Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "Once, in a house on Egypt Street, there lived a china rabbit named Edward Tulane. The rabbit was very pleased with himself, and for good reason: he was owned by a girl named Abilene, who adored him completely. And then, one day, he was lost... Kate DiCamillo takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the depths of the ocean to the net of a fisherman, from the bedside of an ailing child to the bustling streets of Memphis. Along the way, we are shown a miracle--that even a heart of the most breakable kind can learn to love, to lose, and to love again."

My daughter's second grade class read this book for their book club last month. I hadn't ever read it before now.  Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. He belongs to a girl named Abilene and he lives a very comfortable life. He wears fancy clothes and gets to sit at the big table with the family for dinner. Abilene loves him. A lot. Unfortunately for Edward, he is grumpy and criticizes everything. He does not love as he should. Abilene goes on a big boat and Edward is lost overboard. He falls to the bottom of the ocean, and there starts a very long and difficult journey for him. As he travels from place to place and from person to person, he slowly begins to learn how to love. I didn't love this book. My daughter's teacher said it is one of her favorite books, and a lot of the kids in the class gave it five stars, but for some reason it just didn't click with me. I thought it was slow, kind of boring, and predictable. Some of the characters are a little scary, and there is a very sad part in it. The lesson, though, is really good. Loving those around you, really loving them, and enjoying the time you spend with them, while you have them, is an invaluable lesson. 

Rating: PG (A few scary and rough characters, the death of a main character)

Recommendation: As a silent reading book: 2nd grade and up
                            As a read-aloud: Kindergarten and up (My kindergartener read it with us and did fine with it.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Year With Six Sister's Stuff

A Year With Six Sisters' Stuff: 52 Menu Plans, Recipes, and Ideas To Bring Families Together 

(Summary taken from the inside book cover) "What's for dinner?" Three words every mom dreads. Don't panic! The Six Sisters are here to help you answer that question. The sisters have gathered together more than 150 of their most popular recipes for entrees, side dishes, and desserts and have combined them into 52 stress-free menus of perfectly prepared three-course meals. Filled with delicious tried-and-true family favorites and oh-so-easy-to-make dishes, A Year with Six Sisters' Stuff features all-new recipes using basic ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. Each menu is designed to make your dinner plans as easy as possible--and with such wide variety and a photograph accompanying every recipe in the book, you can easily mix and match menus to create a year's worth of dinner ideas. In addition, the Sisters share some of their favorite family dinner traditions and crafts, as well as 52 dinner conversation starters, a list of pantry staples, and, food storage plan for beginners. So, what's for dinner? Whatever you'd like."

Oh, how I love these six sisters! They have saved many a dinner time for me! I reviewed their previous cookbook, and some of those recipes have become new family favorites. I make them all the time. I was really excited to get this new book and try some more recipes! I love the format of this book. It is different from the last one in that the recipes are combined into three courses. So, there's usually an entree, a side, and a dessert. Sometimes instead of a dessert there's a fun slush or dip. It's great. I also love the extras that come in this book. The 52 conversation starters are fun. For example, number 13 asks, "Which character in a book best describes you and why?" There are instructions for a DIY chalk menu board and a list of staples you should have in your pantry. I love the idea for a "Thankful Tablecloth" and I will definitely be doing it with my families at Thanksgiving this year! One idea that is not really healthy, but super fun, and the kids will absolutely love, is the "Crazy Dinner" tradition. On Thanksgiving Eve, mom is cooked-out. She has been working, and will continue to work very hard to get Thanksgiving dinner ready. To give her a break, everyone gets $5 and you head to the grocery store. Each person gets to purchase whatever food they want with their $5, and that is what you have for dinner. The sisters say that one of them picked a frozen pizza, another picked "crab dip, chicken nuggets, French bread, waffles, chocolate cake." Crazy and random, right? Once a year is good for this tradition, but we may need to try it out one time. I made the "Slow Cooker Sticky Chicken," and it was very good. I've been making my mom's Teriyaki chicken for as long as I can remember, and everyone loves it. Well, don't tell my mom, but I'll probably be making this version from now on. It is so good! It didn't turn out sticky, but that is most likely the cook's error. The taste was divine, and I'm glad I put in an extra chicken breast because we ate it all! I've also made the "Honey-Lime Chicken Enchiladas," and they are fabulous. Are you hungry yet? Just listen to these names: Layered Peanut Butter Brownies, Twix Caramel Popcorn, Balsamic Asparagus, Crunchy Black Bean Tacos, Butterfinger Blondies, Creamy Chicken Lasagna, and on, and on, and on. Yummy, right? Yay! I'm so excited to continue trying these new recipes out. I love adding new favorites to our list!

