Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Tuck Me In!” by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt

Age: birth to 2 years old
Genre: picture book

This book starts with a simple line: “It’s time for bed. Who needs to be tucked in?” This is followed with a different animal on each page and a half-page blanket that the reader flips over the animal to tuck it in. The book ends with asking if the reader needs to be tucked in. There is not much to this book. There is no theme that unites the animals chosen unless it’s that they are mostly difficult to make up sounds for (What does the hedgehog say? How about the moose?). I like that it provides a variety of animals, and my son (who is 1.5 years old) seems to enjoy “tucking in” the animals. But overall, not too exciting of a book to read. No story, no characters, no anything, really. More of a game than a story.

Bibliographic Information:
Hacohen, Dean & Sherry Scharschmidt. Tuck Me In!  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010.

Tuck Me In! on

“You Are My Baby: Farm” by Lorena Siminovich

Age: birth to 2 years old
Genre: board book

This book is advertised as “two books in one” because it has a little book inside a bigger book. (It’s a little hard to explain, so see the picture here). The illustrations are very cute and cover many of the usual farm animals, so the reader gets an opportunity to teach animal noises as well as names. Though the book is designed to let the adult turn the big page and the child turn the small page, my son (who is 1.5 years old) turns the little pages before I’m done with the big one, so the animals don’t usually match up like they are supposed to. The only way for us to enjoy it “correctly” is if I do all the page turning. We enjoy reading the book together either way. My main complaint with this book is its shoddy construction. Because of the little/big book format, the binding is compromised. I have used packing tape up and down the spine, but it’s still falling apart. We haven’t even had it for more than a few months, so this is just poor quality. Board books need to hold up to young hands and vigorous page turning, and this is the first one we’ve had a major problem with. I recommend getting a different farm book instead.

Bibliographic Information:
Siminovich, Lorean. You Are My Baby: Farm.  San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2013.

“City Cat, Country Cat” by Patricia Cleveland-Peck with illustrations by Gilly Marklew

Here's my review of another cat book that caught my eye. Remember ratings are out of a possible 4 paws.

“City Cat, Country Cat” by Patricia Cleveland-Peck with illustrations by Gilly Marklew

Age: 3 and up

Genre: Fiction, Picture book

Freckle the cat lives in the country on a farm with a boy named David. Charlie the cat lives in the city with a girl named Sarah. Both cats enjoy eating, sleeping, and playing with their owners (when they feel like it). Both cats disappear, sometimes for days, but always come back. Where do they go? We soon find out. Freckle and Charlie have something else in common, which the owners are surprised to discover in the story’s end. Though the text is a little long at times, this story is overall one young readers will enjoy. It’s a quiet story with not a lot of action, but much like a cat’s day, full of everyday joys. I think readers who like cats will have fun following the lives of Freckle and Charlie. Recommended for ages 3 and up. This book is currently out of print, so look for it in your local library.

Cleveland-Peck, Patricia. City Cat, Country Cat. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1992.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Collection of Cat Books

I recently read a handful of cat picture books, so I thought I would review them all together. There are of course dozens, possibly hundreds, of other cat picture books out there, so maybe I will do some more in the future. I rated them on a scale from 1 to 4 paws. Though none reached the four-paw pinnacle, they each held some merit.

“Leo the Magnificat” by Ann M. Martin with illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully

One day a stray cat shows up at a church and makes himself at home. Mrs. Moody, the church secretary, cares for him and names him Leo the Magnificat. Everyone at the church loves Leo, and he keeps them all company during church services and at covered-dish dinners. Leo even has a special spot on the front pew and sometimes “sings” with the choir. Though Mrs. Moody is worried he will wander away, Leo never strays far from the church, his home for twelve years. This heartwarming tale, which is based on a true story, of a friendly cat that came to stay shows how one animal can touch many lives. The illustrator captures the cat’s facial expressions and personality well. Because of the sad ending to this story, I would recommend it for older readers (ages 7 and up).
Martin, Ann. Leo the Magnificat. New York: Scholastic, 1996.

