Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: 'Groundhog Stays Up Late' by Margery Cuyler

✰✰✰✰½ Groundhog loves to run and play with all his forest animal friends. He's just not the type to hibernate, and sleeping all winter is boring. After all, who has time for hibernating when there are so many fun things to do? Groundhog would rather play hide-and-seek than prepare for winter. Even when winter arrives, he would rather be building a snowman than taking a long winter nap.

Staying up is great except for being alone. All the other forest animals have burrowed into their warm homes until spring. All alone and hungry, Groundhog cooks up a plan to celebrate an early spring, but will his friends play along?

The Bottom Line: There aren't too many books out there about Groundhog Day, but this one is a winner. In this charming book, Groundhog learns about the consequences of breaking the rules. Luckily, his friends are there to teach him the error of his ways. Groundhog Stays Up Late is highly recommended for tots ages 3 - 5. Jean Cassels used gouache to beautifully illustrate Groundhog's winter adventure. Parents will enjoy reading this to kids at bedtime. Also, it would make a great book for story hour at school or at the library. 

Details: Grounghog Stays Up Late is written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by  Jean Cassels. Hardcover picture book published by Walker & Company in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8027-8940-4

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: 'The Hunted Hare' by Fay Sampson

✰✰✰ This new series by Fay Sampson features photographer Aidan Davison, his terminally ill wife, Jenny, and their mischievous daughter Melangell. Many years prior, the couple had collaborated on a book about the mystical Pennant Melangell; Jenny, a writer, captured the magic with words while Aidan captured it in photographs. The couple has now returned to St. Melangell's hoping to recapture a bit of their past and share the magic of the place with their daughter, who was named after the saint. However, there is another reason for their visit. Many flock to St. Melangell’s for spiritual and perhaps physical healing. Jenny is no exception; she has incurable cancer with just months to live.

Seeking solitude and peace, the family settles into the fictional House of the Hare. While there are few guests, peace and quiet eludes them as a man is murdered in broad daylight. Instead of the peaceful atmosphere they had wished for, the Davisons suddenly find themselves at the center of a murder investigation. As the police continue questioning Jenny, who may hold an important clue, the couple's strained relationship becomes even more of a struggle. Additionally, the stress of the investigation begins to take its toll on Jenny's fragile body. It's a race against time as Jenny tries to remember something important before someone else is hurt. The Hunted Hare includes plenty of suspects, a few unsavory characters, and lots of twists and turns to keep readers guessing until the end.

The Bottom Line: The first book in the Aidan Mysteries series was slow to start, but eventually reeled me in. In this mystery, author Fay Sampson also explores the theme of faith as Jenny faces her mortality. However, Jenny's battle with cancer was not depressing; instead, Jenny seeks peace and acceptance.

While the setting of St. Melangell's is fascinating and the mystery is enjoyable, I felt the characters fell flat. Also, the writing style incorporates simple sentences and plentiful questions. There are even a few sentence fragments mixed in at times. Here is an example, "He [Aidan] felt a sickening fear. Was he to lose everything now? Jenny? His instinct for photography? What would there be left to make life worth living?" (p. 173)

Overall, this was an average effort that sometimes felt more like a draft than a finished product. I hope that the characters are more fully developed in future installments. Nevertheless, readers of cozy mysteries and Christian fiction may want to give it a try. Note: For those interested in the real St. Melangell's Church, be sure to check out the website.

Details: The Hunted Hare (The Aidan Mysteries) by Fay Sampson. Paperback published by Monarch Books in 2012. 288 p. ISBN: 978-0-85721-204-7 Note: I received a complimentary copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review: 'Hocus Pocus Hotel' by Michael Dahl

✰✰✰✰½ When geeky middle school student, Charlie "Hitch" Hitchcock receives a note from Tyler "Ty" Yu, the school bully, he knows that he must face the music or be humiliated by his peers. Charlie goes to the address written on the dreaded note and finds himself face-to-face with Ty. But looks aren't always what they seem. You see, Ty lives in the mysterious Abracadabra Hotel, a kind of retirement home for magicians. It just so happens that one of the retired magicians, Mr. Madagascar, is missing. He simply disappeared into thin air one day. Poof! Now Ty desperately needs Charlie's help to find the AWOL magician. As the hotel manager's son, it's Ty's job to collect the rent money. If he doesn't collect the rent, he won't get paid. And if he doesn't get paid, he can't purchase the Tezuki Slamhammer 750, Edition 6, in cherry-pop lightening red. 

But that's not all. The Abracadabra Hotel was been built by a famous magician many years ago. While there are surprises around every corner, things have been a bit more odd than usual around the old hotel. It seems there are strange disappearances, blackouts, and maybe even a ghost. Following a trail of missing objects, the bully and the geek secretly team up to find the missing magician and discover who or what has been stealing from the hotel. With the help of the mysterious elderly elevator operator, Brack, who has a knack for appearing (and disappearing) at appropriate times and Charlie's acute visual memory, this unlikely duo form something resembling a friendship and solve puzzles along the way.

The Bottom Line: Hocus Pocus Hotel is the first book of a clever and entertaining new series that is sure to please kids. It contains two mysteries, but each is solved separately so that readers will not get confused. Kids will love the insight into how magic tricks are done, and it teaches reasoning skills along the way. Additionally, there are plentiful color illustrations and diagrams to illustrate the magic tricks. This is a fun and fast paced book; even reluctant readers will want to give it a try. Highly recommended for kids in Grades 3 - 6. I can't wait to read the next installment; The Return of Abracadabra is scheduled to be out February 1, 2013.

Details: Hocus Pocus Hotel written by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Lisa K. Weber. Hardcover published by Stone Arch Books in 2012. 216 p. ISBN: 978-1-4342-4253-2

Also available as 2 library bound editions: Out the Rear Window (978-1-4342-4038-5) and To Catch a Ghost (978-1-4342-4100-9)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013! The Year of the Library!

Let's start the new year off right with a visit to your local library. In fact, let's all make it a goal to visit the library once a week and make 2013 “The Year of the Library.” At this point, you might be thinking to yourself that there’s nothing to do at the library. Perhaps you haven’t even set foot in one since you were in school and got in trouble for talking too loud. Well, now is the perfect time to visit. Libraries are changing to suit the needs of their customers. Check out the following list of 52 things you can do at your local library. I have included one activity for each week of the year. The list is chronological, but you can try these in any order you wish.

Week 1: Join the Winter Reading Program.
Week 2: Join a book club or learn how to start your own.
Week 3: Start a blog.
Week 4: Write your resume.
Week 5: Scan & edit your photos.
Week 6: Check out a magazine…yes, we still have them.
Week 7: Learn new computer skills at workshop.
Week 8: Attend Game Night and play chess, checkers, Wii & more.
Week 9: Attend a concert.
Week 10: March is National Foreign Language Month. You can learn a new language with books,
     CDs, and software at the library.
Week 11: It’s also National Nutrition Month. Learn to cook in a cooking class.
Week 12: Learn a new craft too. (March is National Craft Month as well.)
Week 13: Prepare for standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT,
     & more with study guides.
Week 14: Plan your Spring garden.
Week 15: Check out an e-reader & download an e-book.
Week 16: Plan your vacation.
Week 17: Volunteer at the library or find volunteer matches using the library computers. National
     Volunteer Week begins April 21.
Week 18: Research and write your term paper with books and online databases.
Week 19: May is National Home Remodeling Month, so check out some books to plan your
     home’s remodel.
Week 20: Check out a best seller.
Week 21: Borrow an audiobook; it will make your commute go faster.
Week 22: Free Wi-Fi.
Week 23: Join the Summer Reading Program. & sign your kids up too.
Week 24: Fix your car using auto repair manuals available at your library.
Week 25: Use a computer and update your status or check your email.
Week 26: Find a new genre to enjoy. Try a Western or some Sci-Fi.
Week 27: Check out a museum pass.
Week 28: Get help with job hunting.
Week 29: Use a database to get consumer ratings before your next big purchase.
Week 30: Attend a library book sale.
Week 31: Visit the library’s latest art exhibit.
Week 32: Borrow music CDs. Libraries have it all from jazz to rock to classical.
Week 33: Take your baby or child to story hour.
Week 34: Read the newspaper…yes, we still have these too.
Week 35: Get suggestions for what to read next.
Week 36: Become a literacy tutor. (Sept. 8 is International Literacy Day)
Week 37: Kids can get homework help.
Week 38: Join the Friends of Library.
Week 39: Reserve a meeting room for your group.
Week 40: Find your ancestors. (October is Family History Month)
Week 41: Learn how to invest. Financial Planning Week begins October 7.
Week 42: Get ideas for your child’s Halloween costume.
Week 43: Discover local history by using the archives and microfilm reader to uncover the past.
Week 44: Research financial aid and scholarship opportunities.
Week 45: Attend family reading night.
Week 46: Join a writer’s group and finally finish your book.
Week 47: Meet local authors.
Week 48: Make a donation in memory of your loved one for a book purchase.
Week 49: Plan you holiday cookie exchange with cookbooks from the library.
Week 50: Get information on how to write a business plan. (December is National Write a
     Business Plan Month.)
Week 51: Attend a job hunting workshop.
Week 52: Find interview tips.

There you have it; 52 weeks of library visits. Not only will you fulfill all of your New Year's resolutions, but you will save money too. Oh, and feel free to visit the library even more. You'll find there are many more things to do like attend a craft exchange, visit the bookmobile, check out a DVD, attend a yoga workshop, check out a graphic novel, meet a “living book,” read to a dog, watch a movie, or find your soul mate at a library speed dating event. Who knew? So here's to another great year of books, library events, and reading.
Happy New Year from Mini Book Bytes Book Reviews!

Note: The free clip art is from Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop.