Sunday, July 31, 2016

Juvenile Pile: Library Books and Longer Reads

Last week I talked only about reading books we own. Today I want to share some of the library books we've been loving lately. And I'll also mention our recently finished read aloud.

Christopher reading Possum Magic in bed.

We have a love seat in Christopher's room for reading bedtime stories, but lately he wants to read in his bed. Which is comfortable for him, but it leaves me sitting on a tiny step stool next to his bed that I don't always enjoy.

I was so excited to finally convince Christopher to read the Reading Together Family Book Club picture book pick for Australia, Possum Magic.

This book is cute. A grandmother possum casts as spell on her granddaughter, making her invisible. When she doesn't want to be invisible anymore, they travel all over Australia trying new foods attempting to find the one that will reverse the spell. It's a fun way to highlight different cities and foods in the region. I had to read all of the city names and most of the food names to keep Christopher going.

3 stars

Journey is the first book in Aaron Becker's wordless picture book series. I got the third book at BEA, and I'll do a full review later this year. Christopher read it to me, and we talked about the pictures: what the girl was feeling and what was happening. It was better than I was expecting. It tells a great story even without words.

Christopher thought he'd read it before because it's similar to Harold and the Purple Crayon. The girl draws things with a red crayon, and then they come to life - a door, a boat, a hot air balloon, etc. It's very imaginative and fun.

4 stars

I saw something about Sometimes Just One Is Just Right recently, and I knew I had to read it with Christopher. It's about a boy who wishes he had siblings. It was good to talk with Christopher about whether he wished he had siblings - he used to. Now he told me that he likes being an only child because then he doesn't have to share. I think we work well as a family of three, so it was nice to hear that he agrees.

I read this book to him because I really wanted to read and discuss it. I did make him read the first page though because he needed another 2 minutes for his 15 minutes that night.

4 stars

How Heavy is the last book in the Wacky Ways to Compare series. This book is about weight (obviously), and it was just as fun as the others. It was a little harder to get my head around these comparisons because I don't know the weight of things as well as I know the size of things.

The first comparison was probably our favorite: 167 hamburgers weigh as much as a bulldog (45 pounds). But that's also how much Christopher weights. That's a lot of hamburgers!

4 stars

It took Christopher several weeks to finish Bradford Street Buddies: Backyard Camp-Out, but he finally did it. We counted it as a "Book with 4 Chapters". This series is great for young readers because while it's a chapter book, the whole thing is illustrated.

One family is cleaning out their garage and finds an old tent, so the kids decide they want to camp in the backyard. They invite their friends to join them, but they're busy looking for a missing cat. They all join in the hunt and find the missing cat. The actual camp-out never happens at the end, which sort of annoyed me. But otherwise, we enjoyed this one.

4 stars

I read Henry Huggins out loud to Christopher. I bought it for him for Easter. The chapters are really long, so we didn't read it every night. I'd never read this book growing up, even though I read a lot of the Ramona books. The story isn't entirely continuous from chapter to chapter - more a bunch of stories about the same characters, but we enjoyed it. Henry is a little bit naughty, but he usually has good intentions, so I think Christopher and I both could relate to that.

In the first chapter he finds his dog Ribsy, he digs for night crawlers to earn money, and he breed guppies, among other crazy things. Because it was written in 1950, the money talk was interesting. Everything was so cheap! Christopher didn't seem to notice since he doesn't have a great grasp on money yet anyway.

I'd like to read all of her books now (or at least the Henry ones) in chronological order. I've already reserved Henry and Beezus from the library, so we'll tackle that one next.

3 stars

What have your kids been reading? Any new favorites?

On the blog last year...

Book Beginnings and Friday 56: Every Last Word

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kid Lit: Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library

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

Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman

To be published on August 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Have you ever thought about bringing your dragon to the library? Don't do it! You might have the best intentions, but that dragon will cause nothing but trouble. Using rhyming text and a diverse cast of characters, this charming picture book will provide some important and some not so important library etiquette in a very entertaining way."

My Thoughts:
The premise of this book is cute. A little boy really wants to bring his dragon to the library to show off his favorite place, but of course the dragon wreaks havoc - taking up too much space at story time, starting books on fire when she becomes over excited while reading, etc.

But this book is written in a telling, rhyming, repetitive chorus kind of way instead of as actual story. The illustrations were great, and they went very well with the words, but the rhyming was very forced at times and difficult to read aloud.

It's a book suited better to a younger audience (ages 2-4 maybe) who will be able to overlook the clunkiness of the words and appreciate the lyricalness of an adult reading to them or just enjoy the pictures. It does point of some of the rules and joys of the library, but I'm sure other books do that as well, and perhaps better.

