being anything other than a mom. She really opens up in the book and starts to accept that yes, she CAN have something that she loves as an individual, something that she's not just doing for the benefit of her children. I'm learning that when done well, I don't mind the addition of children to a book, if they are there as part of the new family and not just for comic relief.


By the same token, Gabe has a lot of growing to do. He has to overcome his past in Serenity and learn to deal with the parts of being in a small town that scared him off before. He falls for Adelia pretty much before he even talks to her, and while his words insist he can't stay, can't do it, his heart and brain is telling him otherwise. While he does insist a TAD too long that he's not right for relationships, he manages to pull it off in the end.


The romance in this one is sweet and flirty. Any action is behind closed doors other than a few stolen kisses. It's believable and I enjoyed it a lot. The biggest flaw of the book are the Sweet Magnolias (been there done that, see also Fool's Gold) and basically all the name dropping from the other books in the series. Books like this make me really appreciate Lucky Harbor, where you might meet people from other books, but it's not a challenge to squeeze them all in. Would I read another? Yes, I would. Would I recommend it glowingly like I do Lucky Harbor? Not yet.

 

 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Texan's Twins by Pamela Britton

Back to those Rodeo Barons! The Texan's Twins is the fourth book in the series, and the third one with kids in it. I don't know. I like the series and the adults and I'm not finding the kids to be too distracting, but I don't usually find the addition of them to be incredibly romantic. So much of the plot line revolves around the kids. And the more of this I write, the more I realize that perhaps the appeal of these books (that is, books with kids in them) is NOT a "baby hungry biological clock ticking" way but in a "single parents deserve love too" way. I'm going to need to think on this more. There is definitely a difference in my mind between a book like the first Barons book (where the hero and heroine are pregnant from a one night stand) and this one (where the heroine comes into the story with 5 year olds.) One is about wanting a baby with a person and the other is falling in love with someone else AND their kids.


Ok, long intro, what's it about anyway?


Definitely Not Daddy Material!

Jasmine Marks is focused and hardworking, and when she took a job as engineer for Baron Energies, she left behind her support network. Now, the burden of caring for her twin girls is all on her, and she doesn't have time for a dilettante playboy like Jet Baron. Besides, she needs her job, and she can't blow it by getting involved with the boss's son.

On the surface, Jet Barron is a dabbler, dropping into work one day and riding rodeo the next. But when he makes his mind up, he goes for it, full-out. He knows a lot more than anyone suspects, about the oil business, about women. And this woman needs someone to count on—which will be Jet, if he gets his way.


First, the characters. I really enjoyed both Jasmine and Jet in this one. Jasmine is exactly as described. She works her behind off to provide for her girls and is successful at it. She's also realistically exhausted and stressed to her limits, and a health scare does not make it easier. She turns to Jet for comfort, because she has no one else and she can not resist his offer. She's terrified to start to care for anyone and insists to herself that this is just temporary, a way to ease stress. She doesn't see at all this is what love is all about. Jet has a honestly earned reputation as someone who can't be taken seriously. He understands why that is but he kind of chafes at it, as he isn't really as flighty as his reputation seems. Jet has been pulled into Baron Industries because of his father's injury (Really? How long can that take to heal anyway?) and while he has no desire to take over the company, he is legitimately happy to be working there. He especially loves working with the newest engineer, Jasmine. Jet falls fast and never really denies what he feels even as he is amazed by the possibility, and when things finally implode (in a scene I have never seen in a romance!) he gracefully steps out of the way for Jasmine. It is thoughtful and kind and makes me love Jet more.


Even the addition of the two little girls doesn't really distract from the story here. They are always present (Jasmine is a single mom with no other support, this is a plot point) and the story is very much about Jet falling for all three of them. Was it a perfect romance? No, but it was very good and I read through it very quickly. I am still enjoying the series very much, with two books remaining.


The Texan's Twins was published on September 2.

