Monday, April 30, 2012

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

It took a little work but not much to get into this story. I wasn’t sure what to think about it at first and then suddenly I was swept away and could not put it down. This is the story of Princess Andrea. A mix of coming of age with science fiction with fantasy and rounded out by a touch of romance. Andrea wants to become a knight. As the fourth daughter she has no claim to the throne and wants nothing to do with being a lady. Her parents refuse her request and so she sets off on her own adventure. Wild and high spirited, Andrea finds herself leaving her world and entering California. She learns that nothing is what she thought it was. Upon returning home, she inadvertently starts a war which she has to work to stop. What I liked best was that Andrea had a fairly immature view of the world and it surprised her as she matured. I loved her confusion and the fact that she was unsure of herself, even right up to the end. She was real and insecure. There were some language issues but I only noticed them early on, the story completely sucked me in. I was uncertain of everyone’s motivation and, while I guessed who would be her love interest, I was still surprised by each turn of events. I would love to read more and see where her next adventure takes her.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Alienation by Jon Lewis

To start with, I got this as an e-ARC so I wasn’t able to tell whether this was the first book of the series. Part way through the book, I looked it up to find it was the second book. There were some things that felt awkward reading this out of order but for the most part I was able to connect to the characters and follow the plot of the book. This wasn’t a favorite of mine but that’s not the books fault. I’m not real big on military action sort of stories. This is a book about aliens but it’s more about the young men who have been enlisted into a special military organization to combat the aliens. For those who likes those sorts of stories, this one is for you. There was too much detail in the weaponry for my taste. I don’t care how many different types of assault rifles and the numbers that are associated with them. For me, the book had too much of that. It pulled me out of the story. And there was a lot of it. There’s amazing technology in this book for those who like it. There’s realistic holographs for training (and if you get hurt in the holograph room, you really get hurt), robots for training and as servants, and hoverboards. It’s a thrilling young adult novel perfect for those who love military and espionage. In this story, Colt is heading off to CHAOS training. (I can’t remember what the acronym stands for but it’s something like covert – alien - something.) While trying to get there he discovers someone is trying to kill him. The head of CHAOS has ordered the murder of several government officials and it appears that he wants to get rid of Colt too. Colt is the grandson of the great CHAOS legend Phantom Rider. He’s left not sure of who to trust especially since his best friend is the son of the CHAOS leader. It did keep me guessing and I have to say I didn’t see the twist that came. I enjoyed the action and all the alien descriptions. This was similar in tone to comic books in the 40’s and 50’s – Captain America and the like. I think it makes for a great read for young men who love all that sort of stuff.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Abe Sapien Volume 2 by Mike Mignola

One of the things I love about BPRD character books, includes Hellboy and Abe Sapien, is that they are collections of short stories not a continuing story. That means I can pick them up as I find them and enjoy them. There are some characters that come and go but overall I can easily figure out who everyone is what they are doing. Much of that knowledge comes from the Hellboy movies – I’m not ashamed, I love Hellboy. I would beg them to make more and would even love Hellboy spin offs. I’m not picky. I loved this collection. Just three short tales starring Abe Sapien. I was slightly disappointed that he wasn’t more dynamic in these. He could kick butt but I wanted the more intellectual Abe. I think he’s a good counterweight to the brute of Hellboy. Maybe I miss their balance but that didn’t take away my enjoyment of these stories. Not too bad for a younger audience but a bit on the violent side. The violence was always directed towards monsters but for a young’in that might be too much. These are great for middle grade boys to read and should suck them right in and have them begging for more. This volume has ghosts, zombies, ships and an appearance by Hellboy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Taking the Lead by Stephanie Perry Moore

There were things I really liked about this book. It’s interactive with word searches after each chapter and lesson plans at the end. The story has promise – young Alec has just been elected 5th grade class president. He’s got a lot of good things coming his way. On the downside, his father is the school principal and his parents fight constantly. There are some good themes that go through this book. It does have a fair amount of Christian values such as allowing God to lead. With Alec as class president he has to learn what makes a good leader. However, I didn’t like the flow or the language of the book. It’s set in Georgia so maybe the problem is regional or even cultural. I think boys in that age group might feel differently but I don’t see this book becoming a classic. I do think it makes a great homeschooling book and as it comes in a series could be a good addition to curriculum.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BPRD Hell On Earth Volume 2 by Mike Mignola

