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.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't Want to Go! - Shirley Hughes (Picture Book)

Released October 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Lily’s mom is feeling sick so the little girl’s dad arranges for Lily to spend the day with a neighbor. Not thrilled with the situation, Lily announces she doesn’t want to go to Melanie’s house.

Unfortunately she has no choice, so her dad bundles the child up and off they go. When she sees that Melanie has a small dog and a toddler, Lily is a little appeased, but her favorite response to everything still is “Don’t want to!”

Of course, as the day wears on, Lily adjusts to her new friend and the household she is spending the day in. By the time her father arrives to take the little girl home, she is so comfortable in her new surroundings with her new friends that she tells him, of course, she doesn’t want to go home.

This is a cute story with illustrations that are reminiscent of some of Norman Rockwell’s work. The picture book has quite a lot of text so this is definitely a read aloud book rather than one a beginning reader can cut his or her literary teeth on.

Also, given its content, this is a story that will help convince a youngster that new experiences need not be scary. Hopefully, after reading this a few times your youngster won’t balk at trying something different or new.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Draw the Dark - Ilsa Bick (Young Adult)

Released October 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

When he was a young boy, Christian Cage's father disappeared. His mother simply spent hours staring at a book claiming he'd "gone into the sideways place." Two years later, she vanished too. Christian's grown up with his Uncle Hank and Aunt Jean. Years later, he's painting things that come true and it's frightening him.

After he's accused of spray painting swastikas on an old barn, Christian is assigned community service, including repainting the barn and volunteering at an elderly care facility. Soon Christian finds himself slipping into the past, into the body and mind of a young boy witnessing the use of POWs, shipped to Wisconsin from Germany, to perform menial labor for a wealthy business owner. That young boy witnesses a crime and it's now up to Christian to solve the mystery and reveal the truth decades later.

Draw the Dark is creepy, mesmerizing and striking. It took me a while to get a feel for the plot and where things were headed. Once the characters were clear and relationships were drawn, I was hooked.

The story delves a bit into history regarding WWII and the transport of Jewish POWs to be forced to work in the U.S. under the supervision of the Germans they greatly feared. That aspect of the Holocaust was new to me and how horrible that shipment to the U.S. was not the salvation many would have hoped for.

There's a touch of paranormal to this story. In fact, the ending is going to leave many people on the edge of their seat. I won't delve into much of the ending, but suffice it to say there had better be a sequel in the works!

There's also a minor plot regarding bullying. Christian's experiences with bullies helps readers sympathize with his character.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pukka: The Pup After Merle - Ted Kerasote (Animal)

Released October 27, 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Technically, Pukka: The Pup After Merle is an animal-themed non-fiction offering for all ages. It's not specifically for children. However, I think it's a great choice for parents who are pondering getting their child a puppy because it shows a good deal about puppies' habits and the ins and outs of pet ownership.

Sure, puppies are cute, soft and cuddly, but they do like to get into mischief. They can get into squabbles with other dogs, veterinary care is important, they do chew things and potty breaks are essential. All of that is touched upon in Pukka.

What makes Pukka so great is the photography. Not only is the reader treated to the story of Pukka, but you also see a good deal of Wyoming's scenery, as well as places where the author travels with Pukka.

I didn't read Merle, however after a quick online glance at a portion of the popular book that led to this offering, I can tell readers that Merle was an actual chapter book.  Pukka is more pictures that narrative, so those expecting a full-length book should note this is shorter and much more childlike in length and text.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Annexed - Sharon Dogar (Teen Fiction)

Released October 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Most everyone is familiar with The Diary of Anne Frank. Whether you've learned about the diary in school, watched one of the movie versions or have read the bestseller, you know the story of Anne Frank and her family who remained holed up in an attic along with a few other individuals for two years hoping to escape the Nazis.

Annexed shares the same story but from Peter's eyes. Until now, no one has really stopped to consider Peter's feelings during this long event. He was suddenly stuck in a small area with two teen girls and his conflicting hormonal urges. While Annexed is a piece of fiction, it does follow events from The Diary of Anne Frank very closely, yet offers a unique perspective on those events. The author includes notes in the ending to share what happened to each member hiding in the attic and details into aspects of the story that are made up.

In Annexed, Peter van Pels longs for his girlfriend Liese. He has no idea where she is or if she's even alive. His longing helps flesh out his character. I don't want to give away details, but one scene when Peter wakes up and bumps into his mother was so touchingly honest, I was very impressed by the interactions with Peter and his mom.

I think it's truly impossible to read this story without tearing up at the end. The story continues to Peter's eventual death. It's beautifully written, but I desperately needed Kleenex. I'll still never understand how humans could do that to one another, but the Holocaust did occur and this is an outstanding story capturing the hope, desperation, loss and fear as seen through Peter van Pels' eyes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Princesses Are Not Perfect - Kate Lum (Picture Book)

Released March 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Princesses Allie, Mellie and Libby all possess special skills. While Allie loves to bake, Mellie is a fine gardener and Libby can build anything in her workshop.

Unfortunately, one day the princesses decide to try to something different. A bit bored, they elect to switch jobs. With a children’s summer party scheduled, this doesn’t seem to be a very good idea. But convinced that “a princess can do anything”, the girls make the switch.

As you might guess, the results are a disaster but the three princesses are able to correct the problem before the children start arriving at the castle. And, at the story’s end, they conclude that “You don’t have to be good at everything to be a princess.”

Here’s a story that has a nice message embedded in it – you don’t have to excel at everything you do! In a society where we often push our children to do too much and be involved in too many activities/sports it soon becomes apparent that they can’t be all-stars or A students in every situation. It is important that we, as parents, and our children accept this simple fact! 

Focus on the things you are best at and you’ll be happier!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Day Ray Got Away - Angela Johnson (Picture Book)

Released September 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Picture, if you will, a huge warehouse where inflatable parade balloons are stored. One of the balloons, a gigantic sun balloon named Ray, has always dreamed that one day he would escape from his handlers and fly free.

As the story opens Ray tells his fellow balloons that “This is the day!”.  And, sure enough, as the parade the balloons are a part of unfolds, Ray’s dream is realized. With a resounding “SNAP!”, Ray’s lines begin breaking and he floats up, up, up and away. Not even his handlers can stop his escape.

Young readers will cheer for the determined balloon with the smile on his bright yellow face as he finally soars aloft, achieves new heights and disappears over the horizon.

With the traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade not far off, this is a picture book that youngsters five and older won’t forget. As they watch the parade on TV or in person, don’t be surprised if they wonder where Ray is or keeping hoping one of the huge balloons breaks free!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It Started with a Dare - Lindsay Faith Rech (Teen Fiction)

Released September 2010

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Cynthia Gene Silverman is in a new town, new school and shocked when the popular clique invites her to sit with them at lunch. Not used to being the center of attention, Cynthia gives herself a new name, C.G., and creates a persona that is far from her true self.

At a sleep over, C.G. makes up a more adventurous version of Truth or Dare that she claims she and her friends played back in Philadelphia. This game leads to C.G. flirting online with one of her teachers, making out with her new best friend's brother, underaged drinking and eventually hurting the one person who really gets C.G.

Soon C.G. finds that being in the popular crowd isn't all it's cracked up to be. As her lies spiral out of control, C.G. must learn that life eventually catches up with you and the consequences can be dire.

It Started with a Dare is a fun read. It's a chick-lit for teens with a good dose of drama added in. The writing style flows well and keeps you hooked to the story from start to finish. Things switch around wheter C.G. is sending instant messages, emails or simply narrating from her point of view.

Sadly, I know how hard it is to fit in, especially in middle and high school, so many readers will fully understand why C.G. makes the choices she does. As an adult who's been through all that nastiness, I found myself rooting for C.G. to do the right thing and grew disappointed with each new lie.

I'm certain teens will get a lot from this book. We've all had our experiences with the Alona and Grace's of the high school set. Pay close attention to the end. I don't want to give away a spoiler so you'll have to read to the end yourself. But, there's one thing that C.G. says about the popular versus unpopular crowds that is so simple yet extremely profound and makes me wish more kids realized it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't Call Me Pruneface - Janet Reed Ahearn (Picture Book)

Released August 2010

Reviewed by Bob Walch

Paul is a very good little boy, but he is thoroughly tested when a new little girl moves in next door. Prudence has tons of attitude and even when Paul tries to be friendly and a good neighbor, Prudence tries his patience.

Prudence’s nastiness takes many forms. She refers to Paul as “Pill," “Four Eyes” and ”Cootie Cockroach Four-Eyes Frogface  Peahead”.  She calls Paul’s dog “Oops” instead of  “Bobo." And she taunts Paul by sticking her tongue out at him.

Finally Paul retaliates and starts calling his new neighbor “Pruneface." Although that’s perhaps not the best way of dealing with the situation, giving, Prudence a taste of her own medicine seems to work wonders. A truce is signed and by the story’s conclusion the two are on their way to becoming the best of friends.

This picture book for children three or older puts an interesting spin on standing up to someone who is bullying you. Mild mannered  Paul finally “pushes back” and his bullying neighbor folds. This never goes beyond name calling and the names are all rather silly, but I’m thinking that there might have been a better way of dealing with the situation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Adios, Nirvana - Conrad Wesselhoeft (Teen Fiction)

Released October 25, 2010

After his brother's death, Jonathan's struggled to keep his sanity. He's gone from being an award-winning poet and talented guitarist to a kid that rarely goes to school, loathes his mom's attempted intervention and can't stand living. His friends and his principal refuse to let him slip away so easily.

To save his education, Jonathan is asked to pen former journalist and WWII veteran David O.H. Cosgrove II's memoir. Jonathan's a mixed-up kid and he's not sure he's ready, emotionally or physically, to spend his day talking to an elderly man trapped in a facility where death is his only destination.

"She senses me leaving forever. And I am. I'll never come back. Not to this place, where death and spinach and piss sit side by side on your dinner tray."

At heart, Adios, Nirvana is everything I'd hoped The Catcher in the Rye would be. As a teen and even as an adult, I never understood why people raved over Holden Caufield's story. He whines, he seems to have a limited vocabulary repeating certain terms over and over again. I'd always wished Holden could tell his story without being so obnoxious. In a nutshell, I think Conrad Wesselhoeft's debut novel is brilliant.

Conrad Wesselhoeft fixes everything I ever hated about Holden in that classic coming-of-age story. Adios, Nirvana is fresh, it's impossible not to feel sympathy for Jonathan and I find myself really wanting to keep reading to see if he can successfully battle his demons. Laced with details into things teens are exposed to on a regular basis--drinking, suicidal thoughts, depression and music, most of all the music--I really loved every minute of Jonathan's coming-of-age tale.

Poetry is woven into the story. It would be silly not to incorporate poems as they are the heart and soul of Jonathan. Teens who loathe poems will likely discover that poetry isn't so bad. This isn't the flowery poetry that teachers forced you to read. They're gritty and often dark, painting vivid images of a depressed teen's mind.