Archive for December, 2014


Book Reviews Dec 2014

I can’t believe this year is nearly at an end. It has definitely been an interesting one, especially in regards books and my professional life. I finally got a library job after 4 years of searching, and it’s in the area I want to be in, i.e. Youth Services. I get to do storytimes and help kids and parents find the books and other material that they need. I have beat my reading goal for the year with 345 out 321 books read. I have, unfortunately, gotten really far behind in writing reviews. But I am working to catch up on that for the new year and get back on a good schedule of writing and posting them. I am definitely going to try and write more blog posts in 2015. I already have a few ideas rolling around in my head. My son has been growing like a weed and though he is a handful, he is becoming more independent. He’s getting better with the alphabet, though we’re going to have to over the numbers again as he seems to have forgotten them in the meantime. I’m hoping he’ll be able to read soon and we can read more together.

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I will add pictures from books I like (and there was a lot this time around).

Children

Wow! Said the Owl written and illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Wow said the Owl

This was a very cute story about a young owl discovering all the colors that occur during the day. Added bonus about this book is that I can use it for ToddlerTime on owls and a Discoverytime (Preschool storytime + science) on rainbows. I am very happy about the last part. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Love to Dance written and illustrated by Anna Walker

I was looking for another book about dancing for my Toddler Storytime, when I found this book. I liked the soft but simple ink on watercolor illustrations about Ollie, who I think is some kind of dog sock monster or maybe stuffed animal, who loves to dance. I liked the descriptions of his dancing, especially “I love to dance like jelly and shake my wobbly belly.” Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

I’m Not Cute! written and illustrated by Jonathan Allen

This was another adorable owl book that I plan to use for a Toddler storytime on owls (not trying to be pun-y but it was). Baby Owl insists he’s not cute even though everyone he meets say he is. He insists that he is instead “a huge and scary hunting machine with great big soft and silent wings.” In actuality, both statements are true, as it is later confirmed by his mother. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

except if written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck

except if

I really enjoyed this book and the concept of it, and planned to use it at my Egg Preschool DiscoveryTime (though it would also be great for a Toddler storytime; didn’t arrive in time unfortunately). It’s all about an egg hatching and the possibilities about what could be hatching from it. For example, it could be a bird except if it is a baby snake, etc etc. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Cats Night Out written by Caroline Stutson, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Cats Night Out

This was another book I chose for my dancing Toddler Storytime. The book featured dancing cats at night with all kinds of amusing costumes and dance styles/positions. Plus Jon Klassen’s illustrations are just so detailed but the cats all seem to remind me of the Jets and Sharks (ala West Side Story) as they just look so cool and relaxed dancing. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Rap a Tap Tap written and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

RapATapTap

I was looking for a book for my Toddler Storytime on dance when I came across this gem from Leo & Diane Dillon. It’s a book about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, one of the world’s most famous tap dancers and has a rhyming repeating text. I had heard of him before this book, but this was the first time I’d seen a children’s book based on the his life and dancing skills. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.

Waiting is Not Easy! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Waiting is Not Easy

I borrowed a copy of this book because A. I love Elephant and Piggie and this was one of the newest ones and B. I hoped it would explain patience better to my 3 yr old son who is quite possibly the most impatient person in the world. He does kind of get it now, though he’s still pretty impatient, but is a good book for explaining the concept. Gerald is having a hard time waiting for the surprise promised by Piggie. He waits all day and is getting really tired of it, when his surprise finally comes and he realizes it was worth waiting for. This book can definitely be appreciated by kids and parents alike. Recommended for ages 3+, 4 stars.

The Littlest Owl written by Caroline Pitcher, illustrations by Tina Macnaughton

I have been looking for books to use with my owl Toddler storytime and this book was a bit too much for them. But a cute book nonetheless. I just feel like quoting Despicable Me and say that that little baby “is so fluffy I’m gonna die!”. A mommy barn owl has laid four eggs and three have already hatched. The fourth takes a bit longer and is smaller than the rest. When a storm hits, the four babies and their mother must fly away from the willow tree that is their home. The first three go with no problem, but the fourth hasn’t flown before and is hesitant. Eventually he gathers up his courage and flies for the first time. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

I’m Going to Catch My Tail! written and illustrated by Jimbo Matison

I'm Going to Catch My Tail!

