Note to Readers

I have not received any compensation for writing this post other than a free digital or print copy of the book. 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.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Daddy is a Cozy Hug - Rhonda Growler Greene (Picture Book)

Released May 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Some of the best times in a child's young life are spent on outings with his or her dad. Whether it is an outing to the beach during the summer, scattering a pile of autumn leaves or flying a kite on a windy day, these special moments will be remembered long after the child grows into adulthood.

With its colorful illustrations and rhyming text, this picture book for preschoolers celebrates these memorable moments. As an added bonus the book also comes with a special greeting card that the youngster can pass on to dad on Father's Day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Manifest - Artist Arthur (Young Adult)

Released August 2010

Having grown up on a steady diet of Loveswept's teen romance line, I'm delighted to see Harlequin's offering teen romances again. Every teen girl dreams of that special person and having books that respond to those dreams provides escape and lures many to really enjoy reading.

In Manifest, the first novel in the Mystyx series, fifteen-year-old Krystal Bentley is new to Connecticut. Following a divorce and remarriage, her family moves to a smaller town, away from the glamor of New York City. Moving to a new school is hard enough, but things are harder because Krystal sees and hears ghosts. It's been months and she's still struggling to make friends that actually exist in the real world.

Ricky Watson died, but he has unfinished business. Unless he can convince Krystal to help him solve his murder, Ricky's stuck in limbo. Krystal's having a hard enough time adjusting to a new stepfather and small town life, the last thing she needs or wants is to be helping dead people. When she learns she isn't the only one in her high school with unusual powers, handling the ghosts around her may not be as bad as it seems.

I'm hooked. Manifest is slightly romantic, enough that teens will enjoy the relationships, but not so much that the hook ups are the main plot. It's the paranormal aspect of this novel that kept me on the edge of my seat. Crisp writing, a handful of mysteries and copious twists fill the pages.

The mysteries within Manifest vary in thrills. There's the question involving the reason behind the break up of Krystal's parents. The story behind the Mystyx abilities. Ricky's murder. Mysterious romantic or disturbing text messages to Krystal from anonymous senders. Plus, I wondered if there are more teens with powers lurking in the school.

As the first in a series, some aspects are summed up nicely, but there is a continuing storyline that is left open. I'll admit I'm bummed that I'll have to wait before the next story is released. I don't want to wait!

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Vacation Time - Lerryn Korda (Picture Book)

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Another in the Playtime with Little Nye series of picture books, this latest outing finds Little Nye, Lester, Nella and Gracie preparing for a summer's vacation at the beach.

Nella has packed a big suitcase of things to take along, but it is so full she can't close it. The problem is what to take out so that they can latch the top.
Since everything is necessary for having a good time at the beach, the friends aren't sure how to solve their dilemma.

Finally, Gracie finds the perfect solution on how to resolve their problem of not having enough packing space for all their beach toys.

The bright, colorful illustrations and simple story make this an ideal picture book for toddlers who are ready for something a little more demanding than just a simple board book with cute pictures. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Legacies - Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill (Young Adult)

Released July 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Legacies is the first installment in Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill's new Shadow Grail paranormal series for teens. Spirit White's parents and younger die in the same car accident Spirit survives. While recovering in the hospital, she learns her parents arranged for Oakhurst Academy to become her guardian if anything were to happen to them.

Upon her release, she learns that Oakhurst Academy is unique. It's a school where orphans learn magic. Only a few children are accepted because their parents must have been an Oakhurst student too.

Soon Spirit and her new friends learn that there truly is evil out there. Students begin disappearing under unusual circumstances. Needing to know what is happening, the teens band together to unravel the truth and keep each other safe.

I loved Legacies. I was afraid at first that the story would begin to mimic Harry Potter, but it really doesn't. The school is very affluent, so I enjoyed seeing these kids treated to luxuries they'd never dream of. The magic and wizardry school really takes second fiddle to the actual relationships and investigations. There isn't lengthy episodes while they are in their classes. Involvement with teachers is limited.

The focus on the teens rather than their education was appreciated. Now, I'm eagerly awaiting the next book. I can't wait to see what happens to Spirit and her friends.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Legends: Battles and Quests - Anthony Horowitz (Juvenile)

Released May 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Legends: Battles and Quests is a companion book to Beasts and Monsters. Anthony Horowitz, author of the popular Alex Rider series, returns to some of his earlier writings. This collection of short stories retells a number of stories taken from mythology and folklore.

Favorites in this collection included the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur. Readers learn how the minotaur came about and how Theseus ended a cruel king's reign over a kingdom. Geriguiaguiatugo was new to me. The story comes from Bororo Indian folklore and tells the story of a young man who kills his mother. His father suspects his son and sends him on dangerous quests as punishment, but that plan backfires.

Other stories in this collection include the story of Romulus and Remus, an Incan tale regarding why the Incas worshiped the sun and a Celtic story involving Gawain, one of the Knights of the Round Table and a tragic tale of a Chinese bell maker.

Advancing readers will enjoy this anthology. Illustrations are scattered throughout the text making it a great choice for kids who still like picture books but need longer stories. I enjoyed Battles and Quests and think parents need to add it to their collection. I can see many younger readers becoming hooked on folklore and mythology after reading a few of these tales.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Legends: Beasts and Monsters - Anthony Horowitz (Juvenile)

Released May 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Popular children/young adult author Anthony Horowitz shares some of his earlier writing in this compilation of short stories regarding classic beasts and monsters from mythology and folklore. While some of the stories will be familiar to children and their parents, there were a few stories that were new to me. Better still, he livens things up by not sugarcoating the gruesome behaviors of these creatures and adding a dose of humor in all the right places. Stories are told in a bold, entertaining way.

In Legends: Beasts and Monsters, you'll learn the story of the Sphinx, including why the Sphinx came to Thebes and the riddle the creature asked travelers to solve. Failure led to a horrific death. One story that was new to me came from the Cheyenne. It dealt with starving brothers who came across an unusual egg. One refuses to eat it because of its appearance, the other brother does and learns a very important lesson.

These are only a couple of the stories within. There are more that involve Medusa, St. George's battle against an evil dragon, or an intriguing Celtic story about a washerwoman and a warrior. This is a great way to introduce mythology to your reluctant reader!

Illustrations by Thomas Yeates appear throughout the book providing detailed drawings of the different monsters. The book finishes with a description of 10 monsters and the reader must choose the monster that is completely fictional. I recommend Beasts and Monsters to any home with advancing readers who want something a little out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Henry Aaron's Dream - Matt Ravares (Picture Book)

Released January 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Here's an excellent picture book that delves into the early days of Henry Aaron's life and explains how he made it into big league baseball.

Hammerin' Hank, as he came to be known, was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama. He grew up at a time when segregation put many obstacles in the way of black players who wanted to break into professional baseball.

In this captivating biography the reader will follow Aaron from his early days playing with teams in the old Negro Leagues to the day he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves. There were many racial problems the young man had to deal with but he worked hard, never gave up and eventually his dream was realized.

This is Matt Tavares' fourth picture book about baseball. The excellent illustrations and engrossing text make Henry Aaron's Dream a truly memorable story. Any youngster who loves baseball will love this book.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Keening - A. LaFaye (Young Adult)

Released April 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

It's 1918 in the small town of Kingsley Cove, Maine, and residents are succumbing to a flu epidemic. While teenager Lyza Layton and her father, Evan, survive the virus, Lyza's mother, Mayra, isn't so lucky. For Lyza, the problems are only beginning. Her father's often been the talk of the town because he doesn't put much care into his fashions and he eats when he wants to. He's eccentric, and while Lyza and her mother cherished his quirks, the townspeople consider him to be too strange.

Things worsen when Evan insists Lyza's mother is going to return. Mayra's family are upset that she married Lyza's father to begin with and also turned her back on the church. Mayra didn't believe in religious ceremonies. After her death, Lyza's grandmother and uncles return to the picture demanding a proper burial and threatening Lyza and Evan. Lyza fights them the best she can, but while Evan grieves, too many talk of institutionalizing him. Lyza must now fight to keep her father with her. Turning to the only person she thinks can help, Lyza discovers more about her father and herself than she could ever possibly know and believing it is going to be a challenge.

