Monday, January 30, 2017

Flora and the Chicks by Molly Idle

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Teach your child to count with Molly Idle's Flora and the Chicks. In this board book, young Flora keeps finding more and more chicks as they hatch from the next. Pages flip open to show another chick and narrative is nothing more than each number.

If you're looking for a fun way to teach a toddler to count, Flora and the Chicks is a perfect choice. The illustrations are colorful and appealing. The narrative is very easy for any child who is just starting to associate words with pictures. This book is a definite win.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

Setting: Aurora, Texas
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: February 7, 2017

The Good Daughter is a book I really struggled with, yet I also felt compelled to keep reading to see what on earth was happening. Given that, I'm really torn on how I feel about this Alexandra Burt novel.

After 15 years away, Dahlia Waller returns to her mother's home in Aurora, Texas, hoping to finally get answers. Dahlia remembers snippets of her childhood, many snippets that don't make sense. What she's certain of is that she's grown up never having identifying paperwork, being able to hold a job that didn't pay under the table, or having a mother who didn't live in fear.

The harder she seems to press her mother for answers, the more her mother seems to resist. This only makes Dahlia more determined to uncover the truth about her mother's past. It's a truth that could tear Dahlia's world apart.

There really seem to be two mysteries at hand in The Good Daughter. First is the appearance of a Jane Doe who Dahlia finds in the woods while out jogging. The woman is left for dead and in a coma. Dahlia feels compelled to uncover the identity of the person who left the woman for dead. This plot line made no sense to me. It triggered Dahlia to have what appeared to be visions, but none of it seemed to link up to Dahlia's past. I really can't decide why it was in the book.

The main plot is the story of a handful of women. You have Dahlia's mother and Dahlia, there's a young teen who's raped and must handle the aftermath of the rape, and there's a seer/gypsy who finds a young teen on her doorstep who is very pregnant and in need of rescuing, The chapters bounce back and forth between the myriad of characters and often gives no idea of the timeframe, so it's hard to keep up at first.

It's the main plot and all the women that kept me reading, however, I had to know how they linked together. As it's finally revealed, and nothing is revealed quickly, it makes sense and became somewhat predictable.

In the end, I only liked The Good Daughter. It had its shining moments, but there were other parts where I simply didn't get why something or someone was included at all.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: March 14, 2017

Another offering in the popular "A Funny Thing Happened..." series, this time Henry heads to the museum with his class. The story begins when Henry's teacher asks him what he thought of the museum. Like usual, he experienced things at the museum that no one else did.

This book, like the others, shares a fantastic tale of things Henry experienced. He's a precocious child with a wild imagination, so it becomes a lot of fun seeing what he got into. From being charged by a dinosaur to creating art of his own design, A Funny Thing Happened at the Museum is packed with adventures.

Targeted for the 6 to 9 age group, the "A Funny Thing Happened..." books are a lot of fun. Don't miss this latest offering or the past books.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Setting: Mill Valley, California
Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: January 10, 2017

I had a rough time with The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. While it sounded a touch Gossip Girl at first, I soon found myself struggling to like any of the characters. It made it challenging to read. As the mom of two, I know what goes on in today's high schools. But in this case, I really just couldn't feel sympathy for anyone in the book.

When an incident in middle school turns tragic, the lives of a handful of kids change. Abigail enters into a sexual relationship with a high school teacher. Emma's partying ways put her love of dancing on the line. Dave is determined to please his parents with their dreams of him attending Berkeley, but it's rough when he's not much more than an average student. Calista ditches life in the popular crowd and falls in with the hippie crowd. Damon ends up in rehab and wants to prove he's better than that while struggling with his addictions. New teacher Molly wants to connect with her students, but not knowing their past proves to make it very difficult.

My heart broke when the tragedy in middle school happens. It instantly made me hate the teens in the story and that made for a rough time finishing the book. I didn't feel sorry for any of them. Karma's a bitch and all. I felt the most for the boy in the beginning of the story. His thoughts and actions broke my heart. It's a big reason why I kept reading. I wanted these other kids to feel his pain and take responsibility, but they really never did do anything that made me satisfied with the outcome.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Three Charming Board Books for Toddlers

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Ages: 2 to 5
Publisher: Chronicle for Kids

Here's a trio of board books suitable for any toddler. Stories are all charming and create a full story without using too many words. These books are perfect for the age range of 2 to 5 years.

Unlike most kids, Little Oink's parents don't push him to clean up his room. It's quite the opposite in the book Little Oink. His room is NOT a pig sty, and he doesn't want it to be. He cannot go outside until he messes his room. For this clean little piglet, messing his room seems impossible.

In Masha and Her Sisters (March 2017 release), very few words are used to capture the very essence of a set of Russian nesting dolls. Meet each sister and learn more about her in this board book.

Also coming out in March, What Do You Wear? shares what many animal friends wear when they go outside. The message in this book is meant to get toddlers excited about getting dressed, and I think it accomplishes that task in whimsical style. Find out who wears what in this board book.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Fox Wish by Kimiko Aman

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle for Kids
Release Date: March 14, 2017

Lukie and his sister, Roxie, are at home when she remembers she left her jump rope at the local park. Rushing off to retrieve it, they cannot begin to believe what they see. A group of foxes has her jump rope, though they're struggling to successfully use it.

Knowing they can't leave until they've helped, Lukie and Roxie decide to take the time to help out. Can they teach the foxes how to jump rope? Will they be able to get the jump rope back?

The lesson learned in The Fox Wish is clear. This is a book that focuses on the joys of sharing and being kind of strangers. I enjoyed that message and think it's one that really benefits children. Illustrations by Komako Sakai capture the story beautifully and draw the reader into the story. The language is easy for readers who are starting to pick up bigger words like "immediately" or "remembered."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Two Board Books from Author Junzo Terada

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Publisher: Chronicle Books for Kids
Ages: 2 to 5
Release Date: March 2017

For this review, I'm taking a closer look at two upcoming board books for toddlers from author Junzo Terada. Both are charming books that feature bright, cheerful animals who join each other for a fun event.

Animal Friends Barnyard Jamboree is the first offering. In this book for children ages 2 to 5, Cat has her banjo and is quickly joined by her friends. Who's joining the impromptu jamboree and what will that animal play?

In Animal Friends Swimming Hole Party, Monkey wants to go swimming, but he needs to decide who is coming with him.

Both books are ideal for beginning readers thanks to simple vocabulary and images that perfectly capture the action. Pages are thick and definitely can stand up to the repeat usage of any child. With only a few pages, it won't be long before children are reading along with ease.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I'm A Lot of Sometimes by Jack Guinan

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Red Chair Press
Release Date: January 1, 2017

Young rabbit shares his strengths and weaknesses, though he doesn't see them as weaknesses. Instead, the young rabbit shares his "sometimes." Whether he's slow or fast, big or small, brave or shy, rabbit embraces all that makes him special.

I'm A Lot of Somethings shares such a great message. Being shy sometimes isn't a fault, no matter what some may tell you. (And trust me, I had far too many teachers tell me being shy was a bad thing!) The message simply is to embrace yourself, through all your sometimes.

Illustrations are perfect and capture the essence of the young rabbit. The narrative is easy for a beginning reader. I definitely recommend this one!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: February 14, 2017

The construction crew of bulldozers, dump trucks, and many others are proving teamwork is what it takes to get a job done. Watch as they work together on their next big project. Can they get the job done without problems?

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site is ideal for beginners with whimsical illustrations and easy-to-read narrative. There are some bigger words here and there, such as "massive" or "blaring," but with an adult's help, beginning readers shouldn't have a hard time.

The children's picture book also gives children an insider's look into the work the different machines do and how their work as individuals benefits each other to complete a task. I liked that message. Teamwork is how things get done effectively.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Setting: Rural Maine
Genre: Women's Fiction/Suspense
Publisher: Scout Press
Release Date: January 10, 2017

I love Maine. I love the people, the scenery, and the calm, peaceful feeling I get when I'm there. I expected to love The River at Night given the plot and setting, but it all seemed to go awry.

Four friends - Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra - get together as often as possible to experience something new. Wini, a graphic design artist, isn't thrilled with this year's choice, but she agrees to go along as she needs a break with her friends. The quartet head off to upper Maine's rugged wilderness to spend a few days trying something new - white river rafting.

From the very beginning, it appears that nothing is going to go right. Their guide's vehicle gets stuck on the makeshift road that leads to the starting point. Rory also hides things from them. When their adventure turns into a nightmare, it's up to the women to survive without any gear, their raft, or food.

I expected The River at Night to be a story of four women vs. the brutality of nature and the remote wilderness, but instead it took a turn I didn't see coming and honestly didn't feel was ever really necessary. My issues started with Rory seemingly more interested in hooking up with Pia than being the guide that he was supposed to be. I lost respect and interest in him and Pia after that point. Wini, Rachel, and Sandra were more likable. Then the new situation with new characters came into play, and I felt it was a bit unbelievable. At that point, I really didn't care what happened anymore.

While the dangers they faced could have been anything from severe weather, the river itself, or wild animals, instead they faced a danger that felt forced to me. I wanted to love the book, but instead I found myself tolerating it to see how it ended. It's a shame really because the descriptions were vivid, the setting was fantastic, but the rest fell flat.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: January 3, 2017

Author Louise Gornall is right. It's time for people to not feel shame when talking about their mental illness. Nothing irritates me more than the misconceptions thrown around. Like the author and the main character in the book, when I was in the worst part of my life, I also heard "snap out of it," "it's all in your head, so stop thinking about it," or "all you have to do is stop worrying and your panic attacks will go away."

When a panic attack hits from nowhere, teen Norah Deane's life changes in drastic ways. She becomes scared to leave her home and turns to homeschooling. She sees a counselor for OCD, agoraphobia, and her crippling anxiety disorder. No matter what happens, Norah is held prisoner to her mental illness. And then Luke moves in next door.

For the first time in her life, Norah finds herself drawn to Luke. She wants to get to know him, yet her mental illness has her terrified of ever leaving the house. How can you act like a normal teen when nothing about you seems to be normal?

Here's the deal. No matter how exaggerated Norah's actions may seem, they're real. That's a big reason why this book hit so hard. It's fiction, but it's real.

At the age of 27, when my daughter was one, I had a panic attack one night while lying in bed. It came out of nowhere.  At first, I was diagnosed as having supraventricular tachycardias by my primary physician and put on beta blockers, that diagnosis was later ruled out by a cardiologist after a cardiolyte stress test, echocardiogram, etc. The cardiologist said that I just had weird spells of a racing heart rate, so I was told to stay on beta blockers and digitalis was added.

When my father and father-in-law were both diagnosed with cancer, I got really bad and wouldn't leave the bed, let alone leave the sofa. Going out onto the porch to see my son get onto the school bus was next to impossible. More trips to specialists and no one could figure out what was wrong with me. Six months later, I found an online chat group about anxiety disorder and took a self-assessment test a member there recommended that was on Suddenly, I found myself armed with information I needed and went back to my primary physician.

I went into therapy and didn't find it of much use, but the book she used definitely helped. Using the tools in this book, I made baby steps and eventually found myself able to walk to the mailbox and back. Over months, I worked slowly and made it to the corner, the back yard, and eventually all the way around the block. After that, I started getting back into driving, going out to stores, etc. Fifteen years later, I know I'll never be the same person, but I can function. For that reason, I got Norah's character and understood exactly how she felt, acted, and reacted.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is so powerful. It's real. It's painful sure, but there are thousands of people who battle mental illness like this every day. Compassion and understanding go a long way in helping them get back to some semblance of living, even if they'll never be perfect.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

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