Wednesday, July 31, 2013


A quick post to spread the word about Greene For Gran - an initiative started up by Simon Savidge.  If you're a fan of blogging Simons, chances are that you've also been over to Savidge Reads - his tastes are quite different from mine, but of course I love his blog - and through that, got to know the tastes of Dorothy Savidge, aka Simon's Gran.  We were all sorry to hear about her illness, and that she passed away recently. It is only befitting, for a woman who loved reading, that people get reading in her honour - and Simon S hit upon the excellent idea of #GreeneForGran - that is, reading some books by an author Dorothy loved: Graham Greene.

He mentioned it on Twitter, and a few of us thought it sounded like an excellent plan and spurred him on - and now you can read all about the plans. Basically, read something by Greene during August, and maybe post or discuss during the last few days of the month.  Vintage Books will also be doing the odd giveaway over at Simon S's.

I've only read a couple of Greene books (Travels With My Aunt and Brighton Rock) and strongly recommend the former.  I have a few others on my shelves, and I intend to grab at least one of them during August and have a read.  I do hope you'll join in - and that you'll spread the word.

Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale –ADVISABLE

Hale, Bruce, Illustrated by Francis, Guy Clark the Shark 32 pgs. HarperCollins, 2013. $11.99.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
Clark the Shark is a lot bigger and bolder and louder than all the other kids at school. Which is fun, but doesn't result in many friends. His teacher Mrs. Inkydink inspires him to figure out a way to ‘Stay Cool’. Clark takes the idea and runs with it, finding out that bringing things down a notch is more fun for everyone.
This was a enjoyable read! I think students will like to read about this very enthusiastic happy shark, who is a bit over the top. The cover is appealing and should result in a ton of circulation. Great for a lesson on how to tone down and calm down.
EL -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Charlie Goes to School by Ree Drummond –NO

Drummond, Ree and Illustrated by deGrout, Diane Charlie Goes to School 40 pgs. HarperCollins, 2013. $14.15.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
Charlie the dog tries his best to help out around the ranch. After seeing the ranch kids being home schooled, he decides to teach classes to the farm animals. They don’t take well to the lesson’s and Charlie gives up.
I don’t think this book works well for a school library, especially since it features home schooling. Furthermore, Charlie doesn't make an effort to actually help others, gives up when the going gets tough and finds that laziness is the answer. Cute illustrations and an appealing cover.  

EL –NO Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Ballpark Mysteries #7: The San Francisco Splash by David A. Kelly- OPTIONAL

Kelly, David A. The San Francisco Splash. Illustrated by Mark Meyers. 98 pgs. Random House, 2013. $4.99. CHAPTER BOOK: Content: G. Mike and Kate are in the San Francisco Giant’s ballpark bay hoping to catch a fly ball when they hear a much larger splash.  The splash didn’t come from a baseball, but someone falling in! That “person” was the famous retired Giants pitcher Ray Reynolds.  In his fall, he lost his World Series ring. Mike and Kate know this was no accident and have a mystery to solve!  This book was fairly well written, but had some cheesy humor that not even a young child would enjoy.  It cracked un-relatable jokes too many times.  The story was also very predictable.  I pretty much knew how the book was going to end after the first chapter.  There were a few twists, but nothing that affected the story line.  The illustrations were well done and helped the visual aspect of the book greatly.  EL.  OPTIONAL.  Student Reviewer: JL

A Tale of Two Centuries by Rachel Harris -- ESSENTIAL

Harris, Rachel A Tale of Two Centuries 320 pgs. Entangled Publishing, Aug. 6, 2013. $9.99. Language: PG-13 (27 swears, no 'f'); Sexual Content: PG-13; Violence: PG.

In this sequel to My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century, Cat's cousin Alessandra is tired of her quiet life of obedience in sixteenth-century Florence. She longs to speak out. Even more, she wants the rush she felt when acting out a play with Cat two years before -- something good girls in her time are not allowed to do. But when she has the chance to time travel to modern-day L.A., she discovers that being brave is not as easy as she expected. Still, she is determined to make the most of her scary but exciting journey. Good thing she has a little help in the form of her audacious cousin Cat and her government class partner, the obnoxious but undeniably attractive Austin.

This is a wonderful, uplifting tale of friendship, romance, and making your own destiny. It was a lot of fun to experience modern-day life through the eyes of a timid sixteenth-century girl, and my curiosity about how it would all work out kept me turning the pages.  The chemistry between Alessandra and Austin is undeniable, especially once they get to know each other, but what I appreciated most was that, ultimately, it wasn't Austin who saved her in the end. It was Alessandra's own strength, confidence, and willingness to speak up. Note: Does contain one instance of drinking, where Cat steals a shot glass in a bar and suggests Alessandra drink the liquor to calm her nerves. When Alessandra overdoes it, however, the results are unpleasant for her and the characters around her.

HS -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewed by: Caryn

Hooray Parade by Barbara Joosse-OPTIONAL

Joosse, Barbara Hooray Parade.  Illustrated by Heywon Yum, 40 pgs.  Viking Juvenile,  2013.  $16.99.  PICTURE BOOK. Grandma is coming to visit.  She often brings a surprise and this time is no exception.  With the help of a shadow-puppet guessing game, her granddaughter (and young readers alike) are thrilled with guessing which animal shows up behind the curtain: an elephant, ostrich, rhino and monkey.  On the last page, all the animals come from behind the curtain and join the grandmother and granddaughter in a parade. The colors in the illustrations are bright and inviting.  The story is simple but will thrill young readers.  Pre-K.  OPTIONAL.  Reviewer: SL

