Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Moon Called - Patricia Briggs


Summary:  Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will. Mercy's next-door neighbor is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she's fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy's connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water... (Summary from Goodreads.com)

My Review:  Let's just address the elephant in the room.  That cover!  Quite frankly, I wouldn't be caught dead reading this book in public (or in front of my girls), but it came highly recommended from a new friend of mine and so I thought I'd give it a whirl.  On my ipad.  Which has a solid purple cover.  Sadly, as awesome as she is, I'm not sure this new friend and I are kindred spirits when it comes to our reading tastes. Basically the story boils down to this: Mercy is a mechanic with an attitude.  She's also a shapeshifter/were-coyote/something-else-mysterious.  She lives next to an Alpha werewolf who ends up nearly dead after his human daughter is kidnapped by mysterious assailants. Hi-jinks ensue.  Mercy gets in the middle of it all.  Along the way there are a thousand other characters and a remarkably unromantic love triangle between Mercy, Mr. Alpha, and Mr. Werewolf Ex From Her Past, before things are resolved.

Ordinarily, I like a good paranormal romance I adore stories with a strong female lead. In Moon Called, paranormal abounds and Mercy is as strong as they come, but I just couldn't stomach the rest of it. Everything was convoluted and sooooo.  darn.  tedious.   Something happens.  Have a long conversation about it.  Go talk to new character (werewolf/vampire/witch/gremlin/undercover cop) about it.  Get into and out of trouble.  Leave with tiny clue.  Add to that a bunch of pack rules and extraneous details that get in the way and it was just too hard to keep it all straight and way too hard to care.  I finished, but with very little desire to read further in the series.  A peek at the next one's cover nailed that coffin firmly shut.  Can you say, 'Hello, boobs!'?  Sheesh, Mercy needs to button up her coveralls.

For the sensitive reader: No sex, but a lot of aggressive male posturing. Some swearing, but none of the 'majors' as far as I can recall.

My Rating: 2 Stars

Monday, April 24, 2017

How They Choked - Georgia Bragg

Summary: Over the course of history, famous people made mistakes that were so monumental they could never escape them, no matter how brilliant their successes! Ferdinand Magellan is credited as the first man to sail around the world . . . but he only actually made it halfway. His terrible treatment of everyone he met cut his life journey short. Queen Isabella of Spain is remembered for financing Columbus’s expeditions—and for creating the Spanish Inquisition. J. Bruce Ismay commissioned the unsinkable marvel of the sea, the Titanic—and then jumped the line of women and children to escape death on a lifeboat. Readers will be fascinated well past the final curtain and will empathize with the flawed humanity of these achievers. 

Famous successful “failures” include:
Marco Polo • Queen Isabella of Spain • King Montezuma II • Anne Boleyn • Ferdinand Magellan • Isaac Newton • Benedict Arnold • George Armstrong Custer • Vincent Van Gogh • Susan B. Anthony • Thomas Alva Edison • J. Bruce Ismay • Amelia M. Earhart • Joseph Jefferson Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: If you remember a few years ago, we really enjoyed How They Croaked over here, a slightly irreverent, humorous collection of deaths of famous people. While How They Choked is a similar format, written in the same short biographical chapter, I found that the overall tone was much different. It felt overly snarky, more than anxious to exploit and mock any and every mistake a handful of heroes from history may have ever made. Are some of these characters deserving of at least one of their mistakes being explored? I'd argue all of them are. However, that's not what this book accomplishes.

I think mistakes are awesome. I don't like making them, but how else do we innovate, learn, study, and progress than by making mistakes? I'm a natural optimist, and believe that there's nothing wrong with exploring mistakes, especially if we look toward the outcome. How did these people grow from their mistakes? How did they change the world? Why do we remember them? How do I not make the same ones? When I grabbed this book (I needed a quick read, and I wanted to screen it for my kids' reading leisure), that's what I was expecting.

That's not what I got. Instead of any modicum of positivity, these bios are ridiculously pessimistic. The theme of "choking" runs throughout, refusing to acknowledge any and all successes that came from their mistakes, instead, painting each of the subjects as complete and utter dunderheads incapable of any rational decision or thought,  and worse, individuals that just stumbled into the "luck" of being remembered for their "wins". Don't get me wrong, some of these subjects are possibly deserving of such treatment (I'm looking at you, Benedict Arnold.). But mocking Susan B. Anthony as never having accomplished anything? Nope. Can't get behind that.

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: This is a middle grade level book. Nothing is terribly graphic, but discrimination and death happens.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Caraval - Stephanie Garber

Summary: Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is one of those books that just looks really cool. I'm not talking like I was browsing along and "Yeah, this looks pretty cool." I'm talking about how the book itself actually looks really cool. I like the way the invitations to the Caraval are written, I liked how the book was divided into sections, I liked the artwork. It was just...cool. I've read several books in the YA Fic genre that look really cool, and I just love the tone it sets. The way a book looks matters, people. It just does.

So the premise of this is pretty cool. It takes place in a fantastical realm, and like many books that do this, there are different territories (or countries or kingdoms or whatever) and the oppressed ones often don't know what it's like elsewhere, or even if elsewhere exists. Sometimes the book really describes this a lot and we know a lot about the world, but this isn't such a book. We know some about the world, but when I think back it's all kind of fuzzy. I know the main characters are from a conquered place, unaware of other places and what they're like, and that makes Caraval even cooler. The world building in this isn't so important, though, because the real story is about Caraval. 

Don't you just love that name--"Caraval?" I think it's really a fun description of what the Caraval is--the magic, the mystery, the carnival/mardi gras/crazy game that is Caraval. I think it's a really apt name for a lushly described environment. Just like the look of the book, the descriptions are lush and varied. The Caraval was well-described and Garber obviously had a very clear picture in her mind of what everything looked like. It was fun to read about the sumptuous surroundings and the elaborate clothes and frenzied behavior of the people. Sometimes I felt like these descriptions were a little formulaic, never varying in their number of descriptive words or the obligatorily followed analogy. It was almost like every noun in Caraval was put in a long list, and then she went through and gave every one two descriptive words and a metaphor, creating a pattern that she followed every.single.time. At least she was consistent, right? I found it to be slightly distracting at some points, but I still enjoyed the book.

Now for the story. As with most books, it was going along just great and was really fun and interesting, and then the ending came along. The ending was fine, but as with most books (endings are hard, as we all know), it felt rushed and a little confusing, like Garber knew exactly what she wanted to happen but she'd run out of pages and therefore had to close the entire book in the span of three paragraphs. I'm exaggerating, but it did have that rushed feel and the slight dysphoria that comes from not knowing exactly what transpired after reading such lush transcriptions and then all of a sudden you're just dumped out the other side wondering what happened to you and the rest of the book. It was certainly finished and had an ending point, but it did seem a little rushed in comparison to what the rest of the book was like. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Yes, it had its writing issues as mentioned above. This may be due to the author's inexperience, although she was definitely a fun writer. The story was a fun distraction, and I'm looking forward to the next installment. If you're a fan of YA Fic, this is one I definitely recommend.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some teenage sexual goings on, although nothing really graphic, and I think it's definitely on par with others in the genre, maybe even on the lighter side.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Modesty, Makeovers, and the Pursuit of Physical Beauty: What Mothers and Daughters Need to Know - Jeffrey R. Holland and Susan W. Tanner

Summary:  The Lord wants us to be made over - but not in the image of the world. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president, present two powerful messages on self-image and society's obsession with outward appearance. Based on their October 2005 general conference addresses, this small-size volume explores the intimate link between body, mind, and spirit.  

Women of all ages are confronted with a fixation on the physical body that has become increasingly common in the world today.  Elder Holland asserts, "You are bombarded in movies, television, fashion magazines, and advertisements with the message that looks are everything!  The pitch is, 'If your looks are good enough, your life will be glamorous and you will be happy and popular.'  That kind of pressure is immense in the teenage years, to say nothing of later womanhood."  These timely and inspired messages will help us understand that happiness comes from accepting and enhancing our natural attributes, not from remaking our bodies after the image of the world.  Filled with beautiful images and inspiring ideas, this attractive gift book is perfect for any woman aspiring to fulfill her potential of divine spiritual beauty.  (Summary from book flap)


My Review: Growing up, I remember having a poor body image and a warped sense of physical beauty, picked up from observing the world through the wrong kind of filter.  Now, as the mother of four girls, I am constantly looking for books that will help them develop and maintain a healthy spiritual and physical outlook (and avoid some of the pitfalls of living in an imagine obsessed world). I ordered this book to help my two older girls learn a bit more about the importance of modesty and spiritual beauty and to help my tween with a religious goal she had set.  It didn't hurt that Jeffrey R. Holland was a co-author. We are besties.* 

This book was based off two talks from the October 2005 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints**, and that is exactly what it felt like -- two talks.  Each section was full of inspirational wisdom and truth, accompanied with pictures and beautiful quotes. The talks stressed the importance of loving oneself, striving to live a virtuous life, and not subscribing to the world's definition of beauty, but it was not the in-depth exploration of issues that I was hoping to read.  It felt like the first half of a book, the part intended to motivate the reader into making a change, and I am there -- I am already super motivated.  I wanted a deeper dig and a little more actionable intel to go on.  Something that I could put into practice that I am not already doing.  In short, I liked this book and would recommend it as an important, truth-filled, quick and uplifting read, but I wanted a little more 'how-to' out of the experience. 

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

*At least, in my head.
**While these authors are members of the LDS (aka Mormon) Church, I do believe that their words on this topic are applicable to those of all faiths.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Heartless - Marissa Meyer

Summary: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: Cath just wants to bake. As a lady of the court, she typically can only sneak into the kitchens to practice her passion. Her mother only allows her to bake because the King of Hearts is so taken with her treats. She dreams of opening a bakery with her best friend and maid, Mary Ann, who has such a head for business and numbers it's astounding. But then one night she dreams of a man with golden eyes. As golden as lemons, in fact, so imagine her surprise when she wakes up from her dreams with a lemon tree in her room. This is Wonderland, however, and dreaming a dream into reality isn't exactly news. How else do you think Cheshire Cat came to be?

Marissa Meyer is tackling a different retelling through this book. Instead of adapting and updating a series of fairy tales into a new story like she did with Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles, she's tackling the untouched origins of the brutal, mad Queen of Hearts. Origin stories can be tricky -- look no further than Star Wars 1-3. You enter the story knowing the ending, and have to somehow work backward to ascertain how the villain became such. It can go wrong quickly and without much warning, because so many readers expect to feel a certain camaraderie with the protagonist. It's difficult to see a character so loved become the antagonist.

So, did Meyer "Annie" the Queen of Hearts? (Seriously? Annie? How did George Lucas think that would ever be an okay nickname for Darth Vader? Seriously.) I'm so pleased to report that no, no she did not. Meyer has taken on quite a task here, not only trying to inject a modicum of humanity into a truly loathsome character everyone knows, but doing so in the unpredictable, mad, rich world of Wonderland. Through getting to experience the true, sweeping love of Jest and Cath, battling the Jabberwock (and discovering exactly how the Jabberwock came to be), attending a tea party at the Hatter's (pre-madness, but don't worry, we cover that, too!), and the courtship and eventual betrothal of Cath to the King of Hearts, I found myself not even questioning the journey from sweet, adventurous baker to psychopathic ruler of Wonderland. More so, I found myself so gutted by Cath's heartbreak that the transition seemed inevitable and mostly logical.

