Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Hope by Corrinne Averiss, Sébastien Pelon


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Hope is a gently-written (by Averiss) and beautifully, artfully illustrated (by Pelon) set out in about 20 double-page spreads depicting a young boy named Finn, and his large and very hairy dog named Comet. The two are very close and do everything together, so when the dog gets sick, Finn worries understandably, yet so much that it consumes him. His dad - almost as hairy as the dog(!) - comes into Finn's room one night with a torch (flashlight) and some advice, it resonates with Finn and turns his perspective around a little bit, so he learns to hope for the best and hang in there.

I really liked this story; it had a steady pace and an easy meter, and I loved the artwork which was exquisitely rendered. I commend it for any young reader, especially ones who might find themselves in Finn's position vis-à-vis a dog or any pet. I recently went through the loss of two pets - and these were not dogs but rats. I never thought I'd ever get attached to a pet rat, but these two were the inspiration for a series of children's books I started writing, and I bonded with them far too deeply, which left me devastated when they died, one of them last December right before Christmas, and the other five months later.

This book has a much happier ending than that, but I can also still recall how I felt when the first family dog we had when I was a child grew old and into a condition where she had to be put down, and it devastated me too. I've never forgotten how much that affected me back then, and if a book like this helps young children cope with such feelings, no matter whether the outcome is good, as it is here, or the worst, then it's well-worth investing in. I commend this as a worthy read for the message it carries and for the art is displays.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Dad, I Love You Because... by Rhea MacCallum, Laura D. MacCallum, Fabrice Florens


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written by the MacCallums and illustrated by Fabrice Florens, this is a little late for Father's Day - but better late than never! It would make a great birthday present or Christmas present, or just at the present present! Aimed at young children, and populated by a mixed-family of cute animals, this finely-illustrated little book lists out one reason after another why dad is special. I liked it and commend it as a worthy read as a gift from a young child to whoever they call dad!


Friday, May 3, 2019

The Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynn Rae Perkins


Rating: WORTHY!

Read by Brittany Presley, this audiobook was entertaining. I came to it after having really enjoyed the author's Nuts to You story. This isn't really aimed at males, and certainly not at men of my age, but it's still enjoyable in its sweet innocence, and it's definitely a worthy contender for an age-appropriate audience, female or male. It read (or listened!) more like a vacation diary than an actual story which didn't sound as odd as it might have. There was no 'Dear Dairy' affectation in it, but it still had that sort of a vibe, like maybe the author was recounting events from her own childhood rather than making up the story from scratch.

It was about two sisters, Alix and "Jools" Treffrey, and their week's vacation at the beach with their parents. Told form Alix's PoV, it talks about the long trip there, and the even longer trip home caused by three flat tires in a row, but most of the story is filled by Alix and Jools games, adventures, fanciful scenarios they invent, and their discoveries at the beach. It's sweet, innocent, playful and easy listening, and I commend it as a worthy title.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas


Rating: WORTHY!

And for my 3,000th review on this website in less than six years, I can't think of anything (my own novels and children's series excluded!) better than to give this one the honor!

Read delightfully by Laura Ortiz, this audiobook was a blast. It was sly and humorous, intelligent, but endearingly simple, and fully entertaining. It reminded me a bit of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where the characters have rather more maturity than they would seem to merit at first glance.

Set in the mid-seventies, when Stella Rodriguez was eleven and still very much feeling the loss of her father, she decided during a school holiday to visit NASA and offer a tape recording of her father's laughter that she has. She hopes it will be added to the recording of Earth sounds and images that was included on a gold analog disk that is now flying outbound from the solar system on Voyager 1, which is headed for a rendezvous with the Oort 'cloud' in about 300 years, and will then will spend the next thirty-thousand years transiting that body, which is believed to be a repository for embryonic comets.

The guard at NASA wouldn't let her in, but due to an emergency she manages to sneak inside; then exits quickly followed by what turns out to be a black hole which has become attached to her. She names it Larry. Of course. Why not?

