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.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Note on Future Reviews

For the past year, I've been working hard helping with the revamp of a travel website. It's taking up a lot of my free time, and posts on the kid's review blog have been so sporadic, that I've weighed what to do.

My decision is to move the children's reviews to one blog that will find them mixed with all other genres. I know this is not as convenient, but it's what I have to do to make sure I'm not burning myself out with work, reviewing, and still having time for my kids and husband.

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.