Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes - Hans Christian Andersen & The Starbright Foundation

Summary: Sure, you may know the story of The Emperor's New Clothes. But have you ever heard it from the point of view of the Emperor's underwear? Or from the Imperial Mirror? Or the honest boy's mother? An all-star cast retells and illustrates Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about the foolish king who is too vain to admit he can't see his sumptuous new clothes, which, according to the dastardly weavers, can only be seen by "visionaries gifted with true taste and imagination." Twenty-three celebrities and 23 acclaimed illustrators donated their time and creativity to this project sponsored by the Starbright Foundation, which develops products and programs that enable seriously ill children to confront the mental and emotional challenges beyond their medical conditions. From Madonna to General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, from Robin Williams to Dr. Ruth Westheimer, these well-known personalities each take on a different perspective of the fairy tale, creating a riotous retelling that will have everyone in the family bent double with laughter (Calvin Klein himself tells the royal underwear's version of the story!). But that's not all. Award-winning artists like William Joyce (who did the cover), Chris Van Allsburg, Kinuko Y. Craft, Maurice Sendak, Quentin Blake, and S. Saelig Gallagher lend their imaginative skill to each chapter, depicting two dozen fabulous and unusual angles to the story. Winner of a 1999 Hans Christian Andersen Award, this amusing version of a classic will keep readers in stitches, as it were. The accompanying CD of this new paperback edition brings the story to vivid life. (Summary and image from Amazon.com)

My Review: Instead of being 4 separate stories like the other Starbright Foundation book, Once Upon A Fairy Tale, this is one, long story. It feels far longer than the other as well. The illustrations alone would make this book worthwhile. The compilation of various famous artists give the book such a unique appeal. The accompanying CD adds to the novelty. While the book can be enjoyed without it, the CD showcases famous celebrities at their best: donating their talents (voice acting in this case) to help sick children.

When I use this in the classroom I focus on teaching the difference between first person and third person. The book actually offers both examples. Most of the story is told from different characters' points of view (first person) with the additional insight of a kingdom moth (please enjoy the irony because of the emperor's invisible clothes) who buzzes in and out of the story (third person objective). Another aspect I teach is personification. There are many added characters to this version of the Emporer's New Clothes: take his underwear for example. My favorite character is Robin Williams. He plays the court jester. My students love this book, despite it being a children's book that usually they'd say they're too old for, and ask me to share it again and again.

Again, I think what adds the cherry on top is the fact that all the proceeds go to helping sick children. It is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 5 Stars

In a phrase: Hilarious, vivid artistry, and a great CD all included with the story of a classic fairytale.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Once Upon A Fairy Tale - Starbright Foundation

Summary: This collaborative production, a fund-raiser for the Starbright Foundation, which helps seriously ill young people, takes readers on a romp through four familiar folktales: "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Frog Prince," "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," and "Rumplestiltskin." Celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and Nicolas Cage speak as characters from the stories, each using a distinctive voice, which readers can hear on the accompanying CD or read on a single page. A picture executed by a well-known illustrator faces each page of text. Children who know the classic versions of the stories will appreciate the way the retellers cleverly insert motivation and new contexts, giving old tales a distinctively modern spin. (Summary and image from Amazon.com)

My Review: I LOVE this book. I was introduced to it during college in one of my reading endorsement classes. The illustrations are beautiful, even some of the abstract and odd ones. The CD that accompanies the book with famous actors and actresses reading the characters is fantastic, and the idea of breaking the fairy tale into separate parts for each character adds a new twist on old favorites. In this book (there is another Starbright Foundation book I'll review soon) my favorite parts are Rumpilstilskin read by Michael Myers and the Wolf (Little Red Riding Hood) read by Robin Williams. Lisa Kudrow does a great job with Little Red Riding Hood as well.

As a side note for any educators: I use this to teach both Theme and Point of View. The themes for each story are easily discerned and can make a fast post-test on a theme unit. The Point of View (1st person) and character development are fun and the kids seem to grasp the concepts quickly.

What I love most is that people of all ages can enjoy this book. My 3 year old daughter loves the stories, my 14 year old middle school students love humor from their favorite actors/actresses, and as an adult it is fun to listen to your old favorites with distinctly different illustrations on every page. Bonus: proceeds go to help sick kids! Books, fun, helping kids: what could be better?

Rating: 5 Stars

In A Phrase: A new, very fun, take on old classic fairy tales.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Also reviewed by Kari and Anne, one of our guest reviewers.

Summary: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she'd never met, a native of Guernsey, the British island once occupied by the Nazis. He'd come across her name on the flyleaf of a secondhand volume by Charles Lamb. Perhaps she could tell him where he might find more books by this author.

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, she is drawn into the world of this man and his friends, all members of the Guernsey Literary and the Potato Peel Pie Society, a unique book club formed in a unique, spur-of-the-moment way: as an alibi to protect its members from arrests by the Germans.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the Society's charming, deeply human members, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all. Through their letters she learns about their island, their taste in books, and the powerful transformative impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds there will change her forever.

My review: I expected a lot of this book. So many people have been going off about it's greatness that I was hoping it would be really good (and fearing it would one of those books that gets so built up in my mind that it turns out to be a big fat flop - like Atonement).

It took me a while to get into the story because I've been busy with other things and wasn't able to sit down for more than two minutes at a time. The good news is, since this book is composed almost entirely in letters, it was easy to read in short bursts. It wasn't, however, very good that way. I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about or connect with the story, emotions, and characters. I thought it was interesting, but not particularly extraordinary.

However, once I was actually able to sit down and dedicate a good chunk of time to this book, I found myself devouring letter after letter--promising myself that each one would be the last --and then reading just one more. I stayed up well past 2 AM to finish because I couldn't bear not knowing how it was going to end.

And so it turns out that I loved this book! From Juliet's defiant spirit and the unusual beginnings of the literary society, to it's vivid and quirky members -- each letter was an absolute treat. The authors' interjections of humor, horror, history, and romance in to the storyline were aptly placed and, when I closed this book, I was sad to lose the company of such thoroughly engaging characters. I highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a book that will make them sigh when they finish it and think about it long after.


My rating: 5 Stars


Sum it up: A fascinating piece of historical fiction that needs to be consumed to be truly appreciated.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

Summary: Ponyboy can count on his brothers. And on his friends. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up "greasers" like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect--until the night someone takes things too far. (Summary from back of the book and image from Powells.com)

My Review: I cannot believe I didn't read this while in school. How I escaped my teen years without reading this book is beyond me. I did, however, pick it up as an adult. I consumed it. It's short (only 180 pages) and despite having dated vernacular, dated fads and styles, it hits home. You can't help but feel for Ponyboy and his brothers. No one should have their parents taken from them so young. S.E. Hinton so easily throws the reader into understanding why a group of boys would become family to a teen. And at first, you can't help but side completely with the greasers. That is, until the end of the book when you realize the opposite perspective. S.E. Hinton crafts this book so well, you don't even realize you're seeing the Socs side until the end.

I love how this book transcends generations, speaks to the young, and brings to light issues that all teens see and feel but cannot seem to talk about. After reading this book with my 7th and 8th graders you'd be amazed at the discussions my students are able to have when before they could hardly speak to one another. Any book that can attack prejudice and stereotypes, forcing teens to change their thinking, is a powerful book.

What I do find sad is that despite time, this book's issues are still around. It's sad that we, as a society, haven't moved past the same struggles that the kids 50 years ago struggled with. It's great that there is literature out there that can move people to break barriers and create dialogue, but it's sad that despite that progress, nothing has changed. Maybe it's because we all seem to need to learn the hard way about some things.

If you haven't read this book, please pick up a copy. It's a quick read and you won't be sorry.

Rating: 5 Stars--Everyone should read this book at some point in life.

In a phrase: A timeless book about universal struggle.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Vampire Kisses - Ellen Schreiber

Summary: In her small town, dubbed Dullsville, sixteen-year-old Raven — a vampire-crazed goth-girl — is an outcast. But not for long...

The intriguing and rumored-to-be haunted mansion on top of Benson Hill has stood vacant and boarded-up for years. That is, until its mysteriously strange new occupants move in. Who are these creepy people — especially the handsome, dark, and elusive Alexander Sterling? Or rather, what are they? Could the town prattle actually ring true? Are they vampires? Raven, who secretly covets a vampire kiss, both at the risk of her own mortality and Alexander's loving trust, is dying to uncover the truth.

Ellen Schreiber's spooky and stirring romance tells the story of two outsiders who fall in love in a town where conformity reigns, and ends with a shocking surprise. (Summary and image from Powells.com)

My Review: I stumbled across this book because of my students. They were raving about Vampire kisses after needing another fix from reading Twilight. I found a cheap copy through Scholastic book clubs and bought one for my classroom. I try to preview the books I buy and read this in a few short days.

Despite being 'another vampire novel' this book took me by surprise with it's humor and rejection of high school's need for conformity. I enjoyed how from the very start you're captivated by Raven's strange, dark take on life. She bucks the system from the moment she's exposed to life outside her parents' hippy home.

The book is about Raven's love of the new boy (vampire) in town, but my favorite parts revolve around Raven's rivalry with the town's rich and mean boy, Trevor Mitchell. She is ruthless and hilarious. She pulls the pranks all girls have wanted to play on the biggest jerk in her school. And even though she's an outcast from the social scene, everyone loves seeing her best Trevor. That's about where my positive review ends.

The writing isn't very good. Many phrases and nicknames of the characters are cliche. And the ending leaves the reader hanging for what's really going to happen to Raven and her new love interest--the rumored vampire. It's cut short for a good novel. I wouldn't recommend this to an adult. But, my students love it.

Rating: 3 stars--for adults I'd give it 2 stars.

In a phrase: Another take, albeit dark and witty, on vampire love.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Nursing Mother's Companion - Kathleen Huggins

Summary: Breastfeeding may be natural, but it is not always instinctive. The 20th Anniversary Edition of this classic guide to breastfeeding, beloved by a generation of women, has been completely revised and updated to provide even more practical, reassuring advice and support for today's expectant and nursing mothers. Easy-reference survival guides help identify and resolve problems at each stage. An appendix on drug safety is a unique feature among breastfeeding books. (Summary and image from Powells.com)

My Review: I reread this book right before having my second daughter. I read it the first time as I was struggling to get my first baby girl to latch. That never happened. And I'm sure many of you are thinking that this book would then become obsolete for a mother whose baby didn't latch. On the contrary. Thankfully this book includes more than just your run of the mill nursing mother situations.

With my first daughter she had an injury at birth and after 4 months of trying to get her to latch, I realized I had to throw in the towel on my hopes of breastfeeding. There was a big problem with this though. I had started pumping in the hospital, built up a milk supply for triplets (because of some bad info from a well-intentioned nurse), and was then fighting off mastitis. Add to this that my first baby had problems digesting food, specifically breastmilk, which is the easiest form of food for babies to digest. Giving her formula was out of the question--she couldn't even digest breastmilk! I was trapped. Too much milk, infection after infection, and a baby who could only digest breastmilk. This book came to my rescue. It isn't a long section, but it does contain a section for the pumping mother. Everyone I ever talked to said pumping couldn't be done, especially for an entire year. This book testified differently. It gave me tips and helps on how to be a working mom and pump for my child.

With my second daughter this book was more of your typical breastfeeding go-to manual. And I was grateful for it. Truthfully, I don't think you can ever replace the one-on-one help of a lactation consultant. But when you're at home, struggling through learning a process that's supposed to be so 'natural,' this book was extremely helpful.

There are sections that are, to say the least, surprising. I learned a lot of about nursing that I had never had the interest to know. Still, it was informative and helpful. It really does empower a mother with all the facts of nursing, how to build up your milk supply, how to deal with extenuating circumstances, and pumping for your baby.

An aspect of this book that I really liked was how easy it is to navigate. If you have a problem, a special situation, you can find the help you need quickly and easily. It goes month to month with what to expect while nursing. For a mom in hormonal crisis after giving birth, scared you won't be able to feed your tiny baby, you cannot be more thankful for quick help when you're sleep deprived and not thinking straight.

My only regret with this book is that I didn't read it sooner with my first baby. If you're interested in nursing your baby, this is a wonderful resource to have on hand.

Rating: 4.5 Stars. I didn't give it 5 stars because it felt wrong to say it is the perfect guide: nothing compares to hands on help when learning to nurse a baby.

In a phrase: For a new-to-nursing-mom: a great reference book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Different Kind of Hero - Leah Beth Evans

Summary: The rainforest is under attack. One monkey is determined to save it. His name is Tomagochi. He’s brown. He’s small. He’s plain. But when a group of men enters the rain forest armed with bulldozers and axes, Tomagochi the monkey springs into action to defend his natural habitat. While larger animals like Peshe the tiger run and hide, Tomagochi charges into battle. Will he be victorious? Will the rain forest be saved? Join Tomagochi as he fights to protect his home and discovers just how special he truly is. (summary from tribute books - image from barnesandnoble.com)


My review: This book starts out well enough. A little monkey living in the rain forest is uncertain of himself and just what makes him important and special. I think many of children (and adults) can relate to that. Then, mean men with their backhoes come and try to tear up his home. So what does the he do? (I'm going to actually SPOIL a book ON PURPOSE) The monkey goes ape. He attacks the equipment and he attacks the men and chases them away. At the end, the monkey is applauded by his friends for his stellar use of violence in solving his problems. I think I might have been okay if the monkey had stuck to sabotage instead of engaging in outright assault but I felt that this book sent the WRONG message(s): "Violence is a useful tool for problem solving" and "Join Your Local Eco terrorist Group Today."


And now -NOW-after I've written my review, I looked at a few others and found out that the author of this book is a 7th grader. I'm going to hell. I was tempted to take all this back and not post, but instead I decided to stand by my statement. It's great that she wrote this book and I'm proud of her for being able to get it published but I feel this book didn't quite send the message it was meant to.


My rating: 2 Stars.


Sum it up: A book that had great potential, but missed the mark.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert

Summary: Young Rachel Kalama, growing up in idyllic Honolulu in the 1890s, is part of a big, loving Hawaiian family, and dreams of seeing the far-off lands that her father, a merchant seaman, often visits. But at the age of seven, Rachel and her dreams are shattered by the discovery that she has leprosy. Forcibly removed from her family, she is sent to Kalaupapa, the isolated leper colony on the island of Moloka'i.

In her exile she finds a family of friends to replace the family she's lost: a native healer, Haleola, who becomes her adopted "auntie" and makes Rachel aware of the rich culture and mythology of her people; Sister Mary Catherine Voorhies, one of the Franciscan sisters who care for young girls at Kalaupapa; and the beautiful, worldly Leilani, who harbors a surprising secret. At Kalaupapa she also meets the man she will one day marry.

True to historical accounts, Moloka'i is the story of an extraordinary human drama, the full scope and pathos of which has never been told before in fiction. But Rachel's life, though shadowed by disease, isolation, and tragedy, is also one of joy, courage, and dignity. This is a story about life, not death; hope, not despair. It is not about the failings of flesh, but the strength of the human spirit.
(summary and cover photo from barnesandnoble.com)

My Review: Inside the beautiful cover of this book is a story based on some ugly facts from Hawaiian history. It's the story of families torn and shamed when a member develops leprosy and must be sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined society living on the island of Moloka'i. The focus of this novel is on one young girl, Rachael, who at the age of seven is diagnosed with the disease. Over the next six decades this courageous girl's journey is followed, full of both triumphs and tears.

Rich in history, this story starts out fascinating, full descriptive scenery and engaging characters. The early characters draw the reader in making this an emotional read. About half way through the book, nonessential characters begin being introduced rapidly making it is difficult to keep personalities straight or connect with them. At this point the story loses much of the emotional draw. It is also at this point that the story becomes bogged down with history, losing focus on the story line. It seems the author neglected his main characters in favor of cramming in as much fact as possible.

The storyline takes many unbelievable turns before coming to a simple close. I did, however, enjoy all the facts and history but felt that it would have been better told in two completely seperate novels. I wish the author would have chosen to focus on Moloka'i and stayed away from all the World War II information. I realize that these events coincided but the turn the story took with this new material was unconvincing. This resulting in being one of those books that I was glad to have read and learned quite a bit from but that I walk away from pondering what the book could have been if the author had stayed course.

My Rating: 3 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one sentence: A novel that attempts to encompass too many decades of Hawaiian history at the expense of the storyline.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis

Summary: Young Parvana lives with her family in one room of a bombed-out apartment building in Kabul, Afghanistan. Because Parvana's father has a foreign education, he is arrested by the Taliban. Women cannot appear in public unless covered head to toe, go to school, or work outside the home, so the family becomes increasingly desperate until Parvana conceives a plan. (Image and summary from Powells.com)

My Review: This book was recommended to me by another educator. I think her recommendation actually built it up too much. I was slightly disappointed. The reading level is quite low for Young Adult literature. I wouldn't put it above a 6th grade reading level. It's short, doesn't have much depth, and the descriptions do not give much imagery. Because of that, it fell short in my mind. But, if I had gone into the book knowing it was for a more inexperienced reader, I might have given it more of a chance.

Much of the story is the everyday life of a girl pretending to be a boy in order to keep her family alive with money and food. While this is heroic and noteworthy, I do wonder how real it is. How long could she really have kept up such a facade anyway? And, if this is the case for young girls there whose fathers have been killed and do not have brothers to take care of their families, what do they do when they can't pretend any more? There were many unanswered questions. I realize that a young reader wouldn't be thinking these questions, but I felt it could have added more depth. That's something the story seemed to lack: depth.

It is accurate--as far as I've been educated--as to the brutality and living conditions for people in Afghanistan. This, I felt, was a great teaching tool for students who have no idea what life can be like outside of the United States.

The story seems to end short. While I understand that to be accurate the author cannot tie it all up with a happy ending, it felt like the story should have more to it. We have no idea how her sister's upcoming wedding came off, or even if it happened. We don't even know if her mother and siblings are alive. It felt like the author threw us a bone by bringing her father back to her.

Overall it's a good little--and fast because of easy readability--read. Would I recommend it to everyone? No. But as an easy reader and one that informs about the world, it's worth reading once.

Rating: 3 stars. Probably deserves a higher rating for a younger audience.

Sum it up in a phrase: Based on facts, this book informs on the war-torn life and land of Afghanistan.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Kiss in Time - Alex Flinn

Summary: Talia fell under a spell....Jack broke the curse.

I was told to beware the accursed spindle, but it was so enchanting, so hypnotic...

I was looking for a little adventure the day I ditched my tour group. But finding a comatose town, with a hot-looking chick asleep in it, was so not what I had in mind.

I awakened in the same place but in another time--to a stranger's soft kiss.

I couldn't help kissing her. Sometimes you just have to kiss someone. I didn't know this would happen.

Now I am in dire trouble because my father, the king, says I have brought ruin upon our country. I have no choice but to run away with this commoner!

Now I'm stuck with a bratty princess and a trunk full of her jewels....The good news: My parents will freak!

Think you have dating issues? Try locking lips with a snoozing stunner who turns out to be 316 years old. Can a kiss transcend all--even time? (image from harpercollins.com - summary from bookjacket)

My review: I couldn't help but love the above summary when I read it. It's so nice when the two romantic characters obviously loathe each other (hello, can you say Pride and Prejudice!). Okay, admittedly, this book is about as deep as one of those infant kiddie pools, but it was fun to read.

Jake is a sarcastic, hormonally driven teenage boy who is coming to terms with his own familial dysfunctions and Talia is a perfectly snobby princess (as anyone that spoiled is undoubtedly destined to be) and yet humorously so. Talia, of course, has no idea how spoiled she is and her expectations upon waking up 300 years in the future are hysterically unrealistic. Jake isn't about to put up with her royal attitude no matter how stunning she is and doesn't cater to her one bit....okay, maybe a little bit. She's hot, after all.

As in Beastly, a novel we reviewed by the same author that retells Beauty and the Beast from the male perspective, I loved the collision of a well-known fairytale with the modern world. It allowed for Talia to be confused and shocked by present day American customs and for Jake to be exasperated with Talia's royal expectations and naivete.

The first half of this book was amusing with all Jack and Talia's bickering and her observations of modern behavior. When Talia meets Jack's family, she begins to work her diplomatic magic on the family with positive results. Soon Jack is seeing his family in a whole new light and wondering if he really can have all that he wants out of life.

As for what I didn't like. I realize it's a bit bizarre to say that parts of this book weren't believable. I mean, its' about a 300 year old princess who wakes up after being kissed by a no-so-princely young man and is, subsequently, haunted by the witch who cursed her in the first place. So why, with all that "reality" coursing through the book, do I have a problem with Jack's father's unbelievably sudden change of character?. I don't know why. It just didn't work for me at all.

The ending for me was a bit off with Jack having to pass various dream-state game show questions in his "quest" to rescue the princess once again. Everything just seemed to tie up too nicely and sweetly to be a proper fairytale. Someone needed to get the ax. Anyway, I just felt like the ending got boring (for an adult), but I can still see this book being a big hit with the 13 to 14 year old crowd.

My rating: 3.5 Stars. I probably won't read it again, but enjoyed many aspects of the book. While Jake is your average teenage boy, his internal musings on all things female usually land on the side of funny more often than on the side of perverted.

Sum it up: A modern, male twist on a classic fairytale.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Methods of Madness - Stephanie Black

Summary: It's been three years since the terrible night Emily Ramsey suffered a double tragedy-the death of her sister and the disappearance of her fiance. She deserves another chance at happiness, and gentle, adorable Zach Sullivan is the perfect man to mend her shattered heart. But from the moment Emily opens the hand-carved box holding a glittering diamond solitaire, she's seized by an unshakable fear; she's going to lose Zach. That's exactly what Monica, Zach's ex-girlfriend, is banking on. Bitter with envy, Monica will stop at nothing to sabotage Zach and Emily's romance. Troubling notes show up in Emily's mailbox, fanning the flames of suspicion. A bloody photograph sends her reeling. But when someone is brutally murdered, will Emily be able to escape suspicion and the possibility that she might be next? (image and summary from amazon.com)

My Review: This book drove me crazy, which is probably what it was supposed to do. I found myself getting very frustrated because everyone thought “poor Emily” was going crazy, that she was losing her mind and not remembering things that supposedly happened to her. I kept thinking “when is all this madness going to end?” As far as I was concerned there was a little too much “madness” and confusion. There were too many people involved in all this “madness”. At times it was hard to keep track of what everyone was doing and whose side they were on. By the end of the book the issue of too many people was resolved. There was a good climax and the final resolution was very plausible.

Rating: 2.5 stars I had to take this book in small bites.

