Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book Review: 'Snowflakes Fall' by Patricia MacLachlan

✰✰✰✰✰ Every single snowflake is different. Each one is unique and beautiful in its own way, just like children. As the snowflakes fall, they cover the gardens. As the seasons change, the snowflakes become the rain that makes the flowers bloom again. And the children remember the snowflakes. No two are ever the same, but all are beautiful, just like children.

The Bottom Line: This story of renewal was inspired by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. MacLachlan’s powerful words and Kellogg’s vibrant and dreamy watercolors combine to convey a message of hope as the seasons change and the cycle of life begins again. Very highly recommended for helping children understand loss. This picture book also emphasizes the beauty of each unique individual.

Details: Snowflakes Fall written by Patricia MacLachlan & illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Hardcover picture book published by Random House in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-37693-8

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: 'The Cantaloupe Thief' by Deb Richardson-Moore

✰✰✰✰½ It's been ten years since respected community member, Alberta Resnick, was killed in her own home. The cold case has been nearly forgotten until local reporter Branigan Powers is assigned to the story. Having recently returned to Grambling, GA, Branigan is just settling in and becoming reacquainted with old friends. With the newspaper industry undergoing a transition, Branigan and her colleagues now how important it is to retain readership, but Branigan is up for the challenge. Through her research, Branigan uncovers new leads just as people from the homeless community start dying one by one. With the help of her pastor friend, Liam, and the homeless, Branigan follows the dangerous twists and turns of the case to reveal the town's hidden secrets. 

The Bottom Line: This well-written novel is the first in a new series by a debut author. Besides being an engaging mystery, Richardson-Moore expertly weaves the social issues of homelessness, addiction, and family dynamics throughout. Additionally, the Southern setting adds to the charm of the book. I am looking forward to the next installment. Enthusiastically recommended for mystery buffs. 

Details: The Cantaloupe Thief: A Branigan Powers Mystery by Deb Richardson-Moore. Published by Lion Hudson in 2016. 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-78264-192-3 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, November 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Gratitude' by Oliver Sacks

✰✰✰✰✰ When faced with their own mortality, some people become more productive and insightful. Knowing that your days are limited sometimes gives a person clarity and focus. In the face of death, these people learn what cannot be taught. They possess an appreciation for today; an appreciation for what they have, instead of pining away for things they don't.

Dr. Oliver Sacks was a brilliant physician and the author of more than a dozen books. After his cancer returned, he penned several essays in which he explored coming to terms with death...his death. Rather than feeling bitter and angry, Sacks uncovered a feeling of gratitude for having been a part of this world.

In this book, Sacks describes beauty, love, and adventure in his memories of the past and current thoughts as he faced his own mortality. Sacks also talks about the friends who have passed before him and those he himself would leave behind. This beautiful and inspirational book is all too brief, just like life itself.

The Bottom Line: This quick read will make you think about your own life and what really matters. Composed of just four essays, I read this book several times. This book left me asking myself the following: What are my real priorities? When was the last time I stopped to enjoy what I have? How can I be kinder to others?

Parts of this little, but amazingly powerful book have been previously published. However, when read together these essays bring the reader to a new understanding of what it means to really be alive. As Dr. Sacks pointed out, sometimes it takes being faced with death to learn how to really live. A must-read for everyone!

Details: Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. Hardcover published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015. 64 p. ISBN: 9780451-49293-7

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: 'Amish Grace' by Donald Kraybill

✰✰✰✰ Ten years ago, a local milkman invaded an Amish schoolhouse and took hostages. Before the day was over, ten girls between the ages of six and thirteen had been shot. Five would die, and Charles Roberts committed suicide. As the world watched, at first in horror and then in amazement, the Amish responded to what became known as the Amish 9/11 with grace and forgiveness instead of rage and vengeance.

This is the story of how these grieving families responded together as a devoted Christian community. While many non-Amish observers admired the Amish for their strength and convictions, others criticized them. Did they forgive too quickly? Was their forgiveness authentic? The issues raised in this book illuminate the many different acts of grace that can be found in the most unexpected places. 

