Friday, March 29, 2013


DAISY'S DEFINING DAY by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Susan Mitchell: I read this early chapter book with my six-year-old daughter. We read alternating pages to each other. Daisy loves words. She keeps a journal with lists of her favorite rhyming words, cloud words, perfectly paired words, and more. One word pair she does NOT like was discovered by Grant: Lazy Daisy. She loathes this nickname. Meanwhile, Daisy is delighted when her teacher introduces the class to alliteration. She is inspired to create a new name for herself, one so delightful that it will overshadow the hated "Lazy Daisy." She hits on "Dynamite Dramatic Determined Dazzling Daisy," and requests that everyone call her that from now on. Her parents are good-natured about this (her father asks her to write it down so he can remember it) and her best friend, Emma, is willing (although Daisy notices Emma talks to her less when she has to use the long version of her name). In the end, Daisy sees the usefulness of a short, easy to remember name.

The wordplay in this book is just fun. At the end of the book, Daisy's word lists are included. Daisy's desire to be called something other than Lazy Daisy is understandable, and her alliterative adventure to find the perfect name is charming. When she realizes that her long name is causing problems, she rethinks it. She also has a younger sister, Lily, and patiently teaches her to ride a bicycle, a sweet addition to the story. Grant's selection of Lazy Daisy as a nickname also opens up discussion about name-calling and nicknames (Grant does not mean to be insulting to Daisy). An excellent chapter book for early readers.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday can be found right here.

Movies have a rating system to help guide the consumer weed out adult/violent/inappropriate kinds of films. Video games do, too. Do you think BOOKS should have a ratings system?

I really, really don't. I believe that parents should pay attention to their children's reading, and in some cases screen (a friend once asked me, "How old do you think a girl should be to read Twilight?" and I replied, "About 28") and definitely discuss, but I don't like the "slap a rating on it" approach. It oversimplifies. And in the case of the MPAA, let's look at the ridiculousness of a bit of nudity warranting a stricter rating than, say, a character gunning down dozens of people. I think that parents should be tuned in to what their children are reading, but I don't know that a rating system is at all helpful. There have been books I've picked up without knowing they were Christian fiction, and I wished there had been a warning label, so I do think an accurate synopsis/teaser is a good thing. My daughter is only six, but as she gets older and reads more independently, I plan to keep an eye on her reading, not to censor, but to ensure we discuss complex issues that may come up. I don't see how an outside agency's opinion really helps me do that.

Picture Book Thursday

WILLOW FINDS A WAY by Lana Button, illustrated by Tania Howells: Kristabelle is a bully. She makes a list of invitees to her fabulous birthday party and then makes demands, crossing names off her list when they fail to act according to her whims. Willow is not immediately the target of Kristabelle's bullying, but she knows she should say something when Kristabelle is mean to her friends. But she's so excited about the birthday party, and she doesn't want her name crossed out! Eventually, Willow finds a creative way to stand up to Kristabelle, who learns an important lesson.

This is a sweet picture book about bullying. Having Willow as a bystander makes for a great discussion with your child about excluding others and standing up when someone else is being bullied. My six-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed this thoughtful look at bullying.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I read this aloud to my six-year-old daughter after we read and loved LULU AND THE DOG FROM THE SEA. This is actually the first in the series. McKay has created the perfect series for young animal lovers. Lulu's adventures with a duck egg she rescues in the park were just as delightful as her encounters with the dog on her family's beach vacation. In this book, a distressing loose dog incident while Lulu's class is at the park results in smashed duck eggs everywhere. Lulu finds one intact egg and smuggles it back to class. Her teacher doesn't share her fondness for animals and makes the threat that if one more animal is brought into the classroom, the class guinea pig will be swapped for another class's stick insects. So Lulu is in a quandary; she cannot abandon the egg, but she fears getting caught and losing the class guinea pig.

Lulu is a sweet child who wants to help animals, and her care of the duck egg is charming. The somewhat traumatic event at the beginning of the book gives way to a perfect resolution.

My review of LULU AND THE DOG FROM THE SEA is right here.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

March 26: Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most


I read this book aloud to my six-year-old daughter, and we both enjoyed it. Tilly has moved into an drafty old mansion, far from her friends, and her mother is on bedrest for pregnancy complications. Tilly is having a difficult time, so when she is led by a fox to an enchanted garden, she makes a den for herself and befriends Helen, the girl she meets there. TILLY'S MOONLIGHT GARDEN is nothing short of magical. The blurring of what is real and what is in Tilly's imagination is beautifully executed, giving an aura of otherworldliness to the entire novel. Tilly plays with Helen by moonlight, and slowly makes a daytime friend at school. She frets about her mother: will her mother ever be well again? Will she really have a healthy baby?

Tilly's struggles are stressful for a child: an ill parent, a new school, loneliness. The moonlight garden soothes her and makes her daytime life bearable. There is no big realization on her part about reality versus imagination, but that just keeps the story more magical.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"Was kissing her Will's way of making sure she didn't forget him while he was gone? Or was he marking his territory before he left town? Only one of those options was flattering."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Not much Dorothy to say "farewell" to

FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER by Ellen Meister turns out to be chick lit. I'm starting this review with a disclaimer that chick lit is not normally what I read. It is possible that this is wonderful for chick lit. I was drawn to this title by the promise of Dorothy Parker's influence on a modern movie critic, Violet Epps, who is witty and confident in print, but a disaster in real life. Doesn't that sound fun? The book promises that the spirit of Dorothy Parker will help Violet find her voice and blah blah blah. At the same time, Dorothy Parker will blah blah blah until she is finally ready to go toward the light and blah blah blah.

Where do I start? I disliked Violet. No, 'dislike' is too strong a word. I didn't particularly care about Violet, because she's not a fully realized character. She has a few "defining moments" in her past that are summarized for the reader, which I believe are meant to evoke sympathy. The explanation for her social anxiety is facile and, frankly, insulting, and a genuine depiction of a character suffering from such would have been much more sympathetic. Instead, we have a tacked-on reason why the "heroine" has so much trouble asserting herself outside her movie reviews, and naturally, she must confront that "reason" before the end of the novel and blah blah blah. At one point, Violet is reviewing a sappy film and comments, "I said a little prayer I save for these moments: Please, surprise me. In fact, I wound up saying that prayer about a dozen times during this movie. It was never answered." I could not have said it better myself. The premise of this novel had such promise, but instead of being caught in a refreshing breeze, I had to plod against the current of its predictability to finally, thankfully, reach the predictable end.

Violet has so much going on in her life. Her only sister died a year before. She is involved in a custody battle for Delaney, her thirteen-year-old niece. Her boyfriend is a jackass. She has a lame backstory to explain her social anxiety. A new intern at work is out to get her. I can see why she needs Dorothy's help. But even with Dorothy coaching her, Violet is reluctant to stand up for herself, long past the point of believability. I'm surprised Dorothy didn't tell her to grow a pair (or some more 1920s-ish idiom) and stop wasting her time. When Violet finally throws over the jackass boyfriend, I was relieved rather than triumphant. Check that box off the list of requisite plot developments and move on to the next one. Her plot with Dorothy to gain custody of Delaney is briefly a bright spot in the book: "'You simply explain to him that if he and his darling, long-suffering wife don't drop the case, you will have no choice but to tell her about the affair.' 'That's almost blackmail,' Violet said. 'No, my dear. That is blackmail.'" Then we go back to the main point of the book: Violet needs a better boyfriend. Yes, that's what I want to teach my daughter: become a strong woman so you can dump the jerk and get a nice man.

