This is a picture book story about Ray and Rosie. Ray is a young boy from Vermont who's visiting Africa with his family; Rosie is a different kind ofThis is a picture book story about Ray and Rosie. Ray is a young boy from Vermont who's visiting Africa with his family; Rosie is a different kind of hippo. She's pink instead of gray! Ray asks her if it bothers her that she's different, and her response is one that I would hope all young readers take to heart: at first it did, but not anymore. Ray is different too – it's difficult for him to talk to other people. He's more comfortable alone, but he wishes he were more like the other kids.
Rosie takes Ray on a trip down the river, and along the way Ray meets a crocodile who also defies his expectations, and hears the story of Eli-zee, a different kind of horse who discovers there are very important strengths to her differences.
Ray "wakes up" under an umbrella tree, and realizes that his "dream" was a different kind of safari (safari is the Swahili word for "long journey," Ray's Grandpa explains). By the end of the story Ray has started to understand that you can feel happy about being different, and shares his thoughts with his Grandpa.
I think this is a great story for kids at an early-to-mid elementary level. Many kids have something that makes them feel different, in particular kids on the autism spectrum. I have two children on the spectrum, and they've always struggled to fit in with their peers. The older of my two in particular badly WANTS to fit in and be accepted, but recognizes that he's "different" from other kids his age. A story like that can help children like my son understand that it's okay to be different – and sometimes (oftentimes) it's even BETTER to have your own unique differences!
I received a complimentary ecopy of this book for review purposes; all opinions are my own. ...more
If you hadn't figured it out from the name of my blog, I'm a little bit of a math geek. Just a little bit, though – I'm smart enough to be interested,If you hadn't figured it out from the name of my blog, I'm a little bit of a math geek. Just a little bit, though – I'm smart enough to be interested, but not quite smart enough to handle advanced concepts. (Maybe I could have before I had kids and my ability to think was replaced by the ability to change a diaper with one hand while refilling a sippy cup with the other all while singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" twenty times in a row!) I actually double majored in elementary education math and language arts in college, so a book with math and science is right up my alley.
A Pair of Docks is a middle grade sci-fi adventure, the first novel in the Derivatives of Displacement series.
Abbey is a 14-year-old math and science genius (as in, really a genius – she has a 165 IQ!) She has a twin brother, Caleb, who's as gregarious as Abbey is bookish, and an older brother named Simon who's a computer whiz. Another important character in the story is Mark Forrester, the children's adult neighbor – Mark has Asperger's and is an expert on coastlines. He's also somehow involved in the odd happenings that the children find themselves in the midst of – starting with some stones in the forest that cause Simon to disappear when he touches them.
As it turns out, those stones transport Simon (and his siblings) to another world – the children aren't sure at first if they're in a parallel universe or if they've jumped into the future, and I'll let you read the story yourself to discover exactly where/when the stones took them.
I really enjoyed Ellis' ability to portray her characters realistically, in particular Mark – as the mom of two children on the autism spectrum, Ellis seems to have more than a basic understanding of ASD and created a character on the spectrum who isn't just a stereotype, and who is critical to the storyline. Ellis' worldbuilding is also top-notch – all of the worlds she created.
As an adult, I very much enjoyed this story – Jennifer Ellis doesn't "write down" just because this is considered a middle grade story; the writing is high quality and intricate enough to keep a reader interested, from pre-teens who enjoy trickier plots all the way up to adults like me. There are heavier science concepts described in the story (Abbey talks about chemistry and physics and in fact orders her personal world using her scientific knowledge), but you don't have to have a deep scientific understanding to appreciate the story – you just have to know that the topics are important to Abbey. If you read and loved Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time – or have a child of your own who's a fan – then this is a must-read!
I received an ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest review; all opinions are my own. ...more
Reminiscent of Harry Potter (except for Harry not discovering he's a wizard for an extra four years), this book opens with 15-year-old Kyler discoveriReminiscent of Harry Potter (except for Harry not discovering he's a wizard for an extra four years), this book opens with 15-year-old Kyler discovering not only that magic exists, but that it's part of his family's heritage. Raised by his aunt while his parents traveled the world, Kyler had no idea that magic even existed before he's abruptly dropped off at a school for kids with magical abilities (and also noble children).
Dorine White's characters are great – the hero, Kyler, is a likeable teenage boy (but not an over-the-top "good kid" – he sulks, he complains, he doesn't always make the right choices) while his friend Darcy is smart, strong female character who doesn't let the fact that she's a princess stop her from being a fierce warrior.
This is a great read for those who enjoy YA fantasy (like me and my teenage sons) – there's magic, friendship, fantastic creatures like shapeshifters and Orcs, and a really scary villain, Mordrake. White's worldbuilding is spot-on, and I would really like to attend the Conservatory of Magic with its magical transport between areas and the very personalized dormitory rooms! ...more
WhipEye is a middle-grade adventure story about 12-year-old animal lover Samantha and the magical parrot she rescues from a pet store. Some people migWhipEye is a middle-grade adventure story about 12-year-old animal lover Samantha and the magical parrot she rescues from a pet store. Some people might call it stealing, as she absconds with the parrot without the pet store owner's permission, but since Charlie the parrot (who happens to be one thousand years old) specifically asked Samantha to help him escape, it's much more a rescue than a theft. The rest of the book details Samantha's efforts to keep Charlie safe with help from her neighbor Jake and assorted other characters (humans, not-really-humans, animals, and not-really-animals).
I have to admit that I liked the concept of the book better than the book itself. I never found myself really drawn into the story, and found a big chunk of the middle quite tedious, in fact. I did finish the story, but I found myself having to force myself to pick it back up each time, and I only did so because I'd committed to reviewing the story. It's not a bad book – just a bit monotonous for my tastes, with all the running and chasing. A middle school reader with a love of fantasy and/or animals could very well love this book, but it just wasn't for me.
I received an ecopy of this book for my honest review; all opinions are my own. ...more
The very first thing I noticed about this cute little children's story is the beautiful illustrations. I very much like the style of the artwork – theThe very first thing I noticed about this cute little children's story is the beautiful illustrations. I very much like the style of the artwork – the smoothness of the edges and the use of color. Lobo, along with his pals Arty the Arctic Mouse and Roxy the Raven, are on a journey to the North Pole to help Santa. Other animals help them on their way to Santa's Village, and the reader finally discovers what sort of assistance it is that Santa needs from Lobo.
Overall this is a cute Christmas story for kids (with, of course, a happy ending). There's some silliness, there's some opportunity for further exploration (the Arctic animals who help the friends, the Northern lights, etc.), and there are some life lessons about helping others/being a good friend too. One point of annoyance: Roxy the Raven says everything twice. Kids will like the repetition, but I have to confess - I kind of want to punch Roxy in the face.
That aside, this is a new idea for a Christmas story (wait until you read why Santa needs Lobo's help, and what assistance he asks Lobo to provide!) and your kidlets will likely enjoy both the story and the fun, bright illustrations. ...more
As the mom of special needs children, this book was somewhat difficult to read at times. But that's kind of the point of dystopian fiction – it's notAs the mom of special needs children, this book was somewhat difficult to read at times. But that's kind of the point of dystopian fiction – it's not meant to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. In the world of Meritropolis, all citizens are assigned a Score based on their worth to society – being smart, healthy, and attractive nets you a High Score; being disabled, unattractive, or ill drops your Score. And if your Score drops too low? Well, then you're put outside the gates in a special ceremony… and left to fend for yourself against the aggressive crossbreed genetically mutated animals that roam free outside the walls of the city.
There's definitely a "Hunger Games" type of feel to this book - not in a rip-off sort of way; this book is unique unto itself - but as a YA dystopian novel with smart, strong teenage characters trying to change what they know to be wrong with the damaged world they live in.
One thing I particularly appreciated about this book is that the characters aren't "all good" or "all bad." The leader of the bad guys, Commander Orson, isn't pure evil. Many times the antagonist of a story is purely evil with no redeeming characteristics, but Commander Orson has some good qualities (albeit not many of them). He's in charge of all of Meritropolis, but he has his limits as to how far he'll use his power to get what he wants. And as the story progresses and the reader learns some of the motivations behind his choices and actions, you almost feel something like sympathy for him. Likewise, the protagonist, Charley, is a "hero" – but he's a flawed hero with his own dark side.
As a fan of George Orwell, I also liked the small nod to Animal Farm: Charley thinks of himself as Commander Orson's "prize-winning bull," and then thinks to himself that "under the System's human farm all were equal, but some were just more equal than others."
The ambiguous ending definitely leaves itself wide open for a sequel, which I'm very much looking forward to reading!
I received a copy of this book for review purposes; all opinions are my own. ...more
Isabella Babysits Baxter is a cute story about a 6-year-old girl who's babysitting for the first time. Her large, energetic puppy Baxter is the babysiIsabella Babysits Baxter is a cute story about a 6-year-old girl who's babysitting for the first time. Her large, energetic puppy Baxter is the babysittee. Isabella takes her first babysitting job very seriously, despite the challenges of keeping up with the lively puppy. (As the mom of a toddler who's tried to do the same activities with him that Isabella does with Baxter, I can definitely relate!) Ultimately Isabella proves herself to be a responsible puppy-sitter (and does a much better job keeping up with Baxter than I do keeping up with my toddler some days).
I like that this story teaches responsibility to kids, but without being at all heavy-handed about it. Isabella entertains Baxter and cleans up after him just because that's what she's supposed to do, not because anyone told her to. The artwork is simple but effective, and it definitely caught my toddler's eye as I read the story to his big brother.
This probably isn't a book I would have picked on my own to read to my kids (I have all boys, and the cover design implies that this is a "girl's book" – not very gender-neutral of me, I know), but I'm glad we had the chance to read it. While the storyline is probably too simplistic to engage the interest of kids over the age of four or five, I think preschool age children (of either gender) will enjoy this story – giggling as Baxter keeps Isabella on her toes, and just maybe learning a little bit about responsibility as a side effect.
I received a complimentary ecopy of this book in exchange for my honest review. ...more
Did you know that 1/3 of the Peruvian population (9 million people) live in a single city? (Can you guess which one?) Carole P. Roman's "If You Were MDid you know that 1/3 of the Peruvian population (9 million people) live in a single city? (Can you guess which one?) Carole P. Roman's "If You Were Me and Lived in… Peru" introduces children to the history and culture of the Republic of Peru in this newest addition to her cultural series.
Kids will enjoy learning about what kids in Peru might be named, their names for their mom and dad, the holidays they celebrate, and what games they play.
Roman is always able to come up with interesting facts (including some lesser-known facts) about the countries in these books, and Peru is no exception. One piece of information that's included is names and descriptions of foods commonly eaten in the country – one particular meal that in the past was eaten only by Incan kings may surprise (or disgust, or dismay) both you and your kids. Beyond the cultural and historical information, other facts are introduced where appropriate (like what a terrace is, in terms of farming) to enhance the child's understanding of the material.
As with the other books in this series, there's a (much appreciated) pronunciation guide at the end of the book that provides the correct spelling, the phonetic pronunciation, and the equivalent English word. Designed for elementary age children, even adults will probably learn something new from this book. (I know I did!)
I received a complimentary ebook for review purposes; all opinions are my own. ...more
How much do you know about Greece? You probably know that that's where the Parthenon is, and that the capital city of Athens is considered to be the bHow much do you know about Greece? You probably know that that's where the Parthenon is, and that the capital city of Athens is considered to be the birthplace of democracy, but do you know what the currency was before it became the euro? Or how and when the Parthenon was so badly damaged?
One of the things I love about Carole P. Roman's "If You Were Me and Lived In…" series is that she includes interesting facts about the countries that many adults probably don't even know. For example, I didn't know how and when the Parthenon was damaged prior to reading this book – I always just incorrectly assumed the damage was purely age-related. Yet the books aren't fact-heavy to the point that kids will be bored or overwhelmed – Roman finds a nice balance of interesting and relevant facts that are introduced in a lighthearted way.
