Note to Readers

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Release Date - October 2013

Kami Garcia
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Unbreakable reminded me of a cross between Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural. It's addicting!

Kennedy Waters and have mom have handled life just fine since Kennedy's father walked away from the family a number of years ago. Things take an odd and then downright tragic turn after Kennedy heads to a local graveyard to find her runaway cat. The cat begins acting odd after that, but things worsen when Kennedy's mother is found dead. Kennedy is now alone.

That's just the beginning of the weird changes in Kennedy's life. On her last night in her home, she awakens to find her cat sitting over her, possessed by a demon that wants her dead. If it wasn't for the intrusion of Lukas and Jared, twin brothers and demon hunters, Kennedy may not be alive. She soon learns she's the missing part of the Legion that Lukas, Jared, and two other teens have been trying to locate. These five teens need to find the missing disks to a device that is supposed to defeat evil. Each of the disks is guarded by a ghost who definitely does not want to give it up.

I quickly became addicted to Unbreakable. I happen to be a fan of the earlier years of Supernatural, and Jared and Lukas reminded me a bit of Sam and Dean. The quest to find the missing disks also reminded me a bit of Sleepy Hollow, another show I liked until the end of the season. Having the blend of those two shows was a nice treat for a rainy fall day. I read it in one sitting.

Having finished it, however, I am more than eager to read the next book in the series. I hate waiting to find out what happens next, which is why I prefer when an entire series is released in a boxed set or one large compilation. The next story has just come out though, so I'll be eager to get my hands on a copy.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Cool Cars by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker

Release Date - October 28, 2014

Tony Mitton
Ant Parker
Kingfisher Books

Book Review by Bob Walch

Learn all about cars and how we rely upon them in this little, inexpensive paperback . The rhymed text explains not only how a car works but also the ways it impacts our lives.

A variety of cute animals are featured driving the cars here and we see them behind the wheels of sports cars, taxis, race cars, and even the family station wagon.

Lively word play, vibrant art, and a glossary of car parts make learning about cars as much fun as taking a ride in one!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Release Date - September 30, 2014

Molly Idle
Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Molly Idle was an artist with DreamWorks, but she left that career to become an illustrator for children's books. This is the second book of hers that I've reviewed, and this one also left me saying "wow."

Flora is ice skating when she meets her new friend, a lively little penguin. When feelings get hurt, how will the new friends make up?

Once again, this is a book with no words. Flora and the Penguin has flaps you lift to learn more about the story, but the actual storytelling is up to the parent or child. That's a good portion of the appeal. My kids always preferred telling their own stories at that age, so having just pictures is a huge plus.

The illustrations are gorgeous, the characters are memorable, and the story is charming. It's another win for Ms. Idle and any parent smart enough to buy a copy for their child.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

DreamWorks Dragons: How to Start a Dragon Academy

Release Date - August 26, 2014

Erica David
Simon Spotlight

Book Review by Bob Walch

Hiccup’s dragon friends are creating some problems for the inhabitants of Berk. “The dragons scare fish out of the Vikings’ nets. They chase sheep out of their pens, and they steal food.”

Hiccup and Toothless are given the task of getting the misbehaving dragons under control or they will end up in cages. This is too big a job for one person , so Hiccup will have to enlist his friends to help. Together the Viking youth devise a clever plan to reeducate the dragons so they are not banished from the village.

This Level One reader will appeal to youngsters who follow the characters in this series and it will work well with those who may be reluctant to begin taking on some of the read aloud chores themselves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Release Date - April 29, 2014

Tanuja Desai Hidier

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Dimple Lala has reached her 17th birthday, and her interests lie in more than typical teen drama. She's an avid photographer, but more than that, she is trying to find her place in a world where her parents' Indian culture differs from that of her peers in the United States.

Her boyfriend broke up with her. Her best friend has her own boyfriend and has little time for Dimple. To make matters worse, her parents have reunited with an old friend who happens to have a son around Dimple's age. They want nothing more for Dimple to fall for this boy who shares their culture, but Dimple wants to explore relationships on her own terms. When she meets Karsh, she's not thrilled, but soon she learns he has his own activities, those her parents would never find suitable, and that makes him all the more intriguing.

Born Confused grabs you from the start. I loved the balance of Dimple's parents cultural ideals with Dimple's own need to experience U.S. customs, even if they are not ideal. She does go out with her friends and get drunk using a fake ID. She does want to wear somewhat revealing clothing. It's all part of growing up and her parents just don't get it.

