Title: Daemon Academy Author: Danielle Rose Genre: Horror Age: Young Adult (although this will depend on the maturity of the reader to some degree) Is This Part of a Series?: No
Summary: (*taken from the Daemon Academy page on Goodreads)
Kemper Academy is over a hundred years old, but it has only recently reopened after a series of murders and stories of hauntings shut it down. Avlynn, a new student, refuses to let the rumors scare her, chalking them up to a bit of friendly freshman hazing. But when night falls and screams draw her from her room, she finds the truth is much more horrifying than any ghost story.
This was a quick read with just the right amount of scariness to make me tense, but not induce bad dreams.
The Nitty Gritty:
I enjoyed this story from the very first sentence. Ms. Rose clearly put thought into finding heavy duty words. Almost all of the sentences in Daemon Academy do more than just one job: character building, world building, atmosphere building, etc. Which is a very good thing, in this short story. (In any short story, really).
My favorite part of this story was the way it fits within the horror genre. There was plenty of tension and atmosphere, a spooky setting and a great legend to go with it, and even a set of well-developed characters. Despite all of these elements that were appropriate to the horror genre, however, the gore level (and by this I mean level of description of blood, ghosts, hauntings, etc that make horror so horrifying) was at the perfect level for me. It was scary and other-worldly, but not graphic.
The worst part of this story is that it ends. While nothing is as thoroughly developed as in a novel, the perception is that the depth exists for them. And then ending to the story certainly leaves me wanting to know what happens next (although this is a complete story).
As this is a horror story, I believe it is important for parents to read this before letting their younger teenagers read it. It is a quick read, so won’t take up too much of your time, and a read-through will allow you to gauge whether or not your child will enjoy this or be disturbed by this. You know your child best, after all.
Title: Ember Skies Author: Nicky Crawford Genre: Contemporary Romance Age: Adult Is This Part of a Series?: No
*I received an e-Copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review
Ember works hard to maintain the image of a perfect military wife, trying to keep her abusive husband happy and her daughter safe. Then she meets Dalton and realizes that she is worth more than just a life of survival. Finding someone who can make her happy, though, is just the beginning. There are still years of hurts, current physical threats, fears to face, and a daughter to protect in order for Ember to reach the life she deserves. Will she find the courage to leave Austin? Will she find the strength to risk her heart again with Dalton?
There were parts that were slow and parts that were heart-pounding, but when it all balanced out, it was a good, heart-warming story that was easy and pleasurable to read.
The Nitty Gritty:
My absolute favorite part of this book was the cast of characters. Ember was someone you wanted to get to know, encourage, and–most importantly–watch live and grow. Her daughter, Harlee, was cute and relatively believable with her three-year-old speech (although there were a couple of times where it was distracting). Dalton was honorable, dashing, and funny. And by the time the book was over, there were several other characters–all distinct from one another–that were also worth knowing and watching. Honestly, by the end of the book I was wishing I knew them in real life.
The plot of the book (revolving around an alcoholic, abusive husband) is a bit predictable in its basic path, although it does take a few alternate routes to arrive at the typical destination. (Of course, the characters are refreshing enough that the fact that they have an expected trajectory is acceptable.) The book also has large sections of summary, which was distracting at times. (Admittedly, I’m not exactly sure how the story could have covered the large span of time that it covers without chunks of summary. On the other hand, I’m not sure that simply compressing the amount of time covered in the book would work either; certain elements of the story require a longer stretch of time passing.)
Perhaps the biggest negative in the book was a feeling of inconsistency with the point of view and tenses. What it felt like to me was a switch in approach from one draft to the next. The majority of the book was consistent, but there were a few words that were in the wrong tense, and a few passages where it switched mid chapter from first person to third person or from Ember to Dalton and then back again. It is also possible that this was intentional to provide a “better” point of view for that particular moment in the book. Whatever the case, I found it to be distracting.
