The Marauders # 3: Harvard Square Shenanigans…and Cupcakes

TheMaraudersWelcome to The Marauders a monthly feature hosted by three bookish friends: Scales aka Elizabeth from BookYABBER, Pooka aka Marci at The Plot Bunny and Embers aka Nicole from Nicole’s Novel Reads. We seek to share with you, our unique outings, bookish exploits,  and favorite haunts. Together we aspire to always live by our motto:  “Mischief Managed”.

This month on The Marauders we decided to stay local and celebrate the birthday of one of the most bookish people we know – our friend Rachel. Rachel is an avid reader, a writer of books and currently head over heels in summer classes for her grad degree . I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of meeting her while at ALAMW (Nicole and Elizabeth already knew her) and I am so happy that I did. Rachel is the type of person that you meet and instantly already like. She is friendly, outgoing and pretty much should run for President because she can befriend just about anyone. Her knowledge of books is amazing and I have never met anyone that can read as fast as she does (and retains the knowledge). Walking into a bookstore is dangerous when accompanied by Rachel. She will have at least 30 recommendations ready to go, she will read passages from favorite books to you in order to convince you to buy it, and literally put book after book into your basket and tell you that “YOU MUST BUY/READ IT!” Publishers should really consider giving this girl a book deal and some type of marketing job because she is a PRO.

PARK Restaurant and Bar
Top Right/Bottom Right and Bottom left Photo Credit: HarvardSquaree.com

Elizabeth, Nicole and I wanted to get together with Rachel for a belated birthday celebration and so we met up in Cambridge for brunch at PARK restaurant and bar. PARK is a personal favorite haunt of mine. It’s an interesting place, located under a garage, and you feel like you are deep in someone’s wine cellar. The decor is a mix of woods, comfy arms chairs, leather banquettes, and cozy nooks. Towards the back is an area with a faux bookcase and smaller tables and couch-like seating. The bar is centered in the room and goes almost a full 360 all the way around and their cocktails are known to be some of the yummiest drinks you will ever have. My personal favorite is called Lavender Moon, and last time we visited I made sure that both Elizabeth and Nicole tried it too. This time around only Nicole and I ordered them, and Elizabeth and Rachel decided to stick to tea. Their menu is fairly simple but filling and delicious. I ordered the Park Patty melt which was scrumptious, especially the shoestring fries. Elizabeth had crispy french toast while Nicole and Rachel both decided to go with the brisket. Of course, brunch conversation was dominated by chatter about books, thoughts on BEA (even though none of us attended this year…we still all followed the tag and pretended we were there) and upcoming book events. Once our tummies were full, we decided to head to the heart of Harvard Square and visit our first bookstore, Curious George.

Curious George
Top Left Photo Credit: Nicole Remaining Photos Credit: Harvardsquare.com
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Photo Credit: Nicole

The Curious George bookstore is located right at the center of Harvard Square. It originally opened in 1995 but unfortunately fell on hard times around 2011. Thankfully the store wasn’t destined to disappear and new owners have taken over “the only Curious George store in the world” and have given it new life on April 28th, 2012 (all in attendance at the opening ceremony were given a free banana). Having known the “old” store, the new store was a bit of a change for me. I liked that the old store was jam-packed to the point that you could barely walk around, and I also liked that they kept the basement level for slightly older children. The new store is bright and colorful. It is slightly easier to walk around in and they have organized things nicely. There is an array of stuffed animals, games and books ranging from newborns to some YA. I love the murals on the walls and the little reading areas by the window perfectly sized for wee little ones. Clearly this is no longer just a bookstore, but also a tourist destination as it was packed with people wanting their little piece of the Curious George story to take home with them.