Rating: G (Clean and Delicious!)

Recommendation: Great for everyone!

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

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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

(Summary taken from the first page of the book) "A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island--from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A.J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming."

As many of you may know, I do not read book summaries before I read books. I like the surprise, and I like to start reading a book and just let it take me on the journey. This book was very different from my expectations. I definitely did not expect the story that unfolded before me. That's what I love about reading; I love the different places it takes me and the surprises along the way. Ms. Zevin had me hooked from the start. I loved her writing style. Her descriptions are very well done, and her character development is so good. I liked Amelia from the start. I did not, however, like A.J.  at the beginning of the book. What an ornery and rude man! I felt bad for Amelia because she seemed so nice and was just trying to do her job. I loved her quirkiness and her eccentric personality and dress. The descriptions of the bookstore and the island were well done and drew me in. I love bookstores, have I ever mentioned that? I would love to go see A.J.'s if it were really there. I also fell in love with Ismay and Lambiase. They were great supporting characters. I also liked Maya. She was so smart! The growth of the characters throughout the book was one of my favorite parts. I really enjoyed watching them as they grew and evolved. A.J., especially, grew into a character that I could actually like. He still had some stubborn and frustrating moments, but overall, I liked him as a character at the end of the book. I wish I could go to Lambiase's book club. As a reader, I enjoyed hearing about all the literature. Although, there were times I felt dumb because I hadn't heard of a lot of the books that were mentioned. I had read some of them, so that gave me hope that I'm not completely uninformed. I liked the hint of mystery in this book; it added an interesting turn of events. I laughed and I cried. This book has something for every reader. I ended up really enjoying this book. I felt like Alice Island was my home, and the people there were lifelong friends.

Unfortunately, I didn't love the last page of the book. It wasn't too pertinent to the story, so I still enjoyed the book as a whole, but I didn't think it really fit. I found it to be mildly offensive, and it seemed like it was thrown in more for shock value, or something. I'm not sure, but I wish she had left a bunch of that last page out. There is language in this book, especially the "f" word. Yes, there are a bunch of them. Boo. There is other profanity, but not a ton. There are "intimacy" scenes, innuendos, and discussions about it. There is a character who cheats on his wife, and it is discussed. There is also a suicide.

Rating: R (Not appropriate for younger readers) Language, especially the "f" word, and "intimacy" scenes, innuendos, and discussions, along with a man who cheats on his wife. There is a fatal car accident as well.

Recommendation: Adult

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "It is hard enough for Mr. Popper to support himself, Mrs. Popper, Bill, and Janie Popper. The addition of twelve penguins to the family makes it almost impossible to make ends meet. Now Mr. Popper has sixteen mouths to feed! But Mr. Popper has a splendid idea--the talented penguins would be a sensation on stage!"