If you're drawn to this title as a Dorothy Parker fan (as I was), I suggest skipping it and rereading some of Parker's writings and Meade's biography WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? The Dorothy in this book, along with every other character, is sketched lightly with a number two pencil and colored strictly within the lines. I was (obviously) disappointed in this novel's lack of depth, but since I don't really read chick lit, I'm not sure if that's a genre failure or particular to this novel.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

THE DRAGON TURN by Shane Peacock

I really enjoyed the previous book in this series, THE SECRET FIEND, but this, the fifth in the "Boy Sherlock Holmes" series, seemed long to me. It simply lacked the tension that kept me turning pages in THE SECRET FIEND, and I found myself setting it aside to read other books. In this installment, one magician (Hemsworth) is suspected of murdering another (Nottingham), who happened to have stolen his wife away. Only bits of Nottingham are found, and no one knows how Hemsworth did it. Against his resolve to stay out of detective matters until adulthood, Holmes agrees to look into the case at the prodding of Irene Doyle, who has been offered a chance to sing in Hemsworth's show.

The solution was telegraphed from the beginning, which accounts for some of the slack in the tension. Wondering what on earth happened is always more engaging than waiting to find I was right. This book was also heavy on the love-triangle angle, which isn't particularly interesting to me. Angsty teenaged Holmes infatuated with two very different young ladies just doesn't hold my interest.

Even if it isn't Peacock's best, young Holmes is still very readable, and I'll be reading the conclusion to the series, BECOMING HOLMES, next.

My review of THE SECRET FIEND is right here. Source disclosure: I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia. Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week and explore great book blogs. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

March's host is Caitlin @ Chaotic Compendium

Yippee! I received an e-galley of the new Karin Slaughter (pub date 7/2/13)

Lilah and I received several e-galleys of children's books to review:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is probably my favorite living author (though, as a rule, I'm not prone to absolute statements - hence, "probably"), and while I've loved her last few books about Jackson Brodie (CASE HISTORIES was a revelation), they did not make me set down the book reverently after finishing the final page and wish I could read them again for the first time. They did not give me the feeling, page after page, that I was reading something extraordinary, something brilliant, possibly the author's best work. LIFE AFTER LIFE did. I would give almost anything to be able to read it again for the first time.

LIFE AFTER LIFE follows Ursula from the moment she is born (or not) on February 11, 1910. "'Ursula,' Sylvie said. 'I shall call her Ursula. It means little she-bear.'" The first time, the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, and she is stillborn. But this is not the only possibility. When the doctor arrives in time, he is able to save her. Will she survive the influenza epidemic? A child murderer? An abusive husband? The Blitz? Will she change the course of World War II (and the world)? Atkinson deftly weaves a story of infinite layers, going over and over the same pivotal events with a delicate brush, exploring how the tiniest of changes can have far-ranging effects on the future.

Ursula is born feeling the weight of these layers of possibilities. "The past was a jumble in her mind, not the straight line that it was for Pamela." She has memories or impressions of things that will happen, but she learns not to talk about them. She does, however, follow her instincts, acting with no apparent purpose, but for the whispers of her mind, the echoes of other possible worlds. Atkinson brutally repeats a story with nuance after nuance ending in tragedy. It's an extraordinary reading experience, to mourn at once in so many different ways, to hope in so many different ways.

This sounds confusing and hard to keep straight, but it isn't. Atkinson has managed to create a world in which many different realities are simultaneously true (what is true, really?) and layered so skillfully that they can coexist in the reader's mind.

I read LIFE AFTER LIFE on my Kindle, and I highlighted about a quarter of it. I really expected to write a tome of a review, but I'm too envious of first-time readers to say too much and spoil the experience.

Available April 2.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher. I will also be purchasing a hard copy.

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday can be found right here.

Happy Spring Equinox, everyone! What book are YOU choosing to celebrate with?

I actually don't change my reading based on time of year or holidays, for the most part. In summer, I find myself reading lighter fare, and I have Christmas favorites that come out annually, but spring doesn't have a set reading list for me. I'm continuing with the books I'm currently reading (and since there are more than usual - I generally read one at a time - perhaps that's an indication of spring restlessness).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

March 19: Top Ten Books I HAD To Buy...But Are Still Sitting On My Shelf Unread

I'm late to the party this week, but I didn't want to miss this topic. My "mood reading" means that often a book I couldn't wait to read ends up not fitting my mood by the time I get to it. Sometimes it's the second book from a debut author whose first novel I loved...and then I start reading reviews of book number two.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pure Magic

WEDNESDAYS IN THE TOWER by Jessica Day George: I read this to my six-year-old daughter and we were both enchanted. My daughter immediately asked for the first book in the series, TUESDAYS IN THE CASTLE, and I agreed we couldn't miss it. Celie is a princess in Castle Glower, a strange place that adds and subtracts rooms, mostly in accordance with the family's needs. Celie has been working hard on an atlas to keep the castle geography straight, and one day, she finds herself in an odd tower she's never seen before. And in the tower is an egg, which Celie hatches, finding herself caring for a baby griffin. The castle doesn't seem to want her parents to know about it (the door disappears when she so much as thinks about telling them), so she manages with the help of her brother, Bran, and his friend Pogue. The three embark on a research project to find out about the history of Castle Glower and griffins (which are thought to be purely mythical), but their project is compromised by the appearance of the shifty Wizard Harkower.

This was a delight to read aloud, a gentle fantasy that feels like an enduring classic. Celie is a thoughtful child, and (unlike many heroines of children's fantasy) her first instinct is to go to her parents for help with the griffin. It is only when the castle makes it clear that they must not know that she settles into raising the griffin in secret. Her siblings, Lilah, Rolf, and Bran, are fully realized secondary characters, and Pogue and Lulath charming nonfamily characters. What a magical read. Descriptions of Celie flying with her griffin are riveting, and her affection and care for the beast are charming. The castle is fascinating, its whimsical changes taking on a menacing air as more and more rooms appear for no reason. Celie's disappointment at being replaced as the castle's cartographer by an adult mapmaker rings true, and her panic at the difficulty of keeping a roaring, shoe-chewing griffin a secret is both funny and authentic.

Available May 7.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley from the publisher.

THE CUPCAKE CLUB: WINNER BAKES ALL by Sheryl Berk and Carrie Berk

I'm trying to avoid bad puns like "fluffy" and "confection" when describing this book, which I read aloud to my six-year-old daughter, but I'm not sure that's possible. This is the third in a series by a mother and her nine-year-old daughter, and the first my daughter and I read. I'm doubt that we'll seek out the first two books in the series, as we both pronounced WINNER BAKES ALL merely "okay."

Fifth-grader Sadie, a great soccer player, is struggling with math and anxious about her cupcake club/business's upcoming televised competition on BATTLE OF THE BAKERS. She's also worried about her parents, who are fighting constantly about money, and about the economy, which is taking its toll on the profits of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes. The girls (Sadie, Kylie, Lexi, and Jenna) work together very well and support each other. Since I wasn't familiar with the first two books and the background was dribbled out inefficiently, it took me a bit to get up to speed. The girls have a cupcake club under the advisement of Miss Juliette, the drama teacher at school, that is also a business. It's not a small business, either - one order of 250 cupcakes is supposed to bring in $1,200. I'm not really sure how elementary school students manage to keep up with running a business (not to mention health department issues with selling food made in a home kitchen), but my daughter enjoyed their brainstorming about cupcake ideas quite a bit. She had less patience with the "serious" issues given cursory treatment - Sadie's concern about her parents is repetitive, with Sadie hearing them fight about money and worrying about divorce until, at the end, her parents tell her she has nothing to worry about. Problem solved. The BATTLE OF THE BAKERS competition was cute. The other competitors are caricatures and PLC randomly brings in an extra friend to help them bake with the competition, but their brainstorming and careful execution of ideas are entertaining. Recipes included at the end are a nice bonus.

I'm not sure what tweeners would make of this book. My daughter and I are both outside the target audience for WINNER BAKES ALL, and she enjoyed it more than I did. There are many children's books that transcend their target audience and are a delight for adults to read, but this is not one of them. The divorce issue is a red herring that makes the book initially seem deeper than it is, and honestly, it would have been fine without that storyline. Divorce is a serious issue, and one that certainly concerns children, but it's not treated with any depth here. The same is true with the money problems - while Sadie seems to feel that making more money from cupcakes might help her family, what are the stakes, really, for a child-run business?

