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.”

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Game by Barry Lyga

Release Date - June 2014 (Reissue)

Barry Lyga
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

In I Hunt Killers, readers met Jazz, a serial killer's son. Game continues Jazz's story. Since the last book, Jazz has been on alert, not knowing who to trust. When a detective comes knocking, Jazz finds himself heading New York City to help try to unravel a number of brutal murders committed by a serial killer being dubbed the Hat-Dog Killer. Jazz's knowledge of the inner workings of a serial killer's mind make him the perfect choice for helping solve these brutal crimes, but this one is even harder because the killings really do appear to be the work of Jazz's notorious father.

In addition to the really creepy undertones of the brutal killings, these killings are pretty graphic, and the mystery behind the serial killer's identity, there is the developing relationship between Jazz and his girlfriend. She wants to take their relationship to the next level, but Jazz is very hesitant given his family tree.

Watching Jazz grow has been part of the intrigue with this book. It may be a teen series, but as an adult, I find it hard to put down. In fact, there are times it is reminiscent to me of the hit TV show The Following. It has that same creepy, gory edge.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Murder of Adam and Eve by William Dietrich

Release Date - October 2014

William Dietrich
Burrows Publishing

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

What starts as a trip to a forbidden island turns into an adventure of a lifetime, albeit a sometimes dangerous one. All Nick wants to do is explore Goat Island and the rumor that people who enter a historic fort on that island are never seen again. He feels it is his best chance to win a scholarship and see his dream of going to college come true. He never expects to find himself time traveling to another realm.

After entering the fort, Nick ends up in a deserted town, chased by a gargoyle, and then rescued by a a girl around his age. Eleanor explains why he's been chosen, and as fantastic as it may seem, he time travels to ancient Africa to possibly change the course of history by meeting Adam and Eve and deciding what will happen to them.

The Murder of Adam and Eve is a surprisingly gripping tale. I found myself rooting for Nick, especially as he matured over the length of this novel. By the ending, I admired the teen and was sad to seem my time with him come to an end.

I loved the setting, too. Start with Goat Island and the imagery of this secretive, forbidden island and move on to the wormhole and then the deserted town Nick finds himself in. Then there is ancient Africa that is also descriptive and creates the perfect setting for this young adult fantasy. It's a solid novel that teens and their parents will enjoy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Star Bright: A Christmas Story by Alison McGhee and Peter Reynolds

Release Date - October 2014

Alison McGhee
Peter Reynolds

Book Review by Bob Walch

Featuring a cute little angel dressed in an aviator’s costume, this holiday picture book puts an interesting spin on how the Christmas Star came into existence.

Realizing a special child was about to be born, the angel wanted to present the baby with something special. After considering a number of possibilities, she comes up with an idea that no one else has thought up.

I have to admit the text is a little murky on how she accomplished the task, but I guess angels can do anything. Nevertheless, this is a very nice Christmas story and one you’ll wish to share with your child for years to come.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Uncles and Antlers by Lisa Wheeler and Brian Floca

Release Date - October 2014

Lisa Wheeler
Brian Floca
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Bob Walch

Here’s a humorous look at the holidays from the vantage point of a little reindeer who each Christmas is visited by her seven uncles. Each one is quite a character and the rhymed text explains what is unique about each relative.

For example, Uncle Quint is from Montreal and is a trick-shot basketball expert. He has five earrings, five tattoos and five new pairs of brand-name shoes. He does commercials in TV, too.

Uncle Sven, a literary gentleman, writes poetry, books and plays while Uncle Sy drives a race car.

I’ll let you read the book to see why the reindeer gather each year like this, but you probably won’t be too surprised by what they are really up to.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass

Release Date - August 2014 (Reissue)

Hester Bass
E.B. Lewis

Book Review by Jessica Maguire

Walter Anderson has aptly been called 'the most famous American artist you've never heard of.' Living on the coast of Mississippi, Walter preferred the solitude of Horn Island. On the island he risked life and limb to study nature and paint.
Why is Walter Anderson's work unknown to many people, you wonder? During his life he was a rather reclusive naturalist and kept most of work hidden from the world. He even had a room at home that was completely off limits to everyone, even his wife.
Despite being ill and escaping from hospitals, Walter continued to paint wonderful watercolors. Regardless of his health and people not liking a mural he did in town, Walter kept painting. Snakebites and hurricanes never kept him from doing what he loved.
It was in 1965, upon the death of Walter Anderson that the scale of his work was recognized. His wife finally went into the room Walter forbade everyone from and walked into a room that was covered in a mural of the flora and fauna of the Gulf Coast. It was in this room that Walter's never before seen watercolors of Horn Island were discovered.
Sadly, Hurricane Katrina decimated a good portion of Anderson's work. However, some of his works survive in museums, some are being restored, and the rest are part of his family's private collection.
I enjoyed reading this chapter book for young readers and being introduced to the biography of an artist I was not familiar with. The color illustrations by E.B. Lewis are themselves works of art. I also enjoyed the examples of Anderson's work as well as the extensive author's note about the artist’s work.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Release Date - November 2014