That said, everything I said in the overall impression above is true: this book is heart-warming and pleasurable to read. If you want a good pick-me-up, this will do it (although there will be both ups and downs along the way).
Book Club Chatter:
This book covers a lot of difficult topics: alcoholism, abuse (verbal and physical), military deployment and injuries, divorce, blended families, and possibly even some I didn’t see or am not remembering after one read through. While I don’t have any specific questions in mind for these topics or this book, I do believe that this book could provide an excellent jumping off point for a discussion on what we can do for any or all of these situations.
How can we help prevent alcoholism or abuse, or help those who have lived with it?
What can we do to help support the men and women who are currently deployed? How can we help the families left behind? Those who have been injured in the line or duty? Or veterans?
I think that it is important for this book to make it very clear that there are scenes of physical abuse depicted in this novel. The level of violence in these scenes does rise the further into the book you get. There are also several instances of rape, where the drunk husband forces Ember to have sex when she doesn’t want to. This is not, in anyway, an easy book to read. But there are certainly emotional upsides for those who stick through the darkness with Ember.
Goodreads Rating: 4.35 Stars (48 Ratings) Amazon Rating: 4.5 Stars (35 Reviews) My Rating: 3 Stars
This is, however, a strong three stars. I enjoyed the book and would read another book by this author. However, the writing–while solid–was not quite polished enough for my tastes. I was just a little too aware that I was reading a book, rather than disappearing into another world.
Title: Time Untamed Author: Lily Morgan Genre: Paranormal Romance Age: Adult Is This Part of a Series?: Yes (Book 2 of the Time Series)
*I received an e-Copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.
The second book in the Time Series follows Butch, a member of the TSCAA, and Savannah, a member of an ancient order of assassins. Although they are married, circumstances have lead to Butch believing Savannah (and their son) are dead and Savannah spending her life trying to keep her son’s existence a secret from Butch and her family. Now there is a plot against Jack Evans (the lead passenger staging the counter attack inside US Flight 93 on September 11, 2003) and their paths have crossed again. Will they be able to get past the lies and secrets of their past and save Jack Evans, their son, and history as we know it? Or will the mysterious Mr. X, the powerful man behind the plot, get his wish to unbalance the world and the powers of good and evil that fight for it?
Much like the first book in the series, Time Untamed was an enjoyable read with a fun premise. I really enjoy the world that Ms. Morgan has created for the Time Series.
The Nitty Gritty:
I would like to start by saying that one of my issues with the first book (typos) was much less pronounced in this book. There were a few, but not enough to be distracting from the story. There was also an improvement in the amount of “over-sharing” that the characters did. So this book has some definite improvements over the first one (not that the first one was bad; I did give it three stars after all! It was enjoyable!). However, there were also a couple of things I didn’t like that were new to this book (most likely because of the needs of a new set of characters).
Most notable were the flashbacks. They provided some good information, but I sometimes had trouble transitioning with them. They also had a repetitive quality to them–there were several times where the reader got the same flashback from both Butch and Savannah’s point of view, with almost no new information provided. While there were certainly some well-written flashbacks that provided information I was glad to have as a reader (information that provided a greater emotional connection to the character(s), character development, and/or plot advancement), the majority of them were superfluous to at least some degree.
Another issue I had was connecting to Butch. There was a certain amount of residual connection from the first book, however, I found him to be a bit off-putting, especially with his insistence to refer to the women around him as “hellcats”. Once or twice would have been telling about both Butch and the women, but using that descriptor just about every time that he mentioned these women made him seem more chauvinistic than anything. I got that he did actually admire them, but the fact that he had to label them anything other than valuable members of his team made me feel as if he didn’t expect women to be valuable in his world.
Once Butch and Savannah’s son came into play, however, my connection with all of the characters snapped into place. Not only could I relate to the parenting side of Butch and Savannah, but their son also opened up the soft, gooey center at the heart of them, highlighting strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. Once that happened, I very much liked both characters, the journey they were on, and the relationship between them.
