Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Book Review: 'Seven Dead Pirates' by Linda Bailey

✰✰✰½ Lewis Dearborn is a shy young boy. Like many kids, he dreads going to school. When his family inherits a rundown seaside mansion, all his mother can do is make quick plans to sell it. Lewis, on the other hand, is in for the adventure of a lifetime. When Lewis quickly claims the tower room for his bedroom, he learns that it comes complete with ghosts. And not just one or two ghosts, but seven in all!

Seven pirate ghosts can be a little bit overwhelming until you get used to them. While Lewis' days are filled with school bullies and not being able to speak up for himself, Lewis' nights are filled with ghostly parties and fun. It isn't long before the pirate ghosts ask Lewis for help; they wish to return to the Maria Louisa, their long-lost ship. With the help of a peculiar classmate, Abriella, Lewis embarks on a mission to help the pirates out. Will he be able to find the courage to complete the task, or will he chicken out? Only time will tell, but Lewis better hurry up before another group of rowdy ghost pirates take up residence on the Maria Louisa.

The Bottom Line: This ghost story for middle grade readers is an adventurous tale of friendship and acceptance. Author Linda Bailey teaches us that it's perfectly okay to be different. Despite the slow beginning, the tale steadily picks up speed and finishes with an adventurous splash.

Details: Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2015. 304 p. ISBN: 9781770498150 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Survival Lessons' by Alice Hoffman

✰✰✰✰✰ When confronted with a time of crisis, it's easy to forget the beauty in the world. Fifteen years after a bout of cancer, author Alice Hoffman wrote this book to remind herself of the beauty of life. By doing so, she also reminds readers that although we may not have chosen our situation, we do indeed have choices in how we face it. Hoffman reminds us that without sorrow, there would be no joy. Without heartache, there would be no love.

Survival Lessons is like having a conversation with a trusted best friend. Hoffman's life observations will help those who have experienced trauma to move forward and reclaim their lives. You will see yourself and those around you differently after reading this book.

The Bottom Line: This book includes twenty short chapters that present the reader with choices one can make to move forward in life. Sprinkled with photographs and inspirational quotes, Hoffman even includes a knitting pattern and a recipe or two. This book is small and can easily be read in one sitting, which is great when you are recuperating from an illness and don't have too much energy. Hoffman's words are gentle and honest; her writing will leave your spirit feeling refreshed. Highly recommended for anyone who has survived a crisis whether physical or emotional.

Details: Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman. Hardcover published by Algonquin Books in 2013. 96 p. ISBN: 978-1-61620-314-6

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: 'The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story' by Lily Koppel

✰✰✰ When the Mercury 7 astronauts were introduced back in 1959, there was a surprising amount of interest in their wives. These ordinary women suddenly found themselves in the center of attention. The wives of the Mercury 7 astronauts were traditionalists in every sense. Each woman was expected to be calm and composed. The Astrowives, as they became known, were judged on their clothes, hair, complexion, parenting skills, charm, and patriotism.

During this era, women were expected to excel in housekeeping, raising children, and cooking. Many had dropped out of college early to get married. However, they were not to be underestimated. Each Astrowife was expected to show "the right stuff" just like her astronaut husband. This is their story. A story about female friendships, American identity, and history.

The Bottom Line: This quick read will appeal to readers of American history and women's issues. Fans of television series like Mad Men may also be interested. The chapters were short, and the writing style was easy to read. The beginning of the book includes a list of wives arranged chronologically by mission, making it easy to keep track of who's who.

Book Club Notes: Surprisingly the attendance for this quarter was much lower than previous discussions. Several members simply were not interested in the topic. Nevertheless, those of us who attended had a great discussion. Our conversation focused on the friendships of the women and the courage it took for them to support their husbands while finding their own identities. One thing we all agreed upon was that we disliked the choppy, journalistic writing style. Ratings ranged from a low of 2 stars to a high of 4 stars, but most of us gave the book a rating of 3 stars. In short, this is an average book about a fascinating topic.

The paperback edition includes a Reading Group Guide in the back of the book. However, the same questions are also available by visiting The Astronaut Wives Club website. More discussion questions are available at LitLovers.

