Monday, November 30, 2009

November Mini-Reviews: Cybils Edition

If you've been following the Cybils at all, you know that those of us on the first judging panel have our hands completely full with books, until the end of December. My mini-review feature this month is focusing on some of the 168 books I have on the reading list. Just some quick thoughts on each one for you. Enjoy!

The Other Side of Blue, written by Valerie O. Patterson was true to its name and was filled with lots of blue. Blue oceans, blue names, blue paint, and "blue" emotions. This was a pretty depressing one, I will admit, and if you're looking for a book to cheer you up, I wouldn't go for it.
The emotion in it is pretty raw and well done, though at times, the characterization fell a bit flat for me. Cyan was a little too dark in all the pretty blueness and the other characters were just a little too one dimensional. Overall, a quick read that will fill your sadness quota for awhile, though the brilliant location of the book will make the winter months seem a bit warmer.

The Other Side of Blue
Valerie O. Patterson
240 pages
Young Adult
Clarion Books
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Pure, written by Terra Elan McVoy, was on a subject I had been waiting and waiting for in a YA book (no pun intended), and was finally put into my hands. Purity is the main theme, though friendship, love, and loss all play major roles as well.

I felt Tabitha, the main character, was written very realistically, with true feelings and concerns, though a few of her friends were over-the-top and not quite believable. I also felt the overall book was too long and dragged a little in parts, so I think a good 50 pages or so could have been lost without harming the integrity of the story.

Written on a subject that doesn't get nearly enough attention, I would definitely hand this to teens looking for a good story, as well as for some info on purity rings and their meaning.

Terra Elan McVoy
336 pages
Young Adult
Simon Pulse
April 2009
Copy borrowed from local library

The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank, is another one written on a pretty important topic these days with so many parents and children taking part in the homeschool movement. My husband and I have chatted about this ourselves, so I was really looking forward to picking this up, though I was left feeling a little disappointed.

Katya wasn't the most believable character, though her parents certainly were written in a realistic light. I kinda felt like the author was really trying to write from an 8th grader's point of view, but came off sounding just like an adult trying to be a kid.
A bit bummed about this one, but it held my attention enough that I would still encourage readers to pick it up. Homeschooling is definitely an important subject for fiction authors to be considering and I really hope to see more books on this in the future.

The Homeschool Liberation League
Lucy Frank
288 pages
Middle Grade-Young Adult
July 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Love is the Higher Law, written by David Levithan, was really a great read. Following three teens in the days and months following September 11th, the reader is treated to a rare glimpse inside the minds of the young and how they continued their lives after that tragic day. I was really impressed with each character, not even being able to name a favorite and was truly hooked from the first page.

The cover was awesome, the plot line fabulous, the length was perfect, and the characters really enjoyable. No complaints at all about this one! I would hand this to any teen, male or female, as I think anyone can really get a lot out of this one. Highly recommended!

Love is the Higher Law
David Levithan
176 pages
Young Adult
August 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase, which helps pay the shipping for the upcoming giveaways!

Non-Fiction Monday: Time for snow!!!

Let me start off this post by explaining that I have a slight obsession with that fluffy white stuff that falls from the sky in the winter months. I grew up in Upstate NY where we got dozens of feet of snow every winter, snow days were a weekly occurrence some years (but only if at least a full foot feel or an ice storm graced us), and I owned more sweaters than I did t-shirts. Then I moved to Southern New Mexico four years ago and had only teeny tastes of snow for those years. We would get the occasional dusting, which would shut down the town,  but nothing worth talking about at all. So, now that we're back on the East Coast, I'm SO excited for winter to really start. I would have expected snow by now, being late November, but we've had 70 degree days for weeks!

My obsession goes beyond just the weather. If you know me well enough, you know our last name happens to be Snow, so we collect snowflakes, snow angels, wintery stuff, etc, as any good member of the Snow family does! We fulfill our name well :)

I'll enjoy my wishful thinking about the weather, while you enjoy these books about snow!

The Story of Snow:The Science of Winter's Wonder, is written by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D. and takes every day questions about snow and answers them with a simple, yet informative method. We are able to learn just what snow is made of, how it forms, what the different shapes are, etc. Lots of really cool facts about snow that aren't typically taught.

Also included is a pretty neat activity, teaching us how to find our own snow crystals (and I know it works, I did it in the third grade!). The photographs of real, blown-up snow crystals are just fabulous and leave me itching to take out my scissors and make framed pictures out of this book. I'll resist, I promise!

A really great classroom book. Teachers and librarians can use this to accompany units on weather or hand it to kids doing projects on the fluffy white stuff I love so much!

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder
Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D.
36 pages
Chronicle Books
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase. Thanks!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Picture Book Saturday

Just two for you all's been a lazy week here at A Patchwork of Books!

How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? is part of Jane Yolen's "Dinosaur" series, which happens to be one of my favorite, favorite series. Along with awesome illustrator Mark Teague, readers get a hilarious glimpse into the lives of our favorite dinosaur.

We can never have enough reasons or methods to say "I love you," and these dinosaurs, even though they're sometimes naughty give parents and kids lots of funny ideas. No matter what a child does, he or she is always loved and Yolen is able to get that point across very well, while mixing silly rhymes with Teague's bright and fun illustrations.

