Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spoiler-Free Mini-Reviews

I haven't done a mini-review feature in so long! If you're not familiar with how I decide what to review in this format, it's fairly simple. If a book has already received a ton of press and my review is coming into the game a bit late, then I don't see a reason to write out a summary of the plot and every little bit of what I liked and didn't like as I do with my regular reviews. This is just a quick overview of what I thought of the book, spoiler-free (for those that are also a lagging a little behind in their reading).

I've finished several books this month that fit into those descriptions. Enjoy!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Figured I better start with the most popular first! So, I realize a lot of people were not at all satisfied with how the trilogy came to an end of who Katniss chose and how, but really I was fairly content with it. I've never totally loved Katniss as a character (I think that's what draws a lot of us to her...which, I know, sounds strange), but I wanted her to do a Katniss-like move when it came to how her story ended. And I think she did that.

This book was quite a bit different from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but overall, I enjoyed it. The entertainment factor was still huge, the character development was interesting and timely, and the twists were unexpected. I will say that I was very unhappy with one of the deaths and though I won't say that it was unnecessary, I still shed a tear or two.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Suzanne Collins
400 pages
Young Adult
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Alright, so I was one of those rare readers that just did not fall in love with Shiver. It was okay for me, but nothing wonderful. Rather dark and dreary actually. Linger, however, served its purpose and left me wanting more...especially with the ending! Whoa! 

I do think that the descriptions of the love between Sam and Grace lean toward overly sappy and excessive (uhhh....Bella and Edward anyone??), but I can see how their relationship and the overall werewolf thing work for fans of fantasy/paranormal. 

Ooh and this one was the first book I bought for my Nook. It was also the last...haven't felt the need to buy anything else for it in the past month or so. 

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Maggie Stiefvater
368 pages
Young Adult
July 2010
Book purchased by me :)

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

I loved this book more than I could probably ever explain. I was so rocked by The Knife of Never Letting Go and the idea of waiting an entire year for this one hurt my heart. SO, instead, I waited until only a month before the release date of the 3rd book, Monsters of Men, to actually read it. I couldn't handle waiting again, so I only had to wait once. 

The characters, ALL of them, in these books are marvelously written and have such intensity. You can easily tell that every word that Ness writes was deliberately chosen and thought about. It's rare that I am so impressed with everything a book has to offer, without being the tiniest bit disappointed in anything. If you've yet to check out the "Chaos Walking" series, do it! 

For those of you that shy away from Science Fiction (as I definitely do), you should really give these a try. More awesome character development/plot than science fiction aspects. 

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking Book 2
Patrick Ness
528 pages
Young Adult
August 2010 (hardcover released Sept. 2009)
Book borrowed from my local library

Monday, August 30, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: The Bat Scientists

 Alright, so I have to be honest...I hate bats. I know, I know, bats aren't out to hurt humans or even interact with us, but seriously...they terrify me. If you had one get stuck in your hair when you were seven years old, innocently eating breakfast at the kitchen table, you would be scared of them too! That being said, they are still fascinating creatures and one of those animals that kids seem to be really interested in learning about. So, I'm taking one for the team today!

The latest "Scientists in the Field," book is The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson and since I love this series as much as I do, I had to take a deep breath and dive into the world of bats. Am I still scared of them? Totally. But, I learned a whole lot of new information and am more in love with this series than ever. Every school library and public library need to have them on their shelves.

So, The Bat Scientists focuses on Dr. Merlin Tuttle and his team at Bat Conservation International as they fight to save bats from extinction and educate the public (like me!) on facts about these misunderstood animals. As with most titles in this series, we get a lot of background on the mission of the organization, what they do on a regular basis, and the reasons they're doing it. We also get fact boxes, maps, definitions, and tons of awesome photographs (this time by Tom Uhlman).

I am always so impressed with these books, as they present such a huge amount of information in a totally readable manner. You can sit down and read the book and not only learn about the animals that are being focused on, but also on different organizations around the world set on conservation and preservation of the world's species.

Definitely a must-have.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

The Bat Scientists
Mary Kay Carson
80 pages
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

IMM Week 7: Vlog time!

In My Mailbox is a weekly feature hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren.

For review:

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot" by Michael O. Tunnell
Kindergarten USA and China by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Senisi
Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn
Art & Max by David Weisner
The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer
Little Black Crow by Chris Raschka
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
Saving Sky by Diane Stanley
Positively by Courtney Sheinmel
The Candidates by Inara Scott
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin

And I totally forgot to mention in the video that I received Mockingjay as well. I guess since it's already complete and on my bookshelf, it slipped my mind!

Dangerous Neighbors review

Whew. This one was an emotional doozy! From the first few pages where we learn about the death of Katherine's sister, through the entire novel as we see her deal with the depression and grieving of the loss of her twin, the reader is able to really feel the heartbreak and guilt that Katherine is feeling. And it's a hard read because of that!

Though we know from the very beginning of the loss of Anna, the details surrounding her death are slowly unfolded as the plot progresses. Katherine is obviously devastated at the death of her twin sister, but the emotional wreckage is ruining her life, causing her to seek out danger and push away those that wish to grieve with her, mainly her sister's boyfriend, Bennett. She has no support from her parents, both lost in their own worlds, so she repeatedly heads to the 1876 Centennial Fair, finding solace in something at the fairgrounds.

