Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Betty Bunny Loves Easter' by Michael B. Kaplan

✰✰✰✰ Betty Bunny is a handful. She loves Easter so much; she wants to be the Easter Bunny when she grows up. So when Easter rolls around, she's ready to collect lots of Easter eggs. When she realizes that her family is helping her, she puts her foot down. This year she is determined to find the eggs all by herself.  It's not easy, but Betty Bunny discovers how great it feels to accomplish something on your very own.

The Bottom Line: This adorable installment of the Betty Bunny series focuses on independence. Little ones in preschool and kindergarten will relate to this Easter tale about learning to do things on your own. The festive, colorful illustrations are engaging and hilarious. Highly recommended for story time and bedtime reading.

Details: Betty Bunny Loves Easter written by Michael B. Kaplan & illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2015. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8037-4061-7

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: 'The Passover Lamb' by Linda Elovitz Marshall

✰✰✰½ Little Miriam is excited for the Passover seder to begin at her grandparents' house. It's her first year to to sing the Four Questions at the seder. Before her family can leave the farm, all the chores must be done, and Miriam discovers that something is wrong with one of the sheep. Though it's late in the season, new lambs are soon born. Unfortunately, one of the newborns is left lying all alone in the hay. It looks like Miriam's family will have to stay at home, until Miriam hatches a clever plan.

The Bottom Line: Illustrated with soft watercolors, this sweet tale was inspired by a true event. Check out this gentle story to read with your little ones.

Details: The Passover Lamb written by Linda Elovitz Marshall & illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Hardcover picture book published by Random House in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-93177-1

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Review: 'April Fools!' by Else Holmelund Minarik

✰✰✰½ It's April Fools' Day, and Little Bear wants to create some mischief. As he climbs out of bed, he tries to think up a trick to fool Mother Bear, but he waits to long. All morning long Little Bear and his friends try to think up April Fools' jokes. Soon they grow hungry, and when they arrive at Little Bear's house for lunch, the joke's on them!

The Bottom Line: Little Bear is popular with little ones ages 3 – 6. Hahner's watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are pleasing to the eye and draw attention to Little Bear. Recommended for Preschool story time.

Details: April Fools! (Maurice Sendak's Little Bear) written by Else Holmelund Minarik & illustrated by Chris Hahner. Hardcover picture book published by HarperFestival in 2003. 24 p. ISBN: 0-694-01694-2

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: 'Looking for Mr. Good Witch' by Joyce & Jim Lavene

✰✰✰✰ When handsome, young male witches begin to turn up dead along the Carolina coast, everyone is baffled. It's difficult to kill a witch, so who could have done it? There's only one possibility...a rare sea witch. Sea witches must mate every one hundred years in order to continue living. So far, this sea witch hasn't found her perfect match, but now she has her sights on Brian Fuller.

Molly and Elsie have been hoping to retire soon. However, after their friend, Olivia, died and their spell book went missing, all plans for retirement have been put on hold. As they struggle to find the missing spell book and find replacements for themselves, they end up in the middle of another dangerous mystery. Olivia isn't much help in her ghostly form, while her daughter, Dorothy, struggles to control her new powers.

With strong forces working against them, Molly and Elsie must rely on their wits and wisdom to compensate for their faltering magic. Will it be enough to identify the sea witch and save Brian from her evil spell? This paranormal, cozy mystery will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow the twists and turns of this installment of the Retired Witches mysteries. 

The Bottom Line: This fun weekend read will enchant both adult and young adult readers. This mystery has plenty of action and suspense, with just a dash of romance mixed in. Highly recommended for cozy mystery buffs and readers interested in a bit of the paranormal. This engaging series has endearing characters, and I'm looking forward to reading the next one. While I have been reading the books in order, it isn't necessary to do so. 

Details: Looking for Mr. Good Witch by Joyce & Jim Lavene. Paperback published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2015. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26826-1 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Ten Lucky Leprechauns' by Kathryn Heling

✰✰✰✰½ Follow one wee leprechaun as he searches for treasure. Along the way, his treasure hunt leads him instead to find more leprechauns. One after another, the number of leprechauns grows until together they find a surprise at the end of the rainbow. 

The Bottom Line: Kids ages 3 – 5 will love the catchy, rhyming verses as they learn to count to ten. This wee picture book is perfect for preschool story time.

Details: Ten Lucky Leprechauns written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook & illustrated by Jay Johnson. Paperback picture book published by Scholastic in 2012. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-43648-9

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Truck: A Love Story' by Michael Perry

✰✰✰½ Humorist Michael Perry brings readers the true story of a truck, a garden, and a girl. As a confirmed bachelor, Perry enjoys a comfortable life in Wisconsin. He proudly serves with his neighbors on the New Auburn Area Fire Department and spends his time writing. He is surrounded by family, good friends, and fun times. However, as Perry approaches forty, he yearns for something more.

Peppered with anecdotes about the characters he encounters on a daily basis, readers follow Perry through a year of truck restoration, amateur gardening, and finding true love. Will he finally settle down with the girl of his dreams? Check this one out for your book club and discuss his adventures.

The Bottom Line: This is an endearing look at small town life in the Midwest. No matter where you live, readers will relate to searching for true love and finding a sense of belonging. Perry writes about family and friends with humor, kindness, and respect. His writing brings a unique focus to everyday things and an appreciation for living in the present. Recommended for car enthusiasts, gardeners, and romantics who enjoy a happy ending.

Book Club Notes: Our group was quite divided in their impressions of this book. Half of the group really liked it. We enjoyed Perry's humor and take on small town life. We discussed the possibility of living off the grid…at least for a little while. We also had a sincere discussion about the challenges of blended families and marrying later in life.

Those who didn’t like the book had trouble with the first chapter or two. A few didn’t finish reading it. They were especially bogged down with the descriptions of repairing the truck, which contrasted with those who really enjoyed the same descriptions. Finally, some members had difficulty reading about hunting.

We all agreed that we did learn something from this book, including a recipe for tomato stock. Also, several members mentioned that they would like to talk to the author because he sounded like a really nice guy.

Ratings for this book averaged around 3.5 (on a scale from 1 – 5), and several people will be looking into Perry’s other books. 

Book clubs can find book discussion questions from the Madison Public Library hereAdditionally, here are some more questions I asked the group: 

1. Discuss the following quote: “No matter our vocation, we so often find ourselves living life as a form of triage.” p. 107 

2. Anneliese says: We are what we are because of what was. p. 148 What does she mean? Does anyone ever feel like they wish they could change the past? Or ask for a do-over? 

3. Perry writes: “It’s so easy to get caught up in our brief little history…You forget sometimes what a disruption you are. And how late you have entered the game. p. 184   Have you ever felt like this? 

4. Discuss the difficulties of blended families. 

5. Which topic appealed to you the most and why? Repairing the truck? Gardening? Finding true love? Small town life? 

6. The author and Anneliese discuss living off the grid. Would living off the grid appeal to you? Why or why not? 

7. Compare and contrast small town life vs. city life. 

8. What is the appeal of this book beyond the Midwest? 

Details: Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. Paperback published by Harper Perennial in 2007, reissued in 2016. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-06057118-4 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: 'Lucifer's Harvest' by Mel Starr

✰✰✰½ Prince Edward has requested that Lord Gilbert Talbot provide soldiers for a battle in France. And so it is that Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, reluctantly leaves his growing family in Bampton, not to fight, but to treat the woundedAlong the way Master Hugh has a run-in with his nemesis, Sir Simon Trillowe. Master Hugh vows not to let his guard down. Unfortunately, when Sir Simon ends up the victim of foul play, naturally everyone blames Master Hugh. With the help of his allies, Master Hugh has little time to investigate in order to try to clear his name before the battle begins.

The Bottom Line: The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon is a cozy mystery series that I always look forward to reading. The 9th installment is a page-turner. It's a very quick and enjoyable read. Plus, I always learn something new about medieval life. Those new to the series will find ample backstory included without having to read the books in order. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of medieval mysteries, Christian fiction, and cozies. A glossary of medieval terms and a map are included.

Details: Lucifer's Harvest (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon) by Mel Starr. Paperback published by Lion Fiction in 2016. 160 p. ISBN: 978-1-78264-188-9 NOTE: I received a free copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers Program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Secrets In the Snow' by Michaela MacColl

✰✰✰½ Young Jane Austen is busy working on a draft of Elinor and Marianne when a family friend introduces her to a charming young man, Tom Lefroy. Jane is amused and annoyed at the prospect at the same time. Since the Austen family is poor, it is important for the daughters to be married off. However, clever Jane has a habit of turning every single suitor away.

Before she has a chance to get to know Mr. Lefroy, mystery arrives by way of her sophisticated cousin. It seems the War Office is keeping an eye of the vivacious, beautiful widow. With clandestine meetings and a gruesome murder, readers will get plenty of mystery and suspense in this well-researched novel.

The Bottom Line: This delightful imagining of a young Jane Austen is a fun, quick read sprinkled with romance and suspense. Recommended for teens and adults interested in historical fiction and Jane Austen.

Details: Secrets in the Snow: A Novel of Intrigue and Romance by Michaela MacColl. Hardcover published by Chronicle Books in 2016 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-4521-3358-4 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, February 8, 2017

Book Review: 'If You'll Be My Valentine' by Cynthia Rylant

✰✰✰✰ sweet little boy takes the time to make Valentines for everyone in the family. He makes cards for his dog and his cat. There's a card for Grandma and each of his siblings. There's even a card for his teddy bear. Each card expresses the little boy's appreciation for that individual, and his story is told with gentleness and simplicity.

The Bottom Line: With rhyming verses and adorable, large scale illustrations, this picture book will be a hit with little ones in Preschool – Grade 2. Enthusiastically recommended for storytime.

Details: If You'll Be My Valentine written by Cynthia Rylant & illustrated by Fumi Kosaka. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 0-06-009269-6

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Groundhog's Dilemma' by Kristen Remenar

✰✰✰✰½ What's a groundhog to do? Every time February 2 rolls around, half of Groundhog's friends are disappointed, and the other half are happy. Groundhog doesn't control the weather. He just calls it like he sees it, but his friends don't understand.

Throughout the year his friends bring him presents and bribes hoping to influence Groundhog's next prediction. As the days grow colder, Groundhog still doesn't know what to do. After a long, fitful sleep, Groundhog emerges on his big day. What will he do? Tell the truth or give in to the bribes? Check out this charming holiday book to find out for yourself.

The Bottom Line: Remenar's first picture book is a hit with themes of friendship and honesty. Faulkner's illustrations in watercolor, pencil, and gouache with soft tones are visually engaging for kids in Pre-K – Grade 1. Highly recommended for story time discussions.

Details: Groundhog's Dilemma written by Kristen Remenar & illustrated by Matt Faulkner. Hardcover picture book published by Charlesbridge in 2015. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-58089-600-9 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Review: 'A New Year's Reunion' by Yu Li-Qiong

✰✰✰✰✰ Little Maomao's Papa builds houses in far away places. He only visits his family once a year during Chinese New Year. At first Maomao doesn't recognize him, but as the days go by, Maomao and her Papa spend time together. They make sticky rice balls, hear firecrackers, and watch the dragon dance. Papa also fixes things around the house, and they enjoy time together as a family. All too soon, Papa must return to work, and it will be another year before the little girl can see him again.

The Bottom Line: There is a paucity of children's books featuring Asian characters and holidays. Filled with vibrant illustrations and large text, this tender story is a fantastic introduction to the celebration of the Chinese New Year. While the family featured in this book is fictional, millions of migrant workers in China make this journey annually during the holiday. This is the perfect selection for classroom story time for kids in grades Pre-K - 2.

Details: A New Year's Reunion written by Yu Li-Qiong & illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang. Hardcover picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2008. Unpaged. ISBN: 978-0-7636-5881-6

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review: 'Selling the American Muscle Car' by Diego Rosenberg

✰✰✰½ Take a trip back in time to a place where muscle cars ruled the road. These awesome performance cars are still highly coveted today. But back in the day AMC, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and Studebaker had to come up with creative marketing and advertising schemes to get these cars into people’s driveways. This was an era when the cars all had catchy names and plentiful options. Each manufacturer tried to outdo the others with races, auto shows, TV commercials, and gimmicks. Buckle up and take a fascinating trip down memory lane with this visual treat.

The Bottom Line: Filled with beautiful, glossy photos, this book will be appreciated by muscle car enthusiasts. Marketing and advertising students will also want to check it out. Recommended for libraries too. This was an interesting read, and I enjoyed looking at the both the color and black and white photos.

Details: Selling the American Muscle Car: Marketing Detroit Iron in the 60s and 70s by Diego Rosenberg. Hardcover published by CarTech in 2016. 192 p. ISBN: 978-1-61325-203-1 Note: I received a free copy from CarTech in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review: 'The Fifth Petal' by Brunonia Barry

✰✰✰ It’s been nearly three decades since the young women known as the Goddesses were brutally murdered on Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts. The Goddess Murders have remained unsolved all these years until a recent murder ignites interest in the past. The prime suspect, a mentally ill homeless woman named Rose, claims the banshee that resides within her is responsible for all of the murders. 

Callie, a daughter of one of the goddesses, witnessed the horrific murders long ago. For years she was raised by nuns and lived in foster care believing she was all alone in the world. Now that she has learned her "Auntie Rose" is still alive, Callie has returned to Salem. With the help of the town constable and his wife, Callie is looking for answers to her past. Along the way the murders just might finally be solved, and Callie finds a place to call home.

The Bottom Line: This complex, literary mystery will appeal to readers interested in books with witchcraft and time bending themes. This multi-layered mystery requires lots of concentration to read. It was a little slow in the beginning, but the setting kept my attention.

Details: The Fifth Petal: A Novel by Brunonia Barry. Published by Crown in 2017. 448 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-90560-9 NOTE: I received a free ARC from Crown in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing. 

Happy New Year 2017!

Welcome to an awesome New Year! 2017 is going to be a great year filled with meeting new people, enjoying new adventures, and visiting new cities. Along the way there will be lots and lots of fantastic new books to check out. Visit Mini Book Bytes often for the latest in book reviews and articles to help you host a book club, attend a writing conference, and more.

Additionally, take our annual challenge. Every year we challenge ourselves and our readers to read 50 books. The books can be new books, old books, red books, or blue books. Check out some YA fiction or even a picture book. Read whatever catches your fancy and pass it on. Then tell others about your reading adventures. Enjoy!

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Note: The free clip art is from: