Sunday, December 24, 2017

Book Review: 'The Christmas Cat' by Maryann Macdonald

✰✰✰✰✰ The Baby Jesus was just like all babies. He cried. On the night Jesus was born, the manger animals took turns trying to lull Him to sleep. Nothing worked until a curious kitten nuzzled Jesus's neck and began to purr. Soon the crying stopped, and Jesus and the kitten bonded. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The Bottom Line: This refreshing and tender take on the traditional Christmas story was inspired by one of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of La Madonna del Gatto. Soft and beautiful watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations by Any June Bates set the tone perfectly. This picture book about friendship is one you will treasure with your child for years to come. Very highly recommended for bedtime or storytime reading with kids ages 4 – 8.

Details: The Christmas Cat written by Maryann Macdonald & illustrated by Amy June Bates. Hardcover picture book published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8037-3498-2 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: 'The Best Hanukkah Ever' by Barbara Diamond Goldin

✰✰✰✰✰ The Knoodle family wants to follow their rabbi's wise advice and give perfect gifts to celebrate Hanukkah, gifts that will be treasured forever. As each person draws a name, they choose a gift that they themselves would like to have. However, when everyone opens their gifts, no one is happy. How can this be? They did just what the rabbi said, didn't they? Fortunately, the rabbi arrives just in time, and with a extra help from Little Yekl, the Knoodle family has a celebration they will remember for many years to come.

The Bottom Line: This holiday treasure is one that you will read with your little one again and again. The lively and colorful illustrations are sure to make you smile as kids learn about what it takes to choose the perfect gift. Highly recommended for holiday reading and storytimes.

Details: The Best Hanukkah Ever written by Barbara Diamond Goldin & illustrated by Avi Katz. Hardcover picture book published by Marshall Cavendish Children in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-7614-5355-0 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Deep Down Dark' by Héctor Tobar

✰✰✰✰½ When the San José Mine collapsed in Chile in 2010, 1.2 billion people watched the rescue on television. Never before had anyone survived such a long time underground...69 days. How did the miners survive? What happened during their time in the caverns And how did they adjust to life back above ground?

It’s been more than seven years since the thirty-three men were trapped. Their plight captivated the world. For seventeen days no one even new if they were alive or dead. With meager resources, somehow all of the miners survived.  Tobar's narrative moves between the stories of the men trapped beneath thousands of feet of rock to the political battles above ground.

While the miners struggled to make their limited rations last, their families fought to keep the rescue mission alive. Harsh conditions challenged the miners physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The drama and suspense of their story will keep you turning the pages of this quick read.

The Bottom Line: This is a riveting story of workplace disaster, politics, family, physical endurance, and survival. It's also a story of hard working men and the people who love them. Chances are you remember the story, now read about what really happened. Enthusiastically recommended for readers who enjoy survival stories.

Book Club Notes: Our group thrives on exploring different opinions, so this was a lively discussion. With 15+ participants we really had to be respectful of the amount of time each person had to talk. Several people mentioned that they didn't like the journalistic style of the book and would have liked to know more about the miners' private lives. Others enjoyed the style and said the author did a good job of respecting the privacy of the survivors. A few people said that the beginning of the book (the first 75 pages especially) was slow. It was difficult at times to keep track of who was who as there were so many people involved. Several of us were wanting of more information about mining and drilling. I supplemented the discussion with diagrams, maps, photos, and a timeline as these items were sparse in the hardcover book. Several members had watched documentaries online. Also, a few checked out the movie, The 33, after the discussion. Overall the ratings (on a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the highest) ranged from 3.5 to 5 with an average of 4.5. 

To sum, this is an inspirational and education story of faith, friendship, and teamwork. While this may not have been their first choice in books, this title was an awesome book club pick. This was our best discussion of the year, and it's always great to end the year on a high note. For book clubs considering this book, check out the discussion questions at Reading Group Guides. 
Details: Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar. Paperback published by Picador in 2014. 320 p. ISBN: 978-1-250-07485-0 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Book Review: 'Boris and Bella' by Carolyn Crimi

✰✰✰✰✰ Everyone in Booville seems to get along. Everyone, that is, except for neighbors Bella and Boris. Bella Legrossi is the messiest creature in town, while Boris Kleanitoff is the tidiest.

Bella and Boris argue all the time. As Halloween rolls around, each tries to outdo the other with a spectacular party. When all the other monsters turn them down to attend Harry Beastie’s party, Bella and Boris are left out and all alone again. Together they decide to find out what all the other creatures are shrieking about. And together they stumble upon a nice surprise.

The Bottom Line: This tale of two opposites is witty and clever. This spooky tale of friendship is one of my favorites this year. Kids in lower grade school will love Gris Grimly’s spooktacular illustrations in ink and watercolor. This Halloween treat is sure to be a winner for story time reading as well.

Details: Boris and Bella written by Carolyn Crimi & illustrated by Gris Grimly. Hardcover picture book published by Harcourt, Inc. in 2004. 32 p. ISBN: 0-15-202528-6 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: 'Trick or Treat?' by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson

✰✰✰✰ A little boy goes trick-or-treating in his apartment building. He goes from floor to floor and door to door, asking, “Trick or Treat?” Each person answers, “Treat!” and hands out candy. However, when the little boy reaches the tenth floor, Merlin answers, “Trick!” Magic Merlin waves his wand and suddenly everything is WackBards! On the way back down to his apartment, the little boy’s treat bag is filled with backwards treats. When he gets home, his daddy knows just the trick to undo Merlin’s spell.

The Bottom Line: This Halloween-themed counting book is recommended for kids in grades PreK – 1. Meisel’s whimsical drawings will make kids laugh. Also, recommended for story time.

Details: Trick or Treat? written by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson, & illustrated by Paul Meisel. Hardcover picture book published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2002. 40 p. ISBN: 0-689-84968-0 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book Review: 'How to Make Friends with a Ghost' by Rebecca Green

✰✰✰✰½  Ghosts need friends just like we do. It might be a bit scary at first to be friends with a ghost, but this helpful guide will show you how. The tricky part is finding a ghost. Rather then looking for one, it's better to let the ghost find you.

Once you are acquainted with your ghost let the fun begin. Ghosts have special needs, and this how-to book will help you care for your new friend. You can make snacks for it, take walks with it, and tell it funny jokes. If you move or when you grow older, your ghost will still be there for you. Your ghost is your true friend to the end...forever.   

The Bottom Line: Rebecca Green's debut picture book is a delightful winner. This quirky and sweet tale of everlasting friendship is great for kids who are a little bit shy. This ghostly tale is not scary at all. Green used a soothing, limited color palette resulting in charming illustrations with gothic, retro feel. Highly recommended for kids in grades K – 2. This is the perfect seasonal reading for kids interested in fantasy and make-believe.

Details: How to Make Friends with a Ghost written & illustrated by Rebecca Green. Hardcover picture book published by Tundra Books in 2017. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-101-91901-9  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, October 25, 2017

Book Review: 'How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?' by Margaret McNamara

✰✰✰✰✰ Charlie is the smallest kid in class. One day his teacher brings in three pumpkins in three different sizes and asks, "How many seeds in a pumpkin?" Everyone guesses that the largest has the most. Maybe, but not so fast. The class sets out to count the seeds in groups of twos, fives, and tens. When everyone is finished, the class is surprised by the results. It just goes to prove that sometimes good things come in small packages.

The Bottom Line: This book is enthusiastically recommended for story time reading for kids in grades K – 2. The children work together in teams and learn about counting and perception. The engaging illustrations rendered in gouache, acrylic, and pencil help drive the concepts home. Finally, the book includes some cool facts about pumpkins too.

Details: How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom series) written by Margaret McNamara & illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Hardcover picture book published by Schwartz & Wade Books in 2007. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-375-84014-2 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: 'Ollie's Halloween' by Olivier Dunrea

✰✰✰✰ It’s Halloween and the goslings are out prowling. Each is dressed up for the festivities as they hoot like owls, scare frogs, and gobble up treats. But Ollie is too busy to eat. When lightning flashes in the dark sky, the goslings run into the barn. There they find one last feast of treats. Will the others share with Ollie? Check out this Halloween treat to find out.

The Bottom Line: This tiny tale of big Halloween adventure is sure to please little ones familiar with Gossie, Gertie, Peedie, BooBoo, & Ollie. Delightful pen and ink and gouache illustrations set a festive tone. The large print is perfect for beginning readers. Enthusiastically recommended for little ones in preschool. Includes a fold-out poster.

Details: Ollie’s Halloween written & illustrated by Olivier Dunrea. Hardcover picture book published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-618-53241-4

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: 'It Takes a Witch' by Heather Blake

✰✰✰✰ After the recent death of their father, Darcy Merriweather and her little sister, Harper, need a change. When their only living relative, Aunt Ve, invites them to live with her in the Enchanted Village in Salem, Massachusetts, they jump at the opportunity. It seems they never got to know their mom very well and after joining the family business, Darcy and Harper learn a family secret. They come from a long line of witches known as Wishcrafters, who have the power to grant wishes with spells. What could possibly be better?

