Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picture Book Saturday: Karma Wilson Day!

I honestly think Karma Wilson is my favorite picture book author. I've never come across a book of her's that I didn't just LOVE and almost every single one makes a fantastic read aloud, for both storytime or just family time.

I got The Cow Loves Cookies in the mail the other day and I think it may just be my favorite out of all of Wilson's books. Or at least a close second with Whopper Cake. A super-cute rhyming story about all the typical things that farm animals the geese that eat corn and the horse that eats hay. Except of course, the cow that loves cookies. Can't forget him!

The story is funny, the illustrations (by Marcellus Hall) compliment the text perfectly, and even as an adult you'll have a hard time not completely laughing out loud while reading it. I can totally seeing this being a great read aloud for a storytime, accompanied with some farm crafts...and of course, milk and cookies!

Karma Wilson has a ton of great books out there, all of which I would recommend to readers, young and old. A few of my favorites:

Whopper Cake: Grandpa and his grandkids make a whopper of a cake for Grandma's birthday. Nice to share with the family, especially if you make the cake recipe out of the back at the end!

A Frog in the Bog: total tongue twister and counting book. Another hysterical read aloud that will have your kids squirming and giggling all over the place.
Bear Snores On (and all the subsequent "Bear" books): Great rhymes, fun friends, and absolutely adorable illustrations.

Mortimer's First Garden: A great Christian story about a sweet mouse focusing on the hard work of prayer and the awesome reward.

I highly recommend picking up a Karma Wilson book (or two or four!) won't regret it and your kiddos will thank you!

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, July 28, 2010

The Education of Bet review

If I had grown up in 19th century England, as Elizabeth (Bet) had, I quite possibly could have been the main character in this story. Bet, being female and a virtual orphan, really had no chance to ever attend school as she dreamed, instead being destined to live out her life under the roof of Paul Gardener, the rich man who kindly took her in when her mother, a maid, died.

Will, Mr. Gardener's nephew and Bet's closest friend, wants nothing more than to join the military and continues to be kicked out of every school he is sent to, for poor behavior. Bet devises a plan for she and Will to switch places. Bet will disguise herself as a boy and attend boarding school, while Will goes away and joins the military as he wishes.

Obviously, things to do not go quite as clean and smooth as the pair wants (on either end), but what results is funny, a bit sad, and definitely an enjoyable read.

I probably would have done anything to go to school when I was younger, so if I had been told I was unable to go because of my gender, you can bet I would have dressed up as a boy if someone presented that idea to me! I doubt I would have pulled it off quite as well as Bet did, though even her quick thinking and author Lauren Baratz-Logsted's great writing, couldn't make the story completely believable. It was definitely a stretch to imagine Bet and Will pulling off as much as they did and for that length of time, but the story is so readable, you won't care.

The plot and the writing style immediately draw the reader in and I found myself finishing the book in one sitting. A bit of romance, a great friendship, and a girl who would do anything to learn makes for a really nice story. There's a lot of spirit in the book and Bet is a great female main character.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5
More than a tad predictable, but very well-written and enjoyable. I also would have liked to have seen more of Will's side of the story once he joined the military. I think that would have added a great element.

The Education of Bet
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
192 pages
Young Adult
Houghton Mifflin
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!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Three Wishes review

I delight in getting my hands on a good memoir. One filled with honesty, great writing, and a look into a topic that interests me. In this case, having a baby. Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand had such a unique experience when it came to getting pregnant and having babies, they definitely deserved a book deal! What pours out of this book is love for children and friendship, and women being truly honest with themselves about what they want.

Carey is single and nearing 40, determined to have a baby, even if it means doing it all on her own. She orders 8 vials of sperm from a donation bank, set on being a single mom. Fast forward a few months and she's in love and pregnant...the natural way. She passes the sperm vials on to Beth, again single and nearing 40, wanting a baby more than anything. She ends up in love and pregnant...the natural way. And then comes Pam, next in line for the sperm. Same story, same outcome. Amazing right?

Not only is the whole story just mind-boggling, it is so well-written that you will not want to put it down. Told in alternating chapters from each woman's perspective we get the good AND the bad, from miscarriages to babies with abnormalities to marriages and healthy births. As a woman having suffered from several of the issues discussed in these pages, I was touched when these women wrote things such as:

"That is what miscarriage does to you; a positive pregnancy test means nothing more than a promising start. It is better than nothing, but too far from a baby for real elation."