I enjoyed watching Dimple grow and mature, making wrong and right decisions along the way. This is the first book in a series, and one I'm glad I read.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

Release Date - September 16, 2014

Herve Tullet
Chronicle Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Love, love, love this book! If you want a way to teach children about colors and art, Herve Tullet's Mix It Up is the perfect choice.

Herve Tullet's Mix It Up starts with primary colors and then shows what happens when you mix them. Not only do you watch the paint splotches change colors, but there are pages where the two paint splotches are pressed together so the texture of the paint blobs is apparent. Children are instructed to tip the book and the paint on the page appears to have run.

The heavy cardboard cover will take lots of use. Geared for children ages three to five, I think this is a must-have for parents who want to get their kids thinking about colors, how paint creates art, and how colors blend together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Good Home for Max by Junzo Terada

Release Date - September 2014

Chronicle Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Tabi the mouse spends his evenings cleaning and organizing the little shop where he lives. He is also concerned over a cute stuffed dog named Max who is overlooked and needs a home. One night, Tabi comes out to find Max is missing. Where could the little dog have gone?

A Good Home for Max features colorful, enjoyable illustrations that caught my eye. Paired with the story about Tabi and Max, it's a fun read for parents and one that beginning readers will easily handle.

One thing I did wonder about are the store signs. They are in French and having taken five years of French, I knew what they said. For those who don't know French, it will be harder. Some you can figure out from the pictures, but others, such as "jouet" (toy) or "beurre" (butter), may be tricky. A glossary for translations would be helpful for some.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Telephone by Mac Barnett

Release Date - September 9, 2014

Mac Barnett
Jen Corace
Chronicle Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Have you ever played telephone? It was a popular game in school. The teacher started at one side of the class quickly telling a student something and then each student had to quickly whisper it to the next student. By the time the final student was told the message, it rarely was the same.

Mac Barnett's book Telephone follows this theme. The message begins with one bird who is asked to tell Peter to go home for dinner. By the time the message reaches the end of the line, it's become a fantastic story. Find out what happens when you read Telephone.

Of all the kid's books I've read this year, Telephone was a gem. From the illustrations to the message, it's just a fun look at this popular game. I highly recommend this to a beginning reader and his or her parents or daycare provider.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea

Release Date - June 2014

Bob Shea

Book Review by Bob Walch

Little dinosaur starts school today and there are new friends to meet and activities to engage in. As with the other books in this series, Little Dinosaur will ROAR his way through the day. Everything seems to be turned into a contest. “Dinosaur versus dressing up! Dinosaur versus glitter, glue and googly eyes! Dinosaur versus monkey snacks!”

And, as you can probably guess, Dinosaur always WINS with a ROAR or two. The only time Dinosaur seems to need some assistance is when clean up time arrives. “It’s too much for one dinosaur! But when everyone helps…everyone wins!” Well, that’s nice!

The illustrations here are not very eye appealing and the pages are cluttered with graffiti-like drawings. Young children apparently like this picture book but I’m not sure why. Check it out carefully before making a purchase or get a copy from the library first!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen and Scott Bakal

Release Date - August 26, 2014

George Hagen
Scott Bakal
Schwartz & Wade

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Gabriel Finley is like many other middle schoolers, but he's missing his mother, who vanished when he was young, and his father who abruptly left one day and has yet to return. With his 12th birthday soon to arrive, Gabriel would really like to know what happened to his father.

One his birthday, he receives a present from his father, it's an unusual key. That key leads him to a magical desk that hides a secret journal kept by Gabriel's father. It's this journal that begins to reveal the truth. This truth involves both good and evil ravens. Gabriel and his friends team up to discover the truth and find out what happened to Gabriel's dad.

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is an action-packed middle-grade reader. With the mix of riddles, some are easy to solve and others are much more difficult, children will not only read the book, but it's going to get their minds working as they try to solve the riddles before the characters.

There is a slightly creepy aspect to the story thanks to the evil valravens, but it's not too scary. Overall, Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is the kind of book my son would have loved when he was between the ages of 8 and 10, just before he discovered the Harry Potter and the Artemis Fowl series.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Release Date - August 26, 2014

Jennifer L. Holm
Random House Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The last thing Ellie Cruz expected was to have a new housemate, yet that's exactly what happens. Her mom arrives one night with a teen boy in tow, and she quickly learns that teen is her grandfather. Somehow the scientist figured out a way to turn back the clock and become a teen again. While her mother is not pleased to have a 13-year-old boy bossing her around and devouring her groceries in mass quantity, Ellie is thrilled to have the chance to help her grandfather collect the jellyfish he used to regain his youth and publish his study. There's just one complication, getting into his lab as teenagers is not so easy.

The Fourteenth Goldfish dishes up lively characters, especially Ellie's witty grandfather. I loved the interactions between him and his daughter. Ellie's friends are also memorable. The situations they faced seem true to nature and their solutions sometimes involved thinking outside the box without becoming unbelievable.

Also scattered in this book are details about real inventors and scientists that will teach kids something as they read this quirky, involving novel about life, family dynamics, and the world around us.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Almost Perfect by Diane Daniels Manning

Release Date - January 2014

Diane Daniels Manning

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Benny is a young teen with mild autism who dreams of two things. He wants his mom to become part of their family again, and he wants a dog. Despite his dreams of becoming a dog owner, his father and stepmother seem happy to say no.

At 70, Bess Rutledge is ready to demolish her poodle kennel. This last litter will end her long-running business, and she'll no longer raise and train poodles for dog shows. All of that changes when she meets Bennie. He lights a spark that has her thinking maybe her dream of making it to the Westminster competition doesn't have to just be a dream anymore. Despite all, Bess is still reluctant and Benny must find a way to break through the walls she's erected.

Almost Perfect is set in an area I know well. I have an aunt and uncle in West Redding, so I've spent many spring vacations at their home. It was fun to go back in time to when the Danbury Fair operated, now the area is covered by a huge mall with a carousel that my kids love. Knowing the setting was one reason I was drawn into the story.

I'm also very familiar with Westminster. I used to watch it yearly, though Almost Perfect did go into some of the detail involved in getting dog to rank highly enough to make it into that show.

There were things that bothered me about the story. Bess and Benny initially meet and that starts a connection. Then the plot takes a weird twist and Bess's prize poodle is stolen right in front of her. I never understood the real importance of this mystery in terms of the overall plot. It seemed extraneous.

There's a secondary plot involving a growing relationship between Benny's therapeutic school's principal and Bess's son. Again, it didn't seem like this plot was really critical.

Benny's family also have their place in the story, and after a few chapters, I decided their only purpose was to make me want to climb into the book and smack some sense into all of them.

I did enjoy the main portion of Almost Perfect, but when it would switch to one of the other plots, I found myself repeatedly wondering why this other storyline was so necessary. I ended up quickly glimpsing at those sections to get back to the main part of the story.

This book is marketed as a young adult. I'm not sure teens would find the story as appealing as adults.  Given that, it may be best to use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature and see what you think.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Disconnected by Lisa M. Cronkhite

Release Date - June 2014

Lisa M. Cronkhite
The Poisoned Pencil

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Let me start by saying that Disconnected was a challenging book. There were times I loved the novel, and other times when I wondered why it was going so off course.

Amelia (Milly) lost her parents, but she's hazy on the details. Since then, she's lived with her grandfather,until his house burned down, and now she and her grandfather live with her aunt in an old Victorian. One thing is clear, she's not comfortable in her own skin. Many of her actions are prompted by a voice only she can hear that of Amelia, and Amelia is a bit of a bully.

When a mysterious older man starts following Milly around, she can't help but wonder - what is happening? Why can't she remember all the details of her past?

There were times I really liked Disconnected. It's a pretty intimate look at mental illness, something that needs more publicity, especially following Robin Williams' death. I think everyone was shocked by that tragic event. Yet, there were other times when I felt like the title - Disconnected.  Milly ends up facing so many issues, and I don't want to give away the ending, but once a revelation is made, I was just really disgusted and wondered if that plot turn really needed to be part of the story, especially the way it was thrown in at the last minute. Her relationship with Blake, it never is really fleshed out enough. Perhaps if the novel had been longer and more fleshed out, I would have connected better.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! by Petr Horacek

Release Date - June 2014

Petr Horacek
Candlewick Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

This well designed and sturdy board book combines pictures of common animals with the sounds they make. It is ideal for a young child who likes looking at colorful pictures and the book’s thick pages are a breeze to turn. Mom and dad will have fun making the sounds that identify each critter.

A good way of fostering a lifelong love of books in a child is to begin with a simple, colorful picture book like Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! You’ll be surprised how often the youngster returns to a favorite volume like this and loves just flipping pages and tossing the book around.