Perhaps one of the best parts of this book, though, was the foreshadowing of the larger picture: more is revealed about Mr. X, and there are several other characters which Ms. Morgan hinted at being more important than they first appeared. More importantly, these revelations came in a surprising manner at a point in the book when I was not expecting them. It was very well done and has me excited to see how it unfolds.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars (1 Rating) Amazon Rating: 5 Stars (2 Ratings)
My Rating: 4 Stars
Once again, I found myself not quite sure where to rate this book. It was not as skillfully and seamlessly written as I would like for a four or five star rating, generally, but it was also more than just a book that I “liked”. When it came down to it, I decided that the improvements from the first book to the second, as well as the skillfully enticing foreshadowing that helped close out the book, rated the bump up to a four star. However, I would have to say that a third book in this series would most likely require a continued improvement in writing technique–namely restraint–in order to “maintain” a four star rating. (I like the books a lot, world, character, and plot-wise, but my four star ratings are “reserved” for books that I like -and- have good writing. For me, improved writing qualifies as good writing. Continually improving writing is some of the best writing there is, really.)
Title: Wylding Hall Author: Elizabeth Hand Genre: Dark Fantasy Age: Adult Is This Part of a Series?: No
*I purchased an e-copy of this book
This book is told in the style of a documentary film, with interviews of an acid rock band and the people close to them. The topic of discussion is their summer spent at Wylding Hall and the mysterious happenings that took place there–including the disappearance of the lead singer, Julian.
This book has gorgeous imagery, a well-developed setting, and a delicious–but tolerable–level of tension and creepiness. This is one of my favorite books of this year.
The Nitty Gritty:
This book has quite a few characters in it–including, in my opinion Wylding Hall itself. They are all well-developed and unique from each other, but I will also say that they are a little tough to get a grasp on–to picture distinctly in one’s head–in the beginning. It is a bit like having a polaroid develop, while the characters are narrating the scene. I could hear their differences and their unique personalities, but it was tough to keep them in focus–at first–while switching back and forth among them. There was a conversational tone which sweep me up and away into the world of Wylding Hall and made me feel like I was sitting in the same room with the characters.
Ms. Hand’s language was lyrical and poetic and descriptive and breath-taking. In short, it was everything I strive to create when I sit down to write my own stories. Honestly, it reminds me of the language of my favorite book (and series) Kushiel’s Dart, but with a more approachable quality to it. One of my favorite lines in the whole book: “It’s the spark that keeps us alive in the cold and the night, the fire we gather in front of so we know we’re not alone in the dark.” It’s beautiful and hopeful and inspiring, because while there is the implication of things that go bump in the night, it clearly speaks to the idea that we are part of a greater whole and, as it says, not alone. And that is a wonderful feeling.
This is listed as a dark fantasy and it is very dark. There are things that make me nervous to recall as I sit here and think about what I read in order to write this review. But as with The Shining, the scary parts of this book are balanced by the quality of writing and language twice and, more importantly, but the fact that the creepiness is best viewed out of the corner of your mind’s eye. If you look directly at it, it looses just enough of it’s brightness and edge to keep a person from loosing sleep. Or this person, at any rate. That is not to say that it didn’t raise my pulse and make my breathing shallow, because it did. It was creepy and amazing and at points almost terrifying, but it–quite wonderfully–did not give me nightmares either. It will stick with me for years, but I won’t loose sleep (other than the sleep I lost staying up to read it, and the sleep I will loose when I reread it in the future). And that is the perfect sort of dark fantasy or horror for this overactive imagination I live with!
Title: The Mare’s Tale Author: Darrel and Sally Odgers Illustrator: Janine Dawson Genre: Realistic Fantasy (told from the dog’s point of view, but has very realistic events) Age: Early Elementary Is This Part of a Series?: Yes (book 2 in the Pet Vet series)
*I received a copy of this book as a prize. You may purchase it at Usborne or through your local Usborne Independent Consultant.