Great for group read alouds, also awesome for bedtime stories between families. I don't think you can ever go wrong with a Jane Yolen book, but the "Dinosaurs" are definitely some of my favorites!

How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?
Jane Yolen
40 pages
Picture Book
Blue Sky Press
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

A Book of Sleep, written and illustrated by Il Sung Na is one of those bedtime books that has the makings of a classic. The flow of the text is magical and sleep-inducing and the beautiful illustrations with keep you staring at the pages long after the story is over.

A lone owl watches as other animals fall asleep at night, each doing something different. Some animals sleep standing up, some all by themselves, and others sleep cuddled up close together. A great way to learn about animals, as well as tell a soft, quiet bedtime story.

Again, the illustrations are just beautiful and the text flowy and lyrical. A great bedtime story for families or just as a one-on-one read aloud. Loved it!

A Book of Sleep
Il Sung Na
24 pages
Picture Book
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't forget to be thankful today...

Sometimes we forget and just get caught up in the baking and yummy food and turkey frying and football. Be thankful for what you have....don't take for granted that you can afford to put a meal on your family's table or even that you have family to celebrate with.

And enjoy the goodies too!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Non-Fiction Monday: If I Had a Hammer

This is definitely the week of thankfulness and I know a lot of families that are incredibly thankful for having a roof over their heads, when they previously could not afford one. Habitat for Humanity is such a wonderful organization and they help make housing possible for many around thw world. Picking up this fabulous book will have you appreciating them even more.

If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hope with Habitat for Humanity is written by David Rubel and has a foreword by the famous Jimmy Carter and features stories of families helped by Habitat, as well as a history of the organization and just how it started.

Truly a great book for getting younger readers to understand the magnitude of just what a few simple hours slinging a hammer can do for a family. The accompanying photographs help to highlight the families, the volunteers, the materials used, etc. Rubel dug deep into the emotions of everyone involved, yet still managed to come up with a factual book filled with great information. I learned so much about where Habitat goes and what they do...adults can use this book too!

This would make an excellent book for your library or school shelves. I would encourage teachers and librarians to use this to highlight the importance of volunteering, not to mention the necessity of being thankful for what we have in our lives. This is an important book that needs to be in reader's hands.

If I Had a Hammer: Building Homes and Hope for Habitat for Humanity
David Rubel
160 pages
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover's above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Picture Book Saturday: Thanksgiving edition

I love, love, love Thanksgiving! I love getting together with the families, making and eating lots of food, and taking a day to really thank God for all the blessings we have been given.
Hopefully, if you like any of my choices this week, you can run out to the library and find them in time for the big day. Enjoy the turkey!

Thanksgiving Rules, written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Teresa Murfin is a great choice for a read aloud in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Funny, but with a sweet message at the end.

Percy Isaac Gifford wants to make sure we all make the most out of our Thanksgiving experience, so he's come up with a list of rules for us to follow. From how to keep the greeting of the relatives short and sweet, to how to build up your plate, and ending with a sweet surprise for everyone.

The rhyming makes this a fun story (though sometimes the rhymes are a bit off) and your kids will definitely be giggling through a lot of Percy's rules. The message at the end is of thankfulness and love, a nice touch.

Thanksgiving Rules
Laurie Friedman
32 pages
Picture book
Carolrhoda Books
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Duck for  Turkey Day, written by the very nice Jacqueline Jules (yep, I've had the pleasure of meeting her) and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter, is an awesome way to bring some diversity into this wonderful holiday. 

Tuyet, a Vietnamese-American girl, is incredibly disappointed...and more than a bit worried...that her family will not be having turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, but traditional duck instead. She insists that it simply cannot be Thanksgiving without a turkey! 

After learning what some of her friends ate for Thanksgiving, including roast beef, enchiladas, and even a tofu turkey, Tuyet starts feeling much better and begins to realize that what is eaten on Thanksgiving Day matters a whole lot less than spending time with friends and family. 

I really, really liked the message of Duck for Turkey Day and feel it's an ever-important one to attempt to get across to kids in today's time of extreme diversity in our schools, cities, and towns. Not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving (like me!) and I think this is a great tool for teaching that.  

Duck for Turkey Day
Jacqueline Jules
32 pages
Picture Book
Alfred Whitman & Company
September 2009
Borrowed from my local library

I'm a Turkey!, written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky, is another fun read aloud, this time focusing on the turkey part of Thanksgiving!

So, I'm sure we all wonder just where our turkey might come from and Arnosky gives us a look at just what wild turkeys do all. From talking in Turkey speak, to strutting, we get a fun, rhyming story, meant to be made silly.

If you think your child may be attached to the turkeys and not want to eat their dinner...wait until after the holiday for this one :)

I'm a Turkey!
Jim Arnosky
32 pages
Picture Book
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

10 Fat Turkeys, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Rich Deas is one of those countdown books that kids just seem to love. My copy is a board book, but it was originally published in picture book form, so I thought it counts for Picture Book Saturday :)

We start with 10 fat turkeys fooling on a fence and work our way down to just 1 turkey as they each decided to do something silly that makes them fall off the fence. The funniest part is finding out what each turkey is going to do next! We have a turkey that decides to try and roller skate on the fence, one that tries to whistle in a shoe, and another that decides to balance bricks. Very funny!

