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The Sword of Summer: Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

THE SWORD OF SUMMER
Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan 
(Disney Hyperion; $19.99, Ages 9-12)

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Welcome to the first book in Rick Riordan’s new series,
The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Imagine this: it’s your 16th birthday. You wake up on a cold Boston street, your friends tell you this evil dude is looking for you … and not because he wants to bring you a birthday present. Your untrustworthy uncle reveals that you are the son of the Norse god, Frey, god of fertility of the land, peace and prosperity. Yeah, right. As the son of Frey you have the power to summon an ancient, long lost sword. Apparently, whoever wields it can do some pretty cool stuff with it. Some pretty scary stuff, too. And just think, all this time it’s been sitting at the bottom of the Charles River. Nasty.

Oh, and that evil dude looking for you? He’s the god Surt, Lord of Muspelheim, the realm of fire. He wants that sword, too. And not just to polish it up. See, he’s got this plan (or maybe it’s something like his destiny) to use the sword to free the wolf Fenir and set doomsday into motion. Wolves … dude, you hate wolves!

Someone has to stop him.

Could this be your destiny?

Ready to romp through the nine worlds of Asgard to prevent the end of the world? Well, before you take off, there’s just one. small. thing.

First, you gotta die.

Whew! So, are your ready for the The Sword of Summer, the first book in Riordan’s new series? I’ve got a feeling you’re hooked! From cold Boston streets, where the homeless (and not so prosperous) Magnus Chase lives, to the halls of Valhalla (the realm of the fallen heroes), prepare yourself for a wild and exhilarating ride through the many strange, wonderful, and sometimes frightening worlds of Asgard. Magnus and his friends, who include a snappy-dressing dwarf, a deaf elf, and a Muslim ex-Valkyrie, race against the clock to prevent a cataclysmic war.

Pursued by Valhalla heroes, giant wolves, and monsters, Magnus and his team bargain with powerful beings and magical creatures in order to prevent Surt from obtaining Frey’s sword, Sumanbrander. Whoever wields it has the power to bring about Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the gods Odin and Loki.

Percy Jackson fans will snap up this latest series (I can’t keep it on my library shelves). Using his now familiar model, Riordan has readers take a look at an unlikely hero struggling to understand who he is and the events swirling around him. Like all great heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, and yes, Percy Jackson), Magnus’ journey throughout the worlds of Asgard bring him a deeper understanding of self and greater empathy for his companions, who have sacrificed much to support him.

Riordan has inventively created a world blending Norse mythology with contemporary culture and peopled it with diverse characters in positive roles. In doing so, he shines a spotlight on contemporary issues such as Muslim culture, homelessness and people with special needs. Filled with nail-biting and dramatic action, it has the same irreverent humor found in Riordan’s earlier series.

Not familiar with Norse mythology? No problem, Riordan provides a handy glossary and other back matter materials to enhance the reader’s understanding of the ancient Norse world.

Visit all the worlds of Rick Riordan for more information on this and his other series.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

 

Show Me Happy by Kathryn Madeline Allen

SHOW ME HAPPY
Written by Kathryn Madeline Allen
Photographs by Eric Futran
(Albert Whitman & Company; $15.99, Ages 3-7)

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From the team that brought you A Kiss Means I Love You comes their latest, Show Me Happy. This photograph-rich, 24-page picture book with kids populating every page is the perfect introduction for little ones still learning “how to use their words.” Kids are picking up important early concepts and experiencing a range of emotions long before they have the language to express them so, by sharing books like Show Me Happy, we can help youngsters learn to communicate effectively.

Show Me Happy is actually more than just a book depicting emotions. With easy to interpret images that demonstrate actions such as a mom helping her son with measuring while cooking up a tasty treat (show me helping), an older boy handing a ball to a younger girl (show me giving), a little girl cutting the lawn with a toy mower (show me pushing), a boy cupping his mouth and yelling (show me NOISY), it’s a fun read-aloud with some subtle rhyme:

Show me pushing,
show me pulling,
show me sharing when we play.

Show me NOISY,
show me quiet,
show me putting things away.

This cheerful picture book would also be ideal to read with special needs children. Many kids on the Autism Spectrum, for example, may have difficulty identifying how they are feeling or what’s appropriate behavior in a certain situation. Furtran’s warm and inviting photos and Allen’s simple, upbeat text are both appealing and engaging. It sometimes feels as if the kids in the photos are smiling right at me! Books like Show Me Happy that are accessible to everyone, provide photographic examples that children can relate to making this picture book one your kids will certainly enjoy and one you’ll be happy to have on hand.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

A Most Special Sister

Just Because ($14.99, Lion Hudson, ages 5 and up), written and illustrated by Rebecca Elliott, is one of those picture books that quietly sneak up on you and then remain with you long after you have read the last page. I know because that’s exactly what happened to me. Why? Well, as the refrain repeated throughout the story says, “Just because.”

9780745962351Elliott, whose masterful artwork really needs no words, takes readers into the world of a doting younger brother who not only loves his big sister, but considers her his best friend. It wasn’t until my second read that I realized Clemmie, the older sibling, was in a wheelchair. My initial peruse engaged me enough to go back a second time and carefully study each page. I guess I liked the characters so much I didn’t pay attention to the fact that Clemmie had special needs which is exactly what the message is about.  When we get to know someone what we see is heart not handicap.

