Wednesday, July 9, 2014

That Night

THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens

(Summary taken from
"They said she was a murderer.
They said she killed her sister.
But they lied.
As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.
Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.
Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.
But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all."
July's SheReads selection is "That Night" by Chevy Stevens. This is the first time SheReads has selected a suspense, murder mystery, and I was excited to read it. Chapter One intrigued me. There is this woman who is getting out of prison after what sounds like a very long sentence. I wondered what she had done to be imprisoned for so long. I wondered why she didn't have any family to pick her up or get her new clothes to wear. I wanted to know more of the story. And then I got to Chapter Two. Chapter Two flashes back to this same woman when she was in high school. Her name is Toni, as you later figure out. And that is where I lost interest. Seriously. I've read a bunch of the SheReads reviews of this book, and so far I'm the only one who didn't enjoy it. I think this is why: I am 100% opposite of Toni. I'm opposite in every way. I could not relate to her at all. Yep, I'm the one who was called "good-goody" and "teacher's pet" in school. I'm the one who would study rather than go to a party. I've never done drugs, smoked, or tasted alcohol. Those things never interested me in school, and they don't now. I know I'm in the minority in this so others may feel differently, but I just couldn't relate to her. I found her extremely unlikable and disagreeable. I cringed at all the things she did and started praying that my kids won't do those things. I didn't relate to Ryan either. Or Nicole. Or the friends. Or her parents. Ok, Toni's dad is probably the one person I kind of liked. But he wasn't that great either. It's not that I judge her, or anyone, for choosing those things, I don't, I just do not do them myself, and therefore can't relate to those experiences. The writing style was ok; there were some twists and turns that I hadn't anticipated. The character development was good. Even though it flashed back and forth between the present and the past it was fairly easy to follow, so that wasn't the problem. The problem was that I didn't like Toni or Ryan or really anyone. I couldn't find a way to like them or care about them. I also felt like Toni being bullied in high school, prison, the half-way house, and after was unrealistic. I didn't like her victim mentality. It just kept going and going. I did feel bad that they had been in prison if they were innocent, like they claimed, but that's as far as it went. And if she were that worried about being bullied, why would she go back there? Why not move somewhere completely different and get a fresh start? The other problem for me was the language. There is so much profanity in this book that I found it distracting. And it's not just the easy to skip words, it's them plus dozens of the "f' word. And the teen-age intimacy, drug use, smoking. All of it put together just made this book completely unappealing to me. 
There is gruesome murder, lots of teen-age intimacy, smoking, drug use, stealing, lying, fighting, and way too much profanity. There are dozens of "f" words and lots of the other words. I guess it did do a few things for me: if I had ever thought of wanting to go to prison (which I haven't)--I FOR SURE don't want to now! Also, Toni does realize that her drug use was a problem and she ends up quitting. So that was a positive.
Rating: R (Murder, teen-age intimacy, smoking, drug use, stealing, lying, fighting, lots of profanity, including many "f" words)
Recommendation: Adult (This book is NOT appropriate for YA or anyone younger than an adult.)

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014

George Goes To Mars

George Goes To Mars by Simon Dillon

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me) "When George Hughes discovers he has inherited the planet Mars, he goes from poverty to becoming the richest boy on Earth overnight. Accompanied by his new guardian, a mysterious secret agent, and a crew of astronauts, George voyages to Mars to sell land to celebrities wanting to build interplanetary homes. But sabotage, assassination attempts and an alien threat plunge him into a deadly adventure."

This book has a little bit of everything: action, adventure, mystery, space, a touch of romance, a few surprises, and some politics scattered here and there. know how I feel about that last one in middle-grade and early YA books. Yeah, not my favorite. Anyway, there are some good moments in this book. I liked a few of the characters. I liked Giles and I liked George's parents. I also liked a few of the characters on the space expedition. For some reason, I just didn't latch onto George. I'm not quite sure why, but I didn't relate to him at all. The story line was ok. I actually found a lot of it too unbelievable to even go with. It's not fantasy where you can kind of go with it, it's sci-fi and supposed to be realistic, and I didn't really find it to be realistic. The whole premise was a little out there for me. I wanted to like this book because I liked "Uncle Flynn," Mr. Dillon's other book, but it just kind of fell flat for me. My boys might like it more than I did; maybe it's more of a boy thing. I usually like sci-fi, and space can interest me, but this time I just didn't care what happened to George (even though I wanted to), and that usually isn't a good sign. 

There are a couple of swear words, but that's all. There's some violence with fighting and bullies, and a deadly river with some graphic descriptions. There are some deaths as well. 