Happy Birdday Tacky by Helen Lester- ADVISABLE

Lester, Helen Happy Birdday Tacky! Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, 32 pgs.  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013. $16.99. PICTURE BOOK.  It’s Tacky the Penguin’s Birdday and his friends want to make it the best birdday ever!  They spend hours working on cards, songs, presents, ice cream and cake.  They even book a surprise entertainer, Twinklewebs theDance Queen from Iglooslavia. While all of the birdday preparations are going on, Tacky invents another one of his quirky and hilarious dances: The Flapwaddle Dance. While practicing his new dance, Tacky is summoned to the party.  It seems that anything that can go wrong at the party does go wrong. But Tacky takes no notice and begins to show his friends his new dance and he eventually saves the day.  This is another great addition to the Tacky series.  I am partial to the first book.  Sequels, including this one, are funny, colorful and bright, but Tacky the Penguin is simply one of the best books out there. Pre-K.  EL (K-3).  ADVISABLE. Reviewer: SL.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde - OPTIONAL

Fforde, Jasper  The Last Dragonslayer, 287 pgs.  Harcourt, 2012.  $16.99  Content: Language: PG (1 swear); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG. 
Jennifer Strange is a fifteen year old who runs an employment agency for magicians.  She is an orphan, and now an indentured servant working off her years to freedom by manning the company.  The previous manager disappeared while doing magic and Jennifer is the only one who knows how to keep the business afloat.  The magicians help with home repair and delivery services, but magic in the world is dwindling and magical services are no longer used by the public at large.  One of the magicians has a premonition that the local dragon is going to die and soon the whole nation is moving in to take over the dragonlands.  Jennifer attempts to understand the connection between magic and the dragon and comes across the old dragonslayer.  He hands the responsibility over to Jennifer, making her the last dragonslayer, and she finds herself in a precarious situation. 
This book is confusing.  Anytime I found myself getting into the story of Jennifer and the dragon, a minor character would go off on a random dialogue that would last a couple of pages and I didn’t feel like it helped the plot move along at all.  Also there would be references to old wars and battles throughout that really had nothing to do with the overall story.  At times I felt like the book was geared more towards adults and was trying to make environmental statements and anti-war sentiments.  It didn’t feel like a kid book and I wouldn’t recommend it to my students which is sad because I liked the character Jennifer Strange and I wanted to like the story. 
EL, MS-OPTIONAL.  Reviewer, C. Peterson. 

Just One More Pet by Mercer Mayer- ADVISABLE

Mayer, Mercer  Just One More Pet HarperFestival, 2013.  $3.99  PICTURE BOOK  Content: G. 
Little Critter finds a lost dog in the woods on his way home.  He takes the dog home, but his mom says that they have too many pets, so he can’t keep him.  However, his mom lets him put the dog in the backyard on a leash until Little Critter’s dad gets home.  They decide to take care of the dog until they can find its owner.  While the dog is staying with them it has puppies and the owner shows up to take the dog.  She offers one of her puppies to Little Critter and his parents tell him that he can keep it.  He is excited. 
This is a typical cute Little Critter book.  The story shows that keeping and caring for pets is a lot of work, but they are also fun.  The illustrations and quick story will hold little reader’s attention. 
 PREK, EL (K-3)-ADVISABLE.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Saving June by Hannah Harrington - PUBLIC

Harrington, Hannah  Saving June, 322 pgs.  HarlequinTeen, 2011.  $9.99  Content: Language: R (126 swears; 27 F; 27 God); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13. 
Harper’s seemingly perfect sister, June, committed suicide and Harper doesn’t know how to deal with it.  She finds a mix CD that her sister was listening to when she died and decides to investigate who made it for her.  That is how Harper finds Jake.  Harper isn’t sure how June and Jake knew each other, but Jake is willing to help Harper get to California where she hopes to throw June’s ashes into the ocean.  Harper’s best friend Laney also joins them for their crazy road trip where Harper and Jake help each other deal with June’s death. 
 I actually enjoyed this book and I liked the characters.  The mature content (drug use and sex) and language are a bit much for a school library, but I think this book has value because the characters learn how to find strength within themselves even when they feel like there isn’t any hope.  Overall, watching the character growth was worth wading through the inappropriate content.  
HS-PUBLIC ONLY.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

I Scream Ice Cream by Amy Krouse Rosenthal - OPTIONAL

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse  I Scream, Ice Cream  Illustrated by Serge Bloch  Chronicle Books, 2013. $16.99  PICTURE BOOK Content: G. 
This picture book is page spreads that have groups of words that sound the same.  The first page will say something that sounds the same as the second page but means two different things.  For example, “I Scream” and “Ice Cream” as well as “I see” and “Icy”.  Some of the words groups make more sense than others and are entertaining for young readers, but others seem random and don’t really make sense, such as “Sorry, no more funnel cakes” and “Sorry, no more fun…elk aches.”  The pictures are a bit abstract and not my favorite, but they represent the word phrases well.  This picture book doesn’t have a story and it is just phrases throughout.  Kids might find it interesting to think of different meanings of words that sounds the same and the author asks the reader to guess what the second page might mean before you turn the page. 
EL (K-3)-OPTIONAL.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.     

Oranges (flash fiction)

I've been vaguely intending to include some short fiction on here ever since I started up Stuck-in-a-Book, but wondering how to go about it - it might be a bit of a jolt to those of you expecting a review.  But since I've put up some jovial poetry of late, I thought I might indulge myself with this, called 'Oranges'.  I actually wrote it with my friend Mel's flash fiction site The Pygmy Giant in mind, but that's on hiatus, so... it will be here instead! Be kind :)

The ‘five a day’ campaign was a real blessing to folk like me. I can see people slowing down as they walk past, probably on their way back from a day in the office, counting in their heads (and occasionally on their fingers)… and realising they’re one short. Next thing you know, you’ve sold an apple or a pear or an orange. Half the time it’ll probably go uneaten, put optimistically on the table and left to shrivel up – but that’s not my problem, of course. Once it’s sold, it’s sold.