Ack – what a ride. Hell on Earth is an accurate description of this apocalyptic story from BPRD. I was slightly off kilter not having read volume 1 but this volume let me catch up and enjoy the story. I can’t wait for volume 3. Looks like I’m going to have to do some serious graphic novel shopping. So many good tales lately. This one focused on Abe and Liz. Abe is hunting a teenager who seems to be one step ahead of the disasters while Liz is in hiding and discovers no matter how much you try to stay away, it will always find you. I like Liz but I wish she was a more sure character. If you are a Hellboy or BPRD fan – this is a great story line. It’s filled with possessed humans, huge monsters and a secret race that may prove powerful enough to destroy the world.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mr Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

Having read so many juvenile and children’s books lately this was a real treat. Not only has Mr Popper’s Penguins been on my to read list but it comes highly recommended on many reading lists. Published in 1938, Mr Popper’s Penguins is a children’s classic. Last year it was made into a movie (I haven’t seen it yet and was waiting until after I read the book) and in turn was re-released as a book with a short biography of the writers at the end. The thing I noticed first about Mr Popper’s Penguins is the language. I know it’s a classic and the story is delightful but I think I’ve been kind of ruined for children’s fiction. There is such an expectation nowadays to have tighter more descriptive language. We want each word to have meaning so we don’t feel like we are wasting our time. Good stories are lost in a sea of expectations for language. It was actually a relief to read something that was just a good story. The story is horribly silly and that’s great. There’s no evil to be conquered and everything works out fine. There is a small moment when the group arrives at the wrong theatre but even then it’s all in good fun. I miss that. I miss just enjoying the ride. For those not familiar with the story – Mr Popper receives a penguin in the mail from a famous explorer in Antarctica. He and his wife make a home for the penguin in their refrigerator (with help from their two children). Soon, Captain Cook (as the penguin is named) becomes ill. Fearful that there is something terribly wrong with him, Mr Popper writes to a zoologist who in return sends him Greta, a penguin with a similar problem. Over the winter, Greta and Captain Cook become parents to 10 babies. In true fancy, they become performing penguins and everyone goes on the road. This is a great adventure for all. The book is simple enough for a young reader to understand. Middle grade and older students might find there is not enough action in the book but I still recommend encouraging them to try to read this book. It’s from a different time when kids weren’t force feed stimulation all day long. It reminds the reader that not everything has to be action oriented and sometimes a good story is just a good story.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I wasn’t sure how to feel about this book when I first started. The story is Ismae’s – as she is rescued from a life filled with pain and hatred. She is taught to be an assassin for the convent of St Mortain as she was conceived from Mortain himself. Sent out to find a traitor to her duchess, Anne of Brittany, Ismae soon discovers that nothing is as it seems. The story is part adventure and part romance. I enjoyed both aspects of it. Robin LaFevers wove together an amazing tale, leaving me longing for more. It was a little slow to start with but soon I couldn’t put it down. I now have a long year’s wait for the sequel and I’m not sure I can wait. I want it now. Especially, knowing that the sequel will explain what is happening with Sybella, another member of the convent and dear friend to Ismae.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Unbidden Magic Series

With the final book coming out this summer, Netgalley had an offer for their reviewers – all four of the current books of the Unbidden Magic Series as one long e-book. The number of pages was daunting but that didn’t stop me from burning through the books in a matter of days. Allie is just a normal girl trying to survive what life has offered her. She lives with her mother in a travel trailer on a piece of her mother’s step-brother’s land. Her mother was suffering from a mysterious illness that prevented her from working. Poor didn’t even begin to express how they lived. That was until Allie fell off the porch and something strange happened. Her life would never be the same. Allie was meant for greater things that involved magic, demons, fairies and an upcoming war between the light and the dark. The stories are witty and entertaining. Maybe a little over the top but I think that’s what I loved about them. It’s tough to talk about a series without giving away too much information but I will say the thing that tickled me the most was Allie’s boy trouble. She’s awkward and brash but that doesn’t stop the boys from lining up and threatening her reputation. They compare this series to Sookie Stackhouse, not sure I agree but I will say these are a fun read and I’m not all that excited that I now have to wait for the 5th book. Especially since the fourth ended with such a cliffhanger.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson

Camping with children can be difficult but Helen offers a simple guide to make the trip more successful for everyone involved. She starts with planning. Planning an outing is a tough thing to teach so instead she offers some points to consider when planning a camping trip. Location is everything and researching the campsite you are going to will ease surprises when you arrive. Prepare your children with fun books about camping and information about activities you can do. For me, gear is the hardest part. Helen has nicely broken down all the parts that make up a great campsite and how to shop for them. She includes bringing along a play tent to keep the kids occupied while you set up. Then comes section 2, arrival at the site. Helen offers an amazing detailed description of setting up a campsite. I don’t think I have ever seen a better manual and I have read a ton of camping books. She offers a chapter on camp food with recipes. Then goes on to offer games and activities to keep children occupied. The book ends with a section on hygiene, first aid and safety. Camping is a daunting activity for any beginner. Add children and camping becomes forbidden. Helen Olsson has created a simple guide to break down those barriers and get the family out into the woods. I can see so much potential for this book from scouting groups, youth groups to just learning to enjoy nature as a family.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unintentional Humor by Brent and Linda Gund Anderson

Autism is a hot topic these days. The news is filled with new research. Bookstores offer the latest cure or diet treatment as well as volumes of how to parent a child with Autism. In all of this slips this little book that offers a different view into the Autistic brain with a little humor. Brent Anderson has Autism. Speaking to Brent was often a challenge for his mother Linda Gund Anderson. He’s not stupid or retarded, Brent’s brain is just more literal than what we consider normal thinking. Unintentional Humor is not a peek into Autism as much as it’s a Gilbert and Sullivan poke at the English language. This illustrated tome picks at those phrases we use without thinking and offers a peek into what those phrases mean to someone with a literal mind. Linda said that when Brent and Alan J Lewis (the illustrator) were working on the book, there was a lot of Alan agreeing with Brent. Perhaps Alan has a literal mind and maybe we all are just so comfortable with these phrases that we don’t stop to think about the ridiculous words that come out of our mouths. I will say that my friend and I would often giggle about a particular phrase my father would use “sh*t fire and little fishes.” We had (and still have) no idea what it really means but it was sure fun to say. I can’t say enough about this book to make you really understand what a wonderful addition it is to your library. It was important to the Andersons to make this book accessible to all ages so it’s reader friendly for even young readers. There are explanations and origins for the phrases at the back of the book. There are so many things one can do with this book. For more information, visit Keep an eye out for Linda and her van, she just may be coming your way.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Girl by Paige Harbison

I read a review about this book which prompted me to request it from NetGalley. I’m so glad I did. New Girl is a re-telling of Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I have never read Rebecca nor was I familiar with the story so I thought it would be a fun way to discover a classic and I would have no pre-conceived ideas of how the plot should go. The other thing I knew about the book was there was a twist at the ending. I had expected more of a twist than I got. That’s not to say it was a bad ending or twist but my overactive imagination was sure there was something so unexpected going to happen like the “New Girl” turned out to be Rebecca and everyone was playing along with her fantasy but it was nothing like that. The only twist is that you find out what really happened to Rebecca and it’s not that much of a twist. The story was great. I could not put the book down. I devoured it in hours (which always leaves me unsatisfied because it’s over). The main character’s name is not revealed until the last page or so which makes describing the book a little tricky. The “new girl” is accepted to Manderley, a private boarding school in New Hampshire. She has spent her whole life in a small town in Florida and is stunned to learn she will be spending her senior year at a boarding school she had been interested in years prior. She’s not that excited to go. She gets to the school to find that she is “replacing” Becca who mysteriously disappeared at the end of the last school year. The book flips between the new girl’s story and Becca’s. There’s not a lot of “plot” in this book but it’s an interesting picture into the life of the New Girl. I enjoyed her journey through her senior year. It wasn’t easy and yet her character remained believable. The circumstances remained believable. Sometimes it’s nice to just experience someone else’s life and that’s what New Girl really is. She’s not perfect but she’s not overly flawed, just human. She’s in a bad situation but doesn’t let that stop her from succeeding. It was nice to see her struggle and the awkwardness she felt as she changed. I think it’s a great book for young women to read. It’s probably too “girly” for boys but it’s still a great story to experience.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Warriors and Wailers by Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang offers an interesting view into ancient China through the jobs one could hold during that time. She starts with a brief explanation of Chinese Dynasties and the overall feel for the country. Written for juvenile readers, Warriors and Wailers breaks down the culture through jobs from Emperor to Philosopher to Robber. It’s a unique view into a culture. I didn’t realize how many jobs women did hold over the years and that education was important long ago. I liked that a child of a poor farmer could raise up their status with an education and the civil service test. This is a difficult book to review but I enjoyed it. The information was new to me and opened up a mysterious culture for me. We neglect to realize how our jobs not only define ourselves but our society around us. This is a good book for upper grade school or middle school. It’s short segments with lots of illustrations but the material is slightly mature for a young reader. There is information on women’s roles and how they shaped the country. There’s talk about war and violence but in a very educational platform. China has a very gory past but it’s prettied up here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Valentino Finds a Home by Andy Whiteside

What a cute little book. Valentino is a little guinea pig who has decided to run away from Bolivia where he would be someone’s dinner. Through a mis-adventure, Valentino ends up in a pet store and, eventually, to the home of a little girl. The language is a little more advanced than the target age (3-7) but not so difficult that they couldn’t understand it being read to them or learn the words. Sensitive children might not like the fact that Valentino is being raised for food in the beginning but that’s only mention for the first couple of pages. The illustrations are fun and bright. They will engage even a reluctant reader. The guinea pig is so cute that I found myself going back a page to see him again before moving on. Animal lovers will love the pictures.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Allergy-Friendly Food for Families by Kiwi Magazine

This is a great book for families who have recently had a child diagnosed with a gluten, dairy, nut, soy or egg allergy or are learning to juggle multiple food allergies. The book starts off with tips for food safety and reducing cross contamination. It goes on to an FAQ section with experts before moving onto the recipes. The recipe section is coded with the 5 allergens – gluten, dairy, nut, soy, egg. Each has its own color square on the edge of each page so that locating recipes with that particular allergen gone is easy to do. The recipes are broken into meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks, and parties. There are some rather neat features with this book. The first thing I noticed is that most of the recipes omit the allergen instead of trying to come up with a substitute. There are substitutions in this cookbook but not as many as other cookbooks have offered. I know that when we were gluten free it was far easier to come up with recipes that didn’t use gluten foods than it was to replace the gluten foods. The next thing I noticed was these cool sections on cooking with your kids. So many forget to teach their children how to cook and when it comes to food allergies, learning early is best. I loved the party section because there are always parties from birthdays to class parties and it’s nice to have beautiful ideas that taste good. The book wraps up with Building an Allergy-free Pantry. This is a great tool. It helps the user create a list of staples and explains the reasons why these ingredients are so important (including tips for using the item). I would gladly recommend this book. My only complaint is that it didn’t come out when we needed it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Bremen Town Musician by Brian Wildsmith

What happens when you get too old and useful, you head to Bremen to be a musician. That’s what a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster do. This book was so cute. It will delight and entertain even the youngest audience. The colors are so bright and fun in the illustrations that I can see them easily becoming decorations for a library or classroom setting. The book tells the story of finding your way when no one wants you. It made me a little sad to think that they were considered useless since they were old but then they wouldn’t have had an adventure. This is a great book to start a discussion on being a responsible pet owner and why being old doesn’t mean life is over.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Green Man by Michael Bedard

This book just goes to show you don’t have to be a great writer to write a great book. Some of the language was not what you would consider correct in terms of modern English teachers but it was still beautiful. Michael Bedard wove a story that was not only touching but funny and suspenseful. O has just been recruited to spend the summer with her aunt, Emily, while her father goes to Italy. Emily is an elderly woman, poet and bookstore owner with a bad heart. O is not thrilled to spend the summer with her aunt but she’s not exactly disappointed. She’s just used to the way things go. O has a secret – she’s writing poetry herself. She fears that she, too, is crazy or will become crazy because that seems to be the fate of poets. Emily may be crazy but she is haunted by ghosts of poets that have taken residence up in her bookstore and by a darkness that appears every leap year that August 8th falls on a Saturday. There are many facets to this story and they seem to work well together. For me, the real story is about writing and those who are captivated by the words. There is a poetry to this book that spoke to me more than any book I have read recently. I laughed, cried and felt inspired.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt by Geno Salvatore

This comic book/graphic novel is part of the Neverwinter Tales, between Gauntlgrym and Neverwinter. I have never read either one, in fact I picked this up to review because I was familiar with Dungeons and Dragons in one form or another but I had no idea I missed an entire series out there. This was interesting. I wouldn’t mind picking up the Neverwinter Tales. There’s not a lot of story in this first issues, which is common in comics. A dwarf wakes up after a great battle to find he is the only one alive. He remembers dying and can’t quite understand why he’s alive. That’s is, until he remembers what killed him. That dwarf is now vampire-like (there is similarities but then a mention of something called a battlerager). The idea of a vampire dwarf is really great. I love it and can’t wait to find more of this story – what fun.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Presents Flush Fiction

Designed to sit next to your toilet for those times you need reading material, Flush Fiction is 88 short short stories to read during your visits. The stories range from about 4 pages to less than 1. All quite entertaining in their way. This is a tough book to review since there are so many stories and none of them alike. I can imagine it sitting in book racks next to toilets everywhere. There is something for everyone and if you don’t like a particular story, it goes so quick that you nearly forget you read it. This is the only fictional work put together by Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader – the remaining works are short segments of non-fiction such as history and science. It’s a fun read and definitely not designed to be sit and read in one sitting.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Lavender Lover’s Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader

I always thought lavender was lavender. I didn’t realize there were hundreds of varieties. I suppose I should have known this since there is no such thing as a singular plant type but it rather surprised me to know that there was so much variety in lavender.
Sarah’s book not only breaks down all the varieties of lavender but helps the reader determine which variety is best for their environment and usage. She starts of discussing soil and planting choices. The book then breaks down the different types of lavender and explains what environments they thrive in. This might actually help me keep a lavender plant this year since I’ve not had luck in getting them to winter over.
Much of the information in this book is about gardening with lavender in mind. However, the last part of the book is on things you can do with lavender. Sarah starts with recipes for cooking with lavender which is growing in popularity. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we already know how lavender can be used in food since lavender festivals have become quite popular here but you don’t see a lot of recipes with so much variation. I like the idea of lavender sugar – what a fun addition to Sunday tea.
The last chapter is crafts and home remedy sort of recipes. I am just fascinated with the number of ideas Sarah has offered. I’m looking forward to spring. I have my variety of lavender all picked out thanks to this book and may have even decided on a spot (at least a ballpark for where to plant the lavender).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings by Bridget Heos

A great book for kids who are interested in Alligators or Crocodiles. What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings reads like a manual for prospective parents. This darling format walks the reader through preparing a nest and raising young crocodilians. It’s an easy to understand format with just enough humor to keep it from getting dry.
The illustrations are a cross between realistic and silly. The silliness is subtle inviting the reader to explore them further.
I recommend this book and will be keeping an eye for more of Bridget Heos’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting books.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Budgeting Smarts by Sandy Donovan

This book will make a good addition to any homeschooling situation. Geared towards teen, Budgeting Smarts walks the student through the basics of money handling. There are sections that explain banking, credit and savings plans. There are simple assignments to help the student understand the concept.
This is a real life situation sort of class which should encourage full participation. I did find some of the language to be below high school level but the information was still good.
Lerner books come with esource – an online resource for teaching with this book. I wasn’t able to access the site due to the publication date (this book is an ARC and I read it 4 months before publication).