Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


"Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna." 

My Review:

I love this book!!!! It has some kind of a hold on me, it's strange, but I love it! I love the writing. Sue Monk Kidd is an excellent writer. I love the detail, the description, the characters, the plot, the feeling, everything.....except the language. The first 50 pages have A LOT of language in them. After that it isn't too bad; there are a few words here and there. If you want to read it but don't want to read the first 50 pages then call me and I'll tell you what happens. Or, the summary above sums it up pretty well. I love how true to life it seems, even though it happened many years before I was born. I love the conflict in each of the characters. The character development is excellent. Each of the women feel like your best friend or next door neighbor. I also enjoyed watching the growth that each of the characters made over the course of the book. The symbolism with the bees is a wonderful addition that adds depth to the story. I just really love this book. Okay, I hope you don't get your expectations too high now, but it's really good.

Rating: R (Remember....this rating does not follow the actual movie's just my method of saying it is not appropriate for younger readers.) There is A LOT of language in the first 50 pages and I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't want to read a lot of language, and it is not appropriate for children or early teens. Language, some racial conflict, and death.

Recommendation: I would recommend it (with the warning above) to 18+ years. I definitely recommend it, even if you need to skip the first 50 pages!

*This review was first published on 2/23/10

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gift From The Sea

Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh


"In this inimitable, beloved classic--graceful, lucid and lyrical--Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea. Drawing inspiration from the shells on the shore, Lindbergh's musings on the shape of a woman's life bring new understanding to both men and women at any stage of life. A mother of five, an acclaimed writer and a pioneering aviator, Lindbergh casts an unsentimental eye on the trappings of modernity that threaten to overwhelm us: the time-saving gadgets that complicate rather than simplify, the multiple commitments that take us from our families. And by recording her thoughts during a brief escape from everyday demands, she helps readers find a space for contemplation and creativity within their own lives. With great wisdom and insight Lindbergh describes the shifting shapes of relationships and marriage, presenting a vision of life as it is lived in an enduring and evolving partnership. A groundbreaking, best-selling work when it was originally published in 1955, Gift from the Sea continues to be discovered by new generations of readers."

I haven't ever read a book quite like this. It's been around for a long time, and I had never even heard of it until my book group decided to read it this month. It's a fast, easy read, but the implications of it are not an easy fix. It's funny because she wrote this a long time ago, yet it rings true today; probably even more than it did then. Ms. Lindbergh was able to take a two week vacation, away from her husband and children, to write this book. She recommends it to every woman. Yeah, right! There is no way I could just up and spend two weeks by myself on the ocean shore without my family. It's hard enough to find time to spend on a family vacation. So, some of her advice is great, but not very practical. Of course it's easy to figure things out when you have that much time all by yourself with none of the demands of children or husband calling your name every few minutes! I'm sure I could figure out lots of things if that were the case; however, a lot of the advice she gives is actually really good. She says that we women need to simplify our lives. We need to get rid of distractions and find ourselves. I agree with her. Yes, we do! But how do we do that today? It's something every woman needs to find for herself, there is no magical wand. She says we need to make ourselves a priority, which we probably do. Unfortunately, that is difficult because so many things seem to be more pressing than time for me. I enjoyed her descriptions of the shells and how she related them to different times in a woman's life. I liked a lot of what she said. The problem was, she never really said how to accomplish it, or if she accomplished it when she arrived home to her husband and five children. If nothing else, it was a good reminder to try and take some time for myself once in awhile, and try to simplify as much as possible. Also, it was a great reminder to live in the now; to enjoy life as it is today and not just bide my time until that "someday" happens. Life isn't about the destination, it's about the journey, right? Sometimes that is hard to remember. Even though the answers are not clean, I would recommend this book to every mother. It won't solve all your problems, but it's a nice break from the busy-ness of life and motherhood, and it might help you at least get the thought process started on how to achieve simplification and enjoy life today.

Rating: PG-13+ (There isn't any profanity or violence, but there is talk of "intimacy" in the marriage relationship. It's not graphic or detailed, but it is discussed because it is an important part of a marriage.)

Recommendation: Adult (It is written for adult women, and I think they will enjoy it most)

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Shadow Throne (Book #3 of the Ascendance Trilogy)

The Shadow Throne (Book #3 of the Ascendance Trilogy)
by Jennifer Nielsen


War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does. His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighboring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?