It’s mid-morning and I’m doing ok today. I’ve stacked up my oranges nicely, and that’s not as easy as it looks. You have to have larger ones towards the bottom, to keep the structure secure – but, of course, customers don’t want to be cheated, and there are plenty who’ll spend five minutes trying to get the largest orange from the bottom of the pile. But today I seem to be doing better with strawberries – two pound a box, bigger and juicier than you’ll get in the supermarket – because the sun’s out. It makes a real difference to our work.

Andy beckons me over. He sells veg on the stall next to mine, and he’s a good lad – although the price he tries to get for leeks is a joke, believe me. I have a quick glance around, to make sure I won’t be missing any sales, and pop over to say hello. But I don’t get the chance – as soon as I’m in whispering distance, I hear the words I always dread.

“They say he’s in the area.”

Oh no. Not today – not with the sun out, and a good day’s business ahead of me. But of course, the sun always is out when he makes his appearances.

“Are you sure? Who’s said?”

Andy just shrugs – but nine times out of ten he’s right, and I know better than to ignore his warning. But what to do?

I sell a couple of boxes of strawberries to a nice old dear who’s a regular, and an apple to somebody who looks late for work, but my mind isn’t on it. I start packing up a few bits and pieces, and Andy has boxed up some tomatoes, but we know there’s nothing we can do really. There isn’t a proper way to prepare for what’s coming.

And, suddenly, it’s all happening. The first sign is the shrieking and shouting, but that only gives you about two seconds of warning before it’s too late – he’s here, he’s on you, at the speed of light – this time on a motorbike – heading straight for (ALWAYS straight for) those beautiful oranges I spent all morning arranging. Fruit is flying everywhere, the awning is torn to shreds, and he doesn’t give a monkey’s. He’s gone as soon as he came, destruction everywhere in his wake.

It doesn’t make any difference now, but I can’t help shaking a fist at the already-distant motorbike.

“Damn you, Mr. Bond!”

Book Review: The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

Series: Scottish Brides #1
Author: Nicola Cornick
Published: July 30th 2013 by Harlequin HQN
Age: Adult
An Indecent Proposal!

Lady Lucy MacMorlan may have forsworn men and marriage, but that doesn't mean she won't agree to profit from writing love letters for her brother's friends - letters that become increasingly racy as her fame grows. That is, until she deliberately ruins the betrothal of a notorious laird, Robert, Marquis of Methven.

Past centuries of bloodshed have left the Methven and MacMorlan families bitter enemies and Robert is furious that Lady Lucy's letters have cost him the bride he needs so urgently to save his ancestral clan lands. Now he makes Lucy a shocking proposal; in return for his silence she must become his wife and provide him with the heir he needs. It is an inconvenient marriage of convenience but can the rugged laird and the bluestocking beauty fight against the power of love?

Scottish Brides - Where Regency elegance meets Highland passion!
I didn't know what to expect from The Lady and the Laird, but definitely was a nice surprise! Lady Lucy MacMorlan may seem like the perfect lady, but she isn't the typical lady. She is afraid of love, but write love letters that make men blush. And it's one of those letters that ruins the wedding of the Laird, Marquis of Methven.

It's a surprise for Robert, Marquis of Methven, to find himself planted on his wedding, and it's Lady Lucy MacMorlan's fault. But as soon as he starts to get close to her, he knows she isn't the typical Lady. Not only about her letters, but also her classes and everything about her makes him want to undress her. But she'll pay, of course, accepting his proposal for marriage by convenience.

It's a fast paced plot with a couple of twists that helped Lucy and Robert to slowly fall in love. They have passion in their blood but have to overcome Lucy's fears (and that meant some slow but delicious nights) and defeat the villain before having their happily ever after.

I really liked The Lady and the Laird. It was more than I was expecting, a page turner, and if left me wanting more about Lucy and Robert. I definitely will be keeping an eye for One Night with the Laird, the next book of the Scottish Brides series.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Dog, My Cat by Ashlee Fletcher -- OPTIONAL

Fletcher, Ashlee My Dog, My Cat 32 pgs. Tanglewood Press, 2011. $13.95. PICTURE BOOK.

A very simple picture book comparing the narrator's dog and cat. For example, the dog barks while the cat meows, and the dog enjoys steak while the cat prefers tuna. In the end they do have two things in common: they both love pepperoni pizza and the narrator.

A very quick read with bright, clipart-style illustrations. Although the book doesn't detail anything revolutionary, many children will enjoy the discussion of the differences between cats and dogs.

Pre-K, EL (K-3) -- OPTIONAL. Reviewed by: Caryn.

If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince? by Melissa Kantor -- OPTIONAL

Kantor, Melissa If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where's My Prince? 320 pgs. Hyperion Books, 2007. $8.99. Language: (19 swears, no 'f'); Violence: PG; Mature Content: PG-13 (some making out in cars, though it goes no further than kissing; some underage drinking and one drug reference, neither of which is condoned).

Ever since Lucy's father remarried, her life has been upended. First she had to move from Los Angeles to New York to live with her new family, which meant a new school, new rules, and no friends. Then her father began traveling back to California to work, leaving Lucy alone with her stepmother and two vacuous stepsisters. Lucy decides it's not fair; after all, even Cinderella got to have a prince. Instead, Lucy spends the first seven months at her new school being completely ignored. Then an ill-advised remark about basketball earns her the attention of the hottest guy in school. Too bad Cinderella may be getting to know her real Prince Charming in the form of a standoffish boy in her art class.

This was a cute read with a hopeful ending -- rushed and tidy though that ending was. As much as I wanted to enjoy the story, however, it was a struggle at times. Lucy often came across as self-centered, judgmental, and snotty, and her snide comments were often unearned by the other characters -- especially her stepmother and stepsisters who, while not perfect, were far from evil. Honestly, many of their problems could have been cleared up with one nice, calm discussion -- something Lucy refused to do because she had already written off her brand new family. It was also difficult to suspend disbelief at times. For example, Lucy is not only unpopular, but completely unknown. Yet with one comment about basketball, this quiet sophomore suddenly has a boyfriend in the form of the hottest guy in the senior class. Almost immediately the two of them start going on dates, making out in his car, and planning their prom. Lucy even has big aspirations toward winning Prom Queen. While the wish fulfillment there is sweet, their relationship is so rushed, and Lucy's turnaround from unknown to Miss Popular so sudden, that it's hard to have much stake in it. When the true romance happens in the end, the payoff is nice but very short-lived. All in all a fun but not particularly memorable story.

HS -- OPTIONAL. Reviewed by: Caryn.

Nighty Night ZooBorns by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland –OPTIONAL

Bleiman, Andrew and Eastland, Chris Nighty Night ZooBorns 24 pgs. Simon Spotlight, 2013. $12.38.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
This book describes how 10 different zoo animal babies go to sleep. It provides the specific type of animal they are, along with their given name, like Pepe. It feature’s images of them looking cute or sleepy.
Of course students will love the images, but I can’t understand why a level 1 early reader would include such very specific names of animals that will throw up road blocks for beginning readers, for example instead of just plain Wolf, its “Maned Wolf”. The book didn't really show the animals really sleeping either, which is kind of misleading. The repetition of Nighty, Night was cute though, and might make for a calming story time.

EL –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Go, Jade, Go by Tony and Lauren Dungy –ADVISABLE

Dungy, Tony and Lauren, Illustrated by Newton, Vanessa Go, Jade, Go 32 pgs. Simon Spotlight, 2013. $13.00.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G ; Violence: G.
Justin’s whole family cheer’s on his big sister Jade as she runs track. Justin feels down, and doesn't know what to do to earn some cheers himself. When his big brother Jordan reminds him they each of them is special in their own way –Justin thinks he knows just what to do.
A sweet early reader story about celebrating what makes each person unique. Students will be drawn to the action packed cover art, and find the story easy to relate to their own lives.

EL -ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse - ADVISABLE

Stasse, Lisa M.  The Forsaken, 375 pgs.  Simon and Schuster, 2012.  $16.99  Content: Language: PG-13 (34 swears; 5 God); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13. 
Alenna has been considered an orphan since she was ten and the UNA government took her parents.  The government tests all sixteen year olds to see if they are “unanchored souls” or deviants in society.  Since Alenna has been raised by the government as an orphan, she isn’t worried about being an unanchored soul, so she is surprised to wake up from her test on the wheel, an island where the banished teenagers are sent if they don’t pass the test.  When she wakes up she finds an ally in a boy named David, who saves her life from two warring factions on the island.  They are separated and Alenna finds herself in the blue sector with other teens who are trying to survive the island.  The island is full of secrets and violence and Alenna doesn’t know who to trust, until she finds a familiar face in a warrior named Liam. 
This book is hard to put down because I couldn’t wait to find answers to why she was on the island and who was in control.  Throughout the book there are plausible twists and turns and the minor characters are just as interesting as the main character.  The story reminds me of Maze Runner by James Dashner, but it’s better because the characters find answers to their questions.  The ending is satisfying overall, but it does leave some characters fates unanswered because there is going to be another book in the series.  I can’t wait to read it. 
MS, HS-ADVISABLE.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

Emeraldalicious by Victoria Kann - OPTIONAL

Kann, Victoria  Emeraldalicious HarperCollins, 2013.  $17.99  PICTURE BOOK  Content: G.  
Pinkalicious and Peter are going for a walk when Pinkalicious falls and breaks her wand.  She decides to make a new one out of a nearby twig and it holds magical powers.  Peter and Pinkalicious are able to make cool things out of garbage, such as a throne a castle and new outfits.  They also are able to create birds and flowers.  Eventually the magical wand gets taken up by the wind and Peter is sad because they won’t be able to make anything new, but Pinkalicious tells him not to worry because they can make things with seeds and love. 
The pictures in this book are as bright and colorful as other Pinkalicious books, but the storyline is random and it’s unclear whether or not the characters are actually able to do magic or if it’s their imagination.  There are also poems that they use as spells and they are random and don’t feel thought out.  This isn’t my favorite book even though my daughter loves other Pinkalicious books. 
EL (K-3)-OPTIONAL.  Reviewer, C. Peterson.

When we Wuz Famous by Greg Takoudes - - ADVISABLE

Takoudes, Greg When we Wuz Famous, 310 pgs. Henry Holt and Company; 2013. $16.99. Language: R ( 100+ Swears 17 Fs); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13.  

When basketball star Francisco gets a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in upstate New York, he leaves his friends, his girlfriend and his “Krew” behind.  But when trouble shows up when he comes home for a long weekend, Francisco must decide between staying in school and being loyal to his friends.  