Trump and his owner Dr. Jeanie are doing their rounds around the town of Cowfork, the remnants of the storm from the night before causing various hiccups. Along the way they help some sick calves, talk with some border collies, meet a pregnant and nervous mare, and a sick dalmatian.
This book has an engaging premise, cute pictures, and a nice pace. It is fun, educational, and a nice step up from the Billie B. Brown books as a chapter book (with more pages and more words per page).
The Nitty Gritty:
Honestly, there is nothing special about the writing techniques in this book–but more importantly, there’s nothing wrong with them either. It is simple and straight-forward and, well, rather cutesy. The book is told from the point of view of a dog, Trump, whose experiences as an “Animal Liaison Officer” at Pet Vet Clinic have allowed her to pick up multiple animal languages and a thorough understanding of many species, humans, and illnesses. While this results in a rather anthropomorphized dog, it allows for the children to connect to the book. And it is important to note that there is a good amount of realistic dog behavior in this book as well, despite the heavy dose of human qualities that have been applied to Trump. Overall, it is a pretty good mixture of human and dog behavior, especially considering that this is a children’s book.
The story itself is cute, but has no real tension in it (to me, anyway). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and could, in fact, be good for some kids. However, there’s never any doubt that things will work out well. Or even that Trump or Dr. Jeanie really have to work hard in order for things to work out well. There are also no temper tantrums, name-calling, or other negative aspects of childhood included in this book. Trump, despite being a dog, is a very relatable character and–from a mom’s perspective–is a hard-working, good-natured role model for the children who are reading this book.
The beginning of this book includes a nice “Welcome to Pet Vet Clinic” section, a “Staff at the Pet Vet Clinic” and “Other Important Characters” section, and a “Map of Pet Vet Clinic” section. These pieces provided a good grounding in the series despite the fact that I was not starting with Book 1.
Vocabulary side bars–throughout the book there are several bolded words (such as isolation and cockatoo) that include a definition box on the same page. I found this feature to be very nice and not one that I see often (what I do see is vocabulary words at the end of the chapter or end of the book)
“Trump’s Diagnosis”–at the end of each chapter is a small paragraph titled “Trump’s Diagnosis” where Trump gives a quick summary and/or explanation of something that was covered in that specific chapter.
There are also one to two illustrations per chapter
Book Club Chatter:
Here are some questions, organized by chapter, to help check comprehension and engage in a deeper connection with the child(ren) you are reading this book to/with:
Have you ever been in a noisy storm? If so, how did it make you feel?
Do you have a pet? Have you had to take it to the vet? What for?
After working with the sick kitten, Dr. Jeanie washes her hands. Trump says this is pass any disease from patient to patient. How does washing her hands help Dr. Jeanie keep patients healthy? When are times that you should wash your hands?
Why do Dr. Jeanie and Trump go on rounds?
Where is the first place that Dr. Jeanie and Trump go on their rounds?
Trump says that she and Pammie are “polite and friendly equals”. What does it mean to be someone’s equal? Who are some people you are equal to?
The barn cat is surprised that Trump can talk in Cat-speak. How do you think you would react if a dog came up to you and started talking Human-speak?
Shall seems surprised when she meets Dr. Jeanie for the first time. What are some reasons she might be surprised that Dr. Jeanie is a vet?
The horse, Helen of Troy, has a dog as a companion to help keep her calm and happy. Are there times in your life where you would like to have a companion to stay calm and happy? Since you don’t have a dog companion, what are some things you can do instead (like deep breathing, etc)? If you could have any animal as your companion, what animal would you choose?
Was there a time that you hurt a lot? Did it keep you from doing things you like doing? If so, what? How did you get hurt in the first place? How long did it take for you to get better? What did you do to get better?