Hiding out in her bedroom, Larry promptly begins consuming assorted objects, including the school's pet hamster, Stinky Stew, which Stella was supposed to be taking care of over the holiday. She doesn't miss Stew very much, but objects when Larry devours a picture of her father, and really loses it when it swallows her new pet puppy, so she launches herself into the hole and begins sailing the Black Hole Sea in an old iron bathtub in search of the dog star...er, puppy star....

While I feel it lost a little momentum when she entered the black hole, the story in general was hilarious, fast-moving for the most part, and full of humorous asides and amusing events. I recommend this completely as a worthy read for any age, but particularly for young readers and listeners.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a story first published in 1958 and was recommended to me by a friend and while it wasn't the most original or entertaining story, it was one that was engrossing enough and made for a worthy read, although it's not one I would have picked up had it not been recommended. It is commendable that the author chose to set this in a different country than the USA where lamentably, far too many authors seem to think is the only place any story can be set!

It takes place in Paris, France, and is of this single-mom family which is on its uppers, as they say, and is homeless. The family is befriended by a somewhat cantankerous homeless guy who knows his way around the system, and though he's initially resentful of the family invading his turf, he starts to take them under his wing and is instrumental in helping them get back on their feet again.

So, it's a bit trite and simplistic, and somewhat overly optimistic, but it does tell a short and meaningful tale that can be used to educate young children about how bad luck can strike at any time through no fault of the family concerned, and that homelessness does not involve only those 'strange adults' who live on the streets in the seedier parts of town.

I commend this as a worthy read for young children.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

One Day So Many Ways by Laura Hall, Loris Lora


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Written descriptively by Hall and illustrated well by Lora, this book is definitely needed. As a reader who tires of so many novels by American authors set in the US, as though nothing ever happens elsewhere in the world, I welcome books which amplify how important the rest of the world is, and illustrate how critical it is to have an awareness and understanding of other nations, especially at a time when we have a president who seems determined to wear blinkers.

Children need to grasp how big this world is and how different and alike other children are. It never hurts to be wise to the ways of the world and this book represents a sterling start, taking us through a typical day across Earth, but looked at through many facets: those of children of over forty other nations.

It begins with the kids waking up to a new day, breakfasting, traveling to school, learning, playing, making friends, having quiet time, enjoying sports and games, traveling home and completing chores, homework and going to bed! It discusses how different each country can be, or how similar, by illustrating each new page with many vignettes of life elsewhere and at home.

Do the Venetians in Italy enjoy the same food as us? How about children in Burkina Faso? In Jining? In Kathmandu? Do they play the same games? Dream the same dreams? Hope for the same things? The stories come from literally across the entire globe, from two-score nations, from Australia to Alaska, Mali to Mexico, Ecuador to England, Ireland to India, Patagonia to Poland and more.

If I had one complaint it would be that the ebook comes as a double-page spread which makes it rather small, even on a tablet computer. It would have been easier to read had these double-spreads been split into individual pages, and I saw no reason why they could not have been. Evidently this was planned as a print book with little thought given to ebook versions which is rather sad. Other than that, I fully recommend this book as a worthy and educational read for all children everywhere!


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl by Susan Lubner


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an entertaining book about Lizzy, her friend Joss, and this young girl they find living rough in a decrepit house across the street from Lizzy's family restaurant where Lizzy also helps out. It's almost an exhausting book to read because there's always something going on! I don't know where Lizzy gets the energy! She is a sweet-hearted girl who helps out at the local animal rescue center and is working with Joss to produce cat sweaters to sell to raise funds for the shelter.

Her soft spot for down-on-their-luck pets is what gets her into that building where she and Joss encounter Charlotte, who has run away from home because her family is breaking up, and she can't stand to see it. Lizzy and Joss promise not to give the girl away, but when the house across the street burns down, Lizzy ends up taking in another stray, and Charlotte starts living in her closet!

I don't normally comment on covers because they're usually nothing to do with the author, and my blog is about writing: interiors, not covers! But I have to say in this case, the cover image is quite charming. I liked it very much.