Based on Takoudes film “Up with Me”, this gritty look at the inner-city youth of Spanish Harlem shows how hard it is to break away from the life there. The violence is mild without losing the feel for the danger.  Although quite sweary, High School students would really enjoy this novel.  
HS ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ball by Mary Sullivan-ADVISABLE

Sullivan, Mary Ball 40 pgs. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013. $12.99 PICTURE BOOK.  This virtually wordless book (the only word is ball) is a humorous story about a dog and his need for someone, anyone, to play ball with him.  After his best friend in the house heads to school, he hits up mom, the baby, and even the pet cat in hopes for a quick game of ball.  When no one takes him up on his offer, he ends up playing a one-sided game of fetch.  The dog eventually tires out and has a nap, but the ball playing continues in his dreams.  The story is adorable with perfect detailed illustrations.  We loved the creativity and imagination in this book.  Pre-K.  EL (K-3).  ADVISABLE.  Reviewer: SL. 

Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus by James Dean-OPTIONAL

Dean, James Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus, 32 pgs. Harper Collins, 2013.  $9.99. PICTURE BOOK. This book is about a cat named Pete.  The book is patterned after “The Wheels on the Bus” but with a different twist. Some of the verses are the same like “The driver on the bus says, “Move on back!”.  Other verses are different like “The kitties on the bus say, “Come on, Pete!”.   I didn’t really like this book.  The story wasn’t interesting.  The pictures were alright but I didn’t love them either.  Pre-K.  EL(K-3).  OPTIONAL.  Student Reviewer: JL- age 10.

Bella's Rules by Elissa Haden Guest-ESSENTIAL

Guest, Elissa Haden Bella’s Rules. Pictures by Abigail Halpin. 32 pgs.  Dial, 2013.  $16.99.  PICTURE BOOK. This book is about a girl named Bella who sometimes struggles with being a good girl.  Her grandmother buys her a dog to show Bella how it feels when sometimes the thing you are taking care of is bad.  Will Bella learn lesson?  I really liked this book.  I really liked the illustrations a lot.  I liked the story and the moral to the story.  Pre-K.  EL (K-3).  ESSENTIAL.  Student reviewer: JL- age 10. 

Cute & Cuter by Michael Townsend-ADVISABLE

Townsend, Michael Cute & Cuter, 40 pgs.  Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013. $15.99.  PICTURE BOOK.  This book is a very cute story about a dog and his owner.  One day they get a cat.  The dog does not like the cat.  He tried every way he can think of to get rid of the cat.  He eventually drops the cat out the mail slot in the door hoping the owner won’t notice.  The owner becomes sad and she starts to worry.  This wasn’t going at all how the dog had hoped.  Will the owner find the cat and will they all become friends?  Read to find out.  I really liked the illustrations.  I thought they were really cute.  I liked the story line and what happened in the book.  Pre-K.  EL (K-3).  ADVISABLE.  Student Reviewer: JL

Book Review: Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

Title: Bliss
Author: Kathryn Littlewood
Series: The Bliss Bakery #1
Published February 14th 2012 by The Inkhouse
Follows 11-year-old Rose Bliss and the chaotic impact that magical recipes from her family’s secret cookery book have on the town of Calamity Falls.
I kind of loved this book. It was so cute! Rose is 11 years old and her family runs a magical bakery. Mostly it's a normal bakery but her parents know how to make magic, and sometimes they bake magical cookies or muffins that help people.

Rose really wants to magic-bake, but her parents only let her run errands for the bakery. That is, until her parents leave her and her brothers for a few days, and her beautiful and mysterious Aunt Lily arrives to help them.

Rose has some doubts about Aunt Lily but she has never felt so good before. She feels beautiful, her brothers appreciate her, even her crush notices her. And she's finally able to bake with magic! everything seems easy except that it isn't, not when the town eat some truth cookies, backward cake and more!

I really liked Rose and the dynamic of the family. She was young and insecure, only 11 years old, but she's also great and loves her family. For me it was so obvious 'Aunt Lily' was bad, but of course these were only children who easily fell in love with her.

Overall, I really enjoyed it and I want to share this book with my 8 years old niece. It's a cute story, but be warned, it has a sequel!

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon.

Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie

I've mentioned a few times that I have spent the past couple of months immersed in Agatha Christie, being the only author who was able to circumnavigate my reader's block - everything else I tried was abandoned after a page or two, but I could tear through a Christie in a day or two.  Thankfully (for my general reading) I'm now having more success getting past p.1 with other authors, although it's still a bit impeded, but I did enjoy getting into Christie mode and wolfing them down.

I haven't blogged about them, partly because Christie novels are often very similar and partly because you can't say much without giving the game away - but in the spirit of my Reading Presently project (reading and reviewing 50 books in 2013 that were given to me as presents) I shall write about Dumb Witness, because my lovely colleague Fiona gave it to me when I left my job at OUP (which, incidentally, I am missing furiously.)  It was (is?) published in the US under the rather-better title Poirot Loses A Client.

We had quite a lot of chats about Agatha Christie over the months, but the reason Fiona picked Dumb Witness as my leaving gift wasn't only because she knew I hadn't read it - it was because of the dog on the cover.  We had lengthy cat vs. dog arguments (publishers, it turns out, tend to prefer dogs - librarians and book bloggers definitely fall down on the cat side) and this was Fiona's funny way of making a point - so, of course, I used a bookmark with a cat on it.  Sherpa, in fact, painted on a bookmark by Mum.

Dumb Witness is a Poirot/Hastings novel, which is my favourite type of Christie after a Marple-takes-centre-stage novel (she is sadly sidelined in a few of her own novels).  You may recall an excerpt I posted from Lord Edgware Dies, in which the delightful relationship between Hastings and Poirot is perfectly illustrated.  More of the same in Dumb Witness - Hastings constantly makes suppositions and conclusions which Poirot bats away in frustration, never revealing quite why Hastings is wrong (other than his touching readiness to believe what he is told by almost anyone) and holding his own cards close to his chest.

I shall say very little about the plot, because (unlike most novels I read) the plot is of course crucially important in a detective novel - so I'll just mention the premise.  Poirot wishes to follow up a letter he has received Miss Emily Arundell, asking him to investigate an accident she had - falling down the stairs, after tripping on her dog's ball.  Her letter isn't very coherent, but she seems to be suggesting that it may not have been an accident... Although she recovers from the minor injuries sustained in this fall, by the time Poirot receives the letter - mysteriously, two months later - she has died from a long-standing liver complaint.  Poirot decides to accept the posthumous commission into attempted murder...

As far as plot and solution go, Dumb Witness has all the satisfying twists, turns, and surprises that we all expect from a Christie novel - it certainly doesn't disappoint on this front, and this is one especially excellent twist, albeit with a few cruder details that are not worthy of her name on the cover.  But, alongside that, I loved Poirot's determination that attempted murder should be investigated and prosecuted, whether or not the victim was dead - Hastings, for all his gentlemanly bluster, can't see why it is a matter of importance.  Poirot's moral backbone is one of the reasons I find him such a fantastic character.

And the dog?  Yes, Fiona, the dog (Bob) is rather fun, and Hastings is predictably wonderful about him - although I did find the amount of words put in the mouth of Bob a little off-putting.  It reminded me of Enid Blyton's technique of including passages along the lines of "'"Woof', said Timmy, as if to say 'They've gone to the cove to fetch the boat'."  There, I believe, I have spotted the major flaw with Dumb Witness - or at least, an aspect where it could be improved.  It would be a far superior novel, had it featured a cat.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry -- PUBLIC

McGarry, Katie Dare You To 480 pgs. Harlequin Teen, 2013. $17.99. Mature Content: R (drinking; drugs; physical intimacy, although final acts occur behind closed doors); Violence: PG-13 (several fights; references to child abuse); Language: R (150+ swears; 23 'f')

When Beth covers for her drunken mother -- yet again -- her rich uncle gives her an ultimatum: come live with him and his wife, or he will tell the police the truth and send Beth's mother to jail. But moving in with her uncle means going to a new high school, where she has daily contact with Ryan, a promising baseball player who seems strangely drawn to her.

What Beth doesn't know is that Ryan is determined to break through her tough exterior for one big reason: his friends dared him to ask her out, and she turned him down. Ryan doesn't lose, and now he has a chance to redeem himself. But soon there's something more important at stake than winning a dare: winning skittish Beth's heart before she disappears from his life forever.

Dare You To is a wonderful romance between two realistic teens who both have some growing up to do and some major decisions to make. Their love is hard-won, and it helps both of them become better people. Although brash, tough Beth may be difficult to like at first, her tumultuous past and growth throughout the book endear her to readers. Ryan's ultra-perfect jock exterior is also peeled away to show that, like all teens, he has some struggles of his own. While Dare You To could be a difficult addition for schools due to the strong language, drug use, and other mature content (the scene where several characters shop for condoms together comes to mind), it would find a guaranteed audience in many libraries because of its unflinching realism, romantic themes, and ultimately happy ending. It may in fact be just the book for some students -- especially those who have difficult pasts or families who are either torn apart or are too perfect. Would also be great for fans of Simone Elkeles. Note: This is a companion book to Pushing the Limits. While I did not read Echo and Noah's story and it was not essential to the plot of Dare You To, it would be beneficial to read them in order.

HS -- PUBLIC ONLY. Reviewed by: Caryn

Wetlands by Cathryn Sill -- ESSENTIAL

Sill, Cathryn and John Sill About Habitats: Wetlands 48 pgs. Peachtree, 2013. $7.95.

An illustrated introduction to various wetlands ecosystems, ending with a call to protect these important habitats. Written for young children, each spread contains one to three simple sentences in large print, highlighting a particular aspect of the wetlands. A full-color painting on the opposite page complements each section of the text. The last few pages contain further details on each of the preceding illustrations, a glossary, and a list of resources for further study.

An excellent introduction to an essential habitat, especially for younger children. Although I did learn a few things while reading it, older children who are conducting more in-depth research may need something more detailed.

Pre-K, EL (K-3) -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewed by: Caryn

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Song for a Sunday

I'm a big Siobhan Donaghy fan, so was delighted when I heard that she would be reuniting with the other original members of (hideous band name alert) the Sugababes.  For those not in the know, Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan, and Siobhan Donaghy founded the Sugababes when they were about 15 with the fantastic song Overload, then left and were replaced one by one, so that the Sugababes now has no original members.  So the originals reformed, under the nicer but less imaginative name Mutya Keisha Siobhan, and will soon be releasing this lovely track - Flatline:

The Favorite Daughter by Allen Say - - ADVISABLE

Say, Allen The Favorite Daughter, 32 pgs. Arthur A. Levine Books; 2013. $17.99. Content: G.  

When Yuriko stays with her father, she is angry that the children tease because her blonde hair does not look Japanese, and the art teacher says her name wrong.  Now she wants to be Michelle, so her father takes her to Golden Gate Park and a Japanese garden to get inspiration for her art assignment.  

In this sweet story about appreciating your heritage and being creative, Say balances Japanese traditions with American culture and shows how a little creativity can make an ordinary assignment a special piece of art.  

EL ADVISABLE Lisa Librarian

Invasion by Walter Dean Myers - - ESSENTIAL

Myers, Walter Dean Invasion, 224 pgs. Scholastic Press; 2013. $17.99. Language: R (86 Swears 17 Fs); Mature Content: PG13; Violence: PG13.  

Woody is part of the 29th Infantry Division which invaded France against the Germans on D-Day suffering heavy casualties.  This is the story of the Invasion and the weeks following D-Day.  