I might give this to my boys to read (they are 12 and 10), because it may just be a boy thing. I'll let you know if they enjoy it more than I did.

Rating: PG+ (Minor language, violence with bullies, deaths, fighting in a war, and a deadly river with some graphic descriptions)

Recommendation: 5th grade and up (10-11 year-old), and  I think boys will be more interested than girls.

(It's only $.99 on right now, so it might be worth the read.)

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

(Summary taken from "At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloguing the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised. In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Momuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis."

After I saw the new movie titled "The Monuments Men," I learned that it was based on a book. You know me, I'd usually rather read the book than watch the movie. I liked the movie a lot, and couldn't wait to get my hands on the book. And then I got my hands on the book. This may be the ONLY time you ever hear me say this, but (it hurts to even say it.....) I liked the movie more than I liked the book. Ouch! I can't believe those words just came out, but it's true. I can see why they made the changes in the movie that they did; it made the story so much more exciting and interesting. Don't get me wrong, the story to be told is very interesting, and I wanted to learn about it, and there's a lot of good information in the book. The characters in the book, these Monuments Men and women who helped, are great people and are great characters. They each have their own qualifications and stories. Also, in the artwork that they saved are many famous and well-loved pieces that I have heard about. The problem for me in this book was too much information. There were so many different people that I had a difficult time remembering who was who. Many of the names are German or French and I had a hard time keeping track of these unfamiliar names. Also (and this is probably my fault), I hadn't heard of most of the works of art discussed in the book, so they didn't mean anything to me. The first 200 pages were very slow going; it's not a fast read, at all. I was hoping it would be written a little better. I didn't think it flowed very well, and you add to that all the different people and places, and it became confusing and kind of boring. It wasn't until I hit page 200 that I finally started getting used to the names and places, and the story picked up a little. It took me about three weeks to read this book, and I'm used to reading one to two books a week. So I was getting a little irritated, and it is now a week late at the library because it took me so long to read it. If you're interested in the history of the story, it's worth reading. Just know that it's different from the movie, and in a more drawn-out and confusing way. Of course, it's more true to what actually happened than the movie is, but it just didn't have the same feeling for me. If you're a history buff or enjoy learning about WWII, then I think it's still worth reading, just be prepared for a long read.

Rating: PG-13+ (Language, WWII atrocities-it doesn't go into a ton of detail on these, but they are mentioned)

Recommendation: High School and up

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uncle Flynn

Uncle Flynn by Simon Dillon

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me) "When timid eleven year old Max Bradley embarks on a hunt for buried treasure on Dartmoor with his mysterious Uncle Flynn, he discovers he is braver than he thought. Together they decipher clues, find a hidden map and explore secret tunnels in their search. But with both police and rival treasure hunters on their tail, Max begins to wonder if his uncle is all he seems..."

I liked this book. I liked the characters, especially Max. I also liked Uncle Flynn. I thought they were developed well. Uncle Flynn is quite mysterious; there isn't a whole lot of history or detail in regards to him, but it definitely makes him more intriguing. The writing is okay; it moves a little slowly in some parts, but then the action will pick up in others. There are some surprises and twists that made the book more exciting and interesting. There are a few unbelievable parts, but it's ok because by the time you get to them you're hooked and you just keep reading anyway. I liked the adventure and mystery in this book. I enjoyed the story and thought it was entertaining. I think that the middle-grade and early YA crowd will especially enjoy it.

There were one or two swear words and some close calls with a panther. There are some bad guys who try throughout the book to capture or kill Max. 

I enjoyed this book and am now excited to hand it over to my 12 and 10 year-olds. I think they'll enjoy it as well.

Rating: PG+ (One or two swear words, some minor violence)

Recommendation: 5th grade and up (As far as content goes, I think it would be okay for fourth graders, and maybe even a really good third grade reader, but the way it is written lends itself more toward a reader that is a little bit older.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summer Fit

Summer Fit Workbooks

People ask me all the time what homework I give my kids over the summer. I have used the Summer Fit workbooks for a few years now, and I LOVE them!!! They have a level for each grade in elementary school, which is great. The workload is the perfect amount. Each day there is a page of reading and a page of math. It isn't super hard, but it is hard enough to keep the kids from forgetting everything over the summer. I love the Friday material. Every Friday is a value (compassion, determination.....that kind of thing), and it highlights a person who exemplifies that value. The kids do activities surrounding that value and person. Also, each day has an exercise for the kids to do. It's not hard, but it gets them up and moving. And the great thing about these books is that it eliminates all the mom-work. There's no searching the internet or printing off individual worksheets, it's all right there in the book. It makes mom's job so much easier!!! I highly recommend this product!!!

