Monday, June 30, 2014

Out Of My Mind - Sharon Draper

Summary: Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you'll never, ever forget.

Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory.  Her head is like a video camera that is always recording.  Always.  And there's no delete button.  She's the smartest kid in her whole school--but NO ONE knows it.  Most people--her teachers and doctors included--don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again.  If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows...but she can't, because Melody can't talk.  She can't walk.  She can't write.  Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind--that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever.  At last Melody has a voice...but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.  (Summary from back of the book and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  This has been on my to-read stack for an embarrassingly long time.  And I do wish I'd picked it up  sooner.  It seems the YA book-world has started to flesh out more options to show students another perspective, another world that revolves around those who aren't born with the 'normal' skills and abilities.  Wonder is another of these books and I'd highly recommend that one as well.

Melody is a likeable character and in some ways is older than her years.  What's interesting is the dicotomy of her personality.  There are times she's so much wiser than her peers, and then there are other times where she openly admits to losing it and throwing tantrums--understandably knowing how she's been cooped inside her mind for so long.  And I think that's an accurate depiction of the book.  There are aspects that are just marvelous--mind-opening and heartfelt.  And then there are other times where things feel a little forced and maybe a little preachy.  What makes the book feel right is that it doesn't follow a perfect 'happy ending' that many of the YA group would naturally expect or want, but it does leave you satisfied.

Overall, I'd still recommend this to my students, especially those in middle school.  If there was ever a time in someone's life to get outside of yourself and realize how lucky/blessed you really are for what you have, it's middle school. 

Rating:  4 stars

Sum it up:  A wonderful reminder that people are not their disabilities.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When I Grow Up I Want to Be ... A Firefighter! - Wigu Publishing

Summary:  Will was excited to go on his class field trip, until he learned they would be touring the local firehouse. Now, he is dreading the trip. For as long as he can remember, Will has been afraid of fire and, worse than that, firefighters! Though he knows firefighters are heroes who do dangerous work, to him they are giants in heavy coats and masks. As he journeys with his class through the fire station, Will and readers alike are introduced to the exciting world of firefighting. Can Will overcome his fears and maybe even learn something surprising about himself?  (Image and summary from goodreads.com.  I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Firefighters are awesome.  I've never met one who wasn't excited to talk to my kids and tell them what they do, and when we lived around the corner from the fire station, they would share recipes when we ran into them in the grocery store.  However, I admit that in full gear, and with sirens blazing, it's intimidating for some kids.

Those fears are directly addressed in When I Grow Up I Want to be a Firefighter.  Will, our main character, is terrified of fire and of firefighters.  He's afraid of them in their gear, and his field trip to the fire station has him worried sick.  Almost immediately, Will feels his fears soothed as Captain Kirby mentions that many kids are afraid of the same thing.  At the end of the book, Captain Kirby tells Will's class that in order to be a good firefighter, he feels like yes, he needs to be afraid of fire.

This is an easy book to read, but I loved the additions of charts showing the different components of a firefighter's gear, the different fire trucks, and best, a safety checklist and a guide to creating a fire plan in the home.  They create a balance of a story that's easy to read but that doesn't insult the intelligence of the child reading. 

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

Monday, June 23, 2014

Friday, June 20, 2014

Goodnight June - Sarah Jio

Summary: Goodnight Moon is an adored childhood classic, but its real origins are lost to history. In Goodnight June, Sarah Jio offers a suspenseful and heartfelt take on how the "great green room" might have come to be.

June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature. (Picture and description from goodreads.com)


My Review: I’m one of those people who likes to tell other people (especially women, because I am crabby like that) that I don't really like, or even read chic lit. I’m way too cool for that.

Apparently not.

To be honest, I’ve actually enjoyed many chic lit books I've read (though admittedly, I don't live on a diet of pure chic lit; I do try to keep it to a minimum). Happily, this one is no exception.  You will notice that I carefully scheduled this book review in June. It's a great summer read (and I enjoyed the fun June/June thing cause I'm a cheeseball despite my best efforts).

First off, I think the premise is super cute. A bookstore in dire need of saving and a deep secret with the potential to change everything? Cute. I liked it. It totally reminded me of "You've Got Mail," and I couldn't help thinking of Meg Ryan raising her hands triumphantly after saying "Can we save the Shop Around the Corner!?" This book wasn't a rip-off of that (although if you liked the movie, you should certainly read this), but it did evoke similar emotions. You want the bookstore to survive, you want the boy and girl to get together, you want the insurmountable odds to be beaten, and in the end…well. You'll just have to read it.

The book has a nice voice to it. No one is overly evil or mean (and indeed, even the "bad guys" are not really bad guys), and I liked that. I get tired of reading books where there's one angelic person and the rest are obviously trying to tear them down in heartless and evil ways. This is about (real-ish) people trying to do (real-ish) things.

As with many books in chic lit, there were some incredible cameos (hello, Bill Gates!) that make it a little bit cheesy, but it's not like it's so over the top that you want to gag and put the book down and then continue your rah-rah campaign of why you hate chic lit. It's enough glam to make it fun while still being palatable.

If you are a lover of the classic Goodnight Moon, then you should certainly read this book. If you are a lover of chic lit, you should certainly read this book. If you're looking for a fast, fun read with good characters, this is for you. It's perfect for summer reading as its light and fun (though not necessarily too fluffy) with some good twists and turns.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is a little bit of light language.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

22 Books You Should Read Now Based On Your Childhood Favorites



I don't know about you, but there are many books that I read when I was a kid that when I go back, they're just not what I remember. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. For instance--I remember loving Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. It really inspired me. I couldn't necessarily remember what it was about, but I would tell everyone I loved it. Just a few years ago I read it again and, I have to be honest here, it was okay. In fact, I'd say it was a little confusing. I'll be the first to admit that my favorite genre is not sci-fi, but seriously? What the heck was going on? And it's all about love? All this weird stuff happens and it's about love? I dunno ya'll. I think I missed something.

So you can see what I'm saying. My tastes may have changed over the years.

On the other hand, I also remember reading and loving The Giver. A few years ago in preparation for Lois Lowry's release of Son I went to hear her speak at my local library. She was incredible and I reread the entire series and loved it, probably even more than I did when I was a kid.


Here's the great thing about books—they're there for you when you need them. At different times in your life you get different things out of the same book. Your life experiences color what you read. So this summer, you should check out not only some fun books from your past, but also maybe find some possible new favorites.  Here is a fun list to help get you started. 

22 Books You Should Read Now Based On Your Childhood Favorites

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Minnie in Paris GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED

Thank you all for entering our Summer Kickoff Minnie in Paris giveaway!  Out of 80 entries, we've randomly chosen a winner via rafflecopter.

Congratulations, Kelly Delrosso Saver!

We'll be in touch soon!  Let us know how you like your awesome Disney bundle!

Monday, June 16, 2014

That Night - Chevy Stevens

Summary: As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn't relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren't easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni's innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni's life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all. (Picture and description from goodreads.com)


My Review: Have you ever known anyone who's been in prison for a crime they haven't committed? Yeah, me neither. But it's a scary thought, right? Being blamed for something serious—like murder—and having to actually serve the time as a convicted murderer and then carry that stigma around with you for forever. And what about being in prison itself? Not good. Not good at all.

And so this book is frightening. We're talking people paying for crimes, both committed and not, but more frighteningly, we’re talking about bullying that’s on a whole new level. Forget everything you've heard in your kids' elementary school training about bullying and what to do. This is bullying that is scary and abusive and ruins lives. And people die. Whoah.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “That Night” is the character development. The author doesn't create characters that are completely unbelievably good or unbelievably bad (although you'll hate the protagonist!), and therefore it gives the story a very authentic feel. To be sure, there are some seriously antisocial people in this book, but I felt like that added to the fear inherent in the story itself, as well as opening up a world in prison that, until now, I had only really imagined in "Prison Break." (And let's not even bring up season 2 and the Mexican prison!)

I have read many books in this genre, and although I wouldn't say that this one has exceptional literary-type writing, it is certainly on par with almost everything else I've read like it. The thing I loved about the writing was it was accessible—you're reading along and it's not like you're even reading, you're just living along with the characters, which I think is the sign of a good book. It's easy to get caught up in the fear of the situation (and ooh, its deelish) and lose yourself in the story.

I can't even commit to saying whether or not there is a twist at the end because I don't want to ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, if you're looking for a fast-paced, quick read (perfect to take your mind off summer stresses or even better, a vacay read), then this is your book. It's got just the right amount of suspense and reality to make it one of those fun summer reads.

My rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is similar to others in its genre in that there is language and violence (part of it takes place in prison…so…) and there is mention of sex. None of these are seriously hard-core like some of the Scandinavian authors in this genre, but it is certainly not completely clean.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fire & Flood - Victoria Scott

Summary:  Time is slipping away....

Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air. She's lost her friends, her parents are driving her crazy, her brother is dying—and she's helpless to change anything.

Until she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. But all the Contenders are after the Cure for people they love, and there's no guarantee that Tella (or any of them) will survive the race.

The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place? (from goodreads.com)


My Review: Okay. We need to get this straight right now. This book is a complete rip-off of The Hunger Games.  A group of unsuspecting "contenders" selected for a race to save the life of a loved one.  Animals that have been created and mutated for this specific race.  An unsuspecting heroine. A dashing male counterpart.  Innocents dying.  Betrayal. Factions. An evil creator of the game with mal intentions in mind. It was, without a doubt, written as a piggyback to get some of that fame and capture the readers that were mourning the end of the Suzanne Collins series.

But.

That doesn't mean I don't think it was a decent read. Sure, there's a "been there done that" kind of feel coupled with that impossible-not-to-compare-it attitude, but I still liked it. The narrator is grittier, a little more sarcastic, and I liked that about her. I think she has a fun sense of irony and humor, and although sometimes I did get bogged down with the woe-is-me and the annoying martyrdom that she pulls, I think that teenage girls are sometimes that way and so I let it slide. There is, as with all books of this genre, a love story that is a little over the top, but again, I think that that's probably realistic with the age group. (And it disturbs me that I just said "with that age group," fully meaning I'm old and out of touch and so I'm willing to let the teens get away with silly romantic notions. See?  I'm old.)

I read this book really quickly. Once it gets going, it's exciting—there's a lot going on, there's a lot at stake, and despite the fact that I've read the Hunger Games and watched the movies, this book still had things to offer in the excitement-in-a-death-race-genre. If nothing else, it was one of those books that you just get into and read really quickly and are disappointed when it's over, especially because there is a great cliffhanger. I am looking forward to the next one for sure.

And in the end, I think it's worth the read.  Because I admit it. I'm missing The Hunger Games.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is comparable to others in the genre in that it has language, violence, and romance scenes that are written for the YA audience.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

More Reasons to Read. As If We Need Them.

It's no secret that I love to read. I mean, I write for a reading blog, right? And the fact that you're reading this on a reading blog means that you probably love to read as well.

In case you needed more reasons to read (I'm always looking for a new excuse!), here is a great article with more reasons why reading is not only really fun, but also really healthy as well.

Enjoy! And then go read some more!

7 Unconventional Reasons Why You Absolutely Should Be Reading Books

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ashley's 15 Top Fave Books

This is a really hard post for me to write.

I'm not being dramatic here.

It's just really hard to declare my favorites. Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons. 1) I read a lot of books. Like a lot a lot. So therefore I sometimes forget "my favorites" for various reasons like having read a bajillion books between a fave and being old and busy with important and not important things and also being preoccupied with things like trying to remember how long it's been since I've forced my kids to shower...you get the drift. 2) I have a lot of favorites. I like lots of different kinds of books. It's hard to commit. 3) I'm fully aware that my list won't make any sense because I read lots of genres, and I like things within genres, but not everything in the genre, and it all just starts to sound slightly schizophrenic. And it's overwhelming to go through all those things and come up with favorites and narrow them down.

So here it is in no particular order. Judge as you will. Thanks to goodreads.com for all the links.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird. I feel like I don't even need a description here. If you haven't read it, you are absolutely missing out on one of the best books of all time.

2. Memoirs of a Geisha. This was one of those books that absolutely rocked my world, bringing light to something so foreign and interesting that afterward I went on a binge and read everything I could about geishas, both fic and nonfic. I'm a lay expert now, I must say.

3. Savvy. This is all that a good JFic should be. It is insightful without being too overbearing, funny and outlandish but still relatable. It's awesome.

4. John Adams. This is nonfic at its finest. David McCullough is remarkable in his writing, research, and presentation. I learned more about U.S. history while reading this book than in any of my honors history classes combined.

5. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I have read this book many times both by myself and to my children. It has such a great message and Kate DiCamillo has created something completely magical with this story, which I love.

6. Diamond Ruby.This was a goodreads winner of the year a couple years ago and I feel like it's one of those hidden gems that those not in the know might have missed. It's as awesome as Water for Elephants and The Help and all those faddy books that came out about the same time. Don't be put off when you find out it's about baseball. It really isn't.

7. Peace Like a River. This is beautifully written, deep yet accessible. Not only that, but it's a great story. 

8. The Fault in Our Stars. If you have not yet been swept up in this novel, you should read it. It's heartbreaking and poignant.

9. The Dovekeepers. This is one of the most beautifully written modern books I have read. The story is based on true events, so it carries a weight and beauty to it. It has awesome female characters.

10. Code Name: Verity. I have chosen to put this book on my list not only because it is one of my favorites, but I also have a special connection to it as I was close to my Granny who also served in the Women's Royal English Navy during WWII. Some say it is slow going at the beginning-don't let that stop you. It's worth the read.

11. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. This book was incredible. Well-researched, well-written, and highly inspiring.

And now for some cheating. Because sometimes a series is good enough to love the whole thing as a fave.

The Flavia deLuce series. The first one is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. You'll love Flavia, I promise. She's cheeky, smart and fun.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. The first one is The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. These books are wise, quiet, and interesting. There are a lot of them and so I feel like I know the characters really well, which is fun. I actually reviewed the latest book on this blog a few months back. Check it out here.

The Giver Series. The Giver is a classic, and the others in the series are just as good, if not better. My personal fave is Messenger, but read them all. Lois Lowry is an incredible writer.

The Pendergast series from Preston & Child. These are just a fun, exciting read. If you want a pot-boiler with low commitment and cool characters, Pendergast is your man. The first one is Relic. They don't have to be read in order, although obviously there is an underlying story line through all of them.

So if you're looking for something fun to read this summer--or anytime!--check out one of these faves of mine. Also, if you have any comments about any of these books, or any suggestions for me based on these books, I'd love to hear them. Comment below!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Minnie in Paris - Sheila Sweeny Higgenson GIVEAWAY (CLOSED)

Summary:  Fashion is Minnie's passion! And, as a result, she's been invited to show her bows on the runways of Paris!

At the airport, Minnie is so busy taking care of her nieces, Millie and Melody, that she accidentally switches suitcases with Penguini the magician--and finds that his suitcase is full of bunnies instead of bows! Minnie must round up the mischievous little bunnies, find Penguini, and make her bows in time for the show. Will she make it? 

Readers are treated to a stunning tour of famous Parisian locations, from the Louvre to Tuilleries Gardens to the Eiffel tower, to a classic Parisian bistro—all in search of Penguini's bunnies.

This charming hardcover picture book comes with a code to access the Minnie in Paris eBook. (Summary and image from Disney Publishing.  I was given a copy of the book in exchange an honest review.)

My Review:  Minnie's bow business is booming, and it's time for her to take her talents to the City of Lights.  Unfortunately, there's a luggage mix-up at the airport, and she ends up with a suitcase full of bunnies, not her Fashion-Week-bound bows!   Minnie, her nieces Millie and Melody, Daisy, and Cuckoo-Loca chase the escaped bunnies through Paris, not only getting new inspiration for new bows, but visiting the landmarks that make Paris famous.  

This is a delightful book,  perfect for younger readers.  The images are spectacular, including numerous Disney character cameos, the story is easy to follow, and I loved that Minnie's solution to the setback was to move forward with flair. Even better, each book comes with a code for the ebook version.  What does that mean?  Minnie in Paris can come with you without having to lug around the book - with digital features!  As a mom of a learning reader, I appreciate that she can have an auditory guide to words that may trip her up.

My daughter and I loved this book, and I know we're going to be getting a lot of use out of disneystorycentral.com!

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

But that's not all!

 We want to share this darling book with you -- so we're hosting a Minnie in Paris Giveaway!!  

The winner of this giveaway will receive the following:

One (1) winner receives:
·         Minnie in Paris
·         Minnie’s Bow-Toons: Trouble Times Two
·         Jake and the Neverland Pirates: Follow That Sound
·         Sofia the First: The Royal Slumber Party
·         Sofia the First: The Enchanted Forest



Open to US addresses only
Prizing courtesy of Disney Press

ABOUT THE PRIZING

Minnie in Paris is part of a new collection of books from Disney Publishing that includes digital content such as songs, eBooks, iPhones/iPads apps and more. Other titles in this collection include Sofia the First: The Enchanted Feast, which includes a code to download the song “All You Desire,” Jake and the Neverland Pirates: Follow that Sound! which includes a code to download the Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shapes and Patterns app, Minnie: Trouble Times Two which includes a code to download the Minnie Bow Maker app and Sofia the First: The Royal Slumber Party which includes a code to download the Sofia the First: Story Theater app.  

(Honestly, I'm kind of jealous!!)

To Enter:  
a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will run until June 13, 2014 at midnight.  Check back for the winner!!  

This giveaway is now closed.  Thanks for entering, and check back soon for the winner!!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Reading Programs

Do you participate in summer reading programs for your family?  We've always tried in the past, but life has gotten in the way the last year or so.  Our school, for example, does a Reading Bingo that goes from June - April.  My kids are so excited to get started on it in June this year!


Passion for Savings has compiled an amazing list of free programs for kids this summer.  Seriously, I was so excited when I stumbled upon this!  Check out her list here, and don't forget to come back and tell us your summer reading plans!

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Summer Time!!

Welcome, Summer!


Welcome lazy reading days by the pool, mom-enforced reading times, reading programs through libraries, bookstores, and perhaps even school!  Welcome more time with the family, more time traveling, and all the wonderful things that summertime brings!


Look for neat articles and various reading-related news throughout the summer ... and perhaps even a review or two.  But enjoy the break ... we certainly are planning to!!


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