Ryan Graudin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Walled City is a place where drug lords and brothel owners rule the land. It's a hopeless wasteland where young girls are sold into prostitution and young boys learn quickly to take work where you can, even if that means running drugs, and one where committing crimes is the norm and can also put you in jeopardy.

It's a land that Dai desperately wants to escape. One where Jin poses as a boy to avoid being forced into prostitution while searching for her sister, Mei Yee. And, one where Mei Yee is forced to work as a prostitute in a brothel after her father sold her to the brothel's owner.

Once you're introduced to the main characters, you'll begin to learn of Dai's plan to escape the city and start a new life outside the walls. After noticing Jin, he offers her job, one that puts her in easy reach of the brothel where she believes her abusive father sold her sister to. Meanwhile, Mei Yee meets Dai and also begins to dream of having a life outside the Walled City. Can this trio pull off the impossible and escape?

While The Walled City is gripping, it's also a book that I struggled with at first. The story is told from all three perspectives, and the change from one character to another often comes suddenly. If you're not paying attention, it can be difficult to figure out who is narrating. It took a number of chapters before I could settle in and immediately know who was talking. Once I had that down, I fell into a rhythm with this dark tale that is based on a district within Hong Kong.

As a note for parents who do try to monitor what their kids read, the scenes within the brothel are not overly graphic, so parents need not worry about graphic sex scenes. I actually thought they were tastefully done. You get Mei Yee's displeasure and desperation to escape without feeling uncomfortable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Creative Sticker Fun: Pirates

Release Date - September 2014

B Small Publishing

Book Review by Bob Walch

This sticker dress-up activity book encourages the reader to use the provided stickers to complete the pages showing these animal pirates engaged in various activities. There are colorful hats for the various crew members and special beach wear for when they go ashore. 
The seventy stickers are to be used in one of the five special scenarios that are provided for the pirates. These include some undersea exploration, being caught in a storm and an Arctic adventure.

Obviously this book is only appropriate for a child who can keep the stickers in the book and not on other surfaces like walls and furniture. The stickers also pose a choking hazard, so make sure any child given the book will not be tempted to put the stickers in his/her mouth. Keep the book away from younger children as well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Animals in Danger by Pierre de Hugo

Release Date - June 2014

Moonlight Publishing

Book Review by Bob Walch

There are quite a few endangered animals picture books available. What sets this book and series apart are the transparent pages that are included. It is an interesting touch that shows the creatures in similar but also slightly altered environments.

Overall the illustrations are quite good but there’s not a lot of narrative, although there is probably enough for a young child. The best audience for this book would be younger readers who are just being exposed to the topic of endangered species.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Release Date - April 2013

Barry Lyga
Little Brown

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

I am so glad I stumbled onto this series. It's creepy and definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat. I Hunt Killers is the first in the Jasper Dent series, and I can't wait to read the others.

Jasper "Jazz" Dent spent much of his youth being trained to follow in his father's footsteps. His father's choice of career, however, wasn't one that would win friends. His father was a serial killer who has now been behind bars for many years.

When a woman is murdered in Jazz's town, he knows the townspeople will start suspecting him. The truth is that Jazz wants to be of use to the police. He knows how killers think, and he feels that makes him incredibly useful. He's convinced this murder is the work of a serial killer, but he's having a hard time convincing them.

Every word in I Hunt Killers had me mesmerized. Police have a hard time taking Jazz seriously, he is after all only 17, but his insight is pretty intriguing. His character also has a bit of a struggle as he tries to recall some of his earliest memories, but he's blocked them out and fears his long-missing mother may have been one of his father's victims.

 While the book is marketed as a young adult mystery/crime novel, I found it very enjoyable as an adult. I think this is a great book for any fan of serial killer/murder mystery stories. The writing is crisp, the plot moves quickly, and the story is creepy without being excessively gory. It's a thumbs up read in my opinion!

