Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creativ: Adventure/Art/Culture/Innovation Vol. 2 Issue 7

Summary: We showcase innovators, explorers, artists, cultural pioneers and powerful changemakers, telling their unique stories through our online hub and one of a kind publication, CREATIV magazine.

(summary and pic from creativ.com)

I was given a free copy of this magazine in exchange for an honest review.

My Review: I think the most noteworthy thing—and therefore the highlight—of this fun little publication is that it is beautiful. The photography is beautiful, the featured stories are beautiful looking and very artistic, and the magazine itself is obviously well put together and very artistic itself. Although it is technically a magazine, I hesitate to call it that because this is not your standard flimsy, gloss-covered publication. This is certainly more of a tabletop book—one that you would leave out for people to browse through and think you’re hip and with it (because you would be, were you to subscribe to this). It certainly lends itself to thumbing through and appreciating the beauty of the photographs and the artistic medium that it is. There are articles to read, but they are short and succinct and it’s definitely the kind of magazine that covers a breadth of information as opposed to delving too deeply into any one topic.

Another thing I really liked about this magazine is that there were very few ads. Those that were there blended in with the publication, and it’s not like I was reading about some-random-drug-and-side-effects alongside the biography of a surfing adventure photographer (an actual article in this magazine!). I understand that magazines have got to pay for themselves and therefore sell ad space, but I was appreciative that this magazine was so streamlined and avoided big coupons for zip-top bags and ads for only-on-TV paraphernalia.

Although I loved reading and looking at this magazine (because I think that it’s strongest point is really its photography—definitely eye candy!) I found it a little unfocused. I understand that it covers a wide variety of creative…erm…creativ topics—adventure/art/culture/innovation—but there was nothing really to tie what was going on together into a cohesive whole. There were people who were artists next to an astronaut girl (probably my favorite) next to a singer next to a climber next to a motivational speaker…all from different countries with different mediums and focuses. These people are awesome and creative—no doubt about it—but I was just wishing for some theme overall. Like maybe this month’s edition would have to do with women adventurers and then go from there. Or have an issue dedicated to creatives from South America. Or an issue dedicated to men who are creating new photography mediums. You get my drift. It just seemed unfocused and like they have a very large file cabinet full of very interesting people and every month they just randomly whip out the files they have on those people, cut them down to very minimal size, jam them all together, and publish. The stories themselves were almost all very short, and left me wanting for more. I would have liked to see more detail about some of the people—their stories, their inspiration, etc. There was some of that in the longer articles, but mostly they were just really short blurbs.

Overall I really enjoyed looking at this magazine. It is beautiful. Even my nine- and seven-year-old boys liked looking through it and talking about the photos. There are some really cool people in here, very few of whom I’d heard about before, so that was fun. If you are looking for a hip tabletop book that looks really cool with a small, low-commitment description of each person and their adventures, but lots of really beautiful, inspiring photos, this is for you.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This particular issue of this magazine was clean. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The BIG Book of Color: An Adventurous Journey into the Magical & Marvelous World of Color! - Walter Foster Jr.

Summary: The Big Book of Color introduces children to the art and science of color through a fun and engaging, easy-to-understand approach. With The Big Book of Color, young artists will be treated to an in-depth exploration of the wonderful world of color through simple step-by-step projects and unique educational content. Commencing with an introduction to color basics, children will learn about the color wheel, complementary colors, warm and cool colors, color mood, and much more. Young artists will also learn how to combine two colors to create new colors. Additionally, they will discover how to use a monochromatic color scheme; pair complementary colors for impact; and all about the various tints, tones, and shades of their favorite colors. The Big Book of Color also invites children to dive into the main color groups and explore the various shades of red, green, blue, yellow, purple, and pink through a range of artwork and a series of colorful, fun step-by-step projects. Myriad creative exercises and projects throughout the book make learning color concepts fun and applicable, while perforated pages make it easy to display new masterpieces. With a plethora of fun projects, easy-to-understand concepts, and pages bursting with color, The Big Book of Color is sure to be a hit for young readers and budding artists everywhere. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: Let me just start off by saying that I have kids. Lots of them. Maybe you have more than I do, but I have four, and I consider that just shy of a small army. Anyway, I am prefacing this whole review with that because I am no kid novice. I know something of children and what they like. I actually do have one kid who is especially talented at art (and yes, I’m completely biased), but the others enjoy it a lot, just like many kids do. So I feel like I’ve been exposed to art and artsy things for kids quite a bit.

So I was ridiculously excited to get this book and guess what? It exceeded my expectations!

First off, it’s beautiful. The cover is really pretty, the colors are bright and fun, and the pictures in the actual book are a vibrant, happy mixture of real photos and drawn. It’s really quite clever and fun. Secondly, this book tackles a lot of information and it does it in a way that I think is both accessible to kids, but is not too basic. For instance, I think it’s too much for my almost-three-year-old, but in a couple of years, I know he’ll love it. My seven-year-old takes art lessons and yet I feel like it had something to teach him even though he’s had quite a bit of exposure to art and color. I read through it first myself, in fact, and although I am no artist, I have been around on this planet for quite a few years and I felt like I still learned some cool things about color while reading it. Foster does a really good job of taking what could possibly be really complex ideas about color and what they can do and how they react with one another and simplifying them to the point that a child can see and understand.

