Monday, December 29, 2014

Ellie + Ace: Case of the Bedtime Bandit

Toodles, T. and W. Whistlehoot. (2014). Ellie + Ace: The Case of the Bedtime Bandit. Houston: Rogor Publishing. 

Children's ages 5-8 / Chapter Book / Mystery / Humor

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

Ellie and her super sleuth dog, Ace are destined to become famous detectives -- if only they can find plenty of cases to solve.  Fortunately, there are mysteries abounding in their town, including toppled garbage cans and items that go missing in the night.  Will Ellie and Ace crack the case of the bedtime bandit and become famous detectives?

The illustrations are done in black and white with eye-catching splashes of red that kids will love -- and the main characters are adorable. Plus, with chapter titles like "Smelly Brother Funk . . . Eww," kids will be giggling their way all the way through the short, engaging chapters.  An added element of fun is reading about the authors and the illustrator.

Thank you to eBooks For Review for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ghost Moon Night

Allen, J. (2014). Ghost Moon Night. Grantsville, UT: Treasured Stories.

YA / Paranormal

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

The prologue of this YA paranormal story grabs readers and pulls them back in time to a small town in the Philippines, 1881. Thieves have been caught and are shown no mercy and put to death in a torturous way. One young village boy tries to save them, and in doing so, saves himself but not his town from the curse of the langbuan. Starting that very night and every Ghost Moon Night after, the evil winged spirits of the dead rise and kill the villagers by clinging to them until the langbuan have drawn all the warmth from the victims' bodies.  SUPER creepy. I am not surprised that Jewel Allen, the author, won a first chapter contest with this story.

From there, the story jumps forward to the same village in 1956, still cursed but accepting the monthly Ghost Moon Night as the norm.  They have a new parish priest, Father Sebastien, who wasn't told about the town's curse ahead of time, and is quite shocked to hear about the langbuan from Antonio Pulido, the seventeen-year-old main character of the story.  Father Sebastien decides it's his mission to get the villagers to stop putting their faith in pagan rituals, but instead in God, and to figure out how to break the curse. He befriends and confides in Antonio, who has great respect for the priest.

Ghost Moon Night is definitely a coming of age story for Antonio, though he deals with a great deal more than does your average teen -- and that's without factoring in his encounters with the langbuan, which are intense! Antonio is a complex character who really grows by making mistakes and learning from them. His relationship with his father is particularly complicated and often painful, even more so as Antonio discovers his father's many secrets. What is most revealing about Antonio's character is his love for his grandfather and what he's willing to do for him.

Allen's writing is beautiful and descriptive, and her passages really bring the setting of a small village in the Philippines to life.  She uses a lot of Tagalog words, which mostly can be defined by context, but also there is a glossary at the end of the book that lists all the words (which I didn't find until I finished -- would be great to have a heads-up at the beginning). There were a few scenes that were confusing to me and which I didn't feel moved the story forward (ex. nuno sa punso, cleaning the morgue). They seemed out of place or in need of more explanation as to how they were connected. Also, the action slowed down significantly through the middle of the story and got a bit bogged down with some unnecessary details; however, the last third of the book had some great, unexpected twists as well as some pretty intense and scary langbuan encounters, which forgave the parts that dragged.

Ghost Moon Night will leave readers thinking about more than just its flying zombies -- there are many deeper messages.  There is no profanity or sexual situations, but there are death and grief, references to domestic abuse and alcoholism, and violence, though it is not overly graphic. As such, I would recommend this book for upper middle grade or young adult readers.

This book was provided to me by eBooks for Review in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Harris, N.P. (2014). Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. NY: Crown Archetype.

Adult / Memoir / Humor

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

At just forty-one years old, Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) has already lived an amazing and awe-inspiring life. If he continues at this pace, I hope we can look forward to a sequel memoir that covers the next forty years! There is certainly no indication that he plans to slow down or get any less interesting as he transitions into fatherhood and new opportunities in the acting world.

Click here to see Crown Publishing's book trailer featuring, you guessed it, NPH! It will give you a nice idea of what you're in for. 

Rule follower that I am, I read this through the first time following the intended (or was it?) "choose your own story" format. I was finished quickly and definitely wanted more, so I read the whole book in order and found it much more satisfying. Admittedly, I wasn't riveted so much that I couldn't put it down, but I think that also was a plus. Each chapter was an amusing little piece of NPH's life -- or a complete creative lie -- and I could read a chapter or two and have a few giggles and then not return to the book for several days, without missing a beat.

I have seen a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother, but other than that, I am not sure I have ever seen NPH perform. Nonetheless, my impression of him has always been that he's funny, talented (his character on HIMYM was brilliantly acted), and that he is really a good guy. All this comes through in his memoir, but what is most refreshing is that he is grateful. His gratitude shines again and again, and I love that he fully credits the people in his life who have sacrificed and boosted him so that he could attain what he has attained.

Readers will be treated to NPH's magic tricks, cocktail recipes, sex, lies, and videotapes (see Penn Teller chapter) all shared with humor and straight from the heart.  It is definitely an adult book given Harris's honesty about sex and drugs, but it's probably okay for mature young adults and could be helpful/hopeful/inspirational to those struggling with their sexuality -- NPH even gives a couple of shoutouts to Dan Savage and the It Gets Better campaign, and how it impacted Harris.

I received a free print copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Click here to buy this book from the publisher or to learn more about the author.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Homeroom Diaries

Patterson, J. and Papademetriou, L. (2014). Homeroom Diaries. Blackstone Audiobooks.

YA / Realistic Fiction / Humor

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

NOTE: Sadly, my audio review copy didn't include the PDF of art and illustrations, so I am reviewing solely on the audiobook content. This is a very quick listen at just four hours playing on normal speed.

In Homeroom Diaries, authors James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou cover some heavy material in the very believable voice of main character, Maggie Clarke. It's junior year of high school, and Maggie "Cuckoo" Clarke has chosen optimism as her modus operandi. It doesn't matter that she had a mental breakdown after her mother abandoned her (hence the nickname, Cuckoo), that the school counselor anxiously and almost enthusiastically awaits a relapse, that she and her "Freak Show" friends are bullied by the school's haters, or that even those who seem to have it together are teetering on the edge. Oh, and she may have a crush on her teacher and the feeling might be mutual.  Despite the odds, Cuckoo and the Freak Show friends will choose happiness for not only themselves, but for the entire school -- come hell or high water.

"Even trees go through sad times, but then they burst back to life. That will be me. THAT will be me." Cuckoo Clarke, as she prefers to be called, is an amazing narrator. (And on that note, Lauren Fortgang does an excellent job of reading, though as is often the case, her male voices sound a lot like Rudolph with his fake nose on his face.)  Through Cuck's diary entries, readers are taken straight into the battlefields of high school, where even the teachers and school staff can be the enemy.  Cuckoo navigates it all and strives to accept herself, faults and all, embracing what makes her unique, in part because she has the support of an incredible foster mother, Mrs. Morris. Patterson & Papademetriou quickly establish the deep love and respect between Cuckoo and Mrs. Morris, setting the stage for even more heartache. 

There are definitely a few parts that are unrealistic -- two quick examples are a seventeen-year-old protégé being hired as a high school teacher and a student who attempted suicide being right back in school just days later -- but the writing is vivid ("Marjorie's car is a vintage Buick and it still smells like an old man.") and the messages are powerful. Cuckoo Clarke reminds readers that the bad doesn't have to define who you are, and that happiness -- even if you have to rewrite endings to find it -- is a life choice. 

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free CD audiobook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Moonlight Dancer

Atwood, D. (2012). Moonlight Dancer. Pleasanton, CA: New Potato Press.

New Adult / YA / Supernatural Historical Fiction with Romance

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

In Moonlight Dancer, Deb Atwood creates an irresistible mix of romance, mystery, and mysticism which will keep readers turning pages.  On a trip to an antique shop, Kendra JinJu MacGregor is drawn to an old Korean doll, only to find purchasing it cost prohibitive. When Kendra can't help returning and spending all her living and college tuition money to purchase the doll, it is only the beginning of the high price she ultimately pays for bringing it into her life.  Once Kendra has the doll, which Kendra names NanJu, at home, strange things immediately begin happening, leading Kendra back to the shop for answers from the sexy and mysterious salesman Hiro Peretti. The magnetism between Hiro and Kendra is immediate, and though each has secrets that keep them apart, it is NanJu that creates the biggest barrier. Soon NanJu, who is really the ghost of a sixteenth century Korean shaman, is asserting full control, with a plan to carry Kendra into the ancient world of Korea to soothe and release NanJu’s tortured, restless spirit. Kendra’s actions are not her own, the stakes are high, and having pushed Hiro out of her life, will Kendra be able to survive the past on her own to return to the present?

Moonlight Dancer is told from several viewpoints, including NanJu’s, which is told in a series of not always sequential flashbacks. The writing is beautifully done, and Deb Atwood clearly has a gift for description that is truly lyrical, shining especially in the chapters with NanJu as narrator. Readers will feel transported into ancient Korea and will experience NanJu’s trials and tribulations as if sitting on her shoulder. The inclusion of tidbits of Korean traditions, conditions, and history provided for a very rich reading experience.  Kendra’s and Hiro’s chapters were less lyrical but certainly helpful in defining their characters and moving the story forward; however, readers will need to be willing to suspend their disbelief in order to accept how their relationship unfolds and how realistic are the conditions.  Kendra never shakes the damsel-in-distress persona, nor Hiro the hero, but perhaps that makes them a perfect match. Moonlight Dancer will appeal to fans of New Adult – though the sex scenes are mild – who enjoy the mysteries of the past woven in with some insta-lust of the present.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bielawski, R. (2014). Bees Like Flowers. Self published.

Children's / Picture Book / Informational

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Children will read along and learn as our happy young narrator shows readers, in a very simple and non-threatening way, that bees are worthy of a closer look. Author Rebecca Bielawski uses rhyme along with beautiful illustrations to explain the process of pollination and where bees live, and she throws in a few gentle words of caution about stings. In a supplemental section at the end, insects are defined and flowers shown in the story are identified, and there’s even an invitation to the readers to go back and find the flowers in the illustrations. Whether used as a read-aloud or for new readers to tackle alone, Bees Like Flowers is a fun and appealing teaching tool about the life of bees.

The rhyming is very well done and kudos to Bielawski for using easy simple phrases and easy to read print.  There is a repeated use of “cos,” which could create some confusion since the target audience is children learning to read and it’s not a word.  It sounds good when read aloud – though “‘cause” would have worked just as well -- but its use may need to be explained. The illustrations are what really put it over the top. This book is so cute that readers will want to hug it. For starters, the sweet-faced little girl narrating the story is precious and obviously precocious, and she’s not afraid to climb a tree or get her hands dirty as she tromps about nature.  And NATURE! Nature is drawn so vividly and beautifully – the bees have soft, gentle expressions and are definitely represented as friends, not foes. While some of the flowers do have faces, others are drawn very realistically where children would be able to identify them in their own yards and gardens.  Though the location isn’t ever told, readers will want to immerse themselves in the lovely setting of Bees Like Flowers, and this book will be read again and again.

Bees Like Flowers is book two in a series called Mummy Nature.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales

Jackson, B. (2013). Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales: A Young Lawyer's Life, Learning, and Loves. Vol. 1. Self-published.

Adult / Memoir / Humor

I gave this book 4 out of 5 Stars

In Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales, author Bolaride Jackson shows readers that in the world of a young lawyer, truth is often stranger – and more hilarious – than fiction.  Jackson’s memoir, told in short chapters that stand alone but also connect to other chapters, brings readers a cast of clients, co-workers, and kooks that are richly described and quite memorable.  Set in times when those lucky enough to have a TV only struggled with choosing from three stations, Bolo’s job as a lowly associate in a law firm takes him around North Carolina to some of the most remote counties, where his greeting could be a sassy secretary -- or a shotgun.  All work and no play makes for a dull lawyer, so be prepared to chuckle as Bolo navigates not only his career but the dangerous waters of meeting and – pun intended – courting eligible bachelorettes.

If the title doesn’t give you enough of a hint that you are in for some fun, then turn a few pages and you’ll know.  Reading Pardon Me for Protruding felt like sitting around the table after a meal and enjoying stories from the good ol’ days.  Author Bolaride Jackson doesn’t take himself too seriously, and even as he explains legal terminology, he never comes off as pompous or superior.  The story was very well written and speaks highly of Jackson’s skill with the pen.  Readers will appreciate the use of innuendo to keep the stories clean and the writing flows like having a comfortable conversation with a true southern gentleman.  Jackson’s humor runs the gambit from the obvious, laugh-out-loud moments, to the more subtle jabs at his profession. For example, Jackson writes, “Like the military, law firms are in constant need of reinforcements. Not because people get killed or wounded, of course, but because lawyers become unproductive by retiring, quitting, or making partner.” Pardon Me for Protruding, with its Reader’s Digest-like, short, clean chapters will delight its readers, who will most certainly pick-up the sequel.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spell Check

Wright, J. (2014). Spell Check. St. George, UT: Heart Stone Press.

YA / Fantasy / Paranormal

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

Be careful what you wish for because wishes can come true! It's Ally Peterson's sixteenth birthday, and as she dangles from a tree -- the victim of a cruel prank -- maybe Ally wishes a little nastiness on bully Lisa and the rest of the cheerleaders, and maybe those wishes come true. Ally soon finds out that it is not coincidence but her family lineage that is making her wishes come true, and that even the most innocent of wishes can have dire consequences. Already Ally's life is complicated with divorced parents, bullying that's lasted for years, an annoying little brother, and a crush on a boy who seems beyond her reach. But careless wishing creates even more complications, and now the stakes are high, Ally's mistakes are many, and time is running out for Ally to master the magic.  Can Ally balance her life with her new powers? 

Wright tells a great story with a unique premise (trolls!!) that manages to hit on a variety of elements that readers will recognize: imperfect families, friendship, finding your strengths, figuring out who you are, falling in love. There was one line I really liked, which could be taken literally within the context of the story but also at a more basic level about humanity:  

People speak of dark magic and light magic, but there is no such thing on either side — there are only people who practice in darkness and people who practice in the light.

Humor really helped carry the story along and when things got intense, the funny chapter titles  served as much needed comic relief.  Excellent secondary characters, like Ally's fabulous, feisty Swedish grandmother Farmor, further enhanced the story and their descriptions and actions made them easily imagined.  

There were so many good messages in the book, and it was refreshingly clean -- Ally had plenty of circumstances where no one would have blamed her for dropping an Fbomb or two, but how wonderfully surprising that there was no profanity, and the romance was sweet and thoughtful (but not at all dull).

Despite the main character being sixteen years old, this book would be great for middle grade readers or older reluctant readers.  The storyline doesn't get bogged down with too many details and the writing is pretty simplistic, yet highly interesting.  By the end of the story, I did feel there were too many people who were supposedly "in the know" and sworn to secrecy, and yeah, I think readers know how that probably would turn-out. And though I was happy that Ally ultimately handled being bullied, the scene itself was somewhat vague and anticlimactic. 

I do have a gripe about the cover (but it didn't affect my review) -- it just doesn't fit.  There are no spell books or fancy form fitting dresses for Ally, and if anything, Farmor mocks the preconceived notions of witches and spells. 

I received this book from Ebooks For Review in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jack the Puddle Jumper

Maddox, T.K. (2014). Jack the Puddle Jumper. Self-published.

Children's Picture Book

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

In Thomas Key Maddox's picture book, Jack the Puddle Jumper, readers are introduced to the peaceful town of Pockinshook, where rebellious young Jack bucks the rules by doing what he loves the most: jumping in puddles. Much to the chagrin of the townspeople, Jack isn't like the other children who are quiet, calm, and neat. No other children join Jack to play, which leaves Jack feeling lonely and discouraged until local scientist, Doctor Calabash, discovers that the town is in dire environmental danger and that Jack just might have the answer to saving it. Will the townspeople believe Doctor Calabash and put their faith in Jack?

This is a terrific story and what is equally impressive is that author Thomas Key Maddox was just ten years old when he penned it. Jack the Puddle Jumper is a fun and imaginative story, written at a level well beyond Maddox's ten years. There is plenty of scientific terminology thrown in, the meanings of which readers will hopefully be encouraged to investigate (and perhaps discover that it is force, not velocity, which equals mass times acceleration). Truly, the book could be used in a science class as a springboard for students to come up with their own theories. The illustrations were colorful and interesting, but they were a little small to see in eBook format and didn't necessarily match-up with the text. Nonetheless, the illustrations will be a big attraction to readers since they were made by children from all around the world. A short explanation at the end of the book, telling how Maddox went about getting and choosing the pictures, would be a great addition to future editions. The book's content will challenge and entertain young readers, and it's likely to inspire young readers to write their own stories and make their own illustrations.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We Were Kings

Blotta, R. (2014). We Were Kings. Self-published.

Adult / Novella / Realistic Fiction

I gave this book 5 of 5 stars!

“Only when you’re a little lost can you start to find direction.” 

In Rafael Blotta's We Were Kings, Robert Bartholomew doesn’t know he’s lost; he is living his own life as a writer in Guatemala, far from his South Philly upbringing and the family and neighborhood ties he found a little too binding.  Robert has nothing in common with those people, especially his brother who has become a guitar god on the rock scene. Good riddance, Robert tells himself.  He has happily moved beyond his days as Robbie from Gloucester City and has no plans to look back -- that is until the arrival of the invitation to come home for his father's fiftieth birthday party.  Robert begrudgingly finds himself on an airplane back home, then facing his past which, alarmingly, is his present. Robbie soon realizes that families are bonded by things that distance can't break: love, acceptance, and understanding, and perhaps those aren't such bad ties after all. Rafael Blotta tells a poignant story about family and friendship and the perspective on them that comes only with maturity.

Blotta has a real gift for depicting reality, and his writing flows in a natural, not showy way. His characters are fully fleshed-out and easily imagined as people readers have known or met. I appreciated the adjusted phonetic spellings to help the readers "hear" the strange, exclusive Gloucester City accent described as, "the only accent of its kind in the entire world, a strange mix of South Jersey Irish-American descendents [sic] combined with a South Philly Italian intonation, all wrapped together with the slur and mindset of the dockworkers that had first made their homes here over a hundred years ago.” Blotta uses beautiful, descriptive language and also some colorful figurative language that perfectly illustrate his characters. For example, in describing his great-grandmother, he says, “She had a penchant for sprinkling the truth with flavorful bullshit.” This short description speaks volumes of the character, and really illustrates the overall impression of We Were Kings: Rafael Blotta’s story speaks volumes in just a few pages.

Fortunately, the only improvements needed are easily made with another pass by the editor. There are a dozen or so errors, which is too many for a story of this length. They are not game stoppers, but corrections would take the story to the next level of professionalism.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.