I'm giving this one three stars for the positive relationships among the girls and for the cupcake fun.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday can be found right here.

Does your current mood affect your reading? Affect your choices? I know there are plenty of books I enjoy, but only if Im in a particular kind of mood–or books that can lift me out of a bad mood without fail. Surely I’m not alone?

Oh, you are not alone. My mood and setting always affect my reading choices. There is comfort reading for tough times (the Harry Potter series, the Thursday Next series, Louise Penny). I'm rarely in the mood for memoirs, but I'm reading one now. I'm not sure what that mood is called - adventurous, since I'm branching from my norm? If I'm frazzled, I love the clarity of a murder mystery. If I'm pensive, I go for fantasy or science fiction. When I finish a book, I sometimes know immediately which book is next (after finishing LIFE AFTER LIFE, a very layered and melancholy book, I craved light fantasy), but I sometimes prowl through my bookshelves or through the Kindle list before I hit on just the right book. In some cases, I read the first few pages of several before hitting on the right read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

AFTERNOON OF THE ELVES by Janet Taylor Lisle

AFTERNOON OF THE ELVES was first published in 1989. I was twelve, so I missed this one. It was an excellent readaloud with my six-year-old daughter, and I think it would be a good read for any age. This rerelease includes "A Personal History of Janet Taylor Lisle" and a photo album at the end. Hillary isn't friends with Sara-Kate, the odd, shabbily dressed girl whose backyard abuts her own. But one day, Sara-Kate seeks Hillary out to show her the tiny village she claims elves built in the ruins of her trash-filled yard, and Hillary is enchanted. In fact, she suspects Sara-Kate herself may be an elf. Hillary's best friends warn her against Sara-Kate, but Hillary spends more and more time with her, until one day she discovers Sara-Kate's tragic secret.

This is an odd book, a bittersweet and ambiguous story with an ending that is either perfect or maddening, depending on your personality (I found it perfect; my daughter found it maddening: "But what HAPPENED, Mommy!?" It will be clear from early on to an adult reader (and older children) that Sara-Kate, though only a child, is the head of a shabby household, her mother unable to care for her. Because the story is told through Hillary's eyes, though, Lisle teases out the possibility that Sara-Kate is, in fact, an elf, and that there is magic afoot. And there is, in a way. When Sara-Kate is "rescued" (again, according to the reader's perspective), Hillary is devastated and shows her loyalty to her friend by caring for the elf village. There are so many layers to this story, and all of them with some level of tragedy and pain, that I was reminded of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, one of the books from my childhood that still haunts me. But where there is tragedy, there is hope. Was Sara-Kate a true friend, or was she using Hillary out of desperation? There's no way to be sure, but Hillary finds her own peace with the answer she constructs.

All this seems like heavy stuff to read to a six-year-old, but as it is couched in the language of elves and magic, it becomes relatable. My daughter concluded that Hillary's friends were being mean about Sara-Kate just because she's different, and she also understood that Sara-Kate had a very hard life. She was positive, though, that Sara-Kate had cared for Hillary - positive enough to convince me. The ultimate "what happened" question is thorny: Hillary doesn't view Sara-Kate as having been "rescued" from a dire, untenable situation, and so the reader doesn't either. My daughter and I talked a bit about why Hillary's mother reveals Sara-Kate's secret. Sometimes things are simply too much for a child to handle on her own.

A beautiful, tragic story. Highly recommended.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher.

Teaser Tuesday: CRAZY BRAVE

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I am currently reading CRAZY BRAVE: A MEMOIR by Joy Harjo. It is a beautiful book, exactly what one would hope for in a memoir from a poet. She shares her life through stories, poems, legends, and narrative, and I've highlighted particularly lush or evocative passages on practically every page.

"In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol."