What is your reading goal this year?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Chocrotes and the World Without Question

Chocrotes and the World Without Question by Steve Berkowitz

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me)
The allegorical story, Chocrotes and the World Without Question, explores the power of questions, and references ideas around tyranny, revolutionary movements, freedom of speech, and educational philosophy. For as long as civilization has existed, people have longed to be free. The struggle for freedom continues to this very day in countries around the world. Chocrotes and the World Without Question provides a timeless lesson that can help introduce young people to the events that are unfolding in our modern world. While there are deeper meanings and lessons tucked away in the pages of the book, the youth of the world will enjoy Chocrotes and the World Without Question’s ability to make them smile and laugh.
The setting for this book is a fantasy world inhabited strictly by Chickens. In this far off world, the Chickens live in fear of an evil King: Doodle Doo. This evil king, having usurped the throne from a Queen and King who believed in the power of questions and love, Doodle Doo turns the Chicken world upside down and destroys thousands of lives in the process.
Chocrotes is born during Doodle Doo’s reign and is raised by a scientist and professor of roostory, who believe in the power of questioning. Chocrotes believes strongly that his peaceful world has been uprooted by a fascist regime. Throughout his life Chocrotes asks questions, even though he is warned not to. It is not long before he is banished for daring to question a professor, and exiled to an island in the far reaches of the kingdom. It is there he develops a philosophical creed by which to live freely, and to inspire his fellow hens and roosters to rise up against a hateful dictator. After many years Marco Pollo, an old childhood friend, rescues Chocrotes from his island of isolation and helps return him to the world without question. Chocrotes gathers together his fellow Chickens to stand and fight against the evil king.

Chocrotes and the World Without Question was initially created as a final project at Lesley University for a graduate class, Arts and Education: History and Philosophy. I am a Masters of Education candidate with a focus on Elementary Education. My experiences in the classroom, both as a student and a teacher, have shown me how much students truly enjoy asking questions, how questions are asked constantly in their daily lives, and how curious children really are in general. I feel this story could help students understand the power of questioning to make sense of their small and large worlds. With the power of question, a person, or a Chicken can accomplish anything.
This short story is actually a modern day fable! It's been a long time since I read Aesop's fables in elementary school, and this story brings a modern day lesson to the forefront. Yesterday my son was struggling with piano and didn't want to ask his teacher any questions on how to do it better. Learning that it is okay to ask questions is a big step in each child's life. A lot of kids don't have this problem and ask a million questions a day, while others are afraid. There is a good lesson on why it is good, and important, to ask questions about lots of things. If we don't question then we don't think for ourselves.
I enjoyed this story. It's a quick 33 pages and is easy to read. It's clean, except for an evil leader who kills those who ask questions. (There aren't really any details about how those chickens die, you just know they do.) This is a great resource for teachers, especially of the older grades. It's also a good resource for parents.
Rating: PG (It's clean, but is probably better for kids who are a little older.)
Recommendation: 3rd Grade and up. I think this age group and up will better be able to understand the symbolism and the lesson.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Summer Fit

Summer Fit by Kelly Terrill and Sarria James

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "Keeping brains thinking and bodies active during school breaks is entertaining and engaging with Summer Fit workbooks and online games and activities. Created by educators, fitness trainers, and parents, Summer Fit activities focus on key areas of child development, including academics, physical fitness, and core values. Right now it might feel like a million years away, but the first day of the new school year will be soon upon us. With Summer Fit, your child will take a seat better prepared to handle the mental, physical and social challenges of the new school year."

I LOVE this product!!! I reviewed the K-1 workbook last year and then I ordered a 2-3 for another child and a 3-4 for my oldest child. I had all three children working on them all summer, and I loved it! Before I found Summer Fit I would spend hours on the internet finding worksheets and other printables to print off for my kids to work on, and with this, they just open it up and go. The workbook pages are not terribly difficult. It most likely won't be teaching anything new, but it is good to just keep the brains working and thinking all summer. I also really like the physical fitness aspect of the books. Each day the child does a brain page and then does a physical activity to keep his or her body active as well. It doesn't take long and then they are on their way to play. That's good because it is not overwhelming and the kids don't whine because they have to spend forever doing homework. And then at the end of the week there is a value. I like being able to talk about the values with my kids, and after that then you can give the kids their prize or do the activity of the week.

