Best Books I read in 2016

I am so glad 2016 is over! Though I didn’t read as many books as 2015 (mostly because a lot of what I read was fan-fiction, which I love, but doesn’t count towards my reading goals for the year), I still read a decent amount of good books (232 total). I read a ton of mangas (71 – impressive when you think they’re about 2oo pgs each) and there were a lot of really good ones there. This is the first year I’ve had a separate category for mangas on my end of the year list. The theme for this year appears to have been romances, though not intentionally, mostly just because of issues in my personal life reflecting into what I chose to read. 

Picture Books

jack-frost

  • Jack Frost (Guardians of Childhood #3) by William Joyce – I love William Joyce’s books and this one was a visual masterpiece. I love the Guardians of Childhood series and this is graphically amazing younger children’s version before he brings out the full-on book for the chapter book series. A new interpretation of the Jack Frost myth, and it is this book whose story was featured on The Rise of the Guardians movie that came out in 2013. 
  • I Love You Already by Jory John – brought to you by the same guy that did Goodnight Already!, which I adored. Hilarious sequel about Bear and his neighbor Duck, who annoys the crap out of him but who he still likes. Reminds me of parents and kids. 
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  • Mother Bruce written/illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins – funniest book I read this year, hands down. Goose baby-wearing by a grumpy bear, enough said. 
  • It Came in the Mail written/illustrated by Ben Clanton – Picked it up after discovering his other adorable comic, Narwhal and Jelly (described below). An adorable book and very imaginative. A little boy, aptly named Liam (like my son), wants desperately to get something in the mail. So he writes a nice little note to the mailbox begging for something and gets a surprise, a dragon in the mail. So he asks for more and chaos ensues, but he comes up with a clever solution.

Children

brown-girl-dreaming

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – I read this for our tween book club and really enjoyed it, but it is a 337 page verse novel, which can kind of be scary for some kids. It is an autobiographic poem essentially about the author. 
  • The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud – I love pretty much anything this man writes, but this one was a great continuation of the Lockwood & Co series. I have described this as “Ghost epidemic in the UK with kids as ghost hunters but the ghosts can actually kill you, and only kids can see them”. Glad Lucy finally got back with Lockwood, George and Holly. 
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  • Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh – tells the story of one of the most famous Mexican illustrators who created a lot of the images we know today about Dia de los Muertos (one of my favorite holidays, along with Halloween)
  • The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – a wonderfully creative biography of abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, whom I discovered last year, who could hear colors and see sounds
  • Narwal: Unicorn of the Sea (Narwhal and Jelly #1)  written and illustrated by Ben Clanton – a recent discovery that was too cute for words. How can you not love a Narwhal and Jellyfish who love waffles, imagination, reading, and creating their own unique pod full of friends?
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  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick – this one had been on my to-read list for ages and finally got read it. It is a masterpiece like pretty much all of his work, which he writes and illustrates. Everyone should read this. The book, which starts in 1766 and ends in 2007, is about the Marvel and Nightingale families and their connection to each other. But it is also a story about love in all its forms, acceptance, understanding, and the complicated relationships within families (which really hit home for me this year). 
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  • A New Hope – The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken – picked this one up as a way to get my son who loves Star Wars more into audiobooks. I loved it, more than him. It had all the cool sound effects, a lot of the movie dialogue, and a whole backstory on Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker. Am definitely listening to the other two adaptations. Highly recommended as an audiobook, though more suited to 9-14 yr olds than 5 yr olds.

Young Adult

  • The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlett, Cress, and Winterby Marisa Meyers – probably the best series I’ve read in a while. I love fairy-tale retellings and this one is an awesome sci-fi version with cyborgs, genetically-engineered wolfmen, space pilots, and psychotic Lunars (as the name suggests, people from the Moon). Plus the romances are fantastic and varied. 
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  • Fangirl and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – definitely two of the absolute best books I read this year. I adore all the stuff I’ve read so far from this author, and look forward to reading more in the future. You should read Fangirl first and then Carry On, though they can both stand on their own, as Carry On is literally a big part of the first book. I was totally Cather Avery and wished I could find someone like Levi. Sigh…

Manga see this post for reviews for most of them

  • Kamisama Kiss Vol 20 – 22 by Julieta Suzuki – I love this series, so anymore books I get to read are awesome. See my initial reviews of the series here. 
  • A Silent Voice Vol 1-7 by Yoshitoki Oima – I have never read a manga about bullying, esp as it was about a deaf girl, and that is what drew me to this book. It really was unlike anything I’d ever read and was a very unconventional romance. 
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  • Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki by Mamoru Hosoda – another unconventional fantasy romance (seems to be the year for them) about a half wolf/half man who meets the love of his life and their children. Great anime as well. 
  • Library Wars Vol 14
  • Library Wars Vol. 14- by Kiiro Yumi – I love the craziness of this manga. I love the ideas of a militarized librarians protecting censorship. 
  • Ouran High School Host Club, Vol 1-11 by Bisco Hatori – loved the anime so decided to read the books to see if there was any extra awesome and there is. 
  • Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1-25  by Karuho Shiina – This is one of the sweetest mangas, heck romances, I’ve read in awhile. I can identify
  • Demon Love Spell, Vol 1-6 by Mayu Shinjo – the most ridiculous idea and worst name ever for a manga, but it made me LOL and keep reading till I finished the series. 
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  • Horimiya Vol 1-5 by Hero – another great manga romance series on an unconventional topic; Two high school students, who are not all they seem, fall in love and start a relationship. They are seriously the cutest, most awkward couple ever, which makes it so fun to watch the story unfold. 

Adult

  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick – an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) I picked up because it reminded me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (another awesome aging adult book). It was a bit of a romance, journey to lead you to new discoveries – i.e. your self after a traumatic event, in this case the death of Arthur’s beloved wife. 
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – read this one for my bookclub and just loved the story of two very different sisters in the French Resistance during WWII
  • Dragon Age: MageKiller (Magekiller #1-6) – An ARC I was lucky enough to review this year, I want to read the whole series now. 
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – I’ve loved her books for years and so gladly picked this for my bookclub and enjoyed it as well
  • Poison or Protect: Delightfully Deadly #1 and Imprudence (Custard Protocols #2) by Gail Carriger – 1st one is a novella about one of her characters from the Finishing School series, which was a fun little romp. 2nd one is all about her dad going crazy, a bit of sex education, and the crap really hitting the fan in regards to the G0d-breaker Plague (a continuation of events that happened in her first series, my favorite The Parasol Protectorate).
  • The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories #1-2) by Bernard Cornwell – fabulous series, that they also turned into a miniseries, about life in King Alfred the Great’s court. It is set in the 9th century and told from the viewpoint of a young boy raised by the Vikings who is actually a Saxon lord. Very much looking forward to reading more books in this series

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Summer Manga

This summer has been cray-cray! So much work and programming and personal life has been all over the place. So I have been reading a good amount of manga (29 and counting since end of April) this summer in between all the ARCs and book club reads because A. I enjoy them B. they are quick reads C. sometimes you just need something fluffy to read in between all the other stuff. I have discovered some pretty good stuff by accident, though some I knew about because of watching the anime version. I was very surprised how deep and meaningful A Silent Voice ended up being, and it is definitely one of the best mangas I’ve read this year. I’ve read more than I have reviewed, but I’ve been writing this post forever, so I figured I should end it soon. 

Strobe Edge Vol 1

Strobe Edge, Vol 1. written and illustrated by Io Sakisaka

Honestly at first I thought this book was a bit shallow and the main character clueless, but I will admit that is a bit of the charm of the book. Ninako has always relied on others to tell how she was feeling and has always been very nice but naive, which is why when she falls for the quiet popular guy Ren, she doesn’t know how to react. She wasn’t expecting it and most of her interactions with him are purely by luck and circumstance, but both of them seem to be falling in love with each other in a most unexpected way. Of course, there is another boy named Daichi who is in love with her, and they have been friends for years, but won’t say anything except to get pissed at Ren for “taking her away” from him. The twist in this story comes from the fact that Ren is dating Daichi’s older sister and his family has been going through a messy divorce. Will she bow to her friend’s pressure to date Daishi or follow her heart (though possibly have it broken) by pursuing Ren? Recommended for ages 13+, 3 stars. 

A Silent Voice #1 -2 by Yoshitoki Oima

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Shoya Ishida is a bit of a ruffian and slacker. He is in 6th grade and with the help of his two buddies, they make a new girl’s life a living hell. Shoko Nishimiya is the object of his torture, a pretty deaf girl who thinks the best of everyone, even in the midst of being harangued constantly by Shoya. He ends up ruining six of Shoko’s hearing aids before her mother draws her out of school, and charges his mother for the replacement of them, all $17,000 worth. Because of what he did, Shoya is ostracized for the next 6 years by his classmates and supposed friends and becomes an outcast. He makes up his mind to find Shoko and apologize to her in person, after he has paid back his mother all the money he owes her. He finally meets her and instead of simply apologizing, he tries to become her friend. She is at first bewildered by this, but kind of accepts it at the same time. He does seem like he’s turned over a new leaf, paying his mom back for the money he owes her, trying to help Shoko out, and learning sign language so they can communicate. Her sister Yuzuru is very protective of her and at first pretends to be her boyfriend to scare off Shoya (which leads to a hilarious scene in a public bath later on). In the end, Yuzuru decides that he is not being false and is sincerely trying to make amends. Their mother, however, will never forgive him. Will Shoya ever be able to get her mother’s forgiveness? What is his end game? How does Shoko really feel about him? To find out, read the first two volumes of this delightful series. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

I forget what I was browsing when I discovered this title, but I’m glad I picked it up. The subject matter was so interesting and one I’ve never seen in mangas before, at least in this context. This handled some pretty tough topics such as bullying, depression, and thoughts of suicide, with a light touch. By that, I mean we are clearly shown the cause of the main character’s issues and the effect it had on his life afterwards (without being heavy-handed). I have dealt with all three of those in the past and been on both sides of bullying and I thought it was written very well. I think my favorite part had to be his mother’s reaction to finding out that he planned to end his life (as a mother, I can understand her reaction). 

Demon Love Spell

Demon Love Spell (Ayakashi Koi Emaki), Vol. 1-4 written and illustrated by Manyu Shinjo

This is quite possibly one of the worst name for a manga or anime, or really a book period. However, the story really wasn’t that bad. A good girl falling in love for a bad boy is not a new story, but watching her crumble was entertaining. Definitely a 16+ book though, as there are fairly graphic depiction of nudity and simulations of sex.

Miko Tsubaki is daughter of the head priest of the local shrine and her father is a famous demon hunter. She is supposed to be following in this footsteps, but her powers aren’t as good. One day she seals the powers of an incredibly powerful incubus (who seduces women into having sex with them to gain their power or energy) named Kagura, totally by accident, and they start living together. He is in a much different form though, not the sex god form she originally encounters but a mini boy child version (which makes for some interesting scenes). Eventually, Kagura proposes marriage to her and she says yes, only they have to convince both of their families it is a good idea. 

Volume 4 was my favorite one of the series because it made me laugh out loud so much I must’ve seemed like a crazy person.The series as a whole has been pretty hilarious as the incubus tries to get Miko, a priestess, to have sex with him so he can become even more powerful as a demon. But this volume is more stepped up as they are both falling more in love with each other and Miko’s resistance is falling fast. Plus every time she works up the courage to actually do it, they are interrupted by a crazy situation, aka the body swapping in this book.  Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars. 

Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki written by Mamoru Hosoda, illustrated by Yu and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto

I love love loved this book! It was a bit of a random pickup after I saw the book on a comics involving mothers booklist and thought it looked like fun. It was sweet and sad and wonderful! Plus fabulous illustrations that were so expressive. Hana is a young woman at university in a biology class when she meets a handsome but quiet young man and shares her textbook with him. They quickly fall in love, even after he reveals that he is half-wolf and can change at will. They soon have a baby girl named Yuki, followed a year later by a boy named Ame. Her husband has a tragic accident and dies, leaving young mother Hana to take care of two children by herself. She decides they would be able to be more themselves, aka half-wolf children, if they lived out in the country where her husband grew up. So they move way out and have to fend for themselves, learning to garden and be a part of nature. Her children are very different as they decide whether they want to be human or wolf on their own. Parts of this manga made me sob and it was totally heart-wrenching, but hopeful in the end. The anime version is great as well. Highly recommended for ages 15+, 5 stars.

Library Wars Vol 14

Library Wars: Love & War, Vol 14 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

The Library Task Force (LTF) is still protecting the author Mr. Toma from the Media Betterment Committee guys aka the bad guys who want censorship, but decide he must defect from Japan to protect himself.  Kasahara and Instructor Dojo are helping Toma escape, but Dojo is injured and Kasahara must protect both of them from the MBC. Kasahara picks him up and takes him to safety. It finally happened! Kasahara finally got up the nerve to kiss Instructor Dojo after he is injured and tell him she likes him. He is shocked to say the least, but can still smirk at her as she is leaving. The LTF figured out that their mole was none other than Assistant Director Hatano and not Tezuka’s brother Satoshi. Dojo manages to make it a hospital where he has surgery to remove the bullet from his leg, and Kasahara drives Toma to Osaka. I liked it at the end of the manga when the LTF team members are discussing how similar Kasahara and Dojo are, and how Dojo used to be just like Kasahara when he first started. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars. 

Kimi Ni Todoke - From Me to You manga

Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You), Vol 1- 10 written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina

I adore this series! I discovered the anime on Hulu and binge-watched it until the end, completely obsessed with it. So when I discovered there was also a manga, I jumped at the chance to read it. I am enjoying it because there is so much more in the manga that you don’t get in the anime show. Volume 1 is so adorable and I loved how the author/illustrator showed how Kazehaya was falling for her so early in the series instead of a bit later like they show in the anime. I mean he was nice to hear from the beginning but you don’t really see the love till later. Volume 1 is all about introducing us to the main characters and Sawako’s first year (1 of 3 years of Japanese high school). Sawako, who the teens have all dubbed Sadako (the long dark haired girl from the horror movie The Ring) because her behavior and mannerisms look the same, is a very quiet and shy girl with no friends. After a chance meeting with Kazehaya before school starts, she starts to slowly come out of her shell and try to get to know and befriend her classmates. They begin to see how cool she is and fun to be around. She becomes friends with Ayane and Chizuru, two girls who are the total opposite of her but soon become fiercely protective of each other. Because she is friends with Chizuru, she also befriends Ryu, Chizuru’s best friend (who is also secretly in love with her). With Kazehaya’s help, she is befriending more classmates and becoming well-liked with pretty much everyone, except Kurumi (who declares them rivals after she is rejected by Kazehaya). Then comes the incredibly slow burn romance between Sawako and Kazehaya culminating in a very awkward pronouncement from both of them that they like each other and start a relationship. I loved Ryu’s character even more in the manga, especially in relation to Chizuru. I can totally relate to Sawako as I was very shy in high school. Looking forward to reading more volumes in the series as this is pretty much where the anime stopped and I know there is at least 15 more volumes after that. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

Kamisama Kiss Vol 20

Kamisama Kiss Vol. 20 written and illustrated by Julietta Suzuki

Namami and Tomoe are finally dating and they are in Okinawa for Nanami’s class trip. Mikage sends Tomoe on an errand to drop off a gift to the shrine maiden on an island nearby and Tomoe realizes it’s the same one he met so about 100 years ago. She tells him “the girl who lives in your heart is a good one,” and “you need to change if you want to make that girl happy.” He assumes that it means he must become human and starts reading up on it, but it really freaks Nanami out. Tomoe is kind of realizing how hard it will be to be a demon and have a human girlfriend, and she thinks he is rushing his decision to become human. Nanami goes to discuss things with Mikage who tries to make her see things through Tomoe’s eyes. Tomoe eventually takes the re-evolution potion that Kurama got from Ami (to turn her back to human after she was turned into a mermaid in the previous volume), and turns into a small white fox and then is stuck like that. Will he be able to turn back into a demon or even a human? To find out, read this exciting volume. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars. 