Meyer has a special talent for taking stories that everyone knows, that everyone could recite by heart, and by turning them on their heads in a way that not only preserves the integrity of the originals, but breathes fresh and new life into them. Her venture into Wonderland was so rich, well-detailed, and true to character that I had no problem wrapping my mind around this version. It's as though she collaborated with Lewis Carroll in the writing of the story. My only complaint is that this isn't a new series. I was not emotionally prepared to bid Cath farewell!

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader: Sir Peter Peter (the Pumpkineater) is emotionally and physically abusive. There are a couple of murders, and the Jabberwock attacks are intense. That said, I think a thirteen year old would enjoy this book. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Carve the Mark - Veronica Roth

Summary:  Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people.  Cyra's currentgift gives her pain and power-- something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies.  But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother's hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.  Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe.  Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless.  Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive- no matter what the cost.  Then Akos is thrust into Cyra's world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable.  Will they help eachother to survive, or will they destroy one another?  Carve the Mark is Veronica Roth's stunning portrayal of the power of friendship -- and love -- in a galaxy filled with unexpected gifts.  (summary from inside flap of book)

My Review: Carve the Mark is the latest from Veronica Roth, bestselling author of the Divergent series.  It is set on the ice planet Thuvhe (Thoo-vuh) and tells the story of two warring nations and two very different people.  Cyra is a hardened Shotet warrior, increasingly crippled by a her current gift which can cause others, and herself, immeasurable pain.  Akos and his brother Eijah were kidnapped from Thuvhe by the Shotet when they were children and have been forced to live in captivity.  Without giving away the details, it is a story of friendship, vengeance, endurance, loyalty, and the lengths some will go to for love and others for power.  

Carve the Mark didn't knock my socks off, but it didn't make me want to eat them either which is a feat for some YA these days.  Initially, it took a while for me to properly engage with the characters, due in large part to my distraction with their hard to pronounce names (well, hard to pronounce correctly).  Is it See-rah?  Kee-rah?  Who knew?!   I finally had to put the book down and go look it up so that I get past that particular obstacle**.  Once I was able to get in the proper head space, it was easier to read and enjoy the characters.  

Sometimes YA protagonists can seem a little too perfect, too strong, to good-looking, etc, but Roth does a good job writing believable characters.  I loved that neither Cyra or Akos was the be-all-end-all of their species.  They struggled in different ways, both needing each other for different reasons.  I felt their personalities, chemistry, and relationships were authentic and not over-the-top-I-would-abandon-my-family-for-just-one-more-second-with-you dramatic like some other YA novels.  The story line had a lot of different elements and characters that sometimes were hard to keep straight, but overall I enjoyed my time with the story, even if I was decidedly unhooked.  If Carve the Mark is a stand-alone, which I highly doubt, then Veronica Roth is mean because it ended with several loose ends.  However, if it's part of a greater series, which I strongly suspect, then I am willing to give the next book a chance to really hook me....as long as it doesn't take nine years to come out.  In the famous words of Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Williams, Ain't nobody got time for that!

**Let's just get that out of the way for you: Cyra = SIGH-ruh, Akos = AH-kose, Eijah = EYE-juh, Ryzek = RYE-zek.  There.  That should help.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: One instance of swearing that I can recall.  Some violence towards the innocent.  Some making out between two characters.  Allusions to a homosexual relationship between two secondary characters.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Sleepwalker - Chris Bohjalian

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire--the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night. 

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge.

The morning of Annalee's disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee's husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs' Victorian home.

As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee's disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.
 

My Review: I may be totally off-base in this, but to me, Chris Bohjalian is the M. Knight Shyamalan of the book world. There always has to be some twist. The movie or book can be judged by the shockingness of the twist and how surprised you were at the end. If you see it coming, it's not great. If you don't, it's a lot of fun.

The first book I read of Bohjalian's was Midwives. I was shocked by this book. The ending totally floored me and I loved it. I remember being so surprised and so caught up in it. It was unlike anything I'd ever read and I thought the twist at the end was super cool. That book was published in 1997. That is 20 (!!!) years ago. I don't know about you, but I've read a few books between now and then. Also, I'm a little...er...older. And let's hope a little more mature and well-read. When that book first came out (which is not when I read it, that would not come for a couple more years) I was but a wee lass still in high school. Some of you probably weren't even born then. I'm old. By the time I read it I was probably in college (I can't imagine my high school self reading it) and now, 20 years later reading The Sleepwalker I can only assume that my reading has matured a bit. These are not the only two books of Bohjalian's I've read, but I have the same feeling about the two of them. The other few I've read did not feel the same way to me. So now my older self is going to compare what I feel about The Sleepwalker to what I remember feeling about Midwives.

First off, Bohjalian's writing was not as smooth as I remembered. I wouldn't say that he is an extremely gifted literary author. His writing is fine, it's usually not distracting, but every once in awhile it would just be a little rough and not as flawless as I would have hoped. To me, this puts it in the normal genre of crime/mystery/thriller. Most of those authors are pretty decent, but it is rare for one to be a beautiful writer in this pretty saturated genre.

Secondly, the story. The story was interesting enough, and I especially enjoyed learning a little something about sleepwalking while reading it. It took a turn I didn't love, though, and I don't want to reveal that in this review as I think that's part of his schtick for this book. I just thought it was kind of weird and incongruent, especially when the big reveal comes.