The scenes alternate between Katherine's manner of dealing with Anna's death and the months leading up to her death, a detail which I welcomed. I had a difficult time connecting with Katherine, but was able to find more of a connection through Anna during the flashbacks and was able better understand the relationship between the sisters. Katherine just had such strong, intense feelings of guilt and anger, that I felt a bit removed from her.

The amount of detail of Katherine's grief, loss, sadness, and guilt are overwhelming, and at times, a bit excessive. I really wish that Kephart had spent more time describing the Centennial Fair, as its a part of history that seems so interesting, yet I know very little about. And Katherine spent so much of her time there and it became an integral part of the story, yet the details on exhibits, vendors, performers, etc. were pretty lacking. 

Overall, though I really enjoyed the author's writing and her manner of description, I didn't find anything super memorable about this one. If you're a fan of Kephart's work, or just a fan of historical fiction in general, you may want to give it a shot!

The cover is beautiful, one of my favorites this year I think. Very eye-catching in both color and design.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Dangerous Neighbors
Beth Kephart
192 pages
Young Adult
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Some great picture books this week, focusing on using our imaginations. Hopefully you'll find something to enjoy with the family!

Flora's Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall and illustrator Matt Phelan

They had me at "Jeanne Birdsall," but add in Matt Phelan and I am SO there. We have a charming and whimsical story about Flora and her pesky little brother, Crispin, complete with beautiful watercolor illustrations and a sweet message. What more could we ask for?

Flora is annoyed at her pesky little brother and wants nothing more than for the wind to whisk him away for good! But when the wind actually does pick Crispin up into the air, she knows she has to follow him, as the good big sister that she is. 

As they float along with the wind, Flora is given several options to give away her brother: one from a dragonfly, another from a cloud, and yet another from a rainbow. Everyone is willing to take Crispin off her hands forever! Ultimately, Flora does the right thing and brings her brother back home.

I loved the use of imagination in the story, paired with the soft and flowing illustrations by Phelan. This would be a fantastic book to read before bedtime...or as a lesson for older siblings annoyed with their younger siblings!

One of my favorites of the year!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Flora's Very Windy Day
Jeanne Birdsall
32 pages
Picture Book
Clarion Books
August 2010
Book borrowed from my local library

Franklin's Big Dreams by David Teague and illustrator Boris Kulikov

Another great title about having an imagination and not being afraid to use it!

While waiting to fall asleep late one night, Franklin gets the surprise of his life when a foreman busts through the wall in his room, insisting that he must build a railroad track straight through Franklin's bedroom. The boy is astonished and amazed, but indeed sees a huge train roll right down the track. And he's happily surprised the next night when the foreman is back, this time to build a runway for a jet. And then the next night to build a canal for a ship!

Each night, Franklin wishes he could travel with those people, wherever they're going, but knows that he would have to just dream it. And then he realizes what's been going on all along...and that he CAN dream it!

A magnificent read to inspire little imaginations before bedtime. Teague thought big and succeeded in a huge way! Franklin was a delightful main character, surprised in all the right places and so happy to be participating in these amazing adventures. Ooh and if you look closely, you'll see that Franklin's dog is in all the adventures as well...gotta love that!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Franklin's Big Dream
David Teague
40 pages
Picture Book
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Clementine, Friend of the Week review

If you're you're already acquainted with Clementine, you won't be surprised to hear that I loved this latest edition in Sara Pennypacker's series. And if you've yet to meet my friend, Clementine, and this is your first introduction, hopefully you'll want to go out and pick up the rest of the books...you'll love reading them with your family!

In Clementine's latest adventure, she's been named "Friend of the Week," a school event that will have all of Clementine's classmates honoring her throughout the week. With this girl, however, absolutely nothing is ever as simple as it seems. First, Clementine has a huge fight with her best friend, then her cat goes missing, and a huge promise that she made to her entire class, with hopes that at the conclusion they would write super nice things about her in the end-of-the-week notebook ceremony, is no longer going to happen. Whew!

As always, adventures in these books are filled with hilarious bits, silly lines delivered by our delightful main character, and your kids will be yelling warnings out to Clementine as she's about to make yet another ridiculous mistake or destroy something or lose something or make a huge mess.

All the books in the series would make fabulous family read alouds or great choices for struggling readers. They're appealing not only in entertainment factor, but they're easy to read, and the illustrations (done by the absolutely-terrific-can't-get-enough-of-her Marla Frazee) sneak in some really nice visuals.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Clementine, Friend of the Week
Sara Pennypacker
176 pages
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Made from Scratch review (and a bit of rambling)

If you know me (like, in person know me), you understand that I really do strive to live life somewhat simply and without a whole lot of stress/stuff/extras/etc...."strive" being the main word here. It never works out as planned, no matter how hard I try, and I just happen to be anxious/a worrier by nature and so my "no stress" life ends up leading to a lot more anxiety than possibly necessary for one person. However, that doesn't mean I stop seeking out inspiration as to how to live simpler in any book I can find!