Demon Prince of Momochi House Vol 1     The Demon Prince of Momochi House

The Demon Prince of Momochi House, Vol 1-2 by Aya Shouoto

A fellow librarian recommended this series to me, so I decided to give it a try. I mean how can I not with a fox demon guy on the cover? They are a particular weakness of mine. The manga is about a orphaned girl named Himari Momochi who inherits a mansion on her 16th birthday. She soon realizes that things are not always as they seem. Once she gets there, she finds 3 gorgeous squatters who have no intention of leaving her house, which is a gateway between the demon and human world. Two of them (Yukari and Ise) are ayakashi (spirits) and the other is a human named Aoi who can transform into a fox/cat/butterfly demon. Aoi was chosen by the house to be its protector, and that is why he can change shape. The fox demon (Nue) reminds me a lot of Tomoe from Kamasama Kiss at least in looks (though a little more effeminate), though he and his alter ego are way nicer to start out with, and even features similar characters from that manga/anime.

Naturally Himari immediately falls for Aoi and is constantly talking about him and being concerned for his well-being. The funniest parts were how flustered she gets around him because he seems to be so naive, which makes me wonder how long he’s been the house protector. I look forward to finding out more about both of their characters and the mansion to better fill out the story. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Bairdston

Bairdston

Bairdston by Robert Cook

Published Dec 7, 2015

Karim and Salima Kufdani are two orphaned street kids from Tangier, Morocco. They are rescued from anonymity by Alejandro Muhammad Cuchulain (Cooch) and educated by his team, which include a martial arts expert and a mathematical genius. After spending some time with them, they are shipped off to a Scottish boarding school called Bairdston to receive a more rounded Western education. But will they be able to survive this new climate, in the face of racism and bullying? Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.

I originally picked this book because I thought the subject matter was interesting. Two Muslim kids from Africa trying to adapt to life in the bitter cold of a Scottish boarding school. What I did not know until I read someone else’s review and the author’s note at the end of the book (which really should’ve been in the beginning), was that this story came from a brief mention in the author’s last book Pulse, an adult thriller. That book is all about Cooch, a half-American/half-Bedouin former CIA agent who becomes the guardian for the teens in this book. You could tell that the author had never written a book for teens before as the writing was pretty dry and didn’t really draw you into the lives of the characters, but kept things mostly on the surface. I didn’t feel like this book had an ending; the story just sort of stopped. Karim and Salima are pretty viciously bullied by teachers and students alike, but nobody seems to want to help them, with the exception of their caregivers and that response is pretty brutal. The only time Islam is really mentioned is at the end when Karim tries to “educate” his teammates on what Islam is and really means. Honestly, the only part I found really fascinating is when Karim joins the soccer team and the author vividly describes a soccer game that the team has with a rival team, and really puts you in the minds of the players.

Children and Young Adult Book Review Nov 2015

Hi everyone! Long time no see (my fault I know). These aren’t all the children’s and YA books I’ve read in the past couple of months, but a selection of ones I liked, as they tend to be the ones I read most often. It’s not been good for the last couple of months for reading in general. I’ve been in a bit of a slump in regards to personal life/health and reading, but those things are starting to get sorted out so I should be more on track in the future. Hopefully everything will be better in the New Year. I’m looking forward to reading more ARCs (Advanced Readers Copies). There’s a bunch of good ones coming out in February and March, so should be fun in January and February. I’m currently listening to the end of Insurgent by Veronica Roth, and although I enjoy it, Tris’s character is really pissing me off because despite how strong she was in the first book, she’s so whiny and pathetic in this one. I love love love Tobias though!! Everytime I try to start a new book, I keep getting distracted by the entire Kamisama Kiss manga series, which I started reading in October. I’m nearly finished with it, just have 5 more volumes to go. I just started a new ARC called Georgia by Dawn Tripp, a historical fiction about Georgia O’Keeffe as she has been a bit of an obsession of mine as well ever since I really learned about her and her art in the summer.

Children

Keats’s Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury

Ezra Jack Keats characters

I have been in love with Ezra Jack Keats’s work ever since I saw an exhibit about him at University of Southern Mississippi about eight years ago. So when I got the chance to check out this collection of ten stories, I jumped. His stories are a little bit dated, but I just love the characters and stories, they are so relatable and fun. The introduction was written by Anita Silvey and there are stories from famous children’s book author/illustrators like Eric Carle, Reynold Ruffins, Jerry Pinkney and Simms Taback documenting their experiences with the Keats himself. There is also Keats’s booklist and a biography of the author/illustrator in the back of the book . The first book is the Caldecott-winning book A Snowy Day (1962), which I just love and have reviewed before. Next is Whistle for Willie (1964) about Peter (the African-American child from A Snowy Day) who wished he could whistle and tried so hard to do so and practiced so much, that by the end of the book, he can! His parents and Willie the daschund are so proud of him. A Letter to Amy (1968) is the 3rd book and is again about Peter. This time he decides to write a letter to his friend Amy to invite her to his birthday party, and plans on mailing it, but it blows out of his hand during a rainstorm and he ends up chasing it all over the place. In the process he kind of upsets her because he runs in to her, but won’t let her see the letter because he wants it to be a surprise. He thinks she will not come, but she does and makes his birthday party special because of her presence. The fourth and fifth stories are Peter’s Chair (1967) and Goggles! (1969), both of which I have reviewed before. The sixth story is a new one to me, called Jennie’s Hat (1966). It is about a young girl named Jennie who is waiting for a hat from her aunt, but when it arrives, she is disappointed because it is such a plain hat. She imagines the kinds of things she could have on a hat, and then goes outside to feet the birds. She was still thinking about hats the next morning when she observed the women with colorful flowered hats outside her window and at church. As soon as she gets outside wearing her plain hat, all the birds bring “red and violet flowers, and leaves, colored eggs, and a paper fan” as well as “pictures of swans and pink valentine” and decorate her hat. She is delighted with her new hat now! Hi, Cat! (1970) is the next book, and it is kind of a weird one. It is about Archie, one of Peter’s friends, gets into a giant paper bag puppet named Mister Big Face. He is attacked by a cat who bursts through once side and Archie goes through the other. Then they try to do a “tall dog show” but the cat interrupts again. This was probably my least favorite story. Apt. 3 (1971) is the next story and it is about Sam and his little brother Ben who live in an apartment building in the city and hear someone playing a sad harmonica song but can’t figure out who it is, so they wander around the building trying to figure out who it is. Eventually they discover that is is the blind man in Apt 3 who was playing and he plays some more “purple and grays and rain and smoke and the sounds of night” (great way to describe the colors of the sound of music). The ninth story is with Louie, the kid with the bag on his head, and is called Louie’s Search (1980). It was another of the really weird stories. Louie goes searching through his neighborhood and sees a truck with furniture on it. A music box falls out of the back of the truck and the owner (a man named Barney) jumps out and accuses Louie of taking it. He eventually apologizes, and lets Louie keep the box. Barney takes a shine to Peg, Louie’s mom, and keeps coming back to visit her. Eventually he marries her. The last story was Pet Show! (1972) and involves Peter and his friends Archie and Roberto. They see a sign for a pet show and go to collect their pets. Everyone stands in a line and gets “a prize for something.” Archie comes up with an original pet and also gets a blue ribbon. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3-1/2 stars.