Details: The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel. Trade paperback published by Grand Central Publishing in 2014. 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-4555-0324-7

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review: 'Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye' by Tania Del Rio

✰✰✰✰✰ The Warren Hotel has seen better days. After twelve generations of Warrens taking care of it, Warren the 13th is eager to assume the responsibility as caretaker. Although he already serves as the hotel's long bellhop, waiter, groundskeeper, and all-around gofer, Warren the 13th is too young to take over. After all, he is only twelve.

So when his uncle's new wife, Annaconda, tears up the hotel by searching for something, Warren the 13th sets out to put things back together. Unfortunately, Aunt Annaconda won't give up. She's determined to find the mythical and legendary All-Seeing Eye and have it all for herself. When Aunt Annaconda brings in reinforcements in the form of her two witch sisters and an evil little apprentice, things really start to heat up. Suddenly the once very empty hotel is full of people searching for the All-Seeing Eye. It's up to Warren the 13th and his new friends to find the eye before the others. Can they discover the hotel's secrets before Aunt Annaconda, her witch sisters, and the other guests destroy it? Pick up this engaging book to find out.

The Bottom Line: This quick read for middle grade readers is wonderfully Gothic in style. The book includes fun puzzles and gorgeous illustrations. The book uses a Victorian style layout with two columns combined with the limited color palette of red, black, and white. It has an almost Steampunk feel to it. Warren the 13th is a sweet young boy who posses a sparkling optimism and good work ethic. This charming tale of friendship and family with eccentric characters will appeal to kids who enjoy something a little different. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades 5 - 9. Fans of Edward Gorey may also want to check this out. I'm looking forward to the next installment; I hope it includes more puzzles and cleverness.

Details: Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye: A Novel written by Tania Del Rio & illustrated by Will Staehle. Published by Quirk Books in 2015. 224 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-803-5 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Quirk Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: 'Halloween Night' by Marjorie Dennis Murray

✰✰✰✰½ Monsters, zombies, witches, and ghouls prepare for their very own Halloween party. When the giggling children finally arrive, they are in for a big surprise. A feast of treats with fish tails, lizards, mice, and crickets awaits them. It's enough to make the children shiver and run which is just fine for the ghoulish crew. With leftover bugs and grubs galore, the monsters agree it was the best party yet.

The Bottom Line: You'll have a spooky good time when you read this Halloween themed take on "The Night Before Christmas." This picture book is filled with clever rhymes and creepy, colorful illustrations that will appeal to kids in grades 1 - 3. Highly recommended for classroom or library storytime.

Details: Halloween Night written by Marjorie Dennis Murray & illustrated by Brandon Dorman. Hardcover picture book published by Greenwillow Books in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-1351877

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: 'One Witch' by Laura Leuck

✰✰✰✰✰ One witch with an empty pot has a plan. As she visits all her friends, each provides a tasty, ghoulish ingredient for to fill her pot. When she finally has enough items to create a spooktacular stew, she sends out invitations. Cats, ghouls, mummies, and vampires are all eager to sample the delectable dish, but there's something missing. You'll never guess what it is unless you check out this spooky tale.

The Bottom Line: This creative, Halloween-themed take on the classic Stone Soup folktale is super fun to read. Kids will enjoy counting up to ten and back down again with Leuck's spooky and silly rhymes. Children and adults alike will delight in Schindler's wonderful ink and watercolor illustrations which are colorful and detailed, but not too scary. This is one picture book you'll read over and over again with your little ones. Also, highly recommended for storytime for children in Kindergarten and Grade 1.

Details: One Witch written by Laura Leuck & illustrated by S. D. Schindler. Hardcover picture book published by Walker & Company in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8027-8860-2

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: 'Inspector Specter' by E. J. Copperman

✰✰✰✰½ In the sixth installment of E. J. Copperman's A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery, we find Detective Lieutenant Anita McElone asking the 'ghost lady' for help in solving a case. Alison Kerby is shocked, but the lieutenant is not joking. It looks like McElone's former partner may have met with foul play. With Alison's ability to speak to ghosts and the help of Paul and Maxie, ghosts who reside at the guesthouse, the case should be a cinch to solve. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. This fast-paced mystery will keep you guessing until the very end.