All of them get it. They get what it's like to try and try and try and have no results. They get what it's like to get so excited and hopeful and have it all come crashing down with a few drops of blood or a devastating ultrasound. For those of us that have suffered from either infertility or the inability to carry babies to term OR not being able to find love before the desire for children hits, this book will resonate loud and clear. You may not agree with some of the choices Carey, Beth, and Pam make throughout their journeys, but their honesty, determination, and understanding will make you keep turning the pages.

It's at times emotionally difficult to read and I found myself asking "why in the world won't these women just ADOPT already?!" They all had great jobs, steady income, and nice places to live and it sure as heck would have been a lot easier than this process! But that being said, they didn't want to adopt. They wanted their own babies and went about it their own way. Again, honest and incredibly personal.

You'll want to pass this one onto a friend when you're done reading it and I definitely encourage you to do so! This is a story for all of us, in one way or another, and the three gifted writers that participated in the creation of the book have given us more than a story. There's hope inside the pages.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Three Wishes: Our True Story of Good Friends, Bad Odds, Crushing Heartbreak, and One Little Thing That Inspired a Lot of Happiness
Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand
288 pages
Adult Non-Fiction
Little, Brown
April 2010
Review copy received from Amazon Vine

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, July 25, 2010

IMM Week 2

In My Mailbox is a feature hosted by The Story Siren. We get to share what landed in our mailbox this week and see what others were lucky enough to get in as well. This is only my second week participating, but it's a lot of fun and I definitely recommend participating yourself if you haven't yet.

Last week was pretty slow,  but the mailman/UPS guy were hopping this week! 

Picture Books
The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School by Albert Lorenz
All the Seasons of the Year by Deborah Lee Rose
Dotty by Erica S. Perl
Miss Tutu's Star by Leslea Newman
Library Mouse: A World to Explore by Daniel Kirk
My Uncle Martin's Heart by Angela Farris Watkins
Diary of a Baby Wombat by Jackie French

Adventure Beneath the Sea: Living in an Underwater Science Station by Kenneth Mallory
Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter
They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Middle Grade
The Trouble with Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante
The Invisible Order: Rise of the Darklings by Paul Crilley

Young Adult
Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
Virgin Territory by James Lecesne
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Quite a few of the picture books just showed up randomly, so I'm not sure if I'll have reviews of all of those or not. Lots of great goodies in there though!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Summer is more than halfway over (THANK GOODNESS), but I thought showing off two of my favorite "outdoorsy" reads of the week was a good plan. I'm giving you a story about bees and a story about a dog and a frog. Enjoy!

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and Jon J. Muth is a great mixture of cute, sweet, and funny. Something a bit different than we've seen from Mo Willems in the past, but I really enjoyed it.

City Dog is lucky enough to be running free in the country for the first time and comes across Country Frog, who is waiting for a friend. A sweet friendship is created that lasts over the seasons, with the pair playing different games and having chats each time City Dog comes to the country. When spring comes around again and Frog is nowhere to be found, City Dog befriends another animal, but we are assured through a "froggy grin" that Frog will never be forgotten.

The perfect amount of sweet, without being too sappy, this is one of my favorite picture book reads of the year. Simple illustrations and a warm and friendly plot will please readers of all ages.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

City Dog, Country Frog
Mo Willems
64 pages
Picture Book
June 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Buzz by Eileen Spinelli and illustrator Vincent Nguyen is a cute "be yourself" book with some fantastic illustrations.

Buzz absolutely loves being a bee...especially flying! She zips around everywhere she can, taking in the picturesque landscape and the smells all around her. Until she reads a snippet of an article that states "Bees Can't Fly!" Buzz is devastated and unsure of what to do with herself. If she can't fly....what CAN she do?

When Owl's tree catches on fire, Buzz has a dilemma. She isn't supposed to fly and doesn't think she can save Owl from the flames. After some self motivation, Buzz flies up to the top of the tree and saves Owl, learning that it doesn't matter what some people say...being yourself is what's most important.

Now, the concept is nothing new and even a tad cheesy. "Be yourself" is a fairly common theme in children's books, however the accompany illustrations really make this one a nice choice to read aloud. Not to mention it's about an adorable bee and how much cuter can you get than a bee that loves her life?!

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Eileen Spinelli
32 pages
Picture Book
Simon & Schuster
July 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!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chasing Orion review

Books about polio seem to be popping up more and more lately and Kathryn Lasky has just published one of her own. And really, who doesn't like Kathyn Lasky? Kids like her, parents like her, librarians like her, and Chasing Orion is just another addition to a steam of well-written, well-researched books. 