Oh and the back cover features a turkey holding a sign that says "Eat Ham," which just cracks me up! Adorable book, really.

10 Fat Turkeys
Tony Johnston
32 pages
Picture Book
Cartwheel Books (an imprint of Scholastic)
September 2004
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate of Amazon and will receive a small commission from your purchase.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poetry Friday: Tofu Quilt

Jacket description:
"Growing up in Hong Kong in the 1960s, Yeung Ying is tired of hearing how important boys are. After all, she can write letters and recite poems as well as-even better than-her boy cousins.

Luckily, Yeung Ying's mother thinks 'girls and boys are just the same.' Despite protests from her husband's family, Ma uses what little money the family has to send her daughter to private school. There Yeung Ying begins to fall in love with books and writing. Combining this new passion with the colorful experiences of her daily life, Yeung Ying discovers that even girls can dare to dream."

Tofu Quilt, a collection poems by Ching Yeung Russell, is actually a story of the poet's life. Each poem helps to connect the pages into a beautifully written story, allowing for an experience of life in Hong Kong as a young girl, as well as a pretty great interpretation as to what it's like to turn a dream into reality. Russell wanted to be a writer more than anything, but was consistently turned away by male family members. She lets the reader in on just how she came to realize that big dream that previously seemed so impossible.

I loved the individual poems and the seemless way they seemed to flow into a single book. The main character was incredibly likable and left me really cheering for her, in hopes that she would indeed get to write (though I knew she was the author and obviously HAD succeeded).  The added glossary of Chinese words was very helpful and the cover was intriguing. Overall a great addition to any poetry collection, but one that can also be handed to a preteen/teen that enjoys historical fiction.

Tofu Quilt
Ching Yeung Russell
136 pages
Poetry, Middle Grade
Lee & Low Books
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Sometimes I think our family is just on a crash course. We've had yet another family member pass away this week, after having been diagnosed with cancer only 2 months ago...and that makes it funeral #4 over the course of a year. What a way to start the holiday season...yet again.

So, I'm off to Upstate NY for a few days for the funeral, leaving the husband and dogs here, then driving back to VA, then back to NY Tuesday-Saturday with them for the holiday. Busy bee doesn't begin to describe it. I have some posts set up already, but there may be some blank spaces. Bear with me and send up some thoughts that this is the LAST funeral I have to attend for awhile.

See you soon :)

The Sweetheart of Prosper County (YA review)

Jacket description:
"Almost 15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of standing at the curb and watching the parade pass her by. Literally. She decides this is the year she;ll ride on the hood of a shiny pickup truck in the annual parade, waving to the crowd and finally showing the town bully that she's got what it takes to be the Sweetheart of Prosper County.

But far from simply being a beauty contest, becoming Sweetheart involves participation in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), raising an animal, and hunting or fishing. Austin will do almost anything to become Sweetheart, and has the support of her oldest friend, Maribel, her new FFA friends (including the reigning Sweetheart, and a quiet, cute, cowboy), an evangelical Elvis impersonator, a mysterious Cajun outcast, and a rooster named Charles Dickens. If only her momma would stop overprotecting her, and start letting Austin live her own life. But Austin can't move on until Momma moves on too--and lets the grief of losing Austin's daddy several years before out into the open."

I loved the setting. I really think that we don't get enough  books set in the "hicktowns" of America, featuring teens that love fishing, hunting, getting dirty, and taking car of animals. I grew up in one of these towns, where the first day of hunting season typically meant half the school took the day off and teachers just let it slide, and where we actually had an annual "drive your tractor to school day." Being "country" was the way life was and nobody knew any different. So, I really loved the Texas setting, the inclusion of the FFA, and the idea of the County Sweetheart riding on the hood of a pickup truck. My kinda people! I think author, Jill S. Alexander really got that part of our world.

I thought the plot was really cute and the different characters were certainly unique and interesting, though at times a bit over the top. I wasn't a huge fan of the Elvis impersonator, Lewis, I thought he was overly silly and not a bit believable. I also, unfortunately, wasn't a huge fan of the main character, Austin. I liked everyone else, but she and Lewis made were written by an adult and that was very apparent. I didn't feel Austin was a teen, I felt she was a fake teen and that's not good.

Overall, cute and funny. Teen girls will enjoy the the plot, with the tad bit of subtle romance and the heavy friendship elements.Oooh and I loved the cover. Definitely a great job there!

The Sweetheart of Prosper County
Jill S. Alexander
224 pages
Young Adult
Feiwel and Friends
September 2009
Review copy received from Amazon Vine program

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase, which will help pay for the giveaways this coming month!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

William S. and the Great Escape (MG review)

Product description:
"William S. Baggett is a good kid trapped in a really awful family. William has his running-away money ready to go, he's just been waiting until he's older than twelve to leave. When his big brothers flush his sister's pet guinea pig down the toilet, she insists they leave now. And take the two littlest Baggetts with them. So they head out in the middle of the night, ready to escape to their aunt Fiona's house.