My Review:

I like Jaron, but boy does he drive me crazy! I think we are 100% opposite from each other! I do not like taking risks, I'm not witty, and hopefully I'm not as crazy as he is (My kids might disagree with me on that one). Just like always, Jaron is crazy and makes rash decisions that affect those around him. Besides Jaron driving me crazy, I have really enjoyed this series. The characters are fun and interesting, the plot is full of surprises and unknowns, and it's full of action and adventure. This is a great last book. There were a few surprises that I did not like, though. It was funny because my 11 year-old and 13 year-old sons read this book before I got to it, and they kept telling about these twists that they didn't expect or like. I thought they were being dramatic! And then when I got to those parts I would plead with them to tell me that those things didn't really just happen. Yeah, maybe I'm the dramatic one? Some of those surprises ended up being ok, but others did not. There's a hint of mystery in this book, which adds a fun dimension. I thought the plot progressed well, the characters grew and developed, and it all ended up as it should have. It may have ended up too nicely tied with a bow, but it's a middle-grader book, and I loved it anyway. Middle-graders still need a good tied-with -a-bow ending sometimes, and honestly, so do I. So it was good. If you like the first two books in this series then you definitely need to read this one!

They are fighting a war, so it is violent in some places. People die, including a few main characters. There are descriptions of the fighting that are a little graphic. There is no profanity or "intimacy" (yay!).

Rating: PG+ (There is no profanity or "intimacy," but there is some violence as they fight in the war, and people die, including a few main characters.)

Recommendation: 4th grade and up. This is a great middle-grader read. It would make a fun read-aloud as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Vanishing Ink

Vanishing Ink by Scott Wiser


"Von Gold would still be a famous magician if he hadn't been dishonest. Now he has no money and will soon be kicked out onto the street, and maybe out of town! But something is about to change his life forever. He is beginning to notice strange disappearances happening all around him. What he doesn't know is the whole world is about to disappear. And he'll be the one who has to stop it--along with the help of his friends, if he still has any...."

My Review:

Full disclosure: Although I do not know the author, Scott, I do know his mother. She was excited to tell me about this book, and it sounded so good that I needed to read it! I promise that this in no way changes my review. 

As you know, I have read dozens of books written by first-time, self published authors. Some of them have been very good, but most are mediocre. Most of them are ebooks, and if they are in print then the covers are cheesy and uninviting. The editing is usually poor, and it leaves the reader feeling completely let down. Now let me get to this book. It started as a Kickstarter project, and he raised enough money to publish it in print. Yay! Great start! Now, when you look at this book, you would not know that it is self published. It is beautiful. It's hard-bound, which is awesome, but to make it even better, the book jacket and cover have an amazing illustration on them. There's even texture on on the book jacket. It looks more professional than most professionally published books. It's great. The story is fun and unique, and comes to life on the pages. The characters are well developed and add so much to the story. Von Gold is a washed-up magician who has no ambition whatsoever. He learned a difficult lesson, and can't figure out a way to move on. Max is a great sidekick. I love that kid. I love his creativity, ambition, and positive attitude. Lucy is so sweet, and you can tell that she loves Max. You know that she has this fight going on in her head about what to do with, and how she feels about, Von Gold. The Mayor and Franz make great antagonists. The creativity in this story just goes on and on. There are some very good lessons taught in this book as well: honesty, integrity, a good work ethic, and love are just a few. The illustrations are amazing, and there are many of them. I thought it all came together well in the end, and it was a great story.

There are, unfortunately, some editing mistakes in this book. A few places in the story are kind of hard to follow, and the language in the book doesn't make you feel like you're in the 1930's. Something that was hard for me to grasp was the relics. They are supposed to be five feet tall. Well, I'm only 5' 2", so that would be very hard for me to hold and handle. I don't know how heavy they were, but they seem like they would be quite heavy. It doesn't seem like the characters would just be able to "whip" them around, as is stated in the book. I'm kind of nitpicking, because the story is fantasy, but there were a few times that crossed my mind. 

This book is clean, which makes me so happy! There was one little spot where it looks like some men might harm a woman, but nothing happens, so it's all good. Yay for no profanity, no "intimacy" (except maybe a kiss or two), and no real violence. Thank you! I love a good, clean story! Overall, I enjoyed the story and do recommend it.

Rating: PG (No profanity or "intimacy," and no violence.)

Recommendation: 3rd to 4th grade (4th grade might understand it a little more) and up. It's a great middle-grader read! This would make a great read-aloud too!

Monday, March 9, 2015


Silence by Deborah Lytton


"Stella was born to sing. Someday Broadway. Even though she's only a sophomore at a new high school, her voice has given her the status as a "cool kid." But then a tragic accident renders her deaf. She can't hear herself sing not to mention speak. She can't hear anything. Silence What happens when everything you've dreamed of and hoped for is shattered in a single moment? Enter Hayden, the boy with blond curls who stutters. He's treated like an outcast because he's not "normal." And, yet, Stella feels an attraction to him that she can't explain. As Hayden reaches out to help Stella discover a world without sound, his own tragic past warns him to keep a distance. But their connection is undeniable. Can the boy who stutters and the girl who's deaf ever find a happily-ever-after? Silence is a story of friendship and hope with a lesson that sometimes a tragedy can help us find beauty and love in unexpected places."

My Review:

I enjoyed this book! I was a little annoyed at the beginning because Ms. Lytton's writing style is very different. She uses a. lot. of. short. sentences. A lot. Many of the sentences are not actually sentences, but fragments of sentences. It was annoying at first, but then as I got into the story I didn't notice it as much. The characters in this book are well developed. They are high school students, so there is some "high school" talk, but a lot of it is actually quite insightful. Both Stella and Hayden experience a lot of growth and learning about themselves and each other in this book. They learn to trust, to hope, and to let go of preconceived notions. They learn to look at the world differently. I love the messages in this book. I love the lesson of not letting your experiences defeat you, but learning and growing from them. One thing that was a little difficult for me to get past sometimes was their age. Stella is only 15, and Hayden is only 17. Many of us adults know that "teenage love" is very different from a long, lasting, forever relationship. I'm not saying it's impossible, but many teens think it is, and later find out that it is not. So, it would be interesting to read a sequel to this book and see what happens to them in the future. I think just a few years older would have made their insights and depth more believable in some parts. I did like that their relationship started as a friendship and grew from there. I don't want my kids to be that involved in high school, but I know it happens. I want them focusing on learning and preparing for college, and going on dates with lots of friends. However, I did enjoy the story. I finished it in a weekend, and couldn't put it down at the end. It was a little predictable, but such a sweet love story. 

Another great thing about this book is that it is clean! Yes! Thank you! There is no profanity and no "intimacy." There might be a few stolen kisses, but it doesn't go more than that. They both actually attend church and pray occasionally, so there is a little bit of a religious theme. There is some domestic violence and abuse, and it's hard to read. The abuse is bad, but it involves hitting, cutting, hurting, and broken bones. There isn't any sexual abuse. There are only a few times that it goes more in depth with it, the other times you know it's there but don't know the details. 

Rating: PG 13 (Domestic violence and abuse involving hitting, cutting, hurting, and broken bones.)

Recommendation: 13 and up. It is YA approved. (I have a 13 year-old son, and I am ok with him reading this. I will be discussing it with him, though. I think it will be a good opportunity to talk about abuse and the horrible consequences it has. I will not allow my 11 year-old son to read it quite yet.)

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Magician's Lie

The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister


"The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her incredible trick of sawing a man in half onstage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden's husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell.  Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless--and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, the magician will need to pull off one final act--this time with her life at stake."

My Review:

This book is definitely captivating. It drew me in from the beginning, and I was hooked. It is well written with descriptive language and great character development. I thought Arden, Clyde, Adelaide, and Ray were especially well done. They came to life on the page. You could feel Arden's excitement while on stage, and you could feel her hesitations and fears. For a lot of the book Clyde seems a bit mysterious, and I think that was done purposefully. Can you trust him? What are his intentions and motives? Even though he's a bit mysterious, he is still well developed. Ray is.......well.....I'll let you figure that one out, but let's just say that I don't like him and his character is developed a little too well for me......I loved Adelaide's character even though she isn't in the entire book. I loved how she brought Arden down to earth, and was motherly yet not. She grounded Arden, and I liked that. Virgil was an interesting character. You don't know much about him at the beginning, yet he's a likable character and you can tell that there is something he wants from all of this. His motives become a little more clear as you're reading. The story flows well and is easy to understand. It's intriguing, and I couldn't put it down. It's interesting because the whole time I was reading I was wondering if the entire story was a lie or if it was the truth. That's one of the reasons I had to keep reading; I had to know what really happened!

This book has some profanity in it, although not much. There is a lot of domestic violence and abuse in this book, and it is difficult and uncomfortable to read. There is a murder. There is also a scene where many people die a horrific death, and that scene is actually based on a real event. It's bad. The other thing that this book contains is a lot of "intimacy." There is one scene in particular....I haven't read a scene like that in a long time. It is very detailed and passionate, let's just say that. So be prepared. I thought it was definitely too much. One other silly thing that bugged me was the cover. If you look at it, it doesn't work. The hand that is holding the bird can't be the lady wearing the dress, it doesn't work. Silly, I know. With the exception of a few of those previously mentioned scenes, I really enjoyed the book and the story line. It would have been really good had those things been toned done a bit.

Rating: R (Not appropriate for younger viewers!! Domestic violence, murder, many people die a horrific death, and a lot of detailed "intimacy.")

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!!!

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!!!

"The more that you read, the more things you will know. The 

more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

~Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts to Theodore and Henrietta Geisel. His mother's maiden name was Seuss, and it was also his middle name. At Dartmouth College, he worked on the school's humor magazine called the Jack-O-Lantern, until he and his friends were caught having a drinking party, which was not allowed. His official position was terminated, but he continued to contribute under the name "Seuss." Ted's father wanted him to be a college professor, and so after Dartmouth he went to Oxford University in England. He became bored, though, and ended up touring Europe instead. While he was there he met Helen Palmer. They later married, and she became a children's book author. When he returned from Europe, he tried to be a cartoonist, and did publish a few things. However, he did work for Standard Oil for 15 years creating their advertising campaigns. Towards the beginning of WWII, he began contributing political cartoons to PM Magazine. He also worked on creating training movies. After working on the illustrations for  a collection of children's sayings for Viking Press, which didn't do well, he wrote And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times before Vanguard Press published it. It was his next book, The Cat in the Hat, that really began his career. It was a joint effort between Houghton-Mifflin and Random House, and they asked him to write a story using "only 225 'new-reader' vocabulary words."(1) He passed away on September 24, 1991. At the time of his death he had written and illustrated 44 children's books. Over 200 million copies of his books have been sold, and he was awarded "two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award and the Pulitzer Prize."(1) 

Our home library has many Dr. Seuss books in it, and they have been read many, many times! My children have loved them, and the kids I taught at school also loved them. Dr. Seuss is beloved by many, and has contributed to my love of reading as well as my kids' love of reading. Thank you Dr. Seuss for your creativity, determination, and imagination! 


Here are some great links to Dr. Seuss information and activities!!!

Have fun celebrating today!!!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Raising A Reader

Raising A Reader

Today's tip for Raising A Reader is to:
Find the genres and topics that interest your children. 

Let them pick books out to read! They usually know what they like. If not, start with their hobbies and talents. Children will easily get bored and disinterested if they are reading things they aren't interested in, just like adults! So, if you have a dancer, try books about dancing--fiction and nonfiction. If you have a scientist, find books that relate to science. If you have a baseball fan, find books about famous baseball players, the game of baseball, etc. If that doesn't work, keep trying. Try fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, fantasy, biographies, mysteries, magazines, or even comic books (Yes, I know......but you may need to start somewhere!). I've noticed that a lot of books, even novels, are now written in graphic novel format, which looks more like a comic book. This might be a good way to transition from comic books to novels. You could try audio books too. Some children may also be more sensitive to having the main character the same gender as them. If you have a girl, try books that have strong female main characters, or opposite for a boy. Anything you can get them to read is a good place to start, and then you can build from there. If you're still stumped, ask the child's teacher what the other kids in the class are reading. Many times children will talk about the books they're reading and give good reviews. This may interest your child. It's fun to read what *everyone* is reading, and be in the know! Librarians are also very helpful when it comes to finding good books. You are always welcome to search my blog as well! I have a pretty good list for many different age groups.
Fiction: Fantasy
Fiction: Adventure
Nonfiction: Adventure, Biography
Fiction: Sci-Fi
Realistic Fiction
Click on any of the above books for my reviews.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

(Summary taken from "Eleanor Estes’s The Hundred Dresses won a Newbery Honor in 1945 and has never been out of print since. At the heart of the story is Wanda Petronski, a Polish girl in a Connecticut school who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress every day. Wanda claims she has one hundred dresses at home, but everyone knows she doesn’t and bullies her mercilessly. The class feels terrible when Wanda is pulled out of the school, but by that time it’s too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda’s classmates, ultimately decides that she is "never going to stand by and say nothing again." This powerful, timeless story has been reissued with a new letter from the author’s daughter Helena Estes, and with the Caldecott artist Louis Slobodkin’s original artwork in beautifully restored color."

Where have I been? Seriously....1945 and I've never even heard about this book. I love my daughter's second grade teacher; her class book group has introduced me to a couple of great books, and this is one of them. And it's timeless. Bullying is still an issue today. I felt so bad for Wanda because she had so much conviction each time she said she had 100 dresses all lined up in her closet. She would even bring it up. I asked my daughter as we were reading it why she thought Wanda would always bring it up, and she didn't have an answer. Why bring up something that the other girls will bully you for? I loved the surprise at the end that answers this question. I love how it all comes together, and I love that Wanda was telling the truth! The descriptions of the other girls are perfect. I have been listening to the girls at my kids' school, and although I haven't heard any bullying, their voices and attitudes sound about the same as the girls in the book. This book is written well. The descriptions are right-on, along with the feelings and attitudes of the teacher and students. I love Maddie. I love that she recognizes the girls' behavior as terrible. I wish she would have stood up for Wanda in the moment, but it is her internal torment that teaches the lesson in the book. It is her conscience that allows the reader to see the consequences of bullying; both to the child being bullied and to the bully. She may never be able to go back and fix the situation with Wanda, but she can definitely make a difference in the future. 

This is a wonderful story that is full of life lessons. It was a great opportunity for my daughter and I to discuss the issue of bullying in a safe and comfortable way. Reading this story allowed my second grader to see the consequences of bullying without me (or her teacher) just preaching to her. My daughter could read most of the story herself, although it was fairly difficult for her. There are some really good vocabulary words that were a little more difficult to read: incredulously, stolidly, arithmetic, exquisite, deliberately, and I'm glad I read it with her to help her with those words. It was also a really good way to discuss the issues. I highly recommend reading it with your child. I definitely recommend every second/third grade girl reading this book. Let's stop bullying while these girls are still fairly little.

Rating: PG (Bullying)

Recommendation: Second grade and up as a silent read, and K and up as a read-aloud.

This review was originally posted on 11/21/13.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mercy Snow

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker


"In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a steady rhythm of life. But one day, a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course of destruction. June McAllister, the wife of the local paper mill owner, discovers a dark secret about the crash that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life. She will do anything to cover it up. But the recently arrived Snow family, a group of itinerant ne'er-do-wells, has different ideas--especially Mercy Snow, whose brother is blamed for the accident. She will do anything to save him. The stakes reach new heights when a skeleton is discovered on the Snow's land, not far from the crash site. As June and Mercy move closer to the truth of the crash, even the oldest bonds will be tested, and Titan Falls finds itself leaving history behind as it moves into an uncertain future."

My Review:

I really enjoyed this book. It's full of mystery, tradition, lies, cover-ups, young love, betrayal, loyalty, growth, and survival. The writing just draws you in and doesn't let go. You get sucked into this world of Titan Falls and its paper mill. The character development is so well done. I felt like I was a part of their world. I liked June at the beginning of the book, but by the end my opinion of her had done a 180. I liked Fergus and his wife Hazel. She was a little odd, and quick to bow to others' wishes, but I liked her. I liked the Snows. Mercy, Hannah, and Zeke. I felt bad for them and their poor circumstances. I liked Mercy's drive to be independent. I liked how she worked hard to take care of Hannah. Even though Zeke isn't in the book for very long, I liked him. There's a lot said about him, some good and some bad, but I think deep down he's a good guy. I liked Nate and felt bad for the position he was in. Ms. Baker's use of words and description allows the story to come alive as you're reading, and I love it when that happens. There were a few things that were predictable, but there were also some surprises. Either way I kept on reading.

There is some profanity in this book, including a couple of "f" words. You know me, I wish it didn't have any, but overall it's not too bad. There is some minor violence including the death of at least one character and a couple of animals. There's a teenage "intimacy" scene, and the description of a rape that happened before the story began. Neither one has too much detail.

I think this would make a great book group read, and I think there could be some very good discussions. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it with the previously stated warnings.

Rating: R (Profanity, including a couple of "f" words, violence including the death of a character and a few animals, an "intimacy" scene and the description of a rape that happened before the story began.)

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.