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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch

Release Date - March 2014 (Reissue)

Frank Asch

Book Review by Bob Walch

One night Bear looked up at the sky and thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give the moon a birthday present?’

Since Bear didn’t know when Moon’s birthday was or what Moon might like as a gift, he set out to find out. It is a long journey but Bear thinks he does find out when Moon’s birthday is and what Moon would like for his birthday.

Coincidentally, both Bear and Moon have the same birthdays and like the same things or so Bear thinks. This makes things a lot easier for Bear but, as you’ll see, Bear is really dealing with an echo which complicates this odd little adventure.

You’ll find the flat, one-dimensional illustrations in this picture book rather dark because the story unfolds at night. The story is a bit strange and you may have to explain what an echo is to your child (lots of luck!) before this story makes any sense.

On the other hand, if your child has read and enjoyed the other Moon Bear books, this one will probably be a hit too. So happy reading!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Release Date - August 12, 2014

Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

There are no words in Flashight. Children will make up their own story, if they want to, otherwise, it's all about what's outside in the dark.

While the character in the book is warm and cozy inside his tent to start, he ventures out with his flashlight to see what's outside. Along his journey, he spies a boot, some skunks, and eventually finds some unusual playmates.

The art in Flashlight is mostly black and white sketches that I found endearing. The only color in the books involves the areas where the flashlight shines.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Peppa Pig and the Vegetable Garden

Release Date - February 2014

Peppa Pig
Candlewick Press

Book Review by Bob Walch

If your child can’t get enough of Peppa Pig and her buddies on TV, this picture book will probably be a big hit with the youngster. Peppa and her little brother, George, help Grandpa Pig out in the garden. Not only will they learn about nurturing seeds so they become healthy plants but Peppa and George will also discover there are some pretty interesting creatures out in the garden.

Snails, butterflies and birds all call Grandapa Pig’s garden home. The snails and birds also like to nibble on seeds and young plants so there’s work to be done protecting the veggies.

After harvesting some blackberries and some fresh veggies, Mummy Pig and Grandma Pig make lunch. Unfortunately, George  isn’t really into eating salad until Grandpa creates a “Dino-saw” plate. George loves this looks of this special veggie dish and digs in.

The art work in this picture book isn’t all that interesting but young readers don’t seem to mind. The storyline is taken from the TV series so isn’t that original but, if your child loves Peppa, these are minor concerns.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg

Release Date - May 2014

Barney Saltzberg

Book Review by Bob Walch

Everyone has had one of those nights when it is totally impossible to fall asleep. The little panda in this cute picture book experiences this problem. Try as he might, Chengdu just can’t find the right position or get comfortable so he can’t fall asleep.

He turns and tosses. He rolls back and forth. The panda even tries different limbs in the bamboo grove to sleep on but nothing works. Finally Chengdu does find just the right spot, but the second he is ready to settle down along comes Yuan, Chengdu’s brother, and guess what? Right! He can’t find a comfortable spot to settle down and sleep in either!

This book features a number of foldout pages and would be a good bedtime story to share with any little ones in your household who just can’t seem to get to sleep.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales by David Lubar

Release Date - April 22, 2014

David Lubar
A Starscape Book

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Wipeout of the Wireless Weenies: And Other Warped and Creepy Tales is the seventh collection of creepy tales for middle readers. Each story is just scary enough for that age group (8 to 12) without being nightmare-inducing. Many of the stories also pack in a good dose of humor, making them ideal for advancing readers.

There are 33 stories in all. While all were good, there were a handful that really stood out with me, so I'm going to focus on them.

After the Apocalypse finds a birthday boy facing a zombie invasion on his birthday. Is his family going to survive the occasion? That story had me laughing, because as a parent I really got it.

The next story to really stick with me was one about bullies - Fabrication. I can think of a few people from my past that I would have loved to do this to!

On a more current note, Walnuts was a hit. My daughter's freshman class faced something like this. Unlike this story, where things take a definite turn, he admitted half a year later that he made the whole thing up, and students who had gotten detentions or suspensions for saying he was faking never did receive apologies. Therefore, I tended to sympathize with the character doing the narration.

Matters of Fax is perhaps most memorable of all because I've often said it would be awesome if a fax machine could do that.

Over all, I cannot

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let's Eat Dinner by Claire Hibbert

Release Date - June 2014

Laburnum Press

Book Review by Bob Walch
Part of the “Sparklers” series that pictures the foods we eat, this picture book looks at dinner time. Featuring full page, color photos of children from various cultures, the author begins by asking a series of questions. “What time do you eat your dinner? How do you help make dinner? Who sets the table at your house?” are just a few of these questions the reader is asked to respond to.