Overall this book was fun, engaging, told a great story, and really brought me, as a reader, in. Even though it's not aimed anywhere near me, I'm happy to be collateral damage in this case! It touches on some delicate topics with appropriate humor, sensitivity, and complete honesty. I recommend it as a worthy read.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Calling My Name by Liara Tamani


Rating: WARTY!

This book sounded interesting from the blurb, but turned out to be boring and I gave up on it after about a third of it. It was really a sort of journal or diary of disjointed days in the life of this ordinary, everyday girl and some of it was kind of interesting, but most of it was just routine events from which I learned nothing and was not even entertained because the happenings detailed here were so commonplace.

If you're going to tell us about mundane events, then your character had better be extraordinary in some way either in herself or in how she reacts to these events. If she's ordinary, then the events had better be extraordinary, otherwise why would we care about this story that's the same as anyone's story that we might meet or know in our own day-to-day life? If I'd been give a reason to care about this character, that would have been something, but I wasn't given any reason at all. She wasn't awful but neither was she outstanding in any way, so my feelings for her and her story were as flat as the story was. I felt no compulsion to keep turning that many pages.

I could not take the character's name seriously! In Britain, tadger is a nickname for penis. It sounds like Taja, depending on how you pronounce Taja - with a hard 'j' or a soft one. But a tadger can be hard or soft too! LOL! I'm sorry, but the name really amused me and the book failed to distract me from it. It's not my fault, honest! Seriously though, Taja is supposed to be pronounced with a soft 'j' which isn't a common use of that letter in English.

In Hindi though, the name means 'crown' or 'jewel' and while Jewel works as a girl's name, Crown really doesn't, so Taja is better. In Arabic and in Urdu, it means Mention or Name! A name that means name! Mention is actually an interesting name for a character in a novel, I think. But I'm weird. Moving right along, from the Greek - where it derives from the harder sounding 'Tadja' (see, I was right!) - it means beautiful or divine, so it's really quite a good name. Just don't use it in Britain!

That said, and as you may have gathered by now, I can't recommend this because of the monotony. It's supposedly a coming-of-age story but it takes forever to get there and it covers so many years with such brief cameo looks into her life that it really doesn't tell us anything. It's like trying to get a person's life story from merely looking at a few snapshots. This was the same but used a few words instead of a few photographs.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Beyond the Green by Sharlee Glenn


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Not to be confused with Beyond the Glenn by Sharlee Green (I'm kidding!), this book was pretty darned good. It addresses a controversial issue of which the author has had some direct experience judged from her note at the end. I rarely read author's notes, and never read introductions, prefaces, prologues, and so on, but this note was interesting.

In 1978 a law was passed regarding how American Indian children in need of foster care should be treated. As usual, white folk had in the past assumed that they knew best, and simply taken Native American children into white Christian foster care giving no consideration even as to whether there were any native American relatives who could do the job, let alone others, and no consideration at all was given to Indian tradition or culture. It concerns me that this law applied only to Native Americans and gave no consideration to other cultures or even races, such as black or Asian. It seems to me that what's good for the cultural goose is also good for the ethnic gander, but that's outside the scope of this novel so I won't get into that here.

The middle-grade novel, set in 1979, evidently in some way mirrors what happened in the author's life, and is told from the perspective of a young Mormon girl, Britta Twitchell, whose family fosters a native American child from the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation in Utah for about four years. Rather than use the child's native American Ute name, they inappropriately named her Dorinda, and then shortened that to Dori. The child's actual name is the much more beautiful Chipeta. Her mother, Irene Uncarow, is an alcoholic, but she has recovered now and wants her daughter back. This causes Britta, the main character, to react very negatively, and start scheming to prevent her 'sister' from being abducted by this alien woman - at least that's the kind of viewpoint Britta has.

Her reaction is rather extreme, beginning with kidnaping Chipeta herself and running away, and later scheming to ruin Irene's sobriety so she can't reclaim her daughter. But Britta isn't dumb, she's just young and naïve, and she grows and learns lessons from her ill-conceived plans. The book isn't dumb either: it tells a real and moving story with interesting and complex characters and it does not shy away from talking about prejudice and alcoholism. There is always something happening, and it's not predictable - except in that you know that Britta's mind is very active and she will for certain cook-up another wild-ass plan before long.

The only issue I had with it was that it was a bit heavy on religion, but then this was a Mormon family. There was a minor instance of fat-shaming by Britta, but again, young kids are not known for their diplomacy. It's a different thing for a character to say something than it is for an author to say the same thing. Some people don't get that about novels! What a character says isn't necessarily what an author thinks!

For example, at one point Britta describes a loved aunt thus; "I pretty much idolized Aunt Mariah. She was pretty and spunky and smart." Normally I'd be all over something like that - placing prettiness above all else when it comes to describing women, as though that's the most important thing a woman has to offer, way before smarts, courage, integrity, independence, or whatever. I've seen far too many authors do that - including female authors, and it's shameful, but in this case it's the character, Britta, who is saying that. That's a different thing altogether, although having said that, it wouldn't have harmed this story to have had Britta rank 'spunky and smart' before 'pretty'!

But overall I really liked this story a lot. It's a great introduction for middle-grade children to the potential problems inherent in a family of one culture taking charge of a child from another. Anything that serves to open minds and enlighten children that different doesn't equate with bad or scary is to be recommended, and I recommend this as a worthy read.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Rebecca Finds Happiness by Gina Harris, Hayley Anderson


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a short, sweet tale which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's about a young girl who can't seem to be happy no matter what. She has toys and candy, but nothing she tries, not even dancing seems to make her happy except for the very short term; then she meets and befriends Tara who seems to be happy no matter what. In emulating Tara, Rebecca finds a way to be happy herself.

I liked the story and the positive and useful message from Gina Harris. I liked the easy style of the colorful illustrations by Hayley Anderson. I felt this could have stood to have been longer, but it's fine as it is and sends a good message. The illustrations were rather small, even when viewed on an iPad in Bluefire Reader. I could enlarge them by spreading a thumb and forefinger over each image, but it felt like they ought to be maximized to begin with when viewed in large format. it was the same in Adobe Digital Editions, and on my phone it was so small it made reading rally hard. Just FYI!

Those quibbles aside, I liked this story and I recommend it.



Thursday, December 14, 2017

Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith


Rating: WORTHY!

Nine-year-old Katie and school friend Claire, who is also Katie's across-the-street neighbor, both have in common that are short of a mom. Claire's father is, I believe, divorced. Katie's mom selfishly left the family to pursue a singing career in Nashville, although Katie apparently is apparently fine with that.

Claire is a bit uppity, so while Katie is looking forward to their usual Thanksgiving: eating her father's "famous" pizza in their pajamas, and then eating popcorn while watching the football on TV, Claire proudly announces that her family is going to throw a banquet for a score of people. Also her Thanksgiving decorations, which are spilling out onto the porch and the yard, are something else, especially the monster turkey which Claire's father plans to put onto the house roof, and which scares Katie's young brother.

Katie starts to feel like her plans are inadequate, and she begins to compete with Claire by making a list, checking it twice, and,...wait, wrong holiday! She does make a list of things to do, including making decorations and buying a bird ahead of time so it can be thawed and cooked, and also looking up recipes for traditional Thanksgiving dishes to prepare. She starts looking for people to invite to dinner as well, but in the end she can come up with only two, one of whom is a teacher and the other her dad's boss. It doesn't help her situation that she's lied to Claire about what kind of a Thanksgiving her family's will be like.

Now you know things will go astray here and they do (festooning the house with poison oak and setting the sweet potato dish on fire are never good ideas), but Katie stays true to her course even as she realizes and acknowledges that compromises must be made. She is an admirable and strong female character who has dreams, but who also has her feet firmly on the ground. I liked her and thought she was a good role-model for children of her age. I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it unreservedly.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Facts of Life by Paula Knight


Rating: WORTHY!

This was another library book. The author, Paula Knight, changed her name to Polly in the book as she changed everyone else's name too, so it wasn't too personal, but it is in fact a very personal story told by a graduate (BA in Graphic Design form Bristol Polytechnic in England about her pursuit of a pregnancy and her grappling with a fatigue syndrome.

