Friday, March 31, 2017

My Little Cities... by Jennifer Adams

Genre: Toddler Board Books
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: April 11, 2017

There are two books in the My Little Cities... board book collection that reached my desk and both are wonderful. My Little Cities London and My Little Cities New York take youngsters to two of the most popular cities for tourists.

First, head overseas to London where you'll visit the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and more. The book is easy to read with lines like, "Building Old. Building New." At the end of the book, however, is an in-depth look at each attraction that's more challenging for a new reader.

Second, you'll visit New York City with your toddler. Again, lines are simple, but the breakdown of the attractions at the end is harder to read. This is a cute set of books, and I hope other cities will follow in the footsteps of these travel guides of sorts for the very young crowd.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mists of the Serengeti by Leylah Attar

Setting: Africa
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Pitch73 Publishing
Release Date: January 29, 2017

Wow.  I wish I could give it more stars.  6 STARS!  I'm not the only one who thinks this should be made into a movie.  I can totally see it already and what a movie it would be!  Two broken people, bound by a tragic event, come together to help save a group of albino Tanzanian children and in the process save each other.

Jack and Rodel are two characters you won't soon forget.  Set in the Tanzanian countryside, you can see Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, feel the hot air on your face and feel the African wind in your hair.  Jack has lost his precious daughter in a bomb blast in town.  Helpless to save her, he has retreated to his coffee farm where he exists only to visit her grave in the midst of storms.  Rodel has lost her sister in the same blast, but she never got to say goodbye, only hearing her sister's desperate last voicemail to tell her it would be alright somehow.  Rodel travels to Tanzania to take care of her sister's things, and there she discovers what her sister was doing.  She was helping to get albino children to a safe house, and there were three left on the list.  So, Rodel takes on the list for her sister.  The only person that can help her is Jack Warden.  Yet, not only Jack is unwilling to help, he is bitter and full of anger.  It will take everything they have to get through the hurt and heartbreak to save these children. 

Oh, and there is romance, too.  But while it simmers at the beginning, their attraction is consuming and becomes a bright flame that surpasses the void in their lives.  It transforms them, illuminates them and leads them into the future.  Rodel has a life back in England, and she plans on returning there as soon as this mission is complete.  They must say goodbye at the end of this journey.  This isn't your average everyday romance.  No, it's a love story.  And by love story, I don't mean just Jack and Rodel, I mean love between a father and daughter, a mother and son, between sisters, and love that happens when you let go and just let your heart lead the way.   

*Big Sigh*  This story will stay with you long after you read the last page.  You can visualize it in your head, it's that powerful.  The story is based on true events of albino children being abducted for their body parts and being sold to witchdoctors.  It's a real thing.  So if that is something that bothers you, be warned.  I actually felt all sorts of emotions reading this book, and that in itself is something extraordinary.  But it's oh, so so so good!  It's the best book I have read in a long while! 

Rating: 5 Stars
Jennifer Jones

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A River by Marc Martin

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Join a young child on a very imaginative journey down the river that passes by the family home. In the imaginary silver boat, the child travels past busy cities, factories, jungles, and ends up in the ocean before returning to the very place that matters the most.

The illustrations in A River are created in shades of blues and greens that captures the outdoorsy feel you'd expect to find while journeying along the river. Splashes of orange, white, yellow, and red draw the eye to certain aspects, but you quickly find yourself mesmerized by both pages of illustrations. It's the art that really made this book special.

The story isn't hard to read, so beginning readers will have few problems with the sentence length or vocabulary used. Each page only has a few words, which I feel really makes it a great book for younger readers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Balderdash! by Michelle Markel and Nancy Carpenter

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 4, 2017

Balderdash shares the story of young John Newbery, man for whom the Newbery Medal pays tribute. Newbery grew up in a world where children's books were frowned upon unless they taught a some form of educational lesson. His passion for storytelling and the world around him led to children's books as we know them today.

I quickly became fascinated by a story I didn't know. My daughter, a graphic design student, found the book appealing because of its varied uses of fonts, sizing, and other design aspects. Both of us quickly said the book was a keeper.