I love penguins! I'll just put that out there. When I taught first grade I had a HUGE penguin unit. When I go to SeaWorld I have to go spend time with the penguins. I have read and studied them like crazy. I have seen every penguin documentary out there. Crazy? Yep. I know. But it's ok. We'll just keep my little obsession a secret, ok? I think that is why I like this book so much. It's a little nerdy, but it's super fun and there are lots of penguins in it. I, of course, read this book to my students while we studied the penguins. I have also read it to all my children. And they have all enjoyed it as much as I have. It's just crazy and fun. I love Mr. Popper. He's very funny and quirky. The penguins are the star of the show, and I love their different personalities. I think the accommodations Mr. Popper makes for the penguins in the house are creative and well thought out. I do have to say that I relate to Mrs. Popper a lot more than I want to right now. Haha.....she goes crazy with the mess the penguins make in the house. Four kids make a big enough mess in my house, I can't imagine adding twelve penguins to the mix. I also hate to be cold, so having a freezer and an ice rink as a basement wouldn't make me happy either. The performances that the penguins do are imaginative, and the kids love to hear about all the crazy things the penguins do, especially the mischievous things they do. This book is fun for all ages, is clean, and makes a great read-aloud! My daughter's second grade class read it for their book group, and it was a little difficult for her to read, but she could read some of it by herself. My kindergartener loved listening as well. (Shhh.....don't tell my fifth and sixth graders that I know they were listening even though they were pretending they were too cool to listen to this story as well. :)

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: As a silent read second grade might be ok for really good readers. For sure third grade. As a read-aloud, preschool and up will enjoy it. It's great for everyone!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Who Needs A Man?

Who Needs A Man? by E.J. Russell

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "Lydia gets dumped on Christmas Day. Pregnant. It changes her forever. For the better. Nothing will ever be the same because Lydia has taken control of her life. She thinks. A topical, funny and light hearted look at making a modern choice, being pregnant, single motherhood, family and friends. This is Lydia's story, take the journey with her through heartache, recovery, life changing decisions, pregnancy and birth."

Awhile back I read Return to the Aegean by E.J. Russell. Besides some profane language, I really enjoyed the book and Ms. Russell's writing. This book, however, left me very disappointed. Maybe it's my situation and my life. I love my husband and I can't imagine my life without him. He occasionally travels for work, and I dread it when he goes because it's hard to take care of the kids all by myself. I have gained a huge appreciation for single mothers over the years. I don't know how they do it. Who needs a man? I do! I don't want to do it by myself. I want and need everything he is. Also, I love what my husband does with and for our children. He brings things to the table that I am not able to. It's both of us working together that make our family run, and we both have different talents and areas of expertise to give to the kids. So, you can see that I do not relate at all to this book. This woman gets upset when her boyfriend breaks up with her. She is pregnant and he leaves her all alone. Yes, that would be awful. I get it. Then she loses the baby and is sad. Rather than live her life and try to meet someone new, she just decides to give up on men altogether and have a baby all by herself with a donor. Had I gone into this book reading it for humorous pregnancy anecdotes then I may have enjoyed it. She is kind of a whiny pregnant woman, and I just kept thinking, "Then why did you get pregnant?? Don't complain."  She just frustrated me. Like I said, I don't relate to her at all. There may be women who do relate to her, and they may really enjoy this story. Other than the fact that I wasn't a huge fan of the story, I didn't love the writing. The journal entries made it a bit choppy, and the writing just didn't grab me. The characters were ok, but not developed enough. Unfortunately, this book just fell flat for me. I was really disappointed because I did enjoy Ms. Russell's previous book. However, if you relate to Lydia and her story then you may enjoy this story. Maybe I'm just too traditional in my views to enjoy this book. 

There is profanity in this book. There isn't any violence, but there is a lot of talk about break-ups and miscarriages. There is also talk of in vitro fertilization and other ways to get pregnant. There is talk of donors and lots of talk on pregnancy and delivering a baby. Needless to say, a younger reader would not be interested in this book, and it isn't appropriate for them.

Rating: R (Language, and the whole premise of the book is not appropriate for younger readers.)

Recommendation: Adult

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Escucha Means Listen

Escucha Means Listen by Talia Aikens-Nunez

(Summary taken from an email sent to me by the author) "This bilingual picture book journey through our world introduces children and toddlers to the sounds around them in English and Spanish. From the blaring sound of an ambulance to the buzzing of bees,Escucha Means Listen is written mostly in English but sprinkled with Spanish to introduce children to the language."

