What is your reading goal this year?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Find Me by Jenna Hollenstein

(Summary taken from an email the author sent me) "Originally published in Italian as Cercami, Find Me contains lively poems on the left-hand side of each page and colorful illustrations on the right. As you turn each page, the poems are read aloud by a narrator, which allows children to listen or to read along. The poems provide clues as to how to interact with the illustrations on the right. Whether it’s ferreting out a crocodile hidden among pairs of scissors, or charming a friendly snake out of his basket, children with love interacting with Find Me."

This is the first book I have read on an ipad, bought from itunes. I am quite familiar with itunes for music, but I did not know they had books. That is, until Ms. Hollenstein contacted me. This is so much fun! It is a cute concept and the fact that it is on an ipad/pod makes the kids automatically think it's fun. I love that it is poetry. Poetry seems to be something that children are not as familiar with these days, and to make it available in this format is a great idea. The poetry is written well and the illustrations are very cute. I love the pages where the animals move or the objects are animated. Most of the pictures are easy to find, but a couple of them took a second look before I found them. I had hoped that a few more objects on each page would also be animated, but they weren't. That's ok. There is at least something on each page. This is something kids could do instead of a game, that would be entertaining and educational. I'm not sure how much they'll enjoy it the second, third, fourth time, etc., once they know where everything is, but I think they'll still like it. I watched a few of them a couple of times because they were so cute. I love the concept of this book and think it is really well done. Yay for creativity, imagination, and uniqueness!

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: Great for everyone!

Click HERE to purchase this book on itunes.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Emma and the African Wishing Bead

Emma and the African Wishing Bead by Valerie Redmond

(Summary taken from the back cover) "Emma and the African Wishing Bead" is a story about two girls, separated by an ocean and united by their dreams. It is about the beauty we all have to offer the world when we follow our passions, believe in ourselves, and unleash our true potential."

I am in love with this book! It is fantastic! The story is well written, and the pictures are bright and beautiful. The content of this story is so needed today. This book tells the story of a girl who finds a bead on the beach. She just knows it is magical, and it is. How is it magical? Well, the story takes you back in time and shows you where the bead started out, in Africa. A little girl found it while sitting under a tree by the river. Her grandmother explains that it is a wishing bead. When you find one you sit and think about everything you are thankful for, then you put the bead on a string and tie as many knots as things you are thankful for so it stays on tight. Then you make a wish on the bead. Everyday you think of your dream and you plan how you can achieve that dream. Then someday, when the bead falls off, you let it be and you do not pick it up. Your dream will come true, and someone else will find it, and it will make her dream come true in the same way. Such a wonderful story for girls (and boys) to hear. You learn about the child living in Africa and how she just wants to be able to go to school, or have a well in the village so she doesn't need to haul water from the river to her house. I know my kids take running water for granted. I know they take their education for granted. I love stories that help my children see outside of their small world. I love that this story takes them out of our nice home and into an area where people don't have all the things we take for granted. I love that they can learn about how other people live, and I love that it teaches them to dream and to work hard for their dreams. 

Another great thing about this book is that, by purchasing this book, you can actually help a girl in Africa go to school. Half of the proceeds go to the Canadian Harambee Education Society (CHES), "a non-profit organization which provides secondary school scholarships to girls in Kenya and Tanzania." You can also purchase your own wishing beads by going to: www.wishingbead.com . These beads are handmade in Kenya at the Kazuri bead factory. You may find out more about the company at www.kazuriwest.com . 
I received a bead with my book and it is beautiful. I hope it never breaks off because I don't want to let it go. 

There are so many things to love about this book! I highly recommend it for girls and boys of all ages. Having a dream and then making that dream come true (not just waiting around for someone else to make it happen) is something every child (and lots of adults too) can learn from. Also, learning about the world around us is so beneficial for children. It's good for me too; it never hurts to be reminded how blessed we are. I love uplifting children's books, and this one is my new favorite!

Rating: G (Clean!!!)

Recommendation: Everyone!!!

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 
P.S. I have not checked out either CHES or Kazuri. I am not endorsing them or giving my stamp of approval; I'm simply putting the info. on the book on my site so you can go check it out if you want to.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ancient Egypt: Everyday Life in the Land of the Nile

Ancient Egypt: Everyday Life in the Land of the Nile by Bob Brier and Hoyt Hobbs

(Summary taken from inside the book jacket) "The civilization of ancient Egypt is perhaps best known for its omnipotent pharaohs, monumental pyramids, and remarkable sculptures and paintings, all of which still captivate us today. But what was life there really like? Ancient Egypt comes alive in this vivid, abundantly illustrated exploration of its people and their world. Ordinary citizens in ancient Egypt lived and worked in much the same ways as the average European of the eighteenth century, but are better, dressed more practically, and lived better--in houses with patios, latrines, and cooling systems."

