Saturday, April 30, 2016

Kid Lit: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Goodreads Summary:
When fourteen-year-old William Kamkwamba's Malawi village was hit by a drought, everyone's crops began to fail. Without enough money for food, let alone school, William spent his days in the library . . . and figured out how to bring electricity to his village. Persevering against the odds, William built a functioning windmill out of junkyard scraps, and thus became the local hero who harnessed the wind. 

Lyrically told and gloriously illustrated, this story will inspire many as it shows how - even in the worst of times - a great idea and a lot of hard work can still rock the world. 

My Thoughts:
Kamkwamba has written his story for three age levels: adults, teens, and children. I heard about this book from a local high school English professor at my niece's middle school literacy night. The teacher was talking about the teen version of the book, but I decided to read the children's book with my son. We both enjoyed this true story.

I don't read much non-fiction with him, but this story was engaging. The pictures help bring to life the story of William, who lives in Africa. When draught comes, his community isn't able to grow crops, and they must begin eating only one meal a day.

William studies in the library and figures out how to make a windmill and generate electricity for his town. With the electricity, he is able to pump water up from the ground to help the crops grow. Stories about children making a difference are so inspiring. This book was well written and perfect for sharing with my 6 year old who is into inventing things at the moment.

My Rating: 5 stars

I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review: Emma

Emma (The Austen Project #3) by Alexander McCall Smith

Goodreads Summary:
Prepare to meet a young woman who thinks she knows everything

Fresh from university, Emma Woodhouse arrives home in Norfolk ready to embark on adult life with a splash. Not only has her sister, Isabella, been whisked away on amotorbike to London, but her astute governess, Miss Taylor is at a loose end watching as Mr. Woodhouse worries about his girls. Someone is needed to rule the roost and young Emma is more than happy to oblige.

At the helm of her own dinner parties, and often found either rearranging the furniture at the family home of Hartfield, or instructing her new protégée, Harriet Smith, Emma is in
charge. You don’t have to be in London to go to parties, find amusement or make trouble.

Not if you’re Emma, the very big fish in the rather small pond.

But for someone who knows everything, Emma doesn’t know her own heart. And there is only one person who can play with Emma’s indestructible confidence, her friend and inscrutable neighbour George Knightly – this time has Emma finally met her match?

Ever alive to the social comedy of village life, beloved author Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is the busybody we all know and love, and a true modern delight.

My Review:
This book was very disappointing. It was supposed to be a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Emma, but it wasn't very modern. Perhaps it's because the story of Emma doesn't lend itself to being modernized, what with the dinner parties, the picnic, and all of the engagements, but I thought Smith could have done a better job. I was expecting Clueless, and I got essentially the original Emma with modern references. (Although I've never read the original.)

The first 100 pages were so slow with all of the backstory on Isabella. I almost stopped reading. In general there was a TON of backstory on all of the characters that didn't really add to the book. I'm assuming that's how Austen's book is, but I felt like it could have been skipped in favor of a more interesting, modernized story.

Other than references to email and phones and a career that Emma was planning to build, there were very few modern elements in the story. Everyone in the country basically lived on their existing money and didn't work. Compared with Trollope's Sense & Sensibility, I was very let down by this book.

Unless you're dying to read another version of Emma, I'd advise you to skip this retelling and stick with the original. Or just watch Clueless.

(The only thing I enjoyed about this book was being inside Knightley's head as he's thinking about Emma. I've always loved Knightley!)

My Rating: 2 stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: Cruel Crown (YA)

Goodreads Summary:
Two women on either side of the Silver and Red divide tell the stories no one else knows.

Queen Song

Queen Coriane, first wife of King Tiberias, keeps a secret diary—how else can she ensure that no one at the palace will use her thoughts against her? Coriane recounts her heady courtship with the crown prince, the birth of a new prince, Cal, and the potentially deadly challenges that lay ahead for her in royal life.

Steel Scars

Diana Farley was raised to be strong, but being tasked with planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected. As she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital, she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation—Mare Barrow.

My Review:
This book contains two novellas in the Red Queen series. I'll discuss them separately.

Queen Song

This novella tells the love story of Coriane, Cal's mother, and King Tiberias, Cal's father. They were both lonely in their youth, and that connection brought them together. It was a sad story. Elara, the future queen, tormented Coriane with her mind reading, and Coriane didn't have the strength to overcome her fears. It was pretty sad.

3 stars

Steel Scars

This story was a little bit longer, but it was hard to follow. It chronicles Farley's involvement in the Scarlet Guard leading up to her interactions with Mare Barrow. Some of the story is told through SC communications, and the rest is told from Farley's point of view. The greater Scarlet Guard organization was fairly interesting, and I enjoyed reading about her and Shade. But ultimately, this story didn't really hold mine interest or strike me with anything that really added to the overall story of the world Aveyard has created.

2 stars

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Goodreads Summary:
An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Review:
I have never read a book like this before. It's more a series of snapshots than a cohesive story, and yet, I loved it. It follows a handful of main characters all centered around one man who died of a heart attack the night before the world ended. I was riveted by the details of this post apocalyptic world. Unlike most stories of this kind, it was a very realistic portrayal of the near future (assuming a pandemic were to break out) vs. a distant, new social structure type future.

The story is not laid out linearly. Instead, it jumps around a lot, both in time and with characters. But somehow the genius of the details and the way that everything was so intricately woven together made up for this non-traditional writing style. I was annoyed by some of the flashbacks especially when they seemed unrelated to what had just been happening, but in almost every case the back story proved valuable. Also, Mandel writes about the things I've worried about with the end of civilization as we know it: living without glasses (my biggest fear), surviving after essential medications aren't available, and trying to navigate streets full of abandoned cars in a wheelchair.

This is a story about real people dealing with the real struggles of life without electricity, cars, and telephones. At times, especially in the beginning, I wanted more plot, but then I kind of accepted the ambiguity of the story. I let the characters wash over me. Listening to the audiobook made this a little easier. I really enjoyed all of the characters, even the Prophet, the quasi-bad guy. The rich details made them all endearing. I was a little surprised when the book was over. I wanted more. More information, more developments between the characters, and more knowledge of the world 20 years after the collapse and beyond.

My Rating: 4 stars
Understand my ratings.

This book was read for The Deliberate Reader online book club.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #22: Bookworm Delights

This week's topic is to bookworm delights. These ten book-related events/items make my inner bookworm so, so happy!

Reading outside over lunch

The weather is finally nice here in Wisconsin, which means that I am back to reading in my car over my lunch break. I usually read in the lunch room at work during the cold weather as well, but reading outside is so much better! We don't have anywhere comfortable to read outside at my office, just some stone tables with stone benches, so I read in my car with the window open. There's something wonderful about this private break in the middle of the day. I love slipping into another world for a while and enjoying the fresh air.

Browsing at bookstores

I think I've said it many times, but I don't often buy books. I prefer using the library. But I do love browsing for books in bookstores. There's something so special about touching the covers, being surrounded by books, and quietly reading the descriptions. I delight in adding new titles to my Goodreads list based on finds in bookstores.

Strangely enough, I never browse at the library. It's just not the same. Perhaps because the books aren't new? Or the displays aren't as inviting. Who knows.

Talking about books IRL

Blogging is wonderful, and I am very much enjoying having an outlet for discussing the books I love. But nothing beats talking about books to friends or family in real life. I have a few bookish people, outside of book club, who enjoy discussing books with me, and I love it.

Book Club

As you know I am in three book clubs right now: my YA book club, my kindergarten moms book club, and my family book club - which starts in May. Book clubs are the best! I love reading books with other people and discussing them, however briefly. I also love discussing and deciding on the next book club pick. My niece and I had a great time chatting about book ideas at Christopher's family birthday dinner. I think we have about 10 books on the list for our family book club. We're going to be busy for a while!

Movies based on books

Even though they're so often done poorly, I just love movies based on books. I love to be inspired to read books by upcoming movies. And I cannot resist when a favorite book (or even a hated book) is made into a movie. I have to see them.

What Should I Read Next? podcast

I have been reading Modern Mrs. Darcy for several years, so when Anne announced she was starting a podcast, I knew I had to listen even though I don't usually give up audiobook time for podcasts. I am loving this series. It's like listening in on a 2 person book club meeting. I love when they discuss books I have read, and I can kind of validate and comment in my head. And I love when they talk about books I haven't read, and I can add them to my list. It's just fun. This podcast is making my Tuesdays so much better. Are you listening?

Bookish t-shirts

I have a couple of book mash up t-shirts, and I love them. It makes me happy to wear the things I love right on my shirt! I have known about movie/video game nerdy t-shirts for a while because my husband has been buying them for years, but I just started getting my own brand of nerdy wear within the last few years. I delight in wearing Harry Potter, Divergent, and The Giving Tree on a regular basis. I need to get more nerd clothes.

Kindle time estimates

I don't know why, but recently I have become obsessed with the time remaining estimates on my Kindle app on my iPhone. Most of the time I keep it set to counting down the minutes in the current chapter, but I also often toggle to the time remaining in the whole book. I think I just like knowing how much time I am investing in a book. I don't know. It's cool. Am I the only one who geeks out over this feature?

Library hold list

I have a lot of books on hold at the library. All. The. Time. And like the Kindle app, I can get kind of obsessive with checking my library hold list. I must visit the library at least once a week to pick up holds, but I log in daily to check the status of my items. I just can't help myself. I love getting new books, even if I already have a mountain of books waiting to be read.

Marking books as complete on Goodreads

Can you guess that I work in IT based on all these technology things on my list? Anyway...when I finish I book, the first thing I do is mark it as finished and add the rating to Goodreads. It brings me such joy to clear books off my currently reading list. I'm weird. I know.

What bookish things delight you? Do you share any of mine?

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Book Review: The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks

Goodreads Summary:
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset-wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.

Caroline's outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback...some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It's the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more.

My Review:
This book had an enjoyable story. It's about a woman who's been rather timid all of her life until one day she has an outburst at a PTA meeting at her daughter's high school. The next day her daughter punches the PTA president's daughter in the nose. Knowing her daughter will be suspended, Caroline Jacobs pulls her out of school, and the two women set off from Maryland to Massachusetts to confront Caroline's high school bully.

I really loved the mother-daughter dynamics of this story, especially because Polly was an amazingly strong and bold young woman, while her mother was a complete pushover. I am not a fan of weak women, but Caroline went through some nice personal development in this story, so it was bearable.

This book is really short (214 pages), so it was an easy read. But there were some inconsistencies in the backstory that made it confusing at times. I wasn't clear on when Caroline's father had left in relation to the other horrors of her past.

Overall, this book left me wanting more from the characters and from the plot. It was just OK.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Kid Lit: Little Shaq Takes a Chance

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Little Shaq Takes a Chance by Shaquille O'Neal

To be published on April 26, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
This new story in the exciting series created by Shaquille O'Neal and illustrated by Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent award winner Theodore Taylor III, encourages kids to find their own true talents.

Like most kids, Little Shaq doesn't love trying new things, especially if he might not be very good at them. So when his class is assigned projects for the school's upcoming art show, he's not sure that his skills will transfer from the basketball court to the art studio. Rosa Lindy and Barry have their projects all figured out. Can Little Shaq find the confidence to embrace his own style and create a piece for the show?

Continuing this series that celebrates community, family, and education, Little Shaq Takes a Chance will inspire readers the to be brave, have fun, and love reading!

My Thoughts:
This early chapter book is engaging and instructive. It's written at about a 2nd grade reading level in three chapters, each about 25 pages long. There are illustrations every 2-3 pages, usually taking up a half page.

Little Shaq doesn't like to try new things. He doesn't want to eat his mom's sushi for dinner, and he doesn't want to do an art project at new school. His mom and his teacher encourage him to keep an open mind, and with a little help from his friends, he makes a really cool sculpture and decides to try the sushi. He's surprised to find that new things aren't that scary after all.

I really enjoyed this story. I didn't realize it was part of a series, but I am definitely going to check out the earlier books from the library. I think my 6 year old will really enjoy them. We're always on the look out for good early chapter books.

My Rating: 4 stars

I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review: Imaginary Things

Imaginary Things by Andrea Lochen

Goodreads Summary:
Watching children play and invent whimsical games of fantasy is one of life's great joys. But what if you could actually see your child's imagination as it unfolded? And what would you do if your child's imagination suddenly became dark and threatening? 

Burned-out and broke, twenty-two-year-old single mother Anna Jennings moves to her grandparents' rural home for the summer with her four-year-old son, David. The sudden appearance of shadowy dinosaurs forces Anna to admit that either she's lost her mind or she can actually see her son's active imagination. Frightened for David's safety, Anna struggles to learn the rules of this bizarre phenomenon and how best to protect him. But what she uncovers along the way is completely unexpected: revelations about what her son's imaginary friends truly represent and dark secrets about her own childhood imaginary friend.

Living next door is Jamie Presswood, Anna's childhood friend who's grown much more handsome and hardened than the boy she once knew. But past regrets and their messy lives are making the rekindling of their complex friendship prove easier said than done. Between imaginary creatures stalking her son and a tumultuous relationship with David's biological father, Anna may find it impossible to have room in her life or her heart for another man. But as David's visions become more threatening, Anna must learn to differentiate between which dangers are real and which are imagined, and whom she can truly trust.

My Review:
I enjoyed this story. It's about a young mother who moves in with her grandparents when she runs out of money after losing her job. It's the classic failed-at-life-in-the-big-city type of small town tale except that Anna is able to see her 4 year old son David's imaginary friends - two dinosaurs - and the shadow creature he's conjured up that is haunting him.

The plot was a bit predictable, but I liked the characters. Anna was doing the best she could after a life with a horrendous mother and a loving but mentally unstable ex-boyfriend. Her grandparents were awesome - very helpful, caring, and supportive. And Jamie was the most wonderful of boy next door type love interests.

The developments with David and his imagination held my interest as well, but nothing really blew me away. I especially enjoyed this setting - Milwaukee and the nearby small towns. Living in Milwaukee myself, I knew of many of the locations mentioned, which was fun. Lochen lives in Madison, so the city highlights are authentic, although I think all of the small towns were fictitious. I couldn't find any of the on the map.

This book isn't a must read, but it's enjoyable, especially if you like child-relate trauma type stories or best-friend-turned-lover type tales.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Christopher Turned 6

We had some big excitement in our house this week. Christopher's birthday was on Monday. For the past couple of years, I have been decorating his bedroom door with balloons while he was sleeping the night before his birthday, so he can wake up to something special. This year he wanted to start decorating the house the Thursday before his birthday. I figured why not.

I bought him a roll of yellow streamers (his favorite color) and a bag of balloons. I knew to get the bag with only 15 balloons because I knew he would want to blow them all up. I was right. He decorated the banisters himself on Thursday night.

Then on Saturday morning he and I decorated his bedroom door, a chair at the kitchen table, the door to the basement, the downstairs bathroom, and we hung streamers from light fixture to light fixture between the kitchen and the living room. We used all the streamers and all the balloons. But he was so excited. So why not!

We had his birthday party at the movie theater this year. We had 9 boys and 2 helper girls. We saw The Jungle Book, the new live action movie. This party was so easy. The movie theater had seats reserved for us, and I spread the girls and one mom out between the boys, and Jim and I sat in the row behind them.

After the movie we had cupcakes and opened presents in the private party room. It was so low key and perfect for me because I don't do well with lots of noise and tons of kids. Christopher got lots of Pokemon cards and other fun items (games, kites, Lego) and no pointless toys or things he won't actually end up playing with, so I was really happy about that.

Then Monday night on his actual birthday Jim's sisters and Christopher's cousins came over. We had tacos (the only real meal that Christopher eats) and ice cream, and he got a couple more gifts. The highlights being hockey sticks, a fart piano (thanks, Sarah!), and a Pokemon wallet.

I think he had a wonderful birthday weekend...week? Jim and I also bought him a bike, but I'll save that story for another time. It didn't quite go as planned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: Thursday with the Crown (MG)

Thursdays with the Crown (Castle Glower #3) by Jessica Day George

Goodreads Summary:
Castle Glower has been acting weird, so it’s no surprise when two towers transport Celie and her siblings to an unknown land. When they realize that no one from home is coming to get them, the kids – along with Celie’s pet griffin Rufus – set out through the forest to figure out where they are and what’s happened to their beloved Castle. Instead, they discover two wizards and an entire lost people, the oldest inhabitants of Castle Glower. And it seems they may know more of the Castle’s secrets than Celie. But do they know how to get her back home?

This bestselling series continues with the story of the origin of Castle Glower. Readers who’ve been enchanted by the Castle’s moving walls will be delighted by the Castle’s rich and magical history.

My Review:
This whole series is just fun, and this book is no exception. Princess Celie and her family live in Castle Glower in Sleyne, but at the end of the last book the Castle (which is magical) transported Celie and some of the others to its land of origin.

In this book Celie and her friends have a grand adventure full of new enemies and Griffins! The plot started off a little slow for me, but I think it was mainly because I couldn't remember the details of the first two books. It's been a while since I read them. But I really enjoyed the characters, and things picked up at the end. I can't wait to read the fourth book. Luckily, it's already out.

I rated this book a little lower because it's a middle grade book, and it didn't hold my attention as well as I had hoped, but I think kids will enjoy it more. It's a good addition to the series, and I look forward to reading them all with my son when he's a little older.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #21: Funny Picture Books

I don't read many funny books on my own. I'm just not really a comedy person. But I do enjoy reading funny stories with my son. So today I'm going to share 10 pictures books that we found amusing.

Veggies with Wedges by Todd H. Doodler

I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems

Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider

Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O'Malley

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

This Book Just Ate My Dog by Richard Byrne

Naked! by Michael Ian Black

Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat by Deborah Underwood

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell

Do you have children? Do they enjoy funny stories? Have you read any of these books? Or can you recommend some other funny picture books? 

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: This Is Where It Ends (YA)

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Goodreads Summary:
10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting.

Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

My Review:
The plot of this story was good, but unfortunately it wasn't executed as well as I would have liked. Nijkamp writes about a school shooting, which takes place over about an hour. She alternates between 4 character's points of view, all told in first person. I had a hard time keeping track of who was speaking because the POV changed about every 2-3 pages, sometimes more frequently. When I went back to count, I was surprised that there were only 4 narrators.

The problem I had was that all of the voices sounded the same. And the font was the same. Other than the character headings, I never knew who's head I was in. Even as the book progressed, the three girls kind of ran together. 

I enjoyed the back story on all of the characters, and the way that their lives were interwoven - one the ex-girlfriend of the shooter, one the sister of the shooter, one the sister's girlfriend, and one the sister's girlfriend's brother (and friend of the shooter, I think). I also enjoyed some of the ancillary characters. 

But I didn't feel a lot of emotion about what was going on. I was intrigued by the story, and I wanted to know how it would end, but I just expected to feel more. It was a quick read, but I don't think it will stay with me very long.

My Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Kid Lit: Joseph's Big Ride

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Joseph's Big Ride by Terry Farish

Published on April 12, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
A refugee boy’s determination to ride a bicycle leads to an unexpected friendship.

Joseph wants only one thing: to ride a bike. In the refugee camp where he lives, Joseph helps one of the older boys fix his bike, but he’s too small to ride it.

Joseph and his mother travel to America, where everything is strange and new. One day, he spots a red bike that seems just right for him! It belongs to a girl with a whoosh of curly hair. 

When Whoosh crashes her bike, Joseph offers to fix it. His big chance has finally come, except that Joseph doesn’t know how to ride! He crashes a few times, picks himself up, and tries again, until suddenly, with a shout of triumph, he’s riding the bike. 

Inspired by the author’s interviews with refugee children from Sudan, this gentle story evokes the experience of a new immigrant. Vibrantly colorful paintings bring a warm and humorous portrait of friendship and diversity to life.

My Thoughts:
This book has a very unique story and beautiful illustrations. It tells the tale of Joseph, a young African boy who dreams of riding a bike when he gets bigger. When he comes to America, he discovers that there are child-sized bicycles. He is a little nervous about attending school in America, but when he sees a neighbor girl riding her shiny, red bike to school, his fears go away immediately. He's determined to ride that bike.

It's a story about friendship and adventure. It gives children a glimpse into lives that are different from theirs, and it highlights the value of things we take for granted in this country, bicycles, basketball, and pizza. But it's done through a wonderful story and is very magical.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a fun story geared towards older children, ages 5-8. It would be especially good for a child also just learning to ride a bike.

My Rating: 4 stars

I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Book Review: The Thing Is & Interview with the Author

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Thing Is by Kathleen Gerard

Goodreads Summary:
Meredith Mancuso is depressed. Ever since the death of her fiancé, she has shrunk from the world. Even with her successful writing career, she's not motivated to work. When her sister, Monica, begs for a favor, Meredith wants nothing more than to say no. But she’s ultimately roped into pet-sitting an orphaned Yorkshire terrier named Prozac. 

Blessed with spiritual wisdom and a high IQ, Prozac is an active pet therapy dog. To heal broken-hearted Meredith, he rallies his fan club at Evergreen Gardens, an independent living facility, where he visits each week. 

Prozac and the community of resilient older folks challenged by losses of their own propel Meredith, often against her will, back into the land of the living. Meredith learns that most people carry some sort of burden, but it's still possible to find meaning, purpose, and joy—and sometimes, even love—along the way.

I am not an animal all, but I was intrigued by the grief aspect of this story. I decided to give it a chance because of the Yorkie on the cover. My parents have a Yorkie, named B.G. (short for "Big Guy"), and he's the only dog that I kind of care about. I'm a heartless person. I know.

My Review:
Meredith is a romance writer who's in a depressive rut after the death of her fiance three years ago. She's unable to write, and she doesn't even really leave her apartment if she can avoid it. Her sister, Monica, forces her to watch her client's dog after the older woman injures her foot and needs surgery. Monica had agreed to take the dog herself, but she's allergic. Meredith, like me, doesn't like dogs, and she is reluctant to keep Prozac.

Prozac is a very unusual dog. He's a certified therapy dog, so Meredith is expected to take him to Evergreen Gardens for visits with "his people." Many antics ensue with Prozac, Meredith, and the residents of the retirement community. Some were entertaining, and some were a little over the top. At times I was reminded of watching The Golden Girls.

The book is told in two view points: Meredith, who I loved, especially when she was bantering with her sister, and Prozac, who we learn is actually on assignment as a spirit guide dog. Think It's a Wonderful Life, but instead of an angel, it's a dog assigned to help Meredith. Prozac's chapters dragged a little bit for me, especially at the beginning.

Ultimately, I enjoyed reading about Meredith being drawn out of her reclusive shell, and Prozac was the impetus to that change. Having him in her life brought her to some new relationships that I really liked, but in the end the dog-parts were just too doggy for me. I think dog-lovers will enjoy this book a lot more than I did.

My Rating: 3 stars
Understand my ratings.

Interview with Kathleen Gerard:

1. There are many "coping with grief" books out there, and I really enjoy those types of stories, which is what intrigued me about your book. Most of them center around romance. Instead you chose to center yours around a new relationship with a dog, and a very unique dog at that! What part of this story came to you first?

This book IS a romance and a love story. In a broad, abstract sense it asks the question: After life breaks your heart, how do fall in love with living again?  Prozac is the catalyst to force change in the life of a woman paralyzed and heartbroken by grief. I knew the tragedy inflicted upon Meredith's life would be heavy and hard to sustain for a whole book. Therefore, knowing what a comfort and joy my own dog is to me in my own life--how my own dog leads me to other people--it seemed a logical way to balance out the grief aspects of the story. That's why the grief and the dog angle came together in the writing simultaneously. Grief and hope can be two sides of the same coin.

2. If you didn't answer it in your response to question #1: Are you a dog lover? Why did you choose for Prozac to be a Yorkie?

Yes, I am a dog lover. I've shared my life with dogs since I was a kid, and I've spent more than three decades with Yorkshire terriers--three of them, one at a time. I've found the breed to super-smart, lovable and often a bit much so, that I've often referred to my own as "Yorkshire terrorists"  :)

3. I don't think I've ever read a book where one of the narrators was an animal. What was your inspiration for having Prozac narrate some of the chapters?

Meredith is a grief-stricken, self-isolating person who lives alone. To have her, in her grief, narrate the whole book would be an overwhelming burden to the reader. There had to be some force to jolt her out of the rut of her life. Therefore, I felt telling half of the story from the dog's perspective--his craftiness and cleverness, along with his comic self-importance-- would be a great contrast to Meredith and her predicament. And I upped the ante even more by making Meredith canine-averse and having Prozac--much-beloved, coddled and worshipped--often offended by her reactions to him.

4. I loved the sister relationship between Meredith and Monica. Do you have a sister? Did you draw from your own relationship for this story?

Yes, I have two sisters - two older sisters who are far more gifted, talented, accomplished and creative than I will ever be!  I'm sure my being a sister--and having sisters--in many ways colored the sisterly interactions in the story. However, the sister in THE THING IS is a composite - all of the characters I create in each of my stories are conflated from people I've encountered and/or manufactured.

5. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

The book appears to be, at it's core, Meredith and Prozac's story - and I enjoyed inhabiting both of their psyches. But the beauty of the book is its ensemble cast, where supporting characters are just as important as the key players. Yes, Prozac is the catalyst that changes many lives. And while some people have pigeonholed the book as a "dog story" - I find that rather limiting and narrow. The novel is about so much more than the dog...the dog is simply a guiding spiritual force that leads people, often hurting people, to other people. And that's the point of the book. No man is an island. We are all connected. We all share grief, and we're all trying to surmount heart-breaks of some kind in order to find healing and hope. Therefore, there is some part in each character that holds a special appeal to me...The depth of Meredith's emotions interested me just as much as Prozac's comic craftiness and Monica's staunch workaholism....The off-beat zaniness of Ham and David (the magician) appealed to me just as much as the hard-line tactics of Judge Thea and the (good natured) manipulation of Annette Mahoney...So I guess I don't really have a favorite character.

Kathleen, thank you so much for your time in answering my questions and for the opportunity to read your book. I think it is really a great story even if it didn't work 100% for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review: Just My Luck (MG)

Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern

Goodreads Summary:
Fourth grade is not going at all how Benny Barrows hoped. He hasn’t found a new best friend. He’s still not a great bike rider—even though his brother George, who’s autistic, can do tricks. And worst of all, he worries his dad’s recent accident might be all his fault. Benny tries to take his mom’s advice and focus on helping others, and to take things one step at a time. But when his dad ends up in the hospital again, Benny doesn’t know how he and his family will overcome all the bad luck that life has thrown their way.

Just My Luck is a deeply moving and rewarding novel about a down-on-his-luck boy whose caring heart ultimately helps him find the strength to cope with tragedy and realize how much he truly has to offer his friends and family.

My Review:
I loved this book! I was a little hesitant to read it because middle grade doesn't always work for me, but I couldn't pass up a Cammie McGovern book. I love her writing so much, and this book did not disappoint.

Benny is in 4th grade, and his best friend moved away at the end of last year. He is struggling to find new friends. He is also struggling at home. He feels responsible for his father's accident over the summer that has left his brain more than a bit muddled. His family is dealing fairly well. After all they have some experience given Benny's older brother, George, who is autistic.

Then Benny's school starts a program to catch kids doing good deeds. Benny is determined to be recognized, but he is continually ignored. His teacher tries to explain that he's so good already; he shouldn't need the extrinsic motivation. But Benny does.

This book is all about friendship and kindness. It has wonderful characters and terrific messages, but it never feels preachy. There were some many fun details as well: Benny's obsession with making Lego stop motion movies, his friend Olga and her hand drawn comic books, George's antics, and Benny's teacher.

This book would make a great read aloud for children ages 8-10, and it is of course a great read for middle grade and up. I highly recommend it!

My Rating: 5 stars
Understand my ratings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review: The Mapmaker's Children

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Goodreads Summary:
When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. 

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

My Review:
This book started off slow for me, but once it began picking up, I was hooked. It is the perfect kind of historical fiction. It alternates between the past and the present with letters and newspaper articles sometimes in between chapters. The present day story is about Eden and Jack who recently moved to New Charlestown, West Virginia. They are unknowingly occupying the former house of the Hills, key players in the Underground Railroad. Eden is deeply depressed and withdrawn from Jack after years of trying to have a child.

The story in the past is of Sarah Brown, daughter of John Brown, the rest of the family, and their good friends, the Hills. Sarah is a very talented artist, and she assists in the Underground Railroad by drawing maps for runaway slaves.

I enjoyed both stories, but I was always anxious for more of Sarah's story. I found the history fascinating, and the tortured romance between Sarah and Freddy Hill left me wanting more. Their letters were just so wonderful.

Both women are barren, and they're struggling with finding purpose in life without children. Sarah invests herself in her art and the Underground Railroad. Eden makes friends with a neighbor girl and seeks comfort in her new puppy.

The writing in this book was almost literary fiction, so it took me a little longer to read than I would have hoped for a book that is only 300 pages. I really enjoyed the stories, especially once I got about 100 pages in. The details in the writing were amazing. Small things would carry forward between one time period to the next, which was unexpected and impressive. I need to check out more of McCoy's work.

My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more history uncovered in the present, but I guess it was believable.

My Rating: 4 stars
Understand my ratings.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday #20: 10 Books for Historical Fiction Fans

This week's topic was rather open-ended. I looked through my "Read" list on Goodreads and tried to find a theme among the books I rated 4 and 5 stars and haven't discussed here too much before. I landed on 10 historical fiction books. It's not one of my go-to genres, but I have read a fair number of good books in this category.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Suspension by Richard E. Crabbe

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Are you a fan of historical fiction? Have you read any of the books mentioned above? 
Can you recommend other titles to me? 

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Wizarding World of Harry Potter with a Six-Year Old

On April 1st, we visited Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. We went with my parents and Christopher (who will turn 6 on April 18th). The Hogsmeade exhibit opened in July 2010, two months after Christopher was born, so we'd all been waiting almost 6 years for this visit.

It was worth the wait! We entered the park carrying only a handful of items in our pockets. It was 90 degrees that day, so I didn't want to be lugging around a backpack. We wore comfortable walking shoes and light clothing (obviously). Jim carried his wallet (with my ID added to it), his phone, sunscreen and 2 cereal bars for Christopher (in his cargo shorts), his hat, and his sunglasses. I carried my phone, my sunglasses, my hat, Christopher's sunglasses, and Christopher's hat. Christopher carried the map.

Me and Christopher ready to walk to the park.

Because we stayed in one of the Universal hotels, The Hard Rock Hotel, we were able to enter the park 1 hour early: at 7 AM. Jim, Christopher, and I choose to do this, while my parents did not. Jim was anxious to get into the park when there were few people. It was dark when we walked over to the park from our hotel. It was so beautiful with all the lights reflecting off of the water. It was a short walk - maybe 5 minutes. There is a boat ride option, which we'd done the night before when we picked up our tickets, but Christopher voted for walking that morning. And we agreed it would be faster.

We decided to go to Universal Studios first since it was closer. Diagon Alley is the newer exhibit, so it's a little bigger. We had to walk through the rest of the park to get there, but not much was open that early. When we arrived "in London" the first thing we saw was Kings Cross Station. We walked right by knowing we'd be back to it when it came time to ride the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade.

Stan, chilling by the Knight Bus.

Then we saw the Knight Bus with a very aloof Stan Shunpike standing in front of it. Christopher wanted to know how the talking head was talking, but he was too shy to ask, so I asked for him. Of course Stan played along and said he was talking of his own accord. Christopher didn't really understand. As we walked away I told him it was a robot.

Jim and Me in front of 12 Grimald Place. 
Can you see Creature in the window above us?

Then we saw 12 Grimald Place, the home our Sirius Black and headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Christopher took our picture on the door step. And he managed (accidentally) to catch Creature peaking out of the window. He slides back the curtain and peaks out every a couple of minutes. We hadn't even really noticed him until after we took the picture. That was kind of cool.

Then we walk past 12 Grimald Place. I was looking for the Leaky Cauldron, so we could get into Diagon Alley. We ran into a guard telling us the rest of the park was closed. We were confused for a minute, but then we turned around and saw people going into an unmarked brick building next to a bookstore. We decided to follow the crowd. Jim really liked that the entrance to Diagon Alley was so hidden. It was authentic considering Muggles don't even see the Leaky Cauldron.

Christopher under the archway to Diagon Alley.

Once we entered Diagon Alley, everything was magic! The shops looked exactly like the movies. We watched the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday, and it was so cool to see Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade after just "being there". We went into the Quidditch supply shop, and Christopher found a few items he wanted to buy right away, but I wanted to minimize the time we had to carry stuff around, so we said we could get stuff later.

We went into Weasley's Wizard Wheezes and enjoyed the details, including a puking girl in the window. I regret not taking more pictures in Diagon Alley because it got crowded, but it was kind of dark, and we were so excited, I just forgot. Luckily we came back later with my parents and we got some good pictures. We kind of rushed past everything from that point on, trying to get to Gringotts to ride the Escape from Gringotts ride while there was no line.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Diagon Alley)

Christopher made the height requirement for this ride, 42 inches. Yay! The wait takes you through the main hall of Gringotts, which looks exactly like the movie. So amazing! I loved all of the details. I wish we'd had a longer wait on this ride, so we could have stared at everything longer.

Goblins inside Gringotts Bank.

Then we got our first glimpse of a moving picture as a little wizard talked to us about how we'd be mad to steal anything from Gringotts. An older boy (maybe 10) in front of us told Christopher all about the ride as we made our way down into the lower level to await our cart. It was kind of nice to know what to expect since Christopher hasn't seen movie 7 yet.

Down below we saw an open high security bank vault and desks with newspapers with moving pictures - so cool! They'd used the same "ink" technology as the early Kindles. It looks very authentic. And again we tried to explain to Christopher how they'd done it. He had guessed earlier that the moving portrait was a TV screen.

We had to wait an extra 10 minutes before taking the elevator down because there was an issue with the ride. Luckily it was fixed quickly. The elevator ride was pretty cool. We're pretty sure we didn't actually go down any further, but because the walls moved and there was air blown through the room, it really felt like we did.