“What Cats Want for Christmas” by Kandy Radzinski (author/illustrator)
This picture book is a collection of cats’ letters to Santa, each accompanied by a drawing of a cat enjoying the present they asked for. The cats ask for very cat things, such as birds (“something sweet, that went tweet tweet”), food (“a big silver dish filled with little silver fish”) or a nice place to sleep (“A soft blanket of fowl wings”). The final cat asks for a home so he won’t be lonely any more. The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and readers may enjoy all the different colors and patterns of cats portrayed here. However, I didn’t particularly like the text of the book. Each letter is written in rhyme, and the meter is often uneven so it doesn’t read smoothly. I also don’t like that some of the cats want things made from dogs. I assume the author intended it to mean just the dog’s hair, but I’m not sure why a cat would want a dog’s hair sweater or rug. The cats also frequently wish for deceased snacks, and I’m not sure a child reader would like imagining dead mice and birds being devoured by a cute kitty. All in all, I loved the pictures but not the text of this book.
Radzinski, Kandy. What Cats Want for Christmas. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2007.

“Cross-Country Cat” by Mary Calhoun with illustrations by Erick Ingraham
I picked up this book at the library while shelving one day because I remember it from my childhood and haven’t read it in years. It is the story of a cat named Henry, who is described as “a hind-leg walker.” While on a ski vacation with his human family, “The Kid” (as Henry calls him) makes Henry a set of cross-country skis out of some old roof shingles. When The Kid puts Henry into the skis, Henry falls face first into the snow and thinks the people are crazy for wanting to pursue such a hobby. However, when Henry is accidently left behind at the cabin and can’t get back inside, he realizes the only way to get home is by learning to use those blasted skis. Ingraham’s soft illustrations detail Henry’s journey through the snowy forests and hills as he skis along with pine boughs for poles. Cross-Country Cat is a fun adventure story of a cat overcoming a challenge and learning a new skill. I don’t know that this book would get published today, however, because it has a lot of text and the current trend is to make picture books as short as possible. I can see some spots an editor could cut for space, but the story is still a good one for a read-aloud to an older child with a longer attention span or for an advanced independent reader.
Calhoun, Mary. Cross-Country Cat. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979.

“Chester” by Mélanie Watt (author/illustrator)
Chester is a trouble-maker. All Mélanie wants to do is write a nice little story about a mouse, but Chester comes in with his red marker and changes everything. He wants the story to be about himself, not some boring mouse. But in the end, Mélanie will have her revenge by giving Chester exactly what he wants…plus a little something extra. In this creative picture book, we see a strong-willed cat duel it out with the book’s author for control. Young readers will likely laugh out loud at the selfish Chester and his need to be the star. Readers who enjoy “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” by Mo Willems should like the humor in this book. Reading this book could even encourage children to create their own stories (though hopefully not by writing in other books with a red marker).  This book seems like it would be difficult to read out loud, however, since the author and Chester interrupt each other and speakers are never attributed, so young listeners could get confused about what character is talking at a given moment. The reader would have to be careful to distinguish the two voices well for the listener. This book is probably better suited to an independent reader.
Watt, Mélanie. Chester. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2007.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“The Lost Hero” (The Heroes of Olympus #1) by Rick Riordan

Age: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Genre: Fiction, fantasy

After finishing the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the Heroes of Olympus series is the next step. It is a continuation of the stories of the demi-gods at Camp Half-Blood and beyond. I thought it would directly follow the same characters, but this was not the case (as anyone can tell by reading the book’s synopsis). Instead we start the story with Jason, who has woken up on a school bus next to a girl who claims to be his girlfriend. He has a bad case of amnesia and though everyone knows him, he has no idea who he is. The guy claiming to be his best friend, Leo, and his girlfriend, Piper, prove themselves to be friends to him quickly when they help him fight some evil storm spirits during a field trip. All three know something is different about them, but they don’t know what until they are taken away to Camp Half-Blood and filled in on the whole Mount Olympus in America and godly-parent thing. Meanwhile, our friend Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series is trying to find her boyfriend (Percy), who has suddenly and inexplicably gone missing. With many familiar characters and a whole new problem to figure out, The Lost Hero proves an easy transition into this new series.

I wasn’t crazy about Riordan’s choice to use three points of view in this book. Switching point of view is a difficult task for the writer and the reader as it can easily lead to confusion. However Riordan carries it off well. A few changes were not as clear as they could have been, but otherwise he kept the voices different enough for us to understand and recognize the individual characters. I didn’t feel as connected to these characters as I had to Percy, and I think that’s because I was trying to focus on three instead of just one. I would say that was the biggest sacrifice when sharing the main character’s spot. The back and forth with Roman and Greek names was a bit confusing at times as well. But the story moved well and I wanted to keep reading until the last page. I am more excited about the next book as it goes back to Percy’s point of view.