The one bad thing??? I have a son going into 7th grade, and they do not go that high. :( Maybe next year they will. Here's to hoping!!!

Rating: G (clean!!!)

Recommendation: Pre-K-6th grade

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Raising A Reader

Raising A Reader

Having a good home library is my next tip for raising a reader. It is important to have a wide variety of good books: picture books, chapter books, nonfiction and fiction. A wide variety of topics is also a good idea. You also want to make sure you have books that are at the correct level for your child. If the books are too easy then the child will not be challenged and will easily bore. If the books are too difficult then the child will be more likely to be frustrated and not enjoy reading. If money is an issue then the county library is a great resource. At my house we usually visit the library either every week or every other week. Thrift stores can also be a great place to find books. 

A funny thing about kids (and adults too), we are visual, and we do judge books by their covers. Think of a grocery store. How is the cereal stocked on the shelves? The front "covers" face you, the boxes aren't stocked sideways. Why is that? It's because the bright colors, cartoon mascots, titles, and pictures stand out and make you want to buy them. Books should be stored that same way. Children are more likely to pick up a book if they can see the picture on the front than they are if they just look at the title on the spine (the way libraries stock the books). I just bought some black plastic crates and store my books in those. When I was teaching I saw rooms that had raingutters screwed into the walls and books stored in them. Pinterest has some fun ideas to make your own. Here are a few ideas:

Have fun and be creative! But most importantly, have books available for your children. The more the better!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Runaway Ralph

Runaway Ralph (Book #2) by Beverly Cleary

(Summary taken from inside the book jacket) "Ralph is the only mouse living at the Mountain View Inn who owns a motorcycle--which means he has the perfect opportunity to explore the mysterious "summer camp" nearby. Ralph isn't sure what a summer camp is, but he's determined to find out. One night, fed up with his younger relatives' pesky demands to borrow his motorcycle, he takes off for Happy Acres Camp. But once he gets there, he's confronted by a watchdog, a grouchy gopher, and an entire family of cats. Then he's captured by an unhappy boy named Garf. Ralph is desperate to escape....but maybe he needs to help Garf before Garf can help him."

Ralph is at it again, and this time he is even more adventurous! He actually leaves the hotel and travels to the summer camp. This is a fun sequel to The Mouse and the Motorcycle. My daughter (going into third grade) just finished it, and she loved it as much as I did. I'm so happy that this new technological-savvy group of kids can still enjoy a classical fun story. I love that I can share with her the books I loved as a child, and that she enjoys them as well. This book not only has action and adventure, but it also has some good lessons. Ralph learns that he can't "judge a book by its cover," when it comes to human friends, and he learns that sometimes solutions to problems take time. There is even a lesson about jumping to conclusions and judging someone to be guilty without giving him a chance to explain or share his side of the story. All these lessons are pertinent today. Even though Garf comes across as grumpy and isolated, you know that he just wants a friend, and he wants to be trusted. This book has some fun characters in it, and is well written. It's a fun series. It would also make a great read-aloud. My daughter is going into third grade next year and was able to read it on her own. It's about a second grade reading level, it may be okay for a really high-level first grader. As a read-aloud I'd say preschool and above.

Rating: G (It's clean! There are a few scenes that may be a little scary for some preschoolers, but that's it!)

Recommendation: As a read-aloud: Preschool and up. As a silent read: Second grade and up.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jack and Yani Love Harry Potter

Jack and Yani Love Harry Potter by Mary E. Twomey

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me) "Best friends Jack and Yani do everything together. After Yani’s thirtieth birthday party, however, she decides to leave town on a spontaneous vacation to visit all the sites of the young adult fiction novels she loves, hoping that when she returns, she’ll have buried the secret flame she has for Jack. Forced by his friends to go on a road trip to track down Yani, Jack learns a lot about his best friend by reading the novels she’s been obsessed with. From vampire hunting in Forks to searching for wizards in Florida, Jack confronts his greatest fears –that he just might love Harry Potter…and perhaps, Yani."

This is a really cute book. It's different and a little quirky, which makes it a fun read. It's mostly a girlie book, but there might be a few men out there that can handle the cheese. Yes, it is cheesy and cutesy, but it's actually ok in this book. The characters are well written and mostly true-to-life. I liked Jack and Yani a lot. They are the couple that everyone knows they should be together, except they don't know it. I related to Yani because I have read and liked a lot of YA novels, as you can see from my reviews. I've read the Twilights and the Harry Potters and enjoyed them. I also liked Jack. He seemed like a nice, down-to-earth kind of guy. Their friends are the best. They force Jack on a road trip to go find Yani. It's a very long road trip that goes from one side of the country to the other, and I'm glad they didn't all kill each other in the process. This book is written fairly well, and it's a fast easy read. I did like it. It's good for pure entertainment and a light-hearted read. Is this book all plausible and likely to happen in real life? But, that's why we read fiction, right?

There is some language in this book. Most of the language comes from one character, and that is a little humorous because one of the friend couples has a little girl, and they try to get him to stop swearing in front of her. So every time he swears they remind him to stop. Yes, I agree. Stop the swearing. There is (lots of) kissing and some innuendos. 

Rating: PG-13 (Some language, kissing, and some innuendos.)

Recommendation: 13 and up. YA. And, mostly just the girls will like it.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

Joy's Journey Home

Joy's Journey Home by Timothy Connolly

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "A heartwarming adventure seen through the eyes of a kitchen named Joy on her way back home. This story is a tale of growth and connection, which is filled with lovable characters, each with their own adventures and lessons learned, all leading Joy toward home where she belongs."

I liked this book, for the most part. It's a fast, easy read. Most of the characters are cute and lovable. I liked that one of the main characters, Angela, is deaf and uses sign language to speak. I have never read a book that has a deaf character in it, and I liked that it brought deafness and sign language to the forefront. I also liked that there were some good lessons to be learned. The characters learn about love, family, and helping each other. I did think, though, that for a cute little kitten story, it was more violent and scary than it should have been. Even though it's with a cat, there is essentially a "birds and the bees" story. I mean, it is a cat, but she falls in love with a stray boy cat, and goes off with him, then he leaves her and she comes back pregnant. She is dejected and upset because he left her alone and pregnant. I'm not sure if a little child would catch it, but I would be uncomfortable reading it to my daughters the way it is written. It's a bit much. There is also a part where a fire burns a barn, collapses, and kills a few kittens. That was a really sad and scary part. Now, there is a surprise at the end that may or may not make things better, but it happens after the sad and scary parts. I know my girls would be upset after reading that part. 

So, it has a good ending, it teaches some good lessons, and it brings deafness and sign language to the forefront. I like those things. The illustrations are very cute as well. There were a few parts, though, that I didn't think should have been in the story, or I think they should have been toned down a bit. It's tough because some of the scenes are geared more toward middle graders, but this story of a cute little kitten and her friend Angela will not appeal to them. The story line is geared toward younger children. If I read it to my girls I will definitely read it to them, and I will alter those parts a bit. It is worth reading, though, because the characters do learn some good lessons. 

Rating: PG

Recommendation: It's kind of tricky. Because it's a kitten story, middle graders really won't be interested, but a few scenes are too much for the K-3 girl crowd. I'd say K-3rd grade girls, but I'd recommend that parents read it first. Maybe other parents will be fine with it. If they read it silently, I'd make sure to discuss those parts with them. It's probably a 2nd grade reading level.

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

MUST. HAVE. Wine.: A Toast To Motherhood

MUST. HAVE. Wine: A Toast To Motherhood by Katrina Epp and Leah Speer

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "Must. Have. Wine. It's a modern mom's mantra. No matter what type of day we're having--when we've come to the end of our rope, had the best day ever, or simply just want to unwind. Along with that glass of wine, we find comfort in knowing other moms are going through the same things we are. Must. Have. Wine. A Toast To Motherhood, is a collection of relatable stories by everyday moms assuring that none of us are perfect and we're all in this crazy race together."

This is a great book for every mother to read. We have all been there. From the cheerios strewn all over the car, to the sick days and the triumphs, every mother can relate to these stories. There are some that make you laugh and some that make you cry, but they are well written, and almost every one brought back memories of times when I went through similar situations. I know that sometimes we as moms judge each other for ways we handle certain situations or if we work or stay at home. This book just takes all that away. It doesn't matter. We as moms should rally around each other, help each other, and love each other, not judge and point fingers. We each have different situations and backgrounds, and we usually do not have all the information, so instead of judging each other, let's help and support each other! Ok, now off of my soap box. This is a really fun book. I cried, laughed, and was humbled by many of the stories. You know when you're at a playgroup or at the park and you all start into stories of your labor and deliveries, or how awful it was when your kid threw up all  over in the car, or how proud you were at your daughter's first dance recital? Well, that is how this book feels. When you're reading, you feel like you're with a bunch of your mom friends just chatting away. So fun. Although I do not drink, I do have my substitute: Must. Have. Chocolate. :) So, I totally understand. I really enjoyed this book.

Rating: PG 13 (There are a few profane words, but not many. There are a few stories of body parts and a few sad stories.)

Recommendations: Adults (Moms)

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