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Not really finding anything to buy this time around, we walked over to the Harvard Book Store (I recently just did a whole feature on them for my Independent bookstore day….you can read it here). The great thing about The Harvard Book Store is that it has both new and old books for sale. The new volumes are located on the main floor, and if you had down to the basement you will find a large room filled with books. If you have the time and patience you can find some really great bargains down here. Besides books, the store also has a large selection of bookmarks, pens, journals and a few other bookish items. Their Children’s/Middle Grade/YA area is tiny (though every inch of it is stuffed with books). I especially love the area with their “gift” or “special” volumes….here you will find classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, or Jane Austen’s books all with beautiful and ornate covers. It was near this area that Nicole pointed out this tiny box and inside were two Peter Rabbit finger puppets….obviously, I had to buy them…my bunny obsession is quite out of hand.

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth

After the Harvard Book Store we wandered over to The Harvard Coop bookstore. It looks and feels very similar to a Barnes and Noble, but they always deny any association. They have a rather large children’s area and a wide selection of YA. Rachel had fun here picking up and posing with all her latest favorites, even her shirt was bookish and makes a perfect point about the trouble with favorite characters dying. The quote on her shirt said “ Eat, Read and Be Merry for tomorrow your favorite characters could be dead”. I feel this way every time I open a George R.R. Martin book, but it applies to so many others…::looks over at The Fault in Our Stars and The Book Thief on my bookshelf and tears up::

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Photo credit: Nicole

After we were through exploring all YA section of the Harvard Coop, we decided it was finally time for cupcakes after all this is suppose to be a birthday celebration. Just around the corner from The Curious George store is a quaint little cupcake shop called Sweet. Here you can find an array of tasty treats, from beautiful cupcakes, colorful full-size cakes, and delicious cookies. We all ordered different cupcakes and sat down to chat and relax from all the walking around we did from bookstore to bookstore. This was the perfect ending to yet another bookish day spent in the company of friends and also a great way to celebrate Rachel’s birthday.

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Happy Birthday Rachel!

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Blog Tour and Childrens’ Graphic Novel Review: The Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second Books, Macmillan Genres: Animals, Children's Picture Book, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade
five-stars

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Hippopotamister RGBTitle: Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green

  • Edition: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Published: May 10, 2016 by First Second
  • Characters: Hippo, Red Panda
  • Rating: 5 Stars
  • Goodreads and AmazonMacmillian

Synopsis

The zoo isn’t what it used to be. It’s run-down and falling apart. Hippo hardly ever gets any visitors. So he decides to set off for the outside with his friend Red Panda. To make it in the human world, Hippo will have to become a Hippopotamister: he’ll have to act like a human, get a job, and wear a hat as a disguise. He’s a good employee, whether he’s a construction worker, a hair stylist, or a sous chef. But what he really needs is a job where he can be himself.

About the Author

John Patrick Green grew up on Long Island and has worked in New York City since graduating from the School of Visual Arts with a degree in graphic design. He was the comics consultant for Disney Adventures magazine, where he wrote and often drew the popular Last Laugh feature. John is the co-creator and illustrator of the graphic novel series Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden and Teen Boat!, both with writer Dave Roman. He has also worked as a writer, illustrator, or designer on comics and graphic novels for Nickelodeon Magazine, DreamWorks, Scholastic Graphix, and DC Comics. John lives in Brooklyn with zero cats and way too many LEGOs.

Review

Hippopotamister is a charming story about two animal friends, Hippo and Red Panda. Hippo finds himself tired of his surroundings and without purpose in a zoo that is falling apart and has no visitors. Red Panda is also done with living at the zoo and convinces Hippo that he could find both of them jobs in the “outside” world. As the story proceeds, we see a series of different types of jobs that they both try to do. Hippopotamister has lots of silly parts especially with how poorly the Red Panda does at the different jobs which is sure to make even the oldest of readers giggle. Hippo seems to have a natural gift for doing a great job at just about anything he tries, but nothing seems to quite fit (plus Red Panda keeps getting them fired due to his poor work). Young readers are sure to delight in the silliness of this book but there are good lessons and morals cleverly sneaked into this story by its talented author John Patrick Green.

The pacing of the story is just right, and though 96 pages might seem like a lot but they actually fly by. The story is so engaging that there should be no issue with getting through it in one sitting. The artwork though seemingly simple is bold, detailed and colorful. I can see why the illustrations would greatly appeal to lots of readers. I loved that when you reach the end of the story Hippo does find a purpose for himself that also helps his friends at the zoo. He even finds something for Red Panda to do and that fits him perfectly. The drawing lesson at the end of the book will engage young readers to draw their own Hippo and Red Panda and to follow their own creative whim as to what adventures the Hippo and Red Panda could have next.

Hippopotamister is a fantastic and sweet story about friendship, never giving up, the importance of how everything we learn could one day be useful to us and so much more. Filled with hilarious shenanigans and a creative outlet for readers of all ages, Hippopotamister is sure to be a hit. I highly recommend it. 

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**A special thank you to Nori from Read Write Love 28 and Gina from First Second Books /Macmillan for the opportunity to read this adorable book. 

Don’t forget to check out the other blogs on the tour!

May 10, 2016: Perusing Pages
May 11, 2016: Pages Unbound
May 12, 2016: Melanie Hays
May 13, 2016: Midwestern Book Nerd
May 14, 2016: Charmingly Simple
May 15, 2016: 
Novel Cravings
May 16, 2016: Bookish Babes
May 17, 2016: Bumbles and Fairy-Tales
May 18, 2016: Book Stacks Amber
May 19, 2016: Lyseofllyr
May 20, 2016: M & Em Read
May 21, 2016: Trisha Jenn Reads
May 22, 2016: Twirling Book Princess
May 23, 2016: The Whimsical Mama
May 25, 2016: The Vivacious Hobo
May 26, 2016: Fangirl Confessions
May 27, 2016: The Plot Bunny
May 28, 2016: Reading With Cupcakes
May 29, 2016: Hermit Librarian
May 30, 2016: The Kindred Reader
May 31, 2016: Polished Page Turners

*I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

five-stars

Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Middle Grade Book Review: The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. DhariwalThe Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika R. Dhariwal
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on April 5th 2016
Genres: Adventure, Animals, Middle Grade
Pages: 384
Goodreads
three-stars

Solve riddles with Squirrel as he travels to the walled city of bees, the fireless tea plantation of mice, and treacherous desert full of tricksters in this beautifully written and creative debut adventure.
Squirrel never expected to be anything other than a slave: the last animal slave in Bimmau. That is, until he is invited to a high profile wedding and takes a sip of the forbidden ceremonial wine, unlocking a mysterious riddle. The riddle reveals that there is a key which has the power to grant Squirrel his freedom (and a name!), but also could enslave anyone in Bimmau. Disastrous if it falls into the wrong hands! Squirrel and his friends find themselves in a race to find Brittle’s Key before the army of crows gets to him…and before the mysterious Colonel finds the key first.

Squirrel is the last slave in Bimmau under an overbearing taskmaster. He has no name and no power. Everything changes though when Squirrel receives an invitation to a fancy wedding. While at the feast Squirrel drinks from the ceremonial wine and unlocks a riddle in his mind that sets him off on a quest to find his name and hopefully secure his freedom. His new found memories riddles him with challenges he must solve and various mysteries he must unearth, of which the powerful Brittle’s Key seems to the biggest. I enjoyed the world building in this book and reading about all the places Squirrel passed through on his journey. Squirrel encounters a town full of thieves and gamblers, there was also a town where the water supply is guarded by camel guards and one where mice grow tea. Squirrel is not alone in his journey either he has the companionship of a canine named Des and some other allies. The one Squirrel is the most suspicious about is Azulfa, the crow who always everywhere along his journey.