It turned out that part of Paris’ problem is that he is dehydrated. He doesn’t have enough fluid in his body. Do you think it is important for humans to stay hydrated? What’s the best thing to drink to stay hydrated? *This would be a great opportunity to go into how humans stay healthy, go searching for more information online, etc. Look up how many glasses of water a person should have (there are charts that show in more detail based on height and weight rather than the straight “8 eight ounce glasses”), how long people can live without water, etc.
This chapter spends a lot of time talking about things that can happen when your body doesn’t work. What do you think it would be like to be deaf? Think about your favorite song. What is it? How would you feel if you never got to hear it again? Do you think that you can tell if a person is deaf–or arthritic–just by looking at them? Do you think there are other sicknesses or disabilities that you can’t see? (You can go as deep into this discussion as you and your child are interested in, including doing research online about various disabilities, treatments, how they impact a persons life, etc)
Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night? What happened? How did that make you feel?
Have you ever slept in a sleeping bag? What for? What was it like? Did you enjoy it? When are some other times you might need to sleep in a sleeping bag?
Helen says that horse races are very noisy. Why do you think they are noisy? Have you been to something very noisy? How did the noise make you feel?
What was your favorite part of this chapter?
Why do you think animals that are having babies need to be calm?
*This chapter provides a great opportunity to look up video of a foal being born or, depending on the child’s age or interest, simply video of a new born foal walking around, etc.
Helen has a healthy foal–or baby girl horse. What would be a good name for her? Why did you pick that name?
What was your favorite part of the book?
If you were writing a story with Trump and Dr. Jeanie in it, what animal or animals would you have them treating? What adventures would they have?
Title: Lift-the-Flap: Questions and Answers About Your Body Author: Katie Daynes Illustrator: Marie-Eve Tremblay Genre: Non-fiction Picture Book Age: 4 and up (although I think it would depend on the 4 year old whether or not they would sit for this whole book)
Is This Part of a Series?: Yes (there are several pages of Lift-the-Flap books and at least six Questions and Answers books)
*I purchased a copy of this book
This isn’t your typical book-for-review type of book. Their is no story, chapters, or beginning, middle, or end. Instead, it is a non-fiction book centered around questions (who, what, where, when, why, how, and yes or no) centered around the theme of “your body.” There’s a great variety of questions (like does everyone snore, is my heart shaped like a heart, and when do babies learn to walk) and some cute illustrations that cover the pages from edge to edge.
I think it’s a fun book. I loved the illustrations and the collection of questions and even learned a few things myself (such as what percentage of people can touch their tongues to their noses!). My kids also enjoyed it and have been through it about three times so far.
The Nitty Gritty:
This book has some great information to share and it presents it in a super cute way, both because of the questions that are asked and the illustrations that accompany the questions. My favorite question was in the yes or no section (Can I pick my nose if nobody is watching?) because of the honesty in the answer (Yes, but you shouldn’t, and here’s why…). Kids shouldn’t ever be talked down to, and this question highlights the fact that Usborne Books & More believes the same thing. This is especially important when it comes to non-fiction books. When you talk down to kids, you underestimate their intelligence, risk making them self-conscious or embarrassed about asking questions (and in the case of this particular book, their body), and can make reading less fun. This book doesn’t run any of those risks. The pictures and flaps are engaging, the answers are honest, and they subject matter frankly covers everything from dreams to body hair to excrement.
Book Club Chatter:
Whenever you are reading a book to a child, it is super important to help them connect to the book. Non-fiction books are no exception to this idea: the better a connection the children have to the book, the better they understand, learn, and remember what they are reading. While these aren’t strictly book club style questions, here are a few ideas of how to help your child connect to the material in this book:
Any time the book mentions the size of something, help them to visualize that: if it references their fist (as in the size of a heart), have them hold up their fist. Hold yours up and compare them. Etc. This makes things very personal and concrete.
If the book mentions a developmental milestone–such as when a baby begins to walk–talk about when the child started walking, or when you did.
Probably the best thing you can do for you child is to follow the conversation where ever it happens to wander.