Keeping that in mind, I did question how a younger child would feel. The illustrations are impressive, the sentence structure and vocabulary are excellent for and advancing reader, but the subject matter (a biography and history of children's books) may not be as appealing. It's a book where I feel parents will be mesmerized, but children may not share the same enthusiasm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Falling Hard: A Colorado High Country Novel by Pamela Clare

Setting: Colorado
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Release Date: February 18, 2017

Reviewed by Jennifer Jones

Jesse and Ellie are two people who are trying to move forward after difficult tragedies in their past.  Ellie lost her husband three years ago.  Jesse, a former Army Ranger and now a ski patroller and part of the Rescue Team in Colorado, has issues with his own experiences in Iraq.  He unknowingly has been helping Ellie for the past few years by taking care of little things around her house.  When they finally meet, he realizes that he may have known her husband, who had been a Blackhawk pilot.

Ellie has two small twins to raise, and she's been doing everything by herself, but when Jesse comes along and helps her out in a dire time of need, she's more than grateful.  Sparks fly between them, but it takes a while for them to really open up.  She still is torn about her feelings regarding a new relationship and Jesse is still fighting personal demons that he can't quite get around.  These two coming together to support each other leads to romance and more.

What an emotionally charged book.  As a fan of Ms. Clare's work, all of her stories tug at the heartstrings and this one is no different.  Set in the mountains of Colorado, we get a real feel for the area as well as Jesse's need to escape to a place where he can get lost.  He uses the adrenaline rush of extreme sports to combat his internal issues where the war is concerned.  Ellie also has some personal things to get through.  I really felt the loss of her beloved husband and trying to move on with her life.  She has feelings of guilt, of course, but also how she can move forward with two small children.  The story moves at a decent pace without becoming too bogged down in one element.  Jesse and Ellie's feelings simmer and develop naturally and it keeps the reader tuned in for more.  I zipped through this book with a few days and loved every minute of it.

4 1/2 stars

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

Setting: South Carolina
Genre: Time Travel/Romance
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Still mourning the loss of the husband she loved dearly and painful miscarriages, Faye Barlow needs to get away. Her second marriage was more for convenience than for love, and that marriage is over. She takes a job that brings her to the coast of South Carolina where she spends her time photographing lighthouses.

One particular lighthouse catches her eye. No one goes there, and some don't even know it exists. Bride Island Lighthouse draws her in and entices her to learn more about the legend behind the lighthouse keeper and his daughter, a young woman who ended up dying in the ocean. Little does Faye know that she's about to uncover the truth behind this lighthouse and its residents in a very unique way.

I couldn't put The Night Mark down. I was drawn into both times, present and the 1920s. Characters were vivid and felt like friends, while the setting appealed to me and made me want to be part of this quiet island.

Tiffany Reisz does a great job at bringing South Carolina to life. The romantic aspects charmed me, while the writing did a wonderful job at creating a vivid image of the setting and times. This is definitely a must-read!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Just Fly Away by Andrew McCarthy

Setting: New Jersey and Maine
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: March 28, 2017

It's confession time. I've had a crush on Andrew McCarthy since Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire, and a selection of other '80's movies. Hearing he'd written his first young adult novel intrigued me. Just Fly Away isn't all I expected, but there were parts that tore me aup a little.

Fifteen-year-old Lucy Willows is stunned when she learns her father had an affair and that she has an eight-year-old brother living nearby. She's angry with her father for having the affair, her sister for not really seeming to care, and her mother for forgiving him. Lucy's friends don't seem as concerned with this news as she does, and her new boyfriend is also not quite as shocked as she'd want.

Needing to get away, Lucy runs off to Maine. Her grandfather's there and he may have some of the answers she wants to hear. It's in Maine that Lucy must quickly grow up.

Just Fly Away is a coming-of-age novel. Lucy's a little self-centered, especially in the early portion of the book, but I grew to like her. I don't want to give away spoilers, but something happens in the book and that's where the story got to me a bit. My family is going through exactly what Lucy, her grandfather, and her father experience while Lucy's in Maine. Reading those chapters was hard, perhaps a little too painful right now. It was still gripping, but far too real for me right now.