Walter Dean Myers gives us another war story; this time, WWII. Billed as a prequel to Fallen Angels and Sunrise over Fallujah, Myers shows the horrors of war without being too graphic and sends the message that war is not the answer to the world’s problems.  Although the swear count is high, I would certainly recommend this on a Middle School level.  


Friday, July 26, 2013

When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton -- ESSENTIAL

Jordan-Fenton, Christy, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and Gabrielle Grimard When I Was Eight 32 pgs. Annick Press, 2013. $9.95.

An autobiographical account of the author's childhood adapted for children from the book Fatty Legs. When Olemaun was eight, she convinced her father to let her leave their Inuit island and travel far away to the outsiders' school so she could learn to read. Victorious, Olemaun arrives at school ready to learn. Things are not easy for her, however. The nuns take away her native clothes, replacing them with an ill-fitting uniform. They rename her Margaret and order her to do chores. When she makes an enemy of her stern nun of a teacher, Margaret wonders if she will ever be allowed to learn to read. But her determination is stronger than all the things thrown at her, and in the end she teaches herself.

This is a wonderful story about the importance of education, as well as perseverance in the face of obstacles. I found myself worrying and cheering right along with Olemaun. Because of the cultural and historical references, some children may require a little extra explanation from adults to help them understand the context of the story and the significance of Olemaun's achievements. Would make a good companion to lessons on the culture and history of the Inuits. May also make a nice library read-aloud due to its emphasis on the power of reading.

EL -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewed by: Caryn

Cover Reveal for GOING HOME AGAIN by Abby Cavenaugh

I'm so excited to join in the fun for my super talented CP Abby Cavenaugh's cover reveal!

So...without further's her gorgeous new cover!

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 8/27/13
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Formats: Available for Kindle and Nook

In high school, it was doubtful Michael Day knew Alyssa Jones existed. 

Twenty years later, when the now-famous pop star returns home to coastal North Carolina, Alyssa gets a second chance to make a first impression on Michael. 

On sabbatical from his failing marriage, Michael agrees to an interview with Alyssa, a journalist for the local tourist magazine. 

When the chemistry between them ignites, Alyssa and Michael are hit with the harsh reality that he isn't yet free to love her. 

With Michael's wife and son still very much in the picture, can Alyssa hold out until he ends his marriage for good? Or will she risk it all for a second chance with the one who got away?

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Aug 27 can't come fast enough 'cause I can't WAIT to get my hands on this book! Please spread the word and go buy a copy when it comes out.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Meaty Main Dishes by Jennifer S. Larson -- ESSENTIAL

Larson, Jennifer S. and Brie Cohen Meaty Main Dishes 32 pgs. Millbrook Press, 2013. $26.60.

A beginner's guide to cooking. Includes ten different meat-based recipes, some with vegetarian alternatives.

While the recipes themselves are serviceable, the main appeal of the book is its information on basic cooking skills. The first few pages include an introduction to cooking, along with safety tips, illustrations of various kitchen tools, and an introduction to basic cooking techniques -- all written in a clear but friendly and encouraging voice with a nice, easy-to-read typeface and bolding in appropriate places. The recipes themselves include lists of ingredients and equipment, estimated preparation and cooking time, step-by-step directions, pictures and illustrations, and helpful hints -- many of which encourage children to get creative with their cooking by substituting different ingredients or arranging food in new, appealing ways. The last few pages contain a glossary of unusual ingredients, an index, and a list of websites for further reading.

Meaty Main Dishes is an excellent resource for beginning cooks. Although some of the recipes do require adult supervision, many steps can be done by children, helping them to gain confidence in the kitchen. While some high school students may find it slightly young for them, those who are interested in becoming self-sufficient -- such as those who come home to an empty house or who are about to go off to college -- may be willing to overlook the tone. The main downside is the hefty price tag, though the book does include a solid library binding.

EL, MS, HS -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewed by: Caryn

The Red House - Mark Haddon

What with reader's block, moving house, and not having internet for a bit, it's been a while since you had a proper review from me.  And today is no different, because I'm handing over to somebody else to write about The Red House by Mark Haddon, which I was sent as a review copy.  Tom (who recently married my best friend) spotted it on my shelves, and commented on it, so I decided it would find a better home with him.  Whether or not he ended up agreeing, you can discover below... Tom, by the by, can also be found at the blog Food, Music, God.  Over to you, Tom!

I promised Simon a while back that I'd read Mark Haddon's The Red House and review it for him, and have sincerely been reiterating that promise to him ever since whilst getting distracted by other tasks like getting married or trying to qualify as a teacher. However, the other day my mother rang me up and told me that my father had recently read The Red House and she had just started it, and so it occurred to me that now might be the time to take action and stop anyone else having to read it ever again. That way, we can pretend that it didn't happen, that Mark Haddon can still write novels with razor-sharp characters and compelling narrative, and that this clichéd series of adolescent writing exercises is the work of someone else.

The novel is about two families united by estranged siblings who are trying to reconnect with one another after the death of their ferocious mother. There's Richard, the hospital consultant who remarried recently but doesn't really know how to talk to his new wife Louisa, and may have A DARK SECRET. His estranged sister, Angela, who's haunted by the ghost of her stillborn daughter, but of course she can't tell anyone about that, and married to Dominic, who seems reasonably normal but may also have A DARK SECRET. Richard's kids - Alex, a sex-obsessed teenager; Daisy, a buttoned-up Christian who also thinks rather more about sex than she'd like; Benjy, who is eight (I think) and I can't remember much more about. Angela's daughter Melissa, who is a self-obsessed cow who's kind of hot and whom Alex fancies, of course. Then there's the house itself, allegedly the conduit for all of these stories for some reason, although that's arguably just an excuse for the fact that Mark Haddon couldn't decide which character to focus on. The house seems to know quite a lot of poetry, and it talks like a travel guide written by James Joyce.