Paula/Polly grew up an only child and tells an interesting and moving, and humorous story about her life beginning with hanging out with her best friend, learning about sex, and spending more and more time as she matured, wondering if she ever wanted to have children. In the end she discovered she had ME/CFS, which is myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, a very disabling illness which an come back and bite you often. It resulted in her losing all her energy at times, and feeling like everything was real struggle.

When she finally found the partner she wanted to be with, she was in her mid thirties and starting to feel a 'now or never' imperative to having a child of her own. When they began to seriously try, however, she and her partner repeatedly got the reward of very brief pregnancies ending in miscarriage, After trying IVF, she and her partner gave up. It was only then that she began to notice how pervasive 'pronatalism' - the idea that a family consists of mom, dad, and one or more children - truly is in society.

Illustrated by the author in simple gray-scale line drawings, this novel is well imagined and well executed, and (be warned!) takes a no holds barred approach to telling her story of sexuality, of growing up in Britain in the seventies and eighties, of learning, of struggling, of disappointment, and finally of coming through it all with a new perspective on life. I really liked the story and I recommend it.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Amanda Prose would work well as this author's name too, since this was well-written and flowed so nicely! It told an engaging story and told it well. I am not a fan of novels which carry too much unleavened negativity, but this one avoided that, despite the painful topic it dealt with.

Nina McCarrick is living 'high on the hog' as they say in the USA, in an almost palatial home with her self-employed husband, Finn, and her two fine sons: Connor and Declan, who attend an exclusive private school. She's made her profession that of a full-time housewife and homemaker.

When Finn dies in a car accident, Nina is left alone with the boys, and as if this isn't bad enough, soon her whole world begins to crumble around her as she learns that her husband has run-up eight million pounds in debt on a bad investment in a construction job that his business was trying to negotiate, but which fell through.

Nina had no idea they were stretched so thin, since she was kept entirely in the dark about his business. He always assured her things were fine. Worse than this, as if it could get any worse, their house was tied-up in the company's finances, having been mortgaged to raise funds, and they are going to have to leave. Everywhere she looks, things seem blacker. Their savings are gone, and men show up one day to strip her home of anything saleable. Connor only manages to retain his laptop because it's for his education.

Nina and her kids must leave their home and she cannot think of anywhere she can go. Her family is unable to help and her snotty neighbors do not want to know her any more. Her sister steps up and manages to find her a place that's owned by an uncle, but she still has to pay rent. She figures she has enough to get them though two months, but she desperately needs to find a job - one for which she has zero qualifications or training because she has not worked since she married. Her endless, fruitless job search is heartbreaking to read. It's sad to think that the civilized world end up this way if the Business President™ continues his current insanely reckless course!

The rental place is minuscule compared with what Nina's used to, and it's cold during this winter of Nina's profound discontent, but it's a home of a sort, and Nina is now back in her home town of Southampton, close by where her sister lives - and surprisingly simply compared with what Nina's old life provided.

This is a sister with whom she has barely been in touch over the years. Nina could not shed her background fast enough once she met Finn all those years ago, and she has not looked back since, but now she finds she is having her face rubbed in her failings every time she turns around.

This story follows Nina as she tries to hold not only herself together, but her family and her life. She has to weather some dark times, and deal with her older son's anger and despair at having his comfortable life taken from him so speedily and abruptly. She bounces unpredictably between anger at her husband's betrayal and secrecy, and her pain at losing him, between fear for their future and hope that things will turn around.

I really appreciated that this author is smart enough to make this story about Nina and her strength,golden goose and rescue her from the dragon of disaster that seems constantly looming over her. I really liked this story, it was a fast comfortable read, and had interesting and engaging characters. It was realistic and enjoyable, and I recommend it. I shall look for other novels by this author.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bunny Drop Vo 2 by Yumi Unita


Rating: WORTHY!

