What is your reading goal this year?

Monday, April 28, 2014

We Are Savages

We Are Savages by Jessie Atkin

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "We Are Savages is the story of 12 year old Tris and what she finds when she runs from the responsibility of her household and descends through a rain grate into the child run world of Nowhere. "You go to bed angry or sad enough you can wake up just about anywhere," the Savages tell her. Nowhere is a brick utopia hidden in the sewers; made up of sweets, sports, hammocks, and fireflies. But even this haven, free of parents and protocol, is not everything it seems. Haunted by dark specters known only as Phocydes, feared for their reputation of consuming children whole, Tris works both to hunt and to hide from these hooded shadows. But something about them is familiar; something about them fires her curiosity more than her fear. And Tris slowly begins to realize that, no matter where you go, fear and responsibility are not things you can escape. The only thing to do is face them."

This book is definitely unique, which is good. A few of the characters are developed really well. Tris is the main character (Every time I read her name I pictured "Divergent.") and you get a very good feel for who she is and her motivations, desires, and wants. She has a dog named Mars, and he seems like a great, loyal dog. A few of the characters in "Nowhere" are also developed well. Aya, Logan, and Declan all had a hint of mystery to them, but were developed enough that I came to like them and feel like I knew enough about them to care about them. Unfortunately, that is all I really liked about this book. I didn't like the premise at all. Maybe it's because I'm the mother of a 12 year-old, but I didn't get it or enjoy it. Tris is 12 years-old, and is a tomboy. Her parents think she should be more girly and more grown-up. After a fight with her parents, where they threaten to get rid of her dog, she runs away. Here comes my mother perspective: that is just lame. Every 12 year-old has disagreements with her parents. Every 12 year-old makes mistakes and sometimes isn't as grown-up as she should be. Every parent tends to fixate on weird things sometimes and may have unrealistic expectations. Very few parent/child relationships are perfect. I know I'm not perfect and I know my really good 12 year-old kid isn't perfect either. Nothing happened in the story that would warrant running away. She wasn't being abused physically or emotionally. I don't think that it's ok to teach kids to run away instead of learning how to talk about and deal with problems. Running away doesn't solve anything. Does it in this book? Not really. So she runs away and ends up falling through a grate, into the sewer system (gross!!), and into a place called "Nowhere." In Nowhere, there are no parents. It is inhabited by kids who have all either run away or just woken up here because life at home was hard. They can do whatever they want whenever they want. There aren't any rules, just lots of games. They call themselves "Savages." I don't like that name either. It sounds like they are vicious cannibals or something. I'm still not sure what they were eating down there. Anyway, there are these scary things called Phocydes that were kind of like ghosts, I guess. They would sometimes come and take kids. Aya would go kill them, but wasn't able to get all of them. Tris kind of takes charge at this point and sort of becomes a hero. I don't know. I just didn't get the point of all of it. Tris never really learned anything or grew as a character. The kids are just free to do whatever, there's no need to grow up or learn how to handle hard situations at home. Also, there is a big fight where they get together and fight the phocydes. So, if they can handle that situation, and if they can handle losing friends in Nowhere, why can't they handle their home situations? What I really didn't like was the notion that it's ok to run away from your problems. It's ok to not learn how to work through hard times. I didn't like the kids' attitudes toward authority, especially their parents. Like I said, it's probably that I'm a mom, but I just didn't like it or get it. 

There isn't any language, "intimacy," or excessive violence.

Rating: PG+ (No language or "intimacy." There is some violence, and a 12 year-old who runs away after an argument with her parents.)

Recommendation: 14 and up. I don't think it's a good middle-grader book.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

TJ and the Cunning Cantrip Competition

TJ and the Cunning Cantrip Competition by Kim Park

(Summary taken from amazon.com) "For the honor. For the glory. For... Dumphrey's?? 

Tora Jane Golden had high hopes of competing in The Cunning Cantrip Competition as a Grand Old House of Magic student. But alas, she gets placed in Dumphrey’s, school for the magically inept. It’s mortifying, having to wear the Dumphrey’s egg yolk yellow t-shirt around town, while all her friends wear prestigious school t-shirts. It’s no fun to be labeled a “dump” girl, a loser, but TJ’s not one for wallowing. 

She’s a take action kinda gal—a feisty fireball of energy. Literally. She can shoot lightning bolts out of her foot, a feat that would be awe-amazing if only she knew how to control it. 

In danger of setting herself and everything around her on fire, TJ must learn to temper her bursts of anger and reign in her fiery attitude if she hopes to win the Cunning Cantrip title. 