I enjoy learning about history, and although my favorites are United States history (the Revolutionary War and the Civil War especially), I do enjoy learning about world history as well. So when the publisher contacted me to review this new series of the everyday lives of ancient cultures (Egypt, Vikings, Middle Ages, and Greece), I jumped at the chance. I will eventually get to the others in the series, but I chose to read Egypt first. First off, this is a nice hardcover book. It has a lot of interesting pictures and graphics. I love looking at the stone carvings and the ancient paintings. I went through the whole book and looked at all the pictures before I even read the first sentence (shhhhhh.....don't tell) because they were so interesting. The book started out very heavy in detail about the different dynasties and the history of Egypt. Although it is probably a good thing to start a book that way, I thought it was written very much like a text book and was, I hate to say, quite boring. I almost stopped reading. Almost. I'm glad I kept reading, because after that it got a lot better. It is still written more like a text book than I was hoping for, but when  it started describing religion in ancient Egypt it started to get much more interesting. I enjoyed learning about their religion. From there I found some chapters kind of uninteresting (government), but I found others (work and play, food, clothes and other adornments, arts and crafts) full of interesting facts and I enjoyed reading them. Did you know that one of the lesser pharaohs' household ate over 2,000 loaves of bread and 300 jugs of beer daily? Did you know that the ancient Egyptians ate about 3,780 daily calories from grain alone? Wow. Luckily their jobs required hard manual labor, which allowed them to burn off those calories. Did you know that even with all our technology and knowledge, we still aren't sure how they managed to build those huge pyramids? Crazy. Khufu's Great Pyramid "required that more than two million blocks weighing from two to more than sixty tons be formed into a structure covering two football fields and rising in a perfect pyramidal shape 480 feet into the sky." They needed over 25,000 workers (they signed up, they weren't slaves), and they had to work fast in order to finish before their pharaoh died. Khufu reigned for 20 years, so that is how long they had. "The math indicates that, with about 2 million stones to place and at most twenty years to position them, given a work-year of 350 days and a work-day of ten hours, approximately thirty blocks were placed per hour. That is, one block was delivered to its position in the pyramid every two minutes." Crazy, I know. 

So, I was hoping that the book would be written a little less like a text book, but it was very informative and I ended up liking it. There were some areas that I just wasn't interested in, but I'm sure other people (boys) will enjoy learning about their warfare and government. In fact, I'm sure that is what my husband would like reading about. He probably wouldn't care about their cosmetics or fancy clothes. In other words, there is something for everyone in this book. There's a history nut in every family, right? This book is perfect for them, and a great, informative read for the rest of us. It would be a great addition to a junior high, high school, or college world history class as well.

Rating: PG+ (It does describe mummification, which is gross. It mentions that a lot of times Egyptians worked naked because it was so hot, and it mentions briefly some dancing party where the girls were naked except for a sash around their waist.....my husband wanted to attend that kind of party......haha...just kidding, he would die if he knew I said that.)

Recommendation: 12 and up (About 6th grade, maybe a mature 5th grader. I will let my 12 year-old read it if he wants to, my 10 year-old I'm not sure yet.)

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Greater Thief

The Greater Thief by Alexandra Carey

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "The Greater Thief is a literary crime story of gangs, justice, and faith, set around a notorious London estate. It is inspired by the true stories of young men who have been through the UK criminal justice system, and questions the easy assumptions all around us about crime and urban poverty. There is a murder on the street. Alice is there. Josh is there. And everyone believes he is guilty, except for her. Paul, the Parish Vicar, holds the key to proving Josh's innocence but first he must find the courage to forget himself. Alice will stand face to face with the reality of the men who want Josh dead, and Josh's discovery about his father's past unravels the code that governs his life. All three must risk what they hoped never to lose, as the things they believe in are tested with fire. With a combination of myth, tall tales and hip-hop rhythms, this modern fable explores the intersection between everyday crime and loyalty in an ever-expanding city."

Alice is an interesting character. She likes poetry and still lives with her father, who is a higher-up police officer. Josh is a rapper/drug dealer. How the two of them got together I will never understand. When the book starts, though, they are not together. They broke up several months prior to the beginning of the book. She obviously still cares for him, though, as the rest of the book deals with her trying to free him from prison and clear his name. Although parts of this book showed potential, it just wasn't my style or taste. I have never done any drugs and I am not a rap fan. I couldn't relate to Josh at all. I do like poetry, but I never really understood Alice either. She was willing to give up everything for a boy she had broken up with several months prior, and I didn't find that realistic. Paul, the Vicar, I didn't get either. He secretly loved Alice enough to give up everything for her to help her old boyfriend? I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. I mean, I would do anything for my husband or kids, but I am married and they are my kids. There were a lot of grammatical errors and the language was terrible. There were a lot of "f" words and other words as well. The content was just as bad. There was a graphic murder, a stabbing, drug dealing, smoking, situations where children were put into situations where they should not have been, and others. I didn't feel like the plot went anywhere, and the ending didn't resolve anything. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all.

Rating: R (Not suitable for younger readers) Murder, a stabbing, language, drugs and drug dealing, smoking, violence, and children put into inappropriate situations. 

Recommendation: Adult

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Husband's Secret

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret--something with the potential to destroy not just the life your built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive...Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all--she's an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But a letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia--or each other--but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband's secret."

I have to admit, I really wanted Cecilia to open that letter. I wanted to know what it said. As I was reading, I thought a lot about what I would do, and decided I didn't know. Hahaha.....but I'd probably open it. There were parts of this book that I liked. As a whole, I liked the characters and thought they were well crafted. I liked the epilogue at the end because it was quite thought-provoking. It is so true that we never know how the decisions we make affect our lives. We don't know what changes come about in our lives because of the choices we make. I liked that the book really made me think in that regard. However, other than that, this book is really not my style or taste. Think back to when you were 13 years old and you would sneak downstairs with your BFF to watch "Days of Our Lives" while you thought your mom wouldn't notice. Do you remember how scandalous it all felt and how you knew you should turn it off but you couldn't because you had to know who had an affair with whom, and if so-and-so would come back to life? And you had to keep looking over your shoulder to make sure your mom wasn't standing there? Well, that is how I felt reading this book. It felt like a big ol' soap opera. Scandals and affairs and murder. The language was terrible and the content was not my favorite. There was a lot of "intimacy," and not in a good way. It took awhile for the characters and different stories to come together. Maybe it was just me, but it took me forever to figure out how they fit in the story, and even then, I'm still not sure how Tess fits in. She's kind of connected, but not like Rachel and Cecilia. I haven't watched a soap opera in years and years, and I don't want to. I really don't care to read one either. However, if you like the style, you may really enjoy this book. 