This is a darling book! The pictures are bright and colorful, and the little girl is so cute! Not only is it a book children will love, it is also one they can learn from, which I love! The little girl tells you to listen (escucha), and then she takes you on this journey of sounds. From the ambulance (la ambulancia) to the squirrels (las ardillas), and everything in between, children will hear the sounds, learn the words, and love every minute of it. I love that the Spanish versions of some of the sounds are very different from the English sounds, but some of them are the same. This would be great for a beginning Spanish class. It is also great for people like me who speak some Spanish, but who don't have a clue how to teach it to their kids. It's just an all-around fun book. I really enjoyed it! I read it to my 5 year-old daughter and she said she liked it. I recommend this book for everyone!

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: Everyone!!!

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lost Lake

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

(Summary taken from inside the book jacket) "The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future. That was half a lifetime ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby's past. Her husband, George, is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that's left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the southern George heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires. It's a lot, but it's not enough to keep Eby from calling this her final summer at the lake, and relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door. Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness and heartbreak and loss. Now she's all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope, too, thanks to her resilient daughter, Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer...and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago."

I really liked this book! I loved the feeling of magical fate in this book. I loved the feelings of letting go (Hahaha.....guess what is playing on my ipod right now?? Yep, "Let It Go" from "Frozen." Funny.) and moving on. I loved the lesson of not being a victim and of taking control of your own life. The characters are very well done and I loved almost all of them. Kate is such a good character. I loved the first words of the first chapter: "'Wake up Kate!' And, exactly one year to the day that she fell asleep, Kate finally did." Wow, right? I was intrigued from the start. Why had she been asleep for a whole year? What had caused that? Was she in a coma? And as I read I became more and more entranced with Kate's story. I loved her daughter Devin. You know that sleep Kate had been in? Well, it was more of an indifference for the world around her. She was in mourning after the death of her husband. She had functioned almost normally, she just hadn't been quite as awake as normal. She had thought her daughter hadn't noticed. She had. I love this line: "'I've missed you,' she said, then ran away again, leaving Kate standing there, shocked. Kate didn't think anyone knew. But Devin did. She knew Kate had been asleep all this time." I love the writing in this book. It's easy to read and understand, and it just pulls you in. It's very well done. I love many of the other characters as well. I loved Eby and George and their relationship. Their honeymoon was awesome. I wish my husband and I could have done that! I love the love that Eby has for him, and him for her. I love all the ladies at Lost Lake. They are a fun and eccentric group! Hahaha......it makes me wonder what kind of old lady I will be. :) I really enjoyed watching the growth and coming alive of both Kate and Devin in the story. There's a hint of magic in the book, and it caught me as corny at first, but then I just got lost in the story. There are some surprises that caught me off guard, and they brought the story together. It was a little slow in parts, but not enough to make me stop reading. I love personal interest stories. I'm amazed at how different people live. 

There are only a few profane words in this book, and they are minor ones. I'd say it's 99% clean. There is an attempted suicide, but you don't know that until after, and there is a suicide, but it is kind of more background information. There is also a house fire that ends up killing two people, but it happened before the story takes place, so it is also a background story. There is one character, Selma, who is quite the "lady." She has had seven husbands, and they were all married when she seduced them. With her comes the aura of all things "intimacy" related. There aren't any scenes, but there are innuendos and she talks about it. 

I really liked this book. I liked the hint of mystery, romance, and magic. I loved the lessons of family, moving on after bad things happen, finding yourself, not letting others run your life, and loving those around you. I definitely recommend this book!

*Favorite quotes*
"You can't change where you came from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don't like the ending, you make up a new one." (pg. 254)

"When your cup is empty, you do not mourn what is gone. Because if you do, you will miss the opportunity to fill it again."

Rating: PG-13+ (Minor profanity; suicide; "intimacy" innuendos and talk of, including seducing married men; a house fire that kills two people )

Recommendation: 14-15 and up, depending on the maturity of  the reader. Parents should read it first to decide if their child is mature enough.

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