Friday, August 23, 2019

The Hippo at the End of the Hall by Helen Cooper, 2017

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The invitation was delivered by bees. It wasn’t addressed to anyone at all, but Ben knew it was for him. It would lead him to an old, shambolic museum, full of strange and bewitching creatures. A peculiar world of hidden mysteries and curious family secrets . . . and some really dangerous magic.

Filled with her own wonderful illustrations, The Hippo at the End of the Hall is Helen Cooper's debut novel.

(400 pages)

I have a love-hate relationship with whimsical, quirky books like this one. On one hand, I love the idea of them. On the other, the execution often falls a bit flat and either feels like the author is trying too hard to stand out or it's just predictable.

I feel like The Hippo at the End of the Hall manages to rise above the most forgettable of this type of book. It's not going on my list of favorites, and part of me kind of thinks the story is a bit boring/contrived, but I actually got really sucked in while I was reading it and enough genuinely bizarre things happened that I could never really predict where everything was going (even if I had an idea of the overarching destination).

I think this is the sort of book that kids maybe five years younger than me would really enjoy. It's an interesting premise and fun with lots of animals, etc.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles, 2019

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If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.

(304 pages)

I'll be honest: I read this book way too long ago to remember the details. All I do remember is that it wasn't as good as I thought it would be, and that the sexual identity stuff isn't very explicit but isn't something I would personally choose to have in a book for middle school kids. To each their own, though.

I do like the angle of a childhood romance where one side of the potential couple isn't actually interested but feels like she should be. I feel like there are so many stories about childhood sweethearts, which I don't complain about too hard because it's one of my favorite tropes, but the flip side of this where the guy thinks they're childhood sweethearts destined for more while the girl . . . well, doesn't? It's an interesting twist.

The animal angle is also fun, I always love animals in books. The parental fighting and the financial issues aren't as exciting to read about, but I guess they could be someone else's cup of tea more than they are mine.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord, 2019

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On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They're supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.

The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.
But things don't go as planned. On the first day of school, she's paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can't stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he's obsessed with animals. Jack doesn't fit in, and Emma's worried he'll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she's meant to have?

(192 pages)

I read this book at the start of the summer before heading off to start my internship, and I’m just now getting around to reviewing it. I think right out of the gate it’s a bad sign that I’m having such a hard time remembering the book, because I usually have a good memory for the books that I read. This may just be the cause it’s for such a younger audience than I fit into, so it didn’t match my interests well enough to stick in my mind.

But to be honest, from what I do remember I actually really enjoyed this book. I was homeschooled myself for most of my childhood, and I still remember my nerves when I started school in high school. I connected to Emma quite a bit when I was reading the book, her nervousness and honest attempts at fitting in and finding her way in a new environment rang very true to me.

I’m not always the biggest fan of school drama stories, or stories about kids who are mean to their new friends because they’re worried about being “cool,” but it was done pretty well and realistically here and I didn’t cringe too much.

All in all, this is a nice but ultimately fairly forgettable book. It’s pretty innocuous as far as I can remember, though, so if you or any kids in your life are interested in reading it I’d say go ahead and check it out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Cómo Te Llamas? by Kristen Llamas, 2019

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Artist Kristin Llamas (her real name) has been drawing adorably odd portraits of llamas for years. Inspired by a name and her affection for these delightfully expressive animals, she creates detailed, personality-rich portraits in her realistic and humorous black-and-white style. The results are charming and funny, raising the question, which llama are you? Some mornings are Claire mornings. Allyn, we know just how you feel.... This smile of a gift book collects 60 of Llamas's most amusing and endearing portraits, pairing them with biographical quips and jewel-tone color washes to capture these llamas' quirky inner lives, and our own.
(160 pages)

I wasn't exactly sure what this would be when I was offered the chance to review it, but it looked so cute I grabbed at the opportunity.

And I'm glad I did, though I'm still not entirely sure what I just read. Every page has a different sketch of a llama, and each sketch is rendered in super cute detail with a funny caption giving the sketched llama a name and a small description. It's fun, but so random. I mean like really, really random.

After I read through the whole thing I passed it to my younger brother on a roadtrip. He flipped through it and looked a bit nonplussed. I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate this book.

So yeah. It's a good (small) coffee table book, I think, but also just kind of strange. And all the llamas start to look similar after you've looked at dozens of them.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2018

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Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage!

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it's up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis... But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.
(368 pages)


When I was briefly home at the start of the summer my younger brother pressed a copy of this book on me and told me to read it on the road. I, with a million books on my TBR list, thanked him hurriedly and shoved it in my suitcase, and it wasn't until after he'd asked me a couple times if I'd read it yet that I finally got around to picking it up. We have a really similar taste in books, so I should have listened to him sooner.

Because this is such a cute book, and so fun. The central premise is super fun and quirky, with its secret agent rabbits that protect the queen of England from attacks by the evil rats that try to steal a piece of her soul by exposing a piece of her private life to the world.

The social commentary is not exactly subtle, with its pretty overt criticism of the people who walk around staring at their phones instead of noticing the world around them and the soul-sucking power of social media and the paparazzi that invades people's privacy. It's a message I largely agree with, and delivered in such a cute format that it's not too painful to swallow. I thought it was actually an interesting angle for a book about bunny espionage to take.

All in all, it was a fun little book that didn't take long to get through but was super entertaining and fun to read while I was in it. I'm glad my younger brother foisted it on me, and if anything this has taught me to pay attention to his recommendations more.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan, 2019

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Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

(336 pages)

I enjoyed the first book in this series, so when I was offered the chance to read the sequel I jumped at the chance. I'm a long-time murder mystery fan, and Hamish's sweet, shy character made for an interesting new type of detective. I'll be honest, I didn't care quite as much for Reggie's fairly typical "rich girl with spunk" persona, but I liked her enough (and liked watching Hamish like her) that I looked forward to seeing how things progressed between them in this book.

But I have to say, Murder in the City of Liberty definitely doesn't live up to its prequel. It's just not as tight a story. Things that don't really seem connected just sort of happen periodically, and there are too many different characters and perspectives on the story that don't really go anywhere but distract from the main story.