Sum it up: A young lady tries to prove her sanity to herself and those around her.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Girls Will Be Girls - JoAnn Deak, Ph.D

Summary: Girls Will Be Girls offers a comprehensive road map to the many emotional and physical challenges girls ages six to sixteen face in today's changing world. Author JoAnn Deak looks past the "scare" stories to those that enlighten parents and enable them to empower their daughters.

My Review: This book is fantastic. I've read Reviving Ophelia because of past experience with girls suffering from diseases like anorexia and cutting. I had an idea of what books like that offer a teacher, a mother, a sister, or friend. This book, on the other hand, focuses more on your average, everyday girl growing up and how she navigates her own emotions and changes.

An aspect I found particularly intriguing was being able to look back on my own life and understand, through retrospect as well as having been guided by her research, my own path through emotional growth. She seemed to hit every stage right on. I remembered each stage of friendship, whether it was the 'best-friend' stage or the 'transitory friendship' stage or the 'interest-based friendship groups.'

There is a chapter just on the mother-daughter relationship, as well as a chapter on the father-daughter relationship. The chapters I found most applicable (besides the ones relating to my own girls' ages) were the chapters on Betwixt and Between: The Preadolescent Years and Everything and Nothing: Sharing the Adolescent Girl's Struggle to Be and Become Herself. What she wrote about I get to experience everyday, in my classroom. It's very real. It was nice to have some logic put to the insanity that middle school aged girls exude.

Rating: 5 Stars--every parent of girls, every teacher should read this book!

Sum it up in a phrase: How to raise your daughters without going crazy from hormonal insanity!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stargazer - Claudia Gray

Warning: You must read Evernight by Claudia Gray before you read this summary or it'll ruin the first book for you.

Summary: Evernight Academy: an exclusive boarding school for the most beautiful, dangerous students of all--vampires. Bianca, born to two vampires, has always been told her destiny is to become one of them.

But Bianca fell in love with Lucas--a vampire hunter sworn to destroy her kind. They were torn apart when his true identity was revealed, forcing him to flee the school.

Although they may be separated, Bianca and Lucas will not give each other up. She will risk anything for the chance to see him again, even if it means coming face-to-face with the vampire hunters of Black Cross--or deceiving the powerful vampires of Evernight. Bianca's secrets will force her to live a life of lies.

Yet Bianca isn't the only one keeping secrets. When Evernight is attacked by an evil force that seems to target her, she discovers the truth she thought she knew is only the beginning.

My review: I put off reading this book for a while because I was really afraid at what I might find. I enjoyed Evernight's Buffy-style teen romance and, since it seemed that Lucas and Bianca didn't have anywhere left to go but the bedroom, I wasn't anxious to obliterate my good opinion of this series. Thankfully, with Lucas banished from the Academy and Bianca stuck there with her parents, it wasn't much of an issue. Well, maybe a little. Bianca and Lucas's separation served to draw out the sexual tension between the two of them and allowed for an interesting relationship development with Balthazar that I quite enjoyed.

This book didn't offer as many big surprises as the first one (girl vampire/male slayer), but it still kept me interested the entire time with some little ones. There were mysterious ghosts, a long lost vampire, altercations with Black Cross, and a surprise beheading. In fact, I locked myself in my room for the last 1/3 of the book (my husband was home) and told the kids I was on a time out. I still feel like this is a pretty good series. Drop everything to buy it? No, but still entertaining without being over the top and definitely one of the better YA vampire series I've read.

My rating: 4 Stars. Still some near-sexual situations.

Sum it up: A nice continuation to a fun-to-read series. I'll read the next one when it comes out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Have a New Kid by Friday - Dr. Kevin Leman

Summary: Want a kid without the attitude? Without the behavior that makes you slink away in the grocery store and pretend you're not the parent? A kid with character who isn't a character? If you're tired of defiant attitudes and power struggles with your little ankle-biters or the disrespectful hormone group, read this book and follow the simple principles, and you'll have a new kid by Friday. Guaranteed!
(Cover photo from amazon.com, summary from book back)

My Review: I finally got fed up of repeating everything I said to my children over and over again only to have them fail to comply. I had tried everything I could think of - counting (annoying), threats (and following through with the feasible ones), rewards for good listening (only works if the reward is enticing enough), and raising my voice (really only results in a sore throat). So when I came across this book I was unsure if it would make much of a difference but thought I would give it a shot.

So how do you change your kid in a week? Well I guess it really comes down to changing yourself or rather your parenting style. I loved some of the authors advice, especially the part about getting the kids to listen. He recommends saying it once and then walking away and letting the children deal with the natural consequences of not doing as you asked. This works amazingly well!

Not all the ideas in this book were feasible with my children, mainly due to their ages. And some suggestions I don't really agree with. However I think the author lays the groundwork for parents to come up with some creative solutions on their own, all along letting reality be the teacher for the child. I especially enjoyed the section on sibling rivalry. I would have never imagined how quickly angry words turn into laughter once the children are locked together in a room to work things out by themselves (I stayed directly outside with my ear pressed to the door, of course!).

This is a super quick read to give parents a general idea of how to structure their parenting skills with the greatest efficiency. If there is one important lesson learned from a combination of past experience and reinforced within the pages of this book is that consistency is the secret to everything we as parents do. There is an index in the back of this book that covers most every topic under the sun: thumb sucking, unkindness, tantrums, messy rooms, and so much more. This is a fabulous resource and I am considering buying the book for this alone.

I do have to quickly mention that I absolutely hated the testimonials put in throughout the book. I felt like I was reading an infomercial. And what's the point? I am already reading the book, you don't need to sell me on it now. The real questions is do I believe that I can have a new kid in seven days? That's a bit unrealistic but I do think that parents can have a new perspective within this time frame making everyday battles easier to manage

My Rating: 4 Stars, I know quite a few parents who would benefit from one or two of these ideas

If I had to sum it up in one sentence: A quick read with many great parenting ideas.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Extras - Scott Westerfeld

Summary: It's a few years after rebel Tally Youngblood took down the uglies/pretties/specials regime. Without those strict roles and rules, the world is in a complete cultural renaissance. "Tech-heads" flaunt their latest gadgets, "kickers" spread gossip and trends, and "surge monkeys" are hooked on extreme plastic surgery. And it's all monitored on a bazillion different cameras. The world is like a gigantic game of American Idol. Whoever is getting the most buzz gets the most votes. Popularity rules.

As if being fifteen doesn't suck enough, Aya Fuse's rank of 451,369 is so low, she's a total nobody. An extra. But Aya doesn't care; she just wants to lie low with her drone, Moggle. And maybe kick a good story for herself.

Then Aya meets a clique of girls who pull crazy tricks, yet are deeply secretive of it. Aya wants desperately to kick their story, to show everyone how intensely cool the Sly Girls are. But doing so would propel her out of extra-land and into the world of fame, celebrity...and extreme danger. A world she's not prepared for. (Summary and image from Powells.com)

My Review: Westerfeld sure has a way of depicting peer pressure and the teen world accurately. Aya is a typical 'non-popular' girl. If you've ever been there, not wanted to be on that side of the social sphere, you can totally relate to her pain and desire to change her social status. What I liked was how she realizes that it isn't all it's cracked up to be. I believe this is the case with most popular groups--unless the person is shallow enough or the people in the group truly are good friends regardless of their status in the environment.

One of my favorite aspects of Westerfeld's books is his ability to take you into a world that is like ours, but just enough different that you can fathom living like that. The buildings, the cameras, the tv personalities, are all so believable. I can only imagine that in the future popularity will depend upon the number of hits (whether from the internet or tv) a person's page gets. Creepy if you ask me. I don't want a camera on my life.

