Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Review: 'The Christmas Magic' by Lauren Thompson

✰✰✰✰ As the magic of Christmas draws near, there is much for Santa Claus to do. He brushes the reindeer and shines up his sleigh. He checks his list and packs up the toys. Santa loves all the children and knows that the magic of Christmas will soon be here. And when it arrives, the reindeer will fly, and Santa will be on his way.

The Bottom Line: Muth's enchanting illustrations bring Thompson's gentle holiday story to life. Filled with soft, glowing watercolors, this picture book is magic. Enthusiastically recommended for bedtime reading for kids in PreK - Grade 2.

Details: The Christmas Magic written by Lauren Thompson & illustrated by Jon J. Muth. Hardcover picture book published by Scholastic Press in 2009. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-439-77497-0

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Book Review: 'A Christmas for Bear' by Bonny Becker

✰✰✰✰½ Bear has only read about Christmas, but he has agreed to have a party. When Mouse arrives, Bear is a little bit grumpy. He tells Mouse there will be pickles and a poem. Mouse is a tiny bit disappointed and bored, and Bear is annoyed.  Every time Bear goes into the kitchen for something, Mouse disappears. Finally, Mouse reluctantly settles down for a long poem and pickles only to be surprised by a little Christmas cheer when he least expects it.

The Bottom Line: Fans of Bear and Mouse will enjoy this sweet and thoughtful holiday tale of friendship and giving. Denton's engaging illustrations in watercolor, ink, and gouache are soft and minimal. Enthusiastically recommended for little ones ages 4 - 7.

Details: A Christmas for Bear written by Bonny Becker & illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton. Hardcover picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2017. 48 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4923-4

Monday, July 2, 2018

Book Review: 'Millie in the Snow' by Alexander Steffensmeier

✰✰✰✰½ Millie is back, and she has a new job delivering Christmas mail. It's a very busy time of year, but Millie loves it. On Christmas Eve, she is sent home with a bundle of packages for the farmer and the other animals. Unfortunately, the snow turns the simple trek home into a confusing maze, and Millie gets lost. What will happen to the undelivered presents? Will she be able to find her way home in time for Christmas? Check out this humorous story and find out.

The Bottom Line: This sweet, misadventure of Millie the cow will appeal to kids in preschool through first grade. The large format and comical illustrations in watercolor are perfect for school and library storytime. Highly recommended for bedtime reading too.

Details: Millie in the Snow written & illustrated by Alexander Steffensmeier. Hardcover picture book published by Walker & Company in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8027-9801-5

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Review: 'Soul Surfer' by Bethany Hamilton

✰✰✰ Back in 2003, Bethany Hamilton was just like any other teenager. She enjoyed being with her friends and family and living the Hawaiian lifestyle. She was also a promising young surfer. Long before the tender age of 13, she set her sights on a professional surfing career. It looked like all the hard work and dedication was beginning to pay off as she won contest after contest. Then suddenly everything changed.

It was a morning like any other. Then, in the blink of an eye, a shark attacked Bethany. It was every surfer’s worst nightmare. After a harrowing trip to the hospital and lifesaving surgery, Bethany woke up to the grim reality that her life would never be the same. Through sheer grit and determination, she would fight to get back in the water and on the board. But it would take just a little bit more help to get her there. This uplifting story of one young woman’s faith and perseverance will inspire and motivate you to follow your dreams too.

The Bottom Line: This is a very quick read with a focus on faith and moving on. Bethany’s story will inspire you. Recommended for young adults and fans of faith-based stories.

Book Club Notes: It was refreshing to read a book from a teenager’s point of view. Although it is very short, there are some nuggets of wisdom in the book that stem from Bethany’s strong faith. To supplement the book, we watched an interview and a video of her wedding before talking about her life today. Our discussion focused on her positive outlook and faith. Additionally, many in the group had watched the Soul Surfer movie, which is actually quite good. 

Overall, on a scale of 1 – 5 (with 5 being the highest), we rated the book an average of 3 and the movie an average of 4. Recommended for young adult book groups. Note: If you watch the movie DVD, be sure to check out the documentary as well. For more information about the film and links to interviews, visit Chasing the FrogFor discussion questions, take a look at the study guide  

Details: Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board by Bethany Hamilton. Paperback published by Pocket Books in 2004. 222 p. ISBN: 978-1-4165-0346-0 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Book Review: 'Dog Night at the Story Zoo' by Dan Bar-el

✰✰✰½ Have you ever wondered what your pet does after you go to bed at night? Well, your dog or cat or turtle just might visit the Story Zoo. The Story Zoo is a place where the animals go to tell their stories, and tonight is Dog Night. Four brave pooches get to step up on stage and share their adventures.

The Bottom Line: These silly tales are perfect for kids in middle school who enjoy comics and graphic novels. This book is very sturdy with colorful, glossy pages making it just right for repeated usage such as at libraries or schools. It's a very quick read too.

Details: Dog Night at the Story Zoo by Dan Bar-el & illustrated by Vicki Nerino. Hardcover book published by Tundra Books in 2017. 104 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-91838-8  NOTE: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: 'Counting with Barefoot Critters' by Teagan White

✰✰✰✰✰ Throughout the day and into the night a charming group of animal friends enjoy reading, doing chores, racing, and other outdoor adventures together as they learn to count. At each stop there is a new activity and a new friend joins the fun. Read along as the barefoot critters count up to twelve before the day is over. This adorable little board book is one that you and your little one will read again and again.

The Bottom Line: This sweet and sturdy board book gently helps new readers learn to count. Each number is given a two page spread, and both pages feature that exact number of critters. The artwork in watercolor and gouache feature a natural color palette resulting in engaging illustrations. Enthusiastically recommended for bedtime reading for little ones ages 2 – 4.

Details: Counting with Barefoot Critters written & illustrated by Teagan White. Board book edition published by Tundra Books in 2018. 30 p. ISBN: 978-0-7352-6323-9 NOTE: I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: 'Hedy's Folly' by Richard Rhodes

✰✰✰ Hedy Lamarr was known for her glamour and beauty. During MGM's "Golden Age" she was a much sought after actress starring alongside Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Victor Mature. But there was more to Ms. Lamarr than Hollywood parties and fancy dresses. Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Austria, Hedy always wanted to be an actress, and after a short, unhappy marriage to munitions manufacturer Fritz Mandl, Hedy made her way to America.

In between filming movies, Hedy enjoyed inventing. Her hobby took off when she met composer George Antheil. When America entered World War II, both the actress and the composer were inspired to help in any way they could. The result of their collaboration was a patent application for a Secret Communication System, which featured "frequency hopping." This technology later became known as spread spectrum communication technology which we still use today for GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices. It's amazing to think that the smartphones we depend on today rely on an idea that came from "the most beautiful woman in the world."

The Bottom Line: This book is part biography about Hedy Lamarr, part biography of George Antheil, and part science text. It is an interesting look at how everything came together at the right time to bring about a technology we depend upon today. Readers interested in women of science will find this slim book fascinating. However, fans of Hedy Lamarr looking for salacious tidbits of her Hollywood life and numerous marriages will have to look elsewhere.

Book Club Notes: Many of our members were fans of Hedy Lamarr and very familiar with her work as a Hollywood film star. We were all excited to learn about this amazing technology and lost piece of history. However, several members thought the title was misleading. As noted above, this book has three parts to it, and information about Hedy's glamorous life in Hollywood is limited. Several members were discouraged by the dry writing style. Also the technology was difficult to understand at times.

On a scale from 1 - 5, our ratings ranged from 2 - 5 with a group average of 3 stars. Recommended for book clubs interested in science, technology, and the contributions of women in science. This is not a well known topic, but a very worthy one. Our discussion was supplemented with talk about the movies Ms. Lamarr starred in. I also shared information about the patent. Book clubs interested in discussing this title can find a discussion guide at LitLovers.

Additionally, I created a few extra questions to add to the discussion: 
1.) What were your impressions of Hedy Lamarr before reading this book? Did these change after reading this title? 
2. What is invention? What is discovery? How are they similar or different? 
3.) What would George Antheil think about recent technology in music?  
4.) It was during her marriage to Fritz Mandl that Ms. Lamarr learned about weapons over dinner conversations. Were Hedy's ideas original or mostly borrowed? 
5.) Why did it take so long for Hedy to receive the recognition she deserved? 
6.) How would things be different today if Hedy's ideas of frequency hopping had been adopted earlier by the military? 
7.) Does anyone in the group invent or tinker?  

Finally, for those interested in learning more about Ms. Lamarr and her invention, there is a new documentary film out by Zeitgeist Films. Our group met before the release date, but many of us were interested in viewing it at a future date.

Details: Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes. Paperback published by Vintage Books in 2011. 262 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-74295-7