A note on the audio version: I had listened to the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series on audio, but when I tried to do the same with the Heroes of Olympus, I was disappointed. The company switched narrators, and I didn’t like the changes the new one instituted. He changed the pronunciation of some character’s names slightly (but I found it annoying) and made Annabeth’s character sound completely different, which I couldn’t get past. She used to be very spunky and he made her sound sad and wistful. I realize she is dealing with worrying about Percy in this book, but it didn’t come off in the right way. So I gave up after the first CD and switched to reading the hard copy of this book.

Bibliographic Information:
Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus #1). New York, NY: Disney Hyperion Books, 2010.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction, fantasy

The creepy black-and-white photograph on the cover of this novel caught my attention, as I’m sure it did many of this book’s readers.  The photo is of a young girl dressed in very old-fashioned clothing who appears to be levitating perhaps a foot off the ground. As I flipped through the book, I found it contains other old photographs, such as a girl standing alone by a pool with two girls reflected back, a girl who holds a ball of glowing light in her hands, and a young boy lifting a large boulder with one hand. I was interested to see what a book containing such strange photos was about. It had the unique ability to pull me in before I had read a single word.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the story of sixteen-year-old Jacob, who is struggling with the sudden death of his beloved grandfather. Jacob witnessed his grandfather’s death at the hands of a monster in the woods, though no one believes him when he describes it. They chalk the story up to all the stories his grandfather told about a children’s home on an island he stayed in during World War II and its strange inhabitants. His grandfather even saved photos of some of the children from the home, which he shared with Jacob before his death. Jacob’s parents send him to therapy, where the psychiatrist convinces Jacob he imagined the whole thing and that his grandfather’s stories were all fiction. Jacob is left trying to move on with his life, but he remembers his grandfather’s last words about how he must find the bird on the island. Jacob convinces his father to take him to the island off the coast of Wales, and what he finds there leads him on a very strange adventure indeed.

While reading this book, I found myself questioning what is real and not right along with Jacob. The author presents a unique scenario dealing with freakshow-type children, time travel, and monsters who dwell in the island’s mist. Though this book wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, it was still an entertaining read and kept me turning pages. I found the photographs used throughout the book to be a fun addition, but sometimes it felt like the author was writing the story to include them and not because they really needed to be part of the story. I would recommend this book for readers old enough to handle some foul language and gruesome scenes, though these are not a major part of the book. I look forward to the next installment in this series.

Bibliographic Information:
Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2011.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" by Michael Chabon

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction

I picked up this book because it was set in Pittsburgh, where I spent four years of my life, and it was on clearance at Borders (before they shut down). It was a departure from my usual fare since it is a Real Adult book and I typically read children's/YA stuff. But I like to make detours every once in awhile to remind myself how serious people write. 

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh follows recent college graduate Art as he tries to figure out what to do with his life. His father is a mobster, a field which neither Art nor his father wish for Art to get into. Art works at a bookstore and spends the rest of the time trying to have fun, make friends, and move on with life. I would consider this a very character-driven book as for a long time nothing much happens in the story. Despite the lack of an exciting plot, the author got me interested in the characters and their fates, so I kept reading. The book read for me much like The Great Gatsby, an observation I was glad to find was not off base when I read in the end notes that Chabon had intended it that way. I enjoyed thinking of Pittsburgh and envisioning the scenes while reading the book, especially when it came to what Art calls "the lost neighborhood" beneath the bridge. I walked over that bridge many times and wondered about the houses below, just as Art did, and it was cool to see it used in a story. 

Chabon writes his characters in a way that feels realistic, and he has an excellent control of language. I felt like I could see the characters in the way he described them and their styles. Overall, however, there wasn't much to the story to keep me interested. Very little suspense or mystery, just a story about a guy who doesn't know who or what he wants from life. But a good story nonetheless.

Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: Harper Collins, 1988.

Friday, September 20, 2013

“Aquifer” by Jonathan Friesen

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction

I have mentioned before that I like to read dystopian fantasy books (see my review of The Fifth Wave), and Aquifer once again fits this category. In the future author Jonathan Friesen presents, the Earth no longer bears fresh water on its surface. The only water safe for human consumption lies below the ground, hidden in an aquifer (hence the title), which is guarded by a race of humans who have devolved to the state of being called “Rats.” Only one person ventures down to visit the rats, and he is called the “Deliverer.” Once a year, the Deliverer follows a path that only exists in his brain through rote memorization from his forefathers and exchanges light rods with the Rats for the promise of another year’s access to water. The story follows Luca, a sixteen-year-old boy who is next in line to be the Deliverer behind his own father, Massa. Luca, and all other humans on the surface, live in a police state where they are not allowed to have any emotions or show any sign of rebellion against the set order or they will be “undone” (forced to kill themselves). But Luca senses he is different from his peers, and when his father goes missing and Luca must keep the connection with the Rats to save the Earth, he learns why he has always felt apart from others. He learns much else that blows the lid off the current state of the world as well when he descends to the world of the Rats.

I thought this book had an interesting premise and I was eager to find out about the underworld and the Rat people who lived there. The idea reminded me of the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and I wanted to see what this author had done with a similar construct. Friesen presents a nice twist on the subterranean culture, which I will not reveal here, that sets this book apart. I enjoyed reading the story as it did contain many turns, much like Luca’s memorized route, they kept me turning pages. Teens may find Luca relatable as he is a teenager struggling with his place in the world and feeling different than everyone else around him. The other characters help move the story forward and cause changes in Luca, just as good characters should. My only complaint was that sometimes the Australian phrases thrown in seemed forced.

I should also address the fact that this story is printed by a Christian publisher. However, the Christian elements are few and hardly noticeable. Depending on what the reader is expecting, this could be a good or bad thing. There is no mention of God or Jesus, though Luca is guided by a voice that is never identified. There is a book Luca finds that is more important than any other, and when quoted, it is The Bible, though not identified (the characters wouldn’t know what that was).  Because the story is a bit ambiguous, it could easily have a wider appeal among non-Christians as well as Christian readers.

Bibliographic Information:

Friesen, Jonathan. Aquifer. Grand Rapids, MI: Blink, 2013.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

“The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan

Age: Middle Grade/ Young Adult
Genre: Fiction, fantasy

Percy Jackson is having trouble in the sixth grade. He seems to be failing all of his classes (again) and has been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. On top of that, he is always a target for bullies, which to make life even more embarrassing, are often girls. But strange things have been happening recently that Percy can’t explain, and when he tries to talk to his only friend, Grover, about them, Grover acts like nothing is out of the ordinary. Percy’s home life is not great, either, since his step-dad is a selfish loafer who doesn’t like Percy. His mom says his real dad went away on an ocean voyage many years ago and hasn’t come back, but Percy thinks she’s hiding something. When monsters from Greek mythology attack, he knows something is definitely wrong. But those are just stories…right?

One of my friends kept telling me I needed to read this series, so I finally picked it up and listened to the book on CD. I loved it. It started out a little slowly for me, and I wasn’t always sure where the story was going since it jumped around to different scenes so much, but no matter what, I wanted to know what would happen to Percy and his friends. Even though I’m not up on Greek mythology, that wasn’t a problem. In fact you learn about it as you travel with Percy to meet the various gods and monsters. I enjoyed watching Percy overcome each trial put in his path and see him come to trust his instincts and his friends, despite being warned otherwise. The book broaches some dark subjects that may be scary for younger readers, so I recommend this book for ages ten and up. Anyone who enjoys a good adventure or quest story would probably like this first in a series. I already have the second one ready to read.

Bibliographic Information:
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1). New York, NY: Disney Hyperion Books, 2005.

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction, post-apocalyptic survival

Cassie is runningfrom everyone, from no one – and she wonders if she is the only human left alive in the world. She wanders a bleak landscape, left scarce by the alien invasion. The aliens killed her parents and the government took her little brother, who she will rescue. She promised. Sometimes she sees another human, like the guy in the abandoned convenience store, but she can’t trust him. When the aliens look just like you, how can you ever trust anyone? She shoots him and moves on. The only trust she has is in her weapon. The aliens have already plagued the earth four times, trying to eradicate humanity while leaving the Earth inhabitable for themselves. But is there a fifth wave coming? As Cassie tries to survive snipers called “Silencers” (the fourth wave) who are looking to kill all remaining humans, she wonders about the fifth wave…and keeps fighting for her life and her brother.