Last year, I came across this book, that I just loved, and inspired me to take on gardening in my little backyard in the suburbs of a large city. What resulted this year was most definitely a learning experience and I'll be tweaking things (or completely changing them) next year. And now, I've found Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich, which just may have inspired me to take on a whole lot more...though I draw the line at chickens/rabbits. 

Woginrich is a Web designer by day, but by night she gives the homemade life a go. She orders chickens for her small (and rented) backyard, cultivates a garden, attempts beekeeping and making her own clothing, as well as stocking her house with recycled (a.k.a. antique) kitchen utensils. While we learn about her escapades, some successful, some not, we also get a basic overview as to how to go about taking these activities on ourselves.

Each chapter begins with Woginrich's personal experience with each homesteading task, from the horror of discovering half her new bees have flown away to learning dogs + baby chicks simply do not mix, and lots of other fun and exciting (and sometimes sad) tidbits. The next part of the chapter includes the guidelines for doing the same activity yourself. She went through the hard part, so we can take away the good stuff!

Also included are a few recipes, some patterns, and a lot of great resources for those looking to take that next step in homesteading. I don't plan to go nearly as far as this gal does, but her tips and encouragement are certainly inspirational.

I would really love to start making my own bread, though my experience with baking has been less than stellar to say the least, so that will take some work. I would also really like to spend more of my money locally, though I do frequent the farmer's market for my produce. Unfortunately, our budget has not allowed for buying local produce AND local meat/honey/jam/etc, so I've had to be choosy, but with the new job, I'm hoping to expand a bit on that.

This is a fun book to just explore for ideas or just for leisure reading. It's a really quick read...I made it through in less than 2 hours, and you'll learn a lot, laugh a lot, and come away with more inspiration than most books pack in 500 pages. And all from a woman MY age. Awesome!
Just a quick note on the cover...NOT a fan of the paperback cover at all. I really like the crafty look of the hardcover (to the left) and wish the publisher/designer had stuck with that when they put out the paperback. 

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
Jenna Woginrich
208 pages
Adult Non-Fiction
Storey Publishing, LLC
December 2008
Book borrowed from my local library

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Gardening!

This week I just kept coming upon book after book regarding farming, local buying, farmer's markets, and the like and am excited to share two of my favorites with you today. Though the growing season is almost over for summer fruits and vegetables (for most of the U.S.), the autumn season hasn't even begun yet, so there's still a lot of time to share these books with your children and/or students to get them excited about growing things.

Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm is written by Deborah Hodge and photographed by Brian Harris. The reader gets an inside look at how life on a small farm just might be life, from Spring to Winter. The planting in the Spring, the tending, picking, and selling during the Summer, harvesting, preserving, and prep for cold weather in Fall, and repair, upkeep, animal tending, and rest in the Winter.

We are shown just how busy life on a farm can be, with constant movement and tasks, as well as given little facts about farming that we just might not have known before. The photographs depict real children working on the family farm, helping from start to finish of the growing season and assisting in the care of the farm animals.

I think this would make a really nice introductory book to local farming, especially after all the farmer's market trips you and your loved ones probably (hopefully) took this summer. I started growing my own veggies this year, but still headed to the farmer's market for jams, fruit, and crafty things.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Up We Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm
Deborah Hodge
32 pages
Kids Can Press
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough is written by Katie Smith Milway and illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault. It is a fictionalized account of the Duartes family, who live in Honduras and were faced with extreme poverty, relying on their crops to earn them money and keep their bellies full. And when they suffer through bad crops, they come up with a way to ensure better farming practices, resulting in better and more profitable crops.

Part family memoir, part sustainable gardening guide, you'll learn a lot from this one. I think it's important to put a face on poverty, so children can see that it's happen to real people and not just someone out there in the world. We're also given a list of different organizations that teachers/librarians could use for group fundraisers, helping families just like the Duartes'. Ooh and you'll learn a bit of Spanish too!

I wasn't a total fan of the writing style (somewhat choppy, in awkward, very short chapters), but overall, the concept of the book was great...and a nice accompaniment to Up We Grow.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough
Katie Smith Milway
32 pages
Non-Fiction Picture Book
Kids Can Press
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

IMM Week 6

It was a slower week for review books, but that didn't stop me from hitting up the library! I don't know why I feel this need to have a huge pile of books to be read at any given time. I like having choices, but this is more than a bit ridiculous!

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren

For review:

Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
The Cross Bones (Skeleton Creek Book 3) by Patrick Carman
Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin (I've already finished this one, MUCH more on that later)

I'm pretty excited about all of these. Loved Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot, have really enjoyed the 2 previous Skeleton Creek books, and Siobhan Vivian never disappoints.


The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings
Rocky Road by Rose Kent
Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter

I have the latest Gallagher Girl book to read for review, so I've been frantically catching up on the previous three, hence Don't Judge. LOVE the other ones. Quick, entertaining reads. Blindsided is for next month's book club choice and when I placed it on hold I expected it to come weeks from now, so I'll be hanging onto that one for awhile. The other three were just choices that resulted from browsing the new YA and the cooking section. I love me a good memoir, so hopefully Made from Scratch and The Sharper Your Knife deliver!

What do you get in YOUR mailbox this week?

Be Compassionate review

 I am such a huge fan of Warren Wiersbe's commentaries. Seriously, can't get enough of them! I end up flagging so many pages and verses and quotes that by the time I'm done with the study, there is almost more pink flags than there are pages.Always a good sign when it comes to non-fiction!

Be Compassionate is a study of Luke 1-13 and focuses on the compassion of Jesus and His work in the lives of those that need that compassion the most. Through these chapters, each centering on a different chapter(s) of Luke and the journey Jesus took on Earth, we are given a detailed breakdown of exactly what happened, why it happened, and how it should be affecting our lives today.

Every point made is illustrated with a fantastic example and a thought-provoking explanation. One of my favorites:
"Whenever we label different spheres of our lives "physical," "financial," "material," or "spiritual," we are bound to leave God out of areas where He rightfully belongs. Christ must be first in everything or He is first in nothing (51)."

I'm always really impressed with how much I learn from these small books. Between the historical concepts, cultural overviews, Scripture, and detailed descriptions, I always feel like I've really taken a step into the Bible and am really understanding the Word. And at the end of each chapter we're given questions about what we learned, which really helps to make the material stick and would be great for a group study guideline. I've always done these studies on my own, but would really enjoy doing on in a Bible study group as well.

This is a great series to immerse yourself in, especially if you're new in your walk with God.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Be Compassionate: Let the World Know that Jesus Cares
Warren W. Wiersbe
192 pages
Christian Non-Fiction
David C. Cook
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Kneebone Boy review

So, before I go on and on about how much I enjoyed Ellen Potter's latest book, let me first share a bit about my love for Lemony Snicket (trust me, there's a point). When I first started in on this love of children's lit while going to library school and attempting to decide what to do with my life, I began reading Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events." The level of sarcasm, wit, and clever dialogue sort of knocked me out of my seat (these were books for kids after all)...and then I realized how BRILLIANT they were. Draw kids in with a little craziness and get them hooked into this 12 book series. Genius. But then the series ended and I was itching for more of the Snicket-esque writing.

And now folks, I believe we may just have a new Lemony Snicket on our hands in Ellen Potter.

The Kneebone Boy introduces us to a set of siblings, Otto, Lucia, and Max, though we're told in the beginning that we won't know which sibling is actually narrating the story. Their father, a scatterbrained artist who paints portraits of royalty, ships them off to London to stay with an Aunt that happens to be away on holiday. What ensues is an adventure around the dark streets of London on their own and a journey to the sea, where the kids attempt to solve the mystery of their missing mother.

The journey these kids are on is at times hysterical, sometimes melancholy, and more than a bit creepy, which makes the read all the more fun. Potter delivers fabulous one-liners and a pretty hilarious banter between the siblings...all siblings must argue, but these kids do it in style. I laughed out loud on almost every page, but was able to feel sadness for these motherless children as well, which I think shows the talent the author possesses. My favorite part in the book? "Here is my most important message to you: All great adventures have moments that are really crap." (248)

On a more critical note, I was a little disappointed that the ended wrapped up so neatly, rather than being extended into a series or even just a witty, comical completion. And I did feel that it was a bit wordy in places, making the overall book a bit longer than it probably needed to be, but other than that, I was very pleased with what I was reading. Ooh and what a creepy (and wonderful cover)!

Hand this to fans of Lemony Snicket or those that just like a fun mystery.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

The Kneebone Boy
Ellen Potter
288 pages
Middle Grade
Feiwel & Friends
September 2010
Review copy provided by author

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Penderwicks audio reviews

How in the world it has taken me this long to pick up The Penderwicks and its sequel The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, I do not understand. Such charming, silly, and just beautifully written stories, perfect for reading aloud with your family.

Jeanne Birdsall has a talent, let me just say that right away. From the moment she introduced the four Penderwick sisters, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty, I was completely hooked...and I'm 27 years old. We start off with the girls, along with their widowed father and dog, Hound, arriving at Arundel Estate, where they will be spending their summer vacation.

What happens is a whole lot of nothing, yet so much. The girls meet Jeffrey, the son of Arundel's snooty owner, and become instant friends, almost get taken out by a bull, capture escaped rabbits, play a lot of archery, go to a fancy party, and most of all...take care of each other. Sibling togetherness is at the forefront of the story, and though it's not always the most believable (no sisters get along that well in real life right?), it is simply enchanting.

Imagination is another key point in this first book. The girls are spending their summer without a television set or internet or video games. They write stories, they play games, spend a lot of their time outside, and make stuff up. What has happened to those simple practices in this world? I would love for parents to read this with their kids and be inspired to spend some time doing "nothing" together. Build a fort out of blankets and chairs, have a picnic on your living room floor, go play in a creek and get dirty.

In The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, the girls are back at home and on a mission: prevent their father from falling in love again. Before their mother died, she made him promise to try three dates before giving up on finding a new wife and mother for the girls, so the sisters are set on sabotaging his dating life, because frankly, the girls are happy with their lives without another woman in it!

