Monday, August 14, 2017

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse, A Review

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Book Description

What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?
Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.
Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.
But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.
Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.
Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

There is something so real and raw and authentic about the characters in Prowse's work. This is the second of her books I've read this year. She went on my favorite author list after completing The Idea of You earlier this spring; her spot is cemented after reading this book.

Nina loses her husband unexpectedly due to a car crash and before she can fully comprehend that he isn't coming home, she learns that not only is the stronghold of their family unit gone, they entire life system is gone and she must figure out how to survive.  With two sons, she can't hide in bed as she desires - instead, Nina digs deep and finds a source of strength and aptitude to take each day and fight to provide stability and security for her sons, Conner and Declan as they each seek to find a new normal while grieving in their own individual ways.

Nina loves flowers and there is one scene where her teenage son left a mason jar of dandelions on the counter for her to cheer her up one evening. Everything leading up to that moment was so intense - I could not help crying as I read that (it even makes me teary eyed now).

I love how the book begins with Nina's insecurity and anxieties and ends with her so strong and determined and a real sense of knowing what she is capable of.

I highly recommend this book. It is on my Best of 2017 list.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for allowing me to review an eARC of this book.

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it


Want to Know More?
You can visit Amanda Prowse's youTube channel where she has several videos posted a few years ago that talk about a past release as well as one on her writing habits.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, A Review

12 Days at Bleakly Manor (Once Upon a Dickens Christmas #1)
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Book Description

When CLARA CHAPMAN receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancĂ©, BENJAMIN LANE.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

I'm a sucker for a second-chance love story. This book follows Clara and Ben as they battle to overcome past hurts and bitterness. Several times, Clara asks: "Why God, why?" for various hardships and disappointments that she must face. This resonated with me since I think it's something we can all identify with in one way or another. Early on in the reading, as characters are introduced and the plot progresses, it felt like a cross between Clue (the boardgame) and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I felt sure that the master of Bleakly Manor would appear, but alas, Griep only gave a slight tease as to who he was.  Overall I enjoyed this story very much; I love sweet Christmas romance stories and this one with a mix of intrigue was refreshing.

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it

Want to Know More?

I haven't read any of Griep's work previously but will be checking out her other work after reading the 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

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Book Description

Tenley Roth’s first book was a literary and commercial success. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who merely found a bit of luck?

With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Yet her life is not her own. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams of her own. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has literally destroyed her dreams, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.

Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds. Yet when Tenley discovers Birdie’s manuscript, their lives intersect. Birdie’s words help Tenley find a way home. Tenley brings Birdie’s writing to the world.

Can two women separated by time help fulfill each other’s destiny?

Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

Rachel Hauck is one of my favorite authors and her newest book did not disappoint. The Writing Desk follows modern day Tenley Roth as well as Gilded Age heiress Birdie Shehorn. While the book jumps between their points-of-view, it wasn't difficult to keep track of the time period or their perspective. There was a third character's  (Eli, Birdie's love interest) point of view thrown in but not as consistently; while this didn't make it hard to follow along, it did seem slightly random. 
Tenley comes from a line of authors who have achieved great critical and commercial success. She has one best seller and is facing a looming deadline for her second book with a severe case of writer's block, which is fueled by her lack of confidence in her abilities and ultimately, her purpose in life. Birdie is a privileged young lady of means whose father sent her to Wellesley but upon her graduation is expected to make a good marriage match based on money and social power. She has submitted a novel to a publisher who declined her manuscript which has gone missing. As the story progresses, we learn that Birdie continues to write yet never receives recognition for her work. In addition to this, both women have strained relationships with their mothers; and both must determine the importance of love in a marriage. Hauck did an incredible job exploring these issues. As always, her books have an element of faith and Birdie and Tenley both come to know Jesus in a more personal and real way. Sometimes this can feel very forced in a book. Hauck weaves the women's relationship with God and their growing faith into the storyline in a natural way.  
I loved The Writing Desk! The parallels between Tenley and Birdie are so strong despite the fact that their story is not exactly the same.  While I was given the opportunity to review this book by the publisher, I intend to add this to my permanent collection. 

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it


Want to Know More?
Visit Rachel's website for more information on her books or follow her on Instagram where she posts many inspirational quotes.

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I first discovered Rachel Hauck with Once Upon a Prince which is the first book in The Royal Wedding Series. Read this book too - and then the rest of the series. The heroines are spunky and strong and the heroes are true throwback gentlemen. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Argyle Fox, A Review

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Book Description


Argyle Fox, with his signature style, wants to play outside on a springtime day, but the wind is wreaking havoc with his fun and games. As soon as he builds a card tower, climbs into a giant spider web, or takes up his pirate sword, here comes the wind: Woosh!

Mama Fox tells grumpy Argyle that if he thinks long enough, he will come up with something to do. Following his mother’s suggestion and inspired by her knitting, he works all the pieces of his day together and creates the perfect solution.

The story of Argyle teaches that failure is often a path to success and celebrates perseverance, creative thinking, and an old-fashioned springtime activity.

Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

What an absolutely delightful book! Argyle Fox longs to play outside and has so many great ideas: building a card tower, scary spider and web, pirate and soccer. The wind disrupts each of his activities and his frustration becomes evident. Like most young children, he eventually gives in to pouting and sitting. His mother encourages him to think through the problem and come up with an activity that he can do in the wind. Eventually, Argyle comes up with the perfect solution!
This book has beautiful illustrations done in gouache paint that are only part of why I love this book. There are so many details to draw in the reader and young children will see details in each page. 
A big focus in education right now is fostering a growth mindset; problem solving is a big part of that movement and in this book, we see Argyle Fox face discouragement but then working through a problem until he finds a solution. This book will be wonderful with young readers to plant the seeds of overcoming problems and with older readers who can make even more text-to-self connections and open dialogue on problem-solving. 
I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it


Want to Know More?
You can visit Marie Letourneau's website to find more information about Argyle Fox and other books she has written and/or illustrated.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lila and the Crow, A Review

Lila and the Crow
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Book Description


Lila has just moved to a new town and can't wait to make friends at school. But on the first day, a boy points at her and shouts: “A crow! A crow! The new girl's hair is black like a crow!” The others whisper and laugh, and Lila's heart grows as heavy as a stone.

The next day, Lila covers her hair. But this time, the boy points at her dark skin. When she covers her face, he mocks her dark eyes. Now every day at school, Lila hides under her turtleneck, dark glasses, and hat. And every day when she goes home, she sees a crow who seems to want to tell her something. Lila ignores the bird and even throws rocks at it, but it won't go away.

Meanwhile, the great autumn festival is approaching. While the other kids prepare their costumes, Lila is sadder and lonelier than ever. At her lowest point of despair, a magical encounter with the crow opens Lila's eyes to the beauty of being different, and gives her the courage to proudly embrace her true self.

Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

I requested this book as I am always looking for books to use during our China/Asia theme, especially those that are based on culture or folklore. While this may be based on a folk story, it is not apparent.
The illustrations are lovely and the book addresses unkindness that students can show a newcomer along with the "mob mentality" that we can fall into. This book is a springboard to discussing with students how words can hurt and that bullying has power when we follow along instead of thinking for ourselves and standing up. As an educator, this book would certainly allow for discussion of text-to-self and text-to-world connections.

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it


Want to Know More?

This book won the 2017 Skipping Stones Honor Award.

If you want a chapter book that explores how students can hurt a classmate, I encourage you to check out The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Squiggly Story, A Review

Squiggly Story, A by [Larsen, Andrew]
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Book Description


Who says there’s only one way to write a story?

A young boy wants to write a story, but he only knows his letters, not words. His sister says, “Why don’t you start there, with a letter?” So the boy tries. He chooses an easy letter to begin with. The letter I. And to his delight, with just the power of his vivid imagination, and no written words, an amazing story begins to unfold. Right before his eyes. 

This playful tale about creativity will inspire budding authors everywhere to envision new ways to write stories of their own. With or without words!
Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

One of the great joys of an educator is when young children begin to realize that letters make words and words make stories that can be read. When children learn to write, they are taking the first steps to being empowered to express their ideas. It is this beginning that Andrew Larsen captures in A Squiggly Story. I appreciate that the boy doesn't know how to write all his letters and that his words are conveyed through pictures since this is exactly how children begin writing. His sister encourages him along with his teacher and friends. I could see this book being a valuable resource in a preschool classroom as a way to reinforce the concept of letters creating words and that anyone can write. 