The Bottom Line: Amish Grace is a book that inspires the reader to explore their faith. By recounting this tragic incident in the history of the Amish and exploring the acts of grace in the months that followed, the authors raise many questions. This is a story of forgiveness that has been shaped by the history  and culture of the Amish. Recommended for clergy, historians, psychologists, and those interested in personal reflection and religion. 

Book Club Notes: A dedicated group of book club members gave up watching a Cubs game and braved foul weather to attend. They were ready to tackle the topics of religion and forgiveness. By taking an inside look at what the Amish can teach us about forgiveness, grace, healing, and moving forward, each of us reflected upon our own experiences. We all come from different backgrounds, and while we sometimes disagreed, this book brought out a thoughtful, engaging discussion. There is a discussion guide available in the book or you can download a PDF copy here. For those who have taken it a step further and also viewed the movie, you can find sermon outlines here. Also, here is a thoughtful study guide from GodChicks. While this book and the topic of forgiveness were a more challenging read, it provided us with a new perspective. Overall, the ratings in the group averaged 4.5 stars, and we would highly recommend it for book clubs interested in learning about Amish culture, Christian living, faith, and religion.

Details: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher. Paperback published by Jossey-Bass in 2007. 288 p. ISBN: 978-0-470-34404-0 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: 'Spell Booked' by Joyce & Jim Lavene

✰✰✰✰✰ Who knew witches have to find their own replacements before retiring to Boca Raton? I didn't, but that's exactly what Molly, Elsie, and Olivia are trying to do. Unfortunately, before they can even seriously begin to recruit and train new witches, Olivia ends up dead and their prized spell book has disappeared. With their magical powers beginning to fade, the witches must face an evil so powerful, that even the Grand Council is keeping quiet. Nevertheless, Molly and Elsie do their best to find their dear friend's murderer and defeat the rogue witch that is terrorizing their small town.

The Bottom Line: This charming, fast-paced cozy mystery was so much fun to read. This is the first book in the series, and I am really looking forward to reading the others. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of cozies who enjoy a paranormal twist. This is the perfect weekend read.

Details: Spell Booked (Retired Witches Mysteries) by Joyce & Jim Lavene. Paperback published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2014. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425268254

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: 'Who Let the Ghosts Out?' by R. L. Stine

✰✰✰½ Max is just your average eleven-year-old with the same problems as any kid. However, he has one problem that you probably don't. His bedroom is haunted by two ghost kids. When the ghosts were alive, they used to live in Max's house. They have returned looking for their parents. Unfortunately, they don't live there anymore, and no one knows what happened to them. 

The only one who can see and talk to the ghost kids is Max. So it's up to Max to help them. Unfortunately, in order to find out what happened, Max must battle with the most evil spirit of all, Phears. Will Max be able to help the ghost kids find their parents and get his bedroom back?  Only time will tell. Pick up this quick read at your library today! 

The Bottom Line: This is the first book in the series. It will appeal to kids in upper grade school and middle school as the main character, Max, has the typical problems of any eleven-year-old. This is a fast-paced read. 

Details: Who Let the Ghosts Out? (Mostly Ghostly) by R.L. Stine. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2004. 144 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-74663-2 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Queen of Halloween' by Mary Engelbreit

✰✰✰✰✰ Ann Estelle is excited about her Halloween costume. She is the fairy queen. Her friend Michael is a pirate. Together they are going trick-or-treating. Even though Michael doesn’t think they need grown-ups, Ann Estelle’s father comes along. The night is really dark, and there are lots of ghosts and witches running around. Ann Estelle and Michael get lots of candy and treats until they come upon the very last house. It is scarier than the rest, and Ann Estelle’s father doesn’t go with them. All they have to do is walk up to the house and ring the doorbell. Will the two friends have the courage to complete the task? Together they find out that being brave has its rewards.

The Bottom Line: Filled with Mary Engelbreit’s signature illustrations, this charming and vibrant Halloween book is a winner. Little ones who are just a tiny bit afraid to go trick-or-treating in the dark will identify with Ann Estelle and her friend. Highly recommended reading for kids ages 4 – 8.

Details: Queen of Halloween (Ann Estelle Stories) written & illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publisher in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-008191-1

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Review: 'Ready for Pumpkins' by Kate Duke

✰✰✰✰ Hercules is a classroom guinea pig. It’s an easy life, but he wants to do more. He wants to grow things. So during summer vacation he plants the pumpkin seeds he saved from last Halloween. Hercules can’t wait, but plants don’t grow overnight. Hercules and a friend wait and wait; at last the seeds sprout. It takes a lot of patience to grow a garden. The pumpkins are still growing when it is time to go back to school. However, Hercules has plenty of class activities to keep him busy until a surprise arrives.

The Bottom Line: Watercolor illustrations in soft colors help tell a seasonal story of patience and friendship. Fun classroom reading for grades K – 2.

Details: Ready for Pumpkins written & illustrated by Kate Duke. Hardcover picture book published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2012. 40 p.  ISBN: 978-0-375-870068-2

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book Review: 'Big Pumpkin" by Erica Silverman

✰✰✰✰✰ Once there was a witch who planted a pumpkin seed. It grew and grew until Halloween arrived. The witch wanted to take her pumpkin off the vine to make pie, but it was no use. She tried and tried, but the pumpkin just sat. What's a witch to do?

Along came a ghost, a vampire, and a mummy all eager to help. Each tried, but it was no use. Then a tiny bat had a large idea. Will it work in time for the witch to make Halloween pumpkin pie? Read this charming picture book with your little one to find out.

The Bottom Line: Silverman's clever story features rhythm and repetition popular with little ones learning to read. Schindler's illustrations bring the spirit of teamwork to life with vibrant paintings. This amusing book is perfect for story time for kids in grades K – 2.

Details: Big Pumpkin written by Erica Silverman & illustrated by S.D. Schindler. Hardcover picture book published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 1992. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-02-782683-8

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Book Review: 'Bone Soup' by Cambria Evans

✰✰✰✰✰ Finnigin is always hungry. He visits town after town taking with him only an eating stool, an eating spoon, and his gigantic eating mouth. When Finnigin arrives in a new town on Halloween, all the other creatures avoid him.

Finnigin's infamous appetite has preceded him. Just what is a hungry skeleton to do? With only his spoon, the town's largest cauldron, and a magic ingredient, Finnigin comes up with a plan to whip up an amazing Halloween feast. 

The Bottom Line: This Halloween-themed take on the classic story, Stone Soup, is a real winner. Kids will delight in the disgusting ingredients as they learn about sharing, and the author's charming, but creepy, illustrations are perfect with the story. Highly recommended for story time reading for children in grades K – 3.

Details: Bone Soup written & illustrated by Cambria Evans. Hardcover picture book published by Houghton Mifflin Company in 2008. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-618-80908-0

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Book Review: 'Here They Come!' by David Costello

✰✰✰✰ The scariest creatures appear Halloween night where there's a party every year. As guests begin to arrive, a mama goblin explains to her little ones "that a good scare lets you know you're alive." One by one they come...warlocks, witches, ghosts, an owl, ghouls, and more. The party has begun with candy, stories, and dancing. It's really swinging now. Then suddenly it's time to hide because the scariest creatures have arrived. Can you guess who they are? I won't tell, but be ready for a fun little scare.

The Bottom Line: This rhyming book is fun to read aloud. Costello's watercolor illustrations are lively, colorful, and entertaining. Kids ages 3 – 6 will love the twist ending. It's a great introduction to Halloween for the little ones.

Details: Here They Come! Written and illustrated by David Costello. Hardcover picture book published by Farrar Straus Giroux in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-374-33051-4

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Review: 'Vampire Boy's Good Night' by Lisa Brown

✰✰✰½ Two friends happen upon a Halloween party where things aren't what they seem. Bela, a vampire boy, and Morgan, a witch girl, are looking for children. They can't seem to find any children anywhere. The children are not in school, and they are not in the park. Where can they be this time of night? Do children even exist? When they enter a beautiful house decked out for the holiday, Bela and Morgan find others like themselves. They enjoy the games and contests, but when the party comes to an end, the pair is in for a big surprise.

The Bottom Line: This delightful, seasonal tale is a fun choice for story time. Lisa Brown's illustrations are colorful and charming, and the story is fun to follow. Pick this one up to read with kids ages 6 – 8.

Details: Vampire Boy's Good Night written & illustrated by Lisa Brown. Hardcover picture book published by Harper in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-114011-2

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Review: 'Beware, The Snowman (Goosebumps) by R. L. Stine

✰✰✰ After losing her mother, Jaclyn DeForest lived with her aunt in the crowded city of Chicago. She was happy there. Unfortunately, her aunt suddenly decides to uproot the middle schooler and move to the wintry, isolated village of Sherpia. With nothing to do, Jaclyn goes for a long walk. Along the way she notices that there are identical creepy snowmen in front of every house. When her new friends offer to help her build one, Jaclyn decides there is something weird going on. At night there are strange howling noises, and it's always snowing. Jaclyn feels like there is something her friends aren't telling her. With danger lurking just up the way, Jaclyn comes face to face with an evil so dark, there just might not be a way home.

The Bottom Line: This fun, quick read is perfect any time of the year. Middle grade readers will enjoy the surprise twist ending of this supernatural tale. Recommended for kids who enjoy horror.

Details: Beware, The Snowman (Goosebumps) by R. L. Stine. Hardcover published by Scholastic Inc. In 1997. p. ISBN: 978-1-4242-3699-2

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: 'The Sinking of the Eastland' by Jay Bonansinga

✰✰✰✰½ When you think of famous ship disasters, the Titanic and the Lusitania are probably the two names that come to mind. However, there is another disaster that until recently has mostly been forgotten. The Eastland was an excursion boat on Lake Michigan with a reputation for being a bit cranky due to her design. Over the years she had had some near disasters, and the number of people she was allowed to carry was reduced. Her owners, however, were determined to raise her capacity in order to make more money. Thus, shortly before her fateful voyage, lifeboats were added and other changes were made.

On the morning of July 24, 1915, thousands of Western Electric employees and their families arrived at the Chicago riverfront to board several ships that would ferry them to the annual company picnic in Michigan City. While still sitting in port, the Eastland began to list. As thousands of horrified people watched, the ship capsized sending 844 men, women, and children to their untimely deaths. Using eyewitness accounts, first-hand testimony, photographs, and archived materials, author Jay Bonasinga has woven together a gripping tale of greed and tragedy.

The Bottom Line: This is a fast-paced read that focuses on a mostly forgotten tragedy in American history. By placing the spotlight on the lives of the passengers, crew members, rescue workers, and an undertaker, Bonansinga has retold the unimaginable horrors of the day with vivid imagery. Very highly recommended for nonfiction readers of American history, Chicago history, survival, shipwrecks, and other disasters.

Book Club Notes: Summer book club attendance is always lower due to scheduled vacations, but we had a good turnout to discuss this forgotten incident in our local history. Although several participants had grown up and attended schools in the Chicagoland area, most of us were not aware of this tragedy. We agreed that it's best to read the book a little bit at a time, otherwise it can be overwhelming. We also noted that as a work of narrative nonfiction. Thus, the author has taken some liberties with creating dialogues; however, the dialogues were believable. On a scale of 1 - 5, ratings from the group ranged from a low of 2 up to 4.5.

To supplement your book club, questions can be found at the Oswego Public Library District and the Galesburg Public Library. Additionally, several video clips are available, including the ones featured on Chicago Tonight. Lost footage is featured at gCaptain. For more information about the author, visit his website.

Details: The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy by Jay Bonansinga. Hardcover published by Citadel Press in 2004. 320 p. ISBN: 0-8065-2628-9

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: 'Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge' by Ovidia Yu

✰✰✰ Sidelined with a sprained ankle, Aunty Lee must rely on others to help her run her famous café, Aunty Lee's Delights. Nina, her servant, and Cherril, her business partner, prove to be more than capable. However, when Cherril becomes distracted by the death of a former acquaintance, Aunty Lee steps in to help solve the murder.

It seems that three years prior, Cherril was working for an animal rescue group. She got caught up in a scandal when an expat, Allison Fitzgerald, had the puppy she adopted put down. All of Singapore was in an uproar.

Now Allison has returned and is dead. The unpopular and unpleasant woman had several enemies, but which one actually hated her enough to kill her? Aunty Lee must race against time and solve the mystery before others end up dead as well.

The Bottom Line: Fans of food-themed cozy mysteries will delight in this light series. This weekend read is a little bit predictable, but includes many enjoyable characters. Also, this is the third installment of the series, but you do not have to read them in order. NOTE: Due to references of animal cruelty, sensitive readers may want to skip this one.

Details: Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2016. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-241649-0 NOTE: I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: 'The Wishing Spell' by Chris Colfer

✰✰✰ Things just aren’t the same after Alex and Connor Bailey’s father dies suddenly. Although their mother tries hard, their finances are stretched to the limit, and she never has time for the twins. Thus, when their grandmother gifts them with a magical book filled with fairy tales, it is only a matter of time before the twins become immersed in it. An accidental discovery takes the twins to a fairy tale land where they meet the characters of their favorite childhood stories. It’s a dream come true, right? Well, unfortunately things are not all they are cracked up to be in the land of stories, and the twins are worried about their mom. As if things couldn’t get any worse, they learn that the only way home is by the wishing spell.

With the help of frog, a journal filled with riddles, and a bit of luck, the twins quickly gather the items needed to activate the spell. However, someone else is also longing for the wish. With the clock ticking, the twins are running out of time before they will be trapped forever in a fairy tale land filled with danger. Will they be able to make their escape in time? Check out this first, fast-paced book in The Land of Stories series to find out their fate.

The Bottom Line: Most of the characters in this charming tale will be familiar to middle grade readers. Recommended for readers who enjoy fairytale mash-ups, this book contains lots of adventure with plenty of twists and turns to keep kids interested.

Details: The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories) by Chris Colfer. Paperback published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2013. 464 p. ISBN: 978-0-316-20156-8

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review: 'As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust' by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ After finally putting her mother to rest, Flavia de Luce is suddenly banished from her beloved ancestral home, Buckshaw, and England. Transported to Canada, Flavia is enrolled in Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy like her mother had been. Before Flavia has time to settle into the boarding school, a gruesome corpse is discovered. Quick as a wink, Flavia is on the case. In between attending classes, making friends, and avoiding new enemies, Flavia must navigate a minefield of dangerous situations. Along the way she discovers that students have gone missing and that Miss Bodycote’s is no ordinary school. With danger around every corner, the stakes are high as Flavia rushes solve the mysteries and discover more information about her family’s secrets and her own personal destiny,

The Bottom Line: In this installment Flavia faces new challenges, while continuing to be as charming and brilliant as ever. This cozy series is a must-read for both adult and young adult mystery aficionados. Like previous installments, this book is a quick and fun read perfect for weekend or beach reading.

Details: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2015. 416 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-53993-9

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Book Review: 'The Smallest Gift of Christmas' by Peter H. Reynolds

✰✰✰✰✰ On Christmas morning, Roland wishes for a big gift. What he finds is the littlest gift ever. Is this all? It just can't be, so he wishes again and again. The gifts become bigger and bigger. Still Roland wants something even bigger. As he searches the universe for something bigger, he realizes that maybe he already has what he really wants. Sometimes the biggest gifts really do come in the smallest packages.

The Bottom Line: This holiday tale reminds us that happiness can be found in your heart rather than in material things. Sometimes even though we don't get what we wish for, we find something better. Highly recommended for story time reading for kids in grades Pre-K – 1. The author's digitally created illustrations are simple, yet colorful and comical.

Details: The Smallest Gift of Christmas written & illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Hardcover picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2013. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-6103-8

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: 'Night of the White Stag' by M. C. Helldorfer

✰✰✰✰½ After the King's war ended, Finder's father never returned. With his family starving for food, young Finder sets off for the castle on Christmas Eve in search of some. When he loses his way, he stumbles upon an old blind man who is hunting for the mythical great white stag. Finder has his doubts, but he helps the old man in his quest. With a little trust, Finder discovers that miracles can happen.

The Bottom Line: This story was inspired by medieval literature and folklore. It takes the reader along on a wintry dream vision. Lavishly illustrated in detailed colored pencil, this tale of bravery will pull you in as good prevails. For children in grades 3 – 4.

Details: Night of the White Stag written by M. C. Helldorfer & illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. Hardcover picture book published by Random House in 1999. 32 p. ISBN: 0-385-32261-5

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: 'The Nutcracker Doll' by Mary Newell De Palma

✰✰✰½ After seeing The Nutcracker for the very first time, little Kepley decides to try out next year. She pays extra attention in class. She practices and smiles. Before too long, it's Nutcracker audition day. Despite being nervous, Kepley does her best and is rewarded with a small role. As the big night approaches, Kepley is fitted for a beautiful dress. She'll never forget the thrill of the bright lights. Being on stage is a dream come true for this little ballerina.

The Bottom Line: This special holiday story will appeal to any child who has ever dreamed of dancing on stage. Mary Newell De Palma's soft watercolors with pen and ink are pleasing to the eye and capture the excitement of the season. Check this one out for your little dancer in grades K – 2.

Details: The Nutcracker Doll written & illustrated by Mary Newell De Palma. Hardcover picture book published by Arthur A. Levine Books in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-439-80242-0

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Book Review: 'Drummer Boy' by Loren Long

✰✰✰✰✰ One wintry day a surprise gift is left on a doorstep. A little boy opens the gift to find a toy drummer boy. The little boy loves this gift, and when all is quiet the drummer boy plays his drum. All is well until one day the drummer boy is accidentally swept into the trash. Alone, the drummer boy begins a long, cold, and scary journey across the city. At each step along the way, the drummer boy plays his drum. After being nearly buried in snow, the drummer boy almost loses hope. Will he ever see the little boy again? Check this book out and read it with your child to find out.

The Bottom Line: By sharing this heartwarming tale, you'll rediscover the true spirit of Christmas. This beautifully and richly illustrated picture book will take you on a holiday journey. Highly recommended for kids in grades 1 – 3.

Details: Drummer Boy written & illustrated by Loren Long. Hardcover picture book published by Philomel Books in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-399-25174-0

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: 'Baby Christmas' by Michael Lawrence

✰✰✰ Just when Father Christmas sets off to deliver presents to good little boys and girls, Baby Christmas goes missing. Both Father and Mother Christmas search high and low for the little boy, but he is nowhere to be found. While his parents are busy searching, Baby Christmas and Rudolph Junior set off with a baby sleigh full of toys. The little boy quickly finds his destiny and has a Christmas adventure of his own.

The Bottom Line: Magical watercolors in soft hues bring this holiday story to life. Children will delight in this tale about a little boy following in his fathers footsteps. Recommended for bedtime reading on Christmas Eve for children ages 3 - 7.

Details: Baby Christmas written by Michael Lawrence & illustrated by Arthur Robins. Hardcover picture book published by Barron's in 2006. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-7641-5998-5 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Review: 'Humphrey's Christmas' by Sally Hunter.

✰✰✰✰ Humphrey and his sister, Lottie, are looking forward to Christmas. The little elephants enjoy the soft snow, making holiday decorations, and trimming the tree. But best of all is the anticipation of Santa's visit and an extra cuddle from Mommy as she reads a Christmas Eve story.

The Bottom Line: This tender story illustrated in soft hues of watercolors will appeal to preschoolers. This picture book is perfect for bedtime reading on Christmas Eve.

Details: Humphrey's Christmas by Sally Hunter. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Company in 2001. 24 p. ISBN: 0-8050-7176-8 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Book Review: 'The Little Fir Tree' by Margaret Wise Brown

✰✰✰✰✰ In an empty field not far away from the forest, a lone little fir tree grows. It often dreams of being a part of something, and one day its dream comes true. A man digs it up and takes it home to be a living Christmas tree for his bedridden little boy. The little fir tree quickly becomes the center of a very special celebration.

In the springtime, the little tree is returned to the field and allowed to grow until it is collected once again. But then one year the tree is left alone in the frozen field. Feeling forgotten and lonely, the tree is in for a surprise when it received a special Christmas visitor.

The Bottom Line: Margaret Wise Brown is well-known as the author of the classic book, Goodnight Moon. Here, she weaves a gentle tale of a treasured Christmas story. Together with Jim LaMarche's beautiful illustrations in warm hues, a new generation of children will learn about the true spirit of Christmas. This is a classic holiday tale that is sure to be read every year. Enthusiastically recommended for everyone.

Details: The Little Fir Tree written by Margaret Wise Brown & illustrated by Jim LaMarche. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-028189-2 

'Christmas in July' Book Reviews for 2016

It is always during the sunny month of July that I take a pause to review some holiday themed books. Whether you are sitting at the beach or reading bedtime stories in the comfort of air conditioning, enjoy these stories about a special Christmas tree, Santa's mini me, a winter ballet, and several more. Enjoy!

P.S. The free holiday clip art comes from

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: 'The Body in the Wardrobe' by Katherine Hall Page

✰✰✰½ As a busy pastor's wife and mom of two who runs a catering business on the side, Faith Fairchild is the person the people of Aleford turn to when things are amiss. So when Sophie Maxwell marries a private investigator and begins her new life in Savannah, GA, Faith couldn’t be happier for her friend. Sophie is quickly enchanted by her new husband’s hometown. Unfortunately, Sophie is left to fend for herself quite frequently as her husband’s job takes him away from her.

Alone in a strange house and a new city during the holiday season, Sophie slowly begins to learn the customs and make new friends when she discovers a dead body. By the time help arrives, the body has mysteriously disappeared, and no one really believes her. The only one who will listen is Faith; however, Faith has troubles of her own. With her daughter being bullied at school and a member of the congregation acting mysteriously, all Faith can do is listen to her friend from afar.

As her life spirals out of control, Sophie begins to wonder if she even knows her husband at all. Is this just a case of new bride jitters or is something really wrong? It’s up to Faith to solve problems both in Aleford and Savannah before things get too out of hand.

The Bottom Line: The latest installment in this charming series of a pastor’s wife gets off to a slow start which matches the main setting of the book perfectly. As the reader gets acclimated to Savannah, GA, we are drawn into the mystery with an anxious new bride, a missing body, lots of family drama, and a bit of the supernatural. With several subplots and small town gossip in two cities, there is plenty to keep the reader entertained.

While I have read a few books in the series, I have not followed the books in order; however, Katherine Hall Page does a fantastic job of filling in the back stories of the characters. Thus, readers can pick it up any book in the series without feeling lost. Recommended weekend or beach reading for mystery fans who love cozies and food. The inclusion of several recipes inspired by the South is a nice bonus.

Details: The Body in the Wardrobe: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page. Hardcover published by William Morrow in 2016. 256 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-243950-5 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, 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