Now--the surprise. Well, I thought it was a pretty good surprise. It wasn't utterly shocking or anything, and my mind wasn't blown, but I did leaf back through the book to check out a few things and re-read a few parts that I might have overlooked before. It was a decent surprise. It wasn't out of nowhere but it wasn't blatantly obviously either. I'm trying to say a lot without saying much. 

Overall I thought this book was a fun read. Was it remarkable? No. Was it fast and fun? Certainly. It didn't take me long to whip through it and it was interesting enough with a fun premise that it kept me excited to read on. As mentioned, the writing was a little clunky, which is not something I expected from an author as famous and prolific as this one, but it is what it is. There are certainly much worse authors with a lot more fame. [Insert Twilight jab here].

Since I haven't read a lot of Bohjalian's work--and I know he has a pretty big following--I can only compare it to the few I've read. I liked it better than The Sandcastle Girls but not as well as Midwives. This would be a fun vacation read with just the right amount of excitement to keep you going but not a heavy commitment that requires a lot from the reader.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and later on some racy content. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Edison's Alley - Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Summary: Both Nick and the Accelerati have learned that the strange objects Nikola Tesla left in Nick’s attic are pieces of a Far Range Energy Emitter, capable of transmitting “free energy” to the globe. Some components of the contraption are still missing, but the objects themselves seem to be leading Nick to their current owners. Each piece is with the person who needs it the most.

But there are plenty of obstacles: Nick finds his judgment impaired by Caitlin’s intoxicating closeness, not to mention her ex-boyfriend Theo’s jealous sabotage; Mitch has to choose between pleasing Petula or helping Nick; and Vince, who gets his hands on some light-absorbing drapes, is so taken by the darkness, he can’t let them go. 

The Accelerati, meanwhile, are still around every corner, and they manage to beat Nick to a few more objects. They use the few pieces of Tesla’s technology they've recovered to create a storm and convince local officials that the Tesla F.R.E.E. is hazardous.The objects are confiscated by the Accelerati as the town brings in a wrecking ball to demolish Nick’s house.

The Accelerati transport the objects back to their lab, hidden under the Edison Museum in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Nick knows that is where he’ll find his destiny. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: Okay, so we left Nick after he hit an asteroid out of the atmosphere. Because, you know, averting a minor crisis like the end of the world is an everyday occurrence in Anytown, U.S.A., right? However, things are heating up. The stress of last book’s events, the added pressure of trying to stop the Accelerati from whatever it is they’re now plotting to do, and to cap it all off, trying to keep his dad in the dark, is wearing on Nick. How is he supposed to do this all, and figure out his relationship with Caitlin?

Remember when you read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and you thought “Wow, that’s a clever book. What fun! I can’t wait to read the next book of fun and not-having-to-think-too-hard!” and then Chamber of Secrets came out and everything got so much more real? Yup. I had very similar feelings about Edison’s Alley.  Don’t get me wrong. The mirth, the easy reading, and the catching storylines are all still very much present. This is still a really fun book in which to lose yourself. But things just got real. All of a sudden, some of the little nuances and whispers of the first book start to come to light, the reality starts to sink in, and I loved realizing that there was so much more to this series than meets the eye. It does get darker. It gets a little more science-fiction-y. But the writing is maturing with the series, and even our minor, cameo characters are presented with more depth and fulness than I expected.

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There’s a death.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Art - Saskia Lacey

Summary: Using dinosaur mashups as a creative way to introduce art history, The Prehistoric Masters of Art explores the lives of the famous "masters" of our past.


Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Art uses prehistoric dinosaur humor to introduce young readers to art history in a fun and inviting new way. The Prehistoric Masters of Art features an assortment of artist biographies, each with a "prehistoric" twist, such as Leonardo da Vilociraptor, Vincent van Guanadon, and Frida Kahlopholus. After a brief "dino" history of each artist, a clever parody of his or her most famous sketches and paintings is included, as well as a true-to-life biography, with actual facts and descriptions about the life of each artist. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: I really love this series. I love how it takes things that kids might be interested in (art, presidents, literature), combines them with things almost every kid is interested in (dinosaurs), and creates a new medium of introduction for the kids.

My youngest is art obsessed. He’s also dinosaur obsessed. Can you imagine a  more perfect blend for him!? Even better, in each of the rminibooks affixed to each dinosaur master’s section, the reader gets to see a recreation of some of the most famous sketches, drawings, and paintings of our history line counterparts’ work. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to discuss Monet’s work with light with my boy, or talk about what he sees in Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans.

Before I said these would be good books to read to a classroom, and I hold firm to that. But even more, this book starts conversation. It gives you as the reader and tour child as the listener a chance to jump into art and discuss instead of just visualize and move on. So I’m calling it a success.

Rating: Five stars

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened - Allie Brosh

Summary:  This is a book I wrote.  Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is.  I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative -- like maybe someone who isn't me wrote it -- but I soon discovered that I am not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly.  So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

  • Pictures.
  • Words.
  • Stories about things that happened.
  • Stories About things that happened to other people because of me.
  • Eight billion dollars.*
  • Stories about dogs.
  • The secret to eternal happiness.*
*These are lies.  Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!  (Summary from back of book.)


My Review:  A long time ago I stumbled upon the blog Hyperbole and a Half and laughed my butt off at Allie Brosh's particular brand of humor.  I spent an embarrassing amount that night reading every post she'd ever written and continued to follow her blog, but her posts became so infrequent that I moved on to other things.  It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I was sitting at my friends house and found a familiar face staring at me from her bookshelf.  What the what? She wrote a book?!!  Squeee!!!!  I begged and borrowed without delay.