Rating: R (This book is not for younger readers) Murder, affairs, intimacy, language.

Recommendation: Adult

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. (This book was supposed to be reviewed for SheReads.org a few months ago, but I did not receive it in time to do a review at the correct time.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Tulip Eaters

The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten

(Summary taken from the inside book cover) "It's the stuff of nightmares: Nora de Jong returns home from work one ordinary day to find her mother has been murdered. Her infant daughter is missing. And the only clue is the body of an unknown man on the living-room floor, clutching a Luger in his cold, dead hand. Frantic to find Rose, Nora puts aside her grief and frustration with the local police to start her own search. But the contents of a locked metal box she finds in her parents' attic leave her with as many questions as answers--and suggest the killer was not a stranger. Saving her daughter means delving deeper into her family's darkest history, leading Nora half a world away to Amsterdam, where her own unsettled past and memories of painful heartbreak rush back to haunt her. As Nora feverishly pieces together the truth from an old family diary, she's drawn back to a city under Nazi occupation, where her mother's alliances may have long ago sealed her own--and Rose's--fate."

I'm not going to lie. The first few chapters in this book are gruesome and gory. I almost couldn't handle it. I almost stopped reading. Fortunately, I kept reading. I had to. As a mom I had to know what had happened to Rose and if Nora was able to find her. This is seriously a nightmare scenario. It is every mom's worst fear come true. And every daughter's as well, because that is not what any of us want for our mothers. So on I read and read and read. I couldn't put it down. Some of the characters are well done and compelling, and some of them are over-the-top and not realistic (Amarisa). Nora's reactions seem to be a little extreme, although since I've never been in her position I can't judge. I know I would go crazy. Seriously. I don't think I could sit around and wait. I'm not sure I would go as far as she did, either, though, because I'm too much of a rule follower. Having a missing child may change that though. Momma Bear would most likely come out in ways I wouldn't expect. I felt bad for Nora too. Learning that your life and parents were nothing that you thought they were would be extremely difficult. I really liked Nora's friend Marijke. She was a voice of calm and reason, and supported Nora through all of the craziness. I also liked Richards, although he is only in about half of the book. The Rosen family creeped me out. All of them. Okay, all of them except for Henny. I do not understand their thinking or reasoning, and definitely did not like their justification for doing what they did. I'm not one to hold a grudge for over 30 years, so I had a hard time understanding their mentality. I was especially disappointed with Leah. Their actions were a bit much. 

I liked the pacing of the story and thought it was captivating. I don't know any Dutch, so when the characters started speaking in Dutch I just had to guess. It would have been nice to have a translation on some of it. I enjoyed learning the history of the Dutch during World War II. It wasn't a happy one, but was anything during that time period happy? I liked the title, but I thought the story would be more about the people living during that time; more about the actual people who had to eat the tulips. It wasn't, so I'm not quite sure why it is titled that way. There is a lot of language in this book. There are a lot of "f'" words and lots of others as well. There is an attempted rape, murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, and lots of action. But don't worry, there is also a little romance. I really did enjoy this book. It may have a lot of coincidences and be a little unrealistic, but, like I said, I couldn't put it down until I knew that Nora had Rose safe in her hands. Did that happen even at the end? Oh, you'll have to read it to find out! Once you start, hang on and be prepared for a wild ride! 

Rating: R (This does not follow the moving ratings exactly, it is just my way of saying that it is not appropriate for younger readers.) A gruesome murder, murder, attempted murder, assault, kidnapping, attempted rape, and a lot of language, especially the "f" word.

Recommendation: Adult

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Rent Collector

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

(Summary taken from an email from the publicist) "Survival for Ki Lim and Sang Ly is a daily battle at Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in all of Cambodia. They make their living scavenging recyclables from the trash. Life would be hard enough without the worry for their chronically ill child, Nisay, and the added expense of medicines that are not working. Just when things seem worst, Sang Ly learns a secret about the ill-tempered rent collector who comes demanding money--a secret that sets in motion a tide that will change the life of everyone it sweeps past. The Rent Collector is a story of hope, of one woman’s journey to save her son and another woman’s chance at redemption. It demonstrates that even in a dump in Cambodia--perhaps especially in a dump in Cambodia--everyone deserves a second chance."

Wow! That about sums it up. Wow. This story is amazing. I was hooked from the first paragraph, and could not put it down. I laughed, cried, got angry, felt so blessed, and fell in love with these characters. Sang Ly may live in a dump, but she is an inspiration to me and those around her. Teachers across the world would give anything for more students like her. Her journey and her drive to learn are simply incredible. Sang Ly's attitude about life at the dump is realistic. Some days she hates it, and some days she feels blessed to be there. I can't even imagine. The love she has for Nisay and Ki Lim brought me to tears several times. I know that love. I feel it in myself. Ki Lim is also an inspiration. The love he has for his family also brought me to tears. When he ran around the city looking for Sang Ly and Nisay at all the different hospitals it made me cry. He sticks by Sang Ly, even through all her crazy investigative work and dreams, and supports her always, even though sometimes he may want to roll his eyes and walk away. Sopeap Sin is an amazingly complex woman. She evokes many different emotions in this book. At times I hated her and her gruff ways, and others times her kindness and selflessness humbled me. Thinking of Lucky, a mere child, living by himself at the dump, made me sick to my stomach. How sad. The mother in me just wanted to bring him home with me and take care of him. As you can tell, the characters in this book are so well done. They became my friends, my neighbors, and an inspiration to me. If they can have a positive attitude and a grateful heart while living in a tiny shack in a dump, then I should never have reason to complain. I live in a beautiful home in a beautiful area, I have a fabulous husband and four incredible children. We have doctors and grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies nearby. I have food to eat and to give to my family. My husband has a good job and I am able to stay at home with my children. We have wonderful families and great neighbors. I am truly blessed. 