This book got a lot of positive press before its release, so when it came out, I was excited to read it. I’m not sure why, but I like novels, movies, and TV shows about dystopian and post-apocalyptic futures (The Hunger Games, TNT’s Falling Skies, etc.). As a fan of this genre, I was not disappointed by The 5th Wave. It took me awhile to get into it, mostly because I found Cassie’s character so cold and distant. It’s hard to like a character you can’t warm up to. I also found it hard to grasp the comparisons between her old life and the one she now lived, but I guess she found them hard to grasp, too. Early in the book I felt like her character was confusing because of the flashes back to her old self that didn’t click with the current self, but by the end she had established herself as a strong, tough teenager. Once the author stuck with that and didn’t look back, Cassie was easier to understand. I enjoyed the intertwining story lines, though sometimes it took a little while to figure out who was talking in a particular section of the book. The story moved slowly at times, but once I got to the last 100 pages or so, it just didn’t stop. It was hard to put the book down until the end. I recommend this book to readers who like alien invasion or dystopian literature, and even though it was written for teens, as an adult, I think other adults would enjoy it, too.

Bibliographic Information:
Yancey, Rick. The 5th Wave. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile, 2013.

The 5th Wave on

Monday, June 3, 2013

“The Bulldoggers Club: The Tale of the Ill-Gotten Catfish” by Barbara Hay with illustrations by Steven Walker

Age: Middle Grade (third-fifth graders)
Genre: Fiction

What is a “bulldogger,” you ask? Lucky for those uninitiated into the world of rodeos, author Barbara Hay explains the term early in this first book of the “The Bulldoggers Club” series. The club featured in the book is a set of young boys named Dru, Bo, Cecil, and Scotty who want nothing more than to compete in bulldogging at the rodeo. Since they aren’t allowed yet due to their age, they focus on the calf-roping event. However, the rodeo aspect of this story is hardly present. The main narrative follows the boys as they catch a record-setting catfish somewhere they shouldn’t have been fishing in the first place (private land owned by an older woman they call a witch). The boys struggle with hiding the truth about where the fish came from while also dealing with bullies and trying to fit in time to practice roping. In the end, the story shows the boys’ emotional growth and the strengthening of their friendship, both important topics to the intended audience of elementary-aged children. Though the characters were likeable, I found myself a little bored by the story. Then again, I am not a young boy.
There was just not a lot moving the narrative forward. In other words, it’s not a page-turner. But if you are looking for a wholesome story about country boys, fishing, and rodeos, then you could give this one a try.

Technical Note: I read this as a preview copy on my Nook e-reader and the illustrations kept freezing up the system. I wouldn’t recommend reading it on a Nook.

Bibliographic Information:
Hay, Barbara. The Bulldoggers Club: The Tale of the Ill-Gotten Catfish. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: The RoadRunner Press, 2012.

The Bulldoggers Club on

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“The Cats of Tanglewood Forest” by Charles De Lint with illustrations by Charles Vess

Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy

Lillian lives on a farm with her aunt, and she enjoys wandering the nearby forest, looking for fairies. One day she decides to follow a deer and ends up lost in the woods. While she lies under a tree to rest, a snake bites her. As the venom sinks in, Lillian knows she is dying. The world fades away, and cats of the forest surround her and decide to use their magic to save her by turning her into a kitten. What follows is a tale of Lillian trying to set her world right again through the help of magical creatures including a possum woman, a friendly fox, and some mean bear people. Along the way she learns the importance of considering consequences and remembering the past.

This book is filled with folktale-like characters and events, such as magic spells, potions, talking animals, and people who are part animal. The author uses language that suits the folktale medium as well. I don’t know that this will necessarily appeal to young readers, but I suppose it could. I found the story dragged a bit, especially in the middle, and I didn’t like how it occurred in a non-linear fashion. I also wanted the cats to be a more central part of the story since they are in the title. The story is really about Lillian, not the cats, so I found the title misleading. The book is interesting as a look at folktales and magic, but not enough to be really good.

Bibliographic Information:
De Lint, Charles. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

Friday, March 1, 2013

“The Sea of Tranquility” by Katja Millay

Age: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction

My lungs feel okay, but my stomach is teetering. I’ve been out of commission for a little while lately, so hopefully I can tap myself out easily tonight. With every step, I stomp out the shit in my head until it’s all but gone. It will come back in the daylight, when I’m replenished enough to think, but for now it’s away and for now that’s enough.

Teenager Nastya Kashnikov has left her old life behind and started over, living in a new town with her aunt, who she rarely sees. Every night Nastya runs. She runs hard and fast, pounding out the memories of what happened. The day that changed everything. The day that changed her from a pearls and skirt-wearing piano prodigy to a speechless, angry, mystery of a person dressed in black. She runs until she throws up, then runs some more. But one night she finds herself outside a house she’s never seen before. The garage door is open and inside is a boy from her new school: Josh Bennett. At school he keeps to himself like she does and no one ever bothers him. It’s like he has a force field around him, but she doesn’t know why. And he doesn’t know anything about her. But how can anyone get to know a girl who doesn’t speak?

Author Katja Millay presents Nastya and Josh’s story in dual perspective, which works well because we can see how each truly reacts to the other. Even though we are in Nastya’s head a lot of the time, we don’t know the details of what happened to her until just before Josh does. The author teases the incident so slowly that we spend much of the book playing detective, trying to guess at what life-shattering incident befell her. This drawing out created a lot of tension when reading the book, but it was a good tension because it kept me reading. Millay has created characters that seem very real in the way they react to being damaged in life, and I wanted them to be happy and healed. Of course that isn’t easy, but it’s good to watch them grow throughout the text.  I felt the other characters supported the story well and were very nuanced. The author provided each of them with his or her own problems and not just as flat stand-ins for family and friends. Teen and adult readers should enjoy this book as they watch young lives grow through darkness and light.

Bibliographic Information:
Millay, Katja. The Sea of Tranquility. New York: Atria Books, 2013.

Friday, February 15, 2013

“Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball” by John Coy with illustrations by Joe Morse

Age: Picture Book (5 years and up)
Genre: Nonfiction

When teacher James Naismith took over a gym class of rowdy boys in 1891, it seemed like nothing could get them under control. He tried indoor football, soccer, and even lacrosse – but all were too rough. He needed to get the boys to stop fighting. That’s when he came up with a game that involved no tackling, no running with the ball, and very little touching. Using a soccer ball and a peach basket, Mr. Naismith invented basketball, finally getting his gym class to stop hurting each other and changing the world of sports forever. Author John Coy has presented a very easy-to-read summary of the birth of this great game. Young readers could likely relate to the rough-and-tumble gym class that had grown bored with every usual activity, and this book could even inspire readers to create their own games. Joe Morse’s illustrations lend an old-fashioned charm to the story suitable for the time period in which it takes place. Hoop Genius would be a great addition to any library or classroom collection.

Bibliographic Information:
Coy, John. Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball.  Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

“Faithful Shadow” by Kevin J. Howard

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction(horror)

It’s summertime in Yellowstone National Park, but it’s far from a pleasant escape for the park’s visitors and staff. First a wildfire threatens nearby, inching closer and closer to the visitor’s area and leaving a thick smoke hanging in the air. Then people start disappearing, but there is no sign of a struggle; it’s as if they simply vanished. After days of searching, Rangers Joe and Andy finally stumble upon a watch in the underbrush from a missing staffer.
The watch was almost stuck to the plant with some sappy, black liquid. Joe held it up to his nose and took a whiff, pulling it away instantly. The smell was foul. Like mold and bog water rolled into one.
But what could leave such a substance? Not any animal the rangers are familiar with. Unfortunately this is only the beginning of their interaction with a mysterious shadow creature that feasts on human flesh. As more people go missing, those left must decide how they can possibly find – and destroy – this beast. But how can you find something that lurks in the shadows?

Though I rarely read the horror genre, I do enjoy “creature features” like the SyFy original movies, and Faithful Shadow unfolded in a similar fashion. It was a little gory for me, especially towards the end, but regular readers of horror may have less of a problem with that. In a former job I read a great deal of self-published novels that were so bad I could barely understand what the author was trying to communicate, much less enjoy them – but Howard’s writing is truly professional. Not only was the story enjoyable, but it was free of the usual errors one would expect to find without a professional editor on hand. The author obviously put a lot of time into crafting not only the plot but the language to create a picture in the mind of the reader. He used great skill in writing horrifying descriptions of the monster and his wrath throughout the novel. He also kept me turning pages by giving so little information about the monster early in the story. I kept wondering what we were dealing with, and that kept me reading. Faithful Shadow should appeal to anyone who enjoys dark tales of evil creatures unknown to man.