What ensues is hysterical and the end result is not at all what Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty expect, but wonderful all the same. I'm itching for book 3 (if there is going to be a book 3), just so I can read more about these lovely and silly girls.

A note on the reader, Susan Denaker, is FABULOUS. One of the best readers I've ever listened to in my history of audiobook listening. She does the most perfect voice for each girl, especially little Batty. I loved every scene Batty was in, for her voice and the brilliant things Birdsall had her say. That girl will be my daughter some day.

I'm just smitten with both of these books and cannot say enough good things about them. Though perfect for a family read aloud, you should get this for any young niece or nephew that you have, granddaughter, grandson, etc. I know I'm a bit behind on picking them up, but if any more of you out there have yet to read these books, you must.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

The Penderwicks/The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
Jeanne Birdsall, read by Susan Denaker
January 2006/April 2008
Copies of both borrowed from my local library

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June review

After reading a bunch of dark, dismal, and heavy books I was definitely ready for something lighter and fun. Robin Benway's latest novel (after hilarious Audrey, Wait!) delivered on the fun and entertainment factor AND had a really solid story to go along with that. Cool cover too.

April, May, and June are sisters, with very unoriginal parents (at least in the name department), who interact pretty much as normal sisters do. Some days they really like one another, others they're picking on one's fashion sense, one's uptightness, and one's total lack of motivation. Overall, they have the back of each other, not matter what.

When they all wake up one morning, each possessing a different power, they know they're going to need all the help they can get to learn to understand what they can do and how to control it. April can suddenly see the future, May can disappear, and June can read minds. Not bad for a bunch of typical teenage girls!

Lots of humor is injected into the pages, along with a bit of romance and some super-tense moments.  Each character has her own quirks and was presented as a real teen girl, with real teen problems. April, the straight-oldest sister, starts to like a bad boy, May is having a very difficult time dealing with their parents divorce, and poor June, a freshman in high school, just wants to make friends with the popular crowd. Benway really created a successful novel with her realistic characters.

If you were a fan of Audrey, Wait! I would definitely recommend picking this one up. And if you haven't read that one, I still recommend it! Teens will love the writing style and the inclusion of the fantastical element.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June
Robin Benway
281 pages
Young Adult
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Cleopatra Rules!

Who doesn't find Cleopatra just fascinating? She is just one of those amazing, strong women of the past that continues to be mysterious...which of course just makes me want to know more about her.

Vicky Alvear Shecter and totally opens the door to all this Cleopatra. I learned so much more than I ever could have imagined about this intriguing young woman that began her reign as Queen of Egypt at just 17.

Did you know that in the beginning, she loved books more than boys? Or that once she took the throne, she was pretty much expected to marry her brother, who had inherited the role as King? I was very impressed with the amount of information about Cleopatra, her siblings, boyfriends, death, and of course, the Egyptian customs that had a hand in how things went for all of them. Every topic Shecter touched on was explained and/or described in the appropriate amount of detail, which seems to be difficult for a lot of Non-Fiction authors.

The presentation is appealing, as the chapters are short and divided into blocks of info. Lots of photos, drawings, and fact boxes fill the pages, and the actual reading is anything but dry. While reading it, I almost found myself comparing it to a true crime novel or the like. I think teens will eat it up.

My favorite part? When Cleopatra and Antony married, this is what the author writes:

"So what did the romantic newlyweds do for their honeymoon? They planned a war. Because, you know, nothin' says lovin' quite like dead bodies on the battlefield (73)." Hysterical!

Hand this one to a teen needing to do a project on a person from history or just as an interesting read. It's definitely readable and you (or your teen) will walk away knowing a heck of a lot more about Cleopatra than you ever had before. I'm certainly inspired to pick up more about this famous teen Queen!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen
Vicky Alvear Shecter
128 pages
Boyds Mills Press
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

IMM Week 5

So, I teased you with a vlog my first week of participating in IMM and haven't done one since. Sorry about that folks, totally not intentional. I have a netbook, which is really not right for making videos, so I have been waiting for the husband's MacBook to be fixed (and let's not mention how hilarious it is that his $2,000 computer broke before my $350.00 computer). So, until it's back from Apple and working, no vlogs.

I am starting to get a bit overwhelmed with books for review, as the fall book season rears it's head. I love seeing books in the mailbox (or at the door), but I've been so busy lately that my reading time has just fallen to the side...not to mention the fact that the one book I've been totally engulfing, The Ask and The Answer, is a library book. Good for library, bad for review shelves.

Anyways, here's the rundown of the week:

For review:

Picture books:
Franklin's Big Dreams by David Teague
Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen
Spork by Kyo Maclear

Middle Grade:
The Year Money Grew on Trees by Aaron Hawkins
The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Young Adult:
Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

Looking Closely in the Rainforest by Frank Serafini
Up We Grow! A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm by Deborah Hodge

I didn't buy any this week. I'm sure I'll remedy that on the 24th with a Mockingjay purchase!

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Another week has gone by...so hard to believe isn't it? Though I'm very much ready for Fall to set in, I still can't quite believe how fast the summer has flown by.