I thought the story was amazing. It is a novel, but to find out that Sang Ly, Ki Lim, Nisay, Lucky, and the Healer are all real people brought tears to my eyes. There are pictures at the end showing these people actually living like the characters in the story. I know there is a lot made up, but to know it is based on these real people somehow made it all the better. The writing draws you in and holds you captive, and the lessons this book teaches are priceless. It did jump around quite a bit, but it wasn't too hard to figure out. I loved this book and highly recommend it! There is a little bit of language in this book and some violence. There are beatings and other gang violence, and there is a girl the gangs want to sell into prostitution. Thankfully, that doesn't happen. They live in a harsh environment, so there are a few instances that are hard to read about, but they are some of the moments that the characters grow the most from. This is definitely one of my new favorite books.

Rating: PG-13 (Some language, gang violence, beatings, living in a harsh environment)

Recommendation: 12-13 and up. I've been debating since I finished if I'll let my 12 year-old read it. I think it is okay for him to read, but I don't know if the lessons will be lost on him. And that is a huge part of the story. I'll let you know.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "The classic fantasy trilogy of Elmer Elevator and the flying baby dragon has delighted children and their parents for generations. Now, on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary, Random House is proud to bring the three timeless tales together in one beautiful commemorative edition, complete with the original delightful illustrations.  A Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book, My Father's Dragonis followed by Elmer and the Dragon ("rich, humorous, and thoroughly satisfying"*) and The Dragons of Blueland ("ingenious and plausible, the fantasy well-sustained"*).  Each story stands alone, but read in succession, they are an unforgettable experience.*Library Journal, starred review "

How have I never read this??? Ruth Stiles Gannett wrote it in 1944 and it quickly became a Newberry Honor Book. I went all the way through school, and have now had three children go to second grade, and I haven't heard of it until now. My daughter's second grade teacher had her class read it for their monthly book group. Parents could come too, if they read it. I couldn't be left out so I had to read it!!! Luckily it is a very fast and easy read. It's cute, fun, has some great descriptions, and the kids in the class loved it. It was easy enough for the second graders to read by themselves, and it was very clean. The main character, Elmer Elevator, was cute, resourceful, clever, and had a fun sense of humor. The dragon was a little more whiny than Elmer was, but he had been in captivity, so you can't really fault him. I liked the places they went and the stories told there. Each story taught some very good lessons, and since children are always dreaming about going on adventures, this is a perfect fit. I liked that Elmer worked hard and didn't give up. I didn't love the fact that he just ran away from home, and wasn't ever punished for it, but.....I just talked about that with my daughter and we decided that was not a good choice, and she would never follow his example. I know. I'm crazy. Luckily there aren't any islands with dragons on them anywhere by me, so I think I'm good. I really enjoyed this story and seriously can't believe I've never read it! I definitely recommend it!

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: Everyone. It would be a fun read-aloud. Reading level second grade.       

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Colony East

Colony East by Scott Cramer

(Summary taken from the press release sent by the publisher) "In a terrifying world where an epidemic has killed off most of the world's adults, fifteen-year-old Abby struggles to keep her brother and sister safe. 
When a new, deadly disease spreads among the survivors, Abby must make the dangerous journey to Colony East, an enclave of hidden scientists caring for a small group of children for reasons unknown.
Abby fears that time is running short for the victims, but she's soon to learn that time is running out for everyone outside Colony East."

I loved the first book in the series Night of the Purple Moon, so I was very excited to read book two. It did not disappoint!!! I loved this one as well. I just get caught up in Mr. Cramer's writing style and story telling. The characters come to life in this book, even more than they did in the first book. It was interesting to note the differences in how Jordan and Abby reacted in each of their most difficult moments. It surprised me because I thought they would have been opposite. I really saw that Abby is human. She pretends to know-it-all all the time, but she does have a different side to her when push comes to shove. This book introduces some new characters, and elaborates on some old favorites. Toby became a favorite character. I love to see how the children come together in some of the areas, and yet it pains me to see how kids in the other areas just collapse into chaos. And, introducing the adults was very creative. I had no idea how Mr. Cramer would manage to find some adults alive, but he did. Do I like them? Would I act like them? Wow. I'm a rule follower, but I don't know......Pique your interest? Yeah, crazy. I liked Dawson. I liked that he might have a sliver of humanity in him after all. I didn't like most of the other adults. It took me awhile to understand that the cadets Dawson kept talking about were so little. Oh my goodness. They're so little, yet they are treated like full-on adults. I didn't like that part. I just wanted to hug and console them. I do love how resourceful a lot of the children are. 

There are deaths in this book, and some are quite violent. There are some gang-like violence scenes. There are a few gun shots and lots of sick and dying children. There is no profanity (that I can remember). There are some flirtations between a few of the children, and a couple of kissing scenes, but that is as far as it goes. 

I really liked this book, and am now counting down the days until book #3 is released!!!