 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Burned by Sarah Morgan

Remember how much I loved Sleigh Bells in the Snow? Ever since I read that one I have been religiously watching for any Sarah Morgan books on NetGalley. Burned was released back in May, and I even requested it then, but I'd pretty much forgotten it was on my Kindle.  Burned does NOT fit the same mold as the other Sarah Morgan books.




Here's the summary:
Join London's hottest martial arts gym now!
Every girl needs some self-defense. But at Fit and Physical, you'll learn martial arts and get fit at the same time. Look great, feel better and kick a little butt! Check out one-on-one personal training with our favourite karate black belt, Rosie Miller. She loves her job, the world of martial arts, and her life is just…well, brilliant.
Trainer and martial artist Rosie Miller's zen is seriously compromised when Hunter Black—her former coach and lover—becomes her new boss. With all the sexual energy still crackling between them, her poor little zen doesn't stand a chance. So this time, Rosie is determined to do more than put up self-defense. She and Hunter are going to play by her rules….


Ok so once again I feel like the summary isn't really accurate. (Who writes these things anyway?) It's true, Rosie is a trainer and a black belt, but all isn't sun and roses for her, and everything goes from crummy to awful when Hunter buys her gym.  This is a novella and there really isn't enough space for any outside conflict, so all the problems with their relationship come from within. Within Rosie, to be specific. Rosie and Hunter have a past- he was her first, and he walked away from her five years ago. Rosie is absolutely certain that he left because she was so clingy and she's mortified to have been that way. She barely gives Hunter a chance to explain his reasons and I found her insistence on her past immaturity to be a bit annoying. She really was very young and Hunter leaves to give her a chance to grow a bit. Once he's back in the picture, he's  much less resistant to a reunion than Rosie.


I'd give Burned a C for romance and plotting, but much higher for the sexual tension level. This book is part of the Cosmo Red Hot Reads series and it definitely shows. Would I read another one of these? Probably if it were by a recommended author, but otherwise there really wasn't enough meat to the story.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

Just to show you that I occasionally break out of my romance loving life... I recently read Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn. I had read both of Flynn's other books (The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry and The Kitchen Counter Cooking School) and enjoyed them both tremendously. When I saw this one, I was anxious to read it as well.


Here's the Summary:
A delicious memoir from the author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry
In this family history interwoven with recipes, Kathleen Flinn returns readers to the mix of food and memoir beloved by readers of her bestselling The Sharper Your
Knife, the Less You Cry. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good explores the very beginnings of her love affair with food and its connection to home. It is the story of her midwestern childhood, its memorable home cooks, and the delicious recipes she grew up with. Flinn shares tales of her parents’ pizza parlor in San Francisco, where they sold Uncle Clarence’s popular oven-fried chicken, as well as recipes for the vats of chili made by her former army cook Grandpa Charles, fluffy Swedish pancakes from Grandma Inez, and cinnamon rolls for birthday breakfasts. Through these dishes, Flinn came to understand how meals can be memories, and how cooking can be a form of communication. Brimming with warmth and wit, this book is sure to appeal to Flinn’s many fans as well as readers of Marcus Samuelsson, Ruth Reichl, and Julie Powell


You might wonder just how many foodie memoirs a person has in them. I know there are authors who are able to keep churning them out, each with it's own spin and each as good as the last. Sadly, I didn't feel that this one was quite as strong as the previous two. I did enjoy it, and it's a fun quick read, but I didn't feel like the food related quite so much, and that possibly it was a stretch to try and center this one around food as well. As a family history that is not about food, it was pretty average, and not entirely memorable. For example, I read it last week and honestly can only tell you the barest of details. I didn't try any recipes and I can only remember what a couple of them were for, let alone why they were relevant. This seems a very negative review, and I didn't dislike the book at all, I just think perhaps I only liked it as much as I did because I had a history with the author's books. I would definitely recommend starting with the other two books before this one.


Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good was published on August 14th.

PS. I totally wrote this weeks ago and thought I published it. Imagine my surprise to find it still in my drafts!

 

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