And don't get me started on the love triangle in this one. If it was a bit much in the first book, it was a LOT too much in this one. There's some trumped-up reason why Reggie just has to marry Vaughan, and most of the time I was reading about it I was internally rolling my eyes. I'll be honest, there certainly were times when I did get wrapped up in the character drama and enjoyed it, but the overall situation was just drawn out enough that I couldn't get completely lost in it. Possibly because there are like three times per character where either Hamish or Reggie has an "ah-ha" moment where they internally realize/acknowledge how they really feel for the other . . . but then nothing really changes, and they have the same eureka experience a few chapters later. This is especially egregious for Hamish.

As for the mystery itself, I'd say that in some ways it was actually more interesting than the first one. The exploration of hate crimes, and racial bias in detection, was an interesting angle. The book explores discrimination against African Americans, plus anti-Semitism, and I appreciated the effort. I did think the ending was a bit too far out there to really bring any message home about any of the issues it was dealing with, since it felt pretty contrived, but it was interesting anyway.

All in all, a pretty entertaining read but not quite as fun as the first one. If you're interested in Murder in the City of Liberty then, by all means, pick it up. But if you're waffling on it, then maybe give this one a pass.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson, 2013

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More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

(353 pages)

This is one of my favorite books and it makes me SO SAD that there doesn't seem to be a sequel in sight. I don't care that you haven't gotten inspiration to continue the series, Brandon Sanderson, I need to continue this story now!

Actually, having read a sequel written just because fans harrassed the author, scratch that. Wait until you're good and ready, Mr. Sanderson.

But seriously. This book is incredible. The worldbuilding is so fascinating, the idea of an America where each state is an island and where magic is done through chalk drawings, and where the main characters are focused on exploring the bounds of the magic system and trying to find the root of a lurking evil, is such a great concept that it would have been pretty hard for Sanderson to screw it up.

Luckily, though, Sanderson is well-known for being a great author. He pulled me into Joel's story almost immediately, and I was rooting for that poor chalkmaker's son to find a way to participate in the world he loved so much. I love the perspective in this book of the anti-chosen one, the character who has all the right characteristics to be the Harry Potter of the story but who doesn't get offered that chance. Nothing is handed to Joel, but he is so desperate to get involved that he forces his way into lessons and investigations that he has no place in. And I absolutely love it.

I read this book several years ago, and my mom did as well, and she still asks me once in a while if there's been a sequel yet. Just last year, when I was at college and didn't have access to a library copy, I bought a copy of this book just because I got such a strong urge to reread it. And if that's not a good indicator of how addictive it is, I don't know what would be. I love it, but I don't entirely recommend you read it since it sets up the start of a series that has yet to be continued.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Secrets of a Fangirl by Erin Dionne, 2019

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Sarah Anne loves lacrosse, and the MK Nightshade series that everyone was obsessed over in grade school. The problem is that she's still obsessed, which is way too nerdy for a popular kid like her. So she hides her geekiness with a set of rules meant to keep her geek and jock selves separate.

Except when she's offered a spot in a Nightshade fandom contest, where the winner gets to see the new movie premiere in LA. No one seems to think Sarah Anne can win, since she's up against a pair of guys in high school--but the more she's called a fake fan, the more determined she is to wipe the floor with her competition. As long as none of her friends or anyone at school knows what she's doing.

Can she keep her geek identity a secret, win the contest, and manage to keep her friends even though she's been living a lie? Sarah Anne is going to have to make some choices about what's truly important to her and which rules she's going to break to stay true to herself.

(272 pages)

I have been a fan of Dionne's books for a very long time, ever since The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet became my favorite book in middle school (I have reviewed both that, here, and another of her books, Lights, Camera, Disaster, on this blog). That's why I was so happy to receive a surprise copy of Secrets of a Fangirl.

I have to say that, at a certain level, I really do feel like this book is not for me. I am much older than I was when I fell in love with Dionne's books, and sometimes I just can't help rolling my eyes at the stupid predicaments that her main characters get into because they care so much about prestige in middle school. This is especially true in this book, because even when I was Sarah Anne's age I totally owned my love for geeky topics like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc. I prided myself on being able to beat everyone at Harry Potter Scene-It every time. And let's be honest, my geekiness hasn't exactly mellowed with time. Thus the book blog.

I do think it's very interesting to see how Sarah Anne struggles as a girl in the nerd world, though, because while I have not faced much condescension in the geek (or tech) world so far, I do know that a strong majority of guys in a room can make you acutely aware of your gender. Honestly, from my own experience, I would have thought that the runners of the contest would have tried to make a big deal of her gender to show off how inclusive they were being. I can definitely relate to her experience of being talked over on the panel, though. Guys have a tendency to be pushy talkers - especially when they are trying to show themselves off - and I know I have definitely had trouble with that in interview workshops, etc. It would be even harder to be Sarah Anne's age and be dealing with that in a high-pressure situation.

On the whole, even though I thought her friends situation was ridiculous and her self-imposed set of rules surpressing her fangirl side were painiful, I did still really enjoy reading this book and I actually found a fair bit of myself in Sarah Anne. I think a lot of other kids, especially those closer to the target age, will love it even more than I did. A quick content warning for parents, one side character does have two moms which is mentioned a couple times in passing. Other than that it's a pretty unobjectionable read, and one that some will really enjoy. Go ahead and pick it up if it sounds interesting!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit, 1906

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In this much-loved children's classic first published in 1906, the comfortable lives of three well-mannered siblings are greatly altered when, one evening, two men arrive at the house and take their father away. With the family's fortunes considerably reduced in his absence, the children and their mother are forced to live in a simple country cottage near a railway station. There the young trio — Roberta, Peter, and young Phyllis — befriend the porter and station master.

The youngsters' days are filled with adventure and excitement, including their successful attempt to avert a horrible train disaster; but the mysterious disappearance of their father continues to haunt them.

The solution to that painful puzzle and many other details and events of the children's lives come to vivid life in this perennial favorite, a story that has captivated generations of readers and, more recently, delighted television and movie audiences. In this inexpensive, unabridged edition, it will charm a whole new audience of young readers with its warmth and appeal.
(188 pages)

If I had to quickly summarize this book, I would describe it as a cross between The Boxcar Children and The Enchanted Wood. It's like a non-fantasy version of The Enchanted Wood, with its clever children who move to the country and explore their new surroundings, with the slightly darker undertone (and the basic idea of living near a railroad) of The Boxcar Children. Nesbit's story never feels derivative or overdone, though. On the contrary, she carves her own place into the world of classic children's books. There is a slightly darker tone even than The Boxcar Children (which moved rather quickly past the death of their parents to focus on the characters' adventures), since the mysterious disappearance of their father and their sudden descent into poverty, and thus the move to the country, are mysteries that hang over the characters–especially Bobbie, the oldest and most sensitive of the children–throughout the book. Their mother is also clearly in great pain throughout the book, though she tries to hide her sorrow from the children.

The characters are perhaps a bit more fleshed out than their counterparts in other children's books, and Nesbit's narration is definitely funnier than most others. She even stops the narration to address the audience sometimes (including at one point admitting that Bobbie was growing to be her favorite character). I also loved the way Nesbit was so honest and didn't idealize any of the characters. When the children offer their house up to take care of an injured boy (assuring everyone that their mother is a caring person and would of course agree to this), their mother's reaction is described like this:
"Mother smiled, but she sighed, too. It is nice that your children should believe you willing to open house and heart to any and every one who needs help. But it is rather embarrassing sometimes, too, when they act on their belief."
Perhaps my favorite bit of narration comes from the introduction of the children near the start of the book, just because it introduced me to how much fun this book was really going to be:
"There were three of them. Roberta was the eldest. Of course, Mothers never have favourites, but if their Mother had had a favourite, it might have been Roberta. Next came Peter, who wished to be an Engineer when he grew up; and the youngest was Phyllis, who meant extremely well."
Even reading back over that now makes me smile a bit. I just adore her narration style.

There are so many things I'd love to say about The Railway Children, but I think I will keep this review a bearable length by just mentioning one aspect of the story that I found very interesting from a historical perspective. The book was originally published in serial form in 1905, and then properly as a book in 1906. There are so many interesting references to what life back then was like, and it was fascinating how a book written so long ago felt like it almost was modern-day (except for the way the kids carried handkerchiefs and the girls wore petticoats). But I also loved seeing how well Nesbit handled gender, at a time when it's pretty much assumed that most people didn't respect females very much. In the very first chapter, before he goes away, the children's father is telling them that girls are just as clever as boys and that his daughters could be engine drivers if they wanted to. Throughout the book, Peter is seen playing with his two sisters and the few times he tries to be condescending to them they quickly dress him down, sometimes gently and sometimes with a fight. He's even shown helping around the house, setting the table and helping the girls with their washing water, etc. It's really nice to see such a respect for women in a time when it isn't really thought of as being the norm.

The only time a character says something about women that really made me stop is when the doctor pulls Peter aside after he tortured his sisters by describing lots of gory medical things. He tells Peter that women are softer because they need to be for the babies, and that while the softest people can become the strongest when they really need to be Peter should still try to protect his sisters by not talking about such things. As the daughter of a female doctor I found the doctor's explanation of why women can't bear medical things to be a bit laughable, and rather offensive, but it was meant so well–and Peter's sisters bite back so disdainfully when he tries to tell them about "girls being poor, soft, weak, frightened things like rabbits"–that I can honestly forgive Nesbit this one lapse.

All in all, this was a wonderful read that was perfect for whiling away a journey. I highly recommend it to everyone, no matter their age, but if you have a child in your life then I doubly recommend it. Books like this, when I was young, were what excited my imagination and turned me into a lifetime lover of books.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible: Silver/Gold from Thomas Nelson, 2018


The pink Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible is sure to be a hit with girls! This fabulous material is on everything from pillows to t-shirts. The "mermaid" sequins change color right before your eyes. Girls will love the design and will want to carry the Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible everywhere!

This 
Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible features a cover with pink sequins that change color depending on which way your child swipes. It's double the fun! It's perfect for kids ages 6 to 10 to take to Sunday school, read with the family, or study on their own.

The ICB, the first Bible translation created specifically for children, is easy for children to read and understand with a third-grade reading level and is typeset in a large, readable font. The Bible text is set in ten-point type, with bold in-text subject heads that help kids easily find the passages they are looking for. Also included are boldface words that correspond with a dictionary and concordance entry to explain word definitions. A great new feature in this updated setting is more than 300 key verses that are highlighted throughout the Bible for kids to read and learn. The beautifully illustrated insert pages are in a style that children love and will delight their imaginations, including topics such as:

A Bible timeline
A presentation page
A place to keep favorite Bible verses
Bible maps
Articles on topics such as how Jesus loves them, knowing Jesus better, and how to pray, etc.
Your little girl will love herSequin Sparkle and Change Bible!

(1,312 pages)

[Note: this is a copy of my review of the pink version of this Bible.]

Okay, I have to admit that I haven't exactly read this book cover to cover. I mean, I've read the whole Bible before, but not this particular one. In fact, I really haven't spent much time reading this Bible at all, other than to flip it open and see that it does, indeed, contain the text of the Bible and that the font is a pretty good size. I assume the ICB translation is a nice one for kids.

But just because I didn't read much of this particular copy doesn't mean that I didn't keep it very near me for a while. I did, in fact. Why? Because those sequins are just so addictive! I could sit there and run my fingers over the front of the book, turning the picture from light pink (almost matching the rest of the cover) to the hearts design and back again over and over. It's such a soothing feeling on the fingers.

It wasn't just me, either. My siblings (including one of my brothers!) kept trying to steal it just to sit with it and run their fingers through the sequins. It's a strange thing, but it's strangely addictive. And I suspect that's a very good feature for a Bible to have, because the longer a kid spends stroking their Bible the greater the correlations they grow in their head between happy sensations and the Good Book. Then, at some point, some adult can actually open the book for them and help them read it.