Bibliographical Information:
Howard, Kevin. Faithful Shadow. Outskirts Press, 2012.

Friday, January 25, 2013

“At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires” by Leila Rasheed

Age: Young Adult, Ages 14 and up
Genre: Fiction(historical)

This review is based on a digital sneak peak copy provided by Disney Book Group which did not include the full novel. The review is of the first thirteen chapters.

At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires is the story of the many characters who inhabit the Somerton estate in England at the beginning of the 20th century. The story mainly follows Lady Ada Averley, daughter of the Earl of Westlake, and her ladies’ maid, Rose. Rose has grown up at Somerton with her mother, Mrs. Cliffe, who works as head housekeeper. At the age of sixteen, Rose has just been promoted to lady’s maid after serving as a lowly housemaid for many years. Rose is very nervous about moving into a new position with so much more responsibility, not to mention visibility in the house. Some of the other staff think Rose is not ready for such a position, and Rose is inclined to agree. What Rose doesn’t know is that her promotion is in thanks to her mother suggesting it to Lord Westlake, who mysteriously feels he owes something to the young housemaid.

Lady Ada is sixteen and about to “come out” for her first season, a term that here means she will be introduced to society and attend balls and parties in order to meet suitable bachelors. But she is not interested in anyone but a young Indian man whom she knows she is forbidden to love. Lady Ada also wants to attend Oxford, a notion which her father finds foolish since he believes women don’t need to be formally educated since they only need to serve their husbands and run their homes.

In this upstairs/downstairs story, author Leila Rasheed juggles so many characters that they get a little hard to follow. I found myself having to flip back and forth through pages to remind myself how everyone is related. A family tree or character map at the beginning would have helped so the reader has a reference point. Despite this confusion, however, the problems presented in the story kept me reading to see what would develop. I don’t know that the setting will appeal to the average young adult reader, but the themes of longing for love and acceptance are universal. As a fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, I felt I had a good grounding in the class system and positions of the members of the household in this novel since the setting is very similar, which helped me understand what was going on. In fact, I often pictured and heard the characters from Downton in the roles of Cinders. I enjoyed what I have read so far and look forward to reading the completed novel.

Bibliographical Information:
Rasheed, Leila. At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires. Disney Book Group, 2013.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Sway" by Amber McRee Turner

Age: Middle Grade, Ages 8-12
Genre: Fiction

When I stop in at Starbucks, I sometimes grab one of the cards they give away with a code for a free song on iTunes. On my last trip to Starbucks, I saw the cards and was surprised to find that they were not giving out a song this time around, but an e-book. The cover showed a young girl looking up at a very tall tree and the title “Sway.” Since it was free, I thought I’d give “Sway” a try, and I read my first book entirely on an iPhone.  I thought it would get super annoying to have only small amounts of text at a time on the screen, but after a few pages, I didn’t even notice and got wrapped up in the story instead. All 894 tiny pages skipped by as I followed ten-year-old Cass and her emotional and physical journey discovering magic and the truth about her family.

Cass thinks her mom, Toodi Bleu Nordenhauer, is the biggest hero there is, and she wants to be just like her. Toodi helps rescue people who are in danger following natural disasters, which unfortunately means she is away from home a lot. Cass just knows her mom is going to take her along on her next rescue mission and train Cass to save people, too, but when her mom comes home she has a different surprise instead: she is moving to Florida to be part of a different family. Cass doesn’t understand, and she and her father are left shattered. But soon her dad comes up with a new plan for them involving a beat-up old motor home nicknamed “The Roast,” a suitcase, and a bunch of old slivers of soap that just might contain the magic they need to get their lives back together.

Author Amber McRee Turner has created a very likable character in Cass, a girl with a lot of spunk, heart, and creativity. Turner isn’t afraid to share the deep, hurting emotions of a ten-year-old whose world is falling apart, and many readers who have been through their parents’ separation or divorce will relate to Cass’ struggles. But the author doesn’t make the story all sour grapes and tears; instead she infuses so much humor, love, and magic into the situation that I couldn’t help but smile as I read about the mystical “Sway.” I also loved the language the author uses for Cass and her cousin, Syd (it’ll make you laugh, believe me). Sway is a heartfelt story that rings true to the voice of a young girl discovering some of the secrets of life, both good and bad.  

Bibliographical Information:
Turner, Amber. Sway. New York: Disney Hyperion Books, 2012.