Rating: PG-13 (Deaths, violence, gang-like violence, some gun shots, sick and dying children, kissing)

Recommendation: 14 and up.

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

They are doing a giveaway with this tour! If you are interested, click below!!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Book of Mysteries

The Book of Mysteries by Fran Orenstein

(Summary taken from an email from the publisher) "Enter The Book of Mysteries at your own risk with Tyler and his best friend, Zack who live in an apartment house in New York City. Tyler’s uncle, a scientist and explorer, sends Tyler to a find a disappearing bookstore, an ancient bookseller, and The Book of Mysteries, where exciting and danger-filled adventures await them. In The Wizard’s Revenge, they enter the strange world of Balara. The boys, with the help of a Balaran girl and a dragon-slayer giant, must un-mask and force a wizard to release a fire-breathing dragon from a deadly spell. There is mutual attraction between Tyler and Esmara, a Balaran girl who helps them, and sometimes Tyler forgets that she is just a character in a story. In The Gargoyles of Gothica, Tyler and Zack face marauding gargoyles, when they must retrieve the king’s magic scepter stolen by his evil stepmother. Without the scepter, the countryside of Gothica will wither and die. Aided by identical twin Goth Princesses, Lily and Ivy, the boys cannot return until the quest is fulfilled. The third book, The Centaurs of Spyr, pits our heroes against armies of mythical beasts at war. They must save the colony of helpless humans and their guardians, the talking trees.  Zack finds first love and Tyler becomes a hero, but this could be their last adventure, for they may not be able to go home, unless the Centaurs agree to broker peace and the bookstore hasn’t disappeared."

I love the premise of these books. That's why we read, right??? So we can become a part of a story. I love that the boys are able to pick a story, jump in, and live in the story land. I can't tell you how many stories I've read in my lifetime that I wish I could be a part of. The premise of these books relates to every reader. The main characters Zach and Tyler are cute boys. They are 13 and act like it. They're a little forgetful, they act tough but are really scared, they try and impress the girls and yet they get tongue-tied when they try to talk to the girls. I could just see my 12 year-old and his friends. I thought each of the stories were well thought out and were fun. There was just enough action and suspense to make it good, but not over the top. Each story had lessons to be taught, and the reader learns them while the boys do. Friendship, working together, working hard, thinking things through before acting, and helping others are only a few of the lessons taught. Every 13 year-old needs to be reminded of these things (don't we all sometimes???).  The magic of reading is also an underlying theme. Just by opening a book we are transported to places we could never imagine. I liked the characters in the different lands, and thought they interacted well with the boys. I liked that each story had a candy store, book store, and pharmacy, especially the candy store. I thought it was funny that the boys needed chocolate.....sounds a little too much like me.

I think overall the story would be great for fourth graders and up.......except the author did something that irritates me to no end (and this is the reason I started my blog to begin with). She put two or three lines in each book that make it completely inappropriate for the younger readers. Even though the story is written for the younger readers, and they would love it, they shouldn't read it. In the first story, Revenge of the Wizard, on page two, the uncle is talking to Tyler and says they need to have a discussion. Tyler says he's already had that discussion and the uncle says, "I'm not talking about SEX." And then there is a point where one of the boys says something like (sorry, I can't find it so I'm summarizing), "Why do you always think about sex?" Then, book two The Gargoyles of Gothica starts with Tyler looking at porn on his laptop. It never actually says that, it is just heavily implied because his dad walks in and he slams the computer shut and hopes his father didn't see what he was looking at. Sex is also mentioned again later in the story. Book three is ok, as far as I can remember. Why? Why do authors need to add those things? They had nothing to do with the story and actually didn't fit at all. They seemed very out of place in this story. The rest of it was clean except for a few swear words. There were only a few. So, why add those first few instances?? Ugh. It really irritates me. Obviously, you wouldn't want your child to read this unless you've had "the talk." I talked about it a lot with my husband and we decided we will let our 12 year-old read it because he's had "the talk." I don't think he'll understand the porn scene, but I will discuss it with him before he starts. I will not be letting my 5th grader read it because he hasn't had "the talk" yet. Why make a book inappropriate and thus cut your readers in half? I still hesitate with my 12 year-old reading it, but we will discuss it with him, and let him know that we don't think or talk like that in this family. Now, I know I'm a lot more strict with books and media than other people are. If you are comfortable with a younger child reading about sex and porn then the rest of it is fine for him. 

I did really like the stories and think the kids will enjoy them. I hope if the author prints another edition that she will take those few sentences out because it ruins the rest of it. Other than that, I liked the stories and think the kids will enjoy them. 
Rating: PG-13 (A few swear words, boys talking about sex, a boy looking at porn)

Recommendation: After you've had "the talk." I would say 12 and up. I guess I do know kids who have discussed it with their parents at age 11. It will be different for each kid, and the parents should read it first to see if it is appropriate for their child.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fern Valley

Fern Valley: A Collection of Short Stories by Aileen Stewart

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "Follow the adventures of delightful young farm animals who are just like you. Fern Valley is home to a group of wonderful animals who have fun and face some of the same problems children everywhere do. Roberta and Mildred Cornstalk are creative chickens dealing with the loss of their beloved granny, and they're looking for something to do to cheer them up. Want to know what adventures they find? Want to know what happens to Roberta and Mildred's brother, Edward, when he goes fishing, what birthday surprise is in store for Betsy Woolrich, or what lesson Kimmy Curlytail learns when she keeps something that isn't hers? Then follow this endearing cast of characters as they enjoy their time together and learn important lessons. A perfect addition for any child's personal library and a joy for families to share, Fern Valley is a collection to be treasured for many years to come."

This is a fun little collection of short stories. The characters are really cute. They are written mainly for younger children; maybe through age nine. I don't think my 6th and 5th grade boys would be too interested in reading them silently. As a read-aloud, however, I think they would sit and listen. Even big boys still get interested in mom and dad reading out loud. Even for younger children I think they would be better as a read-aloud, just because there are some difficult words for stories geared toward younger children. For example, the words "rummaged, array, brooches" are all on the same page. I know my 2nd grader would not know those words, and she would struggle to sound them out. Don't get me wrong, I think they are great words, and I definitely think children should increase their vocabulary. However, younger readers may not understand them or be able to sound them out. That's why it would be great as a read-aloud because you could stop and discuss those words. Thus, adding them to the children's vocabulary. The characters have some fun experiences, and some not very good ones. I think there is a good assortment of girlie stories and boy stories. There are some really good lessons taught. It's a fast, easy read, and it's fun to have some short stories. I haven't read short stories like this in awhile, so it's a fun change of pace. I will be reading these to my children.

Rating: G (Clean! Yay!)

Recommendation: Good for everyone. Older children may not be interested in reading them silently, but they would most likely enjoy them as a read-aloud. I'd say up until age 14 maybe, as a read-aloud, and probably 9 reading silently. 

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hello, We're the Fuzzwippers

Hello, We're the Fuzzwippers by Marilynn Halas

This is a very cute story about these little fuzzwippers. They look like cute fuzzy balls. I received one with my book, but I'm not sure if they come with all the books. These fuzzwippers come from many places throughout the world, with the hope of sharing one thing with the children they come to: "You are loved, no matter what." That is always a great lesson for our children, and one they need to hear and see often. There are four of these books listed on the website, and each has an uplifting and special message for the children. In a world filled with stress, violence, profanity, unemployment, etc. it is wonderful to have uplifting messages to read to my children. My kids have read this book and loved it, especially because they got to play with the little fuzzwipper while they read it. 

Rating: G (Clean!!)

Recommendation: Great for all ages!!!

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "France, 1916: Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of the World War I, Edouard's portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer's dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie decides to risk everything--her family, her reputation, and her life--for the chance to see her husband again. Almost a century later, Sophie's portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and a battle begins over its troubled history. Was the painting looted during the war? Who is to pay retribution? And who is the true owner now? As the layers of the painting's dark past are revealed, Liv's life is turned upside down all over again. And her belief in what is right is put to the ultimate test..."

I loved this book! It is reminiscent of The Firebird, with a twist of The Hiding Place. I didn't like it as much as I liked each one of those books individually, but it was really good. I thought the writing was excellent. Most of the characters were developed very well, and they each fit right where they needed to in the story. Liv is kind of a hard character to grasp onto at first, but as you get to know her better she grows on you. She becomes much softer and you can see the reasons why she is who she is. I liked Paul a lot. He just seems like a good, down-to-earth, normal guy. He made a difficult choice at the end that I applauded, but was scared for him too. I think he did the right thing. Both Paul and Liv had flaws, which is good because I don't like it when characters are too perfect. Mo was an interesting character. I'm still not sure what I think of her. She added some humor and a flair of color to Liv's clean and white lines. I really loved the other half of the story, though. Sophie and Helene were excellent characters. Their depth and strength was inspirational. I don't know if I could have done what they did. I don't agree with the decision Sophie made, at all. I thought a lot about it, and I just couldn't have done it. I don't think that is what my husband would want me to do either. Now, I won't tell you if it paid off in the end, but knowing the consequences doesn't change my mind. I can't imagine the inner battles that went on in these women's minds. The Germans had taken almost everything from them, and then they are asked to cook for them. Awww, what a struggle it must have been. I loved Liliane. I didn't like the decision she made at the end either, but I don't blame her. The strength she had to go behind the German's backs was also inspirational. Would I have been brave enough? I wasn't sure how the two stories would fit together, but, in the end, it was almost seamless. I liked the ending and thought it brought everything together well. I thought Ms. Moyes did a really good job of wrapping it up, but not too perfectly. I do like the perfect ending sometimes, but I don't think it would have fit the book. I really enjoyed seeing it all come together, and thought the surprise guest at the end was a fabulous touch.

There is language in this book, especially the "f" word. There are several of them. There is  a bunch of other language, and the Lord's name is used as well. There is a mostly rape scene. I say mostly, because she kind of knew what she was getting herself into, and purposefully went, but she didn't realize how bad it would really be. There is a very violent and gruesome suicide. There is also war violence and poor treatment of the people by the German occupiers. There are some deaths. Happy, right? There are actually some happy moments, some inspirational people and experiences, and it makes it worth the sadness and harshness of the rest. It makes me so thankful to be where I am, at the time I am. I am so blessed! I definitely recommend this book.

Rating: R (This rating does not follow the movie ratings, exactly, it is just my way of saying it is not appropriate for younger readers.) Language, including the "f" word, rape, suicide, war atrocities, death.

Recommendation: 18 and up.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "In this stunning follow-up to the global phenomenon The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown demonstrates once again why he is the world's most popular thriller writer. The Lost Symbol is a masterstroke of storytelling--a deadly race through a real-world labyrinth of codes, secrets, and unseen truths...all under the watchful eye of Brown's most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C., The Lost Symbol accelerates through a startling landscape toward an unthinkable finale. As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation...one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth."

This book is a typical Dan Brown book. I liked it, but it was very formulaic and somewhat predictable. The places, names, and institutions involved may be different from his previous books, but the story is very similar. There is the evil guy, Mal'akh, and he wants something. In order to get it, he has to kidnap someone and torture him, and then Robert Langdon is there, of course, to figure out the meanings in the symbols. Robert will hopefully save the day with his knowledge. There's a girl too.  At the beginning of the book, Mr. Brown states that, "All rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real." You can definitely tell that Mr. Brown did his homework and knows a lot about the different rituals in Masonry, and the science of Noetics. I did find all that information very interesting and would like to know a little bit more about it. I liked Katherine, Warren Bellamy, and Dean Galloway. I thought they each added something a little different to the story and thought they were written well. Mr. Brown definitely toned this book down. I thought Angels and Demons was a little too much, and this one brought it down a notch, which was good. The language wasn't as bad, and the evil character was evil and insane, but not quite as grotesque as in Angels and Demons. Don't get me wrong, there are some yucky scenes that are hard to read, but they are not as bad as they were in other books. I did like the book okay, and there were some things that I did really like, but it just didn't capture my attention like Mr. Brown's previous books did. I may have been in the wrong frame of mind to read it. I was in a really bad car accident a few weeks ago and was really stressed to find a new car and deal with insurance companies, and even though I did read, my mind wasn't too into it. If you like Mr. Brown's books, you will most likely like this one.

Rating: R (This does not follow the movie ratings exactly, it is just my way of saying it is not appropriate for younger readers.) Language, murders, torture scenes.

Recommendation: 18 and up

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Janitors: Curse of the Broomstaff (Book #3)

Janitors: Curse of the Broomstaff (Book #3) by Tyler Whitesides

(Summary taken from the first page of the book) "A Message from the Author: Dear Reader, Here it is: the third installment in the JANITORS series. And I must admit, this is definitely the trashiest book I've ever written. No, literally. This book is full of garbage. This time, our young heroes must venture deep into an enchanted landfill. They will battle heaps of living garbage and hike through distorted trashscapes as they discover a mysterious group of kids living among the refuse, harboring a centuries-old secret that could save the future of education."

First of all, notice the girl on the cover? Didn't I say yesterday when I reviewed book #2 that the covers needed to be a little more girl-friendly? Well......it looks like they listened! My boys have been so excited for this book to come out. They have been counting down the days. And, when I received the book they begged me to let them read it first. Hahaha....sometimes it pays to be the mom. I got to read it first. Don't worry, though, they'll both have it read in about three days. Maybe two. Out of all the JANITORS books, this one was my favorite. I thought there was plenty of action, lots of surprises, and yes.....tons of garbage. Yuck! I'm not sure how the germ-a-phobe Spencer made it through this book with all the germs crawling around the landfill, but he did. His character grew a lot in this book. He had to mature a little, which is sad, but fun to watch. He's always been quite mature for his age, but in this book he learns a lot about himself, his dad, and his abilities. Daisy is always a fun character, and I love Penny. I actually came to really like Barnard as well. He's a fun addition to the Rebels. I liked the path the Rebels had to follow by figuring out clues, and I thought it was clever how it fit in with them getting into the landfill. I'm still not sure about the Aurans. Are they good? Are they bad? And the Pluggers.....oh they're scary! I definitely do not want to meet one of those in person. I thought Mr. Whitesides' writing improved in this book. I liked the interesting creatures they met in the landfill, and I liked the creativeness of the landfill turning over. Where can I get a glopified broom? Oh, and a plunger? That would come in handy when I want to vacuum under the couch!

This book is clean besides some scenes where the characters fight the BEM members and their huge toxites. They also fight some garbage. Yep, I'm very glad I don't have glopified garbage....I don't want to worry about it coming to get me while I'm sleeping. If you liked the first two books, you're probably drooling over the third one like my boys are. You'll love it.

Rating: PG+ (Fighting against garbage and toxites, along with BEM members)

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Janitors: Secrets of New Forest Academy (Book #2)

Janitors: Secrets of New Forest Academy (Book #2)

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket) "Now more than ever, Spencer, Daisy, and even Dez must fight to save schools everywhere. Toxites, the small creatures that love to feed on the brain waves of students, are just the beginning of their troubles. The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) is after Spencer, and the Rebels hope to sneak him to safety within the walls of an elite private school. But danger follows Spencer and his friends, testing their loyalty and trust as well as their Toxite-fighting skills. Can they hold out long enough to discover the true secret of New Forest Academy and what it means to the future of education?'

I liked book #1, and book #2 did not disappoint. There is lots of toxite-fighting action, betrayal, danger, garbage dumpsters, and cleaning supplies. There are also new friends and enemies, along with some fun new glopified weapons. I thought this book was a fun, easy read, and for those who liked the first book, you will definitely like the second. Spencer and Daisy continue to fight for education everywhere, including where they thought they would be safe. Penny and Walter continue to surprise with fun new inventions. There are some great twists and turns in this book, along with some surprises. I liked a bunch of the new characters. I wasn't sure about some of them at first, but they grew on me for sure. There are some definite "yeah-right" moments in the book, but it's fantasy, right? Anything can happen. It's very creative and fun. It's really not the best writing in the world, but it's fun and the kids love it. It's also clean, which is always a bonus in my book. I can't tell you the number of kids who have seen me reading this series and commented on how much they loved it and can't wait for #3 (which I will review tomorrow!!!). I have my two boys and the neighbor girl already waiting......and waiting.....for me to finish #3 so they can read it. I'm sure it will get passed on after that as well. My sister said my niece didn't want to read this series because the covers look too boy-ish. She's right, they do kind of make it seem more for boys, but Daisy and Penny are main characters, and they are girls. I think the girls will like it too, you just have to get them to look past the cover art. This series is actually really good for showing strong girl characters.

Rating: PG+ (Toxite-fighting violence, good guy vs. bad guy fighting, but nothing too gory or gruesome or scary)

Recommendation: 3rd Grade and Up ( My sons are 5th and 4th grades and they love it too)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

(Summary taken from the inside book jacket.) "When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time...When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends--not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible."

So, I have a funny story as to why I read this book. I was at the library with my daughter, and I was looking for some beginning reader books for my 2nd grader. I looked over and saw this book on the shelf. I pulled it out thinking it might be good for my 6th grader. As my daughter was picking out her books, I opened this book and started reading. This is what I read: "Frankie was the first to know. Frankie was the first to know most things--but since he hadn't spoken since he was eight years old, it didn't matter what he knew. He couldn't tell anyone. Not so they could hear anyway. He sat at the dinner table, picking at his potatoes and pot roast, when a sound blew in from the wide expanse of the prairie. A single high note, like a bell. The rest of the family ate, wiped their faces, and excused themselves from the table. They didn't notice the sound. Frankie laid his left hand over the knot of scars that curled over half his face. No one knew who or what had given him those scars, or what happened to him when he was taken away at the age of eight and returned, marked and silent, two months later. Frankie would not, could not, tell. After all these years, the scars were still puffed and angry and very, very red. The kids in town called him Slasher Face or Freak Show. His mother said his face looked like a field of roses. What his mother did not know was that the scars had memories. They knew things. It's coming, the scars said. It's back, they whispered. No, Frankie thought,
shaking his head. Not it, He. He's coming. We knew he'd come back." And then I got home and kept reading and reading...... Did I have time to read this book? Umm, no. But oh well, I got hooked, totally hooked.

This is a very unique story. It wasn't really what I expected it to be when I read that first page, but I enjoyed it. The writing is sometimes wonderful and intriguing, and sometimes confusing. I had to go back and reread sections so I knew what was going on; however, the description of the "angry scars" was fabulous. I don't know if you've ever seen the movie "Big Fish," but it reminded me of that story in that it was random, mysterious, magical, and you were left thinking, "I have no idea what just happened, but...okay." The characters were mostly developed well. Jack, Wendy, and Frankie were my favorite characters. Frankie reminded me of the boy in "Wonder." Jack's aunt and uncle were interesting characters. I wish there had been a little more explanation of their history and how Uncle Clive had gotten the book. The ending fit, but was sad. I had hoped there would be a better way, but apparently not. When you read this book you just need to let go of reality and hang on for the ride. Disappearing schoolhouses, kidnapping, child swapping, magical houses, and a half evil, half good Mother Earth. Need I say more???

This book is clean except for some violence. There are some school-yard fights (bullies), a kidnapping, and a car crash. I liked it. I did have higher hopes for it from that beginning, but I thought it was creative and imaginative. It also had a good message of putting others' needs before your own, and sacrificing yourself to help those around you.

Rating: PG (School-yard fights, bullies, kidnapping, and a car crash.)

Recommendation: 4th grade and up.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Janitors (Book #1)

Janitors (Book #1) by Tyler Whitesides

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "The magical, secretive society of JANITORS will sweep the country in the fall of 2011. Have you ever fallen asleep during math class? Are you easily distracted while listening to your English teacher? Do you find yourself completely uninterested in geography? Well, it may not be your fault. The janitors at Welcher Elementary know a secret, and it s draining all the smarts out of the kids. Twelve year- old Spencer Zumbro, with the help of his classmate Daisy Gullible Gates, must fight with and against a secret, janitorial society that wields wizard-like powers. Who can Spencer and Daisy trust and how will they protect their school and possibly the world? Janitors is book 1 in a new children s fantasy series by debut novelist Tyler Whitesides. You ll never look at a mop the same way again."

My boys (ages 11 and 10) read this book awhile ago and have been telling me and telling me and telling me that I need to read it. They loved it. It made it even better that Tyler Whitesides actually came to their school and signed their book. I had so many other books to read that I hadn't gotten around to it...until now. If you've read my blog before, you have probably heard me say that I taught first grade before I had children. When I go back to teaching, I will not see the school in the same light. Ever. Do you trust the janitors? Or are they the bad guys? This book is a fun and fast read. It is filled with betrayal, action, crazy dust creatures, friendship, big messes, and lots of cleaning supplies. And these are no ordinary cleaning supplies! Mr. Whitesides has created a fun world filled with magic and secrets. The characters were well developed and realistic. I could picture the principal perfectly. I loved the descriptions of him. Spencer and Daisy seemed like cute, normal kids. I thought they were childish enough that it felt realistic, yet brave enough to make it exciting. I loved Spencer's mom. She's awesome, and I could definitely see myself acting that way in order to protect one of my children. The janitors were a little crazy, but great characters. I really enjoyed learning about how the creatures affected the students. Hahaha!!! Now we know why we tend to fall asleep in class, or why we sometimes get distracted while we walk down the hallways. Did I mention the cleaning supplies? I want some of them. Yep, I think I want a broom. That would be great. The story line was a little predictable, but it didn't stop me from reading. I liked this book a lot and I know the kids like it! And, the best part? It's clean! Love it! Now......I just need to dig through my kids' rooms to find book #2!

Rating: PG+ (One of the main characters does die. It's sad but not detailed or gruesome. They do fight the bad guys and the bad creatures.)

Recommendation: 3rd grade and up