I very much recommend getting a copy of this Bible, in whatever color best suits your needs, either for yourself or for a child in your life. If you do give it to a kid, though, just be aware that it will probably become a bit worse for wear over time.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Inspire Catholic Bible NLT from Tyndale, 2018

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Introducing Tyndale’s newest addition to the bestselling Inspire line, and the first—and only—Catholic coloring Bible. The Inspire Catholic Bible features over 450 beautiful Scripture line-art illustrations to color plus two-inch-wide lightly ruled margins with extra space to write notes and reflections or to draw and create original art. Inspire’s generous 8.65-point font is larger and more readable than most other journaling Bible fonts, and the high-quality white Bible paper is great for colorers and creative Bible journalers of all skill levels.

Inspire Catholic Bible’s New Living Translation text has been approved by the Catholic Church for personal reading and features the official Imprimatur. The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, communicates God’s Word powerfully to all who read it, and Inspire is a wonderful legacy Bible for readers to record their faith journey.

(1740 pages)

I've always loved the idea of journal Diaries. A friend of mine has a really gorgeous one, which she actually filled in with paint instead of colored markers. I always wanted to be the sort of artsy person who would spend the time creating beautiful art in my Bible, so when the opportunity to review this Bible came up (and I saw how beautiful it already was, just from the outside!) I jumped at the opportunity.

Unfortunately, I was smacked with the realization that I am not actually an artsy person and, just as I found when I tried out adult coloring books, no amount of cool props is going to help me.

So what follows is a couple pictures of the little bit of coloring I did do, plus the front page of a book so you can see the sort of artwork that is in it for you to potentially color. The pages seem pretty good, I didn't notice any bleed-through, and it's such a pretty Bible in person I really am very sad I'm not more dedicated to making it even prettier.





By the way, you may also be interested to know that the "Catholic" part of the title means that there are some extra books in this Bible, which I discovered after a very confused googling session are deuterocanonical books that Protestant Bibles don't have. Growing up a Protestant Christian I was never exposed to them, so it was interesting to see them here.

If you're Catholic (or just don't mind the deuterocanonical books) and looking for a journal Bible, then this is a beautiful choice to consider. Just be sure you are actually the sort of person who will use it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible: Pink from Thomas Nelson, 2018

Click to view
on Goodreads 
The pink Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible is sure to be a hit with girls! This fabulous material is on everything from pillows to t-shirts. The "mermaid" sequins change color right before your eyes. Girls will love the design and will want to carry the Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible everywhere!

This 
Sequin Sparkle and Change Bible features a cover with pink sequins that change color depending on which way your child swipes. It's double the fun! It's perfect for kids ages 6 to 10 to take to Sunday school, read with the family, or study on their own.

The ICB, the first Bible translation created specifically for children, is easy for children to read and understand with a third-grade reading level and is typeset in a large, readable font. The Bible text is set in ten-point type, with bold in-text subject heads that help kids easily find the passages they are looking for. Also included are boldface words that correspond with a dictionary and concordance entry to explain word definitions. A great new feature in this updated setting is more than 300 key verses that are highlighted throughout the Bible for kids to read and learn. The beautifully illustrated insert pages are in a style that children love and will delight their imaginations, including topics such as:

A Bible timeline
A presentation page
A place to keep favorite Bible verses
Bible maps
Articles on topics such as how Jesus loves them, knowing Jesus better, and how to pray, etc.
Your little girl will love herSequin Sparkle and Change Bible!

(1,312 pages)

Okay, I have to admit that I haven't exactly read this book cover to cover. I mean, I've read the whole Bible before, but not this particular one. In fact, I really haven't spent much time reading this Bible at all, other than to flip it open and see that it does, indeed, contain the text of the Bible and that the font is a pretty good size. I assume the ICB translation is a nice one for kids.

But just because I didn't read much of this particular copy doesn't mean that I didn't keep it very near me for a while. I did, in fact. Why? Because those sequins are just so addictive! I could sit there and run my fingers over the front of the book, turning the picture from light pink (almost matching the rest of the cover) to the hearts design and back again over and over. It's such a soothing feeling on the fingers.

It wasn't just me, either. My siblings (including one of my brothers!) kept trying to steal it just to sit with it and run their fingers through the sequins. It's a strange thing, but it's strangely addictive. And I suspect that's a very good feature for a Bible to have, because the longer a kid spends stroking their Bible the greater the correlations they grow in their head between happy sensations and the Good Book. Then, at some point, some adult can actually open the book for them and help them read it.

I very much recommend getting a copy of this Bible, in whatever color best suits your needs, either for yourself or for a child in your life. If you do give it to a kid, though, just be aware that it will probably become a bit worse for wear over time.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz, 2019

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Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning—together.
(400 pages)

I have fairly mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's a fluffy escapist romance novel half set in Scotland, one of my favorite countries, and highlights an immigration perspective (Scottish prisoners exiled to America) that I hadn't yet had the pleasure to explore.

But then on the other hand it's quite cheesy, and character actions are fairly unrealistic and/or overly convenient to the plot at times. Plus the descriptions of Scotland are beautiful but don't really ring true to my own experiences living in a small Scottish town (though I'm sure a university town would have different vibes from an island). And–most painfully to read–Magnus falls into a fairly awful "white savior" role as the manager of a slave plantation.

Obviously all of these crimes are not equal. I list them more in the order of occurrence, because I became more and more frustrated with the story as it progressed. By the time Magnus was getting the slave plantation in order, I wasn't invested enough to be as horrified as I otherwise would have been.

I hate to sound so negative, because I actually did pass a few peaceful hours reading the book. I was rooting for the main characters to get together already, and I genuinely liked the new angle on the familiar immigration story that Frantz took, even if she didn't stick the landing every single time. I also really loved a later storyline where Lark sort of adopts an orphaned baby on the ship over, because it's a super sweet (if ocasionally over-milked) storyline.

But, setting aside the gasp-inducing slave plantation storyline which was problematic for obvious reasons, the parts that I found most disappointing were the Scottish depictions. For one thing, it was really obvious to my ear that Frantz is an American. I can't point to any wording in particular, but there's just a certain pattern of speech that was missing from the dialogue as well as the narration. I was also a bit sad to see Edinburgh so completely written off as "a big ugly city," because in my experience it's one of the nicest cities on the planet. I do realize that it was a different time and Lark is a very different person from myself, though, so I can just about let that one go.

The other major authenticity issue I have with the book has to do with alcohol. Namely, both of the main characters seem to feel like drinking might not be a very moral thing to do. Now I'm not sure exactly what time period this is supposed to be set in, and it is true that there was a fairly brief period in time when temperance had some supporters in Scotland, but Frantz did not get across just what a massive part of Scottish culture drinking really is. It's practically a national pastime around here. I seriously doubt that two random Scottish people, almost completely isolated from any society but that of a bunch of rural islanders in an alcohol-fueled society, would feel any compunction to avoid it in any way. I suspect it's more Frantz superimposing her own moral compass onto her characters, which is fine I guess but just pulls away a bit from the authenticity.

Anyway, all in all it's a pretty mixed bag. There were aspects I loved and others I . . . well, didn't, If you've read my review and still want to read it, go for it and let me know in the comments so we can compare notes. Otherwise, I think you can pretty safely skip A Bound Heart and continue on your way.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100 Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson, 2019

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The sequel to Jonas Jonasson’s international bestseller The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

It all begins with a hot air balloon trip and three bottles of champagne. Allan and Julius are ready for some spectacular views, but they’re not expecting to land in the sea and be rescued by a North Korean ship, and they could never have imagined that the captain of the ship would be harbouring a suitcase full of contraband uranium, on a nuclear weapons mission for Kim Jong-un …

Soon Allan and Julius are at the centre of a complex diplomatic crisis involving world figures from the Swedish foreign minister to Angela Merkel and President Trump. Things are about to get very complicated …

(448 pages)

I am going to start by stating that I haven't read the first book, so I have no frame of reference to compare it to. And also I have no idea what might be a spoiler. So consider yourself warned.

I chose to read The Accidental Further Adventures because it looked like a fun, wandering book that just sort of made jokes with all the most serious political situations going on. Some irreverent fun sounded exactly like what I needed, honestly. I'm pretty sick of serious politics.

And at first, that's what it was. I was a bit put off by the occasional foul language, but moving beyond that (and ignoring the backwardness of these men's moral compasses), I rather enjoyed the first bit. It was fun to see them stumble into North Korea and figure out a way to slip back out. The sense of humor isn't entirely my style, but I still found it humorous and enjoyed watching things play out.

Really, I stopped enjoying it as soon as they get to America. When President Trump appeared and acted like an utter imbecile, I got uncomfortable. When the gag is stretched out, and everyone keeps agreeing that it's best to keep him in the dark about everything, and a massive political issue is basically just shoved under the table to Angela Merkel and the Europeans are basically like "it's better to just sort this among ourselves," that's when I went from uncomfortable to offended. I put the book down and googled, and sure enough, the author is a Swede. And I'm always happy to read books from diverse perspectives. I'm all for getting the international angle on things. Thus the fact that I am typing this in my Scottish dorm room. But I get enough smug Europeans looking down their noses at American politics during the day, I don't need it in my literature as well.

And really, I started skimming from that point on. I dipped back in when they got invested in a coffin painting business, because that was an interesting quirky storyline, but that quickly soured for me as well once the extended plot device/gag about an order for a Nazi graffiti coffin started. I'm sorry, I just can't get behind the use of literal Nazism and white supremacy for a quirky plot device. And I realize that may just be the difference in American vs Swedish senses of humor, but for me it was the last straw. I skipped to the end and was done.

I do not recommend this book. I did not really enjoy this book. But if you have read my review and think that none of the things I've mentioned would bother you, then go ahead and read it. See what you think for yourself. Maybe let me know in the comments if you get something out of it that I don't.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Spin by Lamar Giles, 2019

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Sixteen-year-old Paris Secord's (aka DJ ParSec) career--and life--has come to an untimely end, and the local music scene is reeling. No one is feeling the pain more than her shunned pre-fame best friend, Kya, and Paris's chief groupie, Fuse. But suspicion trumps grief, and since each suspects the other of Paris's murder, they're locked in a high-stakes game of public accusations and sabotage.

Everyone in the ParSec Nation (DJ ParSec's local media base)--including the killer--is content to watch it play out, until Kya and Fuse discover a secret: Paris was on the verge of major deal that would've catapulted her to superstar status on a national level, leaving her old life (and old friends) behind. With the new info comes new motives. New suspects. And a fandom that shows its deadly side. As Kya and Fuse come closer to the twisted truth, the killer's no longer amused. But murdering Paris was simple enough, so getting rid of her nobody-friends shouldn't be an issue...

(400 pages)

I think it's pretty well-established on this site that I am a fan of murder mysteries. Usually Agatha Christie's novels are my poison of choice (pun intended), but I'm always game to try out new authors. I am often very interested to see how different books approach the mysteries from different angles, either focusing on the personality of the victim or on the character of the detective or just treating the mystery as a puzzle to be solved as an intellectual pursuit.

Spin takes an interesting approach by making the two main characters be the victim's current and ex-best friend, who don't like each other and in fact begin a social media war in the aftermath of her death. We learn more and more about Paris's story as the book goes on, and it's very interesting to see the process of ascending to fame and the pain and torn relationships that came with it. All of the characters in Spin are multi-dimensional, and the story is full of nuance. I really appreciated that.

I also liked watching the social media and technological aspect of the story, because Giles does a good job really making it feel like a realistic aftermath of the murder of a celebrity. There are some aspects of the dark web that seem to be pushing reality a smidge, but overall the details about Paris's fans, her social media presence, and the issues with her publicist, all seem very honest.

At this point I have to be honest: it's been a few months since I read the book, so I can't comment much more on the details or language. I do know that the story and characters have stayed with me much better than those of many other books do, so I can vouch that it's a fairly memorable book. Overall, I remember having some issues with it (and getting really ticked off at Paris at one point, though again that's part of the realism of the book I suppose). At the end of the day, it was a compelling and entertaining read that I enjoyed having access to. If you want to read it, I say go for it!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Get Weird: Discovering the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference by CJ Casciotta, 2018

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Most of us grow up believing it's more important to fit in than to stand out. But there's something different about you...and it matters.