My Rating: 3 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.

On the blog last year...

Update #2: 2015 Reading Challenge

Friday, July 29, 2016

Leader/Follower Twins: Wren & Cath, Fred & George

Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader sent me this twin article a couple of weeks ago, and while it lists the many stereotypes of twins portrayed in books and movies, it doesn’t include the primary one that I would have selected. The leader/follower twin is the trait I most look for when reading about twins.

As you know, I love twin stories. I am an identical twin, so I think I’m searching for myself in other twins. I was very much the follower going up. Emily was the leader for sure. We went to college together our freshman year, and while we both disliked the school we selected because I was VERY conservative, she was the one to do something about it. For herself. She looked at other colleges and made the decision to leave without telling me, which kind of broke my heart at the time. But I think it was ultimately a very good thing for us. And especially for me. I needed to be on my own. To learn who I was without her.

That is why I identify so much with Cath in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. She’s also the follower twin. She’s kind of lost without Wren when they go to college. I wasn’t lost without Emily because I at least had a group of friends when she left me behind. (Even if they were kind of Emily’s friends first.) It wasn’t until I came to Milwaukee 3 years later that I really decided who I wanted to be and was able to be a complete individual, in a place where no one knew my twin.

Fred and George Weasley are another fictional pair of twins that have always intrigued me. I’ve had a theory for a while that Fred is the leader twin, and George is the follower. I’ve been re-listening to the Harry Potter series for The Quirky Bookworm’s #harrypotterthon16 in preparation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I just finished book 4 this week, and that’s the book where Fred first stands out as being the leader. Every time the twins pull a prank or tell a joke, it’s Fred that starts it. Leaving the Ton-Tongue Toffee for Dudley: Fred. Initiating the scheming about crossing Dumbledore’s age line: Fred. Etc.

George just kind of goes along with everything Fred is doing. Sure, he gets to deliver the punch line in some of their jokes, but he doesn’t really do anything on his own. I will have to pay super close attention as I continue to later books, but I’ve read/listened to them a lot, and I think I am right on this theory.

WARNING: Spoiler below, but I think almost everyone knows that happens with the twins at the end of the series, right?

And here's why I think J.K. Rowling chose to kill off Fred and not George in the final book: George needed his chance to find himself. I’m not saying I was happy that Fred died. Certainly not! But I do think it may have been a good thing for George on some level to be forced to live without his twin. (And, yes, I know he’s not a real person.)

It's similar to the demise of the father figure in so many stories. The "hero" needs to stand on his own. I think Rowling is doing the same thing here.

What do you think? Am I totally out there? Have you noticed leader/follower twins in fiction? Who am I missing?

I am linking up today's post with POTTER MONTH hosted by Kristin @ Super Space Chick and Megan @ The Nerdy Girlie.
On the blog last year...

Book Review: Windless Summer

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Walkie Talkies: Freedom for him, peace of mind for me

Walkie Talkie - my new favorite hand held electronic device!

When Christopher and I read the last chapter of Henry Huggins the other night, the gang of neighborhood kids all playing together reminded me of Christopher and his friends. Sometimes I come home and when I pull into the cul de sac, it’s full of kids riding bikes or roller skating/scootering, and it warms my heart. I love that Christopher has a gaggle of kids in the neighborhood to play with.

He has 3 friends in the neighborhood, besides the girls next door, that we allow him to go visit alone. For 2 of these friends, he can run through the neighbors’ yards to get to, so it’s a little bit safer. But for the third, he has to ride his bike across the street at the end of the court, down the street, and around the corner. We made his ride around with us for about a month before we felt comfortable letting him ride on his own. And we always make him take his walkie talkie with him.

This isn't our neighborhood, but I couldn't find a picture of 
Christopher riding near our house. We don't have sidewalks in our neighborhood.

Seriously, that thing is so wonderful! We stole the idea from the parents of that 3rd friend. He’s two years older, and he’s been coming over to our house for the last two years (since he was also 6) with his bike and his walkie talkie. He (and now Christopher) checks in when he arrives somewhere or reports that the friend isn’t come and comes back home – or asks to go visit someone else. It’s also great for us because we can check in or call him home. It’s only failed one time when we forgot to charge it up, and I was calling Christopher home for swim lessons, and the battery had died. Then I had to drive over and pick him up instead.

That black blob on the front of his bike is a strap-on water bottle holder 
with a cup in it. It's our make shift walkie talkie carrier.

The best part? I get some peace and quiet at home while he’s off playing with his friends. I just keep the walkie talkie close at hand, and I can read without interrupt and without wondering where he’s gone.

Reading with the walkie talkie close by.

How far do you let your kids go without you? How do you call them home?

On the blog last year...

We have another reader in the house!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review: Before the Fall

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

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Goodreads Summary:
On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family. 

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage. 

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Review:
This book is everywhere right now, and while I didn't love it, I can understand why it's so popular. It's about a plane crash - it's very sensationalized, just like as if it were on the actual news. The main plot is interwoven with the backstory on every character involved in the crash. That's exactly what the media would (and does) do for a real life tragedies. It's a little ironic considering that Hawley seems to be making a point in the book about the modern media.

I enjoyed the main plot of the investigation and aftermath of the crash of a private plane carrying only 8 passengers and 3 crew members. But I didn't enjoy all the backstory. It was just too much irrelevant detail. I wanted more action and plot. I should have known by the description that this would be a character driven novel.

Despite all of the backstory (is there a synonym for that word?), the only characters I really cared for were Scott, JJ, and Eleanor. Everyone else died at the start of the book, and even knowing more about their lives leading up to the crash didn't help me develop any sympathy for them. The story would make an excellent movie I think, but it didn't work as well as I was hoping it would as a book.

My Rating: 3 Stars

This book is a She Reads Book Club – Books of Summer selection. Read reviews from other members of their blogger network on their website.

On the blog last year...

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Recent recipes inspired by my new job

I started a new job on July 6th. The magazine publication company that I now work for publishes Taste of Home out of our Milwaukee office. This means that during my first couple of weeks on the job, flipping through magazines and searching the website and internal recipe database were part of my job training. As such, I was inspired to cook some new recipes!

For July, I wanted to use up all of the meat in our freezer. We have a Costco membership, so we buy meat in bulk, but we ended up with a surplus. And rather than buy more meat, I decided we needed to use up the frozen chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, beef roasts, salmon filets, and beef stew meat that we already had.

We've gotten a little sick of our 10-15 go-to recipes, so it was time to try some new recipes! Who's with me? You've been there, right? Eating out just because you're sick of cooking the same old recipes. Wanting flavor and variety in your life? I can't be the only one. Enter Taste of Home! Seriously, this job was timed perfectly. I can use the recipe database to search by ingredient (you can do the same thing on the website). It was so great.

So here are the recipes I tried and some comments on how they were received. I already have more planned, so expect some more recipe posts from me in the future.

Night 1: Chicken Pot Pie

I found this chicken pot pie recipe in a compilation of Slow Cooker recipes. The biscuit-topping drew me in (go look at the site, seriously), but I was a little lazy and didn't want to make homemade biscuits. Instead I used Pillsbury Grand Biscuits. Both Jim and I loved this recipe. We used to make chicken pot pie a lot, but we hadn't had it since before we went all "Low Carb" (that's no longer happening).

The biscuits we a little under-cooked on the bottom, and at first I thought I should have used 4 and split them in half because I wanted more filling to biscuit, but it ended up being perfect. And Jim really loved the mussy bottoms of the biscuits. The left overs heated up well.

A couple of other changes that I made:
- I skipped the pimientos. I don't like them, and they seems unnecessary.
- And I used a 9x13 inch pan. Everything fit fine.
- Also, you don't need to cube the butter since you're melting it.

Night 2: Turkey Tacos

We make tacos a lot. It's the one meal where Christopher eats the same food we do. But I am trying to force him to branch out a little and try new things. Inspired by this chicken taco recipe, I decided to just make our traditional tacos (using Ortega taco seasoning) with ground turkey instead of ground beef.

Jim complained a little - who would have thought? But Christopher didn't even notice! He ate 2 tacos that night and never said a word. So I didn't either! The flavor was a little blander since turkey isn't as flavorful as beef, but he ate something different. Who cares if he didn't realize it? I certainly don't.

Night 3: Salmon, Zucchini, and Sweet Potatoes

I found this grilled salmon recipe on page 235 of the Taste of Home Ultimate Guide to Grilling cookbook, but since I don't grill (Jim does), I decided to adapt it for cooking in the oven. I made twice as much of what was supposed to be basted onto the salmon as it was grilling, and made it a marinade. I marinaded the salmon filets for 20 minutes, and then cooked them in the oven for 20 minutes.

The Taste of Home test kitchen team had done a live video feed for their Facebook page featuring zucchini recipes, and they had a bunch of extra zucchinis, so I ended up taking one home. It worked out perfectly because I had been wanting to try this zucchini fries recipe. Because I hadn't planned on cooking it, we didn't have all of the ingredients on hand. I had to substitute plain bread crumbs for the corn meal, and to make it easier for myself, I just used the whole egg.