How could I not pick this up at the library when the author's name might sound like 'yummy' and the title is Bunny Drop? It could have been bad, but in the end, although a little bit on the long side (and this was volume 2 in a series), it was an enjoyable read. I have not read volume one but I think I will try to get hold of that.

In volume one, Daikichi Kawachi finds himself the guardian of a six-year-old girl, Rin Kaga, who was living with his grandfather until the old man died. Rin (who has his grandfather's last name) was given up by her mother, and raised by Daikichi's grandfather and a helper who worked for him. Now Daikichi is the 'dad'.

This volume follows their life as Rin becomes ready to start elementary school, and it gives us quite an education on the pressure put on students and parents in Japan, as they have to compete to get into a good elementary school to kick-off their education, and Daikichi has to worry about whether Rin will be victimized because she does not bear the same family name as he has.

The story also works its way towards an interesting encounter with Rin's actual mom, who has her own story to tell which sounds like rather a selfish one to me.

It's amusingly and sensitively written, and beautifully-drawn (black and white line-drawings with some shading), and tells an engaging story, but I think it is a bit overdrawn - not in the art, but in the telling. I think a few trees would have appreciated this if it had been more compact. I sure would, but I am not going to negatively rate it for that. I just hope publishers and authors start to think about the impact of their work on the environment before they start writing their series, and especially their YA trilogy clones that could be told in one volume or better yet, not at all.

As for this, I recommend it.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Every Family is a Little Nuts by AJ Cosmo


Rating: WARTY!

On balance I've liked this author's children's books, but I didn't get the point of this one! I mean, yeah, obviously it examines a slightly dysfunctional family, but it never seemed to go anywhere, and there really was no happy resolution, which some children might find rather disturbing.

If there's one thing children definitely need, it's the feeling of security. The story in general was not awful, and the illustration was charming, but the poor squirrel, Wally, really didn't seem to get any satisfaction and I think this is a mistake.

The story involves some unspecified holiday with gift giving, so from a religious festival PoV, it's quite neutral, which is a good thing, but Wally seems to get buffeted around without going anywhere, and has tasks put on him without seeming to garner any satisfaction from them or from a sense of helping or duty. None of this is really pursued, so the opportunity to teach some lessons here seemed wasted to me. I get that life isn't fair and there is no expectation of a reward, nor should there necessarily be for helping people, and children at some point need to understand this, but even this lesson seemed to become lost in the welter of activity and disconnected events. I can't recommend this one, but I do recommend this author in general.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is based on an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a charming story from start to finish, keeping my interest and proving to be a very fast read with a sudden ending that took me by surprise, since I hadn't realized I was so close to the end of the novel. This is the price of an ebook: you get no tactile feel for the dwindling pages! But it definitely took my breath away in more than one way.

If I had any real complaint, it was about the flashbacks. Other readers may appreciate these, but I am no more a fan of flashbacks than I am of prologues. Maybe some writers think they're cool, or edgy, or 'the thing to do', but for me flashbacks bring the story to screeching halt when all I want to do is keep abreast of what's happening now, not what took place a decade before. To me they're irritating at best, and antagonizing at worst. I rather quickly took to skipping over these and they did not - as far as I can tell - reduce my enjoyment or understanding of the story one iota. So I rest my case!

Seriously, for me the story would have been better served had the flashbacks been incorporated into a 'part one', or better yet, as long as you want to put in some remembrances of things past as it were, I'd rather read them in-line with the story as an occasional thought here and there, and I know this author is quite capable of that, because she writes beautifully. I look forward to her next opus with anticipation!

The other issue is relatively minor, and relates to this being an ARC, and not yet quite ready for prime time. The formatting in the Kindle app on my phone was a bit ragged here and there, with a line ending mid-screen and being continued on the line below, or a paragraph offset from the body of text when it was not supposed to be.

There was also the occasional wrong word in the wrong place, which no spell-checker will catch, such as "the thrown secure" when it should be presumably, 'the throne secure', and "Where'd you here that?" when it should clearly have been 'Where'd you hear that'. The price of auto-correct! If you're a writer, turn the damned thing off!

But let's talk about the joy of this novel, because this is far more important than anything else. As I indicated, it was passionately and beautifully written, evocative as hell, and it told a truly realistic and gripping story of two half-sisters, aptly named Chase, since the whole time we're reading this, they're chasing something. Unfortunately it's not the same thing they're chasing, but this only becomes apparent as they mature.

The story flows wonderfully. The girls age about a decade as the book follows its course, and the author does this so well that you do not notice any gaps - not as gaps anyway! Major Kudos for that. Mary is a decade older than her stepsister, and the odd thing is that both girls' parentage is hazy. They know for sure who their mom is, but dad is a less well-defined concept. The thing is though, that Mary, after an initial ambivalence, becomes fiercely devoted to Hannah, whom she calls 'Bunny' due to an event we learn nothing of until the very end of the story. Hannah never seems to resent this name even when she's in her teens.

It's a name that's also evocative of a life running from one place to another, just as Mary's nickname, 'Mare', is evocative of 'nightmare', which is what her life feels like at times, as she struggles to keep the two of them together, ahead of trouble and creditors, and fed and clothed. Initially Bunny goes along with Mary's travel plans because Mary is very skilled at what she does - not only at lifting a few dollars here and there from the wallets of guests at the hotels she finds work in, but also in spinning a fairy-tale of two princess struggling to avoid evil, which Hannah eats up as a child.

Just when Mary thinks she's found her prince charming, her past rises-up to set the sisters chasing again along the highways of the US, trying to get away from their nemesis and keep it together. It's only as Hannah begins to mature herself, that it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are as different as their fathers were, each having their own conflicting goals. You'll discover the power of this novel for yourself, and I promise you'll be upset, but not disappointed. I recommend this unreservedly.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker


Rating: WORTHY!

I never knew exactly what a penny-packer did for a living, but now I do: she writes great stories for kids! This was a fun book for middle-graders. I haven't read any others in this series, but this one worked as a stand-alone. it was smart, inventive, and entertaining even for an adult reader because of Clementine's quirky take on her life and her interactions with everyone she encounters.

Clementine is apparently prone to get into trouble one way or another, and when she learns there is to be a family meeting at home one evening, she panics because she can't remember doing anything wrong lately and is mystified as to why a meeting should be in order. It turns out that the family is going to be welcoming a newcomer: mom is pregnant!

Naturally Clementine has issues with this, being perfectly happy with her four-square family. Adding a fifth to the mix knocks everything off kilter as far as she's concerned, and as if that wasn't bad enough, her rat has escaped - the one she was working with in a science experiment at school. And she;s lost her favorite winter hat - the one grandma knitted for her.

Marla Frazee's line drawing are great, and very evocative. Sometimes her perspective is a little off - Clementine seems to shrink to almost half her size when she goes to talk with her teacher one day at recess. That aside, I liked the drawings and the take on life shown here, as well as the well-written ending. I recommend this (and perhaps the others in the series too, if they're anything like this one).


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch by Shana Gorian


Rating: WORTHY!

Just in time for Halloween and in plenty of time for Thanksgiving, this is a middle-grade chapter book with some illustrations set around this time of year (assuming you're reading this in late October and you're in the northern hemisphere!). It has its roots in a real dog owned by the author, but the story is fictional. It's part of a series, and you can get another one in the series free by signing up for the author's mailing list.

Rosco (which I keep wanting to add an 'e' to so it looks less like a corporate name!) is in the McKendrick family, which consists of mom, dad, and two children, ten year old James, and seven-year-old Mandy. In this adventure, they visit the pumpkin patch where dad wants to procure a giant pumpkin to carve for Halloween. Rosco is a bit naughty at times, but it all comes from his desire to have fun and run-off excess energy. To be fair, he also has some very positive traits, though. He's very protective of children, and both his naughtiness and his protectiveness play a role in this story, as they enjoy the outdoors, take part in activities on the pumpkin farm, and get lost in the corn maze - which turns out to be fortunate for an even younger child who's in there, also lost. And very afraid. And hurt.

I'm not a big fan of "intelligent" dog and cat stories because in my sad experience the authors make them so human that they're no longer dogs or cats, so really, what's the point? In this case, though, I loved the way the author seems to get inside the dog's head, making it appear very human in a very doglike way, without turning it into a completely unbelievable human substitute. The story wasn't written for my age range, but even so it was fun, interesting, realistic, believable, and very entertaining. It carried positive messages and had a warm and happy ending. I recommend this for kids of all ages.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Baker's Dozen by Aaron Shepherd


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Beautifully illustrated, this Christmas story (actually set on and around Saint Nicholas's Day, which falls in early December), tells a highly fanciful tale of how a "baker's dozen" came to be thirteen rather than the actual twelve there is in a dozen. In fact it's because bakers in the past (as early as the eighteenth century if not before) didn't want to be fined for shorting their customers so they added one more to their 'dozen' (a term which comes from the French) for good measure. No one is going to complain about getting something for nothing, right?

In this story however, a rather gluttonous woman puts a curse on the baker for giving her only twelve "cookies" (a term which actually derives from a Dutch word koekje) when she'd requested a dozen. The baker's business falls into a disastrous decline until he decides to give thirteen instead of twelve for a dozen, whereupon his business flourishes! I don't know if this is the reverse of the real spirit of Christmas in our capitalistic age, where less is more - profitable!, or if it actually embodies it!

The real joy of this story though, apart from the happy ending, is Wendy Edelson's gorgeous illustrations in full color, which hark back if not to a Dickensian Christmas age, hark certainly back to a Rockwellian one. Beautifully done in great detail and in rich earth tones, ornamented with Christmas reds and whites, the images are a joy, but you cannot enjoy them at their best in electronic form unfortunately. This is very much intended as a print book, and the tablet version breaks up the images in unfortunately and uncomplimentary ways. This is the really the kind of book you have to buy in the print version and leave on the coffee table over the holidays! And perhaps that's just as well. A little old fashioned never hurt anyone at Christmas, now did it?


Friday, June 19, 2015

Picture of Grace by Josh Armstrong


Title: Picture of Grace
Author: Josh Armstrong
Publisher: Joshua E. Armstrong
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Taylor Bills.

Some children's authors unfortunately feel that young children are an easy mark and not worth much time, and the path to success is via a series of cheap illustrations and a silly rhyme, and you're in business. This author isn't one of those, and neither is this illustrator, Taylor Bills, I am so happy to report!

I've been lucky with the children's books I've reviewed, and I've found very few of them to be sub-standard, but I get to chose which ones I review, so I have an advantage! I try to review these books positively if I can because while children don't deserve less than adults, they are, bless their little cotton socks, far less critical and are willing (as I am in fact), to forgo excellence and finery if they can get a great story and/or some engrossing art work, and especially so if it's educational. This is one reason why I was so thrilled with the two books I'm reviewing today, because both of them are really, really excellent. On the other hand, it is Friday, so maybe I'm just in a thoroughly good mood. Naw, these books are great any day of the week!

This particular book is a truly remarkable story about a young girl and her grandfather, who is an artist. The gallery owner, Delilah, is obnoxious and is demanding this one last painting, insisting he have it done in only two weeks. She doesn't care about his protests. She may know a lot about art but she's doesn't know what it's like! When grandpa dies, no doubt due to stress, Delilah sees this as a good thing because his last painting, even if unfinished, will appreciate in value immensely.

Grace doesn't see art that way. She sees the last picture her grandfather began, but never finished, and she decides to help him out. As relatives and friends stop by to see the painting, they encounter a gallery owner whose face is bluer than grace's mom's clothes, but what they notice isn't that - it's the painting. There is a special meaning with which grandpa imbued it, and Grace's contribution can be seen only as the icing on the cake, notwithstanding Delilah's frosty demeanor. Crumbs! I loved this book and recommend it.

I wouldn't try reading it on a Smart-phone; the illustrations are discernible, but the text is not. On an iPad, which permitted, thankfully, the expanding of the pictures, it's eminently readable. I can't speak for the print version which I have no seen.