The discussion of your self-worth not depending on your social status is one very pertinent to Young Adults. There is so much you could do with discussions and this book.

I must admit that by the end of this book, I was ready for the series to be over. I was definitely sick of Tally, so having a new protagonist was nice. But, I am done with the theme. The books are worth reading, but I do think ending on this one was crucial to not killing the series.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

In a phrase: A girl who learns that life isn't just about being the most recognizable person, but about real relationships and things deeper than popularity.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

Summary: At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love. (cover photo from www.harcourtbooks.com/reluctant_fundamentalist, summary from book)

My Review: To open this book is to walk in on a private conversation, but a conversation where you will hear only one side. You instantly know what you are hearing told is important and that it will change your thinking in some way. Yet the intensity is broke up with small bits of casual conversation and even the attempt at humor. This is the interesting writing style Hamid has chosen for this much talked about novel.

The account you will hear is that of a Muslim business man living in New York City during the 9/11 attacks. A powerful account that will leave one considering the other side and the prejudice that occurred after such attacks, mild as it may seem but there nonetheless. Considering that the author grew up in Pakistan and attended college at Princeton and Harvard, there is little doubt that many of the thoughts and emotions described within this novel are autobiographic.

Mixed into this political tale is a love story. Actually it's more of a one sided love story of a boy who falls for the American girl who is already in love with someone else and although the other man is entirely unattainable she won't let the dream go. There is a hidden irony of this love story and the similarity it has with the Muslim boy's love for America. If fact there are many thought provoking metaphors built within this book. Suspense is built into the novel in the form of suspicion between the two conversing, which directly relates to today's fears American's have of Pakistan and visa verse. This book is a mere 184 pages yet there is so much more to this story than what these few pages hold.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be: A cleverly told story that will leave the reader with much to reflect upon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Specials - Scott Westerfeld

Once again, do not read this summary unless you've read the first two books, Uglies and Pretties. The summary alone will ruin the previous books for you.

Summary: "Special Circumstances"

The words have sent chills down Tally's spine since her days as a repellent, rebellious ugly. Back then Specials were a sinister rumor — frighteningly beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast. Ordinary pretties might live their whole lives without meeting a Special. But Tally's never been ordinary.

And now she's been turned into one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.

The strength, the speed, and the clarity and focus of her thinking feel better than anything Tally can remember. Most of the time. One tiny corner of her heart still remembers something more.

Still, it's easy to tune that out — until Tally's offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she's programmed to complete. Either way, Tally's world will never be the same. (Summary and image from Powells.com)

My Review: By the end of Pretties, I was kind of bored of the whole ugly/pretty dilemma. This book took on a totally different feel. Tally was different. For that, it hooked me.

As a teacher and as a friend of someone who's cut herself, this book has objectionable subject matter that to be left unaddressed by an adult would be irresponsible. I would NOT have my child--boy or girl--read this book with me talking with them about the content. Eventually the message gets across that cutting is bad, and definitely not necessary to life. But, to have a child read this--and especially if they did not finish the book--without some dialogue about the realities of cutting is imprudent. But, it's realistic. I'm not the type to sugar coat the world or life because I think that will protect a child. I believe information is power. And because of this, I believe talking and allowing kids to read about subject matter that has real life issues is important. That's not to say I'm going to throw every book with things that are objectionable at my child. I just think that if it's something they're interested in reading, and you know the issues, it is a good way to educate your child (and yourself).

WARNING: SPOILER!!!

The characters, by this point in the story, are dear to the reader. So when they kill off Zane, it just hurts. I realize that life is sometimes this way: people we love die. It just didn't set right. It felt like it left Tally a shell with little purpose to her life except to prevent the world from becoming what it once was. And while that's a great purpose to her life, it's unfulfilled in a deep, loveless, and family-life level.

Ok, Spoiler Over

Tally's super...well, everything (strength, senses, speed) along with her struggle to fight against the programing they did to her brain is an interesting topic for discussion. Many people fight obsessive thoughts and actions. There are others who fight thoughts of superiority or the opposite, inferiority. I think these are all great discussion topics, especially with teens.

The book did end a little hollow for me. It really is the end of the series in the sense of the main characters. The next book, Extras, has a different protagonist and a really different plot. Still, I think this book was better than Pretties, but not as good as Uglies. Uglies is what gets this series off to the rip-roaring start that makes the rest of the books so enjoyable.

Rating: 4.25 Stars A book I couldn't put down, but not one I'd recommend to everyone. I liked it quite a bit though.

Sum it up in a phrase: A girl's fight against inner demons--not her natural vices this time--and her drive to save humanity from power hungry individuals out only for themselves.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

WARNING: Do not even ATTEMPT to read this review if you haven't already read The Hunger Games. Even reading the SUMMARY will SPOIL IT for you.

Summary: Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. AFter all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely . And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol--a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the distrcts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying. (image from risingshadow.net - summary from book jacket)

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Mindy's Review:

Suzanne Collins. I hate you. You know why.

This book begins where Hunger Games left off. Katniss and Peeta have returned home to District 12. Only they no longer live in the Hob, but in the Victor's Village where they are given every luxury that life in the Districts has to offer. As the dreaded Victory Tour approaches, Katniss begins to get wind of something--rumors of uprisings and discontent among the districts. Something has happened and whatever it is, the Capitol doesn't want anyone to know. They'll do anything to stop it. What the Capitol does to quell public discontent is horrifying, truly, and it'll make you....I better stop there.

I have so many comments to make that would utterly ruin this book for anyone who hasn’t read it but I will attempt to control myself. I will say this --I LOVED IT! I thought it was better than it's predecessor in a lot of ways. I enjoyed the character relationships, the action, suspense, and intrigue and the story made me loathe the Capitol on a whole new level.

I was gripped by this book from the second I sat down. My kids most likely hate me. If one of them wasn't in school right now I'd likely be voted "World's Most Inattentive Mother". There are so many suprising twists in this book that just when I thought I’d recovered from one, Collins would throw something else in the mix and all I could do was sit there helplessly, turning page after page.

If you even remotely liked The Hunger Games you should READ THIS BOOK.

Her rating: 5 Stars. I think of this as a 16+ YA novel – mostly because of the brutality of the subject matter. Dissenters are shot in the head and, like the last book, it gets messy.

Sum it up: Way better than I imagined it would be. This is how you write a book.

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Heather's Review: After a stunning debut in Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have returned, along with many of the other beloved and despised characters from the first book, The Hunger Games. This time survival seems to hinge on Katniss and Peeta proving their love for each other but it’s a love that is only true for one of them. Pulling it off will mean living life within a concocted fantasy. Failing will mean putting all their love ones in unavoidable danger. If you think this will be merely a heart-wrenching love story you’re in for a big surprise. All I can really say without giving away the plot line is that this is SO much more than a love story. This is a suspenseful novel full of twists and turns that will leave the reader guessing until the end. It’s another very intense novel on many various levels. Trust me, once you have begun this book you will not want to put it down.

The only letdown within book two is the ending, (actually I’m still fuming over it). This story essentially dropped in mid-air. There is no questions that another book is to follow but I didn’t feel like this book was complete in and of itself and I have to say I am disappointed in that. I can’t stop thinking of how just another few pages would have left the reader much more satisfied. I must, however, admit that I am counting the days until the next book is released.My

Her Rating: 4.5 Stars, an ending like that just doesn’t deserve 5 stars

Sum it up: Suzanne Collins has done the near impossible, which is to write a sequel that I loved as much as the first. Please don’t make me wait another year for the next one.