I cooked the sweet potatoes in the microwave. Very unoriginal. I know, but they're so easy that way. Jim had his with butter, but I like mine plain. Christopher wouldn't try any of this, of course, so he had fish sticks and apple slices.

Jim took about 3 bites of the fish and then decided he didn't like it. The marinade wasn't flavorful enough, so it didn't mask the fishy taste (according to him). I agreed that it was kind of bland, but I didn't mind it. I also ate both Jim's piece and the third extra piece leftover with some of the zucchini and half a sweet potato each time.

The zucchini fries were not what I was expecting. They weren't dry enough or crisp enough. Perhaps I didn't cook them longer? Or perhaps I was just hoping they'd taste deep-fried, like french fries.

Night 4: Thai Beef in the Slow Cooker

For dinner last night, I tried making a modified version of this slow-cooker Thai-style beef stew to use up the two packs of stew beef we had in the freezer. I am kind of sick of beef stroganoff, and the last time I put cubed beef in my chili, it was a little too grizzly.

I made the sauce according to the directions except that I used regular soy sauce, I skipped the cilantro (because I don't like it), and I had to use garlic powder (1.5 tsp) instead of fresh because Jim had used it all last week when he made my Grandma Puleo's spaghetti sauce and meatballs and didn't tell me, so I didn't know to buy more at the store this past weekend. But, I digress.

Instead of sliced red pepper (because I hate peppers of all colors), I decided to add other veggies - inspired by this other slow-cooker beef recipe. I didn't use frozen vegetables though. I used about 1.5 cups of chopped carrots, 1.5 cups of chopped celery,1 cup of chopped onion, 1 small package of sliced mushrooms, and I used a can of sliced water chestnuts. My favorite stir-fry veggie.

I also followed the cooking instructions of the second recipe and cooked it all on low for 6.5 hours. I stirred the sauce into the beef and then just layered the veggies on top, so they wouldn't get over cooked. I had Jim just stir the veggies into the beef and sauce about an hour before I got home and turn off the slow cooker. I love that he works from home!

I served it over brown rice. It made 8 portions, which was just fine, because Jim and I both really enjoyed this recipe as well.

A couple of things I would change for next time:
- use fresh garlic
- use 1 cup of peanut butter
- use only 2 Tbsp of soy sauce (it was kind of salty)
- add 1/2 cup of water

What have you been cooking lately?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: Gemini (YA)

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

Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee

To be published on July 26, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.

Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.

Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it.

My Review:
Sonya Mukherjee's Gemini is a book about conjoined twins that portrays them as two teenage girls wrestling with their identities, the end of high school, and their future - just like every other high school senior. The issue of them being conjoined just exacerbates the struggle.

Hailey and Clara have different interests and different dreams. Hailey is an artist, and she longs to leave their small mountain town and go out and see the world (first stop: art school). Clara is more reserved. She's obsessed with astronomy, and she doesn't like to be stared at, so she'd like to stay in Bear Pass forever. Everyone in their small town has known them their whole lives, so the novelty has worn off. Their mother has done an excellent job preventing photos or videos of them leaking out to the public and educating everyone on their condition.

They have some great friends who see them as individuals, but the majority of people do not. It's like being a twin to the extreme because they cannot get away from each other. They have to wake up in the middle of the night to even have a private thought. I cannot even image, and I am an identical twin.

This book was very well written. I loved the alternating voices of the two girls. The issues are fairly typical for a contemporary YA book, but the conjoined twin angle was SO interesting. The parents are present and realistic even while being a little annoying at times. This was a great read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

On the blog last year...

I want to go on a real vacation

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Juvenile Pile: Reading our own books for a change

Christopher has read for 5 hours in July, which makes for a total of 11 hours so far this summer. And he's marked off 24 of 35 squares in his summer reading bingo. He's doing pretty well even if I haven't been the one listening to all of the reading. Jim and babysitters are also making sure he's reading (almost) every night.

Here are some of the books we've read recently:

Boo on the Loose is a strange adaptation of Monsters Inc. I almost wonder if it was written based off of an older version of the script. It starts off the same as the movie, but then instead of trying to leave Boo at work disguised as a monster child, they try to ditch her at the park. So weird.

We own this book, and it's a level 2 easy reader. It was a super easy read, but we read it on a night when Christopher was over tired and didn't have the patience for a harder book. It fulfilled the "Book about a Monster" square for bingo.

3 stars

We have one of the Dr. Seuss compilation books: My BIG Book of Beginner Books about ME. It has 6 Dr. Seuss or wannabe Dr. Seuss books in it. Jim and Christopher read the first three books together (The Foot Book, The Eye Book, and The Ear Book), but then Christopher read the last 3 to me over the course of 2 nights. He wanted to use this as the "Book with a Yellow Cover." The books are not the best sadly.