Clemmie, explains little brother, “can’t walk, talk, move around much…” but Elliott shows us that what Clemmie can do inspires her brother and makes him adore her even more. “Some sisters can be mean. They scream and shout, pull your hair, steal your chips and won’t play cowboys with you.”  For this young boy, older sister Clemmie’s smiles, laughter and companionship are what matters and it’s clear this sibling love and devotion will last a lifetime.

 Reviewed and recommended by Ronna Mandel, just because.

This Mom Makes Mealtime Tempting And Tasty But Not A Task

The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

Editor’s Note: I don’t cook, my husband does. He loves it, always has. The kitchen is his domain, but I do enter it daily and must admit I am intrigued by cooking shows and also cookbooks, in fact I have quite a selection. Everything inside each one I’ve amassed is gorgeous and delicious looking, but frankly reading a cookbook is akin to visiting a museum for me. I can admire all I see knowing I will never produce such a fine or delectable work of art. When I received The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman ($16.95, Workman Publishing), Founding Editor in Chief of Cookstr.com, with mouth-watering photographs by Todd Coleman, I was once again tempted to try a recipe, but at the same time scared off by my inexperience.  I did what every cooking-shy woman in my place would do and rang my dear friend, a cooking aficionado, for her input. Her goal after reading the book and trying some recipes, I explained, was to get me psyched to step in front of the stove, not to clean it, but to prepare a meal. Hint: She accepted the challenge so read on!

The best part about Workman’s cookbook is that it’s accessible and written in a friendly tone, almost as though you were in conversation with the author. For more of the novice chefs like me, that’s assuring. I need a cheer squad rah-rahing me on so I appreciate the “I’m here to make it easy for you” and “You can do it!” style which is especially obvious from the way the contents page is arranged. Rather than a typical cookbook breaking down chapters alphabetically or simply by food group, in this case they are cleverly categorized  based on specific needs: Quick and Easy Breakfasts, Lunch to Stay or to Go, A Handful of Snacks, Hearty Comfort Foods, Vegetarian Mains, Potluck, Mixed Company Dinners, Carbs, Best-Shot Vegetables, Weekend Brunches and my fave, Desserts. Thank you, Katie Workman, this is a great and practical idea.

One-Skillet Cheesy Beef and Macaroni
Photo Credit Copyright Todd Coleman

We begin with a warm, honest and chatty introduction from a real, hands on mom and food writer who has faced real-life cooking dilemmas with her own family and found more than suitable solutions. So much so that she’s even dubbed each recipe Solution #1, Solution #2 etc. Workman provides not only the recipes but additional features that make this cookbook the go-to guide for getting the whole family to the table tempted then leaving it happy and sated. For example, my friend cooked a Hearty Comfort Foods recipe from Chapter 10 – One-Skillet Cheesy Beef and Macaroni (see picture). Her 9 year-old daughter scarfed it down, a supper time success story. But my friend liked the extras the cookbook added such as notes about the ingredients used (in this case crushed tomatoes), a cooking tip about leftovers and a suggestion about how the kids can pitch in if they are eager to help.

The next recipe my foodster friend tried was in the Vegetarian Mains section which include variations for those who would like to add meat when it works.  Well after making the Black Beans and Rice Solution #3 I’d say my friend is a bonafide www.themom100.com convert. Never again will she cook her tired old Black Beans and Rice recipe. The new flavors of Workman’s dish did it all. Not only was it simple and affordable to prepare but the spices used added a new dimension to what was once a fixture in my friend’s recipe repertoire. And, as Workman writes, it gets “even better one or two days after you first make it, because the flavors have a chance to meld and become one with the universe.” Now this is cooking vernacular I can sink my teeth into. Optional toppings in this recipe include grated cheddar cheese, lime wedges, scallions, cilantro, diced avocado, sour cream, and hot sauce.  Add crumbled bacon to it (as suggested by Workman) to satisfy my pork-loving teen and we’ve definitely got a meal made in heaven. 

Here I must once again interject that while I may be a creative individual and can put together multiple outfits, decoupage a cardboard box like there’s no tomorrow, I am a blank canvas when facing food. How fortunate for me and those like me that Katie Workman is the Monet of Main Courses and the Degas of Desserts. She share tips and recipe variations galore, many which appeal to my sense of humor and Jewish upbringing.  Often in a handwriting-like font she’ll add: “Here it is – the breast centerfold,” where various types of chicken including Greek and Cajun are enticingly displayed or in her Ribs With a Rub recipe she writes, “You might want to rethink that white T-shirt.”  And her Fork in The Road options for picky eaters earns this cookbook extra points for parents of special needs children. My son has sensory processing issues and everything we prepare must be plain so we’ve always felt limited on what we could cook.  The book opens up a bountiful of options to make dinner more enjoyable for the entire family.

In a nutshell or should I say taco, The Mom 100 Cookbook delivers everything it sets out to and then some.  Whether you seek soup, salad, scrambled eggs or Streusel Apple Pie that will satisfy the family, a mom (or dad) needs to look no further than between pages 1 and 366.  There are even ideas for themed menus at the back plus Resources and Conversion Tables. This mom has thought of it all and you the reader, cook and eater will be grateful!  Oh husband dear, pass me an apron please.

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