This 'book' is actually a collection of Allie's more popular blog posts, complete with her characteristically silly illustrations, unrestrained candor, dark humor, and acerbic wit.  Unfortunately for me, I'd already read most of them.  I read them again in short order, just to refresh my memory, but I wouldn't recommend slamming it down in one sitting to anyone else.  It was overwhelming.  Don't get me wrong, there were still chuckles to be had.  For example, as a young child, Allie sneaked into a locked room through a window so that she could devour her grandpa's birthday cake in its entirety just to spite her mother.  The illustrations alone sent me into fits.  And don't even get me started on the time she pretended to like hot sauce (and somehow got stuck pretending for the next twenty years).  Although I still enjoyed these and other parts of the book, I think I've grown a bit more motherly since I last read her work and couldn't help but worry when I read some of her darker material that dealt with depression, etc.  Allie clearly battles some fairly aggressive inner demons and although she's often quite insightful about her struggles, she's also really hard on herself and that self-loathing seeps onto the page with alarming regularity.  I wanted to hug her.  A lot.  I think she'd probably deck me and I know how she would draw me.  It's probably best that we never meet.

I think that you'll either love or loathe this book based on your sense of humor and your tolerance to profanity.  If you don't mind darkness and enjoy a high flow of sarcasm, profanity, and self-deprecation, you'll probably love it.  Tender heart?  Maybe give this one a pass. Personally, I find that my heart has softened a bit over the years and I couldn't quite get past some of the darker elements. If you aren't sure if this book is up your allie (see what I did there?), I suggest taking a look at her blog to see if it's something you'll enjoy.

For the sensitive reader:  If you're looking for cutesy and uplifting...look elsewhere.  Large amounts of swearing. Might have triggers for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression.  Occasional and utterly unnecessary use of the word 'retarded'.

My Rating: 2.75 Stars.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Faithful - Alice Hoffman

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and The Dovekeepers comes a soul-searching story about a young woman struggling to redefine herself and the power of love, family, and fate.

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion—from dark suffering to true happiness—a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls—including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.

Alice Hoffman’s “trademark alchemy” (USA TODAY) and her ability to write about the “delicate balance between the everyday world and the extraordinary” (WBUR) make this an unforgettable story. With beautifully crafted prose, Alice Hoffman spins hope from heartbreak in this profoundly moving novel.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: This is one of those books that I read because I LOVED something the author had previously written. (If you have not read The Dovekeepers I highly recommend it). Anyway, I picked up this book with great hope because I was just really impressed with Hoffman's other work. Also, the cover was fun. Yes, I judge books by their covers. We've gone over this. I haven't changed.

This book just wasn't as good as The Dovekeepers. It was proficiently written, as Hoffman is obviously a proficient writer, but it didn't have that same magic and beautiful storytelling that I was hoping for. Instead of having writing that just really made the story, this just made a book that was middle to average for the genre. I've read other books like this many times. I found it to be pretty forgettable. Actually, it hasn't even been that long since I read it and now that I'm writing the review I'm having  a hard time recalling really specific details. Nothing really stuck with me. It wasn't like there was some shocking thing that I keep thinking back to, and there certainly wasn't any magical realism that I was kind of hoping for from the description. Instead, it was full of damaged characters that are somewhat tragic. I'm not against tragic characters, mind you, but this one just didn't work for me.

Now. The characters. I know the summary really plays that as a strength, but I just didn't love the character. She was believable, I guess, but I just had a hard time buying the path her life took. I found the whole situation a little confusing, actually. It jumps around and I'm not really sure why she blames herself for all that happened. I don't want to go into too much detail here because if you like Hoffman you might really like this book. The characters just weren't what I was hoping. I certainly didn't fall in love with her like the summary promised I would.

I think the thing about this book is just that it was really forgettable. It wasn't horribly written, the story was decent, it was just...just. I read it in fairly short order but I didn't find myself slacking off on normal tasks to get a few paragraphs in here and there. That's the sign of a really good book, as you know. This wasn't that for me.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and sex scenes, but I would say it's standard for the adult fic genre. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Putting Family First: Successful Stragegies for Reclaiming Family Life in a Hurry-Up World - William J Doherty, PhD. and Barbara Z. Carlson

Summary: Do you often feel you spend most of each day in transit between soccer practice, swim team, and saxophone lessons?  How many times each week does your family sit down to share a meal and a conversation?  When was the last time you all went on vacation together?  How often do you make time for your marriage?

You may be surprised when you stop to contemplate the answers to these questions -- if so, you aren't alone.  In the past 20 years, children's free time has declined by twelve hours a week; time spent on structured sports activities has doubled; family dinners are down by a third; and the number of families taking vacations together has decreased by 28 percent.  When Bill Doherty and Barbara Carlson perceived this trend in their own families and communities, they helped to start Putting Family First, an organization committed to helping parents reclaim family time and rebuild family connections.  Drawing on their years of hands-on experience as parents and educators, Doherty and Carlson have written a thoughtful and practical guide for finding family balance in a frantic world.

More than a time-management manual, Putting Family First delves into the issues that lie at the heart of all family-related choices, helping us think about the roles our children play in our lives, and the roles we play in theirs.  Their insights reveal innovative ways to set priorities, avoid scheduling conflicts, and create satisfying family rituals.  Offering a new perspective on a fraying institution, Putting Family First restores a sense of fulfillment, fun, and security to family once again.  (Summary from back of book)

My Review:  At the beginning of 2017, I did something that I never do.  Or rather, I didn't do something that I always do.  Whatever.  I skipped goal setting.  Instead, I selected a word to guide me through the year and shape my decisions.  That word was FOCUS.  I wanted to spend my year focusing on what really matters and ridding my life of distractions that pull my attention from where it should be.  For me, this meant focusing on my relationship with God, my family, and my health.  When I came across this book at Goodwill, it was meant to be (in my shopping cart) and I snapped it up.  And let me tell you, I needed to read it.

Putting Family First is a somewhat dry, but worthwhile, read that tackles a growing problem in our country.  We live in a society that values "success" over anything else and encourages competition at a very young age.  Consequently, family time has been pushed by the wayside in favor of numerous after school lessons, sports, and other activities that, while guaranteed to give your five-year-old that extra advantage on college apps, really just leaves children and parents feeling rundown and stressed. Of course, outside activities are not bad in and of themselves, but if not reigned in they have the potential to decimate quality family time, which is an essential part of raising emotionally healthy children and creating stable families.

If you're feeling over-scheduled and overwhelmed, Putting Family First will essentially give you "permission" to let go of less important activities in favor of more family time, and even give you some helpful tips on how to do it.  If you (like me) are feeling guilty for not having your children enrolled in every dance, music, and language class known to man, it reminds you that your four year old does not have to speak French en pointe while playing the violin to be a good person.  Putting Family First also recognizes that families come in many forms and has special sections for single-parent families and blended families that give specific details on how to make family time a priority in the trickiest of households.

For me, this book was a welcome relief.   I am a stay at home mother of four girls and that frequently requires some creative budgeting.  I often feel riddled with guilt that they don't get to participate in all the costly activities that so many of their friends seem able to do and I worry that they aren't getting the chance to explore their varied interests and talents.  While I still want to find ways to foster their interests, I now realize, as I didn't before, that there is value in family togetherness that can't be replicated with advanced art classes.  Putting Family First renewed my commitment to family dinners, bed time rituals (like stories and tucking), spending quality time with my kids, carving out time to date my husband, and helped me to let go of the guilt I've been harboring about all the things we aren't able to provide.   I'm so glad that I pushed through the dryness and hope to put much of what I have learned into practice.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is feeling the pressure of the schedule and looking to prioritize.

My Rating:  4 Stars.

For the sensitive reader:  All good.

Sum it up:   A little dry, but worthwhile.  Read it with a glass of water.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tiny Lego Wonders - Mattia Zamboni

Summary: Build a lot with a little with this collection of miniscale models! In this inspiring, step-by-step guide, you'll learn how to make the most out of your bricks by building miniature models of vehicles, spacecraft, airplanes, racecars, ships, and more. Fun, compact designs will inspire you to get creative with as few as 75 bricks. LEGO fans of all ages will get hours of entertainment out of building miniscale models that fit in the palm of their hands.

In "Tiny LEGO Wonders," you'll create miniscale models of real vehicles like: a space shuttle, Boeing 747, Concorde plane, and helicopters,Flatbed trucks, and cement mixers, France’s high-speed TGV train, BMW and F1 race cars, Muscle cars, Cargo, cruise, wooden ships, and more!

Let your creativity run wild with these pint-sized miniscale models of real vehicles. All you need is a few bricks and a little imagination. (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: A few years ago we enrolled my son in the Lego MBA program. Every other month he’d receive a Lego kit, along with a book that aimed to help kids find innovative and creative uses for pieces, and then would use the kit to illustrate their point. It was wonderful. My son loved Legos, but this gave him license to create, not just duplicate. It also familiarized him with the pieces and what they could become. As we’ve gone through Tiny Lego Wonders, I’ve watched both my boys experience that same sense of wonder.

These instructions are extremely easy to follow. Every piece you need for any of your chosen miniscale model is clearly listed at the beginning of the instruction sheet. And if you’ve ever built a Lego set, you’ll have no problem with these instructions — they could have been created by Lego, they’re so easy to follow! 

What is more fun than easy instructions are the variety of figures you can create. My boys were thrilled, and for quite a while, this has been one of my son’s favorite books. My shelves are covered with Lego miniscales. Hearing my son’s excitement at discovering and completing these make the displays all worth it.


Rating: Four and a half stars

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - J.K. Rowling

Summary:  The year is 1926 in the city of New York...
A time and place where the actions of a handful of people...and creatures...will determine the fate of the many.  Magizoologist Newt Scamander, newly arrived in town, intends his stay to be just a brief stopover.  However, when Newt's magical case is misplaced and some of his fantastic beasts escape into the city, it spells trouble for everyone... (Summary from book flap)

My Review:  So.  Uh...Hi!  My name is Mindy and I am a Potterhead.  As this review posts, I am on my way to Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my husband.  We are not taking our children and at least two of them are pitching a fit. Oh, they will get to go eventually, but this trip is for the grownup Potterphiles.   As such a big fan, it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to give a story set in the Potterverse a fully unbiased review. I'll try...but I thought you should know.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them isn't really a book, but rather the published screenplay for a movie of the same name that released last year.   It is based in the same world as the best-selling Harry Potter series, but set a bit earlier (the 1920s) and in another country (the US).  While readers do not have to be acquainted with Rowling's other works to enjoy this one, I do feel that familiarity with the series would make for a richer experience.  It didn't take me long to wrap my brain around the screenplay format and just enjoy the ride.

Fantastic Beasts sped out of the gate in the first few pages and didn't stop for much of anything.  I finished it in a matter of hours (an experience I sorely needed) and am more excited than ever to see the movie.  Overall, I felt it was a delightful afternoon jaunt into familiar world -- humorous and well-paced with some seriously likable characters, interesting animals (that should translate well on the big screen), and some fantastic foreshadowing.  And, okay, if I sort of saw the twist coming I wasn't too terribly upset about it.  Fantastic Beasts is meant to be the first in (at least) a trilogy. Thankfully, it ended with enough of a resolution that I wasn't tempted to throw it across the room, but left enough unanswered questions to ensure I'll be picking up the next book.

Pssssst.  The movie comes out on Blu-ray tomorrow, so I'll be watching it as soon as we get back!

My Rating: 4 Stars

Sum it up:  A delightful jaunt into a familiar world.

For the Sensitive Reader:  As is the usual for these kind of books, there were a few darker scenes that I felt might translate somewhat darker and scarier on the big screen or when read to younger children.  Although the book isn't descriptive, there might be a trigger for victims of child abuse.  No profanity that I can recall.

comes out to on DVD blu-ray tomorrow.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Chocolate Lover's Cookbook - Christina Dymock

Summary: Indulge your inner chocoholic! 

Whatever your preference—silky smooth, decadently rich, or paired with peanut butter—chocolate is a delightful addition to any meal. Satisfy your chocolate cravings with these delicious recipes: 

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Brownies 
Chocolate Crêpes 
Blueberry and White Chocolate 
Cookies S’mores Ice Cream 
One-Bag Chocolate Ganache 

Prepare yourself for chocolate euphoria with over 50 recipes inside. From tasty desserts to incredible sauces and everything in between, The Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook is the perfect resource for the chocolate enthusiast. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I feel like that at this point, if you haven't just gone out and purchased the book right now after seeing the title, even without my review, you just should. I mean, who isn't a chocolate lover? I have met a few people in my life, and I always find I feel like it's hard to trust them. How do you not like chocolate? How do you not want chocolate All The Time? How do you not believe that All The Things should be chocolate? I mean, for reallzz. But apparently I'm a little obsessed.

It is no surprise that when given the chance to review this cookbook I just jumped right at it, one hand held high, the other hand gripping my favorite bag of chocolate chips in hopes of starting off right away. Which is what I did.

Many times when I get recipe books I make them for my family, and I have to make them one recipe at a time. Or a few recipes for one meal. Very rarely do I just make a ton of things all at once. Not so with this book. Just as I feel like I should always binge on chocolate, I felt like this gave me a very good excuse to actually do that and not look like a complete glutton. Or at least a glutton with a purpose, which is much better, right?

My first audience was a game night where we had invited two other couples. I made four of the recipes then. Everybody was super excited when they got to my house and saw all of the amazingness just waiting for them. They all loved it.

My second audience was the school librarian. She lets PTA use her lovely library for our meetings, and is generally just a really good support. And she lends me her books. And she likes chocolate. So she was another obvious choice. She was very excited, because those treats apparently arrived just in the nick of time due to some craziness going on at school. They saved her. Chocolate saves.

I also took them to a church activity, where it turned out it was a good thing I had tried one ahead of time because I never made it over to the table fast enough to get one at the event before everyone else had taken all of them.

Chocolate is delicious, it saves lives, and it makes you popular. What's not to love?

As far as the actual recipes go in this book, some I liked better than others. They were all really good, but some I just preferred and would make again regularly. Others I may not make as regularly. However, at game night--when there were six of us tasting all the different treats--everyone preferred something different, so I like that this book has something for everyone.

My one complaint is that some of my desserts did not turn out looking like the pictures in the book. I know, I know. This is obvious. People nowadays have some mad skillz when it comes to photographing their recipes. But just be aware that you may not be able to make things look as good as Dymock does. Some did look just as good, but others not as much. Seems obvious, right? 

If you like chocolate, I recommend this. Highly recommend. There are still several more recipes I am looking forward to trying. This isn't a huge cookbook, but there is enough variety and enough recipes that it will keep you rollin' in the chocolate for some time to come.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Chocolate. If this offends you, DON'T READ THIS BOOK.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tesla's Attic - Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Summary: Tesla’s Attic is the first book in a brilliantly imagined and hilariously written trilogy that combines science, magic, intrigue, and just plain weirdness, about four kids who are caught up in a dangerous plan concocted by the eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla.

After their home burns down, fourteen-year-old Nick, his younger brother, and their father move into a ramshackle Victorian house they've inherited. When Nick opens the door to his attic room, he's hit in the head by a toaster. That's just the beginning of his weird experiences with the old junk stored up there. After getting rid of the odd antiques in a garage sale, Nick befriends some local kids-Mitch, Caitlin, and Vincent-and they discover that all of the objects have extraordinary properties. What's more, Nick figures out that the attic is a strange magnetic vortex, which attracts all sorts of trouble. It's as if the attic itself has an intelligence . . . and a purpose.

Ultimately Nick learns that the genius Nikola Tesla placed the items-his last inventions-in the attic as part of a larger plan that he mathematically predicted. Nick and his new friends must retrieve everything that was sold at the garage sale and keep it safe. But the task is fraught with peril-in addition to the dangers inherent in Tesla's mysterious and powerful creations, a secret society of physicists, the Accelerati, is determined to stop Nick and alter destiny to achieve its own devious ends. It's a lot for a guy to handle, especially when he'd much rather fly under the radar as the new kid in town.

Fans of intrigue, action, humor, and nonstop surprises are guaranteed a read unlike any other in Tesla's Attic, Book One of the Accelerati Trilogy. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.)

Review: Nick has had a rough year. His idyllic family home and life was destroyed in a minute when his home burned to the ground, taking his mother with it. His father is struggling. His brother is annoying. All Nick has is baseball, and a ramshackle old house they’re stuck living in. In an effort to get his life moving forward again, Nick cleans out the attic (the room he’s also claimed as his own), tries to make a little cash by holding a garage sale, and that’s when things start getting weird. People want his junk. They don't just mildly want it, they’re clamoring for it. It’s somehow calling to them.

The deeper Nick digs the more questions he uncovers. Before he knows it, he’s allying with kids from school he never expected, he's struggling to hunt down and retrieve all of that junk he stole, and can you please explain why his attic seems to have developed a gravitational force?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is the kind of book you can either hand to your Middle Zone readers and they’ll have it finished in a day or two, or the kind you can enjoy yourself in a few hours when your brain just needs a break. Schusterman’s style is engaging, quick, and intriguing. I enjoyed trying to puzzle out what was going to happen, how everything connected, and finding myself surprised more than once.

Of course, our villains are stereotypical. Characters aren’t as complex or as multifaceted as one would expect from an adult novel, but Middle Zone still feels like a very “White Hat/Black Hat” literary area. As long as you remember what you’re reading, I see no problem with that. If you’re looking for Victor Hugo levels of character development and backstory, you’re in the wrong genre. However, if you’re looking for a fun book with a few twists and turns that will keep you (or your kids) engaged, this is a great one to pick up.

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader: There’s a kiss. It’s not exactly welcome — the girl kind of forces her hand. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Here and Now - Ann Brashares

Summary:  This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve.  Except Prenna didn't come from a different country.  She came from a different time -- a future where mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.  Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they're from, never interfere with history, and never be intimate with anyone outside their community.  Prenna does as she's told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.  But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.  Thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking, The Here and Now is a twenty-first-century take on an impossible romance.  A girl from the future might be able to save us...if she lets go of the one thing she's found to hold on to.  (Summary from inside flap of book)

My Review:  When I picked up this book, I was looking for a little light reading to smooth over some stress in my life and this book seemed like it might fit the bill.  It was written by Ann Brashares, author of the Sister of the Traveling book series, and had a promising premise so I dove in without hesitation.  Big mistake. Huge.

At 246 pages, I should have been able to finish this book in an afternoon.  Unfortunately, it took almost a month for me to wade through.  I picked it up with high hopes that slowly tanked as the book fell flat at every turn.  The story line felt basic --  like the author had a good idea for a story and put it on paper so she wouldn't forget, but then she went out for coffee or something and her assistant found the manuscript and sent it to the publisher by accident.  As characters, I really wanted to like Prenna and Ethan, but they each felt void of any real depth, emotion, or convincing chemistry. In fact, all the characters felt that way.  Like paper dolls instead of people. The conflict within the story lacked any real sense of urgency (think, let's take two sentences to make a 'plan' and then go swim suit shopping and make out on the beach) and the subsequent resolution was all too easily reached. The final nail in the coffin? Ethan spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince Prenna that their physical intimacy was more important than survival. Pardon me while I *eyeroll*.  I will give the book credit for not ending in a complete shower of butterflies, rainbows, and glittery unicorn poop, but even that couldn't save it.  Honestly, I expected so much more from the author who created Bridget, Lena, Carmen, and Tibby.  Lesson?  Light reading doesn't not always make good reading.  Time to make a 246-page donation to my local thrift store and move on.

My Rating: 2 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some adolescent groping, a murder, and a few instances of profanity. Possibly only one.

Sum it up:  A promising premise that fails to deliver.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Our States have Crazy Shapes - Lynn Garthwaite

Summary: A layman's version of the reasons for the odd shapes and sizes of the 50 United States. Interesting anecdotes about the reasons we ended up with panhandles and bootheels, and why the Upper Peninsula is a part of Michigan instead of Wisconsin. This is the source to find out how the discovery of gold convinced Congress to not divide California into three separate states and why slavery played a part in the size of Texas. Every state has a story. Bonus chapters about ongoing border disputes, Thomas Jefferson's ideal about the sizes of states, and some states that no longer exist.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Have you ever looked at our map and wondered why some of our states are so bizarrely shaped? Let’s be honest, when you look at a map of our nation, it’s easy to see which lines were designed with natural boundaries (like rivers) in place, but how come West Virginia juts so far north? What’s up with the itty-bitty corner carved out of some states? How come some are so uniform? And if we’re going to be all rigid with our lines, how come some don’t follow a river and are so fluid?

This is a fun book that gives a great overview of each state’s boundaries as approved by Congress. It’s interesting to hear of some of the back-door deals that went on as territorial lines were being decided, noteworthy to see how Jefferson’s ideal design for the nation influenced the sizes and uniformity of the states a century later, and would be a great introductory book for kids interested in geography.

However, there were some detractors that heavily influenced my opinion of the book. First, for a book so full of information, I was curious to see the bibliography. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the research seems to be done on Wikipedia. Don’t get me wrong, Wikipedia is awesome for quick fact checks, trying to find the plot lines of one of the characters on a Marvel or a DC Comics TV show, or a two-bit biography on whatever queen you’re binge watching at the moment. But as a research book? I’m not okay with a user-edited content site being the top-visited research tool. When I was taking Argument in college, that was rule NUMBER ONE — don’t use random websites as a main research reference. That hasn’t changed.

Second, and more painfully for me, there was too much anti-Mormon sentiment throughout this book. Now, I understand that when the research consists of “Hmm, what does wiki say?” that things can go south quickly, but it was very difficult for me, not only as a Mormon, but as one who has thoroughly researched the formation of many of the territories discussed, to have been subjected to the unnecessary, utterly untruthful, and baffling misrepresentations of a period of history. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just in the “Utah” chapter, but every and any chance the author had to bash Mormonism, it was taken.

I take umbrage at the fact that a children’s reference book about how our states’ boundaries were set was used in this manner, and it was frustrating to then not even have true research I could turn to in order to see where the information was coming from. Further, knowing that the information is false (because I did the research myself years ago for work) it called into question the honesty, the impartiality, and the reliability of the rest of the information in the book.

I really had high hopes for this book, wanted it to be one my kids would fight over for quite a while (they’re fascinated by stuff like this!), but I was too taken aback at the tone and lackadaisical attitude to comfortably let my kids read it.  This is a pass for me.

Rating: One star


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