Our main character is 11-year-old Georgia Mason; a precocious girl that just moved to a new neighborhood with her family. It's an incredibly hot summer and Georgie misses her friends terribly. Polio outbreaks are in full swing and her mother won't allow her to go to the local swimming pool to make new friends, in fear of Georgia catching polio herself. 

Next door, polio has become very real for Phyllis, a teenage girl in an iron lung who befriends Georgia and her older brother Emmett. While Emmett is busy falling in love with the beautiful and charming Phyllis, Georgia is determined to find a way to cure the girl of her terrible disease, throwing herself into research and truly wanting to have Phyllis as her friend forever. And when the real reason Phyllis has been so friendly with Emmett and Georgia comes to light, an entirely new dimension of plot is revealed. 

Lasky is an amazingly talented writer, having the ability to sink her teeth into a story and get in all the nooks and crannies before letting the reader turn the last page. I loved Georgia and her honest heart and innocent nature...though I suppose I did find her a bit more mature than most 11-year-olds. She was insightful, pensive, and thoughtfully written. You want to read more after the first page and you'll find yourself questioning Phyllis' motives soon after we meet her in the story.

On a historical level, I definitely learned some things about the time during the polio epidemic. Not only the limitations it placed on healthy people, but just what it might be like to have to live in an iron lung and the fear that people lived with on a day to day basis. Midway through the book I found myself on the internet looking up facts about polio and just what it did to a person's body. So devastating, but incredibly interesting to learn about how advanced something like an iron lung was for that period.

A couple of very mature themes end up running through the book, but I'm not going to mention them b/c giving away plot points is not something I'm fond of. It's written in an appropriate way for a middle grade reader, but you may want to skim it first, so as to be prepared to answer some questions when your kiddos have put it down. Great historical elements, as well as some facts on astronomy.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Chasing Orion
Kathryn Lasky
368 pages
Middle Grade
May 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, July 20, 2010

Women, Food, and God review

Call me what you will, but I am a huge Oprah Winfrey fan. I love her show (it gets DVRed every day...yeah, I'm one of those) and her magazine and when she endorses a book, I usually listen. In the case of Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth, I not only listened, I wanted to know more and I truly wanted to see if the book would speak to me, as it did so many other women.

For most of my life, I've had issues with compulsive eating, Roth's main focus in the book. I eat when I'm bored, I eat when I'm lonely, and I love to "treat" myself with food after something bad has happened during the day or if things just aren't going my way. It's my reward, it's what my husband and I do for fun (finding new restaurants), and I enjoy it. But, it's also a problem. I'm not hugely overweight, but I could lose 20lbs and be healthier. I have a family history of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and early death and I don't want to follow that same path. I don't necessarily eat "junk", just the opposite actually, but I eat a lot. Geneen Roth to the rescue? Maybe.

While reading the book, I definitely had light bulb moments. The author has been in the same situation and therefore, "gets it." She gives different ways in which to discover why we eat, when we eat, and how we eat and turn it around to actually enjoying our food, something we cannot possibly do while standing up/driving/shoveling it in our mouths as fast as possible/hiding. She tells us to learn how to listen to our bodies. When we're full, we're full. Just don't put the last bite in your mouth if you're body is telling you you're full. And most of all, she tells us NOT to diet.

Dieting is the quick fix and Roth explains that the fix will indeed work for a time. But, if you aren't tackling the issues as to why you eat the way you do, you'll just get fat again.

The writing flow is done very well, making it easy to read, and thought provoking. She tells it like it is and doesn't sugarcoat. Small stories, both personal from Roth and from members of her retreats are added for examples and motivating factors. We're given a section at the end on "Beginning Inquiry," which is a learned method of truly knowing yourself (one I probably won't participate in, but it may be helpful for some), as well as a list of eating guidelines. Those are going up on my fridge.

You can read this book as if it were written by a friend. Geneen Roth really is a friend in the sense that she's gone through the dieting and yo-yo-ing and has finally found herself, her reasons for eating, and therefore has been able to change the way she is living her life, which translates into the food she consumes. It's a deep read, not funny, not light, and will probably bring up some bad memories, more than a few tears, and some self-realization...which is entirely the point. It's psychological and Roth is good at her job!

Oooh...I did want to make mention of the "God" portion of the title and text. Roth's "God" refers mainly to spirituality as a whole. This is not a guideline for how MY God tells us to live our lives. It's about connecting with ourselves spiritually to learn what's really going on and to fix that. Don't shy away because you don't believe in the Christian God (neither does Roth) and don't pick it up expecting Scriptural references. There are none.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5
It will stay on my shelves as a reference for many years. Weight loss and the ongoing struggle to find one's self is a never ending process for some of us and I'm sure I will need Roth's words in years to come. I don't want to say that this is necessarily the "thing" I've been looking for, but it certainly is an insightful read with a lot of thought-provoking statements.

Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything
Geneen Roth
211 pages
Adult Non-Fiction
March 2010
Review copy received from Amazon Vine

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, July 19, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Famous Places

Every so often I have a post, typically a Non-Fiction Monday post, in which I rave about Lerner publishing company.'s another one!

Seriously though, this company puts out books that are solid, both literally and figuratively. They are super durable and make great library books (meaning they can be checked out a bunch of times without showing signs of wear), as well as being filled with lots of great information, presented in an age-appropriate way, accompanied with vibrant photographs. What more could you really want right?

My latest rave is about the "Famous Places" series. It includes 12 different titles, each covering a different place from around the United States. A great way to learn more about our country, especially when the economy is tight and travel is difficult. I was sent 4 to review, all places I've been, so I can verify they're pretty fabulous places.

In The Redwood Forests by Lisa Bullard, the reader is given quite the look into one of the most beautiful places in the world (my own opinion of course), filled with these absolutely massive, gorgeous trees. Each page is mainly photograph, accompanied by a short fact about the trees/forest. The text is large and bold, making it very easy to read, but doesn't overwhelm the beauty of the photo.

As a lover of the Redwood forests, I can definitely say that this book does a fantastic job of illustrating the awesome factor...and provides much-needed information about the trees and parks.

The Grand Canyon by Jeffrey Zuehlke and The Great Lakes by Janet Piehl are set up similarly to The Redwood Forests, with large photos and short blocks of text, however I didn't find the photos quite as jaw-dropping. I suppose that could be just because the Grand Canyon is hard to photograph (seriously, it is, I've tried!) and The Great Lakes just don't have quite the level of gorgeous-ness that the redwoods do.

The material is definitely educational and great for those just starting to jump into non-fiction. All the books contain a short glossary and index, as well as a short section for "Fun Facts" and information for further reading.

Ooh...and I did get a fourth book for review, The Everglades (another place I've been and loved), but something must have gone wrong during printing, as I have the cover of The Everglades, but the book is actually called Black Everywhere. Oops! Didn't learn a lot about the Everglades, but I'm all set on the color black.

Again, these books would be great for an elementary classroom for units on new places and, of course, for any library. Other titles include: The Gateway Arch, The Hoover Dam, The Capitol Building, and Yellowstone National Park, among others.

I cannot sing enough praises about Lerner and their high quality books, both in durability and educational level. Check out their website for more cool series and titles from the "Famous Places" series.

Overall series review: 5 out of 5

All books provided by Lerner for review.

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, July 18, 2010

IMM Week 1: My first!

Some of my favorite posts around the blogosphere come from those that participate each week in The Story Siren's In My Mailbox feature, so I thought it only fair to start doing them myself. I love to see what others happen to be getting and I especially love seeing those brave enough to do vlogs. It offers an extra peek into the life of the blogger; one we just can't get through reading words. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to make my own vlog, but for now, words is all you get!

I had a slower week this week...summer is usually rather slow until about August when Fall books start showing up, but I still received a pretty eclectic bunch.

For review:

Picture Books:

Lots of Spots by Lois Ehlert (Beach Lane)
One Blue Fish: A Colorful Counting Book by Charles Reasoner (Little Simon)

Young Adult:

Danger's Edge: Wildfire at Camp David by Dee Garretson (Harper)
Z by Michael Thomas Ford (HarperTeen)
I,Q: The White House by Roland Smith (Sleeping Bear Press)


Three Wishes by Carey Goldberg, Beth Jones, and Pamela Ferdinand (Little Brown, Amazon Vine)


I didn't buy any books this week, however the husband surprised me with a Nook, so I'm sure I'll have to buy my first ebook here pretty soon to try it out. The sweet guy saved a bunch of gift cards for an external hard drive and bought me the Nook instead. He's a keeper!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Picture Book Saturday: Real kids!

Babies and young children seem to love looking at other children in photographs and the books I've picked out this week all have featured photos of real children around the world and focus on families and customs. Fun and educational right?

In  Our Grandparents: A Global Album by Maya Ajmera, Sheila Kinkade, and Cynthia Pon with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we see tons of photos from all around the world, with children and grandparents interacting together. Each photo is labeled with the country and a small amount of text on each page leads into the images. A world map and a list of fun things to do with grandparents is also included. And I LOVE the cover sweet!

As a quick side note, Global Fund for Children also has a fun new board
book out for the littlest readers, also featuring baby photographs. It's called American Babies and is almost completely photos with only a single line of text every other page. When purchasing books from GFC a portion of the proceeds is donated to "support innovative community-based organizations that serve the world's most vulnerable children and youth."

Grand, by Marla Stewart Konrad is another that focuses on the relationships between children and grandparents, with lots of beautiful photos. Pairing it with I Like to Play, also by Konrad, young children will get simplistic, yet well-written text and a fantastic look into other cultures.

I'm a huge fan of Tundra's books, but especially the ones from their World Vision Early Readers collection. They also donate proceeds to organizations for children around the world. Awesome! Reader AND charity? Great combo.

All of these are great choices for first introducing your kids to other customs, other countries, and as a simple way to show them the different ways in which people live around the world. Kids love to look at other kids and these are 3 fantastic selections.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

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, July 15, 2010

Mini Audiobook review

It's been quite awhile since I've written one of these mini-review post. I've been on a lot of quick road trips these past few weeks, so I've worked my way through quite a few audiobooks. Bear with me as I play catch up.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, read by Grayce Wey

Awesome, awesome read! The author took her own experience of coming to a slum in NYC from Hong Kong at an early age and created Kimberly's own story. From working in a factory as a child to making her way into a prestigious private school and then falling in love with a factory boy, the reader truly becomes involved in the hardships of Kimberly, her mother, and the other characters of the story, as well as their triumphs. You will cheer for them and cry with them when things are really bad.

Grayce Wey was the perfect reader for this story. Her slight accent gave an authenticity to the book that other readers could not possibly have achieved, making it more believable and realistic.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Girl in Translation
Jean Kwok
Penguin Audio
April 2010
Borrowed from my local library

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, read by Hope Davis

Well, this one was a bit of a surprise. Last minute trip to NY, meant last minute audiobook, so I had no idea what this one was about, though I've previously enjoyed books by Quindlen. It started out a little slowly, with main character Mary Beth describing her seemingly mundane life with a husband, a dog, and three teenaged children. And narrator Davis has a nice flow to her voice that gives a sense of calm and quiet to the story.

For the first 1/4 of the story I was drawn in by the beautiful descriptions and simplistic story of a family doing rather typical things...summer camps, prom night, and a boyfriend break-up take up most of the pages. Then it got complicated and I was glued to my seat of the car. A horrific tragedy strikes Mary Beth's family (one I was totally not expecting, due to my lack of reading of the summary)  and Quindlen gets character emotions SO well, that you'll be completely rocked.

A heartbreaking, yet incredibly well-written story. You won't be able to put it down.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Every Last One
Anna Quindlen
Simon & Schuster Audio
April 2010
Borrowed from my local library

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer, read by Emma Galvin

The main reason I picked this up last weekend was because I was so entranced by Ilyana Kadushin's reading of the Twilight series and I just assumed she would have read this one too. No dice. Emma Galvin does a nice job, but I would have much preferred Ms. Kadushin's work, since I didn't totally care about this story.

Bree Tanner's story was a bit unnecessary I think, at least in this form. I think it would cool to have a full-length novel on what happened during Victoria's "army building" phase, but this was just so short, not a lot of meat or description, but entertaining all the same.

Meyer has that way about her writing that is really inviting to readers. You want to read more of the story after getting through the first page and that's what happened with Bree's story. I liked her character, wanted to know more, but felt, overall, the book was completely unnecessary UNLESS done all the way. No more novellas please.

Overall rating: 2 out of 5

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella
Stephenie Meyer
Listening Library
June 2010
Borrowed from my local library

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker, read by Carrington MacDuffie

I fell in love with Truly's character, both in size and personality. She is described as being "huge" (among other things, most not very nice), which we later find out is caused by an actual medical disorder, but holds her own so well, throughout the entire story, which spans years. Years of taunting, degrading, and humiliation by the townspeople and family alike. Definitely a family drama, this is one of those books where not a whole lot happens, but you get really involved in the setting, the characters and their stories, as well as the amazing writing.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to you as an audio read. Carrington MacDuffie did a fabulous job at bringing you into a slow moving story, however, like I mentioned previously, not a whole lot happens. A great story, but not super-exciting. Not a road trip book to keep you awake for sure, but definitely go out and pick up the actual book. It's fabulous. Bravo to Tiffany Baker, debut novelist.

I read this one for the Fill in the Gaps challenge.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Tiffany Baker
Blackstone Audio
January 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!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fun middle grade series for magic lovers

Even though the last Harry Potter book came out something like 3 years ago, I will constantly be in Harry Potter withdrawal, always searching for new magic books to read and recommend. I recently picked up Erica Kirov's "Magickeepers" series and was very pleasantly surprised at how much it quelled my miserable HP withdrawal symptoms with the combo of magic, humor, and well-developed characters.You and the kiddos can rejoice!

The first book, The Eternal Hourglass, was both completely engrossing and a lot of fun to read. We're introduced to Nick, a young boy living with his father in Las Vegas, who discovers that he not only belongs to a long line of real Russian magicians, the Magickeepers, but he possesses the ability to make magic as well.

After moving in with the rest of the family for his safety, Nick learns more and more about the history of the Magickeepers, as well as their rivals, the Shadowkeepers. Learning to fight against the evil for good is a whole lot more than Nick bargained for, but soon, he's fitting right in with the rest of them (except for the gross Russian food they keep forcing him to eat).

The second book, The Pyramid of Souls, picks right up where the first left off. A magic convention is about to take place in Las Vegas and the Shadowkeepers are planning their attack for when the world's magicians are all in the same place. Nick, his cousin Isabella,and the rest of their family must stop them before the entire Magickeepers world is destroyed and evil invades.

This one is just as much fun as the first, with a lot of humor intermixed with the ancient magic lessons. Nick and Isabella interact realistically together, half the time getting along great and the other half wanting to kill each other, and the fantasy elements are quite believable. 

The characters in both books are very well done and I really enjoyed the inclusion of famous individuals from history shown in flashbacks (Edgar Allen Poe, P.T. Barnum, Isaac Newton), as well as the Russian elements added throughout. Your kids are going to race through these as they laugh at Sergei and Nick's pizza antics, and they'll get thrills from the scenes where Isabella's beautiful white tiger fights to save the two children's lives.

Quick reads, again, great for Harry Potter fans, and nice choices for families to read together. And a third should be out sometime next year. I'm a big fan already (would love to see a movie version with Johnny Depp as Damian) and think you should definitely check them out!

Overall rating (for both): 4 out of 5

Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass and The Pyramid of Souls
Erica Kirov
Middle Grade
April 2009/May 2010
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, July 12, 2010

Lazy days of summer? I think not.

Summer is supposed to be a season filled with nothing to do. BBQs, laying on the beach,walking for ice cream each night and a whole lot of reading are the only activities required for summer time, because they're fun, relaxing, and involve nothing more than a pair of flip-flops, some reading material, and food! My summer has not been the least bit lazy or unproductive, as much as I wish it was...books aren't getting read, movies aren't getting watched, and we still haven't hosted that BBQ we've been promising my husband's coworkers for months.

Since June, I've been up to NY somewhere around 6 times. Now, I live in Northern Virginia and Upstate NY has both my and Aaron's hometowns, where most of our family still live, and it's "only" about a 7 hour drive up there. Do it five times in 6 weeks and you'll be ready to collapse. Especially when two of these trips have taken place with less than 24 hours of "relaxing time" in between.

We've also had a constant flow of houseguests, which I suppose it what happens when you live right outside a touristy area and have family in both NY and FL...we're the stopping point. Which is wonderful (love my fam), but I would really enjoy sitting on this screened-in deck with some ice tea and my TBR pile and not cleaning my house for company. More people on the way Sunday. Ahhhh!!!

What other craziness has been taking place in the Snow household? Well, we took in a puppy that is needing a new home, hoping to save her from being euthanized in a shelter. Great dog, well behaved for an 8 month old pup, but she's still very much a puppy. Oh and did I mention this makes THREE dogs in my 1000 sq ft house? Anyone looking for a sweet dog?? I'll drive her to you.

Oh and the office got painted and has new trim, I have a garden going (that's almost dead b/c of no rain), a new fence is going up in the side yard this weekend, another NY trip for a family reunion at the end of the month, with MORE houseguests the first weekend in August, it's been hotter than Hades, and I think I'm losing my mind.

How's YOUR summer going?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Countdown review

After hearing so many fantastic things about Deborah Wiles' latest middle grade novel, I was a tad skeptical to read it. Honestly, when a book is hyped so much, it almost never quite lives up to what everyone is saying. I know you know what I'm talking about! So, I was more than pleasantly surprised when Countdown not only lived up to the hype, but surpassed it by leaps and bounds.