As a teacher (I taught 1st grade before I had my oldest child) I love this product, and now it is mom approved as well! I've even hooked my friends! Two of my friends have already ordered the books for their kids this summer. If there is something you know your child really needs to work on then you may need to supplement, but if not, you are good to go with just one book!

I don't usually do this, but if you are on Facebook then you can find the Summer Fit Facebook page at this link:  http://www.facebook.com/summerfitlearning and if you like YouTube, you may see the YouTube video at this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPVEu8USOaA .

Rating: Clean, excellent, and highly recommended!

Recommendation: Just pick the correct age group and you are ready to go!

Disclosure: I did receive this workbook free in exchange for an honest review. No need to worry, I bought two more already for my other kids. Love it!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Beneath the Dune

Beneath the Dune by Walter Ramsay

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "Tucker Lee Anderson's boss needs him to check out a story over on the beachside. Not earth-shattering, it's more of a follow up to the Ed Ventara case, he says. When Anderson, a staff reporter for a local Southern newspaper hears this, a red light goes off in his head. But wait, wasn't Ventara the serial killer convicted of killing five children, even though they only found four bodies a few years back? Following the discovery of a child's skeleton, what at first appears to be a straightforward case of suspected murder is anything but, when Anderson finds himself not only investigating the case, but also dabbling in ancestral research. This laid-back divorced dad's ordinary life soon takes a turn when in the process, he soon discovers family ties that bind him to both the present and the past-but what does this have to do with the child? Set in the Central Florida community of Brevard County, Beneath the Dune features an interesting cast of characters, and what Anderson uncovers is bound to shock a few upper class residents to the core. Steeped in suspense and blended with humor, the book has all the ingredients necessary for the making of mystery that is sure to hold you in its grip to the very end."

AAAhhhhhhh! I have been stressing over this review for a long time. What to do, what to do? I will start with the good. I liked the storyline of this book. I thought it was really interesting and wanted to see what happened in the end. I liked how there was a present and a past story, and really wanted to know how they fit together. I wanted to know more about the past....Osci, a Native American man running away from someone, but who, and why? Tucker, the main character, was an interesting guy. He is one of those guys that can't leave his big sports career in the past, which is annoying, but I have known guys like that, so it is realistic. The character development is pretty good, and it flows well.

Okay......now for the honesty and the bad. In all honesty, I did NOT finish this book. (Which doesn't happen very often) I read to page 58 and just couldn't go any further. The language in this book is awful. Tucker's language is terrible. I kept reading hoping that it would get better, but it just didn't. Tucker not only uses profane language when talking to people, but also when he is thinking. I lost track of how many "f" words were in those few 58 pages. There was also a fairly detailed "physical intimacy" scene. I'm really sorry to Mr. Ramsay, I know this is not a truly fair review if I did not finish the book, and that is why I have stressed about what to do. I have asked a lot of people what I should do, and in the end I hoped to be fair on both sides. I know it is not a fair review because I did not finish it, but I also feel the need to let my readers know so they know what to expect when reading this book. I know that language does not bother some people, and for them I say read it, it does draw you into the mystery. For those readers who are bothered by language, I do not recommend it. If you want to know more, amazon.com had a bunch of really good reviews.

Rating: R (This does not follow the movie ratings exactly, it is my way of saying that it is not appropriate for younger readers.) Profanity on pretty much every page and so many "f" words I lost track. There is also a racy "physical intimacy" scene.

Recommendation: College and up.

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

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tiger's Curse

Tiger's Curse (Book #1) by Colleen Houck

(Summary taken from inside book cover) "The last thing Kelsey Hayes thought she'd be doing this summer was trying to break a 300-year-old Indian curse. With a mysterious white tiger named Ren. Halfway around the world. But that's exactly what happened. Face-to-face with dark forces, spell-binding magic, and mystical worlds where nothing is what it seems, Kelsey risks everything to piece together an ancient prophecy that could break the curse forever. Tiger's Curse is the exciting first volume in an epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more."