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Kari's Review: I could NOT put this book down. Suzanne Collins moves through the storyline at such a clip that you know something big is going to happen in almost every paragraph. It was so hard finding a stopping place. I felt she developed the characters even deeper, which was perfect. I don't know how she did it, because there is a lot less emotional dialogue in this book, but she has made Peeta (in my mind) even more of a perfect guy than Edward in the Twilight series. I also felt like I related so much more to Katniss than any other female protagonist I've read. She is such a believable character to me: flaws, a good heart, good intentions, but somehow messes things up even when she's trying not to. I appreciate her lack of desire to get caught up in trivial things, distracted by what doesn't matter, or drawn in by frivolties of life--make up, hair, clothing, etc. I can't say I'm exactly like her, but I relate on a some level to this disconnect. Haymitch's character was also delightfully explored. And honestly, I can't believe I used the word delightfully with the name Haymitch, but it's how his character grew on me that makes this description fit.

There were so many twists and turns in the storyline you could never predict exactly what the author was going to do. I had a vague idea how the ending might resolve (which it didn't completely because there's a third book, whoohoo!), but how she got us there was a complete surprise. I will not ruin the story for the reader here. You just have to read this series.I also loved the issues brought up in the book: Humanity, weighing odds as well as less of two evils, family and sacrifice, power and deception. I also fully appreciated that while this is a Young Adult book and it doesn't have swearing of any sort, it is as enjoyable for an adult as it is for a teen.

Her Rating: 5+ Stars

Sum it up: Continuing the ride that is Katniss' life: being a pivotal piece in a nation's possible revolution against tyranny.

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Kim's Review: I have been waiting a long time to read Catching Fire, sequel to Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. Keeping pace with, and occasionally even outrunning, it’s predecessor, Catching Fire throws you back into the tumultuous life of Katniss Everdeen, a 17-year-old girl who miraculously survived the Hunger Games in book one. Collins renews the Twilight-esqe love triangle, giving the book an increased emotional depth that I feared would be hard to sustain throughout the series.

The feeling that I got from Catching Fire was that Suzanne Collins, who occasionally hinted at what happened in The Hunger Games, felt confident enough not to spend a chapter summarizing the novel. In essence, she didn’t allow the reader to cut corners—they would have to pick up the first book to get the whole story. The two books create a storyline that needs to (deserves to) be read from start to finish.

Her Rating: 5 Stars

Sum It Up: Just go BUY them! You’re going to want them sitting side by side on your bookshelf. Can’t wait for the next book….

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Average Rating: 4.875
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

La Cucina : A Novel of Rapture - Lily Prior

Summary: Simmering in the heat of a Sicilian kitchen, a saucy tale of sex, recipes, and murder.

Since childhood, Rosa Fiore - daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband - found solace in her family’s kitchen. La Cucina - the heart of the family’s lush estate - was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts, and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table. When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in the small community that took pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa’s infatuation with culinary arts could only rival her passion for a young man, Bartollomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ends in tragedy, Rosa retreats first into her kitchen, and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stays for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only as I’Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him into Rosa’s library and her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which l’Inglese awakens the power of Rosa’s sexuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When l’Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for her second lost love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, amongst her growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her beloved Cucina. (Summary from cover and lilyprior.com - Image from harpercollins.com)

My review: La Cucina had so much potential. It could have been truly delicious, and to be honest, at moments it really was fantastic. On the back of the book, La Cucina is described as “a saucy tale of sex, recipes, and murder”. Great, no problem. I was willing to risk a blush or two, since it was compared to one of my favorite books, “Like Water for Chocolate,” which has a few slightly steamy moments itself.

La Cucina does have a similar feel to Like Water for Chocolate but, unfortunately, with a lot less kitchen content and a lot more sexual content. What began as a sensual exploration of Sicilian cuisine and familial relationships took a decidedly sexual turn fairly early on—so much so that it became far less about the joys of cooking and more about the main character, Rosa, getting her groove on. A. Lot.

That having been said, the kitchen-centric portions were delectable, sensuous, and redolent with the flavors, scents, and descriptions of Sicilian cooking. I wanted to cook elaborate banquets and eat constantly while reading this book. Not good (or good, depending on your POV). What I expected from this book--and didn't get--was RECIPES. Didn’t it say there would be recipes (see above)?! Yup, sure did. Prior’s “recipes”, though artfully described, were so vague in measurements and instruction as to be wisps of recipes to a girl like me. Alas, I was forced to abandon my hopes for culinary plagiarism.

Despite my disappointment with the mature storyline and lack of recipes, I will concede that La Cucina was well-written. It evoked a mystical, folkloric feeling that caught me within the first few pages and continued throughout the book. The last 40 pages of this book were my favorite part, in terms of the story line. I liked how the author tied everything up while still leaving room for emotion.

In case I haven't been clear, whether you like this book or not will be almost ENTIRELY dependent on how sensitive you are to sex in literature.

My rating: 3 Stars. I would have much preferred a PG-13 version of this book—rather than the rated R one.

Sum it up: One time read-at-your-own-risk food lit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fablehaven Rise Of The Evening Star - Brandon Mull

Summary: At the end of the school year Kendra and her brother, Seth, find themselves racing back to Fablehaven, a refuge for mythical and magical creatures. Grandpa Sorenson, the caretaker, invites three specialists--a potion master, a collector of magical relics, and a trapper of mystical creatures--to help protect the property from the Society of the Evening Star, an ancient organization determined to infiltrate the preserve and steal a hidden artifact of great power. Time is running out. The Evening Star is storming the gates. If the artifact falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the downfall of other preserves and possibly the world. Will Kendra learn to use her fairy gifts in time? Will Seth stay out of trouble? Can they overcome paralyzing fear? (Image from Powells.com and summary from back of the book.)

My Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe because I already knew the characters; I was able to jump right into the story. This book felt like getting on a roller coaster that is completely enclosed, not giving you a chance to see all the loops and falls in advance. You really aren't sure exactly where the book is taking you, but it's exhilarating all the same.I enjoyed suspending belief for the couple hours it took to read. This story takes off quickly from where the last book left off. You're thrown into returning to Fablehaven under pretense that everyone is in danger.

Some of the themes explored are fear, betrayal, and trust. Right from the start the author baits the reader to trust characters and then switches on you. I felt it was great to show how the most dangerous people often try to gain trust under false pretense and then hurt you. It was explored many times in the story and each time you feel bamboozled. It was interesting to see how even as an observer you get trapped into trusting again only to be betrayed.

The pace was fast and action packed. I can only imagine kids will love the storyline and all the adventure. I loved the exploration of gravity defying vortexes and the traps and puzzles leading to the artifact key.

The only part that felt rushed was the ending. It felt like the last 30 pages were rushed to finish the already 400 page book. Otherwise, it was well written and thoroughly explored. I also liked the point that evil is patient and you can never be too cautious of when it will sneak in.

I'm excited to read the next in the series.

Rating: 4.5 stars--so close to being a book I adore, but not quite.

Sum it up in a phrase: An adventure into a mytical world, exploring ideas of fear and betrayal.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Belly Laughs : The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth - Jenny McCarthy

Summary: Oh the joys of pregnancy! There's the gasiness, constipation, queasiness, and exhaustion; the forgetfulness, crankiness, and the constant worry. No woman is spared these discomforts and humiliations, but most are too polite to complain or to embarrassed to talk about them.

Not Jenny McCarthy!

Belly Laughs reveals the naked truth about pregnancy and childbirth: the tremendous mood swings, the excruciating pains, and the unseemly disfigurement that go along with the process. Never shy, frequently crude, and always laugh-out-loud funny, McCarthy covers it all with her signature wit and in the grittiest of girlfriend detail.

With hilarious musing on morning sickness and hormonal rage, hemorrhoids, pregnant sex, and the torture and sweet relief that is delivery, Belly Laughs is a must-read comic relief for anyone who is pregnant, has ever been pregnant, is trying to get pregnant- or indeed, has ever been born!