I received these two books this week and really enjoyed both. If you have a silly child that likes silly stories or a younger kiddo that likes bears, you're all set this week!

Bears! Bears! Bears! by Bob Barner

The illustrations are the real star of this one, but the actual story is fun too. Through simple rhymes, we get to learn about all sorts of different bears and their habits/environments/etc. We learn that giant pandas eat bamboo, sloth bears cling close to their mamas, and grizzly bears fish with their paws. All accompanied by some pretty awesome illustrations.

The last few pages include extra information on the bears, as well as a map of the world, pinpointing where you'll find each species. A nice little "extra" that also introduces younger children to non-fiction.

Between the illustrations and the rhymes, this was a pretty great book for such a short and simple story. I have a nephew that LOVES bears, so I know this will be going on the list for him. A nice choice for kindergarten/first grade classrooms as well.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Bears! Bears! Bears!
Bob Barner
32 pages
Picture Book
Chronicle Books
April 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Don't Call Me Pruneface! by Janet Reed Ahearn and illustrator Drazen Kozkan

One word: hilarious. I can totally picture my former boss (and great friend, who just may be blogging...) reading this aloud to her storytime group. She could do Paul's sarcastic tone quite well!

So, Paul is a nice kid and his new neighbor Prudence is very much not. She's snotty, a bully, and has a nasty cat...not exactly great neighbor material in Paul's opinion. Paul decides to give Prudence one week to change his mind about her and when her week is up, he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. The result? Not what you think!

Grandma's one liners are great and the slightly retro illustrations add to the fun. I really liked that the bully was a girl for once, verbally beating up on a boy, rather than the other way around, not to mention the cat being mean to the dog. A nice change of pace from the usual "boy beats up boy" and "dog eats cat."

This would make a great read aloud (especially if you have Miss Ami as your storyteller...she's good at this stuff!).

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Don't Call Me Pruneface!
Janet Reed Ahearn
32 pages
Picture Book
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shooting Kabul review

How rare it is to find a book that is fantastic on so many different levels. Characters, plot, educational level, and a good story are all present in Shooting Kabul, along with a huge range of emotions. The reader will have a hard time putting it down.

We start off in Afghanistan with 11-year-old Fadi and his family, attempting to escape the country and the Taliban for better life in America. Author N.H. Senzai tactfully weaves an explanation of the Taliban's rule into the story, leaving us (or at least me) more educated on the group's initial goal and how they rose to power. It's an age-appropriate description and it's placed into Fadi's story very well.

Fadi's family is successful in their escape, however, Fadi's youngest sister Mariam is accidentally lost and left behind...a weight that Fadi will carry on his shoulders for a very long time. The only way he is able to cope is through photography, leading him to join a photo club at school and finally making a friend out of Anh, his partner for a photo competition.

As Fadi preps for the contest, which he feels will eventually allow him to go search for his little sister, the ultimate devastation happens in America. On September 11, 2001 the terrorist attacks occur and every thing changes for Fadi. He is no longer just a boy going to school, he is now a target for those filled with hatred for the attacks. He's lost, confused, and afraid for his family and needs his photography more than ever.

Typically, when an author attempts to combine so many elements, as Senzai has (terrorism, family, photography, making friends), it can all become a bit muddled and nothing truly stands out. Totally not the case in this book. All the focus is on Fadi and his process of coming into himself and letting go of the guilt of losing Mariam, and the other pieces are beautifully written extras. 

I absolutely loved how Fadi compared his journey to Claudia's, the main character in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (the only book he had been able to hide from the Taliban). It seemed such an odd comparison, but the book creeps into several scenes and you'll make the connection as Fadi does. I found that a wonderful little surprise and more than a bit clever of the author.

I was touched on so many levels by Fadi's story. We get to see what life was like for a child living under the Taliban's rule, after 9/11, and through the changes of moving to a new country, attempting to make friends, and dealing with a huge amount of guilt. I am amazed at the emotions reading this brought up and I can only hope that the same feelings resonate in the middle grader readers this book is aimed towards.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Shooting Kabul
N.H. Senzai
272 pages
Middle Grade
Paula Wiseman Books
June 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ninth Ward review

I've been waiting for a great book about a child's experience during Hurricane Katrina and I think I've found it with Jewell Parker Rhodes' Ninth Ward. It's an emotional book for sure, but with the heartbreak and fear geared towards middle graders.

Our main character is 12-year-old Lanesha, a girl who has already seen her fair share of heart. Her mother died giving birth to her and she now lives in poverty with midwife, Mama Ya-Ya, who has the gift of seeing the future. Lanesha loves living with Mama Ya-Ya, though her life at school is anything but easy, and also possesses a spiritual gift. Lanesha is able to see ghosts...including the ghost of her mother.

When Mama Ya-Ya gets the sense that something terrible is about to happen in New Orleans, the tension in the book is very apparent. We, as readers, know the outcome of Katrina, but when reading the book you can get a sense for how those living in New Orleans and the other hard-hit areas were feeling, as they prepped for the unknown.

I loved Lanesha's character and her motivation to get out into the world and be something. Though she struggled with making friends, she didn't let that or her limited means get her down, making her a positive role model for young readers. She is a strong female character, that still feels insecure at times, and scared at the impending storm. She doesn't want to be alone in the world, yet knows she can make it at the same time. I was very impressed with her overall character.

I did feel that the added element of Lanesha being able to see ghosts was not necessary to the storyline. Mama Ya-Ya had psychic abilities and the presence of Lanesha's "sight" seemed a bit of an overkill on that part of the plot. Though the writing was fantastic and I loved the story, I would have preferred just reading about Lanesha's manner of dealing with the tension and preparation (and subsequent disaster) of Katrina.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5
 Al Roker has chosen Ninth Ward as his next "Today Show Book Club" pick. Awesome!

Ninth Ward
Jewell Parker Rhodes
224 pages
Middle Grade
Little Brown
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Walk review and self reflection

To start off this review, I must first admit something: Richard Paul Evans is typically not my cup of tea. He's written a lot of books, mainly Christian-based, and though I think I've tried them all (each one has at least sounded interesting), I've never finished one until now. I've found the writing to be overly sappy, more than a bit melancholy, and a little over-the-top on the preaching. And then I picked up The Walk and I absolutely fell in love with it. Surprise!

The journey from life being fabulous and dream-like, with a successful advertising business and a beautiful wife, to life becoming miserable after losing the business and his wife in one swoop was awfully short for main character, Alan Christoffersen. Feeling completely lost, alone, and heartbroken, he decides to take a walk to the one place he believes can bring him peace, Key West. And he's walking from Seattle.

The beginning of Alan's journey is difficult and the reader will feel his sadness pouring out of him while he walks from one small town to the next. He meets remarkable characters along the way, each more rich and enjoyable than the previous. He camps out in the woods at night and walks the roads during the day, slowly beginning the ultimate healing process.

This is the first book in a planned series, so Alan doesn't make it very far on his walk across the United States, but I loved that about the book. He's taking his time, meeting people that God obviously means for him to meet along the way, and is doing a whole lot of self-reflection. It's not a heavy read by any means, nor is it "literary" in nature, but it was an great reading experience for me. 

I think part of the reason I connected so well with Alan was the tragic beginning to his journey. Alan was confident in his life, with a thriving business and a great marriage and he completely took it for granted. Two years ago, I was in a very similar position, with a job I loved, an amazing husband, and baby that had just been born. I gave up that great job for my son, who passed away at 4 months old, lost my mom unexpectedly not even two months later, my grandfather four months after that, had two miscarriages, and the list went on. I took life for granted and then God threw the fragility of our lives in my face. And in a sense, I am glad He did...I learned so very much about myself and about how life should be lived.

I had to take my own figurative walk...and I'm still on it. I'm not sure where my career will lead me, whether babies are in my future, or if one day my husband is suddenly going to die too. But, I'm learning to take one day at a time, as Alan does in The Walk. I'm am anxious for book 2, out next year, and I encourage everyone to give this read a try. It may be a bit "inspirational" for some of you literary readers, but I really loved it.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

The Walk
Richard Paul Evans
304 pages
Adult Fiction
Simon & Schuster
April 2010
Book borrowed from my local library

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

IMM Week 4

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren

No vlog this week folks. Sorry about that! The husband isn't around to show me how to use his Mac and I must do the post now...visitors coming for the weekend.

Another big week for books. Fall is most definitely coming!

Young Adult:
Nobel Genes by Rune Michaels
Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
Low Red Moon by Ivy Devlin
Hush by Eishes Chayil
The Secret of Ka by Christopher Pike

Middle Grade:
Finding Family by Tonya Bolden
Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner

Graphic Novels:
Koko Be Good by Jen Wang

Picture Books
Bear! Bears! Bears! by Bob Barner (that's a lot of B's!)
Pobble's Way by Simon Van Booy
Don't Call me Pruneface! by Janet Reed Ahearn

Tropical Rainforest by Seymour Simon
The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson

What did you get is YOUR mailbox this week?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Just some random choices for you this week. All of these I've read over the past few days and enjoyed.

Miss Tutu's Star by Leslea Newman and illustrator Carey Armstrong-Ellis

Pink glittered cover anyone? If that doesn't draw your little girl in, the fun story about dancing and trying your hardest will.

With rhyming text, we meet Selena, a little girl that just loves to dance. She joins Miss Tutu's famous ballet school, however she quickly learns she has two left feet. Not good for a ballerina! But, with lots of practice and determination (and lots of giggles along the way), Selena does become the ballerina she has always dreamed of being.

The illustrations are fantastic, appearing as if they were colored with crayon and the illustrator includes a brief note at the end to explain how she made the pages look as they do. I also really enjoyed the fact that the kids in the class, along with Selena, were all rather average looking. No super beautiful, perfectly skinny ballerinas in this book!

Some of the rhymes were a bit weak, but for the most part, a totally fun and enjoyable read.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Miss Tutu's Star
Leslea Newman
32 pages
Picture Book
August 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Time to Pray by Maha Addasi and illustrator Ned Gannon

A great book to learn about customs!