Boy, are those last words true. I'm dying! I want the next book and I want it now!!! I loved this book! The cover alone draws you in, right? The beautiful blue eyes just draw you in, and that is how the whole book is. Ren's character, even though a tiger, is so intriguing. I had to keep reading to find out more about him. He is so mysterious, yet he wears his emotions on his sleeve (or fur) so to speak. At first I didn't know how it would work with a tiger as a main character, but Ms. Houck did a really good job of making it seem real. Kelsey's character is a mix between Catniss from Hunger Games and Bella from Twilight, along with some Clary from City of Bones. She's tough and stubborn like Catniss and Clary. She can take care of herself and be strong, but at the same time, she's got a Bella streak that drives me crazy. It's almost opposite of Bella, but she handles it in a similar way. I screamed at Bella and I definitely screamed at Kelsey. Just imagine me reading at night when everyone is asleep and suddenly screaming, "You stupid girl......Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!"  She has been given this great thing (I won't tell you what it is) and all she wants to do is get rid of it. It drove me crazy! But, I had to keep reading to see if she if she figured it all out. And.....well.....I'm not going to give away the ending except to say that you better just get book one and two at the same time. I also really like Mr. Kadam's character. He is also shrouded in mystery, but he adds a lot to the book. I wasn't so sure about him in the beginning. As a mom I had red flags shooting up everywhere warning danger, but.........(I won't ruin it).

This book reads easily and is well written. There are a few typos, but that's all. I like Ms. Houck's style of writing. It flows well and doesn't tell you how to feel, but you feel it. I read it in just a few days, which is kind of unheard of at the moment. I could not put it down. And, I think I dreamt of tigers a few nights. Those eyes. (Thank you illustrator Cliff Nielsen)

And, it's clean! There's no language and no violence. There is a romance in the story and a lot of feelings expressed. There is a lot of kissing, but it doesn't go further than that. There is some relationship tension which makes it a little inappropriate for really young readers. I don't want my ten-year-old reading it, even though it is clean.

Rating: PG-13 Not for content really, because it is clean. There is that sexual tension and you think that it might go further than kissing (it doesn't), but I just think it's more appropriate for a little older reader.

Recommendation: 14-15 and up. You may want to read it (because it's really good) to see whether or not it's appropriate for your child. It may be okay for a really mature 13-year-old. I love it when I can say that this is actually a good Young Adult book!

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. This does not sway my opinion as all my reviews are honest.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dizzy Miss Lizzie

Dizzy Miss Lizzie by R.M. Clark

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "Thirteen-year-old Kasey Madrid finally has the freedom she's always wanted. Instead of putting up with sitters or camps, she can spend the summer home alone in their "new" house. Never mind that the house is a creepy old place built in the nineteenth century. The creep factor skyrockets when Kasey meets a nineteenth-century girl named Lizzie Bellows in the basement. It takes some time for Lizzie to convince Kasey she's not a ghost, though neither girl understands why they can see each other when they live 120 years apart.The difference in their worlds doesn't stop the two from becoming fast friends. Lizzie's life isn't easy though. In her time, her parents died in a fire many believe Lizzie started herself. As the summer passes and Kasey learns more about her own past, she is shocked to discover Lizzie is part of a terrible Madrid family secret. It's up to Kasey to go back to Lizzie's world to unlock the secret and clear Lizzie's name.

I didn't really know what to expect with this book, but it was really fun! It was a fast, easy read, which is good. I enjoyed it! It is well written. I liked the writing style, and thought it flowed well. I liked the characters and thought they were well-developed. I liked how Lizzie and Kasey grew into good friends, and how Kasey tried to learn as much about Lizzie as possible. Even though the premise is impossible, Mr. Clark did a very good job making it seem very plausible. I also loved that it was clean! There was no language, no violence (except a small curse put on someone), and no "physical intimacy." It was great and will be great for some of the younger readers. I don't know if my 10 year-old son will like it, but maybe. Girls his age will for sure enjoy it. I enjoyed it and I'm much older than 10!