There are a few things I did not like, such as the overly drawn out and detailed descriptions of foods being eaten (mainly because it’s a bit disturbing to see these animals who are supposedly all intelligent, talking beings eating each other…i.e. the scene where they eat lamb…would this not be murder? Or even a type of cannibalism?). Between the gruesome cat on cat murder scene in the beginning of the book, the obvious classism of the Pedipurr Dogs/Cats and the villain who seeks to re-establish slavery you can not ignore that there are some very deep and dark themes/scenes in this book. Which is why sometimes the writing though beautiful and descriptive seems a bit “juvenile” in much of this book (though I understand that it is aimed at Middle Grader readers).

I did like that the story ultimately at its core (once you get past the darker elements and the politics of the animals) is about finding the truth about who you are and friendship. Clearly not meant for every reader out there, but I would recommend this book to strong readers who enjoy chapter books, solving puzzles, riddles, mysteries and animal adventure stories (the crossword puzzle at the end of the book is a nice touch). Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in return for my honest review.

three-stars

(Belated) Event Recap- Indie Bookstore Day April 30th, 2016

Indie Bookstore day took place on April 30th a delightful day where readers and fellow book lovers were encouraged to flock over to their favorite indie bookstores and support them by buying as many books and bookish items as you could afford or carry.

I met up with my friends Nicole and Rachel early that sunny morning and we started our day by heading over to The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA which used to be a former haunt of mine before I moved to the suburbs. The Harvard Book Store had all sorts of fun activities and promos throughout the day which included treats and coffee, a “shelfie-selfie” station and even an after hours “books in the dark” event which unfortunately we couldn’t stick around for. Before we even crossed their entryway we were greeted with a large banner just outside the store with the question “Why Do You Love Your Local Bookstore?”. There were markers attached to the poster so that anyone who passed by could make a comment and express their bookish love (of course we had to leave our own ).

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We missed the coffee, but we did find all sorts of pretties upon their bookshelves. Of course we headed right to the “exclusive” independent bookstore day display and I picked up a 2 copies of the Neil Gaiman coloring book (one was for Elizabeth who unfortunately could not meet up with us), as well as Kate DiCamillo’s latest MG novel Raymie Nightingale (which was numbered and signed exclusively for this event). We then moved on down to the YA area and scoped out all our favorite new releases, including The Raven King, The Rose and The Dagger, etc…. 

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Though tight and a bit small, their Children’s area is packed with tons of different books. Also lovely to see that there is lots of diversity represented in these books. I spotted my new favorite yet heartbreaking Middle-Grade book Pax by Sara Pennypacker amongst the small and crowded table of new releases.

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At the Harvard Bookstore, they also had this really quirky bookshelf filled with “Blind Date” books, which were wrapped in craft paper and only had quotes or a few sentences about what they were. In my usual “silly/weird” fashion I decided to jokingly ask Rachel to go on a “blind book date”  and Nicole snapped this great picture of us. The look on Rachel’s face was priceless.

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The bookmark/random bookish items wall was such a temptation. I did snag a really cute fox bookmark, but I also really wanted all the cute bookish ornaments but I didn’t get any this time around. The Alice in Wonderland and the mini Dracula ornaments were my favorite.

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Before we made our final purchases and headed off to the next indie bookstore, we wandered downstairs to where they sell used books. The prices low and there are such bargains to be found here! I managed to snag a signed children’s picture book titled A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins. I mentioned that I really wanted to start reading more contemporary YA novels and Rachel recommended and basically stuffed into my basket a novel by Lauren Oliver titled Before I Fall

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Upon finalizing our purchases we went back upstairs, paid up and decided to grab some delicious fries at Clover before heading to our next indie bookstore stop. Nicole had to leave us at this point, so it was now just Rachel and I heading to Brookline Booksmith to continue our book buying adventure. One of the best parts once we arrived there was watching Rachel pull about 8 different books off the shelf and state that she absolutely had to have them all (I love this girl…she cracks me up). She also took all the copies of If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and hugged them.  I managed to limit myself to only one book purchase titled Grim (a tome of several short stories based on fairy tales with a dark twist). I would have probably bought more books (especially because they also have a used books area in their basement) but I had to depart early due to my other plans for that day.

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Overall I was so glad I went out and participated in Independent bookstore Day. I really love having these local bookstores where I can feel “cozy” and at home in. These stores need our support in order to stay “afloat” and keep bringing us book events, author signings, and other fun activities. I hope you will consider participating in Independent Bookstore day next year, and that you will start/continue your patronage all year round too. 

Tell me about your favorite independent bookstores. What is the thing you most like about your indie bookstore? Are they small or large? Do you have more than one indie bookstore in your town/city? Which would you recommend to someone visiting your area? Let’s chat!

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Middle Grade Book Review: The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher (Illustrated by Natalie Andrewson)

Middle Grade Book Review: The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher (Illustrated by Natalie Andrewson)The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher, Natalie Andrewson
Published by Greenwillow Books on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 320
Goodreads
four-stars

Pixie Piper, an ordinary fifth grader, discovers she is a direct descendent of Mother Goose, and she has the magical ability and poetry power to prove it! A lively and funny twist on a classic character for fans of the Clementine books, Wendy Mass, and Lisa Graff.
Fifth grader Pixie Piper has always known she was a little different. She has a wild mop of hair that won’t stay put, her best friend is a boy, and to top it all off, she’s constantly coming up with rhymes and poems that just seem to pop out of her. Then, when Pixie thinks it can’t get any worse, she finds out that she actually is different—she’s a descendant of Mother Goose! This surprising and clever novel features family, friendship, poetry, a toilet museum, just the right amount of magic, as well as a goose, a fox, and a beautiful golden retriever puppy. Rich, multigenerational characters and the real and powerful portrayal of grade school friendships, with all their ups and downs, distinguishes this terrific elementary school story that will appeal to fans of Judy Moody, Clementine, and novels by Wendy Mass and Lisa Graff.

I really enjoyed reading this book, it gave me a  lovely feeling of nostalgia as I remembered a time when I too was in the 5th grade and writing my own rhymes. The only difference is that while I wanted to be “different” Pixie wants to fit in and be “normal”. Pixie Piper has always been good with rhymes, but she never understood why until she discovers that she is a descendant of Mother Goose, making her a “Goose Girl.” Pixie wants nothing to do with being different, but with the help of her best friend Gray and her Goose Lady aunt she learns to accept who she is and the responsibilities that come with her special powers.

The characters in this book were all fantastic. Pixie Piper is definitely the type of character a reader can look up to. She is clever, smart and spunky. I loved parents, they were eccentric and fun. Pixie’s mom reminded me of myself as we both share a love of costumes (I hope that when I have my own children I can be as free-spirited as Pixie’s mom). I really liked that Pixie was sure of herself and how she handled all the challenges that came her way head on. I appreciated that the topic of bullying was addressed in this story, and how awful and cruel kids can be to one another. Having been a victim of bullying myself when I was Pixie’s age, I know how tormenting it can be. It’s too bad there weren’t books like this back then, but I am glad that such great stories will be around for when my own children come into this world. 

One of the messages in this book that really resonated with me was about accepting your own uniqueness (as Pixie learns to do). I find this to be a very valuable lesson to impart to young readers today. I think the author did a wonderful job with the rhyming as well as keeping the reader entertained and interested in the story and the characters. I definitely recommend it to anyone that enjoys nursery rhymes, loves Mother Goose or wants to read a heartwarming and fast-paced story filled with friendship, family and just the right amount of magic. I should also mention that I really enjoyed all the pretty illustrations too. I am glad that there will be a sequel to this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures Pixie Piper will encounter next.

A special thank you to Edelweiss/HarperCollins/Greenwillow Books for giving me the opportunity to read this lovely book in return for an honest review. 

four-stars