I really liked that this book would teach a concept, show the concept, and then give the kids a chance to try by providing them with places to color or fill in. My only complaint about this book comes here—I wish there was more for them to do at the end of each lesson. I don’t know about your kids, but mine always want to just colorcolorcolor and so when they learn something really cool about color (like they certainly did in this book) they want to colorcolorcolor but there isn’t a lot of places to do that in here.  It is definitely a book that a parent and a child would work on together because it’s more of a teaching than a doing book. That being said, of course they can apply it to other spaces to color outside of this book so it’s not like they’re suffering. Also, this book is pretty substantial so I think it’s a good size and doesn’t really have room for that. My kids were just so inspired! And that, of course, is the point. And a very good thing.

If you are one of those parents who buys activity books for your children (and I’m thinking of the kind that they do over the summer to prepare them for the next grade or for younger children working on learning the alphabet and shapes, etc.), then this is definitely a book I think you would really appreciate. It’s beautiful, it’s educational, and I think it’s really a lot of fun. It seems to be unique in that I haven’t seen another book for teaching kids specifically about color.

My Rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a beautiful, simple, children’s book. It is clean.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers: 200 Recipes for Dips, Spreads, Snacks, Small Plates, and Other Delicious Hors d'Oeuvres, Plus 30 Cocktails - Martha Stewart

Summary: Snacks, Starters, Small Plates, Stylish Bites, and Sips

Hors d’oeuvres made modern: Today’s style of entertaining calls for fuss-free party foods that are easy to make and just as delicious as ever. With more than 200 recipes for tasty pre-dinner bites, substantial small plates, special-occasion finger foods, and quick snacks to enjoy with drinks,Martha Stewart’s Appetizers is the new go-to guide for any type of get-together.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

I received a free copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: It’s no surprise to anyone that Martha Stewart knows what she’s doing. I mean, this is not her first rodeo. I firmly believe that Martha has been cooking since she was a wee lass and that she has only gotten better with age. And experience. I mean, really. Have you ever had something of Martha Stewart’s that was terrible? No. She’s pretty much the queen of all things domestic.

This book was pretty much like you’d expect. It was a beautiful hard cover book. I have reviewed quite a few cookbooks and although this one is not as trendy and flashy as some of the others I’ve had, I would say it is definitely classy. Timeless. It’s the kind of book that I may have seen in either the trendiest kitchens or maybe my grandma’s kitchen. And Grandma knew how to cook, peeps. I’m not saying it’s old school. The pictures are nice and descriptive. They’re not bright and vibrant and photo-shopped like a lot of really trendy cookbooks, but I like the timeless look of them. It shows the food, it looks super delicious, and it looks like it’s something I could pull off.

As far as the recipes go, there are lots of classics and then takes on classics. These are appetizers that, without a doubt, will always work. The ones I tried were really good, and the variations were fun and different. The recipes are tried and true favorites, but sometimes it’s fun to have something tried and true with a little twist. People recognize it, it’s nothing shocking, but it’s a fun little twist on what they expected.

I also really enjoyed the little explanations she had before each recipe. I felt like it added to the book without being overly wordy or preachy about a particular appetizer. It also had nice tips about doing things ahead of time and about actually entertaining, which was a nice addition to a book that looks to me like basically the bible of appetizers.

I am giving this book 4.5 stars because it’s beautiful, the food is delicious, and it’s definitely a classic. It loses half a star (so it doesn’t get five stars) because I felt like it was not seriously innovative. It was pretty safe. There were classics, there were twists on classics, and pretty much everything was covered. There was nothing really different or surprising in it. However, I would highly recommend it as a good addition to any cookbook collection. One can only try so many faddy things and then you yearn for something tried and true.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is yummy, good clean fun. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

Summary: For fans of Old Yeller and Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows is a beloved classic that captures the powerful bond between man and man’s best friend.
   Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It doesn’t matter that times are tough; together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks.

   Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, is one of the best books I have ever read. I would read it whenever I had free time. By all my free time I mean half of school!
I would recommend it for a person who is wanting a hunting dog. But I'm warning you, the end made me cry.

I would rate this book a full five stars, because of Billy working for two years to get Old Dan and Little Ann by selling minnows, fur, and berries. Also because of his dogs winning many competitions including a beauty contest and a raccoon hunting championship. 

That was my son, Charlie, who recently finished this book.  Since I made him read it, I had to reread it and review it.  

My Review:  I don't care what anyone says, this book is a classic.  It's one of the first books that has ever made me cry (definitely not the last), one of the first books that changed me, and one of the first books I thought I'd shield my son from.  However, we've had a development in our family.  My son recently contracted a serious case of Puppy Fever.   It was bad.  He smuggled the Dog Bible to school and over a few days, he compiled a list of seventeen breeds that interested him.  He researched and researched, narrowed it down, and came to my husband and me with his findings -- he needed a redbone coonhound.  It was a need, not a want.  He started cleaning his room and vacuuming.  He made a bed for his puppy.  We told him that if he wanted to even consider a coonhound, he had to read this book.  So we tried to get it for him. 

In the meantime, my husband, who has had Puppy Fever for a while, found a redbone breeder a few hours from us.  She has a good reputation, and we contacted her to see if we could just expose our kids to the breed, since we've never seen one in real life before.  As you may have guessed, I lost my mind on the way to the breeder's and we came home with our own little redbone coonhound puppy.

Charlie devoured Where the Red Fern Grows once it arrived.  He'd smuggle his puppy into his room, cheat on his bedtime, and read.  He was entranced.  Without my knowing, he took it to school. And when he said he cried, he did.  He snuggled his pup, he climbed into my lap and felt all of the emotions that this stupid book inflicts upon its readers.  And then he asked me for another puppy.  (I didn't feel bad saying no.)

Can I just say, this last week has made reading this darn book that much harder?  I sat down to read, and this warm, wiggling little red doggy came and curled up against my leg to chew her bone.  I don't know if it was the presence of a coonhound, or the fact that I'm now a mother, but I cried my makeup off before the final showdown.  I love how simply written this book is.  It is so easy to imagine that I'm sitting next to a roaring fire in a cabin listening to my grandfather tell this story.  And it doesn't matter how many times I read this book, I get choked up when Billy finally gets his pups.  I get excited during their first hunt.  I want to go watch Ol' Dan and Lil' Ann do their thing.  It makes me want to explore the Ozarks.  

There's no denying that this book is a classic.  I don't know anyone who hasn't cried and fallen in love with this trio.  It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, it's simple and beautiful and holds a more special place in my heart now that we have our own little coonhound running around.  This is a book that will never become outdated.

Rating: Five stars.  I'm with my son on this one.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is an altercation between two bullies and Billy that ends in the death of one of the boys.  Billy has a run-in with some town kids.  And the last scenes -- you will need tissues.  It's hard to read and never gets easier.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Manhattan Mayhem: New Crime Stories from Mystery Writers of America - various authors

Summary: Best-selling suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark invites you on a tour of Manhattan’s most iconic neighborhoods in this anthology of all-new stories from the Mystery Writers of America. From the Flatiron District (Lee Child) and Greenwich Village (Jeffery Deaver) to Little Italy (T. Jefferson Parker) and Chinatown (S.J. Rozan), you’ll encounter crimes, mysteries, and riddles large and small. Illustrated with iconic photography of New York City and packaged in a handsome hardcover, Manhattan Mayhem is a delightful read for armchair detectives and armchair travelers alike!

Summary and pic from goodreads.com

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

My Review: Back in high school (insert old fogey joke here at your own peril) I loved honors and AP English when we would reach short stories. I loved the compilation textbooks we had. Each story was so interesting and had a really succinct way of capturing life. I still remember reading those stories and occasionally I’ll run in to one of those stories and have one of those happy nostalgic moments that come from encountering something pleasant and familiar.

But somewhere along the way, I lost my passion for most short stories.

You see, I actually really enjoy reading cool short stories. There is an art to being able to say what you need to say in a short amount of time. Anyone can blather on and on about something and eventually get to their point, but there is something about being able to boil a story down to its core and still not lose the magic and the good writing. However, for the most part, I think that most people don’t do that well, and therefore, I don’t read short story compilations very often.

And then I saw this book, saw that it was a mystery writers’ book (‘cause how fun is that!) and that I recognized a lot of the authors (Mary Higgins Clark! Lee Child!) and I was intrigued. I am happy to report that I actually really, really enjoyed it. It was so fun to read all the different stories. And they are all really different, too. The only theme is that they are part of the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, and the stories must take place in New York, so with parameters like that, you know that it will vary from traditional to vintage to super modern to historical and everything in between. Now, as with all compilations, some of the stories are better than others. Some of the authors are better than others (although everyone in this compilation is a best seller and very prolific, so it’s not like I was reading drivel ever). With the shortness of the stories the mysteries couldn’t be too complicated, although some of them were definitely able to get a lot done in a short amount of time. The great thing about reading a book from authors of this caliber is that everyone is able to bring something to the table—the stories were interesting, they were scathing, and it was a really, really fun read. I loved being able to sit down and just enjoy a few minutes of a small little mystery. It wasn’t a huge commitment, I didn’t have to remember lots of details to figure out whodunit, and the writing was good.  I also loved that these stories all took place in New York. They were all really different, and it really showcased the diversity (both in time and place) of New York and the people there.

One of my favorite stories was “Three Little Words” by Nancy Pickard. It had a delicious little twist at the end. But don’t miss Mary Higgins Clark’s story, “The Five Dollar Dress,” either. It’s got a really fun premise. Actually, I really liked all of the stories.

Seriously, it surprised me how much I enjoyed this. I expected to enjoy it, mind you, because I like mysteries and I like many of these authors, but I wasn’t sure about the short story aspect of it. I’m happy to report that it was just a really fun ride and if you like mysteries and mystery authors, you should definitely check it out.