Rating: PG  (It's clean!)

Recommendation: 9 years and up. The girls will for sure enjoy it, and possibly the boys that age.

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my review, but that does not change my opinion. All my reviews are honest.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The End of Mor

The End of Mor by Mathew Bridle

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "As the youngest mage ever to pass through the University of Elements, Dekor never expected to be hunted by them. He was warned about the lust of the flame, he believed that he would not succumb, he was wrong. Running for his life, he finds help in unexpected places as he follows the voice of The One. Torn between two masters, he struggles with his inner demons while avoiding the hunters that draw ever closer in a land on the brink of war. The horde in Gnell is growing impatient, seeking to conquer the lands of men. Driven by their new King, the warlock Vargor, the goblins begin to test the mettle of men. Will anyone come to the aid of Mages or will the horde prevail?"

This is a difficult review to write. I'll start with the good. In the end, the overall story is ok, and I did find myself somewhat interested. I liked some of the characters. Mr. Bridle definitely has a good imagination. However, finding the storyline is difficult because of all the grammatical errors. There is one error in particular that occurred a lot, and it drove me crazy. I'm sure my grammar is not perfect all of the time, but this was so frustrating. There were also spelling mistakes. Also, there were a lot of characters and I never figured them all out. There are a lot of made up words and I didn't find explanations for what they were. The reader is left to guess (for example, mana, I'm guessing, is magic), and sometimes that is ok, but there were enough that sometimes I felt like I was reading a different language. There is a glossary at the end, but it didn't contain all the words I questioned. Also, I wasn't sure who to cheer for. Were the mages the good guys or were the attackers the good guys? Why would I want to cheer for Dekor when he turned evil and raped a young girl? And why would I want to cheer for the mages when they worship the Divines, who are false gods?

In the end, I was very disappointed. There was language, a rape of a young girl, war violence, and many deaths, some gruesome. I would not recommend this book, unfortunately.

Rating: R (This rating does not follow the movie ratings, it is my way of saying it is not appropriate for younger readers.) Language, the rape of a young girl, war violence, and deaths.

Recommendation: I don't recommend it, but I would say 17 or 18 and up.

Disclosure: I did receive a free book in exchange for my review. However, this does not change my opinion of this book, all my reviews are honest.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Paper Children

Paper Children by Marcia Fine

(Summary taken from the back book cover) "Driven by cataclysmic world events, the story encompasses the lives of three generations of women. In Book One, Paulina, the privileged daughter of aristocratic parents, reluctantly follows her driven businessman husband to America in 1929. From a vantage point in New York she endures a difficult marriage and slowly becomes aware of the destruction of her large extended family in Poland as the Nazis tighten their grip on Europe. Book Two begins in 1940 following Paulina's daughter Sarah, as she pursues a career in photography. Sent on assignment to the Displaced Persons camps in Europe, Sarah is shaken loose from her faith and pursues a hedonistic path. The Third book deals with Mimi, Sarah's daughter. A solitary young woman, she becomes curious about the family's past. She explores the Holocaust and searches for her roots. In a confrontational scene Paulina hands over her family's pre-war correspondence that she calls her "Paper Children."

I really like the concept of this book. I like that it follows three generations of women in a family, and shows how they lived, and the national and world events that happened during their lives. I like that you can see how choices made by these women affected not only them, but how they affected their children and grandchildren as well. It helps me to see that there is importance in this motherhood thing.

I really liked the first book in the story. I found it fascinating to learn how a privileged family lived in Poland at the beginning of the 20th century. I had no idea. I enjoyed learning about Paulina and her family. Even though I didn't love her husband in the story, I did like that he was so driven and no matter what happened he picked himself up and moved on. The story was depressing a lot of the time, but I liked it. Times were tough, and so it seemed ok. Paulina was very proper and wanted to do everything a good Jewish girl would do. A lot of the first book dealt with her trying to be proper. And then comes book two. Wow, did book two throw me for a loop! I liked it at first with Sarah going to the Displaced Person camps and seeing the devastation for herself. She picks up smoking (which her mother hates) and loses her faith in God while she is there, right at the beginning. Then within 30 pages Ms. Fine throws in this out of place (completely opposite of book one) sensual love-making scene that completely took me by surprise. It is very detailed. I'll put it that way. Very detailed.

Unfortunately, I think the book goes downhill from there. A lot of the rest of book two is about "physical intimacy" and it was too much for me. There is also a lot of profanity. There are lessons to be learned, but, I think there are better ways to learn them. The story, at that point, just lost a lot of its excitement. I had to push through to the end. Then comes book three and I thought it was completely unrealistic. It starts when Mimi is four years old. I have an almost-four-year-old, and it just didn't fit. For example, Mimi, at four, supposedly says, "The year of mourning after my grandfather's death became a slow dirge of cleaning out closets, consolidating bank accounts, and shuffling papers." My daughter would never say anything even close to that. The vocabulary is much to difficult for that age.  I wish it would have started when she was 12 or older, I think it would have been much more realistic. It does catch up with her age, and she has her own love-making scenes. It takes her through the sixties with their anti-war demonstrations and tie-dye t-shirts. It may just be me, but this time period doesn't interest me as much as the earlier times do, and so I just wasn't interested at this point. And it was still depressing. I felt more depressed and let down at the end than I did during the war times.

In other words, I didn't love this book. It was ok. I couldn't recommend it to any of my friends because of the "physical intimacy" and language. There is also violence, including domestic violence and WWII camp devastation. However, if those things don't bother you and you enjoy reading about people and their histories, then you may enjoy this book.

Rating: R (Remember, this does not follow the movie ratings exactly, it's just my way of saying it is NOT for younger readers.) There is a lot of "physical intimacy," language, violence (including domestic violence), smoking, and war-time devastation.

Recommendation: Married and up. Definitely.

Disclaimer: I did receive a free copy of this book for my review. This did not sway my review in any way. All  my reviews are honest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "Her name is Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells--taken without her knowledge--became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons--as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb's effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the "colored" ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, from Henrietta's small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia--a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo--to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Henrietta's family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family--past and present--is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. Over the decade it took to uncover the story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family--especially Henrietta's daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother's cells. Deborah was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Had they killed her to harvest her cells? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn't her children afford health insurance?"

This book had me at the intro.! The introduction alone just fascinates me. To know that one person's cells weigh that much, and that her family didn't even know is incredible. It definitely has the feeling of a fictional movie. I couldn't put it down, and it's nonfiction! This is the best nonfiction book I have read in a long time! Ms. Skloot's writing style is easy to read and understand, even when she is discussing very technical and confusing topics. It reads as a fascinating story, with a hint of technicality to it. The book is very informative and yet is also very emotional. I cried and cried, and then I'd laugh, and then I'd feel angry, frustrated, relieved, embarrassed for our past, and everything in between. It is hard to believe that the story could have taken place sixty years ago, because it seems more like something that would happen 160 years ago. To know that sixty years ago African American people were being mistreated like this is horrible. Unfortunately, it seems like all the issues regarding tissue study and culture still haven't been resolved. I highly recommend this book, it is (I know I said this before, but it's true) fascinating and intriguing.

There are some parts in this book that are difficult to read, and not appropriate for younger readers. There are some of the heavier curse words and there are some domestic violence stories. Henrietta's life was difficult, and it was also difficult for her children and grandchildren. The stories are true, which makes it harder to read. I've learned that our country's past is not always happy or nice, and in some instances is flat-out terrible. Hopefully with the truth of some of these issues coming to the forefront, we can learn from these mistakes and make sure they do not happen again. I highly recommend this book, because from it we can learn, and the more we learn, the more we can change for the better. Thank you, Ms. Skloot, for bringing this important woman in our history into the light, and for honoring her legacy.

Rating: PG-13+ (Language, domestic violence, harsh circumstances of the characters and their loved ones.)

Recommendation: Senior in high school and up. Maybe even college, but it is definitely worth reading!