It's that situation that also made me realize that Andrew McCarthy had the details of this event right. The characters' reactions, the struggles, and the need for some form of closure are all too real. And for that, I feel the writing was spot on.

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser

Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Violet and Finn have it all. They're parents to a three-year-old son. They have a strong relationship and marriage. At least that's what Violet believes. Her world comes crashing down when Finn takes her son back to their hotel room for nap time and then vanishes taking their son with him.

While Violet's desperate search for her son begins, Finn's best friend, also Violet's friend, is blackmailed into housing Finn in her in-law's lakeside cabin. Caitlin is torn between her desperate need to keep secrets buried and her understanding as a mother exactly what Violet is going through.

Almost Missed You takes the reader on a journey of love, loss, and much more. I had issues, however, as I really didn't like Caitlin's response at first. If my friend's husband came to me with blackmail, I'd immediately turn him in and trust in my husband to understand whatever past secrets were there. It made it hard to relate to her.

That niggle aside, I did find the story flowed quickly and kept me engrossed. I wanted everything to turn out and couldn't stop reading until I knew.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner

Genre: Children's Picture Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: March 7, 2017

What's under the water? What's above it? This is what author Kate Messner explores in Over and Under the Pond. This magical children's picture book follows a young child and his mother as they travel around a pond in a canoe. From fish to turtles and birds to moose, the child sees many creatures in their natural habitat. Discover what the child discovers in this charming book.

At the end of the book is a glossary of the different animals and insects. Learn about dragonflies, otters, tadpoles, and more. While the vocabulary used in the main story is perfect for an advancing reader, the glossary section may be a little trickier, but it's also a fantastic resource for a child who wants to learn more about the animals and insects at a pond.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crazy for You by Rachel Lacey

Setting: Haven, North Carolina
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Hatchette Book Group
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Set in the small mountain town of Haven, North Carolina, Crazy for You features Ryan Blake, a part-time bartender and aspiring entrepreneur with his outdoor sporting business with his two best friends.  The other best friend, Derek Rush, had been killed several years ago while fighting in the military.  So when he sees Derek's little sister, Emma, walk into the bar looking anything but little and a lot grown up, he knows he's in for some trouble.

Emma has always had a crush on Derek's best friend, Ryan.  The problem is that Ryan has always seen her as a pesky little sister.  Now that's she's grown up and working as a landscape designer, she wants to finally show Ryan how grown up she is.  He is one of those sexy bad boys, with good looks, tattoos and a motorcycle, and she wants to be bad for once in her life.  She has her work cut out for her, though, as Ryan is bent on staying far away from Emma in that way.  He promised Derek he'd look after her and protect her, even from himself. 

Ryan knows nothing good will come of it, but he can't seem to stop himself where Emma is concerned.  Being with her is the best thing that's every happened to him.  So when he finally decides to take a chance and see where it might lead, Emma is ready.  The only problem that might show up is love.

Rachel Lacey knows how to captivate the reader from page one!  Her writing style is easy, colorful and her characters are complex without being overdrawn.  I loved the overall feel of this book, being from a small town, having close friends you share your goals, dreams and love life with, and this one has a great premise to it.  I've always loved friends to lovers type romances, and Ryan and Emma are perfect in their roles.  Emma has big dreams and that includes getting her degree in landscape design, so when she sets out to go to Georgia to achieve that, it's hard for her to say goodbye to her friends and to Ryan.

Ryan is a good guy who has had a hard life growing up.  The unexpected arrival of his younger half brother is a welcome surprise, but it comes with a responsibility of getting Trent to see the bigger picture.  He values Emma's input, but even then old feelings surface and he has a hard time getting past the insecurities of his younger days. 

For those who love these types of stories, friends, romances and small town life, this is a perfect book to sit and curl up with on the beach, a rainy day or anything in between.  You can't help rooting for Ryan after all he's been through, nor can you help wanting Emma to get everything she's wanted either.  Can the two meet together in the middle and both get what they want and each other?  Definitely a good read in finding out! 

Jennifer Jones
4 1/2 

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...