Friday, August 3, 2012

A Girl Named Disaster

A Girl Named Disaster
By Nancy Farmer

My husband and I are going to Mozambique with a missionary organization. We're very excited. In preparation for our trip, this book was recommended to us. Had I seen it before in our library? Yes. Had I recognized that the book was set in Mozambique? No. (Had I heard much about Mozambique before this trip? No.) This book was recommended to us because it offers a detailed insight into the Mozambican worldview and rural culture.I was impressed with the amount of research Nancy Farmer put into this book! I learned so much about Mozambique and yet I didn't feel that the facts watered down the story at all.

This is a survival story. Nhamo, a preteen girl, (whose name means 'disaster') flees her village and an arranged marriage to an old abusive man, wanting to travel to Zimbabwe where her father lives. She takes a dug-out boat along a river into a giant lake, Cahora Bassa, where she is stranded on an island with a community of baboons and various other wild animals.

I felt immersed in the Mozambican mindset while reading the book. (Of course, I haven't been to Mozambique yet, so what do I really know?) I was horrifically intrigued by some of the foods Nhamo ate. I learned a lot about the ways baboons interact with each other. I learned a lot about different religions found in Mozambique. Most interesting of all to me was trying to understand how Nhamo's family could be living in huts eating termites while just a few hundred miles away other people are living in electrically-wired cement homes eating bread with margarine. I can't imagine what it must feel like to walk over a border into an entirely different lifestyle with unimaginable conveniences.

Overall I loved A Girl Named Disaster and am recommending it to friends and family!

Visit Nancy Farmer online

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Some Fun (and varied) Back-to-School Reads!

Olivia and the Best Teacher Ever
Adapted by Ilanit Oliver
Illustrated by Shane L. Johnson

Olivia's teacher, Mrs. Hoggenmuller, is competing for the Teacher of the Year award. The winner of the award gets her picture up on all the school buses for that year! A judge, Mrs. Stern, comes to observe the class and decide whether Mrs. Hoggenmuller is worthy of the award. Olivia and her friends decide that they are going to do all in their power to show that their teacher should be Teacher of the Year. Despite all their efforts, when the class frog lands on Mrs. Stern's head, Mrs. Stern leaves in a huff, promising that Mrs. Hoggenmuller will not be the recipient of the award.

I always feel a bit skeptical of books that are adapted from a well-known and loved character. Ian Falconer's Olivia books are lovely. Though Olivia and the Best Teacher Ever pales in comparison to the original Olivia stories, children who have fallen in love with this creative pig will also enjoy this story.


Dora Goes to School
Adapted by Leslie Valdes
Illustrated by Robert Roper

Children who love Dora the Explorer will enjoy this little story! Dora is on her way to her first day of school when she meets up with la maestra Beatriz, whose bike has gotten a flat tire! How will Dora, Boots and Maestra Beatriz get to school on time? Children will enjoy following along on Dora's map to see the exciting route taken to get to school on time. The bright, colorful pictures will appeal to young readers as well.


Marco Goes to School
By Roz Chast

I was pretty excited about this book when I opened it up. Marco is a little red bird whose mother happens to be a human. He is bored. Bored with his sandbox, bored with the TV, bored with doing laundry. Marco's mom tells him that he's going to be starting school. When Marco goes to school, he makes a new friend and gets to experience classroom life.

Though some of the humor was fun and a little quirky, and though the illustrations were fun, I was a little disappointed with the book. The story felt disjointed in places, and at one point I started at an illustration and the text underneath for a while, trying to figure out its connection to the story. I was also disappointed that the teacher and learning in the school environment were so poorly portrayed. Pretty much all the teacher says is, "Blah, blah, blah," and Marco is constantly tuning her out in favor of his much more interesting fantasies. Maybe worth a read, but not my favorite!


One of a Kind
By Ariel S. Winter
Illustrated by David Hitch
One of a Kind in an imaginative story about a little boy named Lysander who is the only only child attending a school for twins. He feels left out and alone until the school's yearly event Twindividuation, which is a series of events 'meant to encourage individuality.' In each of the events of Twindividuation, Lysander excels. Whether it's singing a solo or the one-man relay, or choosing a flavor of ice cream without twin consultation. Lysander learns that, though being an individual can sometimes be lonely, sometimes being an individual has its benefits too. Very cute! Check it out!


Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World
By Susan Hughes

Off to Class is one of my new favorite back-to-school reads. Simply put, this book tells the story of a wide variety of schools from around the world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the chapters don't cover the prosaic subjects like 'desks,' and 'writing utensils.' The author addresses some of these differences, but via different avenues. Many things prevent children from attending schools: weather, distance, financing. I was amazed to discover all of the creative ways those barriers are being overcome throughout the world to allow children to get the education they need! This book, written for middle-grade readers, does a nice job of mixing text and pictures, personal anecdotes and facts. I highly recommend Off to Class!