TJ & The Cunning Cantrip Competition is a story with feverish flavor, a playful look at what it takes to balance an ambitious nature with the heart and humility of a true champion."

This is a really cute and fun story. I love the creativity and imagination in this book. The characters are well developed and likable. They're realistic and have their flaws along with their moments to shine. Tora Jane (aka TJ) is such a great character. She's a normal 12 year-old who just wants to do her best. She also doesn't want to go to summer magic school at the embarrassing Dumphreys. It's the worst one. And she wants to win the Cunning Cantrip Magic Competition....she'll never win there. Her friend Abby is cute as well. I liked Lianne and Jeffrey also. I thought they all added their own touch to the story and worked well together. I liked that they all had different strengths and weaknesses, and they learned that when they worked together they did much better. I also liked that they had to practice a lot to get where they needed to be. I liked all the interesting spells and creatures, along with the magical tools they had. It's not all cute and fun, though. There are a few characters and scenes that are scary. Tarsh, for example, scares me. And some of the creatures that are in the tunnels creep me out. I liked how the story played out. There was enough scary stuff and adventure that I think boys will like it, and the main character is a girl so I think girls will like it as well. It's clean, which is fantastic! No language or anything else questionable, just some slightly scary scenes and creatures. Yay! A great middle-grade-YA read! I think it would make a fun read-aloud for kids as well. 

Rating: PG (Just some slightly scary scenes and creatures.)

Recommendation: Third Grade and Up. (My son read all the Harry Potter books in third grade, so this would be a piece of cake.) I think my sixth and fifth graders will enjoy it. 

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Scent of Butterflies

Scent of Butterflies by Dora Levy Mossanen

(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) "Such audacity she has, Soraya, a woman who dares to break free of the diamond-studded leash of her culture. A woman who refuses to accept the devastating betrayal her husband perpetrated. A woman who refuses to forgive her best friend. Soraya turns her back on Iran, fleeing to America to plot her intricate revenge. The Shah has fallen, her country in in turmoil, her marriage has crumbled, and she is unraveling. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Los Angeles. Yet the secret Soraya discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of unexpected events that will leave the reader breathless."

I just finished this book and I'm almost speechless. I liked the character development. I definitely felt like I knew and understood each character well. Even though I didn't really like any of the characters, I did think they were well developed. I can't even imagine how I would react if I saw my husband in my bed with my best friend. It would be awful. Terrible. Horrible. But, I can't imagine I would react the way Soraya did. Wow. She seriously went crazy. I just couldn't relate to her and her very dark side. She was over-the-top crazy, and it bothered me because it didn't seem real. I mean, I have to imagine that seeing what she did would throw her for a loop, but I definitely think she took it too far. It made me uncomfortable reading about it. I thought a lot of it at the beginning had unanswered questions, like where did she get the money to just go to LA and stay there? Those questions were answered eventually, which made the story at least a little more plausible. Aziz, Parvaneh, Baba, Madra, and Mamabozorg were all interesting characters. I didn't really like or relate to any of them, but I thought they were well thought-out and had interesting stories and histories. There was a lot of Iranian history and culture, and I'm, unfortunately, not smart enough to know if it was all accurate. If it is accurate then I thought she painted the picture well. Her writing style is difficult to read. It is full of descriptions, metaphors, similes, and metaphorical language, which you would think would be good, but at times it overpowered the story and I had to go back several times to re-read passages because I really had no idea what she was talking about. It seemed choppy also. Unfortunately, this book was too dark and bitter for me to really enjoy it. Soraya became seriously overcome with revenge, hatred, and bitterness. She ended up making things way worse than they should have been. I read the last page at least three times and I think I understand what happened, but because her language is so busy, I'm not quite sure I'm accurate in my conclusion. Maybe it's just me and I'm not smart enough to read this book, but it was so busy (like a home littered with nick-knacks on every shelf, table, and cupboard) that it was hard to see past that and into the story line. 

There is language in this book, especially the "f" word. There are many of those. There is also a lot of "intimacy." There are scenes, innuendos, suggestions, affairs, details, thoughts of, longings for....a lot. There is premeditation of murder, and the deaths of thousands of butterflies. How she fits the butterflies into the story is a little strange and morbid. 

Rating: R (Many "f" words and other language, lots of "intimacy" scenes, innuendos, thoughts of, affairs, etc.)

Recommendation: Adult

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Year With Six Sister's Stuff

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

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

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

Rating: G (Clean and Delicious!)

Recommendation: Great for everyone!

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

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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendation: Adult

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

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

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

Rating: G (Clean!)

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