The writing in The Keening is full of amazing imagery. The author captures the essence of Maine right down to the cold winter breeze coming in from the ocean. It's incredibly easy to imagine yourself as part of Lyza's world.

Lyza's tough and quite a likable heroine. There's a paranormal aspect to the story that I think many teens will love. This is an impressive novel and one I know will be a keeper for many avid young adult readers who want a story with depth.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Savage Safari - Nam Nguyen (Non-Fiction)

Released April 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my... Many of us know that familiar childhood chant, but beyond that, what do you really know about the animals in the world today? Savage Safari provides an in-depth look into some wild cats and other creatures. The book is jam packed with breathtaking photography and facts you may have never discovered. It's a great book for any inquisitive child.

The book includes animals such as the African Lion, hippopotamus, giant pangolin, pythons and more. Each page offers facts about those animals, including their favored prey and their enemies. For example, which wild cat eats the widest range of foods, including insects, fish, reptiles and mammals? Leopards eat almost anything they can catch. Did you know that humans are the number one enemy of gorilla and that humans poach the monkey for its meat?

The book closes with a couple of fictional animals created by taking the most important aspects of the animals featured in the book. Imagine coming face to face with an animal that has the tail of a python, talons of a bird of prey, bite of a crocodile, muscle mass of a lion and attack of an eagle. That would be a ferocious animal to face!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You Can Count On Monsters - Richard Evan Schwartz (Non-Fiction)

Released February 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The requirement of schools to pick a math program, no thanks to No Child Left Behind, turned math nightmarish in my household. My son always understood math without issue. He dodged the school's change to Everyday Math, plus I worked with him at a young age teaching him how to add, multiply, subtract and divide using M&M's, and he has a mind that quickly grasps the information and runs with it. Today he amazes me because he takes accelerated classes in high school and while I struggled with Algebra and those absurd word problems, nothing trips him and his A+ average up.

On the other hand, my daughter has struggled. Despite my attempts to return her to the math I grew up with, her teachers all balked if she didn't "show her work" using the Everyday Math principles. Until we found a teacher in 6th grade who refused to teach Everyday Math, she struggled to get Bs in math. It was frustrating for me and often had her in tears.

Given this, I truly believe every parent should have the right to find a math system that works for their child. That's just what Richard Evan Schwartz has done here. The book opens with a break down of how multiplication works. He uses circles, similar to my use of M&M's, to get the basic principle down on paper for kids to see visually. That aspect really works for me and I had my kids look at it and they agree.

The rest of the book progresses to monsters. Each prime number is illustrated as a monster somehow capturing the number it represents. For example, the star shaped number five monster has five points. The three monster is triangular. All of that is clear to the reader. Illustrations are whimsical and will definitely appeal to elementary aged children. The remainder of the book covers multiplication up to 100.

As the pictures advanced, I started struggling to pick out the monsters in the image. My kids usually could, but they said it slowed them down. Granted, they're past multiplication now, so it's hard to go back and try to learn a new method at this point.

Given that, I think younger children who have parents with good eyes at breaking apart the monsters will find plenty of use for this book. I do suggest looking at some of the pictures in the book first, use Amazon's Search Inside This Book feature, to see if you think it is the right fit for your child.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Micro Monsters - Nam Nguyen (Non-Fiction)

Released April 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

The photography in Micro Monsters is amazing. Quite honestly, I found myself glancing at the pictures during the first run through the book and then going back through to read the text. The book is laced with important facts about the parasites and insects found within the pages, some creepy and others fascinating.

I'm starting with my favorite, the amoeba. The enlarged, microscopic shot of the amoeba resembled nothing of the blob I saw under a microscope in middle and high school. The exquisite detail of their pseudopods and lysosomes were more like a work of art than a creature living in pond water everywhere. Who would have guessed that amoebas are this beautiful blue color!

Other "monsters" within the book include the tick, which is one bug that I have issues handling. The picture of the tick burrowed deep into the skin was grotesque. Honey bees I am fascinated by, but tapeworms are another creepy addition. Yet, all of the insects or parasites are magnified and photographed with precise care and facts about each subject will educate anyone, parent or child.

Micro Monsters: Extreme Encounters with Invisible Armies is a great addition to any curious child's bookcase. It's full of fun facts and impressive photography.