The Bottom Line: This charming cozy is the perfect weekend read for anyone who loves mysteries with a paranormal twist. Although I have not read the other titles in the series, I had no trouble picking up this installment and following along. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading the others as the characters are engaging and fun. Highly recommended for mystery buffs.

Details: Inspector Specter (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery) by E. J. Copperman. Paperback published Berkley Prime Crime in 2014. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Book Review: "Who Will I Be?' by Shirley Neitzel

✰✰✰½ When an invitation for a Halloween party arrives in the mail, a little girl must come up with a costume to wear. With a few odds and ends, she mixes and matches to create not one, but two different costumes. Which one will she choose? Don't be too sure. Just when she figures it out, a surprise arrives just in time.

The Bottom Line: With lots of repetition and rhyme, this rebus book is great for kids just learning to read. Charming colored pencil, watercolor, and pen drawings help early readers associate words. Little ones in preschool and kindergarten will have a fun time learning new words.

Details: Who Will I Be?: A Halloween Rebus Story written by Shirley Neitzel & illustrated by Nancy Winslow Parker. Hardcover picture book published by Greenwillow Books in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-056068-3

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Moonlight' by Cynthia Rylant

✰✰✰✰½ A little black cat named Moonlight loves to pad around and explore the dark. She loves all the nights, but Halloween night is the very best. Halloween night is a tiny bit different from all the other nights. Pumpkins smile at her, and stars shine down on her. The moon is full and bright, and children are out. There's just something special about Halloween night. Read along with your little ones as Moonlight shares the excitement of the holiday.

The Bottom Line: Kids ages 2 - 7 will love this gentle Halloween-themed tale about the holiday adventures of a little black cat. Sweet's colorful acrylic and colored pencil illustrations are fun and friendly for little ones. This is a tender introduction to Halloween especially for children who may be wary of the tradition. Highly recommended.

Details: Moonlight: The Halloween Cat written by Cynthia Rylant & illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-029712-3

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Review: 'A Tiger Called Thomas' by Charlotte Zolotow

✰✰✰✰ When a shy, young boy named Thomas moves into a new neighborhood, all he wants to do is sit on the stoop of his new house. Everyday he watches the other kids play, and he watches the neighbors. However, he doesn't talk to any of them. Thomas thinks they won't like him because he's the new kid on the block. But when his mother brings home a tiger costume for Thomas to wear on Halloween, everything changes. His neighbors and the other kids all talk to him, and Thomas discovers that it's not so bad being the new kid.

The Bottom Line: This is a tender, classic story about overcoming shyness and making new friends. Bluthenthal's artwork in acrylic, watercolor, ink, and collage perfectly illustrate the gentle text. Children who have recently moved or who are shy will easily identify with the main character. This would make a great storytime pick for the 1st or 2nd grade classroom.

Details: A Tiger Called Thomas written by Charlotte Zolotow & illustrated by Diana Cain Bluthenthal. Hardcover picture book published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 078680517-X

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: 'Frangoline and the Midnight Dream' by Clemency Pearce

✰✰✰✰½ Frangoline is a sweet little girl by day, but don't be fooled. When night arrives, Frangoline makes her escape through the window and sets out on dark adventures. While the worried moon watches, Frangoline explores dark and twisted paths. Through the creepy wood and into the churchyard she goes. Nothing can stop her until she goes just a step too far. With nowhere else to hide, a frightened Frangoline turns to the moon for help. It's time for this little girl to sleep snugly in her bed. Sweet dreams Frangoline...until tomorrow night.

The Bottom Line: Many kids will identify with Frangoline, a good little girl who enjoys being just a tiny bit naughty every once in a while. Children will love Elliott's illustrations full of dark colors and just the right amount of creepiness. The rhyming verses make this a great pick for storytime at school or the library. It's perfect seasonal fun for kids in grades 1 - 3.