As Darcy and Harper take new jobs and get to know the residents, they quickly discover that things aren't so rosy in this magic-themed tourist town. With a pickpocketer running amok, more trouble soon arrives in the form of a dead body. When the obvious clues point to Aunt Ve and her beau, Darcy pushes her newfound abilities to the max. Meanwhile, a handsome widower mysteriously appears every step of the way as Darcy follows the twists and turns of this charming mystery to a surprising conclusion.

The Bottom Line: This supernatural cozy mystery is a quick read. After finishing the first installment, I can't wait to read the rest. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries who enjoy a little romance as well. This would be fun to take to the beach or on vacation.

Details: It Takes a Witch: A Wishcraft Mystery by Heather Blake. Paperback published by OBSIDIAN in 2012. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-451-23552-7 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Night of the Living Deed' by E. J. Copperman

✰✰✰½ Alison Kerby is a recently divorced, single mom looking for a change. Deciding to follow her dream, she purchases a large Victorian house on the Jersey shore. With lots of hard work and determination, she plans to turn it into a guesthouse. However, when an accident leaves Alison with the ability to see and talk to ghosts, Alison suddenly has a problem. Her house is haunted!

The ghosts that occupy Alison's house insist they were murdered, and they won't leave Alison alone until she solves the mystery. As the deadline for completing the renovations looms near, Alison starts receiving threatening emails. With the safety of her daughter and herself at risk, will Alison be able to solve the mystery in time? Check out this quirky, spooky mystery to find out.

The Bottom Line: This is the first book of the entertaining Haunted Guesthouse Mysteries. It's the perfect pick for weekend or beach reading. Recommended for fans of cozy mysteries with a paranormal twist.

Details: Night of the Living Deed (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery) by E. J. Copperman. Paperback published by Berkley in 2010. 336 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-23523-2 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Review: 'Putting on the Witch' by Joyce & Jim Lavene

✰✰✰✰½ It's Brian's birthday, and the coven is invited to a Witches Ball. It's the opportunity of a lifetime to get glammed up and visit a magnificent, magical castle in an undisclosed location. It's also a great time to put their worries aside. With the troubling arrival of Dorothy's notoriously wicked father, the search for their missing spell book has gone cold.

The festivities are just beginning when Molly, Elsie, and Dorothy arrive. Unbeknownst to them Dorothy's ghostly mother, Olivia, has tagged along as well. It's all fun until a member of the Grand Council of Witches turns up dead. The obvious suspects are the members of our favorite coven. As they set out to clear their name, the castle is locked down for twenty-four hours and a real Spanish Inquisitor is released to conduct an investigation. With time running out, the coven must quickly solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt or the wrong person is blamed. It seems the clock is ticking all too quickly.

The Bottom Line: The third installment in the Retired Witches Mysteries is a house party style cozy that will keep you guessing with lots of twists and turns. Fans of paranormal cozies will enjoy this quick weekend read. Highly recommended for young adults too.

Details: Putting on the Witch (Retired Witches Mysteries) by Joyce & Jim Lavene. Paperback published by Berkley Prim Crime in 2016. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-425-26827-8 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: 'Cinderella Skeleton' by Robert D. San Souci

✰✰✰✰½ Boneyard Acres is home to Cinderella Skeleton, her evil stepmother, and two evil stepsisters. Cinderella Skeleton is forced to do all the housework. When it is time for the Halloween Ball, she begs to go. All the girls want to win Prince Charnel’s heart. Unfortunately Cinderella is forced to stay at home until a good witch agrees to help her get to the ball. She leaves with a warning that everything will change back at the break of day.

Cinderella Skeleton causes a stir at the ball. Everyone is intrigued by this beauty, but she remembers the warning to late. As she rushes to return home on time, she leaves behind a clue. Prince Charnel has been charmed. He searches high and low for his mystery guest. Will the Prince ever find his true love? Will Cinderella Skeleton ever be free of chores? Check out this spooky treat to find out. 

The Bottom Line: This ghoulish retelling of a classic fairy tale with rhyming verses will delight kids in grades 2 – 4. Catrow’s dreamy illustrations in watercolors and pencil are spooktacular and vivid. This visual treat is highly recommended. 

Details: Cinderella Skeleton written by Robert D. San Souci & illustrated by David Catrow. Hardcover picture book published by Silver Whistle in 2000. 32 p. ISBN: 0-15-2002003-9 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: 'Zombelina' by Kristyn Crow

✰✰✰½ Zombelina is an adorable little zombie girl who loves dancing. She boogies with bats and glides like a ghost. When she gets carried away, her mom drops her off at dance class. Unfortunately, things don’t go so well. Her human classmates don’t like her, but she practices every day anyway.

When the day of the recital arrives, Zombelina freezes. She can’t dance. When someone screams, Zombelina’s classmates and the audience flee. Wondering what to do, she hears a familiar sound. Finally, with her family there, Zombelina gives a dance performance to remember.

The Bottom Line: This is the charming tale of a little girl who just loves to dance. Told in rhyming verse with colorful illustrations, children ages 4 – 8 will enjoy this tale with a spooky setting.

Details: Zombelina written by Kristyn Crow & illustrated by Molly Idle. Hardcover picture book published by Walker Books for Young Readers in 2013. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8027-2803-6

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: 'The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything' by Linda Williams

✰✰✰✰ One autumn afternoon, a little old lady set out to collect herbs and nuts. She walked and walked until it began to get dark. Along the way she encountered the CLOMP, CLOMP of a pair of shoes; the WIGGLE, WIGGLE of a pair of pants, and the SHAKE, SHAKE of a shirt. Even though the little old lady was not afraid of anything, she ran home and locked the door behind her. Then she heard a KNOCK, KNOCK at her door. Will the little old lady, who is not afraid of anything, open the door? Read the book to find out.

The Bottom Line: Check out this version of the classic tale at your local library. This is a cumulative story about bravery with a clever twist ending. Kids ages 4 – 8 will be enchanted by the folksy watercolor illustrations. Recommended for seasonal storytime reading.

Details: The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything written by Linda Williams & illustrated by Megan Lloyd. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 1986. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-690-04584-0 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book Review: 'A Very Brave Witch' by Alison McGhee

✰✰✰✰ Witches are afraid of humans, but one brave little witch isn’t. She has done her homework, and one Halloween night she decides to fly in for a closer look to see what the human are up to. Humans do have some strange habits. When she decides to fly in for an even closer look, she bumps in to a real little girl. Though both are a tiny bit afraid of each other, they soon become fast friends.

The Bottom Line: This easy to read picture book is perfect for little ones who are a bit shy about making friends. McGhee’s gentle story about overcoming differences along with Bliss’ engaging illustrations will appeal to kids in grades PreK – K. Enthusiastically recommended for story time reading too.

Details: A Very Brave Witch written by Alison McGhee & illustrated by Harry Bliss. Hardcover picture book published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/ A Paula Wiseman Book in2006. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-689-86730-9

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Littlebat's Halloween Story' by Diane Mayr

✰✰✰✰✰ Littlebat lives with his Motherbat in the attic of a public library. Littlebat loves to listen to stories, but he really wants to see the pictures. Motherbat explains, “It’s dangerous.” Bats must never be seen by people, but Littlebat still wants to look. Someday there might be a time when he can see the pictures, but he has to wait for changes. As the seasons pass, he listens to stories and waits patiently for the changes. Then one day right before their winter sleep, the time was just right.

The Bottom Line: Kids will love this gentle seasonal tale. Kendall’s colorful illustrations go perfectly with the text showing the seasonal changes. Highly recommended for both bedtime and storytime reading.

Details: Littlebat’s Halloween Story written by Diane Mayr & illustrated by Gideon Kendall. Hardcover picture book published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2001. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8075-7629-8 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book Review: 'The Lost Property Office (Section 13)' by James R. Hannibal

✰✰✰✰½ Jack Buckles has arrived in London with his mom and sister to search for his missing dad. It seems that their father has disappeared without a trace, so when his little sister Sadie thinks she has caught a glimpse of his coat, she takes off after him. Jack, in turn, takes off after her. When he finally catches up, he finds himself at the Lost Property Office.

As he fills out the appropriate paperwork, Jack learns that things are not always what they seem. His dad is actually a Tracker and has been kidnapped by the mysterious and dangerous Clockmaker. If Jack wants to save his father, he and Gwen, an apprentice clerk with the Ministry of Trackers, must recover what is known as the Ember. There’s not much to go on, but Jack does possess a magical ability to read clues on objects. As Gwen helps him hone his skills, Jack must learn to trust himself. Working as a team, Jack and Gwen follow the clues of a mystery dating back to the Great Fire of 1666. With family secrets and twists and turns, this is one mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Bottom Line: This fast-paced read will appeal to the middle grade set. With lots of action, adventure, and just a hint of the supernatural, this debut series is fun for all. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades 5 – 7 and libraries.

Details: The Lost Property Office (Section 13) by James R. Hannibal. Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2016. 400 p. ISBN: 978-1481467094