 I saw this book while browsing for storytime books and just had to get it. The illustrations are so adorable and a bit cartoony. The book is about a silly cat who decides to catch his tail, who speaks with a separate voice, as he goes about his crazy everyday life, you know messing with the laundry, tearing up toilet paper and generally causing mischief. I was more enthused than my son was, but he still thought it was funny. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Snippet the Early Riser written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Marguia

Snippet the Early Riser

I picked this one up because I love books about snails. Honestly I liked the illustrations more than the story. Snippet is a very energetic snail, pretty much like a normal under 7 year old and likes to play soccer, draw, and get piggyback rides. Like small children, he wakes up way earlier than his parents and sister and does everything in his power to wake them up so they can all play together. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Harold and the Purple Crayon: Race Car written by Liza Baker, illustrated by Kevin Murawski

My son loved this book, but he loves cars (especially racing ones), so I’m not surprised. Harold is playing with his toy car in his room when he decides to he wants to drive a real one. So he draws one with his magic purple crayon and a second car and has a car race, along with his dog Lilac. They face fog, snow, the desert, and still manage to save the second car and finish the race. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures written and illustrated by Ben Hatke

julias house for lost creatures 2

I picked this up originally while I was looking up storytime books and thought the cover looked cool. When I found out First Second books was the publisher, I knew it was gonna be awesome (they just always seem to do cooler than normal books and graphic novels). The book starts off with Julia’s house being on a giant tortoise, which delighted my son to no end. She comes to a new area but is bored, so she puts a sign outside for welcoming in lost creatures. In no time at all, some start to show up, like a patchwork kitty, a bridge troll, and mermaids. The illustrations are super cute and really help to tell the story. Like Kirkus Reviews has mentioned in their review, the creatures do start up a bit of a Wild Rumpus, ala Where the Wild Things Are, and Julia quickly tires of it. She establishes some ground rules and things quickly settle down again and become more like a family. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

By the Light of the Harvest Moon by Harriet Ziefert

Another book I picked up for Autumn Preschool Storytime, I liked this one for its great illustrations. It is a story about the Autumnal Equinox on Sept 22 or 23. A farmer and his crew have been busy harvesting and go to bed exhausted. After he goes home for the night, the leaf people come out to celebrate the Harvest Moon/the Autumnal Equinox with their families. They play games like bobbing for apples and making popcorn necklaces. The leaf kids try to see who can stack pumpkins the highest. The best part was the dessert party, where the kids proudly announce that they get to eat pie. The only thing that was off-putting about this book was the fact that the leaf people (whose heads were pumpkins) ate pumpkin pie and played with pumpkins, but I guess you have to extend your imagination to not look at their head and remember that they are made up of leaves. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

When Blue Met Egg written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward

I thought I might use this book when I did a Preschool DiscoveryTime on eggs, but it didn’t quite work. But I thought it was cute and so brought it home to read with my son. He liked the story, though it was a bit long. Blue is a bird who lives in New York City and one day she meets the lonely Egg, who she sort of adopts as she takes him around the city trying to find his mom. They are together winter to spring when he hatches into something special. I had to explain the ending to my son as he didn’t pick up on it. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

In November written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jill Kastner

I am doing a Preschool Storytime on Autumn and I found this book. I think it is a more winter book than autumn but I will probably use it as a backup book. It tells about all the different things that go on during November. There are no leaves on the trees, animals and insects are hibernating or getting ready to do so. Snow is coming down, people are baking and getting together for Thanksgiving. I loved this line from the text “In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning…” I loved the oil painted illustrations, which just made everything seem more homey and snuggly. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Max’s Castle written and illustrated by Kate Banks

I have not read the first two books in this series, but found this while browsing for storytime books and thought it looked fun. Max finds some forgotten wooden alphabet blocks in his room and he and his brothers uses their imagination to create a castle with the blocks forming words that make up the features of the castle. I loved the illustrations of this fun and creative book, though it was a bit too long for my son. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Pele and the Rivers of Fire adapted and illustrated by Michael Nordenstrom

Pele and the Rivers of Fire

I was looking for a book to do with Preschool DiscoveryTime storytime and found this book. Thankfully there is a pronunciation guide in the back of the book as some of the Hawaiian names are rather hard to pronounce. This book tells the story of the volcanic fire goddess Pele and how she came to the Hawaiian islands. I loved the beautiful acrylic/watercolor on paper collage illustrations. It’s really cool that this book was written by a librarian and you can definitely see his passion for the subject in the book. Recommended for ages 4-9, 4 stars.

Maybelle the Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton

I love Virginia Lee Burton’s books, so I immediately picked this one up while looking for car books for my son. It is based off the true story of how the city of San Francisco banded together to save the cable cars, despite the city fathers wanting to get rid of them in the name of progress. Maybelle, as the title suggests, is one of the old cable cars that is thankfully spared the chopping block and her and her fellow cable cars are allowed to run up and down the hilly city. She eventually becomes friends with Big Bill, one of the new modern buses, who originally thought of her as old-fashioned and as competition. The book also tells in detail how the cable cars work, so I’m sure kids will be pretending to drive one of these while reading or listening to the story. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.

Young Adult

City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare

This is the final showdown between the Shadowhunters and Sebastian (aka Jonathan Morgenstern). Sebastian is trying to turn as many Shadowhunters and Downworlders as possible into Endarkened (mindless zombies) by using the Infernal Cup and wants a final all-out battle to establish his dominance. Everyone must decide what side they will fight on. Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec travel to a demon world to find and defeat Sebastian on his own turf. Will they be able to in time? To find out, read the exciting conclusion to the Mortal Instrument series. Recommended for ages 15+, 4 stars.

Holy Moly! What a crazy book and an intriguing end to the series! I mean killing off characters in the prologue was pretty ballsy, but it definitely gets your attention. This book was long at 725 pages, but I managed to get through it in a week because it kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what insane thing the author was going to do next. And she has brilliantly set the stage for her next series, entitled “The Dark Artifices”, though I will admit I’m kinda like “Geez, what else can she talk about for an entire series” as I already think this series went on for a book or two too long. However, I will probably check out at least the first book to see what she’s done. I will admit that I couldn’t for the life of me, despite having read all of the “The Infernal Devices” books, remember who Brother Zechariah actually was before he became a silent brother. I was really happy with the way the romances in the series ended, though I am curious about more Magnus stories in her e-books that I’ve yet to read (that will have to be remedied).

I would like to give a shoutout to Thomas from the blog “the quiet voice” for his excellent review of the book.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Ok yes, I totally judged this book by its cover. The story sounded intriguing as well, so I figured I would give it a try. This ended up being one of my favorite books of the year and I was pretty bummed when it ended because it was so good. If you don’t like totally bizarre stories, you are not gonna like this book. That being said, I think the weirdness really works in this case. This is the author’s first book, which is kind of crazy because the language is so gorgeous and quotable and really makes her seem like she’s been doing this all her life. The story kind of reminded me of elements from the movie “Amelie” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”. To check out a more thorough review, check out this one.