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Horse Named Steve, A Review

Horse Named Steve, A by [Collier, Kelly]
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Book Description


“Steve is a fine horse. But he thinks he could be finer. He wants to be EXCEPTIONAL.” 

When Steve finds a gold horn in the forest and attaches it to his head, ta-da! Exceptional! His friends are so impressed, they, too, attach objects to their own heads, in an effort to be as exceptional as Steve. So when Steve suddenly realizes his horn has gone missing, he’s devastated! He won’t be exceptional without his horn! Or will he?

A laugh-out-loud tale of an endearingly self-absorbed horse who learns that there’s more than one way to blow your own horn.

Review

I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

I really wanted to love this book. The illustrations are nice; I especially like how some of the story is shown in boxes spread across the page and that there are hoofprints as a visual clue for the reading order. Unfortunately, while Steve is cute, he's not a character that I fell in love with. As for the writing, Collier included lots of great vocabulary, but it was done in a way that made me think of the Fancy Nancy series. 
Our culture wants everyone to feel special - exceptional even. It's almost part of our human nature. This book completely missed the mark on sending the message that it's not our looks, possessions, friends or talents that make us special. 

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I Hate Everyone But You, A Review

I Hate Everyone But You: A Novel by [Dunn, Gaby, Raskin, Allison]
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Book Description
Dear Best Friend,
I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.
Sincerely,
Ava Helmer
(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)
We're still in the same room, you weirdo.
Stop crying.
G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?
I Hate Everyone But You, the debut novel by two emerging major talents in YA, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, is a story about new beginnings, love and heartbreak, and ultimately about the power of friendship.

Review


I received an eARC copy of this book from the publisher. Here is my honest review.

I've gone around and around on what rating to give this book; on the one hand, I enjoyed it and think the authors did an incredible job telling the story of Ava and Gen using emails and text messages. I enjoy the epistolary format and the title was certainly intriguing. On the other hand, the book has elements that I find questionable. There is language which I find bothersome but doesn't turn me off.
As a mother, I enjoy reading what 'kids these days' are reading. I think it's important to know what they are reading and it is my belief that literature opens the doors to conversation. This book explores topics that are relevant to young people today and that is where it's value lies. While I don't agree with the choices that the characters make, I think it portrays the culture and morals that our young people are facing. Sometimes it is just easier to talk about issues when it's someone else than yourself. The setting is college and drinking is a part of college life. For instance, it's easy as a parent to tell your kids not to drink; it's not as easy to talk to them about how they might encounter those situations and how they think they would handle them. But you can have a discussion about Ava and the choices she was faced with. 

Personally, I could only recommend this book with caution based on the content and how it is written and handled. I would not let my teenager read this book; I would let my child headed off to college read this in the months before leaving for college. 

Ava and Gen's story is told through a very worldly, anything goes, viewpoint. I know that works for many people. Based on the content* and story details, I would rate this book a 2 or 3. Based on the writing and the authors ability to tell a story in such a difficult format, I'd rate this book a 5. Acknowledging that the content of this book does address issues that young people encounter today, I'm rating it a 4. 


I gave this book: 

*Content included in this book: drinking, drug use, sex, homosexuality/bisexuality, mental health, cutting, personal relationships with professors

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by Stephanie Perkins (Editor), A Review


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Book Description

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME: TWELVE HOLIDAY STORIES by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins.

Review

I borrowed this book from my library in 2014.   I read two stories at a time, intending to read along with Christina Marie on youTube, but I got behind and had to catch up after Christmas.  This is my honest review written at the end of 2014*.  This post has been scheduled since January!
*Some data may change, i.e. I am sure that I will read works by some of these authors in 2015.

This book reminded me how enjoyable short stories could be!  I've only read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins going into this anthology.  It was a great introduction to the works of such well-known young adult authors.  Perkins forward was cute and bubbly and the perfect opener.   

I'll have an overall rating at the end of my post but I thought I'd rate each story individually as well.

The book opens with "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell.  I've never read any of Rowell's work* but this story makes me want to.  I especially liked the way Rowell told a story that spanned time by focusing on one part of a recurring event.  I loved the characters and finished this story thinking that it would be hard to displace as my favorite.  It was this story that reminded me why I enjoyed our discussions of short stories in college so much.  Rowell did a stellar job with character development and their growth in a very concise format.    

Kelly Link's "The Lady and the Fox" was another great story and reminder of how powerful short stories can be.  It had a bit of fantasy to it and a lot of symbolism.  Link also told her story through a series of snapshots across time. ★ Because I thought the writing and the story were great - not because I agree with who the heroine ended up with. 

"Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena was such a sweet story.  I liked that it was told from a male perspective and oh, my heart felt him being stuck alone for Christmas.  And then being so happy that there was a sweet, tender girl to reach out to him.  I also really liked that these young adults acted and thought and spoke like I think normal young adults act and think and speak.  

Jenny Han's "Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" was the first story that left me feeling meh.  It felt super cutesy (it is set at the North Pole and features elves and Santa) and trite to me.  I haven't read any of Han's work either but I have seen so much praise for her books -perhaps I expected more.  Or maybe I'm just old enough to not get it.  

Stephanie Perkins' contribution, "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" was phenomenal.  The heroine is real and gritty; I just thought Perkins did a great job of showing how much bad stuff has happened in her life in a concise way that gave her such depth. It was a little hard to swallow the "love at first sight" in the story....well, the level that they get to anyway in such a short amount of time.  And the hero was such a great example of selflessness to his family and to the heroine.  

David Levithan's "Your Temporary Santa" was another meh story for me.  I really liked the premise and the stream of consciousness from the main character.  I spent so much time though trying to figure out if the main character was male that it really bothered me.  I wish it had been more clear that it was a homosexual couple - then I could have actually focused on the story and the characters and all. And I found it completely unbelievable that (1) he was able to sneak in without an adult knowing and (2) that his boyfriend was asleep.  I wouldn't be able to sleep if I knew that my love interest was going to be sneaking into my house--- I'd be anticipating it.   

Krampuslauf by Holly Black was another okay story for me.  I didn't think it was great but I liked it a little more than the story just before. I thought the characters were shallow.  I've never been a "partier" so I just wasn't able to connect to anyone in the story.  



I read the If I Stay dualogy by Gayle Forman this spring so I was expecting a great piece of work in her story "What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?"  Forman did an excellent job exploring those moments when you realize that you have made the wrong assumptions of people or moments.  I really appreciated the way that Forman built an interracial relationship in a genuine, sweet way.  There were moments that could've been cheesy but she wrote them and they were instead simple and kind.  And of course, Forman has amazing insight into the minds of young adults and culture.  This story was so much more than just a love story.  

I also really enjoyed Myra McEntire's "Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus".  First, it had some Christian elements running through it; not in your face but it revolves around putting on a Nativity Play.  I liked how the pastor reached out and stood up for a kid that is considered an outcast/troublemaker in the town.  I thought it was a great picture of how we as Christians should be loving and gracious and accepting and including (I don't think that is a real word but do you know what I mean?) to those around us.  I thought there was a lot of humor in this story and enjoyed the character growth that the hero goes through in such a short amount of time.  

"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White was a surprise for me.  At the beginning,  I wasn't enjoying the story but I admired her helping out people and when Ben showed up, it took a turn in a positive direction.  The best part was the way the heroine's relationship with her mom and her mom's boyfriend went from strained to her realization of the way they had shown their love for her and her acknowledgment and appreciation for that.  

"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter was ridiculous.  I just can't even....this story was fantasy. Not good, other world fantasy but "this would never happen" fantasy.  

The final story is "The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor.  I can't even remember the last story.  I already returned my copy to the library so I'm not able to reference back to it at all.  

After I finished reading the last story, I was looking at the cover and thinking how I liked the British cover so much more.  Then I realized that there were twelve couples featured on the cover and I thought "that's a nice touch...the artist did a good job on that little detail".  Then I started really looking at each pair and I realized that it was each couple from the stories.  Very cool and I loved going through and matching each story up with their little couple icon.  I love when stuff like that happens on book covers, do you? 

I gave this book: 

★ = I did not like it     ★ = It was okay     ★ = I liked it    
★ = I really liked it     ★ = I loved it

My overall rating is three stars because each story was either one I really liked (or loved) or really didn't like.  The standout stories definitely make this a book to pick up and I could see myself coming back and reading the stories I enjoyed over again.