Lego Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (DK Readers L2) by Emma Grange

This book is a very basic introduction the the movie “The Empire Strikes Back,” but is great for parents who have just introduced Star Wars to their kids. The kids will love it because it has Legos and Star Wars. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Gluey: A Snail Tail by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Siebold

Gluey is a carpenter snail who lives on top of a charming little house, which he owns and takes care of. One day, a lonely rabbit named Celerina discovers the house and moves right in. She breaks one of her favorite vases and is amazed to discover it fixed the next day. Gluey starts fixing all her broken things, but she thinks it is magic and no one believes her when she tells them. So she decides to invite all her friends to a party at the house. Gluey finally manages to introduce himself to Celerina and she thinks he is a pest and hurls him into the meadow. He cracks his shell and discovers the Wee people, who not only help him repair his shell but reveal the truth about his house. Celerina’s party gets out of hand and the house and all her things end up getting broken, but with a little magic, they live happily ever after. Honestly, I would probably give this book 2 stars for the story but I rather liked the quirky illustrations, so it gets an extra one. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters (Alvin Ho #2) written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho

I absolutely love Alvin Ho! He is so hilarious. He is still scared of everything, and now he is scared of the dark, forests, and peeing in the dark as well, which is definitely not going to be to his advantage when his dad decides to take him camping with his sister Anibelly. His brother and sister try to prepare him by using dad’s emergency credit card to buy some high-tech camping gear. Alvin tries to make lists and ask “What Would Henry Thoreau Do?” in this situation. We get to see more of his alter ego, Firecracker Man who is not scared of anything, deal with being outside in the dark, as well as how he can escape things (like bears – which he is also scared of) like Harry Houdini. Alvin gains a new friend, who also has an alter ego, and Alvin survives camping with his help. My favorite part of this book was definitely his dad when he got super frustrated at his kids for accidentally getting him stuck in a tree and finding out about their unauthorized purchases and starts cursing Shakespearean style (something I had forgotten from the previous book). Highly recommended for ages 5-8, 5 stars.

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza #5) by Jack Gantos

The last book in the Joey Pigza series, in this volume, we see an older and mature Joey. He’s kind of had to be, since his father abandoned them again at the end of the last book after getting a face lift, and his mother was left alone to take care of Joey and Carter Jr., his baby brother by herself. Both him and his mother adore Carter Jr and believe he is the redeeming Pigza because he is not “messed up” like the rest of his family. Joey’s mom loses Joey’s medication, has a breakdown while suffering from postpartum depression and leaves Joey and his brother alone in the house and forbids them to open the door to their father. Joey has to stop going to school to take care of his brother, and make sure no one finds out that him mom has left them alone. The only person he has to get through things with is his on-again off-again blind girlfriend Olive, who is one of the few people who doesn’t lie to him. Will he be able to cope? Can he find some of his medicine? When will his family go back to being a normal family? To find out, read this exciting conclusion to the series. Recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

God Got a Dog written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marlee Frazee

page from God Got a Dog

I knew when I picked up this book of poetry that it was pretty much guaranteed to piss people off, which is of course why I had to show it my mother (an Episcopal priest) to get her view on it. She thought it was very fairly blasphemous, but could understand the humor and cleverness as well. The book is a series of sixteen poems, taken from an earlier work by Rylant, describing God doing a variety of normal things, like owning a nail salon, getting a dog, and getting arrested. I liked it because it didn’t show God as your typical omnipotent old man with a long beard, as most Christians like to see him, but he was a female nail salon owner, he was a small child, and got things like a nasty head cold. God was more human, had faults, and doubted him/herself which is a lot easier for me to identify with than the other version we commonly see. The author took only a day to write the book, which is crazy because some of the poems are really good. As someone who occasionally writes poetry and frequently goes back and changes things around days afterward, writing something perfect in one day is really miraculous. The book is geared towards ages 9-12, but I think it could be great for any age. 4 stars.

Smile written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Telegmeir-Smile

I picked this one up mostly because I wanted to read Drama as it was a banned book, but figured I should read this one first as I figured it was her first book. Smile is the story of the author/illustrator in middle school. At the very beginning, she accidentally loses her two front teeth and has to have them re-attached but they come in shorter, so she has to get braces and head gear to correct the problem. She has a harder time than usual dealing with everything and the book follows her through middle school and into high school, where she ends up with a different group of friends than she started with, has a long-standing unrequited crush, survives an earthquake and falls in love (unexpectantly) with the Disney movie The Little Mermaid. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

As someone who had both braces and headgear in middle school and with the book set during my childhood, I completely adored this book and could totally identify it. She’s a little bit older than me, but growing up in the 1990s is about the same whether it was at the beginning or end of the decade. I can’t wait to read Drama next!

Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeir

Drama

Callie is a middle school girl who loves theater, but can’t sing or dance, so she loves working on the sets behind the scenes and dealing with props. Her school is putting on a musical “Moon Over Missisippi” and she wants to make the sets worthy of Broadway. Her personal life is crazy too. She embarrasses herself in front of her crush at the beginning of the book, but then meets two brothers who also like theater and want to be friends with her. What’s a girl to do? Check out this creative and realistic look into middle school life. Recommended for ages 10-14, 5 stars.

It was worth the wait. I could identify with the female lead character so I just loved this book. I was a theater nerd wannabe in high school because our drama teacher was very biased to only pick certain people and even though I kept trying out and could sing and dance, I never got a part. So I painted sets at community theater musicals instead, and those guys turned out to be even cooler. The graphic novel was hilarious and a bit goofy, but full of interesting twists and turns and a surprise ending.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud, narrated by Emily Bevan

The book, narrated by Lucy Carlisle, starts out with Lockwood & Co investigating a string of murders at a local boarding house and their ghostly connections. The reader finally learns the truth about Lockwood’s sister Jessica and get more of a glimpse into Lockwood’s past and personality. Because of their success described in the previous book, The Whispering Skull, Lucy, Lockwood and George have been taking way too many cases and getting burned out. Lockwood decides it is time to hire a part-time assistant, and promptly hires the super-efficient and perky Holly Munroe. Lucy takes an immediate dislike to her. One important case that falls in their lap are bloody footprints found in a townhouse, and the solving of this case leads to them being involved in the main part of the book, a giant ghost outbreak that has been taking place in Chelsea for the past two months. Will the team be able to overcome their differences and work together to solve the Chelsea outbreak? Will Lucy ever tell Lockwood how she really feels? Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

OMG I freaking loved this book! I found out about it by accident as I subscribe to Jonathan Stroud’s author thing on Goodreads and he mentioned that was coming out soon. I thought it was a totally unrelated book to this series, and was shocked that I hadn’t heard anything about it before (as I really have been loving this series). Emily Bevan did a great job with the narration, really capturing Lucy’s character (which was brilliantly described by the author) and her angst about the whole situation with Lockwood. The build-up during the main parts of the story was incredible and really kept me hooked on the story all the way through. The Whispering Skull was one of my favorite parts, as it was always snarky comments about Holly Munroe with Lucy. The only thing I didn’t love was the cliffhanger ending and making me wait for another year before I find out what happens to everyone.

Young Adult

Kamisama Kiss Vol 1-5 written and illustrated by Julieta Suzuki

Kamisama Kiss

From top left: Mizuki, Tomoe, Nanami, Kurama, and Kotesu and Onikiri (the Onibi-warashi)

I picked up this manga series because I enjoyed the hell out of the anime show, but was frustrated when it ended because it was right in the middle of the story. Plus I was curious if the story was more developed  in the manga (it was a little – Tomoe definitely liked her sooner). I have this crazy attraction to anime shows with fox or fox-like demons (i.e. Inuyasha) and this show is no exception. I’ve not read mangas for awhile, with the exception of Library Wars, and I’m enjoying this manga series a lot. Hence why I have read so many volumes back to back. It gives you slightly different glimpses into the characters that you don’t get with the show, plus the show only lasted two seasons, so I’m hoping I’ll get more back story to better understand it. The main storyline is so crazy and gets more unbelievable as it goes on, but I think I love the silliness of it. They are fun easy-to-read quick stories. Each volume has a glossary in the back to explain the different Japanese terms used in the volume and the honorifics, suffixes added to the end of a word to explain the relationship of each character. It is a little difficult to explain things especially in the beginning, but bear with me and it should make sense. Warning: this will be a really long review. In fact it is so long, I’m gonna have to break it into four sections spread out over a couple monthly book reviews posts.

In Volume One, we are introduced to the main character. Nanami Momozono is a totally normal 16 year old girl who has a dad with a serious gambling problem. Because of his addiction, she is evicted from their apartment and is now homeless. She is resting in a park when she sees a man being attacked by a dog and rescues him. The man, who she later finds out is Mikage, thanks her and gives her a kiss on the forehead. He tells her she can stay at his house, as he is no longer there. She thinks this is odd, but goes to find it anyways as she has no place else to go. Once at the house, which is actually a shrine, she meets Tomoe, a fox demon (a yokai) acting as shinshi (a servant/familiar) to Mikage, the land god (tochigami or kami), who has been missing for 20 years. He refuses to work for her and leaves to go to the underworld. At first, she refuses to be the kami, but later relents. Nanami quickly realizes, however, that she will need help and has to go find Tomoe with the two Onibi-Warashi  (spirits that help out at the shrine). She essentially tricks him into becoming her shinshi and they seal the contract, literally with a kiss. The next day she wakes up to find things changed at the shrine, and Tomoe is incredibly angry at her for having to serve a human girl instead of a real kami. But he is determined to make her worthy and starts trying to train her in her duties as tochigami. A retainer of Mikage’s, a Catfish yokai named Himeko of Tatara Swamp wants to come and pay her respects to the new tochigami, but Tomoe doesn’t want Nanami there because he thinks Himeko will try to become the new land god in her place. At first Nanami relents, but later decides to join the conversation after she thinks Tomoe is in danger. Himeko wants Nanami’s help in wooing a young human man named Kotaro, but doesn’t want to appear as a yokai. Nanami agrees to help and Tomoe makes Himeko look like a human girl, so she can meet Kotaro for the first time in ten years. They end up hitting it off and Nanami is pleased. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Two: Nanami is thinking about school when she finds out that Kurama, a superstar idol is going to attend her school, so she decides to go back to school. Tomoe embarrasses her by making her wear a silly hat to cover the mark of the tochigama on her forehead, so yokai don’t try to kill her and take her job. She gets rather upset after Kurama and Tomoe are bullying her, and Kurama can’t figure out why she is not fawning all over him like everyone else has been doing. Tomoe is watching over Nanami from outside the school when he discovers that Kurama is actually a Tengu, a proud yokai with wings. My favorite part is probably when Tomoe turns Kurama into a ostrich and he goes running through the school. The goddess of thunder, Narukami-hime decides she will take Tomoe for her shinshi and become the new land god. So she goes to Nanami’s school to intercept her and when Tomoe comes to her school, she uses a magical hammer (named “the mallet of good luck”) and turns him into a child. He is even cuter than he normally is, if that is actually possible, and he can’t use his powers. Narukami-hime takes Nanami’s mark and becomes the land god. She can’t take Tomoe to a human doctor, so she takes him to Kurama’s house and tries to nurse him back to health, but he goes back to the shrine and Narukami-hime. Nanami goes to rescue him and tricks Narukami-hime into making her the land god again and turns Tomoe back into his normal self. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Three: This volume is where we first meet Mizuki, the white snake shinshi. She saves him from being tortured by some of her classmates, and he puts a red mark on her arm, essentially announcing his intention to marry her. Tomoe is, of course, outraged when he finds out what she has done and decides to come to school to protect her. Nanami is kidnapped by the white snake and brought to his shrine, which is in a hidden dimension (which makes it difficult for Tomoe to find her later). Nanami tries to escape, but is trapped there. She quickly discovers that Mizuki’s water goddess Yonomori has left since she is no longer needed by the local people and he has been alone for many years, waiting for her return. Tomoe finally finds the water shrine and rescues Nanami. She feels sorry for Mizuki and promises to watch the plum blossoms bloom with him when he gets lonely. Nanami gets sick and Tomoe must transform himself into her likeness to take her place at school. The funniest thing in this one was Kurama hitting on Tomoe because his version of Nanami is more “girly”. Tomoe fights a monster that is attacking girls in the locker-room. While Tomoe is at school posing as Nanami, she is at home being visited by Mizuki, who is trying to convince her that Tomoe is not all he appears to be. He takes her soul back in time to see the real Tomoe, as he was 500 years prior. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

Volume Four: Kurama talks to Tomoe on the roof of the school about being careful with Nanami in case she falls in love with him. Tomoe doesn’t believe this to be true. Kei, a friend of Nanami tell her that she should act cute around Tomoe to show she likes him. So on the way home, she and Tomoe go to the aquarium and then go to the top of the a tower to see the view of the city. She confesses that she is falling in love with him, but he rejects her and she starts crying and falls off the building nearly killing herself before she allows him to touch her so he can save her. He vows not to touch her again after that. To cheer her up, her friends Ami and Kei, invite her to the beach. Tomoe and Mizuki aren’t invited, but come anyways, and Tomoe says he can’t go in the water. Ami is pulled into the water and starts drowning, so Nanami begs Tomoe to save her, which he does begrudgingly. A man named Ryuu-ou, who calls himself the Dragon King (god of the ocean), steps out of the water and captures Tomoe, saying that 500 odd years ago Tomoe stole his right eye (which grants immortality). Nanami begs Ryuu-ou to free Tomoe, but he says he won’t unless she can get him his eye back in two days. She goes to Mizuki and asks to use the time-bending incense burner to go back in time and get the eye. While in the past, Nanami sees the real reason for his stealing the eye was because he was in love with a human woman who was ill. She can’t steal it from a dying woman, and so goes back to the present to see the yokai Isohime to get her to take from inside her own body (she discovers this a little before she saw the human woman). Isohime tries to kill her but Nanami is saved by Mizuki, who becomes her familiar. Nanami was obviously shocked at the turn of events, but went with him to rescue Tomoe at the Dragon King’s palace. According to the Kamasama Hajimamashita (the Japanese title of the show) wikia, “Nanami spoke to him [Tomoe] about going back to the past and that it was okay even if he doesn’t accept her. Nanami hugged Tomoe while saying she won’t ask for anything in return anymore. After letting go of the hug, she told him that even if he doesn’t face her, that won’t change the fact that she loves him and that is enough for her, then finally asking for them to go home together”. Tomoe is, of course, pissed off that Mizuki is joining them as another shinshi. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Volume Five: This one is mostly about Tomoe still being pissed off that Mizuki has joined the household and being really vocal about it. The best part is when they are at the Summer Festival and Nanami uses her god voice talent (basically because she is a god, she can command them to do things for her) to force the two of them to hold hands until they can be nice to each other. Mizuki is just happy that he is not alone anymore. Nanami decides to hold a festival at their shrine to let local people know that it is not haunted and scary as everyone thinks it is. She is determined to dance the Kagura, the lion dance, a very complicated sacred dance done by shrine maidens (priestesses of Shinto shrines). But learning it turns out to be a total challenge because Nanami is completely uncoordinated but determined to prove everyone wrong and make Tomoe proud of her. Otohinko, the wind god and a friend of Mikage,  shows up and turns things on their head for awhile. He decides that Nanami must be graded as the new kami and proceeds to screw with her by creating a fake Tomoe to trick her. Despite this, Nanami ends up dancing the Kagura perfectly and butterflies (Mikage’s symbol) dance all around her. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Calvin

Calvin

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

To be published: Nov 17, 2015

Written as an epistolary novel, seventeen-year old Calvin has always thought of himself as emboding Bill Waterson’s comic strip character Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. After all, he was born on the day the last strip was published, his grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was a baby, and his best friend’s name growing up was Susie. Calvin has pretty much been coasting through high school not really applying himself when he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes the tiger comes back into his life as a delusion, but can’t control anything that he says or does. Calvin decides that the only thing that will make him better is to get Bill Waterson to draw a comic strip of a healthy Calvin with no Hobbes in it. So he sets out on journey across Lake Erie in the middle of winter to get to Mr. Waterson’s house, with the aid of Susie and Hobbes. Will he be able to make it there in one piece? To find out, read this delightful book. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I originally picked up this book because I was a big fan of the comic strip and I’d always been curious about schizophrenia and its effect on people. I had an aunt with it but I never really knew her. The book kind of glazed over the main character actually having schizophrenia (a major mental illness), focusing instead on Calvin and the person he becomes after this life-changing journey. And I will admit that I was okay with that, because the language and the story were so good. I read the book back in October, but the review took me forever to write. I liked the book, but it was hard to summarize it because it was so much more than just dealing with a mental illness book. The book ended up being really profound and thought-provoking. It talked about what things you really need to be to be happy and have a good life, the kinds of things you can live without, and first love. It was about acknowledging your problems and dealing with your life instead of just cruising through it.

It also had some brilliant quotes. In the beginning of the book Calvin is talking to the Doctor about mental illness and tells him “It’s the death of normal.” and that “Normal is not sick. Normal is blending in, like not having a psychotic episode in the middle of school, which makes you stand out.” Or when Calvin is trying to convince himself that Hobbes is a figment of his imagination and Hobbes replies “Humans are doofuses,”which has a very large ring of truth to it on many levels. Or later towards the end when Calvin can’t quite figure out if Susie is real and did accompany him on this trip or is a figment of his cold-addled brain, and she tells him that she loves him because he has “the guts of a tiger, a space explorer, a race car drive, a luge athlete. You have this amazing imagination. You’re never boring. You aren’t afraid to ask hard questions and find out there aren’t any answers. And you – you also know me in a way nobody knows me.” That is exactly how I would love to be described by someone I love.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from Netgalley and the publisher Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.

Crenshaw

Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

To be published: Sept 22, 2015

Crenshaw is a giant seven-foot-tall black and white cat that is the imaginary friend of a ten-year old boy named Jackson. He was originally invented by the boy five years earlier after his family suddenly became homeless and started living in their car, after his father was diagnosed with multiple schlerosis. Jackson can’t believe his eyes when Crenshaw shows up again just as the family is facing eviction from their apartment, as he’s not thought of him in years. The story jumps back and forth between the original homelessness and the family’s present situation. His parents try to downplay their financial struggles to Jackson and his five-year old sister, but Jackson knows better. He’s seen it all before. Crenshaw is a cat who will tell the truth no matter what and wants to help Jackson through this tough situation. Will his help be enough though? Recommended for ages 8-12, 3-1/2 stars.

This book is a great example of those times when you read an excellent award-winning book and are so excited when the author comes out with a new one, that you jump at the chance to read it. Katherine Applegate wrote the Newbery Award winning book The One and Only Ivan, which I adored and am actually planning on using in November for my tween book club. Another reason this book grabbed my attention was the imaginary friend aspect. I don’t remember having an imaginary friend as a child, but if I did, a giant black and white cat would’ve been a cool one for me to have as it reminds me of the cat we had as a pet as a child. Overall, I enjoyed the book but not as much as Ivan. As a parent, I know how hard it is to keep up appearances when you don’t have as much money as you would like, especially to provide for your kid. While I have not become homeless myself, I can understand the parent’s attempts to hide the fact from their kids and make things as normal as possible. As this reviewer put it, “It was very difficult as a parent to watch Jackson try to be so brave and not let his emotions show his parents how angry and frustrated he really was.” I did like that Crenshaw was like Jackson’s conscience, who encouraged him to do the right thing and speak his true thoughts, even if doing all that is really scary.

Disclaimer: I received the Advanced Readers Copy from MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, via Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review.

August Book Reviews 2015

I have been rather busy reading for the last month or so. I am on a bit of a tight schedule at the moment because of so many good-looking ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) coming out in the next couple of months. I’ve finished the book club selection for August early, Colum McCann’s Transatlantic, which I rather enjoyed. I just started an ARC called Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron, about the Pre-Raphaelite model Lizzie Siddal and the artists of that group, which is pretty amazing so far. I will review both of these next month. I should be pretty busy with ARCs until the new year.

The cool new book news I have is that I’m about to be in charge of a Tween Book Club, which I discussed previously a bit in the first paragraph here. It has finally been named Page TurnersWe will be reading Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins first, then Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, and finally The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. All were books that I loved, so I figured they would be good books to start with. If it goes well, we’ll be continuing it in the new year and I can pick some books I’ve not read yet.

On to the book reviews. I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children’s books I enjoyed.

Children

Digger Dog written and illustrated by William Bee Digger-Dog-interior-3

I found this book for my Toddler Dog Storytime and just adored it, though the story does get pretty repetitive, especially if you are reading it out loud. The kids loved the fold-out pages. Digger Dog loves to dig up bones but can’t seem to dig this one up, so he gets progressively bigger diggers to help him. It would also be a good book for a Construction Storytime. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Stanley the Farmer written and illustrated by William Bee

I discovered this book after browsing the children’s section for more William Bee books. He’s done a series of Stanley books and my son just loves this one. The illustrations are simple but really stand out. Stanley has a farm and has decided to plant some wheat. The book goes through all the steps needed to plant, take care of and harvest wheat. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Sea Rex written and illustrated by Molly Idle Sea Rex

I love these books because they are so expressive and fun, plus the illustrations are always great! I got so excited when I saw the latest one at a local bookstore and immediately reserved a copy at the library. This installment sees the two children and their dinosaur friends going to the beach to play in the water and sand and leads to some interesting adventures. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Dragon Stew written by Steve Smallman, illustrated by Lee Wildish

I originally picked this book up to use as a back-up book for my Toddler Dragon Storytime but decided not to use it because it was a bit too long. But I figured my son would think it was funny because it mentions poop and burning bums (he did). A group of Vikings are bored and don’t know what to do, until one suggests getting a dragon and making dragon stew. They have no idea how to do this, but go for it anyway. I loved that the dragon is very posh drinking tea with a little top hat and bow tie! He naturally objects to being cut up into stew and attacks them, setting their bums on fire. They decide rather quickly to do something else. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dinosailing written by Deb Lund, illustrated by Howard Fine

Since we had read the second and third book in this series, it made sense to go ahead and read the first book. This one was not as good as the other two. Our intrepid group of dinosaur adventurers decide to get a ship and go sailing, but things aren’t as easy as they originally thought. They hit a squall and all get nausceous and decide they have no more sea legs. They are happy to return to their families. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Orion and the Dark written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett

Orion and the Dark

I picked this up for my son while browsing in the library because it looked intriguing, and it was. The book is about Orion, a little boy with a very active imagination, who is scared of everything. He is especially scared of the dark, and one night he gets so fed up that he screams that he “wishes the dark would just go away.” Instead of that happening, it turns into a physical manifestation and invites Orion to explore his fears to see what they really are. After a while, Orion realizes that he has nothing to be scared of and gains a best friend in the process. Both my son and I really enjoyed this book, and it had fabulous illustrations that really drew you into the book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Conductor by Laeticia Devernay

I’ve been trying to find more wordless picture books for my son, so I leaped at getting this one. The problem is , I just didn’t connect to it. It is about a conductor who climbs up a tree in a forest and makes all the leaves turn into birds and fly off the trees. This goes on for many many pages until all the leaves are gone. Then he climbs down and buries his baton in the ground, where it sprouts and turns into a tree. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Goat in a Boat written by Lesley Sims, illustrated by David Semple

This was one of a group of phonic learner beginner books we had gotten in to the library but the illustrations were funny, so I decided to give it a chance. My son loved it. The goat likes to eat oats, but wants something different for dinner. So he decides to go fishing in the moat with his best friend Stoat, but Stoat is busy. So he goes by himself and starts catching only suits of armor someone has dumped there, and his friend Stoat joins him later in the boat. They see an approaching army but can’t shout loud enough to be heard (and Stoat can’t shout at all because of his sore throat), so the resort to banging on the armor. The guards finally hear, raise the drawbridge and the two friends save the day. Plus they get fish for dinner. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Bee Makes Tea written by Lesley Sims, illustrated by Fred Blunt Bee Makes Tea

I love this phonics reader with rhyming text and precious illustrations! The story is so cute. A Bee is making a birthday tea for her Queen Bee, but she can’t get it all down to the beach. So her friend Ant and his friends help out, but her giant birthday cake doesn’t make it out of the house, before falling apart. But Ant saves the day when he suggests she make the broken up cake into a bee-shaped cake, which of course the Queen loves. I love doing all the voices for this book and my son liked helping saying some of the lines in a tiny bee voice. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Llamas in Pajamas written by Russell Punter, illustrated by David Semple

Another phonics book with cute illustrations, this one was a cute story about four llama friends who get together for a sleep-over. They decide to stay up and tell each other spooky stories, but are frightened by scary noises that the house makes when their grandmother comes to bring them a midnight snack. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Wolfie the Bunny written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Wolfie the Bunny

Dot and her Bunny parents come home one day to find a baby wolf on their doorstep. Dot warns them “He’s gonna eat us all up!”, but they are just taken by how cute he is. This becomes her refrain for the rest of the book, and she seriously doesn’t trust little Wolfie. He is raised with the Bunny family and fed carrots, growing bigger every day. One day he eats all the carrots and Dot must go to the store to get more, but Wolfie wants to go with her. She is about to put the last carrot into her shopping bag when Wolfie puts on a scary face and Dot is convinced that he is finally gonna eat her. A large bear has decided to make Wolfie his meal and Dot stands up for him. They are a lot closer afterwards. I loved the illustrations. This is a great book to read to children who have recently gotten a younger sibling, or experience a bit of sibling rivalry. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Is There a Dog in This Book? written and illustrated by Vivianne Schwartz

I discovered this book by accident at the library while browsing, although I knew about the author/illustrator from reading her stuff before. My son loved this very interactive lift-the-flaps book about three cats, Moonpie, Andre and Tiny, and a dog they find and befriend inside of the book. I loved doing the voices for each of the three cats. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

There are Cats in this Book written and illustrate by Vivianne Schwartz

There are Cats in This Book

I liked the third book in the series so much, I hunted for one of the first two books and this is the book I could find. I really like Ms. Schwartz’s stuff as it is very original and funny. Like Is There a Dog in This Book?, this book is the story of the three cats, Moonpie, Andre, and Tiny and their adventures with the reader throughout the book. They play with yarn, go fishing (sort of) and play with pillows. Again, the voices were fun to do and my son liked to do them too. It was a fun and silly book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

I Will Take a Nap! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

How can you not love a book about naps! This one was totally silly and me and my son had a lot of fun with it, especially all the sound effects. Gerald just wants to take a nap, as not taking one is making him tired and cranky (I know the feeling). He dreams that his friend Piggy has woken him up, and of course over-reacts to this happening. She decides to take one too, but is so loud that Gerald cannot nap. With turnip-headed animals and singing stuffed animals, this book is a lot of fun. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Regards to the Man in the Moon written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats

I picked this book up because I love Ezra Jack Keats’ work and I needed a book for a Moon Preschool Storytime. It’s not exactly what I’m looking for, and would be better for a more general Space Storytime. Louie and his parents are planning a journey “right out of this world” on his ship the Imagination I, which no surprise, runs on lots of imagination. Early the next morning, him and a girl named Susie blast off into space seeing seeing all kinds of planets and galaxies. Eventually they bump into two of their friends, Ziggie and Ruthie, who have followed them into space but ran out of imagination and are now stuck. They manage to make it through an asteroid field and back home again. Then of course, all the kids want to take off on adventures of their own. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Ancient Persians written by Virginia Schomp

I had originally set this out as an additional book for a Kids Cafe I had done on the Ancient Assyrians and Persians, but it looked cool, so I picked it up for myself. I’ve been fascinated by the Persians for a while now, and I’ve tried (and failed) to read “The Shahnameh (Persian Book of Kings)”, so I thought this might be a better introduction to Persian literature. The book gives a small introduction on the Persian empire and its early history until the 7th century CE. It talks about the teachings of Zarathustra, the prophet of the Zoaroastrian religion, which was one of the first monothesistic ones in the world, and influenced Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam. The book features the Persian Creation story and the Triumph of the Light over the Dark, the First Sin, and four epic hero tales from the Shahnameh (an epic poem on ancient Iranian myths and Zoroastrian traditions). The back of the book has a Glossary of terms used in the book, a breakdown of the major texts used in the book, a booklist and websites to explore and find out more information. Recommended for ages 8-12, 4 stars.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus written by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile. It won a 2015 Caldecott Honor and the 2015 Sibert Medal. I adored this book and its illustrations, done by the same team that did the Caldecott Honor-winning book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, about the famous American poet. The illustrations really helped the book come alive and do look as though a child wrote them out and included snapshot illustrations of his life throughout the pages to bring everything together. Peter Roget loved lists. He began making them early, after the death of his father. He was a shy child and started writing a book with these lists at age eight. When he was a teenager, scientist Carole Linnaeus was developing his classification system for plants and animals, to make them easier to study, so it seemed natural for teenage Roget to continue his lists as well. He was a bit of a genius, entering medical school early and was only nineteen when he graduated. He decided to become a tutor for awhile in France, before coming back to England to become a doctor to the poorest families in Manchester. He finished his book in 1805 and used it daily. He joined scientific societies and was asked to give lectures, and he used his book to help him with those talks. He married late and had a couple of kids and eventually published his Thesaurus in 1852. The publication of the text has been continuous and updated since 1869 by Roget’s family. There is an author and illustrator’s note in the back of the book, along with a bibliography and further reading materal list. I would love to own this book.  Recommended for ages 8-12, 5 stars.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe by Susan Goldman Rubin

Ok, so I’m a late Georgia O’Keeffe convert. I knew about her art of course, but had never really studied it until I decided to do a presentation on her for Kids Cafe. I found her art and life fascinating once I started researching her, so I decided I wanted more information and got this book for that purpose. I liked that she decided early to become an artist, but changed her mind based on personal illnesses, but then decided she wanted to do it full-time. And this was a time when very few women had a career, and even fewer were unmarried. Though she did eventually marry Alfred Stieglitz and he helped publicize her name, I like that she didn’t let him hold her back and started painting more and more original works like her famous flower painting, and the abstracted desert landscapes with animal skulls. I no longer believe her works are hyper-sexualized like some people believe because they look like women’s genitalia, but yes they were rather sensual. For a woman who was competing with dozens, if not hundreds of men that were artists during the same time period, she did really well for herself and was famous during her own lifetime. I really enjoyed this book and would love to add it to my personal collection. Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Adult

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston

The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew is, above all, about manners, respectability, and having a stiff upper lip. He lives alone after the death of his wife a few years before, in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary. His brother Bertie recently passed away and the Major has been feeling a bit adrift. Right after receiving news of his brother’s death, he inadvertently blurts it out to Mrs. Ali, the local corner shop owner, who he’s never spoken to before. As the Christian Science Monitor review says, “He strikes up a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed local shopkeeper, and they bond over Kipling [which made me want to read more of the author] and the loss of their spouses. It doesn’t hurt that Mrs. Ali is a lady of quiet thoughtfulness and innate dignity – whose tweedy neighbors don’t even see her because she is Pakistani and runs a shop.” The book is the story of their friendship, which eventually grows into love and shows that everyone has a chance at finding happiness, no matter your age. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

This book immediately made me think of my best friend, who is also Pakistani, and made me want to share this with her, as I know she could identify with parts of it. It is a hilarious but honest look at following your heart no matter what others may say, and I really loved it. I have seen first-hand how small English villages and towns can sometimes react towards foreigners, and it isn’t always pretty, so the author’s descriptions of that part of the story were pretty accurate although not pleasant. I liked the secondary story about Mrs. Ali’s nephew and his love troubles. It was a little hard to believe that this was the author’s first novel as I thought it was rather good.

Lord John and the Private Matter (Lord John Grey Book #1) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodman

It is 1757 and Lord John Grey is in turmoil. The major has witnessed something shocking about his cousin’s betrothed Joseph Trevalyn and is trying to decide what he should do about it, to avoid a scandal. Meanwhile, the British army has asked him to investigate the murder of a possible traitor, an officer in his company. He soon discovers that the two events are linked and must figure out how. 5 stars.

This book was my first foray into her spin-off books and she does not disappoint. I had always liked Lord John’s character in the Outlander books and was happy to learn of this second series. I read this one before the short story Lord John and the Hellfire Club, so I was a bit confused at some mentions of the previous story, but gathered enough not to be completely lost. This one was jam-packed full of intrigue, spies, secret relationships, prostitution (both male and female), and multiple mystery murders. The book definitely delves into the seedy underbelly of London of the eighteenth century and its relation to the outer more respectable parts of the city and its inhabitants. While it doesn’t tell you too much more information than you already might know from reading the Outlander books, it was enough to keep me thoroughly interested and wanting to read more.

Lord John and the Hand of the Devils by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

This book is a collection of Novellas of the in-between stories in one collection, namely Lord John and the Hellfire Club, Lord John and the Succubus, and Lord John and the Haunted Soldier. Jeff Woodham is again the narrator and thank goodness because he definitely makes the books a pleasure to listen to, even when the story isn’t all that interesting. I was not really a fan of the Hellfire Club, it was just too weird and way too short. The Succubus story was better and we really got to know Stephan von Namtzen, the dashing Hanoverian commander. The Haunted Soldier required you to have read the second book Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade to really have any idea what was going on in the novella. Overall, I would give the collection 3 stars.

Lord John and the Hellfire Club (Lord John Grey #0.5)

It is the autumn of 1756 and Lord John has finally returned from temporary exile in Scotland. He witnesses the murder of a recent acquaintance named Robert Gerald. At the request of a relative of Gerald’s, Lady Lucinda Joffrey, he agrees to look into who murdered Gerald and find out who is trying to slander the poor dead man. He quickly discovers that the man to question is Sir Francis Dashwood, and Lord John gets himself invited to a party at Dashwood’s house. It is here that Lord John discovers the truth about the Hellfire Club and George Everett’s (a man from Lord John’s past) possible involvement in Robert Gerald’s murder. 2 stars.

Lord John and the Succubus (Lord John Grey #1.5)

It is 1758 and Lord John is an English liason officer to the Hanoverian army in Germany. He is also in charge of local issues in the town he is stationed. A young Hanoverian and an English soldier have been killed and the locals are blaming it on a succubus, a demon female who seduces men and claims their seed. Needless to say, this has severly spooked the armies. Lord John is staying at the castle of a local noblewoman named Louisa, Princess von Lowenstein, who is trying as hard as she can to flirt with him. He is also trying not to fall for another nobleman, Captain Stephan Von Namtzen, also staying at the castle and the head of the Hanoverian troops. Will he be able to discover who the succubus really is? 5 stars.

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier (Lord John Grey #2.5)

It is 1759 and Lord John has been brought up before the Commission of Inquiry after the battle of Crayfeldt at the end of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, as a cannon exploded and the officer in charge of it was beheaded right in front of Grey. Some of the members of the commission are trying to blame Grey for the explosion saying he was negligent and others say that it was his half-brother Edgar who manufactured the powder, but Grey soon realizes that there are other forces at work behind the scenes. Will he be able to find the culprit in time? 2 stars

I’m not actually sure who the Haunted Soldier is supposed to be. My gut tells me it is Captain Fanshaw, but Lord John kept seeing ghosts too, so I’m not sure. This one was rather slow, and if you didn’t read the previous book, you would be pretty lost. But the volume did tell the reader more about Lord John’s family, and I thought the side trip to discover Philip Lister’s wife was interesting as well.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade (Lord John Grey #2) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

It is 1758, and John’s mother is getting re-married. This has dredged up memories of his father, the Duke of Pardloe, who was found dead and charged as a Jacobite rebel seventeen years before. After pieces of a missing diary of his father start showing up, Lord John is nearly killed twice. He seeks the help of Jamie Fraser, who is working as a stablehand at the house of a friend of John’s family for the truth about his father’s possible Jacobite connections. It is the middle of the Seven Years’ War and Lord John and his brother Hal (the Earl of Melton and commander of the company) are with the army fighting with the Prussian army. Will Lord John be able to find out the truth about his father? 4 stars.

Diana Gabaldon wasn’t kidding when she said that this book is all about honor. Of course, men in England have been obsessed about this for ages, so it’s not surprising. For those following the Outlander series, this book is set during the time that Jamie was a prisoner in England, although he is a minor character here. I would just like to say “Yay, about time for Lord John Grey to have a love interest!” Though of course, Gabaldon almost completely ruins it by figuratively getting rid of him by the end of the book. I was so happy to see Stephen Von Namzten again and wished that him and Lord John would get together (Gabaldon is such a tease with their relationship!).

The Custom of the Army (Lord John Grey #2.75) by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Jeff Woodham

This was an odd book. It started out in 1759 with Lord John attending an electric eel party in London (who knew such things existed!?!), went through a bit of trippy dream sequence in which he is involved with a duel. The story ends with with an army promotion to Lieutenant Colonel and on his way to Canada to bail out friend Charlie Carruthers who is being court-martialed under ridiculous circumstances. The scenes with the Native American Manoke were quite hilarious, and I enjoyed those immensely. Lord John arrives in Canada in time to participate in the Battle of Quebec with General Wolfe. This was thankfully a short novella, as I had listened to all the previous books back to back and needed a bit of a break from his story. 3 stars.

I Am Livia by Phyllis Smith

Livia is the daughter of a Roman senator loyal to the republic. He knows about the plot to kill Julius Caesar, but does not take part in the actual stabbing. Livia is married to at age fifteen, and has a rather loveless relationship with her husband Tiberius Nero, even though she does bear him two children, Tiberius and Drusus. Octavianus (aka Octavius) is Caesar’s adopted son, and wants to take revenge on those who murdered his adopted father. Livia finds herself strangely drawn to Octavianus, even though he is her family’s political enemy and proves himself as a personal enemy over the years. After Octavianus has gotten rid of all his adopted father’s killers, and also rids himself of Pompey and Mark Antony, his next move is to marry Livia. She has to ask her current husband to divorce her so she can be with Tavius (as she affectionately calls him), even though she is pregnant with her second son by Tiberius Nero. The story ends just as Tavius becomes emperor of Rome. 5 stars.

I have been fascinated with Livia ever since I watched I, Claudius in college. So when I saw this book at the library, I had to read it. It was almost completely different approach to her, as compared with Robert Graves’ example, especially as this book ends before Octavianus becomes Emperor Augustus and that’s where the book/series started. It seems she was an incredibly smart and shrewd woman who lived an incredible life during a period of immense change in the Roman Empire. I’m honestly surprised that she managed to survive as she did given all the crazy circumstances she managed to live through, especially that fire in Greece. Her relationship with Tavius, as portrayed in the book, was intriguing to say the least. I rather enjoyed this book and would be interested in reading other books by the author.

Heritage by Sean Brock

I had originally seen Sean Brock on the PBS series The Mind of a Chef and so I knew about the kind of cooking he did. As a Southerner, it is always fascinating for me to see how others interpret the cuisine, and he definitely has an interesting approach. He is big on heritage ingredients, especially those around Charleston, so you have an emphasis on things like Carolina Gold rice, benne seeds, heritage beans and other veggies. And the man is not afraid to use bacon and other pork products, which are staples in Southern cooking. So when I heard about this cookbook, I definitely wanted to check it out (it’s been on to-read list forever). I finally grabbed a copy from the library. A lot of the recipes are really ingenious, with several takes on classic dishes. Mostly I’d rather go to one of his restaurants to have the food because I’m sure I couldn’t really recreate his masterpieces at home, even with instructions. I did however want to try the Chilled Fennel Bisque with Citrus-Cured Scallops and Almond Oil, Cornmeal-Fried Pork Chops with Goat Cheese-Smashed Potatoes and a Cucumber and Pickled Green Tomato Relish, Stone Crab with Cucumber Juice, Fennel Jelly, and Raw Apple (which gets the award for the most creative looking), and Grilled Tilefish with Asparagus Broth and Oyster Mushrooms. He also had a couple of recipes for pickled veggies and eggs that I wanted to try as well. 4 stars.

In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes From Grandmas Around the World by Gabriele Galimberti The author/photographer decides to take a trip around the world. His grandmother worries that he will not eat well and makes him his favorite dish before he leaves, Swiss Chard and Ricotta Ravioli with Meat Sauce. He tells her not to worry and he will eat well. He goes to 60+ countries and visits with and gets recipes from 60 grandmothers and includes their picture, recipe, and story in the cookbook. It was an interesting concept and I had originally wanted to read it as an ARC, but didn’t have enough time to do so. There were three or four recipes in here that I would want to make again. 3 stars.