My Rating: 4 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book would be rated PG. There wasn’t much language, sexual content, or violence, but it isn’t squeaky clean.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire #2)—George R.R. Martin

Summary: Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead...victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.
     As a prophecy of doom cuts across the sky—a comet the color of blood and flame—six factions struggle for control of a divided land. Eddard’s son Robb has declared himself King in the North. In the south, Joffrey, the heir apparent, rules in name only, victim of the scheming courtiers who teem over King's Landing. Robert's two brothers each seek their own dominion, while a disfavored house turns once more to conquest. And a continent away, an exiled queen, the Mother of Dragons, risks everything to lead her precious brood across a hard hot desert to win back the crown that is rightfully hers. 
Summary from Wikipedia.org. Cover art from Goodreads.com. 

My summary/review: Holy cow! Books are NOT supposed to end the way A Game of Thrones ended!!! Good is supposed to conquer evil and the good guys, though always courting danger, are never supposed to die! Especially un-heroic though entirely realistic deaths on the chopping block. George R.R. Martin established his reputation as a serial killer of favorite characters, a reputation that he enforces through all of his published works. The reader now knows that no one is safe and everything is at stake.
     Book two picks up as Ned’s son Robb Stark reclaims the ancient Stark title of King of the North and wages war against the Iron Throne. Told alongside Robb’s war for vengeance, the story flashes over to Daenerys Targaryen’s climb to power and then to Tyrion Lannister’s apt ruling of King’s Landing. Where Eddard Stark came out strong as the obvious protagonist in book one, these three characters each effectively persuade readers to root for their conflicting causes. This is what makes me love these books so much. Not knowing who to root for, not knowing what end I should possibly even hope for.
     This book introduces two new POV characters—Davos Seaworth who is stalwart and boring, and Theon Greyjoy who is so detestable he makes King Joffrey look gallant. Another challenging and fun aspect of these books—living the life of the villains for awhile. Some villains are respectable and relatable. Some are just…vile. We get that with Theon. All in all, we’re still rooting for House Stark—will the remaining Starks ever be reunited?—though we want good things for Tyrion and Queen Dany as well.

My rating: 4.75 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book (and series) is not for you. With more baddies in the mix and with full-on war, all the offensive things are kicked up a notch—swearing, violence, gore, rape, etc.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Suffering - Rin Chupeco

Summary: Over the last year I've gone against faceless women, disfigured spirits, and grotesque revenants. Some people keep dangerous hobbies; skydiving and driving at monster truck rallies and glacier surfing. Me? I cast my soul into the churning waters of potential damnation and wait for a bite. 

It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest’, both must resolve their differences and return to that country of secrets to find her. 

Because there is a strange village inside Aokigahara, a village people claim does not exist. A village where strange things lie waiting.

A village with old ghosts and an ancient evil – one that may be stronger than even Okiku…

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: One thing that really gets me in the mood for a fun Halloween season (because I LOVE Halloween!) is scary reading. Now there are lots of different ways to talk about “scary.” War, famine, post-apocalyptic, kidnapping, true crime, serial killers, ya know. The list goes on and yet I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. I don’t want that kind of scary for Halloween. I want uber creepy ghosts or Dracula or something that really gets me in the mood.

This book, my friends, fit the bill.

I think I can summarize this pretty simply by saying it’s based on Japanese ghost folklore. If you have read any Japanese ghost folklore, it’s really scary. The movie The Ring was actually based on Japanese folklore, and coincidentally, the first book in this series (The Suffering is the second book) was based on that same folktale. So if you still see that creepy black and white image of the girl climbing out of the well—hair all crazy and brushed forward—and get creeped out (in the best way possible!) then you should TOTALLY read this book. I’m serious. I reviewed the first book in the series, The Girl From the Well, and while I thought that one was scary and had some really fun, scary moments, I thought this one was scarier.

For instance—my husband was gone for four days. For three of those days, my mom and sisters and whole gaggle of kids came to stay with me and party at my house for the weekend. This book was so scary that if it was in a really scary part (read: the lion’s share of it minus the first few chapters and last few chapters) I wouldn’t read it at night for fear of the dreams and general creeped-out-ness that would come. AND THERE WERE A WHOLE GAGGLE OF KIDS! I mean, who gets scared when there are kids everywhere and the noise and festivity is through the roof? This is that kind of book.

Ghosts. Ghouls. Evil ghosts. Scary graveyardy situations. Mega-haunted villages. This book embraced all things Halloween. I seriously can’t tell you how fun and creepy it was. I just loved it. It really started my Halloween off right.

Now if you are looking for a literary classic, I have to admit that this probably isn’t it. It’s pretty standard YA Fic, complete with some competing love stories, sassy teens, said sassy teens “tricking” their parents, etc. It’s not super poignant or life-affirming, and the characters aren’t super developed and whole, but it didn’t matter. That’s not what this book was about. I am giving this book four stars just because it’s a really great ghost story. I haven’t been this scared about ghosts and loving it this much since I read Wait Till Helen Comes in fourth grade when my math teacher touched my shoulder and I jumped a mile. If you are looking for a really fun, really scary ghost story, you should check this book out. But it’s scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some gory content in here. YA Fic gory, not Scandinavian crime author gory.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The House that Drac Built by Will Hillenbrand

Summary: One by one, a bat, a cat, a werewolf, a monster, a mummy, a zombie, and other frightful creatures emerge in the dark house. They chase, wrestle, and roar--until the doorbell rings and in walks a group of fearless trick-or-treaters who know exactly what to do.

Summary and image from Goodreads.com.

Review: A great book for emerging readers, this book is build like There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or The Twelve Days of Christmas, where the events build upon each other and are repeated on every page. My daughter discovered this book in preschool at age 4 and had it memorized. We borrowed it from her teachers enough that I went ahead and bought our own copy. It introduced her to words like "manticore" and "fiend."

A cat bites a bat and that starts a chain reaction in the haunted house, disturbing all the creatures withing. The mummy comes unwrapped. The werewolf gets out of its cage. The beasts start roaring. And in the end, a group of trick-or-treaters right all the wrongs, down to putting a bandage on the bat's wing.

Cute story. Fun rhyming patterns. We enjoy this book.

Rating: 5 stars. Definitely one of my favorite children's books.

For the sensitive reader. If you're not a fan of the witches-and-vampires side of Halloween, you may not love this book for children. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nightmares! - Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Summary:  Sleeping has never been so scary. And now waking up is even worse!
Charlie Laird has several problems. 
1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap. 
What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed.
And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.  Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review:  Okay, who knew Jason Segel could write?  Forget whether he could write, who knew he could write so well?  My last foray into celebrity-penned fiction didn't end well.  (Ahem, Modelland, cough, cough.)  But my son was desperate for a new book, we're always desperate to find him something fictional he's willing to read, so we grabbed this off the shelf and figured it would be worth a shot.

He didn't sleep.  One, the book did indeed give him nightmares, but fun ones, and two, it was too much fun to put down.

The whole premise of the book is that Charlie Laird has so much fear that he's opened a portal to the Netherworld where nightmares are really real.  Not only is this affecting his whole town, President Fear (the dictatorial leader of the Netherworld and principal of Charlie's school) is planning on using Charlie's fear to take over the waking world.  In order to save his friends and his town, he'll have to confront and embrace his deepest fears ... even the one he hasn't shared with anyone.

I was so pleasantly surprised with this book.  Segel's imagination and his combined writing with Miller was entrancing! Charlie's bitterness was palpable in the beginning of the book, and his perspective was difficult to read, but it was totally believable.  His time in the Netherworld was scary and nailbiting and fun and still completely believable.  The resolution?  Let's just say that I can not wait for the second book to come out.  There was no cliffhanger.  It was resolved beautifully.  I may have cried a bit.  But the writing was so much fun, I need the next one!

Rating:  Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  In the first part of the book, before Charlie enters the Netherworld, he's mean.  He's outright cruel to his stepmother, he belittles his brother, he is disrespectful to his father.  It's explained why very well, but it did make me wonder why I'd let my impressionable and very mimic-y nine year old read this!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mouse's First Halloween by Lauren Thompson

Summary: Join Mouse on a spooky fall night. He hears bats flying, leaves falling, and children singing, "Trick or Treat!" What can it mean? Find the answer in this sturdy board book edition of the best-selling picture book.

Summary and image from Goodreads.com. 

Review: This is a favorite board book at my house all year long. It's too fun for kids to only bring it out at Halloween.

It is a book for babies or toddlers with lots of repetition. As Mouse runs around on Halloween night, different shapes in the dark and sounds in the night raise his hackles and pique his curiosity, causing him to exclaim, "Eeeek! What could it be?" on every page. Kids love to jump in on the repetition and squeak with Mouse as he discovers scampering kittens, winking jack-o-lanterns, and swooping bats. I enjoyed this book so much that I sought out other "Mouse's First" books, only to be disappointed. This is my favorite by far.

Rating: 3.75 stars. My kids do love this book and would probably give it 5 stars, but let's be real--it's a repetitious children's board book. It's cute and memorable, but it is what it is.

For the sensitive reader--nothing to worry about here! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Best Halloween Ever - Barbara Robinson

Summary: The Herdmans plus Halloween have always spelled disaster.
Every Halloween, the six Herdman kids steal candy, spray-paint other kids, and take everything that isn't nailed down. And this year promises to be the same, until the Mayor decides to up and cancel Halloween. True, that means there'd be no Herdman trouble to contend with, but that also means no candy, no costumes, and no trick-or-treating! Is it possible that the Herdmans themselves could make what looks like a horrible Halloween into the best one ever? (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review -  Remember the Herdman clan from the Best Christmas Pageant Ever?  They're back, and this time they're taking on Halloween.  Halloween is the best day of the year for the Herdmans, since it's the day their naughty ways get to shine in full.  In fact, it's typical to see many more Herdmans running around than normal, since they're so scary, it's a popular costume!  But when the Mayor puts his foot down and cancels Halloween for the whole town, the Principal tries to have a Herdman-free/Parent-supervised "SAFE" Halloween at the school, and the Herdmans get word?  You'd better hope the usual hijinks are the only thing that happens!
I'd forgotten how much I loved Robinson's writing.  I hadn't even known she had written more adventures with the Herdmans, and guess what?  They're even more fun than I remembered!  She has such an active imagination, such a fun way of writing (I totally identified with the 12 year old narrator), and such a canny voice that this is definitely one of my new favorite Halloween reads.  Perfect for the younger kids in the family (the scariest it gets is a veiled threat by Imogene and a planned blackout ... and some disappearing kids), this is definitely a book that would be fun to read on Halloween night after the festivities are winding down.
Rating: Five stars
For the sensitive reader:  The Herdmans are thieves, vandals, naughty as can be, and unsupervised at home.  But under all of that, they're hiding hearts of gold -- all six of the little devils!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes

Summary: Follow los monstruos and los esqueletos to the Halloween party.

Under October's luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all aren't even there yet!

Summary and image from Goodreads.com. 

My review: I picked this up at the library's Halloween display a few weeks ago and have thoroughly enjoyed it. A fun Halloween book with a Mexican Día De Los Muertos vibe and fascinating illustrations.

Spanish words are woven into every stanza of this rhythmic, rhyming story in such a way that you understand what each word means. Witches, vampires, skeletons, zombies, mummies, and, of course, black cats all come together to have a party in a haunted house underneath the October moon. Yet there is something that scares even these scary fantasmas--children trick-or-treating!

I really enjoy this fun Halloween book. My six-year-old loves it. She is always trying to learn Spanish when she can and this was an engaging and memorable way to add a few offbeat Spanish words to our vocabulary. My three-year-old did not like it the first time we read it, calling it scary, but since has enjoyed repeated readings. I love, love, love Halloween--especially the old traditions surrounding it--so this book was right up my alley.

For the sensitive reader: I know there are some people who prefer to leave the ghosts and witches out of Halloween and focus on superheroes and princesses. Those readers may find this book a little macabre for children. The illustrations are a little spooky, but not disturbing or gross. After an initial viewing, my 3 year-old now likes this book and enjoys counting the skeletons and the zombies with glowing eyes.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer

Please welcome back guest reviewer, Jessica Clark!

A novel set in Regency London and Brighton. It is in regrettable circumstances that beautiful Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine first encounter Julian St. John Audley. The man, they both agree, is an insufferably arrogant dandy. But unfortunately for the orphans, he is also the Fifth Earl of Worth, a friend of the Regent and, quite by chance, their legal guardian...

Judith Taverner had captivated all London society. A bevy of elegant bachelors swarmed about her, vying for her favors. But then her brother suddenly vanished, she was forced to seek the aid of her mysterious guardian, the powerful Earl of Worth.

Once Judith had looked upon the Earl as a protector -- and then as something far more. But now she was gown up, worldly-wise... and prey to a chilling suspicion. For Judith was not only a bewitching young lady, but also heiress to a great fortune -- a bewildered creature trying to discover the difference between a man's love and a man's greed.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review:  After spending many decades reading and re-reading Jane Austen novels, I felt it was time to brave new territory. Not one to go lightly into new things, yet incurring an insatiable need for all things Regency, I spent far too much time reading reviews on various books and authors that focused on my favorite time period.

One name kept popping up over and over again.

Georgette Heyer.

As I stumbled over her name again and again, I began to discern that she was not just another writer trying to cash in on the obvious obsession with the regency era that began with Jane Austen and has now risen to a fever pitch today. In fact, Georgette began her writing career in the early 20th century (read: early 1900's) as a young woman. To this day, 48 of her books are in print.

So, deciding I had stumbled upon a genuine article, I decided to dive in.

Regency Buck is GH's first regency era novel. Many would tell you that it is a take off of Pride and Prejudice, one of Jane Austen's greatest hits. And so, dear reader, I would have to agree.
If, by agreeing, I mean there is a boy and a girl who meet, fall out of like with each other, are thrown together again and again, and then realize they are made for each other. And you know what, I like that. I like a good story of unrequited love becoming requited again. Isn't that what all of our teenage hearts yearned for at one point or another anyway?!

If you have ever wondered what Elizabeth Bennet would have been like if she had been in different, more fashionable shoes, this is the book for you. Not only is it filled with timely descriptions of the Regency era and all of the machinations of the ton, it gives you a heroine that learns to navigate the confining restrictions of her day with an altogether refreshing twist.

Whether it's driving a carriage “hell for leather” through the countryside in her own curricle, or cleverly avoiding the advances of one of the Regency era's most illustrious historical figures, you'll enjoy unraveling the plot and the details of this Regency novel that kicked off the genre in the first place.

Rating:  I give this book a 4 star rating because there are some overly long descriptions of different cultural aspects of the regency era. While I love the regency era, and would normally eat up any descriptions, it did slow the plot down. 

For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few descriptions of cultural aspects of the regency era that might give a reader pause. One event described is a boxing match given in all it's gory detail. Another event is a cock fight (two roosters fighting each other). The author gives the reader an entire look into just how these animals go from the farm to the cage match. The last event worth noting is an outing at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton involving the indubitable playboy, the Prince Regent, and our heroine. Her quick thinking gets her out of trouble before it's too late, but she does find herself in a sticky situation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book of Speculation - Erika Swyler

Summary: A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother's name. What is the book's connection to his family?