If you think that sounds like a lot going on, you'd be right, and that's part of the problem. It's a shame, as there are some good ideas here, especially with the teenagers in the cast - Daisy's struggle with her sexuality and where it fits with her faith is clearly aiming for some wider significance, for example. Alex and Melissa's teenage angst is sharply drawn, if rather aimless, and the differences in Angela and Richard's approach to their upbringing and the effect on their families could have been channeled into something effective in the manner of Jonathan Franzen. However, it just doesn't feel like it's been edited into any kind of coherent shape. It's this huge splurge of styles and influences and this, rather than seeming ambitious, comes across as amateurish instead. It doesn't build, it doesn't have much of a climax to speak of, and the central narrative just isn't strong enough to provide any real mooring.

It's also overwritten and laden with unnecessary detail. What is one supposed to make of a passage like this:

Louisa works for Mann Digital in Leith. They do flatbed scanning, big photographic prints, light boxes, Giclée editions, some editing and restoration. She loves the cleanness and precision of it, the ozone in the air, the buzz and shunt of the big Epsons, the guillotine, the hot roller, the papers, Folex, Somerset, Hahnemühle. Mann is Ian Mann who hung on to her during what they called her difficult period because she'd manned the bridge during his considerably more difficult period the previous year.

It's like Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian", that, only about photocopying. And that's not even the worst linguistic crime in the book - reading about Angela reading modern poetry, with snippets of Robert Browning woven through the text, is pretty painful, as is Richard's attempt at reading ancient Greek poetry, not to mention the inexplicable quoting of something that seems to be an encyclopaedia about lorries.

Or what about this:

Richard slots the tiny Christmas tree of the interdental brush into its white handle and cleans out the gaps between his front teeth, top and bottom, incisors, canines. He likes the tightness, the push and tug, getting the cavity really clean, though only at the back between the molars and pre-molars do you get the satisfying smell of rot from all that sugar-fed bacteria. Judy Hecker at work. Awful breath. Ridiculous that it should be a greater offence to point it out. Arnica on the shelf above his shaver. Which fool did that belong to? Homeopathy on the NHS now. Prince Charles twisting some civil servant's arm no doubt. Ridiculous man.

If you can find another novel in which you can find a narrative reason to justify spending this much time on one of the characters brushing his teeth, I'd be interested to hear about it. It's a testament to the way that The Red House is written that the author thought that this belonged, but it is apparently a novel about the mundane and the ordinary (or so the blurb says), and so there's plenty of that. Again, perhaps it's an attempt at being clever; to impart some wonder into the everyday processes of how peoples' minds work. If you feel a sense of wonder at the above, I'd be interested to hear about that too.

You should not read The Red House. Tell your friends not to read it. If people suggest taking it on holiday, don't. If you find it in your holiday home, leave it there. It's not a good holiday book. It's not good literary fiction. No, it's not lightweight, and yet it also doesn't seem to mean anything. It's shockingly dark in places (and shockingly dull in others) and it doesn't seem to known what to do with that darkness. Curious Incident was (and still is) magnificent, thanks to an exceptionally strong narrative voice. A Spot of Bother was flawed, but still gripping and surprisingly visceral in places - and the characterisation was second to none. In The Red House, despite a couple of strong passages such as Richard's disastrous run out on the moors, there's nothing to make this stand out. It's an ambitious experiment, and perhaps an admirable one; to his credit, at least Mark Haddon is still pushing his craft and trying new things. However, it's a huge disappointment that in doing so he has moved so far away from his strengths.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wyatt Burp Rides Again (The Adventures of Jo Schmo #2) by Greg Trine -OPTIONAL

Trine, Greg Wyatt Burp Rides Again (The Adventures of Jo Schmo #2) 112 pgs. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013. $12.98.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
Jo Schmo is bored, impatient that there are no big crimes to solve. Little does she know that the means girls at school have decided to become super villains! Jo decides to build a time machine and go back in the past to fight the evil Wyatt Burp. His burping powers are going to present a big challenge!
This the second book I have read in this series, and I am not sure that it’s growing on me. The language is choppy and stilted, often really corny too.  I think the cover is unappealing as well.  I wouldn't purchase this one for my school library, I just think there is better options.

EL –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The End of the World (Icky Ricky #2) by Michael Rex –NO

Rex, Michael Toilet Paper Mummy (Icky Ricky #1) 128 pgs. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013. $4.99.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
Here we find Icky Ricky and his friends trying valiantly to re-deliver a pizza mis-delivered to them. But its raining, and they drop it, and they try to remake it. Well it’s a mess and they boys decide to have a funeral. We also meet Icky Rickys toenail collection. Then the boys have some adventure’s on a Cleanup day.
Although this book is better than the first one, I still would choose not to spend money on this series. I wish the author would take the great banter between the boys, the sense of fun, and his creativity –then take it down a notch.

EL –NO Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Toilet Paper Mummy (Icky Ricky #1) by Michael Rex –NO

Rex, Michael Toilet Paper Mummy (Icky Ricky #1) 128 pgs. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013. $4.99.  Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.
Icky Ricky is a boy who very creative when it comes to using food in a variety of ways, many of them really messy, gross, and of course, fun. Will Ricky be able to turn in his homework on cheese slices? Will a half watermelon helmet really work? Is Ricky going to take the fall for the bully Dean’s lost RC car? What about all that canned cheese?
I didn't care for this book. It was like a giant collection of ideas on how to waste food by making a giant mess with it. Although there was some continuing plot lines and decent vocabulary, I didn't feel like they justified purchasing this for a school library –even as entertaining filler.

EL –NO Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.