The ride itself was awesome! It was two cars holding about 16-20 people each, connected like a train. They moved forwards, backwards, and sideways as we twisted through the lower levels of the bank. Bill Weasley was the narrator with cameos by Harry, Ron, and Hermione (although we suspected they weren't the original cast members). There was a dragon and fire. It scared Christopher a little, so we didn't ride it again later in the day, but he enjoyed it well enough that he didn't cry or regret going on it.

After that ride, we explored Diagon Alley a little more. By this time the sun had fully risen, and it was after 8 AM, so the park was officially open. We went into the magical animal shop and saw an animatronic Crookshanks that was huge. Christopher saw a Fluffy doll he wanted - again, we said wait for later. And in the alley to the side of the shop, there was a huge talking snack. Kind of cool.

Then we went to Ollivander's. We looked around at all the wand boxes. We easily found Harry's and Hermione's wands, obviously the most popular. There were wants for every major and minor character you could think of as well as some unassigned wands. We spent a few minutes trying to find Ron Weasley. He must not be that popular because he had only a small stash on a high shelf. Then we waited in line to watch a wand choose a wizard.

Ollivander's (Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade)

This was my favorite "ride". A group of people (maybe 30) is taken into a room and arranged in height order, so everyone can see while standing. The "wand keeper" picks a young boy or girl from the audience who is around 11 years old to come forward and select their first wand. It was awesome! When we did it in Diagon Alley, a boy was selected, so his experience was similar to Harry's. He tried 3 wands. When the wand was wrong, there was thunder and lightning in the room or the drawers in the wall rattled. When he selected the right wand, the room glowed and music played.

Ollivander experience in Hogsmeade.

When I went with my parents in Hogsmeade, a girl was selected. She tried two wands. When the wrong wand was used, flowers wilted and died. And when she chose the right wand, again the room lit up, and the expression on her face was priceless!

We found a bathroom after that first wand experience. Restrooms and food were not abundant throughout the Harry Potter exhibits. And then I called my mother to check on their progress as it was almost 9 AM. She said they wouldn't be ready until at least 9:30 AM, so we arranged to meet them in Hogsmeade as we were almost finished exploring Diagon Alley. I could have spent the entire day looking at all of the store fronts and exploring the shops, but that wasn't going to happen with Christopher.

I caved and let him buy a wand next. All of the kids were so cute walking around with their wands. Some even had robes on. Christopher surprised us by choosing to get Ron's wand. I guess he's his favorite character. We opted for the non-interactive wand since that portion wouldn't work outside the parks, and I assumed it would be a lot more expensive. The non-interactive wand cost $42 after tax.

At this point we left Diagon Alley and headed back to London to go to Kings Cross Station and board the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.

Hogwarts Express

This early in the morning there was almost no line, so we moved quickly through the ropes. There were authentic ads on the walls (from the movie I found out when we watch yesterday). And going this direction there is an area where you can watch people disappear through the wall between platforms 9 and 10. You can't see the affect yourself when you walk through, but as you watch others from around the corner, you can see them walk through a projection of a brick wall. It was pretty neat, but if the people in front of us hadn't stopped to take pictures, we might have missed it. We didn't get any pictures, but Jim did stay behind to watch Christopher and me disappear.

The Hogwarts Express in Kings Cross Station.

Closer to the train there were stacks of luggage, trolleys, and owl cages. I really wanted to be able to pose for a picture beside some, but they were all fenced off. Jim was a little disappointed that the train wasn't more ornate, but it was still pretty impressive to see.

We were assigned a row and then taken to a specific compartment on the train - about 6-8 people per compartment. The compartment door closes you in just like in the movies. Instead of a window to the outside, there is a TV screen, so you see more authentic scenery. The compartment door is frosted and during the experience shadows are shown on the door and you can hear voices in the corridor. Ron, Harry, and Hermione discussing the sweets trolley and a dementor even appears.

I had no idea any of this would happen. I just thought it was a train ride. It was so much cooler than I was expecting. The trip back is different, as we would find out later in the day, so it's worth going both ways. I was a little surprised that the other passengers we rode with (we rode 3 times) weren't as awed by the experience as we were. We commented on the experience as things were happened, but perhaps that was only because Christopher is so young. Or maybe they just weren't as big of fans as we are.

Hogwarts Express parked in Hogsmeade Station.

Hogsmeade is the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter exhibit, so before they had the Hogwarts Express ride, I guess they just had this engine. There was a conductor there answering questions and posing for pictures, but we just walked by.

Hogsmeade - loved the snow covered roofs.

We made our way through the village, opting to skip the shops since we'd explored them a little in Diagon Alley, and found the castle. We caught the end of the Hogswarts choir singing, but I took the opportunity to climb up on the wall and take a picture of the castle above everyone's heads.

Hogwarts Castle!!!

Since my parents still hadn't joined us, we got in line for the Hippogriff roller coaster, something we knew they wouldn't want to ride.

Flight of the Hippogriff (Hogsmeade)

Again, Christopher met the height requirement of 36 inches. At this point we used our Express Pass to skip ahead in a special line. The Express Pass comes free with a Universal hotel stay or you can buy one at the park for an additional $22 I think it was. It was well worth it! The longest we wait on any ride all day was 20 minutes, and for this ride we were on within 5 minutes.

The line weaves past Hagrid's hut and a nesting Hippogriff. The roller coaster itself was pretty short, but still very thrilling. I could only ride it once because I get kind of sick on roller coasters, but Christopher and Jim rode it 4 times throughout the morning. While they rode it the second time, I saw some characters from the movie come out for pictures.

Hogwartds, Durmstrang, and Beauxbaton students.

I got a text that my parents were finally boarding the Hogwarts Express in London (after entering the wrong park), so we headed back to the station to find them. While waiting we finally put on sunscreen since it was almost 10 AM. Then once we got them, we walked through the village again up to the castle. We stopped to watch the Hogwarts choir again. They were awesome! They sang the Double Bubble, Toil and Trouble song from the movie as well as some of the instrumentals - including my favorite song, the Hogwarts march from the Triwizard Tournament in movie 4.

My mother had downloaded the Universal app, so she knew that we could walk through the castle even though Christopher wasn't tall enough to ride the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. (You have to be 48 inches.) I'm a little sad Jim and I didn't get to go on that ride without him, but the castle was amazing! There was a stairwell with tons of talking portraits, Dumbledore's office (complete with a holographic, talking Dumbledore), and another room with Harry, Ron, and Hermione (the real actors this time) doing something (we weren't in there long enough to follow the plot) and a dragon skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

When we came out, we finally got some snacks at one of the carts in the street. Other than actual sit down restaurants there wasn't much food around, which was authentic to the experience, but challenging as I was so hungry by this point. We got a soft pretzel and some pumpkin juice. I was worried it would be gross, but it was so good. It tasted like liquid pumpkin pie. Jim, my mom, and I all tried it. Christopher ate a cereal bar.

Then Jim and Christopher rode the Hippogriff ride a couple more times, while I took my parents to do the Ollivander experience. They really enjoyed that, and it was cool for me to see it done with a different wand keeper and child.

We explored some shops after that, but then decided to head back to Diagon Alley. The ride back to London on the Hogwarts Express was different as I said above and cool because my parents were with us this time.

We had lunch in the Leaky Cauldron. It was traditional English food. My dad had fish and chips, Jim and I both had Cottage Pies (like a shepherd's pie), and my mom had a fisherman's pie. Christopher had his second cereal bar. That boy! Jim also got a Butter Beer. He loved it! I had a sip, and it was about how I expected it would be - mostly tasted like cream soda.

Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Shop.

Then we went to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream shop for dessert. There was a long wait, but the ice cream was good. Christopher had chocolate and I had Apple Crumble or something like that. It tasted like apple pie, so it was amazing. We ate our ice cream on the steps next to Gringotts and by Hagrid's motorbike. Jim had taken a picture of Christopher and me on it earlier in the day, but the picture is on his phone, so I can't share it here now, as he's still sleeping this morning.

View down Diagon Alley.

I finally snapped some pictures of Diagon Alley. As you can see it was really filling up with people by this point - around 12:30 PM. We found my parents and took them through the line in Gringotts. They didn't want to ride the ride, and Christopher didn't want to do it again, but I knew they shouldn't miss seeing the Goblins.

Gringotts Bank. That dragon breathes fire every 5 minutes or so.

Then we finally did some shopping. My mom bought Christopher a Gryffindor scarf for his birthday, and we bought him a Gryffindor Quidditch shirt and the Fluffy stuffed animal, which we found out snores when you squeeze him. He's been sleeping with it ever since. And when he wore the shirt the next day, he looked so cute!

Christopher with most of his souvenirs.

At this point, we left Diagon Alley. We were going to ride the Hogwarts Express again over to Islands of Adventure to explore the rest of the park, but the line was insanely long, and the Express Pass doesn't work on that "ride". My parents went back to the hotel to rest, and we set off into Universal Studios to see other attractions. We ended up spending 6 more hours in the two parks, riding other rides and having dinner at Mel's Diner with my parents.

Christopher and me in line for our final Hogwarts Express ride.

We walked a total of 21,000 steps in our 12 hours in the park. It was as full of a day as we could have made it. Christopher was so well behaved all day. It was seriously a little strange. I think he knew the importance of the day, and the experience was very magical for him, so he didn't have reason to whine or complain. He asked for things, yes, but never in a whiney voice. I carried his on my back for about 45 minutes during the day, but even then he asked nicely and wasn't annoying. It was so great. I had been so worried about going to a theme park with such a young child, but he was better than I could have ever imagined. I'm so glad we went. It was a perfect day!

Gramma, Christopher, and Grandpa in Diagon Alley.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Kid Lit: Life Without Nico

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Life Without Nico by Andrea Maturana

Published on April 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Maia and Nico are best friends. They never get tired of playing together. Unexpectedly, though, Nico and his family have to move far away for a while. Maia is devastated. .Now time passes slowly, and the emptiness is with Maia everywhere she goes.. She makes her way through the dark days, bored and alone. But, slowly, things begin to change, and .? Maia meets an unexpected companion ? She makes a new friend ? She even discovers a new passion.. Her life has become so happy and full, in fact, that she worries there will no longer be enough room for Nico. Of course, when he returns, she discovers there is. As Maia learns, there is always space in your heart for friendship. This poetic, touching picture book written by Andrea Maturana is sure to move readers of any age. It sensitively explores a child's capacity for friendship and the range of feelings experienced while trying to cope with loss. Losing a friend is a common childhood experience, and this book would offer a perfect opportunity for a classroom discussion on this or any kind of loss. It speaks to the resilience of children as well, and the experience of growing up and discovering that welcoming new things and people into your life doesn't mean losing the old. The sweet artwork by Francisco Javier Olea uses warm, muted colors that reinforce the reassuring tone of the story, as well as magical imagery that enhances its emotional depth.

My Thoughts:
This is a wonderful book about friendship. Maia and Nico are best friends. They do everything together until Nico has to move to Australia for a while. Maia misses Nico. She's very sad, but then she meets a cat, makes a new friend, and starts playing the piano. When Nico returns, Maia is worried she won't have room for him in her life. But of course she does. There's always room for more friends.

This book was simple but powerful. I loved the illustrations and the descriptions of Maia's feelings. This book is excellent for older children, ages 5-8 probably. Anyone who's lost a friend or worried about making new friends would appreciate this book. It's very well written.

My Rating: 4 stars

I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.