If You Were Me and Lived in...Greece provides not just historical facts, though, but also touches on topics like popular names (and where those names might have come from), common foods, and special holidays. There's also a pronunciation guide at the end of the book that provides the correct spelling, the phonetic pronunciation, and the equivalent English word.
While obviously there's a lot that isn't covered in this book (most notably Greek mythology, which I happen to be fascinated by), this is a great starting point for kids to learn more about Greek culture and history. While these books are written at an early elementary level, the information is interesting even for older kids (as evidenced by my teenage son's interest in "overhearing" the book as I read it to my younger kids).
I received this book complimentary for review purposes; all opinions are my own. ...more
Some of my most frequently re-read books are collections of short stories – re-reading a favorite short story is kind of like catching up with an oldSome of my most frequently re-read books are collections of short stories – re-reading a favorite short story is kind of like catching up with an old friend for a quick cup of coffee before you both have to dash off to do other things. And my favorite genre is horror (the four short stories I've had published are all horror stories). So despite my overflowing To-Be-Read bookcase (yes, I have a TBR bookcase instead of the non-book-hoarder TBR pile), I requested a review copy of Scott Zavoda's collection Alone at Midnight based on the intriguing descriptions of the stories within. And I'm very glad I did!
You never know quite what to expect when you pick up a book by a new author, be it a new-to-you author or a completely new-to-everyone author (Scott Zavoda falls in the latter category). It could be something wonderful, or it could be something that you set aside after reading a few pages with a sigh of regret that you'll never get those five wasted minutes back - and I'm happy to report that Scott Zavoda falls solidly within the former category on that one.
I not only enjoyed the stories, but was also extremely impressed at the high quality of writing, particularly from a newcomer. Zavoda's characters are very realistically portrayed. In his first-person POV stories, he's able to get the reader right inside the character's head to experience the story through that character's eyes - and mental state. By the end of the first story, I'd added the name Scott Zavoda to my list of authors to watch, and I can guarantee you that I'll be reading anything he publishes in the future.
I have to admit, however, that this wasn't the type of horror I was expecting. This isn't a collection of blood-n-guts horror that uses shock value to scare you; this is a more insidious sort of horror, the kind that might not be exactly terrifying when you first read it… but the stories stick with you and sort of slither into your subconscious, peeking out at you when you're least expecting it.
This collection opens strong with Oh Christmas Tree, which is very creepy in an overt way at first, and then in a much more subtle way by the end. (Just how creepy it is won't really grab you until later, after you've set the book aside and moved on to do something else). Without giving too much away, Mr. Zavoda really captures the state of mind of the protagonist as the story progresses and does a wonderful job of transferring that mindset to the page. (This story was particularly disconcerting to me due to some past experiences with a person of a similar mindset to the main character).
The other story that really struck a chord with me (although there really isn't a bad story in the bunch) was Bobby. I was really impressed with how well Zavoda's writing makes the reader experience a full gamut of emotions within this one short story - not just shock and horror but also love, sorrow, and anger as well. The close bond between 12-year-old Danny and his 7-year-old brother, Bobby, is sweet enough to warm the coldest of hearts. Danny deeply loves his little brother, who is not only paralyzed from the waist down but also unable to coordinate the movements of the rest of his body or even speak. That loving bond between the brothers makes the reader's heart ache all the more when Bobby is tormented and physically attacked by his classmates while Danny helplessly witnesses the attack through the wire-meshed window of a locked gymnasium door.
This story got to me in particular because I have two children with special needs, and there have been multiple times that I've had to intervene on their behalf because they were unable to defend themselves against the cruelty of other children (and even adults on occasion). (And here's my PSA for today: A child with autism or other special needs who doesn't speak, or even appear to be listening, is most likely hearing – and understanding the meaning of - every word you say. Non-verbal doesn't mean non-hearing or non-understanding). Bobby does contain some supernatural-style horror elements, but the real life horror of the bullying Danny and Bobby suffer was much more frightening to me.
A couple of the stories don't have clear cut-and-dried endings, so if a lack of resolution in a story bothers you, you may not like every story in this collection. But even so, this is still a collection that's well worth picking up for fans of the horror genre. Alone at Midnight also contains an excerpt from Scott Zavoda's upcoming novella Graveyard Ride – I read the excerpt and then promptly joined the email list to be notified when it's released. If you're a fan of the horror genre, this collection is a must-read, and the author is one to watch.
*I received an ecopy of this book complimentary for review purposes; all opinions are completely my own....more
This is an absolutely charming story, made extra-delightful by the personalization. I personalized this book for my youngest son - he's a little youngThis is an absolutely charming story, made extra-delightful by the personalization. I personalized this book for my youngest son - he's a little young to grasp the moral of this story yet, but he loves giraffes, and really, you're never too young to start instilling the ideals of perseverance and being kind to others.
It was very simple to personalize the book, and I like that the personalization is more than just adding the child's name to the story. The child's giraffe character hangs out in the forest with "loved ones" (in our story, that's Mommy and Daddy giraffe) and passes along guidance to Terrance giraffe from an "advice giver" (we had Grandma giraffe dispense her wisdom). I also like the conversation questions at the end of the book, which enhance comprehension by encouraging children to discuss the events that happened in the story and think about what they would have done in Terrance's place.
My little guy really enjoyed this story (although we didn't do the Q&A at the end – we'll save that until he's a little bit older). He's a book-loving baby, but this was the first time I'd read an ebook to him and I wasn't sure what he'd think about it, since he likes to turn the pages himself when we read together. But it turns out that he enjoys stories even if they're read from a screen instead of from a physical book. He sat on my lap and looked closely at the pictures (which I'm also a huge fan of - the illustrations are adorable!) while I read him the story.
I received a PDF of this book complimentary for review purposes; all opinions are my own. ...more
Ravan has created an elaborate fairy tale world unlike any I've read about before. The Cinderella Theorem is not a retelling of A fairy tale, but a reRavan has created an elaborate fairy tale world unlike any I've read about before. The Cinderella Theorem is not a retelling of A fairy tale, but a retelling of ALL fairy tales.
Many teenage girls would be thrilled to discover that they're actually a princess of an entire kingdom (a world, actually, but kings and queens and princesses go with kingdoms, so that's the word we'll use). Imagine having tea with Cinderella, and then receiving a package personally prepared for you by Prince Charming. Or dancing with the Little Pig who made his house out of bricks. Or having your very own fairy godmother whose wand shoots plaid sparks.
Lily, however, is rather stuffy and stodgy for a fifteen-year-old girl. She's very grounded in logical reality and plans to either do pure mathematics research at a major university or become a code breaker for the National Security Agency when she grows up. Lily uses math to think, to rationalize, to problem-solve real-life (and fairy tale life) situations. When she discovers her dad isn't really dead but rather the King of a magical fairy tale kingdom, she uses math to recalculate her family structure as she contemplates the implications. When Cinderella is Less than Happy, Lily devises a mathematical equation – The Cinderella Theorem – to determine how to help Cinderella become Happy.
Lily is not a static character. She starts out as extremely logical and somewhat rigid in her thinking, especially for a teenager. She wants everything to be "normal," and tries to make her environment adapt to fit her own personal beliefs of the way the world should be. But Lily is a smart girl, and throughout the course of the book she gains knowledge and insight into life. Her narrow definition of normality (which was heavily challenged by learning about the very existence of a fairy tale world) is expanded upon, and she learns to be more flexible in her thinking. The personal growth and development of the main character is an important aspect of a good YA novel, and it's great when you discover a writer who can portray that without being excessively didactic and overbearing about it.
This is one of the best-written and best-edited books I've read recently. As a reader I really appreciate the high quality of the editing – too often lately I've been reading books that were "good stories but could have used another editorial go-over." There were very few actual errors/typos (minor things like misspelling Schrödinger as Shrodinger - I don't count the missing umlaut over the o as a misspelling per se, but I do count the missing c). The characters are well developed (and fun!), the plot is entertaining and very creative, the writing flows well, the dialogue is natural sounding and true to the character who's speaking, and it's overall just a good, fun read.
One important note to readers: It's important to remember that this *is* a YA book (Amazon lists it as for ages 10-18/grades 5-12), so don't go into it expecting a story written for adults. If you do, you may find yourself disappointed… but if you go into it expecting a fantastical YA story filled with math and magic, I think you'll fall in love!
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review; all opinions are my own. ...more
This book starts off with a bang – almost literally. After retiring from the CIA, Ron Granger is trying to live a simple, quiet life with his wife andThis book starts off with a bang – almost literally. After retiring from the CIA, Ron Granger is trying to live a simple, quiet life with his wife and daughter. All that changes when their home is broken into, and the Grangers discover that Leecy, their teenage daughter, was targeted for abduction.
This is a fast-paced thriller of a novel, with lots of gratifying spy action. But this book is more than just a straightforward spy story – it's also a story about the strength of family ties (hence the title). This family is more than it appears to be to the casual outside observer, and Ron – despite having been retired from the CIA since 2003 – has retained his instincts and skills.
It's interesting, however, to consider how much technology has advanced since 2003. Ron Granger was more of an "old school" spy, and in this adventure he realizes just how technology-heavy the spy business has become. He's forced to learn an entirely new way of doing things, quickly.
I really enjoyed the historical information presented in the book – without giving too much away, spying is kind of a family business, and the Grangers tell Leecy details going back to Leecy's great-grandmother and her WWII experiences using her USO involvement as a cover.
I only had a couple of minor negatives with this book – first, I hate it when characters do not use contractions in their speech. I feel like it makes the dialogue sound stilted and awkward. There are also a couple of places where information is presented via dialogue, but the characters involved in the conversation would already know the information. This is a way of getting that information to the reader, but I find it a bit disconcerting when there's no reason for a character to be telling another one the information being provided. That being said, the version I read was an ARC, so these minor issues could very well be addressed and corrected before the final copy is published.
This is a compelling and intriguing novel, and I had difficulty putting it aside. There aren't any lulls in the action; Davis' writing keeps you wanting to turn the pages until the end. As mentioned, this is the first book in a series of novels about the Granger Family, and the way this book ends guarantees that I'll be picking up a copy of the next book in the series as soon as it's released! ...more
This is technically a sci-fi novel, but really, at its heart, it's the story of the love of a parent for a child. As the story starts, Thomas PendletoThis is technically a sci-fi novel, but really, at its heart, it's the story of the love of a parent for a child. As the story starts, Thomas Pendleton is so preoccupied with providing for his family financially that he forgets to be there for them physically (and emotionally). All that changes after the cosmic storm hits earth and Thomas finds himself given a second chance to follow through on the promises he made - and broke - to his son Seth. And Thomas finds himself facing unimaginable challenges as he struggles to keep his promises to his son in the new world that the cosmic storm has created.
There was some fairly heavy-handed foreshadowing... obviously any big suprises or revelations need to be woven into the plot appropriately, but don't need to be as obvious as "Some really bad things are going to happen to these people in the very near future." (This is not a direct quote from the book, just trying to get the basic gist across - but I've griped about Stephen King doing the same thing, so maybe I'm just not a fan of foreshadowing?) That being said, even though the foreshadowing gave a lot away, there were still several surprises in store.
I received an eARC of this book for review purposes. I did notice some issues with grammar, spelling, tense shifts, and plot inconsistencies, but since my eARC copy specifically stated "this version has not been proofread," I'll assume the editors found and corrected those issues before the final copy was published.
I was happy to learn that the author, John D. Mimms, is currently at work on book two of The Tesla Gate trilogy. I don't know if he'll be providing answers to my questions about Thomas and Seth in book two (or book three), but he definitely set up an intriguing scenario with a lot of conflict, and there are several characters that I'm hoping will appear in the next book. (And one whom I really hope gets what's coming to him!) ...more