Next we see some of the items one might find on a family’s dinner table. These foods range from rice, fresh vegetables and pasta to fish, meat and desserts.

Finally, at the back of the book is a recipe for cucumber and yoghurt dish called raita. There are also suggested activities to engage the child in food preparation.

This book is a fun way to engage a young child in a discussion of food and what we eat when we sit down at the dinner table.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Body in the Woods by April Henry

Release Date - June 17, 2014

April Henry
Henry Holt and Co.

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

The Body in the Woods is the first in a young adult mystery series by April Henry. The series involves three teens, all from different walks of life, who volunteer for a local search and rescue team. When they get a call that an autistic man is missing in a forest, they join the search party. The teens never imagine that they'll find a body and stumble into a serial killer's sights.

Nick, Alexis, and Ruby definitely are as different as teens come. I like that they are paired, despite being so different from one another, and they form a bond because of their work. Ruby is fascinated with criminal investigations, yet her parents feel her interests are morbid and ban her from continuing her volunteer work, even though it is something that makes her feel happy. Nick appears strong on the outside, but inside he never feels he is good enough. Alexis I really felt for. Her mom suffers from mental illness and often skips her medications. As a result, Alexis often acts as the parent and is forced into tough situations.

With those three backgrounds, the readers form a bond with the three teens. There are times I felt the police were letting them get a little too involved in the police work, especially Ruby, but that also helped propel the story. I loved the details that went into the search and rescue work, it's based on the work of a real team of teen volunteers in Multnomah County. That also helped set the stage for what I think is going to be fascinating series.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Cool Summer Tail by Carrie Pearson

Release Date - February 2014

Carrie Pearson
Christina Wald
Sylvan Dell Publishing

Book Review by Bob Walch

When the summer heats up animals, just like adults, find ways to keep cool. In this picture book for children in the five to six year old age group, the author addresses how various animals adapt to summer heat.

A group of animal babies ask their mothers how humans keep cool and they pose the question in such a manner that they also indicate how they do so. For example, the little frog says, “Do they dig in the dirt so the sun doesn’t hurt their skin when it shines from above?” The mother frog’s reply, “No blanket of leaf bits in a barrow that just fits. They want the warm sun on their skins.”

OK, now you know frogs adapt to the heat by digging a hole in the dirt to lie in or nestle under forage on hot days.

At the end of the book you’ll also find four activity pages that will further engage the child and expand the idea of discussing the way animals (including humans) adapt to weather changes.

Excellent illustrations of the various animals will focus the child’s attention of each set of animals (mother and baby) and the rhymed text is fun to read too. Once you have finished reading, ask your child how humans deal with different changes in the weather.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

Release Date - May 27, 2014

Dana Reinhardt
Wendy Lamb Books

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Layla and Nell Golden have grown up being as close as twins. The sisters were often inseparable. Now that Nell is starting high school and her sister is starting her junior year, Nell is excited to be under the same roof during the school day. But something's changed. Layla is distant and clearly keeping a secret from her sister. Nell is not used to Layla being curt and secretive. When she discovers the truth, she faces the very grown up decision of remaining her sister's friend or defying her sister and telling all what she knows.

I have to say, We Are the Goldens pulled me in. It's written almost in journal form, a simply journal written from one sister to the other. As the secret starts taking shape, it's understandable why Nell struggles so much. This is a short book, but one that is also very powerful.

Having finished it, part of me would like to see it told from Layla's point of view. I'd love to get a closer look as to what exactly was going through her mind, especially nearer the ending!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Rex the Tyrannosaurus by Jeannette Rowe

Release Date - May 2014

Jeannette Rowe
Allen & Unwin

Book Review by Bob Walch

Although he can be a pretty scary dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex isn’t that fierce in this book designed for young readers. The child will discover that Rex is strong and fast and has very sharp teeth. He is also bigger than a double-decker bus.

Rex never brushes his teeth (which are the size of bananas) so his breath is pretty bad. He also weighs as much as three elephants. Unfortunately, Rex doesn’t have a lot of friends because he tends to eat them soon after they meet. For these and a few other reasons, you probably won’t want to invite Rex to your next birthday party.

You’ll discover a dinosauritis maze game, some dinosaur jokes a nd a page of fun facts at the end of this fun paperback about Rex the Tyrannosaurus.Also, although Rex usually misbehaves when he’s out in public, he won’t scare your little one when he or she reads this book.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

Release Date - April 2014

Bethany Crandell
Running Press

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

 It took a while for me to acclimate myself to Summer on the Short Bus. My problems were not with the writing, the pacing, or the storyline, my issue was that I wanted to strangle the main character.