Details: Frangoline and the Midnight Dream written by Clemency Pearce & illustrated by Rebecca Elliott. Hardcover picture book published by Chicken House in 2011. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-31426-8

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: 'The Witch of Lime Street' by David Jaher

✰✰✰½ The 1920s were a decade of glamour and technology. During this time the Spiritualist movement rapidly caught on after millions died during the horrors of World War I and the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. Although it might seem obvious that these paranormal phenomena were hoaxes, many people took séances quite seriously. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer. To settle the conflict, the Scientific American magazine decided to sponsor a contest and offer a prize to the medium who could prove her gifts were authentic. Several stepped forward. All were easily discredited. All, that is, until one known as Margery entered.

Like other mediums, Margery claimed to communicate with the dead. Unlike the others, Margery never charged for her séances. As a prominent doctor's wife, the beautiful, charming young woman had many believers. She seemed destined to win the prize, if not for one obstacle. The only one able to resist her charms was the famed illusionist Harry Houdini. In fact, Houdini made it his personal crusade to expose fraudulent mediums. While Margery was a tough nut to crack, Houdini publicly disproved her. Nevertheless, Margery's true believers stood by her. With Houdini's untimely death, Margery's secrets will live on.

The Bottom Line: Jaher's fascination with the topic is evident in the extensive research he undertook in order to write this debut book. In doing so, the author has brought to light an interesting lost piece of American history. Presented in short chapters, some were page-turners while others were bogged down with too many details. Overall, this is an impressive and fascinating tome. Recommended for history buffs and fans of paranormal phenomena and magic. The glow in the dark cover is a nice bonus.

Details: The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher. Advance Readers Edition published by Crown Publishers in 2015. 436 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-45106-4 NOTE: I received a free advance reading copy from Crown Publishers in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: 'The Ghost Prison' by Joseph Delaney

✰✰✰ Billy Calder is the new prison guard at the castle. Everyone knows the castle is haunted, but there aren't many jobs available for orphans. In fact, Billy is lucky to have found this one. After preliminary training, Billy is dismayed to be transferred to the night shift. Scary things have happened at the castle; people have died there. However, Billy doesn't have a choice. Billy has heard all the stories about the haunted cells in the castle. He also knows how to take precautions, until one night when he is the only guard on duty to make the rounds. Even though he has been warned to stay away from the Witch Well, it's up to Billy to feed the evil creature within. Whether it's nerves or something else, Billy makes a mistake that will change his life forever.

The Bottom Line: Supplemented with spooky black and white illustrations by Scott M. Fischer, this ghost story is fun for late night telling. This quick read will appeal to kids in middle school. 

Details: The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney. Hardcover published by Sourcebooks Fire in 2013. 112 p. ISBN: 978-1-4022-9318-4

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Book Review: 'Four Little Witches' by T. J. Perkins

✰✰✰✰✰ In the land of Lilly Hollow, four tiny little witches representing the elements play and laugh. With their own special gifts, the best friends help things grow and flourish. When an accident occurs and the planet is threatened, the little witches band together to heal the land. With their nurturing teamwork, the four friends ensure that our beloved Earth will be here for years to come.

The Bottom Line: This magical little book will delight tiny readers ages 2 - 7. Dreamy illustrations in soft hues will appeal to kids of all ages. This is a timeless tale you will read over and over again with your own little ones. Enthusiastically recommended for any time of the year.

Details: Four Little Witches written by T. J. Perkins & illustrated by Eimi Pinero. Hardcover picture book published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. in 2015. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-7643-4943-0

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Book Review: 'The Hallo-wiener' by Dav Pilkey

✰✰✰✰ All the other dogs make fun of Oscar because he is short and long. They taunt and tease him with names like Wiener Dog and then leave him behind. On Halloween night Oscar dreams of wearing a scary costume. To his dismay his mom surprises him with a silly one. Being a good little dog, he wears it anyway and is soon left behind again. When Oscar finally catches up with his friends, he discovers a monster has frightened them. Can little Oscar save them before it's too late?

The Bottom Line: This is a sweet little tale about friendship and bravery told for the Halloween season. Colorful illustrations, plentiful puns, and a happy ending will appeal to kids in grades K - 2. Recommended for storytime reading.

Details: The Hallo-wiener written & illustrated by Dav Pilkey. Hardcover picture book published by The Blue Sky Press in 1995. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-590-41703-7

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Book Review: 'The Amityville Horror' by Jay Anson

✰✰✰ The Lutz family moved into their dream house nearly forty years ago. At the time, George and Kathleen knew that just one year earlier the entire DeFeo family had been murdered in the house by the eldest son. Nevertheless, the price was right. George and Kathy were far from superstitious, so they went ahead with the purchase. They were optimistic that this would be the perfect home for their new family. 

Almost immediately after moving in, strange and terrifying phenomena began to happen to the family. Less than one month later they fled the house in fear for their lives. Believe it or not; this is their story.

The Bottom Line: While I have seen the movie countless times, the book has a more frightening quality about it. Written in a journalistic style, the book is a quick read. Anson's descriptions of the psychic phenomena are quite spooky, and the information about what Father Frank Mancuso experienced was interesting. Also, the book includes plans of the house. Recommended for fans of true crime, paranormal, and horror.

Details: The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. Paperback published by Pocket Star Books in 2005. 256 p. ISBN: 978-1-4165-0769-7

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit' by Mark Seal

✰✰✰✰½ Clark Rockefeller made international headlines when he kidnapped his daughter and disappeared. During the manhunt that followed, police were stunned to discover that the man known as Clark Rockefeller was an imposter. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter went from foreign exchange student to wealthy scion, by bluffing his way into exclusive clubs, communities, and financial institutions. Over a period of three decades, this self-made con man managed to fool nearly everyone including his Harvard-educated wife. This true-crime book reads like a fictional thriller. Once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. You simply won't believe it's true.

The Bottom Line: This book has it all: mystery, intrigue, and murder. It is a quick read that will leave you wondering just how one man could fool everyone with his outrageous lies. Highly recommended for fans of true crime stories, mysteries, and deception. Several pages of fascinating black and white photos are included as well.

Book Club Notes: The discussion for this pick was well attended and lively. The average rating for the book was 4+, with a range from a low of 3 to a high of 5. There was a lot of excitement about this book, and many participants commented that is was hard to put down.

It has been a few years since the book was published, so there were a few loose ends. I gathered articles and photos to supplement the discussion and bring the group up to date. We were very interested in finding additional photos of John and Linda Sohus as well as Reigh Rockefeller.

Questions for the discussion were available at BookBrowse. However, I also supplemented the discussion with a few of my own questions:

Q: Is truth sometimes stranger than fiction?

Q: Would you have confronted him?

Discuss the importance of churches and libraries in his life.

Q: Which was his greatest character?

The author writes: Nothing sparks a conversation between strangers faster than a walked dog. Dog people just talk to each other. P. 144 True or false?

Q: Sandra Boss: Innocent victim or enabler? Do you think the Rockefeller name was a big reason why Sandra stayed?

Q: Why didn’t anyone question the authenticity of the art?

Discuss Clark’s relationship with his daughter Reigh. Self-love vs. parental love.

Q: Was he crazy to the point of not knowing right from wrong? P. 316

Q: Are we all posers?

Additionally, I created a timeline to facilitate the discussion. Name changes are indicated in red.

Feb 21, 1961 – Born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in Bergen, Germany.
1978-79 – He came to America as a high school foreign exchange student. He lived in Berlin, CT. He became Chris Kenneth Gerhart.
1980 - UW – Milwaukee
1981 – Married Amy Jersild on Feb. 20. In April applied for status as a permanent resident. In June drove west. In Las Vegas he was known as Dr. Christopher Rider, a cardiologist. In California he became Christopher Mountbatten Chichester.
1983 – Got a California driver’s license
1984 – Produced Inside San Marino as Chichester.
1985 – Moved into the Didi Sohus’ guesthouse at 1920 Lorain Rd., San Marino. John & Linda Sohus disappear. Chichester vanished too. By June, he lands in Greenwich, CT as Christopher Crowe, film producer.
1987 – Worked for Nikko Securities.
1988 – Detective Allen looks into the missing persons case of John & Linda Sohus.
1988-1992 – Crowe disappeared for a time.
1992 – Emerged as Clark Rockefeller at St. Thomas Church in NYC. First wife Amy Jersild files for divorce.
1994 – John Sohus’ remains are found in San Marino.
1995 – Boss-Rockefeller wedding on October 14.
2000 – They move to Cornish. Also, Sandra gets pregnant.
2001 – Reigh “Snooks” Storrow Mills Rockefeller is born on May 24.
2006 – The family moves to Beacon Hill
2007 – Sandra filed for divorce on January 17. Sandra & Reigh moved to London on December 23.
2008 – He assumed the name of Chip Smith. Kidnapped Reigh on July 27. He was captured on August 3.
2009 – Gerhartsreiter was found guilty of kidnapping of a minor and assault & battery by means of a dangerous weapon on June 12.
2011 – Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was charged with the murder of John Sohus on March 15.
2013 – Convicted of the first degree murder of John Sohus on April 10. On August 15, he was sentenced to the maximum of 27 years to life for the murder of John Sohus. He still maintains his innocence. He will be eligible for parole in 2039 at the age of 78.
2015 – Linda Sohus has never been found.

Overall, this was a fantastic pick for book club. Enthusiastically recommended for any group interested in taking a look at crime, deception, and human nature.

Details: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal. Paperback published by Plume in 2012. 368 p. ISBN: 9780452298033

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: 'The Cruelest Month' by Louise Penny

✰✰✰½ Welcome back to the quirky, quaint little village of Three Pines in Canada. It's Eastertime in the village, and the trees are just beginning to bud. To celebrate the holiday the villagers have arranged to hold a séance in the creepy old Hadley residence. Before the night is over, one member of the party will be dead. What appears to be a simple natural death may have been caused by something more sinister. Once again Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team including the inept Yvette Nichol, find themselves investigating crime in the isolated village.

The Bottom Line: The character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is interesting and complex. With two story arcs, there are plenty of surprising twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end. This charming cozy series is suitable for weekend reading, and this installment is the perfect entertainment for a rainy, lazy day. This literary treat will appeal to mystery buffs who enjoy eccentric characters.

Details: The Cruelest Month: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. Paperback published by Minotaur Books in 2007. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-57350-8

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review: 'The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches' by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ It's the spring of 1951, and Flavia de Luce's long-lost mother, Harriet, has finally returned to her beloved ancestral home, Buckshaw. It seems the whole town of Bishop's Lacey has turned out to welcome Harriet home. The gathering includes extended family, friends, a famous politician, and a mysterious stranger, who ends up dead soon after delivering a cryptic message to Flavia. Immediately Flavia's interest is piqued, and she must once again don her sleuthing hat. Working around her grieving family, with the funeral just hours away, Flavia must work quickly to uncover even more family secrets and discover the cause of her mother's untimely death.

The Bottom Line: Flavia is captivating, sweet, and just a little bit morbid at times. Her character continues to mature as she is confronted with death on a personal level; however, she's still that spunky, tomboyish free spirit I adore. As more family secrets are revealed, Flavia uncovers and struggles with her destiny. This quick and quirky mystery is enthusiastically recommended for both YA and adult readers who enjoy cozies set in England. It's always fun to read about Flavia's fascination with science.

Details: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2014. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34405-0

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: 'The Lotus Caves' by John Christopher

✰✰✰✰✰ The year is 2068, and life in the moon's Bubble is boring. When Marty's best friend is forced to move back to Earth earlier than planned, fifteen-year-old Marty is left alone. Everything changes when Marty befriends a classmate named Steve. As an orphan, Steve is used to being an outcast and a loner. It isn't long before Steve and Marty's new friendship leads to trouble. Having skipped school, the pair takes a crawler out to the abandoned First Station. 

What starts out as a quick and harmless adventure quickly goes awry when the crawler skids out of control. The friends awake to find themselves in a cave beneath the moon's surface. Much to their surprise they find food, oxygen, plants, another human, and alien life. At first the place seems magical, but the more they consume, the more obedient they become to the alien creature in charge. As the days go by, it becomes harder and harder to resist submitting to the creature. Before forgetting who they are, Marty and Steve make a plan for their escape. However, the creature just might have other plans for them.

The Bottom Line: This is classic science fiction at its best. I remember reading and rereading this book in grade school during the 1970s, and I have been searching for a copy to own ever since. I'm happy to write that the book has retained its magic. The themes of friendship and believing in yourself are just as current today as when it was written. Very highly recommended for kids in middle school. Also, highly recommended for adults interested in sci-fi.

Details: The Lotus Caves by John Christopher. Paperback reissue edition published by Aladdin in 2014. 288 p. ISBN: 9781481418379

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: 'Gingerbread Friends' by Jan Brett

✰✰✰✰✰ The Gingerbread Baby is sassy, plucky, and oh so lonely. One day he sets out to find friends like himself. He ends up in a bakery where the cookies only stare straight ahead. There's not a friendly face in sight. The Gingerbread Baby only has thoughts of home as he is chased from the bakery by a mama mouse, a cat, and the baker. Along the way more animals join in the chase. After a close call, the Gingerbread Baby arrives home just in time to find a delicious surprise waiting for him.

The Bottom Line: Scrumptious illustrations in pastel colors make for a tasty treat for readers. A recipe for gingerbread boys and girls is included in the margins of the book which concludes with a colorful giant foldout page. Perfect for storytime; this lyrical and clever take on the classic Gingerbread Boy will delight kids and adults alike.

Details: Gingerbread Friends written & illustrated by Jan Brett. Hardcover picture book published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-399-25161-0

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Book Review: 'One Winter's Night' by John Herman

✰✰✰✰✰ On a cold winter's night, a young cow named Martha is alone and lost. As she braves the frozen fields and bitter winds, she knows she must find shelter and people to help her. Martha's baby is due very soon. At long last she finds a farm, but it is dark and abandoned. She continues her search following a bright star. Eventually Martha comes upon a shed with a donkey, hay, and a young couple. As the woman delivers her own baby, Martha's calf arrives too on a very special winter's night.

The Bottom Line: John Herman's gentle tale of a lost cow about to give birth parallels the story of the birth of Jesus. The illustrators chose to depict the story of Mary and Joseph's journey in black and white, while the cow's journey is depicted in color with a focus on shades of blue. The illustrations and the text merge together beautifully in the end. Highly recommended picture book for kids in grades K - 3. This is a beautiful book you will want to read again and again with your children.

Details: One Winter's Night story by John Herman & illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon. Hardcover picture book published by Philomel Books in 2003. ISBN: 0-399-23418-7

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: 'Cobweb Christmas' by Shirley Climo

✰✰✰✰ Christmas at Tante's was special. Every year she cleaned and baked in preparation. Then all the children and animals were invited to see Tante's beautiful Christmas tree. Only the spiders were turned away. 

As always Tante wished to experience a little bit of Christmas magic for herself where animals might speak or bees hum carols at midnight. However, Tante always fell fast asleep. Then one Christmas a mysterious visitor left Tante's door open just a crack. The curious spiders finally had a chance to experience Tante's beautiful tree and in return they leave behind a little bit of magic that has become legend. 

The Bottom Line: This version of the German folktale is set in the Bavarian forests. Both the story and the illustrations have an Old World charm and will appeal to children in grades 1 - 3. Kids will delight in the magical story of the tradition of tinsel.

Details: Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel written by Shirley Climo & illustrated by Jane Manning. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2001. 32 p. ISBN; 0-06-029034-X

Monday, July 20, 2015

Book Review: 'The Attic Christmas' by B. G. Hennessy

✰✰✰✰ At Lily's house Christmas doesn't last a single day; it is a whole season. Every year Lily's treasured ornaments look forward to the day they are brought down from the attic and hung in the tree. But this year is different. The house is quiet and no one comes to get them. There are no more Christmases for Lily. Feeling sad, the ornaments try to salvage the season with their own Christmas celebration, but it isn't the same. Just when they have about given up, there are noises coming from downstairs. Will the ornaments be remembered? Read this nostalgic story and find out what happens to the ornaments. 

The Bottom Line: For families with Christmas traditions of their own, this is a gentle story of remembering the past and keeping tradition alive. Children will enjoy Andreasen's illustrations which are reminiscent of a time gone by. Recommended holiday reading for families. 

Details: The Attic Christmas written by B. G. Hennessy & illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Hardcover picture book published by G.P. Putnam 's Sons in 2004. ISBN: 0-399-23497-7

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book Review: 'Oh, What A Christmas!' by Michael Garland

✰✰✰✰✰ Christmas gets off to a magical start until the harness breaks and Santa's reindeer fly off without him. In fact, Santa is in for a bumpy ride until he crashes into a barn. What is Santa to do? Instead of eight reindeer, Santa has an assortment of farm animals and one very old dog to help him. With children waiting all over the world, Santa has an idea. With a snap of his fingers and a wiggle of his nose, Santa's Christmas magic and eight ordinary animals get the job done.

The Bottom Line: Clever Santa has a rollicking adventure in this fun and humorous tale. Garland's bright and colorful illustrations brought a smile to my face. Kids in preschool and up will love the action and the fantastic pictures. Highly recommended for bedtime reading or storytime. It's jolly good fun.

Details: Oh, What A Christmas! written & illustrated by Michael Garland. Hardcover picture book published by Scholastic Press in 2011. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-24210-3

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Review: 'The Last Straw' by Fredrick Thury

✰✰✰✰✰ Hoshmakaka, an old prideful camel, was chosen to deliver the gifts of the three wise men to the baby Jesus. When the frankincense, myrrh, and gold were placed upon his back, Hoshmakaka foolishly boasted that he was as strong as ten horses. And so as the caravan traveled to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus, more and more gifts were added to Hoshmakaka's burden. Just when Hoshmakaka reached his limit, a child asked the old camel to take his little gift too. Will a single piece of straw bring down the great camel? Check out the book to learn how Hoshmakaka's burden is lifted.

The Bottom Line: The traditional Christmas story is told in an unusual way...through the point of view of a camel. This is a gentle story about humility and pride. Beautiful watercolors illustrate the camel's plight. Highly recommended reading for the holidays for kids in grade school.

Details: The Last Straw written by Fredrick H. Thury & illustrated by Vlasta van Kampen. Hardcover picture book published by Charlesbridge in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-88106-360-8

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Review: 'The Christmas Visitors' by Karel Hayes.

✰✰✰✰✰ No sooner did the summer visitors leave the cottage behind, than the winter visitors moved in. While the bear family begins to prepare for the Christmas holiday, the human family decides on a whim to return to the cottage for the holidays. When the human family arrives without any presents, decorations, or food, the bear family decides to save the holidays in a spectacular, secret way. Check out this charming holiday treat featuring a tale of two very different, yet similar, families.

The Bottom Line: This is the third book in Hayes's Visitor series, but you do not have to read them in order. Hayes's beautiful watercolors illustrate this simple, heartfelt story. Instead of rushing through this picture book, you'll want to spend time looking at all the details in the pictures. This holiday tale of family and sharing is perfect for children ages 4 and up.

Details: The Christmas Visitors written & illustrated by Karel Hayes. Hardcover picture book published by Down East Books in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-60893-248-1

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: 'Nightmare Before Christmas: The 13 Days of Christmas' by Steven Davison & Carolyn Gardner

✰✰✰ The twelve days of Christmastide dictate which gifts to bestow upon your beloved. However, things are just a little bit different in Halloween Town. It seems Jack Skellington and his frightful chums have a different idea of what are acceptable gifts to celebrate the thirteen days of Christmas. Readers will be surprised and delighted with the ghoulish and spooky substitutions.

The Bottom Line: Fans of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas will adore this take on the Christmas classic, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Recommended for kids and adults who enjoy something just a tiny bit spooky during the holiday season. The colorful ghoulish illustrations feature your favorite characters from the original story.

Details: Nightmare Before Christmas: The 13 Days of Christmas (Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas) by Steven Davison & Carolyn Gardner with artwork by Tim Wollweber & Sherri Lundberg. Hardcover picture book published by Disney Press in 2009. ISBN: 978-142311804-6