*These books were sent for review purposes.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The House on Tradd Street

The House on Tradd Street
By Karen White 

I'm woefully behind on book reviews. Even though I've been spending a lot of time reading about Mozambique and studying Portuguese in a vain attempt to master some of the language before we go, I'm still managing to find time to read.

I am not, however, finding much time to review what I read!

The House on Tradd Street was our book club book for June. (We just had our July book discussion, which shows just how far behind I am.) I procrastinated for a while on starting the book, because I knew it was a ghost story. Sometimes I handle ghost stories well, but recently my tolerance for anything remotely creepy or stressful has been quite low.

Anyway, when I did start reading, I managed to finish pretty quickly. I was drawn right in! This is a story set in South Carolina about a realtor named Melanie who can see and talk to ghosts. Because of this, she abhors old houses, which are ripe with restless spirits. However, she inherits an old house from a man she's met once. She and her friend Jack are drawn (willingly or not) into solving the mystery of the malevolent spirit and the woman pushing a swing, day and night, in the garden.

I've never been to South Carolina, but even now, a month after reading the book, I can conjure up vivid pictures of restored mansions and their white picket fences. I was incredibly impressed with the way Karen White was able to describe her setting and characters in ways that made them all feel very, very real. The main character, Melanie, reminded me very much of a woman who comes into the library where I work occasionally. The first time I saw this woman after I was finished reading the book, I was tempted to ask her about her ghost-hunting! Karen White also did an excellent job of introducing me to architecture and restoration techniques without bogging me down. Kudos to her! Erik Larson's descriptions of architecture did not capture my attention in the same way. Stay tuned for my review of The Devil in the White City.)

Over all, an engaging read. Some of the ghost run-ins were a little hokey (but not too bad). I was a little disappointed that White's editor didn't catch that the May Clinic is in Rochester, Minnesota, instead of Rochester, New York. But I'm full of grace. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel!

Visit Karen White online

Monday, July 9, 2012

Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners
By Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byer is a good girl, always has been, and the label is more firmly attached because she lives in a small town, where the kids she went to grade school with are the kids she is now in high school with. Lacey Anne's dad is the children's pastor at their church, and she and her friends are involved in all church activities. Lacey has a very clear idea of what right and wrong are. Right and wrong are even more firmly established by her church's yearly outreach, Hell House, in which the teens act out various sin-filled situations and the consequences in order to shake people into a 'decision for Christ.' But within a few short months, Lacey Anne's black and white world is going to be rocked to its core.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Even though I found myself bugging my eyes out over the Hell House outreach event (because I'm not sure a Hell House fits very well into what I consider Christianity to be-- maybe it's that it reminds me more of the prophets and less of Jesus), I found myself identifying with Lacey Anne. I remember when my world was defined in black and white, when my parents never made mistakes, and when choosing the right thing was always an easy choice. The author did an excellent job of depicting the turbulent years for a teen in which the world gets a little wider and a little more confusing. Even through the confusion, Lacey Anne makes amends with her parents, begins to make decisions for herself, and learns to balance judgement with love.

This is an excellent book that I'm excited to read and discuss with our online teen book club!

Visit Melissa Walker online

Help! A Vampire's Coming!

Help! A Vampire's Coming!
By Abby Klein 

For our 1st-2nd grade book club this summer, we're going to be reading this fun little story (amid other activities geared toward that squirmy age group). I sat down with it and a hot cup of tea this morning and stood up about 15 minutes later with a smile on my face.

Freddy is afraid to go to sleep. He has started waking up with horrible nightmares about a vampire who chases him and tries to drink his blood. He doesn't want to tell his parents. Instead, from his friends, he gets advice to sprinkle garlic (in his mom's kitchen he finds garlic powder) around his room and to nail his window shut. When his dad discovers the nailed window, the truth comes out. Freddy's dad and sister Suzie help Freddy train his stuffed animals to be Dream Police and bash any dream bad guys. It works! Freddy can finally get a decent night of sleep.

This is a fun book for kids learning to read. There's enough action and conversation that kids will be entertained. Kids will also learn some good ways to handle nightmares. I appreciate that this book teaches kids that talking to their parents about things that upset them is both helpful and important. I also appreciated the projects and advice in the back of the book for kids to deal with their bad dreams.

Visit Abby Klein at Scholastic

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
By William Joyce
Illustrated by Joe Bluhme

This book is absolutely delightful. It's another book about books to help children love books, and I must say, it's working for me! Morris Lessmore loves words, stories, and books. Every day he writes in his own book. I love the wording, so I'm just going to share it with you: "His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for."

One day a storm comes and blows everything he knows, even the words in his book, into chaos. Morris Lessmore starts wandering. He meets a lovely lady who lends him her favorite book. The book leads Morris Lessmore to an amazing building that looks and acts very much like a library. Morris Lessmore spends his life among the books, reading and caring for them and sharing them with others. Every night after all his reading was done, Morris Lessmore writes in his own book.

On the day that he fills in the very last page of his own book, he knows it's time for him to move on. The books notice that Morris Lessmore has left something behind: his book. Just then, a little girl comes into the building. She settles down to read the Morris Lessmore's book, and the story ends as it began... "with the opening of a book."

Pardon me in advance for raving. I love this story. I love the author's use of words like 'happenstance,' and 'squadron.' I love the illustrations. Some of them made me chuckle. The illustrator did an excellent job of portraying Morris Lessmore's emotions! I also love that this book not only promotes a love of reading but a love of writing as well. After all, what good is reading if you don't do anything with it? Morris Lessmore spent his whole life with books, but he left something of value behind when he was gone. I don't necessarily think that everyone needs to write, but I love the idea of giving back. Over all The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a lovely book that I look forward to sharing with children.

I'd also like to brag up another, older, book by William Joyce. George Shrinks was one of my very favorite books when I was little (yes, it is that old). In the book, George wakes up one morning to find that he has shrunk. I love the pictures in this book, but I love the imaginative aspect of it as well. Little kids will love (if I am any indication) imagining what their life would be like if they were down-sized. The hushed magical wording that I enjoyed while reading about Morris Lessmore is also present in this older book.

Check them both out!


"Happy, Healthy Ajay!" and "Freda Stops a Bully"

Happy, Healthy Ajay!
By Stuart J. Murphy
Ajay wants to be fast like his friends Freda and Percy and strong like his daddy. In this book, with the help of his parents and his friends, he learns that in order to be healthy (which doesn't necessarily translate to fast and strong but is a good way to start) he should eat healthy meals, play for exercise, drink lots of water, eat healthy snacks, and stay active. Though the reader doesn't learn exactly what foods are healthy, one good example is given. Some good examples of ways to be active are also given. Though the small size of this book would make it difficult to use as a read-aloud for a group, this book is an excellent way to begin discussions with one's own children on ways to be healthy. What a fun way to learn how to be healthy!


Freda Stops a Bully
By Stuart J. Murphy

Freda loves her bright pink shoes. Unfortunately, these shoes make her noticeable and an easy target for a bully at her school. After a few days of being called 'Funny Feet' by the bully, Freda has had enough. Her mom and friends make a few wise suggestions for Freda: Don't listen, walk away, get help, and say stop.When Freda finally confronts the bully with a loud "Stop it!" the bully learns that his joke isn't very funny. to anyone but him. With bullying on the rise and with the sometimes tragic consequences of bullying, this book is a great way to introduce young kids to tools they can use to confront bullies in their school. Easy read but also informative and helpful!

*These books were sent for review purposes.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do
By Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

This is a fun book and a fun concept! The reader gets a peak at a clothesline hung with a few pieces of clothing and a short rhyme that asks the question, "What job does this person do?" The next page tells the reader whether his or her guess was right. Jobs described in this book include mail carrier, farmer, chef, artist, carpenter, firefighter, and astronaut. I appreciated the fun pictures in this book, as well as the fact that the various characters with their various occupations wandered in and out of the pages of this book. This is an excellent read for preschoolers and I hope we can put it to use in our library!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Monkey Colors

Monkey Colors
By Darrin Lunde
Illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne

As I read this book, my mind was already busy trying to find a way to fit it into our preschool programs in the coming year. The story is simple: there are many monkeys throughout the world and lots of colors are represented in those monkeys! Through simple phrasing and bright clear pictures, children learn about the variety of monkeys throughout the world. In the back of the book, all the monkeys pictured previously are listed with a small picture and more detailed information. Monkey Colors is well worth a read!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Out on the Prairie

Out on the Prairie
By Donna M. Bateman
Illustrated by Susan Swan

After spending most of my childhood summers tagging along on my dad's field ecology classes out west near the Badlands National Park, I may be just a little bit biased toward any book written about the vast beauty of this area. However, I think any objective observer would agree with me in saying that this is a worthwhile read.

Out on the Prairie is a counting story, in which readers are introduced to a new animal and its babies, in ascending number from the first page. Animals that children will be introduced to include bison, pronghorn, and meadowlarks, among others. (If you've never listened to a western meadowlark's call, you can find an example here. I love this call!) Sprinkled in among the animals are western North American plants, such as snakeroot, gramma grasses, and wheatgrasses.

This story is fun, but it's the illustrations that take me back to western South Dakota and make me smile. Beautiful. Detailed. Bright. Accurate. All of those work to describe the digital paper cut illustrations in this book. 

This book would work great for reading one-on-one with a child or in a group setting. I think first or second grade would get the most from this lovely little book!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Presidential Pets

Presidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary, Strange Animals That Have lived in the White House
By: Julie Moberg
Illustrated by: Jeff Albrecht Studios

Did you know that President John Quincy Adams had a pet alligator? I certainly didn't, but I do now; I learned that and more in this book!

This delightful book, as you may guess, tells readers about the wide range of pets that have called the White House home. Starting with George Washington and ending with Barack Hussein Obama II, each page spread is devoted to one of the presidents. Each spread starts with a quirky poem about that president's pet(s) and has additional information about the pet, presidential stats, and accomplishments of the president. The reader will also be drawn to the vibrant cartoon illustrations on every page spread!

I really appreciated the way information was arranged in this book. Readers are not overwhelmed when they open up this book. They can pick and choose. If they just want to read a fun poem, they can do that. And then they can read a little bit more about the pets when their interest is piqued. And then a little more about the president's stats... and then his achievements... This book is great for readers ages 9-12 and anyone who enjoys obscure historical data!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Can You Tell a Cricket from a Grasshopper? Can you Tell a Gecko from a Salamander?

Can You Tell a Cricket from a Grasshopper?
By Buffy Silverman

Can You Tell a Gecko from a Salamander?
By Buffy Silverman

I learned so much about crickets, grasshoppers, geckos, and salamanders in these two books! Both books are filled with bright up-close photos and interesting facts. I thought the facts were made even more interesting and memorable when one animal was compared to another. (Did you know that a grasshopper's ears are located on its abdomen but a cricket's ears are located on its front legs? I didn't!)

I also appreciated that even though this book targets young readers, it is still set up like a nonfiction chapter book, complete with a table of contents, chapters, index, glossary, and citations for further reading. I love books that give kids a good taste of (fun) nonfiction!


*This book was sent for review purposes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eight Days Gone

Eight Days Gone
By Linda McReynolds
Illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke

Eight Days Gone tells the story of the Apollo 11's first trip to the moon in 1969. The story, told rhyming verses, is fast-moving, interspersing excellent vocabulary along the way, like 'sprawling,' and 'module.' The pictures are fun and manage to be bright, clear, and crisp. I was a little bit disappointed with the story-- I wish there had been a few more details to tell such a fascinating story! However, over all, I did enjoy Eight Days Gone. Great for a read-aloud and to spark conversation about space travel!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Vivaldi's Four Seasons
By Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrated by JoAnn E. Kitchel

Even if you don't think you know 'Four Seasons by Vivaldi, chances are good that you will recognize it when you hear it. If you watch the first 10 seconds of this video, you'll probably start thinking to yourself, "Oooh, that's what that piece is called!" Go ahead; listen to just a little bit of it:

Recognize it?

What you heard was the first movement, 'Spring,' on which this little book is based. I've always appreciated 'The Four Seasons' by Vivaldi, but this book gives my appreciation for the movement entitled 'Spring' a whole new depth!

Written by a professor of music at Georgetown University, Vivaldi's Four Seasons tells the story of how Vivaldi taught and came to love the orphaned girls of the Ospedale della Pietá. Suddenly (or at least, it seems sudden to the reader) Vivaldi is asked to leave the orphanage. He continues to miss the girls at the Pietá. Eventually he is asked to write pieces for the girls to play, although he is not asked to come back to teach the girls. As a surprise to the girls, he comes back with the first piece, 'Spring,' and narrates it while they play.

I enjoyed learning the history behind this famous piece of music! Celenza's story is fun and her characters are lovable. I do recommend reading the part of the story where Vivaldi narrates 'Spring' either after listening to the accompanying CD or while listening. I read without listening and found it a little confusing.

Though this book has lovely, colorful illustrations, I recommend this book for a slightly older crowd: around 9-12 years old. There's so much meat to this story and reading about what the music means is abstract enough that I'm afraid a lot of it will be lost on younger readers.

Over all, a very fun story!

*This book was sent for review purposes.

Charlesbridge Publishing | Anna Harwell Celenza | JoAnn E. Kitchel

Friday, June 15, 2012

This is the House that George Built

This is the House that George Built
By Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Rebecca Bond

When I picked up The House that George Built, I thought to myself, "Hmm. That almost sounds like the poem "This is the House that Jack Built." I realized when I started reading that the connotation was intentional!

In this clever little book that plays off of the old poem, "This is the House that Jack Built," readers get an inside look at the construction of the White House: how the design was decided upon, the materials that were used, and how the structure of the building went up. I was amazed at how... difficult construction of a building of that size sounded! I must really take for granted all the machinery we have to work with that George Washington and the people helping him did not have! 

Although I thought the rhymes in this story often come across as awkward, I still thought the poem was a fun idea. Readers can choose to read just the simple poem or a more detailed description of the construction project. I also loved the detailed watercolor pictures.

The House that George Built is a great little book from Charlesbridge Publishing that deals skillfully with a little-known part of American history!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ghost Knight

Ghost Knight
By Cornelia Funke
Illustrations by Andrea Offermann

Cornelia Funke has written a variety of novels for young readers. Ghost Knight, her newest, is a treat. Jon Whitcroft, a Harry Potter wannabe, is banished to a boarding school where he meets a variety of people, only some of which are alive. He likes to think that he's a martyr for being sent to a boarding school, but some friendly roommates, a new best friend, and a surprise encounter with his soon-to-be step-father reveals that his perspective is a little skewed.

Some teenager or preteen characters are frustrating; I don't like being inside their heads. Funke did an excellent job of balancing irrational preteen behavior and thoughts with redeeming character traits in Jon Whitcroft so that even though I shook my head at him a couple times, I also really liked him.

This mystery is a lot of fun, with a lot of twists and turns. This delicious ghost story has enough suspense to make it a quality ghost story but doesn't cross over into being a horror story. I was also pleasantly surprised to find, upon completing Ghost Knight, that I had learned some interesting history while reading. William Longspee, the ghost who plays the biggest role in the story, was actually a real person and the places described in the book that have to do with him (most notably his sepulcher in Salisbury Cathedral) are real.

I appreciated the beautiful illustrations in this book. The ones that are of real places are accurate (which I only found out through Google after finishing the book). I like it when chapter books for young readers include a lot of pictures. I think reading becomes a more gratifying experience for young readers, especially those who struggle, if they are able to see pictures and turn pages a little more quickly. I remember reading Great Illustrated Classics when I was in 2nd and 3rd grade. The stories themselves were fascinating, but I also appreciated that there were as many pages with pictures as there were pages with pictures.

Funke left one big gaping hole that I was unsatisfied with: How did Alesiter Jindrich, the chorister ghost, find William Longspee's heart the first time, when he was still human? I thought that the story was building up to a treasure hunt for Jon and his friend Ella, but the treasure hunt fizzled and readers are never gratified with an explanation as to where Longspee's heart had been hiding.

Overall, I sincerely enjoyed Ghost Knight. I wonder if Funke will write a sequel. I enjoyed Jon and Ella and their story enough that I kind of hope she does! Check it out! But if you do, save it for a misty gray day, when you can sit by a low light and drink some hot chocolate while you read.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The China Study

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health
By T. Collin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II

My dad is a ground beef guru. When he was living the life of a graduate school research student out in the boonies of Idaho, his specialty was to mix a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, potatoes, ground beef, and ketchup. This gourmet entree includes most of the foods my dad considered palatable. 

His tastes have always been a bit... limited?

So, when my father, who holds a PhD in biology and has done his own share of research, read this book, which touts a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in animal products and processed foods, he vowed to change his eating habits. I was astounded. I just had to read it too.

In our society, it pays to be cautious when reading about nutrition. Anyone who has spent time reading about nutrition has experienced the endless perplexity from the myriad of studies that triumphantly spout a wide variety of contrary findings.

I was cautiously impressed by The China Study, however. Dr. Campbell describes a variety of studies he performed on lab rats (which I was less impressed with and less interested by) and then he goes on to describe a monumental study that he conducted, comparing the diets of people in different parts of China. This worked fairly well because in the more urban areas of China, more people are eating a typical Western diet (high in animal products, high in fat, high in sugar). In most rural areas, people had been living in the same area all their lives and eating a variety of mostly plant-based diets. Nothing Western about them.

Campbell's findings are intriguing and what you might expect: the more Western the diet, the more heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and obesity. Surprise, surprise. 

Campbell then combs through the research to find other studies that deal with nutrition and these devastating Western diseases. The results he finds begin to get more and more uncomfortable, until he slaps the American midwest hog/beef-based economy in the face by broadcasting outright his realization that animal products are overall bad for us. Not just meat, but dairy and eggs as well.

What? No cheese? No butter for my toast?

Yep, that's exactly what he's saying. 

But I've got "Got Milk?" ingrained in my head. I've been told all my life that I need those dairy products to be strong and healthy. What do you have to say to that, Dr. Campbell?

Quite a lot, actually. The second part of the book was especially interesting and frustrating at the same time. Dr. Campbell goes into detail about how science, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and the economy are all involved, to some extent, in a complex web of nutrition deception. 

I left the book feeling fairly convinced that I need to start making changes in the amounts of animal products I eat (though I can't imagine changing to plant-based foods and only plant-based foods all at once; I have no idea how to cook that way). I had to labor through some of the research findings. All of the studies and summaries of studies and numbers made the research credible but did not make for an easy read. I started reading faster when I got to Part 3 of the book.

I'm glad I read this book. I'm hoping to make some gradual changes to my husband's and my diet. My husband is cautiously supportive. 

I don't want to discourage you from reading this book, but I'll warn you now that you will probably be uncomfortable when you read it. My husband and I already eat a mostly vegetarian diet, and I was still uncomfortable! However, discomfort can be a really good thing, so I'm going to give this book five bright shiny stars and recommend it to all!

Friday, June 1, 2012


By Myra McEntire

I’m not sure what inspired me to pick up this book when I have a reading list about as long as a roll of toilet paper. But I did. And I’m still trying to decide what I think.

Hourglass is an intriguing conglomeration of super hero, time travel, romance, and raw grief. Emerson can see people from the past. Not ghosts, exactly, but definitely not ignorable. The strange phantoms seemed to have popped up around the time of her parents’ death. Now, as she continues to wrestle with grief, she also just wants to be normal. In walks Michael, the uncharacteristic therapist Emerson’s brother has hired to help her deal with her ‘visions,’ and walk through the grief. Emerson never expected to have a therapist who was so good-looking, but neither did she expect to have a therapist whose close proximity made light bulbs burst and outlets short. Emerson soon finds out that Michael isn’t just there to help. He wants her help – needs her help – to prevent a death that took place six months ago.

I loved the cover. I’ve decided. I think that’s what made me pick this book up. Between the covers, though, is an only-okay story. I appreciated the original, fascinating plot twists that kept me guessing until the end. The flow of the story, however, lurches from fast to slow, and my review’s going to spiral down into a thin-lipped critique from here.

I sort of got to know Emerson as a character, but I had a hard time liking her. She’s dealing with the death of her parents, displacement to her brother and sister-in-law’s apartment, and strange phantom-sightings. She has a lot to sympathize with. However, the author did an excellent job of making her sound like a bratty self-centered teenager, even amid all of the real struggles in her life. I don’t think that’s what the author was going for.

I was especially disgusted to read that every female character who played an important role in this story was drop-dead gorgeous, sensuous, and extremely attractive. Really. Who can identify with that? Don’t girls get enough of that kind of pressure from Hollywood? Give me Hermione Granger and her frizzy hair any day! All the main male characters were also apparently the hottest thing since toasted bread. And, much to Emerson’s surprise, since she has never had a boyfriend in her life, all of these stud-muffins are vying for her attention. Please.

I was also frustrated by the thick aura of romantic ‘chemistry’ that clouded every chapter of the book. (Can you see my eyes rolling?) I like a little romance, I really do, but this was a bit much. And complaining from a strictly romance standpoint, I was frustrated by the way the story ended.

Most of the characters were flat, uncomplicated, including Michael, the supposed male protagonist. The male character I felt that I got to know really well and care about, Kaleb, was not the person Emerson ended up loving. As a reader, I was left feeling cheated. Definitely not a good set-up by the author, in my opinion.

Because the premise and plot twists in the story were interesting, I was able to suspend my critical thoughts enough to finish the book.  Dissatisfied and cheated, maybe, but I still finished.

The sequel to this book is coming out in about two weeks. I hadn’t planned on reading it (as you can probably tell from my less-than-glowing review), but now I think I almost have to. I kind of want to see if the author can redeem herself a little bit and resolve this extremely irritating love triangle or at least convince me to love the main characters a little more.

I’m not sure if I would recommend this book or not. You’ll have to decide for yourself on this one!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Anxious Christian

The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?
By Rhett Smith

Reading this book was no coincidence. I read it intentionally. I am a Christian. And I get anxious.

Overall, I thought Rhett Smith’s little book was worth the read. It was fast, not weighed down with jargon and technicalities. However, at the same time, it didn’t have a lot of meat to it. Maybe it’s my American quick-fix psychosis talking, but when I read a book on anxiety, I expect to come away with some techniques, some tools for dealing with anxiety. I didn’t really get that with this book.

One of the main premises of Smith’s book is that sometimes, instead of fighting anxiety, God wants us to lean into our anxiety. He says that sometimes God is trying to tell us something or push us to a new place in our lives through the anxiety and only by embracing and exploring our anxious thoughts can we discover where God is at work.

Smith has some good insights. I did have a few ah-ha moments while reading. He quotes from the book of Exodus, found in the Bible (and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Bible or the way the Christian sub-culture operates, Exodus is a little-quoted book). He quotes Exodus 17:1 (NRSV), which says, “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded.” He then goes on to reflect on that passage: “Exodus 17:1 continually reminds me that we are people in the wilderness. There is just no way around it. The reality of life is that we are constantly moving from one big transition to another. At moments we may experience a respite from the journey, but that doesn’t alter the fact that life is rooted in the wilderness experience of continuous transition and choice.”

Yep, we are a people in a series of uncertain transitions, when really, what we long for is security. No wonder that makes some of us anxious. Who would have thought insights like that could be found in Exodus?

I found it refreshing to see anxiety dealt with from a Christian perspective in a positive way. The author avoided falling into the “Just trust God” trap that’s so frustrating for a Christian who honestly desires to trust God but who is also dealing with an anxiety disorder.

I was mildly pleased with this book. Not enough to want to own it and underline in it, but enough to be glad I read it. Rhett Smith’s experience and personal insights touch deeply at times, and I know that many young people dealing with anxiety will be able to easily identify with Smith’s thoughts and encouraging words.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reviews Slowing Down....Why?

First of all, I have to apologize.

The number of books I review has decreased greatly over the last month and may continue to trickle in at a steady, yet smaller, stream than what I would like.

My husband and I have an amazing, exciting opportunity to go on a six-week mission trip in September-October to Mozambique. The trip was just finalized within the last two weeks, which leaves us a little over three months to get prepared for the trip.

Plane tickets.

Support letter written.

Financial support raised.

Preparations for what we will do there.

Read as much as possible about Mozambique culture, land, food, history, economy, politics.

Learn as much Portuguese as possible. Tudo bem?

This poor little Type A brain is going a little bit bananas trying not to be stressed about it all. Plus, at the library we're getting ready for our summer reading programs. I am the assistant for the children's summer reading programs, and I am in charge of leading the adult summer reading program (a new position for me). Don't get me wrong-- I'm excited about all of these things! But in the midst of all of this busyness, something had to go, and for now it was reading and reviewing. So. Sad.

Reading could never really go by the wayside for me, so I will continue to read and review, but the reviews will probably just come less frequently for a few months.

Bear with me please!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Snow White and Rose Red

I love to read fairy tale re-writes, and I love Patricia C. Wrede’s writing, so when I found a copy of Snow White and Rose Red by Wrede at a Goodwill, I was elated. I had mixed feelings when I started to read, however. I know and love Patricia C. Wrede from her Enchanted Forset Chronicles, which are written to be humorous (and for me, they definitely are) and from her book of short stories, The Book of Enchantments, in which the stories run the gamut from humorous to somber.

Snow White and Rose Red wasn’t humorous, nor was it supposed to be, but because I’ve read the Book of Enchantment, I know she can write serious fiction and do it well. I was surprised when I started reading that Wrede had decided to make the characters speak in Elizabethan English. All the ‘thees,’ ‘thous,’ and ‘dosts’ were a little distracting, though I would be curious to hear her reasoning for choosing that technique. Unfortunately, the narrative of the story is in modern English, and the clash of Elizabethan and modern didn’t appeal to me.

The storyline jumped around a lot between Snow White and Rose Red, the prince of Faerie, and two sets of antagonists. That’s a lot of jumping! I found all of the different viewpoints a little bit confusing, especially at the beginning, before I had a good idea of who everyone was. All of the jumping between characters also made it hard to get to know the main characters really well. Although Snow White and Rose Red were the protagonists, I didn’t feel like I knew much about them, even by the end of the story; they were hard to sympathize with, which for me is the kiss of death for a story.

Each chapter of Snow White and Rose Red begins with an excerpt from the original fairy tale. (If you’re interested, you can read through the original here.) I hadn’t read this story since childhood, and I was reminded just how choppy and confusing the original fairy tale is. So many questions unanswered, so many random characters and plot elements. I decided that it’s no wonder Wrede had a hard time retelling the story! In comparison to the original, Wrede made the story fit together and flow well.

I did find Wrede’s depiction of the world of Faerie intriguing, and despite my misgivings, the book did hold my attention to the end. But only just. If you are looking to discover why Wrede is such a well-loved author, check out her Enchanted Forest Chronicles, The Book of Enchantment, or Sorcery and Cecilia instead.

Visit Patricia C. Wrede

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lonely Book

The Lonely Book
Written by Kate Bernheimer
Illustrated by Chris Sheban

This is the story of a book, a book with a picture on its cover of a girl in the forest under a toadstool.  When the book comes to the library for the first time, it is placed on the shelf for all new books and it is checked out by many children. This makes the book happy. Years pass and the book is checked out less and less. Its cover is faded, its pages are torn. The book is lonely. Then one day a little girl, Alice, stumbles upon the book and checks it out. She doesn’t care that the cover is worn, pages are torn, and the last page is missing altogether. She loves the book and shows it to all her friends. When the book is returned to the library, Alice is sad and wants to go back to find the book. By the time she goes back to the library, the book has been accidentally taken down into the basement, with all of the other books that will be put on a library book sale, though to Alice and the librarian who tries to help her, the book is only missing. At the book sale, Alice finds the book and takes it home with her for good.

I thought the author of this book did an excellent job of making something as commonplace to a librarian as a book getting old and being weeded out of the collection into a beautiful, touching fairy tale. The soft, muted illustrations only added to the hushed fairyland effect. As a librarian, I found myself shaking my head and wondering why a book that was missing pages and as worn as this one seemed to be hadn’t been given the heavy-ho long ago.

This was the same way I felt when watching the movie The Pagemaster. The books that Richard eventually brings home from the library at the end of the movie are huge, old, and warped. Where was the librarian who was supposed to be weeding out damaged materials? And, whether for good or for ill, librarians should be keeping track of what books have fallen out of popularity and weeded out of the collection to make way for newer titles. The book, The Pagemaster, by David Kirschner, doesn’t allude to the books being dilapidated, so my librarian feathers weren’t ruffled. In any case, I would highly recommend The Pagemaster in its book form, but even the movie is a good choice for kids.

I digress.

Reading The Lonely Book reminded me of my own affinity for certain books. Not just for certain titles, but certain copies of certain books. I found myself remembering how my library had discarded the exact copy of Black Beauty that I had read as a nine-year-old and how I excitedly snatched it off of the sale rack.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. Sometimes books about books just appeal to book lovers. But sometimes books about books make book lovers. Read The Lonely Book to your children and see what happens! And while you’re at it, follow that up with a read-through of The Pagemaster

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More from Sylvan Dell Publishing!

I have the honor of introducing to you a few more great Sylvan Dell Publishing books! Hopefully, by now, you are as much in love with Sylvan Dell as I am!

Written by Scotti Cohn
Illustrated by Susan Detwiler

Children will have so much fun reading this book that they won’t even realize they’re learning. Or, even better, they will realize they’re learning and decide that learning’s fun! This story follows a pack of wolves through the months of the year; each page spread shows a new month and adds one new wolf to the pack. 

The story is written in a lilting chant that will make this a fun read-aloud book. The words are beautiful, and it’s fun to experience the mix of poetry and biology! Only in a few places did the rhyming sound forced. The illustrations are bright and detailed; each page is a beautiful contrast to the pages before it. Kids’ eyes will be glued to this book as they read!

As always with Sylvan Dell, the last pages of the book offer great educational games for kids to play. My personal favorite was a wolf communication activity, in which the reader matches the wolf’s posture with the message the wolf is trying to convey. For someone who can be a little nervous around strange dogs (like me), this might just come in handy!

Written by Phyllis Perry
Illustrated by Susan Detwiler

This Mom’s Choice Awards winner tells the gripping story of Liling and Tengfei, a panda and her cub, who lived through the 7.9 earthquake that hit northern China in May of 2008. Liling and her cub are peacefully sleeping in a tree when the ground beneath begins to shake. The shuddering ground causes the tree limb to break off and both pandas plummet to the ground. They are not hurt, but the wall of the enclosure in the reserve where they live is knocked down. Frightened by the rocking ground, the pandas flee into the mountains. They wander, foraging for food and huddling in fear when more quakes shake the ground. Eventually their keepers at the reserve find Liling and Tengfei and bring them home.

I really appreciated this book. The first thought that struck me was that I rarely get the chance to read about natural disasters from an animal’s point of view. I was made to think about just how disorienting that experience must be for an animal. Also, for an animal that has lived its entire life in a reserve, suddenly roaming around a forest and needing to find food would be quite terrifying!

Susan Detwiler did not disappoint with her magnificent illustrations. Through her illustrations, I was able to experience the rich flora of a mountain in China. The emotion she conveyed on the faces of the pandas had me sympathizing with them over their plight!

I hope you enjoy these excellent reads from Sylvan Dell Publishing!