Taking place during the early 1960's, the time of President John F. Kennedy's term and in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Franny is 11 years old and totally mixed up. Her family seems to be falling apart, from an Uncle that has more than a few mental issues stemming from his time in the war, to a sister that has gone away to college and is exhibiting mysterious behavior, to a father in the Air Force who is never home or always on call.

Franny is a typical preteen, with a crush, friendship problems, and a crazy family, yet she's living during a time of fear and turmoil. Nuclear air raid drills take place almost daily at school and her Uncle wants to build a bomb shelter in their front yard. And living just outside Washington D.C. on an Air Force Base (a very possible target for the missiles) is not doing Franny's worrying any favors.

Blended in with the pages of texts are excerpts of speeches, songs, and propaganda that was around during the 60's and the Cuban Missile Crisis. So cool! We get Franny's story of confusion and hope, mixed with real cultural references, presented in a unique way that is most definitely interesting and fun to look through.

I think this would be an awesome book to read out loud to your class (or do a classroom read) and discuss comparisons between Franny's world and our world today, living during the War on Terror. Have them suggest what propaganda/speeches/songs/etc. would be included in the pages of their own story and what types of fears kids today have to deal with.

Definitely one of the better historical novels I've read recently! And apparently it's the first in a trilogy, which is great news for me. I could definitely do with more Franny and more cool novels like this.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Deborah Wiles
400 pages
Middle Grade
May 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, July 7, 2010

Favorites so far...

Well, 2010 has absolutely flown by, as we've already entered the second half. I know that I'm sitting here counting the days until Fall (it's 102 outside right now), but in reality, I would actually love time to slow down just a tad. I suppose my mother was right when she told me that time goes by quicker the older we get...

Around the blogosphere, I've been seeing bloggers listing their Top Ten books that they've read so far this year and I wanted to chime in. I love to promote my favorite titles and  I've been lucky to read some fantastic books from all different age levels and genres in the past 6 months. Here's to hoping that the second half of 2010 is even better.

 Let's start with my Middle Grade reads. These have not been nearly as plentiful as my YA and Adult reads so far this year, but I'm not really sure why. I guess I've just been in the mood for meatier, more complex reading. That being said, these three definitely did it for me in terms of plot, characters, and overall effect.

As for the Young Adult titles, those I've been going through like water and have found a lot of great debut authors this year. Lots of excellent writing, unique concepts, and intriguing characters. I hope to see some of these on the Cybils list this year.

And for Adult reads, I really loved these two:

And finally, the book that I just recently finished and absolutely LOVED, but don't really know where to classify, is...

I know that it's aimed towards middle graders, but I really felt the concepts and complexities of it were too much for that age group. But, it's not really up to me to say that it belongs in Young Adult, so I'm just leaving it standing on it's own.

I apologize for the funky formatting. Blogger, was not being my friend this morning! If you have your own list of favorites for the year, be sure to leave it in the comments, I would love to check it out!

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, July 5, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: The Horrors of Andersonville

Admittedly, I'm not a huge history buff like a lot of you out there. I've enjoyed my share of historical fiction, but I'm never one jumping up and down with excitement about history. That being said, this book is one to be excited about. Written about the tragic circumstances within a Civil War prison, history fantatics will find lots of great information  that isn't as publicized as a lot of facts about the war...and those that aren't so into history just might be wanting to research even more about the Civil War once they've finished (I know I will be!).

Andersonville was a Confederate prison that only lasted for about 14 months of the entire Civil War, but long enough to make a name for itself as being horrific. Located in Georgia, it was only built to house approximately 10,000 Yankee prisoners, yet held over 32,000 in 1864. Can you imagine?

The living conditions were disgusting, with disease running rampant and starvation a common occurrence. Images of WWII concentration camps were running through my head while reading about the horrors these men had to deal with when captured. When the war was over, a trial was held regarding these terrible conditions and Captain Henry Wirz, the prison's commander, was hanged.

Most interesting was how the prison came to be established and the first-person accounts that author Catherine Gourley was able to uncover. I was impressed with the amount of information covered, though at times the text did get a bit wordy and I found myself skimming a little. There are lots of facts boxes and sidebars with personal stories that helped break up the text, but it was still a little word-heavy at times. 

Not the most exciting book to look at (all of the photos and drawings are black-and-white), the stories inside are remarkable and definitely make up for the lack of visual intrigue. Students could easily use this book for a social studies project, though I don't see them sitting down and just reading it for pleasure. A great resource though!

