Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Review: 'Library of Souls' by Ransom Riggs

✰✰✰✰ The third installment of the Miss Peregrine trilogy dives right back into the action. The situation is bleak as our heroes Jacob Portman and Emma Bloom along with Addison, a talking dog, continue to search for their beloved Miss Peregrine and the other missing ymbrynes. Their urgent quest transports the trio from modern-day London to Victorian England via a boat ride with the sinister boatman, Sharon, as their guide.

As the trio makes their way through the dark alleys of Devil's Acre, hallowgasts and wights are around every corner. Time to save Peculiardom is running out as Jacob struggles to understand and harness his special peculiar gift. The quest eventually leads them to a library in which the essences of peculiar souls are stored.

It doesn't look good for the Peculiars or the Ymbrynes as they bravely enter a final showdown against their evil nemesis, Caul. Will darkness take control of all Peculiardom or will goodness prevail? You'll be on the edge of your seat as the epic battle is fought.

The Bottom Line: Our peculiar friends are once again faced with adversity and loss. Despite all odds, they persevere and overcome by using their unique gifts and working as a team. This book was packed with adventure and action, while the ending of this trilogy was bittersweet. Riggs has created a hauntingly beautiful fictional world that I have enjoyed immensely. The story along with the vintage photos makes a lasting impression.

Enthusiastically recommended for young adults and adults who enjoy fast-paced adventures with a supernatural twist. To get the most out of this trilogy, I highly recommend reading the books in order. For those of you who long for more stories of the peculiar, Tales of the Peculiar is due out in September, and I can't wait to read it. Enjoy!

Details: Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Hardcover published by Quirk Books in 2015. 464 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-758-8

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Review: 'The Midnight Assassin' by Skip Hollandsworth

✰✰✰½ Most people have heard of the horrific murders in Victorian London carried out by Jack the Ripper. Few, however, have heard of the Midnight Assassin until now. Almost three years before the Ripper murders, the American city of Austin, Texas was terrorized by a series of brutal killings. The Midnight Assassin began his reign of terror by killing servants, most of whom were African American. This lead authorities to assume that the culprit must be African American as well. Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts varied. Some described a white attacker, while others described a black attacker. Meanwhile, servant women took to barricading themselves in at night. Before the killing spree would end, around a dozen suspects had been arrested.

As the holidays approached, an uneasy calm descended upon the city. That's when the Midnight Assassin attacked once again...on Christmas Eve. This time two white women were attacked. During this era law enforcement did not fully understand the ramifications of these events as the concept of a serial killer was unknown. Then just as abruptly as the killings started, they stopped. As life got back to normal in Austin, London began experiencing a series of gruesome murders. Investigators on both sides of the Atlantic would wonder if Jack the Ripper and the Midnight Assassin were the same person.

The Bottom Line: After a slow, detailed start with lots of background information, the pace quickly picked up speed. The mystery of the Midnight Assassin remains unsolved to this very day; yet, few outside the Austin, Texas area have ever heard of these brutal crimes. Written in a journalistic style, Hollandsworth takes the reader on a terrifying journey. Fans of true crime and American history will want to pick up a copy. Also, recommended for readers who enjoyed The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. This is a fascinating look at a little known event outside the Austin area, and visitors to the city can still see some of the changes the city made in the wake of these events (for example, the giant moonlight towers).

Note: This book includes vivid descriptions of the murders; thus, it is not suitable for sensitive readers.

Details: The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth. Published by Henry Holt & Company in 2016. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9767-2 NOTE: I received an Advance Reader's copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review: 'Look Me In the Eye' by John Elder Robison

✰✰✰✰ Imagine not being able to make a connection with other people even though you long to. As a young child, author John Elder Robison often played alone even though he wanted to play with other children. Robison’s peculiar behavior caused him to be viewed as an odd misfit or even worse as a social deviant. Things that came so easily to others, like smiling and conversation, were a challenge for Robison.

Misunderstood at school, Robison eventually dropped out. Luckily, he fell in with a group of musicians where his talents with electronics, sound, and special effects were appreciated, and his quirks were overlooked. While the clues to his odd behavior were always there, he went undiagnosed for four decades. Finally receiving his diagnosis of Asperger's explained a lot.

Through engaging stories that include putting his little brother in a five-foot deep hole to traveling with the rock group KISS to raising a child, Robison educates the reader about the autism spectrum.

The Bottom Line: When this book was first published there was very little out there in regards to first person accounts of what it is like to live with autism. Robison’s book brings the autism spectrum into the spotlight and educates readers about the often misunderstood disorder. Robison is a very high functioning Aspergian, who can describe what he has experienced.

While his writing style is a bit robotic and there is some repetition, this book illustrates how the author can understand and relate to machines so well. The author reminds everyone that there are some disabilities you can’t see. Highly recommended reading for schools discussing bullying and accepting differences. This is an interesting look into Asperger’s Syndrome from the point of view of someone who had an awareness of what it's like to be different.

Book Club Notes: On a scale from 1 being the lowest to 5 being the highest, the group rating averaged about 3.25 stars with a range from 2 to 4.5 stars. While this discussion was very well attended, half the group really enjoyed the book and the other half did not. Everyone was eager to share their thoughts on this book. Some participants simply did not like the author, while others did not like the pranks he pulled. A few were concerned about the language and, thus, would not recommend it to others. One person felt that Robison’s story did not represent autism in general. That being said, we did agree that the author was brave and honest in the telling of his story. Also, we agreed that this book opened a dialogue about what it means to be different. Many of us will be checking out his other books and titles by his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, as well.

For those concerned about coarse language, check out the paperback edition; the language has been cleaned up for younger readers. Even though there was a wide range of ratings, book clubs looking to discuss bullying, family dynamics, education, and autism will want to check this out. While it is true some of us had to agree to disagree, everyone had something to say about this book. Plus, best of all, we all learned something, which is one of the reasons we enjoy discussing nonfiction.

Check out the reading guide at LitLovers.

Details: Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison. Paperback published by Broadway Books in 2008. 302 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-39618-1

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: 'Over-Scheduled Andrew' written & illustrated by Ashley Spires

✰✰✰✰ Andrew is a very busy little chickadee. He joined the drama club because he loves putting on plays. In order to do better at play rehearsals, Andrew also signs up for debate club, ballet lessons, and karate class. There are so many interesting things to do; Andrew signs up for everything.

Soon Andrew has little time to eat, sleep, or play with his best friend, Edie. When an exhausted Andrew misses out on one of his favorite activities, he must make a choice. How will Andrew turn his life around from over-scheduled to just right? Read the book and find out what Andrew decides to do.

The Bottom Line: School kids today lead very hectic lives. There are so many activities and clubs to join. It's difficult to pick just a few. Kids in grades K – 3 will identify with Andrew's dilemma. This story focuses on the importance of friendship and taking time to unwind. The digitally rendered artwork is crisp and colorful. Great for classroom story hour.

Details: Over-Scheduled Andrew written & illustrated by Ashley Spires. Hardcover picture book published by Tundra Books in 2016. 32 p. ISBN: 9781-77049-484-8 NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: 'The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah' by Leslie Kimmelman

✰✰✰✰½ The little red hen is no stranger to work, but why should she do everything herself when she has friends to help her? Passover will be here all too soon, and preparing for it is a lot of work. The little red hen is not worried; she has many friends. Always one step ahead of everyone else, the little red hen begins preparing for the holiday by planting grain. Who will help her? "Not I," said the Sheep, the Horse, and the Dog. The little red hen soon learns that it is up to her alone to plant, harvest, and carry the wheat to the mill.

As the months go by the little red hen becomes more and more disappointed in her lazy friends. She even has to bake the matzah all by herself. Just when it is time to sit down for the delicious Seder meal, who should show up at her door, but her lazy friends. What is a good hen to do? Turn them out or invite them in? Learn about the real meaning of the celebration in this charming picture book.

The Bottom Line: This little book blends the classic tale of the little red hen with aspects from the Jewish holiday of Passover. Meisel uses simple, colorful artwork in watercolor, pastel, and ink to illustrate this clever story with a twist at the end. The large print is helpful for new readers. This picture book also includes information about the Jewish holiday of Passover, a recipe to make Matzah, and a brief glossary of Yiddish words used in the story. This is perfect for classroom storytime as an introduction to the holiday.

Details: The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah written by Leslie Kimmelman & illustrated by Paul Meisel. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2010. 28 p. ISBN: 978-0-8234-1952-4

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Review: 'April Fool, Phyllis!' by Susanna Leonard Hill

✰✰✰✰½ Punxsutawney Phyllis knows everything there is to know about the weather. When she wakes up on April Fools' Day, she notices that something is just not right. Spring should be in the air, but there's a blizzard coming instead. Unfortunately, no one listens to her. After all it's April Fools' Day, and everyone thinks she's joking. Or is she?

To the dismay of Phyllis, the other groundhogs proceed with the Spring Treasure Hunt as plannedAs they begin to solve the riddles, the snowflakes begin to fall. Just when they reach the end of the clues, they must find another answer. With the raging blizzard making it impossible to see, how will the little groundhogs ever find their way home? It's up to Phyllis to find the way back as well as the answer to all the riddles. Phyllis also gets the very last laugh...April Fool!

The Bottom Line: Kids will love this amusing story of a clever groundhog. Ebbeler's charming and colorful illustrations are full of details making it perfect for story hour. Additionally, the last page in this picture book explains the history of April Fools' Day. This is an engaging and fun read for kids in grades K - 2.

Details: April Fool, Phyllis! written by Susanna Leonard Hill & illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2011. 28 p. ISBN: 978-0-8234-2270-8

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: 'The Great Easter Egg Hunt' by Michael Garland.

✰✰✰½ On Easter morning a young boy receives a mysterious invitation from his Aunt Jeanne. As instructed through notes, Tommy races to follow a bunny in a pink vest. Tommy is magically transported to a town where it is Easter all the time. The lucky little boy follows the clues to visit the Easter egg factory, buildings made of chocolate, the Jelly Bean Machine, and an Easter-basket assembly line. His adventure is full of holiday surprises, but the best one is waiting for him at the end. You, too, are invited to explore this magical land filled with chocolate bunnies, decorated eggs, little lambs, and fluffy chicks to count.

The Bottom Line: This brightly illustrated picture book challenges young readers to search for holiday related objects. Also, readers can search for letters that spell out a special holiday messages. Plus, readers learn to follow directions through a variety of puzzles. Recommended holiday reading for kids ages 3 through 8.

Details: The Great Easter Egg Hunt (A Look Again Book) written & illustrated by Michael Garland. Hardcover picture book published by Dutton Children's Books in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 0-525-47357-2