The book starts off with a letter from the main character and tells the reader that to understand her story, she has to go back to the beginning and tell her grandmother and mother’s stories first. They feature nearly unbelievable tales of love and loss, which once told, make it is easier to understand the winged Ava and her silent brother Henry and how the story unfolds the way that it does. I don’t want to tell too much and give the story away, but I highly recommend this book. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Adult

Perdita by Hilary Scharper

Finding Rebecca by Eoin Dempsey

Judy: A Dog in a Million by Damien Lewis

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, narrated by Juanita McMahon

Tipping the Velvet is about a young teenage oyster girl named Nancy Astley living in Whitstable, an English seaside town, in the 1890s. She falls in love with a male impersonator, at her local music hall, named Kitty Butler. She agrees to become her personal dresser and embarks on a totally different life than she ever had before. Eventually the two of them become lovers and have a male impersonator act together, before she is cruelly betrayed by Kitty and has her heart broken. The story that follows is Nancy’s journey in growing up and becoming her own person, separate from Kitty. 4 stars.

Wow this was a crazy book! I finally had a chance to listen to it after watching part of the BBC miniseries version years ago and enjoying it. Seventeen discs though, geez! I’m not sure what it is about almost all the books I’ve picked recently but they start off great, get really draggy in the middle and then pick up again at the end (including this one). Ms. McMahon was a great narrator though, and definitely made the book more enjoyable (even in the dragging parts). If you ever wanted to know about British slang for all things sexual, this is definitely the book for you. It’s a good thing I have an English hubby and have always been a bit of Anglophile or I would probably have gotten really lost while listening to this book. I did really enjoy the frank discussions of gender, sexuality, socialism and feminism in the book. I would be interested in reading more of Sarah Waters’ books in the future.

Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi

Another brilliant vegetarian cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi, and this one is even better than “Ottolenghi”. I swear this man could make anything taste amazing. Plus there’s the gorgeous food photographs (nearly food porn lets be honest) that makes you just drool and make the recipes immediately, especially for the Taleggio and Spinach Roulade, Fig and Goat Cheese Tart and the Tomato and Pomegranate Salad. I’d like to try to make the Udon Noodles with with Fried Eggplants, Walnut and Miso (and I usually hate eggplants, but again he makes it sound amazing); Quinoa Porridge with Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic; Quinces Poached in Pomegranate Juice, and Walnut and Halvah Cake. 5 stars.

Persuasion by Jane Austen, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Anne Elliot was betrothed to Captain Frederic Wentworth when she was 19 and was persuaded by friends and family to call it. So she did and has regretted her decision ever since. Anne’s father has managed to nearly bankrupt the family with his extravagant spending, so they have to rent out their manor house and move to Bath, England. Anne does not go immediately there, but instead goes to stay with her sister Mary in the country. She is intrigued and a little bit scared to meet up with Captain Wentworth again at Mary’s in-law’s house. It seems he is there courting Mary’s sister in laws, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, and Anne must sit there and watch and sort out how she feels about this. Eventually Louisa, Henrietta, Captain Wentworth, Mary and her husband Charles, and Anne decide to visit the seaside town of Lyme and Louisa has a crazy accident which incapacitates her for awhile. Anne leaves to go visit her friend Lady Russell and eventually move back in with her father. Captain Wentworth later comes to bath which really makes Anne wonder if he does still have feelings for her. 4 stars.

I have tried to read the actual book of Pride and Prejudice a couple times but the story was so slow, I could never get through very much. So I thought it would be better if I tried Jane Austen as an audiobook, but go for another of her books (whose movie version I also loved) and so picked this one. The narrator, Juliet Stevenson, was excellent. The audio version was also really slow in the beginning and I’ll be honest, didn’t pick up for me until about disc 5 of 7. But I kept listening and finally the story got more interesting and I dreaded having to leave the car and being unable to continue it until I got back in again. Anne Elliot is one of my favorite characters so level-headed, intelligent and soft-spoken. It sucks that she had such bad advice from her friend Lady Russell. The letter Frederic gives to Anne at the end of the book is one of the sweetest and most romantic I’ve ever heard, and almost tops Mr. Darcy’s declaration to Elizabeth Bennet.

Great article about choice in reading, as it pertains to beginning readers. I agree with it and it applies to pre-readers as well. Let them chose books that they want to read and they are more likely to want to read.

Nerdy Book Club

Crystal was leaning against a pillow in our 1st grade classroom, reading a non-fiction book that was certainly far above her lexile.  As I sat down beside her, I noticed she was crying.  These tears were not sad; instead they were tears of relief and joy as she whispered, “I’m really reading!”  When I met Crystal at open house a few months before, she was crying for a different reason – because she couldn’t read.  That summer before we met and I moved to first grade, I had read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer and Debbie Miller’s Reading with Meaning.   I was confident that by creating an authentic reading environment and giving young readers a lot of choice, they would all learn to read.  As I wiped her tears that August day I said, “Don’t worry, sweet girl; you are a reader.”  As I handed her a Kleenex…

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Perdita

Perdita

Perdita by Hilary Scharper

To be published: January 1, 2015

 

Garth Hellyer is a historian in charge of the Longevity Project, which is collecting oral histories of the oldest people in Canada. A woman at a nursing home claims to be 134 years old and shows him her birth certificate to prove it. When he is obviously skeptical, she decides to give him her personal journals, which start in 1897 and document the life of Marged Brice. They tell the story of what life was like in the Georgian Bay of Ontario and the Cape Prius Lighthouse at the turn of the century, especially in the context of this vibrant young woman and her natural connection with its landscape and its people. It shows a tale of love, loss and a bit of redemption, which is mirrored in its modern day accompaniment story. Just who is Perdita and what is her connection to Ms. Brice? Is Marged really who she says she is? 4 stars.

I liked the cover of this book and the initial premise sounded interesting. I actually loved the incredibly detailed descriptions of the nineteenth century part of this book, but wasn’t so much a fan of the modern day story. It wasn’t until after I read the book that I saw it compared to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and I can definitely see aspects of them in the romantic brooding story. I liked that the book was mostly a historical fiction mystery with a little mythology thrown in for good measure, but I think the book got a bit bogged down by the mythology. It was nearly 3/4 the way through the book before we figured out who Perdita actually was and her true importance to both Marged and Garth. I also liked the way the author kept you guessing as to who was the true love of Marged’s life.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

 

Untitled-1

Finding Rebecca by Eoin Dempsey

Published Oct 28, 2014

 

Christopher discovered Rebecca one day in 1924 when he was six years old. She had escaped from her abusive father and alcoholic mother. Christopher and his father and sister, newly arrived from Germany to the island of Jersey (an English colony off the coast of France), take her in without a moment’s hesitation. From then on, Christopher and Rebecca are inseparable. As a teenager, she runs away to England to again escape her family and Christopher believes he has lost her. She eventually comes back with a fiancee, but Rebecca falls in love with Christopher despite this. Things were going well for the two lovers until the Nazis came into power in Germany and suddenly Rebecca’s Jewish ancestry gets her and her family shipped to labor camps in 1943. Christopher decides to try to rescue her and gets himself into the SS as an accountant at Auschwitz, hoping to be able to secure her release. Will he be able to rescue her and be reunited? Will his cover be blown at the hands of the Nazis? 3 stars.

I found this book on Netgalley and thought it had an intriguing story. I am always fascinated by books about the Holocaust, and this one was different because of its original setting on the Isle of Jersey and as it is taken from the viewpoint of someone working for the Nazis. The author definitely did a lot of research for this volume. It was a little sad to see how easily the British gave up the island to the Germans. The book kind of dragged in the middle and then the subject matter kind of got to me. Whenever I have gone to the National Holocaust Museum in DC, the one thing that always makes me upset is the piles of shoes and suitcases that the Nazis collected and sorted after the prisoners exited the cattle cars that took them to the concentration camps. I guess I’m always a little out of sorts reading about a culture who willing participated in genocide as though it was a commonplace everyday activity. The detail in which the author describes how the Nazis methodically got rid of a person’s belongings, separated the people out (to see which would live and which would die), and then heartlessly killed them. And continued to do it day after day because it was their job. Another reason the book dragged, for me at least, was how long it took the story to resolve itself and the ending wasn’t that great.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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