Friday, December 29, 2017

Book Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand


On Christmas Eve five years ago, seventeen-year-old Holly Chase was visited by three Ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways. She didn’t. And then she died.

Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge—as their latest Ghost of Christmas Past. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable. But this year’s Scrooge is different. This year’s Scrooge might change everything…

I grabbed this off my TBR shelf just before leaving work for a whole week off, not even realizing the somewhat Christmasy theme. I started reading it on the 23rd when the littles went down for a nap, planning to just get off my feet for a few minutes...and read for two hours straight. I tried stopping to sort laundry but went back to it, and ended up finishing it in the bathroom while I was getting changed for a party, using a roll of toilet paper to hold the pages open. There was no way I was going to have normal dinner conversation with Ethan and Stephanie and Blackpool lurking around in my head!

Of course, that means I didn't have time to get a review up before Christmas, but no worries, this is a fantastic book to sink into any time of the year. The main character is instantly both engaging and realistic. Even years after her death she does not easily let go of the Marley in her head, and when things get stressful, she reverts back to her old ways. Nobody is beyond redemption, though - not Holly, and not the current Scrooge. Or...are they? A good relationship can turn someone's life around, but what happens when that relationship falls apart? Secondary characters are also fun, with some surprises and back stories of their own. The premise itself is, of course, intriguing - second chances?Bad people turning good? Alternate planes and time travel and getting inside someone's brain? Pick this up soon for an enjoyable weekend read!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: The Cholent Brigade, by Michael Herman and Sharon Harmer


When a big snowstorm hits, Monty Nudelman happily shovels his neighbors' sidewalks, driveways, cars, and steps—until he hurts his back. Now he can barely move! He can't even make his Shabbat lunch. Luckily, his neighbors have all made cholent—a delicious Shabbat stew. The neighborhood kids form a "cholent brigade" to bring Monty Nudelman a tasty feast. Cholent to the rescue!

Brr! Winter came late and mild here in southern NM, but just looking at Harmer's illustrations of Monty shoveling snow made me shiver. It is pretty safe to say I am not a winter weather person. I do love a good deed and a shared meal, though, and this simple story expresses the fun of both without an ounce of preachiness. Herman includes a recipe for cholent at the end. Friends who got instant pots for the holidays can speed up the cooking, especially the beans - or would that ruin the atmosphere of good smells all night long? vs. comfort smells...our new debate topic!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Book Review: Locked Up for Freedom by Heather E. Schwartz


In 1963, more than 30 African-American girls ages 11 to 16 were arrested for taking part in Civil Rights protests in Americus, Georgia. They were taken without their families' knowledge to a Civil War–era stockade in Leesburg, Georgia, where they were confined in unsanitary conditions and exposed to brutal treatment. Over the following weeks, their commitment to the fight for equality was put to the test. 

I love finding books about bits of history I wasn't aware of. Of course, I knew about the Civil Rights Movement, and that African Americans of all ages were arrested and mistreated, but this is the first I have heard of this particular incident.

I also love books that include first-hand accounts of historical events, so this title fits the bill on both counts. It begins with a solid background on both Jim Crow laws - listing some of the specific laws of Georgia, down to how many city blocks apart 'colored' and 'white' baseball games had to be played. Rules of etiquette are detailed, as well as things like health officials refusing to use new needles for African American patients. Charts comparing earning potentials and photographs of police dogs attacking peaceful teenagers all serve to help the reader understand why these protests weren't simply a matter of complaining about something relatively petty.

The conditions the girls were kept under have to be read about themselves. The fact that these are first-hand accounts, photographed by a daring young photographer smuggled in under a blanket in the back of a car, reminds us that this all happened not too long ago. A must-have for every library that serves upper elementary through high school students, and hopefully one that will be referred to frequently in class.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Review: Hooray for Community Helpers series from Lerner



Books about community helpers are always a sure bet, and Lerner's sturdy binding and large photographs continue to please both children and librarians.

Written around a first grade reading level, Hooray for Garbage Collectors touches on recycling, vehicles and safety. I do have to wonder if the photograph on the "tools" page is more for the Moms than the kids, though - why is that man not wearing more clothing under his safety vest? Sure, it can be hot work, but I can't imagine bare arms are recommended by OSHA when handling refuse. That particular shot may be more suited to a calendar spread.

Hooray for Firefighters was less sexy, but had its own issues. One of the very first pages says "They slide down a pole." Um...our fire station doesn't have a pole. I don't know that I have ever seen a pole in use at a fire station. Some still have them, sure, but they are kind of a safety nightmare. That makes me wonder if Kenan actually spent time at a fire station, or if she just put together some stock photos. When there isn't room for more than the basic information about a subject, shouldn't we try to get that basic info right?

Rather disappointing coming from Lerner and Kenan, and hopefully just a glitch. I don't think I will be ordering the rest of this particular series.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Harry Potter Quidditch Magical Film Projections


If you read the title and thought to yourself, "Wha???" Don't feel alone - I did too! The description intrigued me enough that I asked for a review copy, even though there isn't actually any new text to read and review, just lines from the movies:

The wizarding world’s favorite sport, Quidditch is a magical game played high up in the air with Quaffles, Bludgers, and broomsticks. This interactive book allows fans to project their favorite Quidditch scenes from the Harry Potter films on a wall or ceiling using a flashlight. Read along and experience extraordinary moments from the movies like never before, like when Harry catches the Golden Snitch in his first-ever game of Quidditch.

Six scenes involving Quidditch (or flying in general) have lines of dialogue paired with a black-outline drawing on clear plastic. In a darkened room, you shine a flashlight through the plastic to project the picture on the wall or ceiling.

Overall, it worked pretty well. Trying to put it on the ceiling (our only white surface available) was a little awkward, and works better with two people, but my 11yo thought the results were pretty cool. Of course, the darker the room, the better it works, but that means you can't read the dialogue at the same time. I think it will work better if you can set it on a flat surface and project the images on the wall, using the light of the same flashlight to read the scenes.

Not something I would have for check-out at the library, but if you are looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer for your Harry Potter fan, this one is sure to be a hit!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: Sisters of Glass by Naomi Cyprus


Halan is a powerless princess. She is heir to the Magi Kingdom, a blazing desert land ruled by ancient magic. But unlike every royal before her, Halan has no magical powers of her own.
Nalah is a powerful pauper. The glassblower’s daughter, she lives in the land of New Hadar, where magic is strictly outlawed. But Nalah has a powerful force growing within her—one she can’t always control.
One girl fears magic, one worships it. But when a legendary mirror connects them, Nalah and Halan finally meet—and must work together to save their two worlds, before everything they know is shattered forever.

Squarely in the middle grade realm for mysteries and plot twists. This has magic, character development, parallel worlds, family and friendship. Talking points can include how familial love is sometimes blind, nature vs. nurture in developing personalities, and bad consequences of good intentions.

As far as I can tell, this is Cyprus's debut title, and the first in a series. A promising start, and I will be watching for the second title to be announced!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Shane-Michael-What-Cat-Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo, etc., Turns Four!

Every year at this time until I am old and senile, I will be telling the story of Shane's birth - which you can read about here, here and here! For now, though, I will just tell you about Shane at four years old.

Contrary to the doctors' dire warnings, he does not have any heart conditions whatsoever. This child does everything at full tilt!

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His default status is goofy.

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And he is never lacking in self-confidence.

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He does NOT, as the doctor's predicted, have Down's syndrome, or any other syndrome, except perhaps so-smart-he's-scary syndrome.

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Or, maybe just plain scary.

Knows how to play it as both a Daddy's boy

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and a Mama's boy

as the need arises.

Whatever kind of boy he is being,

we are just happy he is ours! Happy fourth birthday, Littlest Guy!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Great Big Things by Kate Hoefler and Noah Koocek


This book is filled with great big things: billions of stars, looming mountains, a vast sea...a mouse. Yes, a mouse - one so small compared to the great big things it travels through, you might think it's a mistake to call it such.
Only it's not.

I think I was expecting a book of opposites of some sort.

So. much. more.

Perspective, yes. But oh my goodness, the imagery! Between the spare text and sweeping illustrations, I felt with each page that I was a tiny mouse making myself even smaller against a raft of driftwood as gigantic whales surrounded me on an endless ocean, or staring wide-eyed at a vast storm-cloud filled evening sky. It was exhausting! And then when he reached his destination...well. You have to get to that part yourself, but I will say that it instantly went on every reading list I could fit it onto. I am just sad that the publication date of October 10 meant it was too late to get attention for this year's Cybils, but will miss the cut-off for next year's!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection Program by Jake Burt


Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .
The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Wow! I found the initial description intriguing, and guessed from the description that it would be a fast-paced read. What I did not expect was all the FEELS. Primary characters are all three-dimensional, and the emotional responses and break-downs they display I found completely realistic. Well, okay, I have never actually been in the Witness Protection Program, but I have known some very strong kids pushed to their breaking point. The last two pages had me absolutely sobbing in my kitchen. Fortunately, my kids all had their noses stuck in a movie and didn't notice.

Grab some tissues and grab the book, then settle in for a fantastic read!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review - Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James


The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Who doesn't feel just a little bit better about themselves after a fresh new haircut? Barnes captures the feeling perfectly, for young and old. From the crisp lines of the narrator's cut, to the locs and cornrows and intricate designs of the other customers, "Tip that man! Tip that man! It was worth it. It always is."

What I really can't get over is the VOICE. Several books I have read lately inspired a mental accent of some sort while reading it, but this is the first book I have read in a while that took on a completely different voice in my head. I do not know Derrick Barnes and have never heard him speak, but it was definitely his voice reading those words, not mine. It is a true gift to be able to take the reader so far out of their own head and personality in just a few short pages.

James's illustrations do not let the text down. You cannot help but smile back at each of the faces, and leave the book walking with a little extra swagger of your own.

Or, you know, a desperate urge to call whoever does your hair, asap.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

Ack! Holidays, kids sick, me sick, dance class, holidays, new employee, new scouting group, winterizing, Cybils, holidays, summer reading prep, jury duty...and did I mention the holidays? I seem to be a bit behind here (and everywhere else), time to do some catching up!

Nothing like a good murder mystery to read right before you have jury duty:


It seems too good to be true when Daniel Tate, missing since he was abducted from one of California’s most elite private enclaves at the age of ten, turns up on a snowy street in Vancouver six years later. At first too traumatized to speak, he is eventually able to tell the authorities who he is and is reunited with his overjoyed family. In time, they tell him, he’ll recover the memories he’s missing; all that matters is that they have him back.

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing:
That boy isn’t Daniel Tate.

But he wants to be. A young con artist who’s been taking on false identities for years, this impostor has stumbled onto the scam of a lifetime. Daniel has everything he’s ever dreamed of—wealth, privilege, the chance to make a fresh start, and most importantly, a family that loves him. Now that he’s finally found a place to belong, he doesn’t question his luck.

Until he realizes that maybe Daniel isn’t missing at all. Maybe someone knows what really happened to the boy he’s pretending to be...and if he can’t uncover the truth—he could be next the next Daniel Tate to disappear.

I was immediately drawn into Daniel (well, fake-Daniel)'s life, rooting for him from the start. You know that what he is doing is wrong, and even fake-Daniel doesn't try to convince you it isn't, but you still just can't help liking him. All of the characters are fairly well-developed, but most are held at arm's length. It is fake-Daniel's head that the reader is inside, and it is hard to pull yourself out again to do mundane things like drive your car and cook supper.

The story premise had me intrigued, and it did not disappoint. I figured out "whodunit" by the end, and had an inkling of the final 'shocker', but there were enough red herrings along the way that I kept second-guessing myself. While I can't say the conclusion made me happy, I was satisfied with it. Intense, suspenseful and sharp, hand this off to teens or adults who appreciate a good thriller!