Yasmin goes to visit her grandmother in the Middle East and learns all about the Muslim tradition of praying fives times a day. She is taught about prayer rugs, prayer clothing, and the reason that it is important to pray five times (even when it's very early in the morning).

When Yasmin returns home to her family, she is able to teach them about the Muslim custom and share her new gifts.

Though not the most exciting of books to read aloud, it is very well-written on the topic chosen by the author. The message is educational, but the story reads just like any other grandmother/granddaughter story and the illustrations are complimentary to the text. And there is an Arabic translation on each page, which I think is just awesome! 

Overall rating: 3 out of 5
This one will be out in September. 

Time to Pray
Maha Addasi
32 pages
Picture Book
Boyds Mills Press
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

One Blue Fish: A Colorful Counting Book by Charles Reasoner

This one borders on board book, but it's still really cute, so I wanted to include it in this post.

A pretty basic counting book, from 1-10 with lift-the-flaps to showcase that particular amount of animals underneath the number-shaped flap. We have 3 green frogs, 5 orange ladybugs, 10 yellow ducks, and so on. I was mainly impressed with the super-bright colors on each page and the blocky way of presenting both the text and the numbers.

The pages are going to stand out to toddlers AND infants, so if you have both in your house, this would be a great book to have on hand.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

One Blue Fish
Charles Reasoner
26 pages
Board Book/Picture Book
Little Simon
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty review

I don't read a whole lot of Graphic Novels. I guess I just find myself having a hard time getting into them. This one though, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and illustrator Randy DuBurke touched my heart and I knew that even if I didn't give a "proper" review of it, I at the very least wanted to share about it with you.

Roger is 11 years old and lives on the Southside of Chicago in 1994. Yummy, another child Roger's age, nicknamed because of his attraction to candy, joins the Black Disciples, one of Chicago's most ruthless gangs (and the gang Roger's brother also happens to be a part of). When Yummy decides to prove his worth to the gang by shooting a rival gang member he accidentally shoots and kills a young girl.

Yummy goes on the run, eventually deciding he just wants to go home. He is just a little kid after all. What ends up happening to Yummy is just as devastating as what happened to the young girl, shot by a bullet meant for someone else, leaving Roger and his neighborhood to process a whole lot of tragedy.

Robert "Yummy" Sandifer was a real boy and this is a true story, seen from the eyes of a fictionalized Roger. It's gritty, it's honest, and it's devastating. And it's also SO important. Kids need to read this book and see what can truly happen when certain choices are made, that we may never be able to take back. Gangs aren't cool. Guns aren't cool. People die. Kids die.

I really enjoyed the illustrations, though I did find myself wishing they were done in color. But, I was reading from an ARC, so the final product may be with color, I'm not sure. I just found it a little hard to distinguish the characters from the background at times, but not often enough that it would be bothersome to everyone...I think I was just being a bit picky!

Again, an important read, but a good one at the same time. Some books are important, but boring...not the case with Yummy. I think high school classrooms and libraries need to buy copies and copies of this and public librarians should have this in their mind for all the reluctant readers we know out there. This will get their attention full and clear, teaching them a lesson in the process.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
G. Neri
96 pages
Young Adult/Graphic Novel
Lee and Low
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Grimm Legacy review

I had a lot of fun reading Polly Shulman's latest book, which is filled to the brim with magic and fantasy!

I think I would be friends with Elizabeth, our main character in this story. She's book smart, a little lost, but completely in love with her new job at the New York Circulating Material Repository. Though, at first, the Repository seems like nothing more than a strange library, Elizabeth quickly learns that patrons are able to borrow magical items...like real magical items...there's the famous mirror from Snow White, a mermaid's comb that makes your hair beautiful, flying carpets, dancing slippers, and anything else from past fairy tales that you could imagine.

Elizabeth and her new work friends are thrust into a mystery, when magical items from the Repository begin to go missing. In the midst of the mystery, a couple of romances perk up, some great friendships form, and a huge bird makes an appearance. A lot of fun elements are mixed in with really good writing and a unique concept. 

The idea of being able to borrow magic items will appeal to fantasy lovers of all kinds and the sub-plots are well-incorporated and thought out. Though marketed towards the YA set, the language and style will please middle graders as well. I was very pleased with my first Polly Shulman book and will be seeking out Enthusiasm, as soon as possible!

Just a note...I read from an ARC and the title on that copy was The Grimm Collection. So, those of you that also had ARCs, the title appears to have changed to The Grimm Legacy. The cover is fantastic!

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

The Grimm Legacy
Polly Shulman
336 pages
Young Adult
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

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 the purchase price. Thanks!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

IMM Week 3

I received some fabulous goodies in my mailbox this week! A couple I've been waiting for, one was a surprise, and the rest are just fun. I can tell that the Fall books are starting to trickle in...all of my shelves are getting fuller and fuller by the day.

AND this is my first ever Vlog, so hopefully, you'll enjoy! Please don't mind the mess of the room behind me, I was in the single room in my house with good natural light, which is somewhat under renovation. Hopefully the fact that I am in desperate need of a new hair straightener won't bother you either ;)

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 the purchase price. Thanks!