What if your weirdness was the key to changing everything? What if the outrageous, imaginative, crazy ideas that live inside your wildest dreams are actually there on purpose, divinely preinstalled to help others?

Knowing what makes you weird is the best thing you can offer your art, your business, your friends, your family, and yourself. It's the essence of creativity, the stuff of movements, and the hope for humanity. It's time to quit painting by numbers, conforming to patterns, and checking off boxes. It's time to GET WEIRD.

(241 pages)

I find that self-help type books are often a mixed bag. Sometimes, the author is just kind of obnoxious and pushy with their advice and it's not fun to read. Other times, the book is full of so many slightly irrelevant anecdotes that it feels like it's not really going anywhere, and that someone just needed to plump up their page count.

I'm happy to report that Get Weird does not fall into the usual traps of other books like it. It does have anecdotes, yes, but each chapter actually has a distinct point about standing out, following your passion, being your true self, etc., so the stories never feel boring or repetitive. Plus, they're all such interesting (and often personal) stories that I actually enjoyed reading them and cared about Casciotta's point.

I think the bottom line with these books is that you'll only enjoy them if you "click" with the author. By that I mean that you feel like they're a normal, decent person with some pretty good advice and you'd probably like to be friends with them in real life. I think, overall, that this is the vibe that I got from Casciotta. He never sets himself up apart from the rest of us, and in fact some of his stories (including breaking his ankle trying to jump a moving train!) are pretty embarrasing for him. I love that he doesn't stick to wagging his finger at others.

As for the core tenent of the book–"Get Weird!"–I like the idea, but I'm honestly not sure what my weirdness might be. I don't have any random passions (besides reading and history, neither of which are all that out of the ordinary). My quirks don't seem that useful either, but maybe I'm just missing something. Anyway, I was pretty inspired by Casciotta and I enjoyed reading the book. If you're interested, definitely give it a go!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis by Paul B. Janeczko, 2019

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What do set design, sound effects, and showmanship have to do with winning World War II? Meet the Ghost Army that played a surprising role in helping to deceive -- and defeat -- the Nazis.

In his third book about deception during war, Paul B. Janeczko focuses his lens on World War II and the operations carried out by the Twenty-Third Headquarters Special Troops, aka the Ghost Army. This remarkable unit included actors, camouflage experts, sound engineers, painters, and set designers who used their skills to secretly and systematically replace fighting units -- fooling the Nazi army into believing what their eyes and ears told them, even though the sights and sounds of tanks and war machines and troops were entirely fabricated. Follow the Twenty-Third into Europe as they play a dangerous game of enticing the German army into making battlefield mistakes by using sonic deceptions, inflatable tanks, pyrotechnics, and camouflage in more than twenty operations. From the Normandy invasion to the crossing of the Rhine River, the men of the Ghost Army -- several of whom went on to become famous artists and designers after the war -- played an improbable role in the Allied victory.

(304 pages)

Okay, this is actually really funny. When I read Secret Soldiers, I made a mental note to mention another book that I read for review last year which was what first taught me about the role of deception in wars, including World War II. I just looked it back up, and it's called Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War (here's my review).

The funny part? It was also written by Janeczko! The man clearly has a focused passion for deception tactics in combat, which is a strangely specific topic, but I said in my review of Double Cross that I learned a lot from reading it and enjoyed myself in the process and I would say that holds roughly true for Secret Soldiers as well.

It was a bit harder to keep track of all the moving parts since the Twenty-Third was split into several smaller groups that specialized in different parts of the deception (building the dummies, playing the audio sounds, etc.). It almost became a bit tedious at times, too, since several of their missions basically consisted of showing up, getting all set up, and then leaving pretty soon afterwards. And then, because of miscommunication with the regular soldiers they were working with, they were often not deployed where they could be the most helpful so all of their efforts may or may not have actually done anything.

There were certainly some times when they definitely made a difference, though, and it was cooler to learn about those. And I appreciated Janeczko's thoroughness, for the sake of a complete history book, even if it didn't all thrill me.

He does a good job of including details about all the people in the Twenty-Third. There were so many people who would go on to be famous artists, or actors, and he gives many of them their own inserts so we get to learn their unique stories alongside the story of the "Ghost Army" as a mass.

All in all, this is a well-researched and cohesive book that will be perfect for some readers, and perhaps a bit dry for others. If you're at all interested in the Ghost Army, though, then this is definitely a great place to start.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Something Worth Saving by Sandi Ward, 2019

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A boy and his cat. It's an unconventional friendship, perhaps, but for Charlie and Lily, it works beautifully. It was Charlie who chose Lily from among all the cats in the shelter. He didn't frown, the way other humans did, when he saw her injured back leg, the legacy of a cruel previous owner. Instead, Charlie insisted on rescuing her. Now Lily wants to do the same for Charlie.

She's the only one who's seen the bruises on Charlie's body. If she knew who was hurting him, she'd scratch their eyes out. But she can't fix this by herself. Lily needs to get the rest of the family to focus on Charlie--not easy when they're wrapped up in their own problems. Charlie's mother kicked his father out weeks ago and has a new boyfriend who seems charming, but is still a stranger. Oldest son Kevin misses his father desperately. Victoria, Charlie's sister, also has someone new in her life, and Lily is decidedly suspicious. Even Charlie's father, who Lily loves dearly, is behaving strangely.

Lily knows what it's like to feel helpless. But she also knows that you don't always have to be the biggest or the strongest to fight fiercely for the ones you love . . .

(309 pages)

I hate to quit a book before I've finished it, but once in a while I just can't make myself get through a book. This is one of those times.

I like the premise: the story of a dysfunctional, separated family is told through the eyes of the family cat. Unfortunately, right out the gate I took a disliking to the narration. It's cute, the idea of having a cat tell the story, but Lily is the most un-cat-like cat I've ever read about. She acts more like a dog than the family dog does, honestly, and it's really disorienting.

I was willing to brush that aside, though, so I kept reading. I actually made it about 2/3 through the book. I pushed past the growing implication that Charlie was gay and the bad language, interested in the nuanced portrayals of Charlie's father (a hero and a cop who was injured and developed a crippling addiction to alcohol) and Victoria's boyfriend (a bad boy who is a real, flawed, hurt person who sometimes enjoys hurting others).

Then Charlie's mother slept with someone, and Lily was observing the whole thing. And describing their dialogue and everything. And that was it.

So I put the book down, and I'm not planning on picking it back up. I'd hardly recommend anyone else reads it either, which is a shame because there actually was a very strong core story about the different stories of all the people in the house as it was being torn apart. It's a nuanced tale, just such an explicit one, and it could have been so much greater.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully, 2019

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This illuminating biography reveals how the daughter of Lord Byron, Britain's most infamous Romantic poet, became the world's first computer programmer.

Even by 1800s standards, Ada Byron Lovelace had an unusual upbringing. Her strict mother worked hard at cultivating her own role as the long-suffering ex-wife of bad-boy poet Lord Byron while raising Ada in isolation. Tutored by the brightest minds, Ada developed a hunger for mental puzzles, mathematical conundrums, and scientific discovery that kept pace with the breathtaking advances of the industrial and social revolutions taking place in Europe. At seventeen, Ada met eccentric inventor Charles Babbage, a kindred spirit. Their ensuing collaborations resulted in ideas and concepts that presaged computer programming by almost two hundred years, and Ada Lovelace is now recognized as a pioneer and prophet of the information age. Award-winning author Emily Arnold McCully opens the window on a peculiar and singular intellect, shaped -- and hampered -- by history, social norms, and family dysfunction. The result is a portrait that is at once remarkable and fascinating, tragic and triumphant.

(176 pages)

As a girl studying computer science, I have become more and more aware of Ada Lovelace's name over the past few years. Going into Dreaming in Code, I knew that she was considered one of the forebears of computer science, and that she had worked alongside a man named Charles Babbage to develop an early prototype.

Those facts, I've found, are only partially right. I have to admit that I'm not as impressed with her as I hoped I'd be. Ada Lovelace was a very intelligent woman, with a passion for math and engineering, who basically kept up a correspondence with Babbage while he was working on his inventions. She was remarkable in her ability to comprehend the complex working of his machines and his ideas, in a time when almost no one else did, but the only real advancement that she herself ever really made in the field was her series of observations about Babbage's machines in the end notes of a translation she did of L. F. Menabrea's "Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage." It's pretty cool to read the very first algorithm, in Note G, and to see her use the concepts of looping and branching that we still use all the time in programming today. But other than that, and an assertion that computers can only ever do what we already know how to program them how to do (something which has been contested since Alan Turing, and which machine learning has certainly destroyed), she really didn't do much else for computing.

I hate to say it, because I loved the idea of learning about this kick-butt woman defying all the odds to become the mother of computing, but it sounds like Babbage was actually much more dedicated, productive, and, frankly, important to the history of computing. Lovelace got obsessed with Babbage's work and was a good sounding board for him, and she certainly made some important leaps of logic that he might not have been able to find, but I don't really see why her work is considered so pivotal. If she hadn't been involved, it sounds like computers still would have developed just fine.

Anyway, I'm sorry I come across so negative in this review. I'm just disappointed that the famed Ada Lovelace I've heard so much about didn't quite live up to the hype. But anyway, I did really like this book which took a practical, chronological approach to describing her life. I recommend it for anyone interested in her work, though I do have to warn you that it may not be suitable for children. There are quite a few references to infidelity, both on the part of Ada's father, Lord Byron (quite egregiously) and, to a much lesser extent, Ada herself. There is also a mention of the rumors that Byron fathered a girl with his own half-sister, which is just so yuck. Also, this isn't so inappropriate but still very frustrating, her mother was a completely narcissistic controlling monster who didn't even tell Ada that her father was Lord Byron until she was an adult. So there's that.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, 2018

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A moving, poetic narrative and child-friendly illustrations follow the heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful journey of a little girl who is forced to become a refugee.

The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

Imagine if, on an ordinary day, after a morning of studying tadpoles and drawing birds at school, war came to your town and turned it to rubble. Imagine if you lost everything and everyone, and you had to make a dangerous journey all alone. Imagine that there was no welcome at the end, and no room for you to even take a seat at school. And then a child, just like you, gave you something ordinary but so very, very precious. In lyrical, deeply affecting language, Nicola Davies's text combines with Rebecca Cobb's expressive illustrations to evoke the experience of a child who sees war take away all that she knows.
(32 pages)


This book arrived the day I left for college in September, so it's taken me a while to get back and get around to reviewing it. My parents and sister did read it, though, and they reported over FaceTime that they found it actually kind of hilarious–hilariously depressing, that is. My sister actually read the whole book to me while I was in the airport, half laughing at it the whole time.

It's not that my family takes pleasure from the pain of children, or that my sister actually thinks the book was meant to be a humorous one. The Day War Came is a very sad story about a girl whose entire world is destroyed, and who struggles to find a place to belong because people don't care about immigrants. Davies is very much making a statement with this book, and she tells a gritty, depressing story to make that statement.

And I think that's what my sister–and I–find so ridiculous about this book: it's a picture book. It's written for kids who barely know how to read. Each page has just a few lines for a child to potentially struggle through on their own. And yet the story it tells is not really age-appropriate for children that small, nor is the tone one that they would enjoy. I can very easily see this book (supported by Help Refugees) traumatising children in its target audience, and for what? Toddlers have absolutely no control over immigration, and stories like this are only going to upset them (or, at best, bore them). And the political agenda is so blatant that it's definitely not going to convince anyone to change their stance on immigration. I suppose the best to hope for is that it might soften the parent's behavior toward an immigrant child they might meet someday?