Unfortunately the trip doesn't go exactly as planned. It's not so easy traveling with two little kids, and some help from a lonely rich girl makes it even more complicated. Will they ever make it to Aunt Fiona's? And if they do, will she let them stay?

This is the story of four children who learn that sometimes you have to run away before you can find your way home."

I'm a big fan of Zilpha Keatley Snyder and was definitely pleased with her latest book. The story is a quick read and one that families can read aloud and discuss together, with spots of humor, a great cast, and an interesting storyline.

I did have a few "issues" with the story, namely the violence towards the end. Though the story seems geared toward the 8-12 set, I would be a bit uneasy reading the last couple of chapters to an 8 year old, as the main character is described as being beaten, with his younger sisters forced to watch, as their own punishment. Violence is referenced in many spots in the book, but much more subtly than the end. I think it could have been a little toned down to be more age-appropriate.

I love Snyder's cover choices and her characters always stand out and shine in their own special way. The main character, William, was a great male character and one that I think would appeal to boys of the same age set and his younger sister was adorable.

This could be a great read aloud in a classroom, though again, be aware of the violence at the end, or within your family, possibly using the violence as a great discussion starter.

William S. and the Great Escape
Zilpha Keatley Snyder
224 pages
Middle Grade
September 2009
Review copy received from Amazon Vine program

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Updates and some giveaway hints

Whew! As most of you that read this blog often know, it's been quite a busy past few months for me. Job searching, getting the new house in order, a dog that seems to always want to be sick, the Cybils, trying to post every day, etc. I'm getting a little tired...wanting to just slow down a bit. Which is resulting in a process of trying to figure out how to revamp this blog for next year. I'm not sure if my goal will be to write about every book I read like it was this year. I'm not sure if I'll set my reading goal at 250 books again. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle my reviews, writing about the good and the bad, or just the good. I'm still just not sure. More updates to come on all that in the near future. And if you have any tips to make the blog better, send them my way!

What I do know is that I'm going to be giving away a whole bunch of goodies for the holidays! Sound like fun?? I'm still working out the kinks, trying to figure out when I'm giving away what,but you will (hopefully), get the items in time to give as Christmas gifts, if that's what you choose, and they will be fun! So make sure you stay tuned here to check out the giveaways and pass the word along!

I'm also going to be randomly featuring some Christmas ideas for you all. If you're interested, you can buy the items through Amazon and I may just be able to make a couple of bucks through the Affiliate program for shipping all the giveaways! These will be items that I have personally tried, so I'm not just trying to convince you to purchase random "stuff."

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Non-Fiction Monday: What's the Weather Like?

Well all over the country, the weather is certainly changing lately. Just this past week we had a tropical storm roll through Northern Virginia, leaving us soaking and some of the rest of the state flooded. Winter is almost upon us and the snow will be starting (if it hasn't already) and this is the perfect time to start introducing your kids to the different aspects of weather.

The series, "What's the Weather Like?" is an awesome way to start talking about weather with the young ones. Appropriate for kids probably 4 and up, each book in the series (there are 5) focuses on one aspect of the weather, using bold text, bright colors, photographs of real children, and lots of simple, yet educational facts to help them learn. Some have a hands-on activity featured, really putting the learning to the test, as well as a Did You Know section, a short glossary, and extra resources section.

The three I reviewed, It's Cloudy Today, It's Windy Today, and It's Snowy Today, all written by Kristin Sterling, were all fabulous in the easy-to-understand method of presenting the information. The bold colors on each page make for instant attraction and the simple facts result in a learning experience that is great for even the youngest.

Put out by Lerner Books, one of my favorite publishers, not only for their awesome books, but for the quality. These books are going to hold up to just about anything! Library shelf or home shelf, once you purchase these, they'll be with you for quite some time. That makes the price go up quite a bit, but I really think it would be worth it. You can get them in paperback too, for those more budget conscious.

Who am I recommending these for? Everyone. If you are a homeschooling parent of an elementary age child, go get them. If you are buying for your library, go get them. Really nice to compliment a unit in school on weather or just as a supplement to a science unit.

Just as a hint, these may be up for grabs in the coming weeks! Keep a watch here at the blog. 

What's the Weather Like? series
Kristin Sterling
Lerner Books
October 2009
Review copies received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase. Thanks!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bloggy break...

I'm taking the weekend off, though it's probably not the best of timing being as behind on reviews as I am. I really need to focus on some quality Cybils reading time and some housework time, so blogging and writing reviews is getting put on the back burner. I'll be back Monday!!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

School of Fear (MG review)

Jacket description:
"Everyone's afraid of something...Madeleine Masterson is deathly afraid of bugs, especially spiders. Theodore Bartholomew is petrified of dying. Lulu Punchalower is scared of confined spaces. Garrison Feldman is terrified of deep water.

Which is why this may be the scariest summer of their lives. Worse than detention or summer school. Even worse than the orthodontist. The foursome must face their phobias at the exlusive and elusive School of Fear. The school is unusual, to say the least. But 'terrifying' would be a more accurate description.

The curriculum is simple: Conquer your fears in six weeks or find our just how frightening failing can be."

Reminiscent of Mr. Lemony Snicket and his Series of Unfortunate Events, School of Fear is hilarious, if not a bit dark and satirical. Author Gitty Daneshvari has created characters, each having a phobia that is very real for many people out there and if you have a child who shimmies away from bugs and spiders or has a fear of heights, they may get a kick out of these characters and just how funny the fictional treatment process is at the school. 

I loved the beginning of each chapter, when the author shared a real phobia that people suffer from, many that I had never heard of. Did you know that didaskaleinophobia is the fear of going to school? Or that mnemophobia is the fear of memories? Lots of cool little trivia facts in here!

There was definitely a good 50 page stretch in the middle that could have probably been eliminated without any plot problems. Toooooo long! Though it is certainly a light read and fun, there was just a bunch of unnecessary plot straying to make this one a quick read.

Illustrator Carrie Gifford did a great job at capturing the funny/creepy side of the story, with her black line drawings. The drawings are definitely funny, but they have that creep factor that a book titled School of Fear definitely should have.

Overall, a pretty good read. Hand this to fans of Lemony Snicket or even of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Amazon says 9-12 year olds would be the best age range for this one and I agree. Kids will enjoy it and parents will chuckle through it.

School of Fear
Gitty Daneshvari
352 pages
Middle Grade Fiction
Little, Brown Young Readers
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alice in Wonderland, two illustrator's perspectives

I love looking at different versions of the same story, each interpreted by a different author and/or illustrator and ultimately deciding which parts of each story I like best. It's fun to compare and contrast, especially when the book is something truly popular, as Alice in Wonderland certainly is.

I recently looked at two very different versions of this much-loved tale, each based on Lewis Carroll's original story, but with different illustrators, allowing the books to come across as two very different stories.

The first, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko, a member of the Ukrainian Union of Artists, now based in Toronto. This particular Alice edition is large, the size of a picture book, but 112 pages long and is illustrated very darkly. The Disney version of Alice definitely took away some of the darkness that the story does indeed posses and Lipchenko brings that back through his dark gray and brown drawings.

There is something very surreal about the illustrations in this one, which fits the story awesomely. If you have an older Alice fan, this would be a great gift book for them. Being that the color-tone is so dark and muted, younger children probably won't enjoy it quite as much, but older kids and adults will definitely appreciate the intricate drawings and beautiful faces the illustrator creates. 

The cover is just beautiful, especially once the dust cover is removed. It would look so pretty on a shelf, but it's wonderful once opened too!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko
112 pages
Juvenile Fiction
Tundra Books
November 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Rodney Matthews, an English illustrator that has done work on record sleeves, computer games, and lots of books, among other things. It's still Lewis Carroll's famous story, but with a hugely different artistic interpretation. It all starts with the cover/box/sleeve the book actually comes in, which is designed in a very cool and unique manner, giving light to the fun you are going to find inside.

Bright colors all around and a strangely sci-fi take on the illustrations. Alice almosts looks alien-like on some of the pages, though not scary or creepy. Just weird. Different, in a good way. The scene of falling down the rabbit hole almost appears as if she's falling through space.

I really loved the brightness and boldness of the color choices and the double-page spreads done every once in awhile are just magnificent. They'll definitely hold your attention and allow for lots of looking around, discovering new parts of the story through the illustrations. Magical!

Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
Illustrated by Rodney Matthews
95 pages
Juvenile Fiction
Templar Books
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mare's War (YA review)

Jacket description:
"Sisters Octavia and Tali dread the road trip their parents are forcing them to take with their grandmother over the summer. After all, Mare isn't your typical grandmother. She drives a red sports car, wears stiletto heels, flippy wigs, and push-up bras, and insists that she's too young to be called Grandma. But somewhere on the road, Octavia and Tali discover there's more to Mare than what you see. She was once a willful teenager who escaped her less-than-perfect life in the Deep South and lied about her age to join the 6888th African American battalion of the Women's Army Corps during World War II.

Told in alternating chapters, half of them following Mare through her experiences as a WAC and half following Mare and her granddaughters on the road in the present day, Mare's War introduces us to a larger-than-life character who will stay with readers long after they have finished reading."

I LOVED this book. Loved it. The characterization was absolutely amazing, leaving me completely entranced in Mare's story, while also totally believing in Octavia and Tali's personalities, the way they react to some of the stories their grandmother tells, and their overall attitudes. Tanita S. Davis managed to create this amazing menagerie of women in this book, all of which leave lasting impressions.

I really enjoyed the alternating chapters, between then and now, and feel that was probably the best way to tell Mare's story. At times it got intense, so the "Now" chapters gave the reader a break from the seriousness of WWII and allowed some present day teenage whining to take its place.

The amount of knowledge I had on African American women in WWII was basically zilch before starting this YA novel and now, I'm itching to learn more. Mare's War is not just a fictional story, it's an educational journey filled with sadness, poverty, war, death, and hope. We aren't taught about this part of history in school, which is a complete disappointment, but the truth. Davis gives us a history lesson within a fabulous drama.

Beautifully written, I would hand this to any teen girl, enjoying a good piece of historical fiction. I can see those fans of Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith, which I loved earlier this year, really liking Mare's War as well. I hope you'll check this out and then hand it to some's definitely worth your time. 

Thoughts on the cover:
It needs a bit of work. Not the most exciting thing to look at, that's for sure, leaving me wondering if it would be a first pick off a library shelf. The colors are very muted and pastel, and though the artwork is interesting and nicely done, it's not very attention-grabbing.

I read this one for the Cybil Awards.

Mare's War
Tanita S. Davis
352 pages
Young Adult
June 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Comfort (YA review)

Awesome, awesome book. That being said, on with the review.

Ann Fay is finally home from the hospital, where she sat for months, fighting to stay alive as polio ravaged her body. She's about to return to school, behind all of her friends, and is upset, not quite understanding why this has happened to her. She's not only behind in school, but she has to walk with loud, clunky braces, definitely making her stand out, rather than blend in with her classmates. At the same time, her precious father is also fighting some inner demons, having returned from the war an emotionally damaged man, mixing up Ann Fay's own emotions something fierce.

When Ann Fay is given the chance to go to the Georgie Warm Springs Foundation, started by Franklin D. Roosevelt, to continue her therapy and hopefully relearn to walk without assistance, she goes, but not without huge reservations. She doesn't want to leave her family, feeling they need her more than she needs to walk. Once Ann arrives, she makes friends, starts to truly heal, and really makes progress in her walking. Unfortunately, when a friend from home shows up with bad news from her family, Ann knows she has to make a huge decision, to leave her beloved Warm Springs or to stay.

So... Comfort is the continuation of Blue, which I've never read, so I'm not able to tell you how much I liked this novel in comparison to the other. Going in, I was a little apprehensive of reading a book that most definitely had a prequel, however I really felt it completely stands along, with whatever backstory is necessary given throughout the plot, without leaving the reader with the feeling that something is missing.

Author Joyce Moyer Hostetter's story is written in a manner that flows so well and really is comforting (like the title pun??) to return to. I spent a couple of days reading this one, not feeling the need to race through it to know what happens, but continually picked up when wanting something lovely and warm-feeling to read. One of my favorites of the year!

Safe to hand to middle graders or young adults.

Notes on the cover:
Yuck. Not a fan at all. My husband's words, when asked what he thought of it was "it looks like a school book on a dusty shelf in the school library." In other words, boring. Not interesting. Not intriguing to pick up at all. Honestly, probably wouldn't have grabbed it at the library unless it was a Cybils read. A classic case of "don't judge a book by its cover."

Hostetter also wrote Healing Water, which I loooooved last year.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter
306 pages
Young Adult Fiction
Calkins Creek Books
March 2009
Book borrowed from the local library

To learn more or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Picture Book Saturday

Got quite the menagerie for you all today. Enjoy!
My favorite title read this week, definitely goes to Jane Yolen's reissue of The Seeing Stick. She illustrator Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini have created a magical reading experience, just begging to be placed in the hands of children. This is definitely on my Christmas giving list this year!

We have a beautiful blind princess yearning to see and an elderly man that promises her father, the Emperor, he can give her the gift of sight. No one believes the old man, but with the help of his Seeing Stick, young Hwei Min is able to see the world as she could never see it before.

The truly magical part about this enchanting book is the illustrations. Beginning dark and gray, they become brilliant with color and texture, itching to be touched. I tried finding some info on how Terrazzini created the amazing pages to go along with Yolen's beautiful fairy tale, but didn't have any luck.

Definitely check this one out! Buy it for young girls for Christmas or add it to your library shelves. It was originally published in 1977, but has just been reissued. I have not had a chance to see the original book, but this one is absolutely beautiful.

The Seeing Stick
Jane Yolen
34 pages
Picture Book
Running Press Kids
September 2009 (reissue from 1977 edition)
Review copy received from publisher

Princess Hyacinth (the Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide is  yes, another princess book, but this time on the funnier side. The Seeing Stick was much more serious...this one will have your kiddos laughing!

Told in a very humorous tone, this story follows Princess Hyacinth as she learns how to deal with being the odd kid out. If not weighted down, the Princess will float off, making it very hard to play with any other children, especially the young boy who wants to be her friend. When she decides she is just going to float anyways, no matter the danger, the Princess and the boy end up hatching a plan so they can play together and Princess Hyacinth is safe.

A very silly story, best read aloud. The illustrations, done by Lane Smith, definitely add to the humor, as the expressions on the characters faces are hilarious! A very cute read aloud.

Princess Hyacinth
Florence Parry Heide
32 pages
Picture Book
Schwartz & Wade
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

The Jungle Grapevine, written and illustrated by  Alex Beard is one of those "lesson" books that doesn't quite feel like a lesson book. Which means your kids won't resent you for trying to sneak teaching into a story :)

When bird thinks he hears turtle say something, he tells another animal, who then tells another animal in the jungle. Panic begins to erupt amongst the animals, as the story becomes bigger and bigger until one of the animals discovers it isn't true. But starts all over again!

Remind you of playing telephone? This is just how rumors get started and though the age group for this picture book is a bit young to be learning about the trouble of rumors, it's still a very cute book, a fun read aloud, and a nice one to discuss once you're finished. I liked the simple story line and the simple illustrations, making this a nice choice for even the youngest of listeners.

The Jungle Grapevine
Alex Beard
48 pages
Picture Book
Abrams Books for Young Readers
September 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more about any of these titles, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission from your purchase.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Walking Backward review

Jacket description (from ARC):

"After his mother dies in a car crash, twelve-year-old Josh is left with a father who is building a time machine in the basement and a little brother who talks to a toy Power Ranger as if it is his dead mother. With no faith to guide him, Josh makes death his summer research project. He collects facts, interviews, suspects, compares religious rituals and feels guilty when he enjoys playing soccer or winning computer games. Isolated by grief in a home where every day is pajama day, Josh waits for life to feel normal, for death to make sense, and for his father to start acting like a father."

I think the hardest book to write is probably one about death for middle graders or younger. Seriously, you have to explain it well, not too tough, not too easy. It must be a very difficult task to accomplish for an author. Catherine Austen has created a book and a character in Josh, that takes apart the innocence of a young boy, applies the factor of death of a parent, and puts that innocence back together very artfully.

Though the plot is a bit rough around the edges, the concept of the religion search and how Josh wants to examine different death rituals, is really cool. I thought his ideas of just how his mother died and why it would have happened that way are heartfelt and convincing. His character is written extremely well and realistically. In fact, all the characters, Josh, his dad, and younger brother Sam, are all well done and true to life. I think they each experienced the loss in real ways, as real people would, and slowly grew and healed.

Again, some parts of the plot are a little iffy and needed some fine tuning. I can't exactly explain which parts, but I came away from the book feeling as if it were a bit unfinished. A very nice choice to hand a pre-teen though or a reluctant reader. Easy to read, short, and dealing with a subject not easily dealt with.

Walking Backward
Catherine Austen
167 pages
Middle Grade Fiction
Orca Book Publishers
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a commission for your purchase.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blog Tour: Medina Hill

Jacket description:
"It is 1935, and eleven-year-old Dominic Walker has stopped speaking. Home is London's grimy docklands, where life with an ailing mother, an unemplyed father, and unanswered questions about the war that haunts his family lead him to retreat into a world of silence.

Everything chances when Uncle Roo invites Dominic and his little sister, Marlo, to spend the summer on the Cornish coast. There, in a boarding house populated  by likeable eccentrics, the children discover a free-thinking, unstructured way of life unlike any they have known before. But the idyllic holiday is threatened when a village uprising against a band of Travelers tests Dominic's emerging friendship with a one-legged Gypsy girl. Armed only with a treasured copy of Incredible Adventures for Boys: Colonel Lawrence and the Revolt in the Desert, he decides to take a stand for justice and the victimized community-and in so doing, learns what it truly means to have a voice."

Author, Trilby Kent has created a middle grade historical fiction book that has a lot going for it, mainly in the category of characterization. The main character, Dominic, has this inability to speak at times, allowing the reader to really want to know more about him and to cheer for him the whole way through the book. His little sister, Marlo, and Sancha, and Birdie, were all exceptional characters with awesome stories to tell.

I also really liked the inclusion of another book as the one of the main parts of Medina Hill. Kent showed Dominic becoming braver and more outgoing through the use of a book, which was a really nice thing to see in a story.

Unfortunately, I didn't really love the rest of the book as a whole. I think it moved incredibly slow for a middle grade fiction book and may have even been a bit too long for what I believe the author was trying to do with the plot. I didn't really get where the climax was supposed to be, as everything happening with the characters and the story was very subdued.

I can see children that are fans of historical fiction enjoying this and would recommend it as a library shelf choice or school classroom selection. It does have great characters and great potential, but unfortunately, for me as the reader, it didn't all come together as it maybe could have.

To learn more about this blog tour, head on over to this blog.

Medina Hill
Trilby Kent
176 pages
Middle Grade
Tundra Books
October 2009
Review copy received from publisher

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Affiliate and will receive a small commission for your purchase.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Knit the Season review

Jacket Description (from ARC):
"The upcoming holiday season is all about showing off her talents as a pastry chef for college-age Dakota Walker--when she's not busy stitching at Walker & Daughter, the coziest yarn shop on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Now, with the help of the family that's always sustained her, including the women of the Friday Night Knitting Club, Dakota remembers what is truly important. And the possibility of a Christmas visit to her beloved Gran in Scotland--with the potential for illuminating revelations about her mother, Georgia Walker--is overwhelmingly tempting.

From Thanksgiving through Hanukkah and Christmas to a spectacular New Year's wedding reception, Knit the Season is a tender story about the richness of family bonds, the magical power of memory, and the everlasting joys of friendship."

If you haven't read the previous two books in Kate Jacobs' series, The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two, you'll definitely want to pick those up before starting this one, or risk being lost without back story and the building up of main characters. It even took me awhile to get caught back up with who was who and who did what, even after reading the previous two books.

That being said, this was a really nice addition to the series, though like my thoughts on Knit Two, I thought it was missing a little bit of magic that the first book had. The characters and their stories are definitely on the mark and though Dakota is placed as the main character, the others (Anita, Catherine, Darwin, and Lucie) all hold their own pretty well within the story. I think it's the knitting and the time together that I really missed from the first book.

All of the women lead very separate lives and the concept of getting together on Fridays to gossip and receive help on tough issues from each other has definitely taken a backseat. There isn't quite as much "coziness" or companionship running through this one as the others, though the story does still flow nicely, even if it takes a somewhat different path.

Jacobs does have a knack for description, especially when explaining different colors of yarns and the make-up of the Walker & Daughter. I guess I just missed the knitting and the chatting. I'm not sure if this is the last book in the series or not, but I would love to see an expansion on what happens with the shop in the future. We shall see....

I would recommend this series to anyone with a crafty nature and who wants to get that creative vibe going. I don't personally knit, but I love to read about others that do! With the beautiful red cover, this would make a nice stocking stuffer. Again, if you're giving this as a gift, I would start with the first one, The Friday Night Knitting Club. Just a thought!

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small percentage of your purchase price.

Knit the Season: A Friday Night Knitting Club Novel
Kate Jacobs
272 pages
Adult Fiction
Putnam Adult
November 2009
Review copy received from publisher

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's time for the Holiday Swap!!

Ok, so it's a little early to be talking about gift exchanges, but this one needs to be early in order to get everyone their goodies in time for the holidays! The annual Book Bloggers Holiday Swap went live yesterday, so head on over, sign up, and get excited to exchange some holiday cheer with your fellow bloggers! I participated last year and had a lot of fun :)

Non-Fiction Monday: A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson is not an author I've encountered before, though he's definitely one I'll be going back to. A Really Short History of Nearly Everything was originally published for adults back in 2003 and this particular version has just recently been adapted for kids. I didn't read the original, but this adapted version is awesome!

Though he doesn't really give you a short history of everything in the world, he does hit on main scientific points in history, such as what happened to dinosaurs, why the oceans are salty, how heavy the earth is, chain of life, genetics, planets, weather, atoms, asteroids, etc, etc, etc. Bryson then gives a short, simple explanation which reads very much like a story would, in a nice flowing manner. Not boring and scientific at all, which is a definite plus when it comes to non-fiction books for kids.

Filled with illustrations and photographs that accompany facts that are short and to-the-point. This would be a great resource for a classroom, homeschool setting, or library, especially while teaching different units. A great supplemental material.

To learn more, or to purchase, click on the book cover above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small commission from your purchase price. Thanks!

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson
176 pages
Middle Grade Non-Fiction
Delacorte Press
October 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Mini-Reviews

It's time again for my monthly Mini-Reviews feature. If you haven't checked out one of these posts before, my main reason for doing them is simply because I read too many books during the month to write out full, long reviews about each one of them. Mini-reviews consist of books that have already gotten a lot of press and don't necessarily need my thoughts to boost sales, books that I didn't really enjoy, or books that I just didn't have a whole lot to say about, whether good or bad.

Ok, that being said, on to the short-but-sweet thoughts on these titles:

The Off Season by Catherine Murdock is one I listened to via audiobook on my way to New York earlier in October. Loved Dairy Queen and I'm going to be reading the third in the series, Front and Center for the Cybils later this month. 

The book was wonderful, read by Natalie Moore, who was just ok. She did a great job at getting the hint of a Wisconsin accent I expected from D.J., but she also made her sound about 12. Engaging story line and the awesome characterization Murdock has become known for.

Definitely recommended to those that read Dairy Queen (and if you haven't, go get it!).

The Off Season
Catherine Murdock
Audiobook read by Natalie Moore
Listening Library (book from Houghton Mifflin)
May 2007
Book provided by the local library :)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by the fabulous Jeff Kinney, was wonderful, as expected. Who couldn't love the Wimpy Kid books? Funny, crazy, and always delightful, with a main character you just want to squeeze (or sometimes smack).

In this one, it's summer-time and Greg is, once again, getting himself into lots of trouble. Not much different than the other books in the series, but Kinney's writing is anything but boring and repetive.

Hand this to a reluctant reader or to someone who things books with drawings are just for little kids. Loving these books :)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Jeff Kinney
224 pages
Middle Grade Fiction
Amulet Books
October 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Annie Glover is NOT a Tree Lover, written by Darlene Bailey Beard and Heather Mione fits into that early chapter book category and sends out a pretty good message about standing up for what you believe in. Not the most exciting book I've ever read, but I think it will hold children's attention. It's easy to read, the main character, Annie, is likable and very similar to the children today, wanting to blend in with the crowd, rather than stand out.

I did feel the plot development was a little too fast, but given the length of the book, I suppose that could easily be overlooked.

A nice in-between choice for those not quite ready for long chapter books. A good family read aloud as well.

Annie Glover is NOT a Tree Lover
Darlene Bailey Beard and Heather Maione
128 pages
Early Chapter Book
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
September 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

Eli the Good, by Silas House, is one that a lot of people will probably argue with me on. It gets nothing but 5 star reviews on Amazon (though take those with a grain of salt as always) and really has the makings in the plot for a winner. I, however, found it boring and slow. It didn't move for me, I can't really remember anything about it only a few days after finishing it. It just didn't stick with me and is leaving me with not a whole lot to see.

Thus...a mini-review.

I suggest learning more about this one, Google it or check in on Amazon. Lots of others have loved it, the book just didn't go anywhere with me.

Eli the Good
Silas House
304 pages
Young Adult
October 2009
Review copy provided by publisher

To learn more about any of these books, or to purchase, click on the book covers above to link to Amazon. I am an Associate and will receive a small percentage of your purchase (of the books or anything else).