My review: From bemoaning the “she’s just getting fat” stage of pregnancy, to dishing on all the mortifying things that pregnancy can do to a woman’s body, Jenny McCarthy tells all (and I do mean all) in her oh-so-frank style. She does not demure. She does not apologize. She talks about everything pregnancy-related in excruciatingly open detail. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s gross, but I have to say, as a woman who is currently 12 weeks pregnant with her third child (and yes, this is my official announcement)-- it’s pretty darn accurate.

While I enjoyed the book, I didn't find it "laugh out loud" funny as advertised. It was mostly just amusing and I found myself nodding along in places to show solidarity. It was, however, gritty and frequently crude (completely as advertised). I don’t know that a more sensitive reader would fully appreciate Jenny’s blunt and unapologetic style, or her use of language.

While this book eventually covers all the negative aspects of pregnancy, it does jump around quite a bit. The chapters are fairly short and really only serve to detail McCarthy's experience with pregnancy in a this-will-likely-happen-to-you sort of way. The result is kind of haphazardly thrown together rant on all that is horrific about pregnancy with only a few moments focusing on it's joys.

So, whether or not you will like this book probably depends on your attitude about pregnancy. If you think it is the best, most amazing, and special thing ever, then you probably won’t like this book. If you’re like me--fairly uncomfortable and only looking forward to the baby’s movement, ultrasound, and eventual birth--then you will probably find some comfort (misery-loves-company style) within these pages.

My rating: 3 Stars. Be forewarned there’s some swearing and extremely graphic descriptions of LOTS of the less talked about aspects of pregnancy.

To sum it up: Everything you ever wanted to know (and didn't) about the messier aspects of pregnancy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Illuminations of the Heart - Joyce DiPastena

Summary: Trained in the art of illumination in the far-off city of Venice, Siri is directed by her late brother's will to the county of Poitou in France, where she enters into the guardianship of her brother's friend, Sir Triston de Brielle. Once in Poitou, Siri hopes to find employment in an illuminator's shop--until Triston unexpectedly snatches her heart away with a kiss.

Triston is a man of quiet honor and courage, but the guilt he carries for the death of his late wife, Clothilde, has left him numb and hesitant to love again. Worse yet, Siri bears and uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Or does she? Her merry laughter and twinkling eyes are very different from his late wife's shy smiles and quiet ways. Yet when he gazes into Siri's face, all he sees is Clothilde.

Then Triston's past returns to threaten them both. Will his tragic life with Clothilde be repeated with Siri? Trapped between the rivalry of the king's sons on the one hand and a neighbor out for vengeance on the other, Triston realizes it would be safer to send Siri away. But how can he bear to lose her again?

Siri is determined not to be cast off and not to live in another woman's shadow. She has illuminated many a priceless book with pen and pain. But can her own vibrant spirit illuminate the darkness in Triston's soul and make his heart beat for her alone?
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Chris’s Review: You are pulled into Illuminations of the Heart in the first few pages by an attempted kidnapping and, for the most part, are not let go until the end of the book. I found the story of Siri (Siriol di Calendri) and Triston to be a sweet, tender romance. They had their problems to work out, as we all do, but in the end they were together. Triston was a very strong person morally. He didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep around and when he gave someone his oath it was binding. He was also a typical knight—he fought for his honor and the honor of the woman he loved. Siri was young, vibrant and beautiful. She was also of the same moral character as Triston, so their relationship was not something I was embarrassed to read about.
The action in Illuminatons just kept coming and coming. There was plenty of sword and fist fighting, racing off on horses, and falling down stairs to keep anybody reading; unfortunately, the same action was repeated too many times, just by different characters. I also found myself getting lost wandering around in the genealogy, trying to figure out who came from whom and where this all fit in with the story.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Sum It Up: It was a good story and a good read, it just wandered too much for my tastes.
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Mindy’s Review: I’m secretly (or perhaps, now, not-so-secretly) a huge fan of romance novels where the woman is saved by the tall hero. Perhaps it’s because I was 5’10” in the 7th grade, but I haven’t really had much opportunity in my life to be play the petite damsel in distress and so every so often I like to live vicariously. So. Sue. Me. Illuminations offered the perfect opportunity to live out that particular fantasy quite alot.

There were parts of this book that I really liked. Illuminations is blessed with a much better writing style than some LDS lit I’ve read and kept from going over the romance/sex line that I have drawn in my head. However, while I enjoyed the basic plot of the story I felt that it’s essence sometimes got lost amid an extensive tangle of schemes, villains, family histories, and historical tie-ins. Occasionally it was a little bit confusing trying to keep track of who had betrayed whom, who killed whom, and whether it was on accident or on purpose.

The medieval setting allowed for some valiant chivalry and sizzling romance, but the plot was so laden with assaults to Siri’s virtue and duels fought in her honor as to be almost laughable. Seriously, how many times can a woman go into a room with a man she doesn’t particularly trust before she learns to either a) not go into the room or b) carry a much bigger knife.

This book, while very enjoyable, would have benefited from being whittled down to a shorter, simpler love story. However, if you are in the mood for a scorchingly romantic (yet fairly clean) book with a lot of twists and turns rescues and then even more twists and turns rescues, then you will likely find happiness within the pages of this book.

My rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up: A fun, romantic story that (while occasionally confusing) was nice and sizzle-y without all the sex.
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Kim's Review: I picked this up during the weekend, I wanted to have plenty of time to get into it before I put it down. I will admit that I was a little skeptical at first, I was unsure about the content being something that could hold me. That being said, I did enjoy this book. It wasn't at all what I expected and I really felt engaged with the characters, but not nearly so with their surroundings. As a historical fiction I wanted more about the history, the lifestyle, etc.
Although the storyline was basic, it was well written. The author obviously had these characters in her head long before they were developed on paper.

Rating:
2.5 Stars

Sum it up:
A good love story, with precious little else to hold you in your seat.
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AVERAGE RATING : 3 Stars

You can find this book on Amazon or Deseret Book.
You can also visit Joyce's Blog or Walnut Spring's Press for more information on this book.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

LOTS of Children's and Young Adult Book Suggestions

A great many thanks to all the people who helped me compile this list. I'm not going to put your names down partly because I don't have permission and partly because I'm lazy and afraid I'll leave someone out, but you know who you are....

Please keep in mind that these books can overlap, depending on your child’s reading abilities!!

0-3 Children’s Fiction (Read to Me)
ABC – Dr. Suess
Baby Einstein (Series)
Black on White – Tana Hoban
Blue Hat, Green Hat – Sandra Boyton
Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Eric Carle
But Not the Hippopotamus – Sandra Boynton
Come Here, Cleo! - Caroline Mockford
David Smells – David Shannon
The Foot Book – Dr. Suess
Fuzzy Yellow Duckings – Matthew Van Fleet
The Going to Bed Book – Sandra Boynton
Going to Sleep on the Farm – Wendy C. Lewison
Good Night, Gorilla – Peggy Rathmann
Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
The Grouchy Ladybug – Eric Carle
Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney
Horns to Toes– Sandra Boynton
I Love You, Goodnight – Jon Buller
I Love You Stinky Face – Lisa McCourt
Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is It Blue? – Tana Hoban
Moo, Baa, La La La! – Sandra Boyton
No Biting! - Karen Katz
No, David! – David Shannon
Opposites – Sandra Boynton
On the Day You Were Born – Lois Rock
Peek-a Who? – Nina Laden
Strega Nona Tomie De Paola
Tails – Matthew Van Fleet
The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
The Very Quiet Cricket – Eric Carle
This is My Hair – Todd Parr
The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
When I’m Sleepy - Jane R. Howard
Yummy Yucky – Leslie Patricelli
The Z was Zapped – Chris Van Allsburg

4-8 Children’s Fiction
(Read to Me & Beginning Reader)

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Judith Viorst
Ben’s Dream – Chris Van Allsburg
The Big Tidy Up - Norah Smaridge
The Biggest Sandwich Ever – Rita G. Gelman
Billy Beg and His Bull: An Irish Tale - Ellin Greene
Blueberries for Sal – Robert McCLoskey
The Bunyans – Audrey Wood
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Bill Martin Jr.
Chocolate Fever – Robert Kimmel Smith
Chrysanthemum – Kevin Henkes
Cinder Edna – Ellen Jackson
Clementine (Series) – Sara Pennypacker
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Judi Barrett
Cuddly Dudley - Jez Alborough
Dragon Scales and Willow Leaves – Terri L. Givens
Fair Brown and Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story - Jude Daly
Fanny’s Dream - Caralyn Buehner
The Five Chinese Brothers – Claire Huchet Bishop
Flotsam – David Weisner
Frog & Toad are Friends – Arnold Lobel
The Froggy Books (Series) – by Jonathan London
George and Martha (series) – James Marshall
Gingerbread Baby – Jan Brett
Good Night, Good Knight – Shelly Moore Thomas
The Grandad TreeTrishe Cooke
The Great Brain Series – John D. Fitzgerald
The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson
Harold and the Purple CrayonCrocket Johnson
Harry the Horrible (Series) – Suzy Kline
Hooway for Wodney Wat! – Helen Lester
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – Laura Numeroff
If You Give a Pig a Pancake – Laura Numeroff
I’ll Do Better Tomorrow, I Promise – Maurine Adamek
In the Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak
Ira Sleeps Over – Bernard Waber
The Island of the Skog – Steven Kellogg
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat - Simms Taback
Jumanji – Chris Van Allsburg
Junie B. Jones (Series) - Barbara Park
King Bidgood’s In the Bathtub – Audrey Wood
The Kissing Hand - Audrey Penn
The Knight Who Took All Day - James Mayhew
The Korean Cinderella - Shirley Climo
I Like Myself – Karen Beaumont
The Little Enginge That CouldWatty Piper
Love You Forever – Robert N. Munsch
Magic Tree House (Series) - Mary Pope Osborne
Make Way for Ducklings – Robert McCloskey
Mrs. Nelson is Missing – Harry Allard
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle (Series) – Betty MacDonald
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale - John Steptoe
My Father’s Dragon – Ruth Stiles Gannett
My Nasty BackpackAllia Zobel Nolan
The Napping House – Audrey Wood
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish– Dr. Seuss
Owl Moon – Jane Yolen
The Paper Bag Princess – Robert N. Munsch
Parts – Tedd Arnold
Pirates Don’t Change Diapers – Melinda Long
The Polar Express – Chris Van Allsburg
Quick as a Cricket – Audrey Wood
The Quiltmaker's Gift - Jeff Brumbeau
The Rainbabies - Laura Krauss Melmed
Red, Red, RedValeri Gorbachev
The Relatives Came - Cynthia Rylant
Rumpelstiltskin - Paul O. Zelinsky
Skippyjon Jones (series) – Judy Schachner
Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella - Alan Schroeder
Snowmen at NightCaralyn Buehner
Some Answers Are Loud, and Some Answers Are Soft - Barbara J. Porter
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon – Patty Lovell
Stone Soup – Jon Muth
The Three Pigs – David Weisner
Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
The Widow’s Broom – Chris Van Allsburg
Will You Still Love Me - Rick Walton
Zoom – Istvan Banyai (wordless)

9-12 Children’s Fiction
*some of these are great YA Reads as well
39 Clues (series)* – Rick Riordan
American Girl (Series) – Various Authors
Anne of Green Gables* – L.M. Montgomery
Belle Prater’s Boy – Ruth White
THE BFG – Roald Dahl
Boston Jane (Series) – Jennifer L. Holm
Bridge to Teribithia – Katherine Patterson
Caddie Woodlawn – Carol Ryrie Brink
The Cay – Theodore Taylor
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Charlie Bone (Series)* – Jenny Nimmo
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
City of Ember (Series)* – Jeanne DuPrau
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Series)– Jeff Kinney
Dragon Rider* – Cornelia Funke
Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
Encyclopedia Brown (Series) – Donald J. Sobol
Esperanza Rising – Pam Munoz Ryan
The Eyes of the Amaryllis – Natalie Babbit
Fablehaven (Series)* – Brandon Mull
Fairest – Gail Carson Levine
Frindle – Andrew Clemens
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg
Fudge (Series) – Judy Blume
The Giver* – Lois Lowry
Hardy Boys (Series) – Franklin W. Dixon
Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
Holes – Louis Sachar
The House of Dies Drear – Virginia Hamilton
House of Mirrors – Ulysses Moore
How Angel Peterson Got His Name – Gary Paulsen
How to Eat Fried Worms – Thomas Rockwell
Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
The King’s Equal - Katherine Paterson
Leven Thumps (Series)* – Obert Skye
The Lightning Thief (Series)* – Rick Riordan
The Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little House (Series)* - Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Long Way from Chicago – Richard Peck
Mailing May –Michael O. Tunnell
Maniac Magee – Jerry Spinelli
Matilda – Roald Dahl
Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism* – Georgia Byng
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM – Robert O’Brien
Nancy Drew (Series) – Carolyn Keene
Number the Stars – Lois Lowry
On to Oregon – Honore Morrow
Peter and the Starcatchers (Series)* – D. Barry & R. Pearson
Ramona (Series)– Beverly Cleary
Redwall (Series) – Brian Jacques
Ribsy – Beverly Cleary
Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Shadow Spinner - Susan Fletcher
Socks – Beverly Cleary
The Spiderwick Chronicles (Series) – Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi
Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – Judy Blume
Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke
The Tripod Trilogy (Series) - John Christopher
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – Avi
Tuck Everlasting – Natalie Babbit
The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin
Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls
Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstein
The Whipping Boy – Sid Fleishman and Peter Sis
The Willoughbys – Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time (Series) – Madeleine L’Engle
Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze – Elizabeth Lewis

Young Adult Fiction
(little to no language or sexual content)
1984 – George Orwell
Beauty – Robin McKinley
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Book of a Thousand Days – Shannon Hale
Children of the River – Linda Crew
The Chronicles of Narnia (Series) – C.S. Lewis
The Convict and the Stained Glass Windows – Carmelo Soraci
Countess Below Stairs – Eva Ibbotson
The Dark is Rising (Series) – Susan Cooper
Enders Game (Series) – Orson Scott Card
The Face on the Milk Carton – Caroline B. Cooney
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Goose Girl (series) - Shannon Hale
Graceling – Kristin Cashore
Harry Potter (Series)– J.K. Rowling
The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Once Upon a Time (Series) - Cameron Dokey
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Princess Academy - Shannon Hale
Just Ella – Margaret Peterson Haddix
The Secret Journal of Brett Colton – Kay L. Mangum
Song of the Lioness (Series) – Tamora Peirce
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Summers at Castle Auburn – Sharon Shinn
Twilight (Books 1-3) – Stephenie Meyer
Uglies (Series) – Scott Westerfeld
Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech
The Watcher – James Howe
Wings – Aprilynne Pike
The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George
Eragon (Series) – Christopher Paoulini

If you are DYING right now because we are missing your favorite book then feel free to comment with your own suggestion. Just make sure to leave the title, author, and age category of your book suggestion!!

Let's make sure to keep it clean in the YA section (and all of the others really, though I find it less likely to be a problem) -- we're only interested in recommendations that contain very little sexual content or profanity.

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