As an example of the tonal issue, I flipped to a random page and found a picture of the protagonist kneeling in the rubble of her destroyed home. Ash rises to the sky, lumps of rubble surround her, and the words on the two page layout are as follows:
I can't say the words that tell you / about the blackened hole / that had been my home.
All I can say is this: / War took everything. / War took everyone. / I was ragged, bloody, all alone.
I surely can't be the only one, politics aside, who has no interest in reading this to any child, ever.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
 
 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Another D for DeeDee by Bibi Belford, 2018

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Life for Dinora Diaz, DeeDee for short, is full of D's. Missing her dad, who's disappeared. Being diagnosed with diabetes. Feeling dumb in fourth grade at her new school, which she transferred into--leaving behind Sandro Zapote and all her other friends in Miss Hamilton's class--after her family's trailer burned down. It's so many D's that DeeDee's sure she'll never really fit in, much less find the perfect best friend she's always wanted.

Then DeeDee meets River. He's a lot like her: River loves skateboarding, art, and dancing, just like she does, and he misses his dad, too. But they're also different: while DeeDee's still struggling to adjust to life with diabetes and has sworn off her Mexican heritage to get back at her dad for leaving, River seems to have totally adjusted to--even learned to love--being deaf. River promises to help search for DeeDee's dad and to compete with her in the spring skateboard exhibition at their local skate park. Finally, DeeDee has something to look forward to.

But when River transfers into DeeDee's fourth grade class, DeeDee makes a huge mistake, putting not just the exhibition, but her entire friendship with River, on the line. Now she has to make a choice: stand up to her classmates and accept being an outsider, or give up her best friend for good? To keep the best friend she's always wanted, DeeDee will have to learn to love difference--not just River's, but also her own.

(208 pages)

Last year, I read Belford's Crossing the Line last year and really loved it. She dealt very sensitively and thoughtfully with the race issues of the early twentieth century through the eyes of a white boy who befriended a black boy and his family.

That's why I was interested to read her latest novel, Another D for DeeDee. This one is set in the present day, and actually manages to impressively mimic the lifestyle of modern kids (communicating by text and everything). It touches on racism lightly, since DeeDee is Mexican-America, but DeeDee also struggles with the aftermath of a fire, living in a trailer park, fitting in at a new school, finding out where her father has gone, and dealing with her new diagnosis of diabetes.

It's a lot of content to smush into a book written for a younger audience, but once again Belford manages to keep the story humming along engagingly. Even though I normally would have gotten so disgusted with DeeDee's bad behavior (especially toward River) that I would have come away from the book with a bad taste in my mouth, somehow Belford manages to keep DeeDee a sympathetic and relatable character. In fact, the reader also learns from DeeDee's bad behvior: Belford makes an excellent point that sometimes mistakes must be forgiven–and that real people are full of nuances, not all good or all bad.

There are too many things going on in this book to go through all of them, but one story aspect I really resonated with was DeeDee and River's conversations about representation. When DeeDee says she might want to enter the talent show as a skateboarder, her nurse is thrilled because she will be a representative of kids with diabetes, showing how her condition is not holding her back. DeeDee is very uncomfortable with this, and indeed spends some time worrying that she could win the competition for her diabetes, because the judges feel sorry for her or want to seem inclusive, rather than because of her actual talent. She doesn't want it to define her. River also grapples with the fine line between personal achievement, representation/paving the way, and handouts.

It's a fascinating question, dealt with in a pretty thoughtful way. I have some very limited experience with these sorts of questions because I am a girl in computer science. There are a lot of extra resources for encouraging women in technology, including special workshops and networking events and even internships. I have always been uncomfortable about taking advantage of these opportunities, and have largely turned them down, because I don't like the idea of getting special help just because of my gender. I can definitely relate to DeeDee and River's thoughts on the topic, and watching them explore the issue actually helped me some.

Anyway, Bibi Belford is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Do go back and read Crossing the Line, then read Another D for DeeDee, then join me in waiting for her next book. I'm sure it also will be an engaging and thought-provoking read!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Second-Chance Dogs by Callie Smith, 2018

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Everyone loves an underdog, and nothing gives us warmer feelings than seeing someone get a second chance in life. A problem pup who flourishes under the right kind of training. The struggling veteran who finds unconditional love wiggling around at the end of a leash. The lonely child who finds comfort in the steady breathing of the warm, furry friend at her side. Each of us needs to be rescued from something--and each of us has the capacity to rescue someone, or something, else.

This collection of more than thirty contemporary, true, feel-good stories spotlights the beauty of being rescued--dogs rescued by people, people rescued by dogs, and even dogs who rescue other animals. It's the perfect companion--well, besides the four-legged, tail-wagging kind--for your morning cup of coffee or an evening curled up on the couch. Contributors include Susy Flory, Dusty Rainbolt, Lauraine Snelling, Melody Carlson, Wanda Dyson, Suzanne Woods Fisher, and many more.

(224 pages)

I'm a huge sucker for sappy stories about amazing animals, especially about dogs. That's why I always jump at the opportunity to review books like this, which tell stories about great dogs.

What this book does different from similar books I've read, however, is it focuses on sweet redemption stories about dogs who were rescues or rehomed, showing how they went on to live rewarding lives or help a human through a rough time in their life. There are no stories about dogs saving their families from fires, or preventing snake attacks. These are stories instead about dogs who helped their family deal with grief (after the loss of both human and canine family members), or became constant companions to lonely people, or simply added a bright spot to someone's life.

On one hand, I really like these more humble, personal stories. These are the stories of dogs like my own Daisy, a Boxer who passed away a few months ago. Daisy was no miracle dog, she never saved any of us from anything worse than a baby bird she once accidentally caught (and then immediately released), but she was a smart and loving member of our family and we all miss her very much. Some of the stories of the dogs in this collection made me tear up a bit, actually, because either the dogs reminded me of Daisy or their loving stories reminded me how amazing it is to have a dog in your family.

My only real complaint about the book is that, at times, the stories are so everyday that I almost began to wonder why they were published. And a few of the dogs didn't really seem like rescue dogs–they were adopted as puppies off the internet, or from friends who had planned to buy them but had plans fall through at the last minute. I think the author wanted to include stories from as many famous people as possible, whether or not their stories really fit the narrative of the book or not. I don't mind too much, since the stories are still pretty sweet, but it's just something that stuck out to me while I was reading through them.

There are flashier books out there, but if you're looking for a collection of sweet stories about sweet dogs, then this should be right up your alley.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.