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death Inside a Civil War Prison
Catherine Gourley
192 pages
Twenty-First Century Books
April 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, July 3, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Happy Saturday! It's time for another round of picture books! These are ones I've enjoyed this past week and hopefully you'll find at least one that you and your family can enjoy together.

"I'm Not Sleepy!" by Jonathan Allen

If you haven't picked up a Jonathan Allen book for your children yet, you (and they) are definitely missing out. His latest is another addition to the adorable and wildly successful series featuring Baby Owl...and this time, the owl is quite insistent that he "is NOT sleepy!"

These make great read aloud choices, as the text is short, yet very readable, and the illustrations are bold and simple. Your younger children will be able to sit through the entire book and will giggle as more and more animals tell Baby Owl that he looks very sleepy. When he yawns or starts to nod his head, he insists he's thinking/stretching/bored. Very cute!

A very nice choice for a toddler storytime (pair with an owl craft) and for a bedtime read at home.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5

"I'm Not Sleepy!"
Jonathan Allen
32 pages
Picture Book
June 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Zero, Zilch, Nada: Counting to None by Wendy Ulmer and illustrator Laura Knorr

Most counting books for young children cover the basic 1-10 counting ladder, but this one is most definitely of a different sort, as we learn a few methods of counting to 100.

Harry has a new job at the balloon factory and his first task is to blow up 100 balloons for a party. Once he does, he isn't sure if he has actually completed the full 100, so he starts getting tips from the other workers as to how to check. George encourages Harry to count by tens, Marcie wants him to count by fives, and Joe thinks the best way is by twos. Harry pops the balloons as he goes, to be certain he has counted each one.

After Harry has taken all of the advice, how many balloons is he left with? Zero, zilch, nada. Silly rabbit!

The unique approach was definitely refreshing for a counting book, though the more complex counting methods may be best suited for children a little bit older than typical counting books are marketed towards. A nice addition to any elementary school classroom.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Zero, Zilch, Nada: Counting to None
Wendy Ulmer
32 pages
Picture Book
Sleeping Bear Press
May 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Yasmin's Hammer by Ann Malaspina and illustrator Doug Ghayka

I wanted to include this one for your older readers/listeners, as the message is really an important one.

Yasmin and her family live in Bangladesh, where she and her little sister must work each day, breaking bricks in the hot sun. The family cannot afford to send the girls to school, though Yasmin very much wants to learn to read and write. After a lot of very hard work for her entire family, Yasmin and her sister are finally able to acheive their dream and attend school.

Giving a very real glimpse into the lives of children around the world. Working labor intensive jobs before they've reached adulthood is a reality for so many children and while ours complain about having to attend school each day, those other kids often don't get the chance at all.

The flow of the writing is done very well and the reader is able to learn a lot from a rather short story. A great discussion starter! A resource list for helping out children like Yasmin is included in the back, as well as a map and glossary.
Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Yasmin's Hammer
Ann Malaspina
40 pages
Picture Book
Lee & Low
May 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, July 1, 2010

Still Missing review

What a book! Totally disturbing, but really well written, I'm still shaking inside just thinking about it. And let me tell you, I took this book to bed with me, planning to read the first chapter to see if I could get into it or not, and I didn't stop until I finished the entire 2am. Seriously, it will grip you.

Our main character  is 32 year-old Annie O'Sullivan, a successful realtor with a cute dog, beautiful house, and perfect boyfriend. Until she's abducted from one of her open houses and held captive in a mountain cabin for over a year. She's beaten, raped, and virtually made into her kidnapper's wife...and eventually the mother of his child. He rules over her entire being, slowly ripping away any part of her former self, until Annie really has no idea who she is. 

Annie survives her year in the mountains, but definitely has severe PTSD. Working with her therapist, she begins to open up and start to live again, though it takes a lot of relapses and heartache along the way. You'll hurt for Annie as she regresses after a breakthrough and you'll cheer for her once the walls start to fall.

We learn of Annie's ordeal through her sessions with her therapist, as a one-sided conversation. This style of voice was a bit unusual to me and took some getting used to, but once I got into Stevens' story, I was hooked. No need to for excessive dialogue exchanges or description. This was Annie's story and she told it. Plain and simple.

By no means an easy story to read or for the faint-hearted, Still Missing is definitely gripping and suspenseful, but in a sad, gritty way. I kept going back to headlines of Jaycee Dugard, wondering if this was what her world was like for so many years. I think that made the connection to Annie even stronger and made me want to cheer for her even harder.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Chevy Stevens' debut...I'm totally sold on this author!

Still Missing
Chevy Stevens
352 pages
Adult Fiction
St. Martin's Press
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!