It is also good to note that this is an “Internet linked” book, meaning that there is a webpage for this book, with links to other websites, games, videos, and articles that have to do with the topic of the book (in this case the body)
Goodreads Rating: 4.6 Stars (5 Ratings) Amazon Rating: 5 Stars (1 Rating) Usborne Rating: 4.75 Stars (4 Reviews)
*This book is available through Usborne consultants and the Usborne website My Son’s Rating: (Coming Soon) My Daughter’s Rating: 30,000 Stars
My favorite question was the one about if fingerprints are all different because I like the picture of the detective. I gave it lots of stars because of the poop. And there are lots of words for us to read. And the pictures. My Rating: 5 Star
I am pretty sure this book will stick around our house for quite a while, being read many times in the process. And as is the case with other UBAM books I have encountered so far, it is a sturdy enough book to last through many years–and probably be useable as a good quality hand-me-down when we are ready to get rid of it.
Title: The Boxcar Children Author: Gertrude Chandler Warner Genre: Fiction Age: Early Elementary Is This Part of a Series?: Yes (Book 1 of the Boxcar Children Mysteries series)
*I checked this book out from the library
This book follows the adventures of four young orphans who are attempting to 1) stay together and 2) keep from living with their presumably mean grandfather. In the process, they come across an old boxcar in a clearing in the woods and decide to turn it into their house. They work hard, get creative using found items, and become friends with the doctor in a nearby town.
I loved this book when I was younger and was excited to read it to my children. It was less mystery-like and less action filled than I remembered it, but it had a fast pace and I still found myself wishing I could be like those kids–a great relationship with each other, supportive of each other, and–most impressively–they make an amazing home out of other peoples’s garbage. And best of all–my kids enjoyed it too.
The Nitty Gritty:
First things first, this book is not truly the same level of writing as what I am used to reading. It is simplistic and overly optimistic. There are no temper tantrums or mentions of sadness over the idea that their parents are gone. Everything works out well for them, really. Every step of the way. But then I remember that this book was written in 1924. society was different then, so why can’t a children’s book be different?
And honestly, when I read a book like Billie B. Brown to my kids, and the children in the story are realistic and have a bad day or a temper tantrum or lie, I sometimes wonder if it is good to “reinforce” this behavior in my children, even if it is normal. When I was reading The Boxcar Children to them, however, I didn’t have any moments where I was worried about that. The thoughts that entered my head in this book were about how the boxcar children were such good examples of children–well-mannered, hard-working, cooperative, active, and still very, very creative and full of their own personalities. So they were both the “ideal” helpful child and still children, really. Not realistic, in my opinion, but still a pretty nice balance. Should we be giving children high ideals and above average role models to look up to? Or should we only be showing them other children like them? I think it is good for them to know that there are both kids like them and a better way to be. So, in the end, I decided that even the overly sweet quality of this book was a positive thing. Something worth noting, but not worth making you throw the whole book out the window.
As for the characters, this is a children’s book, so the main characters are children, ranging in age from 5 to 14 and both male and female. That means that most elementary kids will find one of the Alden children to connect to or look up to. As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, they are hard working and good-natured children, which is the primary aspect of their personalities (although they do also have a like/dislike or hobby that sets them apart from each other). Their speech patterns and word choices can be a bit old fashioned and formal (this book was written almost 90 years ago, after all), but it is still easy to understand.
When it comes right down to it, this book has been enjoyed by many generations of children and, although it may seem cheesy when you reread it as an adult, chances are good that your children will still enjoy it just as much as you did.
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 (71,743 Ratings) Amazon Rating: 4.8 Stars (585 Reviews) My Rating: 3 Stars
This rating comes with a big old BUT attached to it: yes, I am giving it “only” three stars. This is because while it is not poorly written, it is not especially well written either. And while I like it, I don’t particularly love it. However, I am very glad that I read this with my children. They asked for it to be read to them every night until it was finished (and then wanted me to read the next book to them too). 3 star rating or not, this book has been around for a long time for a reason–and is worth reading with your children.