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand. 

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com). I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:The first thing I noticed about this book is it is really beautiful. I know this is totally a “judge its book by its cover” kind of thing, but seriously. The cover is really cool and inside, the chapters have some color and some drawings, which are really cool. The reason why I am noting this is A) I am a very hearty appreciator of real books. eReaders are really not my thing, despite my love of technology. When I encounter a beautiful book, it is kind of rare, especially in a world where self-publishing is everywhere. Not that there’s anything against that, but they’re not hardbound with that cool velvety cover. B) This book is about an old book—a Book of Speculation, as you may have handily guessed—so to have a book that is actually really cool on the outside added to it. It gave the book an edge of having a cool vibe to it right from the start. It set the tone.

I liked this book a lot, actually. It has an alternating voice between the main character (who is not a reliable narrator, which I actually kind of love although it always throws me off) and reading from the actual “Book of Speculation.” It’s such a cool story. It’s macabre, it’s a little creepy, and it walks the edge between fantasy and realism that I really like. I don’t like it when books are completely out of the realm of possibilities unless I know that it is completely out of the realm of possibilities. Does that make sense? I’m fine with paranormal books (unless the love story is LAME and then I’m not. Don’t get me started) but I am not okay with a book that considers itself to be dealing in reality but actually it’s just stupid and the author takes too many liberties. This book is not that way. This book walks the very fine line but remains in that fun and crackly place where it’s real, but it’s a little more fantastical than real, but it could be real.

And there are carnies and freaks in a freak show. Who doesn’t love that kind of thing? It brings up all the right kind of fun creepiness. The people are interesting, the history is interesting, the fact that this kind of thing actually existed (and still exists!) is just so outside of my realm of reality that I really enjoy reading about it. Swyler does a great job of creating that old timey feel where it’s a little creepy, almost fairytale-esque, and bringing it to the present and carrying that over.

Something I loved—no LOVED—about this book was the idea that this book had a will of its own and found who it wanted to be with. As someone who loves books, and understands the importance of them personally, historically, culturally, I love the idea that books have a personality of their own, that they have a will and a purpose. That they understand their importance as well. Seriously. This is awesome.

I am giving this book four stars because although I think Swyler is great, I do think that there were a few rookie maneuvers with the plot. It doesn’t ruin things and I still highly recommend the book, but Swyler doesn’t flawlessly pull everything off.

Overall, I would recommend this. It’s got a cool, fun vibe with just a hint of the macabre to make it creepy and delicious.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some discussion of sex. There is nothing too shocking, though, and I find it to be on par with others from its genre. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Skulls - Mike Artell

Summary:  An incredibly cool, close-up look at the skulls of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. Dozens of Images of animals (including their scientific name), fun facts, jokes, wordplay and off-the-word, fascinating trivia related to each animal. Plus, there's a "match the skull" quiz at the end of the book and some links for related web sites. Your young scientist is going to love this book! (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  With three junior scientists in the house, I can't ever have enough science books.  It's just a fact - even though we've spent the summer in the library, and even though they've lived in the nonfiction section, there's just never enough.

Mike Artell has put together a fun book for those interested in animals.  Along with each picture of the animal's skull is a photograph of the living animal and a page of facts.  To be honest, I was fascinated by the skulls of the animals alone.  They're stunning.  It took some imagination, even with the living example next to it, to see how it belonged to the animal it had -- but I loved it.  Aren't bodies fascinating?  It's the kind of book you can breeze through in a short period of time, or you can just as easily use the guide as a reference jumping off point.

Just to give you an indicator of how the target audience responds to the book, I opened it in the car as we were heading out for the day.  Within seconds, I had three voices crying "Mine!"  "No, clearly that's for me!" "I want it!"  Clearly, taking turns is a concept we need to continue to review.  Sigh.  I'm happy to report that they've all gotten a turn and the only battle we have now is which child is the lucky one whose bookshelf will house this book.

Perhaps because it's my favorite time of the year, but this would be an excellent book to put in a classroom library.  For homeschoolers out there, I'd consider this invaluable!

Rating:  Four stars -- I wish it were longer

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trivia For Adults - Joe B. Hewitt

Summary: TRIVIA for ADULTS contains rules for playing trivia, 620 original questions and answers. Most answers are expanded to fully explain them. If you don't play the game, you can read the questions and answers and increase your general knowledge. Rules for playing the game are included. There is no board or tokens, just 20 questions for each game for team play. Many difficult questions have multiple choice answers so you can make a good guess. These questions are for adults. There are no questions that only a teenager would know. 

An example of the expanded answer: 611. To “tack close to the wind” is what kind of term, (A. Roofer. (B. Sky diving. (C. Sailing. 

Answer: 611. To “tack close to the wind” is a (C. Sailing term. A sail boat or sailing ship cannot sail directly into the wind, but can go at a 45 degree angle toward the wind in a zigzag. When the vessel changes directions it is called “tacking.” In order to go as near to against the wind as possible, the sailor will “tack close to the wind.” 

The author welcomes challenges and comments.  (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I am not one of those people who can spout trivia all the time, but I definitely know a lot of random things about a lot of things. There’s a difference, ya know? The trivia people win Trivial Pursuit and can remember facts well. They know dates. They know names and intricate details. People like me, well. I love learning, love listening to podcasts about stuff, but I don’t know if I’d win Trivial Pursuit. Maybe I’m splitting straws here. Maybe I’m making excuses? Who knows?

This book is formatted a little differently than I thought it would be. I’m not sure what I thought, but I was happily surprised when I got it. It’s like a party in a book. A party for nerds in a book. It’s structured in such a way that it should be used for a game, and in fact the introduction tells you how to play a game using the book. Although none of the physical game elements are included—it’s just a book—there are plenty of questions to keep you going for many games. The sections are divided into 20 questions, and then the 20 answers are given in the following pages. This makes it nice because you don’t have to hunt down answers—they’re basically right there. They’re numbered clearly, the pages are numbered clearly, and I’m thinking that if it were to be used for a game, it would be quite easy to keep track of where you left off and come right back to it.

Like any trivia game, there are not extensive answers to the questions. A lot of the questions are just answered simply in a few words. However, this doesn’t mean they’re answered with no explanation. In fact, many of the answers have a little bit of an explanation, a little nugget of information for the trivia people to savor.

This is obviously not a book you would read cover to cover in one sitting like you might an awesome novel, but it is definitely fun for a game or in a place where you want to just do some quick, fun reading with little commitment but high entertainment value.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven - Brandon Mull

Summary: This guidebook to the Fablehaven magical preserve is filled with everything a new Caretaker might need to know in order to survive. There are entries detailing important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves.

Immerse yourself into the secret knowledge that has been handed down through the generations by reading the updates and notes written in the margins by the former Caretakers of Fablehaven, including Grandpa Sorenson, Kendra, and Seth. Fully-illustrated, this unique encyclopedia has gathered the world of Fablehaven into one volume.

Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book electronically in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  Okay, let's be honest.  If you're not a chronic rereader of awesome series, this book isn't going to be for you.  If you don't love delving into the worlds authors create, if you don't like knowing the backstories before you reread your favorite series, if you don't want to know any nuances you may have missed, books like this aren't going to interest you.

But.  If you are one of those chronic rereaders who loves supplemental material, who loves to fill in backstories, flesh out characters, refine your own theories, and immerse yourself into the world you're currently experiencing, AND if you know that a second series will be coming out soon (squee!), AND if you want to brush up ... you need to get to a bookstore.

This is such a fun series.  I really enjoyed the series the first few times around, but revisiting the series, the baddies and the golden characters, the places, the spells, the magical items, brought it all back.  There are new snippets scattered throughout, there are wonderful illustrations of the characters, this really is well done.

In all honesty, I received an electronic copy.  I don't recommend it.  It didn't translate to an ebook version well -- I nearly quit trying to read it, to be honest!  But let's get real.  If you want a supplemental guide, do you really want a digital file?  I didn't think so.  

This book made me so excited for the new series coming out.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Brandon Mull's books I've read, I have no doubt that will be true with Dragonwatch!

Rating:  3.5 stars  I think I'd have been able to give it a better rating with an actual book.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Clean.  Some of the descriptions are a tad gory, but they're demons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Urchin of the Riding Stars - M.I. McAllister

Please welcome guest reviewer, Court Cope!
Summary: Triumphant heroes and brilliantly wicked villains do battle on the island of Mistmantle in the first book of a new heart-stopping adventure series in the great tradition of Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows. Illustrations. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I'm a massive fan of anything animal related, especially when those animals are anthropomorphic, wield swords, solve mysteries, and are heroes and villains, following in the vein of Brian Jacques' Redwall series.

While I love the Redwall books (do not get me wrong, they are some of my favorites), what I love about Mistmantle is that anyone can be a bad guy.  If a rat comes walking along in the Redwallverse, he is almost instantly a baddie.  However, in the world of Mistmantle, inhabited mainly by squirrels, hedgehogs, moles and otters, anyone can be turned, anyone can fall, which I think adds to the suspense, mystery, and reality. There is still evil, and there is still good, but there is also grey.

The characters in this book are incredibly well-rounded.  They are eager, earnest and flawed.  Those who try to be good have their faults, they stumble, they come short, but they keep trying, while those who follow a darker path or do cruel things have good cause (in their eyes), and come upon it bit by bit.  It is a book filled with intrigue, betrayal, adventure, friendship, and heroism, with characters you can relate to, hate, feel sorry for, and laugh with.

I also must commend the illustrations by Omar Rayyan.  It was these illustrations, in fact, that led me to the book in the first place, as I came upon a small postcard set of several of the main characters.  They are expressive and compliment the story.

While Urchin of the Riding Stars works well as a standalone, I also recommend the entire five book series, as each one goes deeper into this magical world, fleshing out already solid characters and delving into varying themes and adventures.

My rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: There are several deaths throughout, though nothing horribly gruesome. The main villain is haunted by someone he murdered, which can be a little intense, and likewise the opening scene is a squirrel in childbirth.


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