The book starts with a very snotty 17-year-old girl, Constance "Cricket" Montgomery. She's been caught holding a party in some stables and is disgruntled that the stable hand ratted her out. Out of desperation, her father arranges to have her serve out her punishment by banning her from going to Hawaii with her best friend, and instead shipping her off to a camp for special needs children.

When the children arrive, Cricket proceeds to pass out after seeing their issues. The only thing keeping her from running off is the very good looking fellow counselor who appears to be a Zac Efron lookalike. Is the potential for a summer romance enough to keep Cricket working with the kids she refers to as having a "smashed-in, dog-faced look... but they can actually feed themselves and even know how to use the toilets." See, Cricket really isn't very likable.

Despite my obvious issues with Cricket, the other characters in the story are quite enjoyable. It takes quite a while before I was even convinced Cricket would be able to redeem herself. The kids, the other counselors, and the camp staff are the people I really loved reading about. I do know there are many out there like Cricket, and I am thrilled that with my daughter's high school and their participation in A World of Difference, embracing people's differences is changing. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creatures by Orla Kiely

Release Date - April 2014

Orla Kiely
Egmont UK

Book Review by Bob Walch

British fashion designer Orla Kiely has created an animal concept board book that introduces a variety of animals. The clothbound book is sturdy and the graphics and colors come together nicely to create a very attractive and pleasing experience for both the child and his or her parents.

With its upscale graphics this is a cut above the normal concept books you’ll find in the marketplace.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cottonmouth and the River by C. S. Fritz

Release Date - May 2014

C. S. Fritz
David C. Cook

There is no doubt that the illustrations within Cottonmouth and the River are stunning. They definitely do have the feel of Where the Wild Things Are. That is really where the comparison ends. I liked the story of Freddie Cottonmouth, and I understand the author's message. Yet, I took issue with the choice Freddie was practically forced into making. That's where the book's message became lost on me.

Freddie Cottonmouth's parents left him two years ago. They simply went off and never returned. Now 10, Freddie has survived in a house by a river, living completely alone, wondering if his parents will ever return. While at the river, he spots a mysterious egg. This egg brings an unusual creature into his life, one that will give him everything he wants, providing Freddie makes one promise. It's a promise that means Freddie will never have what he wants most, unless he goes back on his word.

Clearly any child who has been left alone to fend for himself for two years is going to long for parents, especially parents who made him happy and who promised him they'd return. As an adult, I realize that for two years, Freddie must have struggled to survive. The book says he never was lucky enough to get bites while fishing in the river, so I'm betting this is a kid forced to eat bugs, small animals, etc. to stay alive, and at the age of 8, 9, and 10, wishing for his parents to return is human nature. I ended up thinking it was silly of the creature to tell Freddie there were some things he could never wish for.

Realistically, I am looking at this story from a parent's point of view, knowing how much a child needs parents. Children will likely overlook that aspect. The illustrations definitely make Cottonmouth and the River a worthwhile purchase, one that I really recommend, even if I did have issues with that one part of the story.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lots of Spots by Lois Ehlert

Release Date - March 2014

Lois Ehlert
Little Simon

Book Review by Bob Walch

This Classic Board Book combines page upon page of illustrations of critters featuring spots and stripes with short poems that describe each animal.

Tiger stalks
With shiny eyes,
Then takes its prey by swift surprise.

Not only are the creatures that range from butterflies and snakes to birds and fish rendered in a textured, colorful, collage manner that makes them really attract the reader’s eye, but you’ll also find usually three or more critters on each two page set.

Young readers will love this book and return to it over and over again. Mom and dad will also find it quite eye appealing as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jumping Jack by Germano Zullo

Release Date - May 13, 2014

Chronicle Kids

Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth

Steeplechase horse Jumping Jack and his jockey Roger Trotter are best friends and a champion team. Together, they've won many championships. When Jack's performance becomes lackluster and sloppy, Roger Trotters seeks every specialist imaginable to find out what's wrong with Jack. The answer is more surprising than anyone might have imagined.

I see Jumping Jack as being an exceptional story for a child who may not be excelling in school, in a sport, or really for any reason. It sends a nice message that sometimes we mess up, and it can take teamwork to figure out what is going on. The illustrations capture the essence of the story in a beautiful, artistic way, rounding out what is a very enjoyable children's story.