The Nose Book by Al Perkins isn't too bad. It talks about how everyone has a nose and showcases some animal noses - short, long, etc. Then it points out all the difficulties of not having a nose - with some kind of creepy pictures of a noseless dog. It's a little nonsensical, but not too strange.

3 stars

The Tooth Book by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo. LeSieg) is so, so weird. And the drawings are quite terrifying to me. Christopher doesn't seem to mind them. It discuss the uses for teeth, but in very strange ways. Like opening bottle caps with your teeth! I do like the part about loosing teeth and growing grown up teeth, but otherwise, I'm not a fan of this book

2 stars

All of these books were super easy reads, but sometimes I think that's OK. You have to boost their confidence and let them whiz through a couple of books every once and a while, right?

The Knee Book by Graham Tether is similar and also a little out there. It discusses the uses if knees and what would happen without them, but it's really talking more about legs than knees. That kind of annoys me. It's not very scientific. At least the illustrations in this book are cute.

2 stars

Let's just say I was happy when we made it through that book and got to move on to the read aloud book. We've been reading Henry Huggins and James and the Giant Peach over the past week and a half. I'll include them in these posts once we've finished, so I can rate them. I've never read either.

I love Bears in the Night. It's a very easy read, but it has a fun way of building on itself, so that the string of phrases gets longer with each page. Sort of like the song "The Green Grass Grows All Around". It also helps young kids with understanding prepositions - over, under, around, etc.

It also has a bit of suspense. One of the bears sneaks out of the window and night and travels through the countryside until something frightens him and he has to retrace his steps back home. This book is a natural easy reader with a fun story, unlike some many of the easy reader/step type books made today.

4 stars

Hop on Pop is classic Dr. Seuss. It's got great rhyming for true beginner readers, and at least the first half of the book could be considered Level One. It doesn't really have a plot, but the pictures tie well with the words, so that's helpful for early readers as well.

This time we only made it through half of the book before Christopher was bored and wanted to move on to something else. I think he's getting a little old for the plotless word books, but that's OK too.

4 stars

We read some more challenging books in the last couple of weeks too, but I'm going to save them for next Sunday's post, so I can get ahead on my writing a little bit. It's been hard to find the time with my new job.

What have you been reading with your kids this book? Anything good? I'm always looking for recommendations! 

On the blog last year...

Friday 56: Week 235

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kid Lit: Plants Can't Sit Still

I received this book for free from Lerner Publishing Group at BEA 2016. That fact in no way influenced my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

Plants Can't Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch

To be published on August 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Have you ever seen a plant move on its own? Plants might not walk, but they definitely don't sit still! Discover the many ways plants (and their seeds) move in this fascinating picture book.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoy children's books that help explain the natural world. This book is just that type! Rebecca E. Hirsch weaves together an almost lyrical story of all the ways that plants move. When I read the title of this book, it seemed like a mistake. Plants can't walk around like people and animals can, but this book proves that that does not mean they sit still. Plants wiggle as they grow, they turn to face the sun, they spread their seeds in many creative ways, and they can even snap closed to catch a fly.

This book discussed so many types of plants and thankfully includes a section at the back with additional information for parents and teachers. Several of the plant actions mentioned were things I was not familiar with - did you know that tumbleweed tumbles intentionally to spread seeds? I certainly did not. I really enjoy learning something myself when reading with my son (even if he doesn't always want me to read the facts out loud to him when we finish the story).

A wide range of ages would enjoy this book. Younger children (ages 2-4) will enjoy the simplistic story and the beautiful illustrations, older children (ages 4-6) will enjoy asking questions about the plants and perhaps attending to dispute the movements made by some plants, and even older kids or adults will learn something from the information at the end of the book. This is a great read.

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.

On the blog last year...

Book Review: Sense & Sensibility (The Austen Project)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review: The Night We Said Yes (YA)

The Night We Said Yes (The Night We Said Yes #1) by Lauren Gibaldi

Goodreads Summary:
Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over a no-good ex-boyfriend. Graduate from high school without any more distractions. Move away from Orlando, Florida, where she’s lived her entire life. 

But Matt—the cute, shy, bespectacled bass player who just moved to town—was never part of that plan.

And neither was attending a party that was crashed by the cops just minutes after they arrived. Or spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of.

Then Matt abruptly left town, and he broke not only Ella’s heart but those of their best friends, too. So when he shows up a year later with a plan of his own—to relive the night that brought them together—Ella isn’t sure whether Matt’s worth a second chance. Or if re-creating the past can help them create a different future. 

In alternating then and now chapters, debut author Lauren Gibaldi crafts a charming, romantic story of first loves, lifelong friendships, uncovered secrets, and, ultimately, finding out how to be brave.

My Review:
This book is just really cute. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It's written in NOW and THEN format. THEN is a year ago - the night that Matt and Ella met. It was a long and wild night of saying "yes" to everything. NOW, a year later, Matt is back in town after moving away abruptly 6 months ago and breaking ties with Ella and his best friend, Jake. Ella doesn't want to let Matt know how much he hurt her, but she isn't ready to let go either. Matt and Ella have another night of saying "yes".

The friendships in this story were so great - Ella, Meg, and Jake have been friends for a long time. When Matt joins Jake's band, they form an instant connect, as do Matt and Ella. I found myself routing for Matt and Ella in the past and in the present. This story was almost a double love story. The time periods were woven together so well with the two nights really following a parallel structure as Matt is trying to re-enact that first night with Ella.

There were a lot of great moments. The characters seemed real, and I connected with them all right away. And although Matt and Jake are in a band, this story isn't too music-y.

My Rating: 4 Stars

On the blog last year...

One great thing about having a boy

Book Review: Sweet Forgiveness

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: Towers Falling (MG)

I received this book for free from Little, Brown BFYR at BEA 2016. That fact in no way influenced my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Published on July 12, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Deja can't help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means,
and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren't alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day. 

My Review:
I hadn't ever really thought of how to explain the 9/11 terrorist attacks to children who were not alive during that time. Jewel lParker Rhodes tackles this tough subject in a wonderful way in her new middle grade novel, Towers Falling. The characters in this story are learning about 9/11 in their 5th grade class in Brooklyn, but their also dealing with their own issues. Ben's parents are getting divorced, and he's just moved to NYC with his mother from their ranch in Arizona. He knows about 9/11 because his father enlisted after it happened. Sabeen is Muslim, so she is very aware of the discrimination and hatred her people face as a result of the 9/11 attacks. But Deja, a young African American girl, is living in a homeless shelter. Her father has horrible headaches and panic attacks, but she doesn't know why. And she knows nothing about 9/11.

This is a story about friendship, about discovery, and about the history of America - including one of the most recent, horrific events. It's about that time during a child's life when they're finally old enough to handle the truth and about the adults who struggle with letting them learn it. I absolutely loved this book!

Writing about September 11th in this almost third hand way - reading about other kids dealing with it - was a genius way to approach these truths. Jewell wrote this book in the hopes that it would be taught in schools, and I can only hope that it will be part of the curriculum by the time my son is in 5th or 6th grade.

My Rating: 5 Stars

On the blog last year...

Favorite low carb recipes

Monday, July 18, 2016

ARC August Signup and Goals

I've been seeing signups in my Bloglovin feed, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon. I have a bunch of ARCs that I'm behind on (mostly from BEA), so I'm going to try to read mostly ARCs in August - except for book club books.

ARC August is hosted by Octavia and Shelly at Read, Sleep, Repeat. Learn more and sign up on their blog.

Here are the books I'm going to be choosing from in August. My goal is to finish at least 6 of these books. Ideally, I'd finish them all, but let's not get too optimistic!

Are you signed up for ARC August? How many ARCs are you hoping to read?

On the blog last year...

I love Broadway musicals

Book Review: Side Effects May Vary (YA)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kid Lit: Bedtime for Batman

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

Bedtime for Batman by Michael Dahl

To be published on August 1, 2016

Goodreads Summary:
When a dark night comes to the big city, one little super hero prepares for a great adventure . . . bedtime! He dons his pajama uniform, speeds upstairs, cleans up the nightly grime, and keeps watch from his towering bunk bed. Written by award-winning author Michael Dahl (Goodnight Baseball, Goodnight Football, and Goodnight Hockey) and illustrated by Ethen Beavers (DC Super Friends), this bedtime tale will have Batman fans, young and old, delighting in their nightly routines. Bedtime for Batman is the perfect way to say goodnight to your little Dark Knight.

My Thoughts:
Superhero-loving children (and adults) will really enjoy this adorable book. It shows a little boy getting ready for bed - imaging himself as Batman - along side Batman fighting bad guys in Gotham. The text is simple, but the parallels between the two characters are perfect. Batman is cleaning up the city, while the little boy is taking a bath and brushing his teeth. The little boy is feeding his fish, while Batman is rescuing people.

The illustrations are perfect. They portray Batman in the classic 1950s style. And there is so much imagination and fun in the drawings of the young boy. It's the perfect balance of storytelling through pictures and words. This book is just so sweet.

Because it's a going to bed book, it's probably best for ages 3-5.

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.

On the blog last year...

5-Star Kids Books

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Review: Out of the Easy (YA)

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Goodreads Summary:
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. 

She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny. 

My Review:
This book was pretty atypical for YA. It's historical fiction. Josie is the daughter of a prostitute living in New Orleans in 1950. She's tried to distance herself from her mother and lives in an apartment above the bookshop where she works. But she also cleans the brothel where her mother works. She has a rather unusual collection of friends - the brothel madam, her colored driver, the bookstore owners son, a motorcycle riding boy, and a collegiate woman down from Massachusetts visiting her aunt and uncle.

Josie wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans and go to Smith College with her new friend Charlotte. She's a strong woman and she's going to make her dream come true even though everything seems to be conspiring against her.

It took me about half of the book to really get into this story. I liked Jo right away, but things were a bit slow moving for me. Once things got really crazy though with the murder investigation, I was pretty hooked and routing for Jo to out of there! I enjoyed the characters in this book a lot, and I would definitely read more about them (i.e. a sequel if there ever was one), but I don't think I'd read this book again.

My Rating: 3 Stars

On the blog last year...

Book Review: Flunked (MG)

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss (YA)

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Book Review: No One Knows

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

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

Goodreads Summary:
In an obsessive mystery as thrilling as The Girl on the Train and The Husband’s Secret, New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison will make you question every twist in her page-turning novel—and wonder which of her vividly drawn characters you should trust.

The day Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead by the state of Tennessee should bring closure so she can move on with her life. But Aubrey doesn’t want to move on; she wants Josh back. It’s been five years since he disappeared, since their blissfully happy marriage—they were happy, weren’t they?—screeched to a halt and Aubrey became the prime suspect in his disappearance. Five years of emptiness, solitude, loneliness, questions. Why didn’t Josh show up at his friend’s bachelor party? Was he murdered? Did he run away? And now, all this time later, who is the mysterious yet strangely familiar figure suddenly haunting her new life?

In No One Knows, the New York Times bestselling coauthor of the Nicholas Drummond series expertly peels back the layers of a complex woman who is hiding dark secrets beneath her unassuming exterior. This masterful thriller for fans of Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty, and Paula Hawkins will pull readers into a you’ll-never-guess merry-go-round of danger and deception. Round and round and round it goes, where it stops…no one knows.

My Review:
It took me several months to get through this book - partly because it wasn't a library book, so I didn't have a strict deadline, but also because it just didn't really hold my interest. The plot develops very slowly, and the story jumps around a lot through a 5 year timeline. Usually I like that type of writing style, but it didn't work as well for me with this book.

Aubrey's husband Josh went missing on the night of his best friend's bachelor party 5 years ago. At the start of the book, the state has just declared Josh dead, so the insurance payout is coming soon. Aubrey's mother-in-law, Daisy has always hated her, and she wants the money for herself, even though she doesn't really need it. Thus begins the crazy ride that is this mystery. What happened to Josh? Aubrey is convinced he isn't dead. She just has a feeling, but no one believes her.

I kept reading because I really wanted to know what happened to Josh. Other than though, I wasn't really very invested in this novel. I just wasn't attached to Aubrey. I'm not sure why, but I just didn't really feel anything for her. There are some interesting twists and turns, so if you like this type of book, you may enjoy it more than I did. The details were very well sewn together; things just didn't move quickly enough for me.

My Rating: 3 Stars
Understand my ratings.

This book is a She Reads Book Club – Books of Winter selection. Read reviews from other members of their blogger network on their website.

On the blog last year...

Cleansing my TBR list

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book Review: The Museum of Heartbreak (YA)

The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder

Goodreads Summary:
In this ode to all the things we gain and lose and gain again, seventeen-year-old Penelope Marx curates her own mini-museum to deal with all the heartbreaks of love, friendship, and growing up.

Welcome to the Museum of Heartbreak.

Well, actually, to Penelope Marx’s personal museum. The one she creates after coming face to face with the devastating, lonely-making butt-kicking phenomenon known as heartbreak.

Heartbreak comes in all forms: There’s Keats, the charmingly handsome new guy who couldn’t be more perfect for her. There’s possibly the worst person in the world, Cherisse, whose mission in life is to make Penelope miserable. There’s Penelope’s increasingly distant best friend Audrey. And then there’s Penelope’s other best friend, the equal-parts-infuriating-and-yet-somehow-amazing Eph, who has been all kinds of confusing lately.

But sometimes the biggest heartbreak of all is learning to let go of that wondrous time before you ever knew things could be broken. 

My Review:
This book was so wonderful! I love books about friendships. Pen (Penelope) has been best friends with Eph (Ephraim) and Audrey forever. But this year, Audrey has a new friend, Clerisse, who is awful to Pen. And Eph is dating anything that breathes. Pen doesn't like how things are changing and she's dealing with little heartbreak after little heartbreak. Not to mention, she has her first relationship with a boy, and she needs her friends. Luckily, she finds a few new ones: Grace and Miles.

This book just felt so real. The relationships were believable. The emotions were raw. Pen was slightly annoying at times, but I was very invested in her happiness because of the hurt I felt for her right away.

I loved the way this book was written as a museum. Each chapter began with an artifact, and then that section of the story explained why it had meaning and how it played into the various heartbreaks involved in this book. I most appreciated that the heartbreak wasn't just about a boyfriend. This book examines the way that our friends and family can hurt us too, sometimes without meaning to. It's a great read!

My Rating: 4 Stars

On the blog last year...

Book Review: Emmy & Oliver (YA)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Juvenile Pile: Giants, dinosaurs, a bear, and a dragon

We finally finished The BFG this week. We read a lot on Tuesday and Thursday nights because I wanted to go see the movie this weekend. It was a challenging read aloud because of all the made up words the BFG uses, but I enjoyed re-reading it, and I think Christopher liked hearing it.

We read a lot of other books to satisfy the squares on summer reading bingo. Some from the library that we'd picked out specially for bingo, some that we own, and a couple that I reserved that we made fit into some categories.

I've talked before about Lisa Wheeler's dino books. They're so good! Christopher selected Dino-Baseball on Tuesday night because he needed a book about dinosaurs. I read the dinosaur names, but he read everything else until we hit his 15 minutes. Then I read the last couple of pages.

He has renewed interest in this series and keeps asking when Dino-Racing will be out - October, but we already have it pre-ordered.

 4 stars

We selected The Cow in Apple Time from the library because we needed a book about a cow. I didn't realize it was a Robert Frost poem that had been illustrated. The drawing were cute, and Christopher didn't have a problem reading the words, but we both struggled with the meaning.

I don't really enjoy classic literature or poetry. I'm sure that makes me a horrible person on some level, but oh well. You like what you like, right? Consider this rating low because of how we enjoyed it (or didn't) and not a reflection on Frost as a poet please.

2 stars

Welcome Home, Bear was chosen because we needed a book about a bear. It's purely coincidence that all of the animal books were read this week. There are other topics on my bingo board, I swear.

This book was OK. It's about a bear who thinks he wants to find another home. He's sick of the forest, so he goes exploring other habitats. In the end he decides his home is the best. The illustrations were great, but there wasn't a lot of plot. It was cute, but a little young for Christopher. It would be better suited for ages 2-3.

3 stars

We own I Am Baymax, and I selected it from the shelf to read for "Book based on a Movie/TV Show" after Christopher tried to read the Star Wars Episode 7 Little Golden Book. That book had way too many words.

This book was super cute, and a little too easy, but again, reading at night was hard this week. I think Christopher got this book for his birthday or something. I honestly don't know that I ever read it before. Baymax is the narrator, and he's telling the reader all about Hero, his friends, and Baymax. I liked it more than I expected to for an easy reader and movie book.

4 stars
I mentioned last week that we really enjoyed How Tall?, so I reserved the other books in the series. I wasn't sure whether Christopher would be that excited about reading more of these books. He was! We read How Long? first on Thursday night. He was really into again, but I did have to read the last page when he ran out of steam. It compares the lengths of things in wacky ways - a peacock tail feather is as long as 7 sticks of licorice! It was a super fun read.

We used it for our "Book with a purple cover." That's purple, right?

4 stars

Then on Friday night, Christopher read How Big? I think this may be the first book in the series because it's kind of a little of everything. It's supposed to be measuring size, and sometimes that's volume, but sometimes it's also height or length or diameter or surface area. I liked this book a little less because it wasn't explaining a consistent type of measurement.

I don't think Christopher minded. And I did love that he had to read big numbers in these books as well. He did a pretty great job with 67,825. We used this as a "Book with a blue cover."

3 stars

It took us two nights to get through It Came in the Mail. I had seen it on Twitter on its release date. Christopher started it Thursday, but after a few pages, he set it down and said, "It wasn't as interesting as I thought."

We picked it up on Friday night, and I read the rest because I was curious how it would end. It reminded me a lot of Too Many Moose. A little boy writes a letter to the mailbox asking for mail, and he gets a dragon - and then a bunch of other animals. In the end, he mailed them all to other kids except the dragon. It was a fun concept because kids do love getting mail.

3 stars

And then of course, I read Freda Says Please, which I reviewed yesterday.

What did you read this week?

On the blog last year...

Using objects to measure kids' growth