Sunday, April 29, 2012

Children's Corner: Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!

Review: Another great library find by my 1st grader. Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! is perfect for springtime and the woes of those who love to plant gardens. Poor Mr. McGreely has spent years waiting to plant his garden and has decided that this was the year for it. Unbeknownst to him, there are 3 little rabbits who are eagerly awaiting his garden as well but to eat from it. After he discovers that the bunnies have been eating his garden's goods, he goes through different measures to keep them out. They start out subtle and end up pretty ridiculous in the end.

No matter what he does those sneaky little rabbits end up in his garden. I'm sure there are life lessons in the book but frankly I just find it cute, clever and funny. I've always been a sucker for cute, puffy-tailed rabbits, so this book gave me my fill. I liked how resourceful the rabbits were in getting into the garden for their munchies. I liked how Mr. McGreely was determined to keep them out and keep the fresh vegetables for himself. Perhaps perseverance and staying determined in the face of adversity are the life lessons here.

The illustrations capture the book well using colors that leap off the pages. I'm excited to find out that there's a sequel to this book called Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Hide! and I just might be sending a note to my daughter's teacher to have her pull it for me, I mean us.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Julie's Review: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

Summary: In this poignant and evocative novel by acclaimed author Kristina McMorris, a country is plunged into conflict and suspicion—forcing a young woman to find her place in a volatile world. Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy. When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost. Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss—an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

Review: American history class never talks about the fact that the US rounded up Japanese and Italian immigrants during WWII. It is woefully swept under the rug. It wasn't until I read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet that I even knew about this black spot, how sad is that?! Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves again brings this travesty to light in the story of Lane and Maddie.

This story stirs up so many emotions throughout the book. You root for Maddie and Lane even though you know that it won't be an easy road ahead for them. You root for TJ and hope that the chip on his shoulder some how gets removed. You have feelings of patriotism because Ms. McMorris brings you back to that time so vividly. And yet as you read about the travesties against the Japanese-Americans, you can't help but feel sick to your stomach. These were citizens of our country that were rounded up and treated like traitors for no reason at all, except because they were all of Japanese heritage.

What I loved about this book was the growth and change that all the characters went through. Maddie had to become a young wife and daughter in law sooner than she would have liked. Lane had to take on the responsibilities of his family when his dad was taken away. TJ had been responsible for Maddie for so long he had forgotten what it was like to just look out for himself.

I enjoyed reading how Maddie's relationship with her mother-in-lase Kumiko evolved over time. I loved how Kumiko became a woman who opened her heart instead of keeping it closed off. You came to respect who she was and why she was closed off after revealing something of her past.

The book had one of three ways to end and I knew that Ms. McMorris wouldn't take the easy road. I'm not sure how she decided on the ending but it was the only ending that made sense. Did it break my heart? Absolutely. Was it realistic? Absolutely. It was the final chapter/final scene that had me bawling like a baby.

It is obvious that Ms. McMorris did her research and this story meant a great deal to her. She is a wonderful storyteller and makes the time period come to life. I loved her infusion of various societal situations: the Japanese obsession with baseball and the Women's baseball league. Music is also a very important part of the book. It is what Maddie turns to when things in her life seems out of hand. It is was rescues her in some ways in the end of the book too.

I will definitely be check out her novel Letters From Home at some point in the future. I can't recommend Bridge Of Scarlet Leaves enough for any one who enjoys a good WWII novel or just a wonderful family story.

Final Take: 4.75/5


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jenn's Review: City of Glass

Summary:  To save her mother's life, Clary must travel to the City of Glass, the ancestral home of the Shadowhunters — never mind that entering the city without permission is against the Law, and breaking the Law could mean death. To make things worse, she learns that Jace does not want her there, and her best friend, Simon, has been thrown in prison by the Shadowhunters, who are deeply suspicious of a vampire who can withstand sunlight.

As Clary uncovers more about her family's past, she finds an ally in mysterious Shadowhunter Sebastian. With Valentine mustering the full force of his power to destroy all Shadowhunters forever, their only chance to defeat him is to fight alongside their eternal enemies. But can Downworlders and Shadowhunters put aside their hatred to work together? While Jace realizes exactly how much he's willing to risk for Clary, can she harness her newfound powers to help save the Glass City — whatever the cost?

Review:  Oh, how I adore this series!  The City of Glass is the big showdown I was waiting for and it lives up to it's promise. Now that I've finished it I keep going back and re-reading my favorite parts, because I an just not ready to let it go.

The Lightwoods have been summoned to Idris by the Clave and the trouble that was simmering is quickly comming to a boil. Jace doesn't trust what the Clave will do to Clary when they find out how powerful she is, so he attempts to prevent her from going with them. I was frustrated with Jace for a good while about this because, knowing Clary is determined to go to save her mother, and knowing the lengths she's gone to for her family and friends, Jace still thinks he can trick her into staying in New York. If, he was smart he would have found a way to help her while attempting to keep the Clave in the dark. It would have been much safer. But here I am discussing the characters as if they are real people again, and that only happens when I'm completely absorbed in a book.

Sometimes it takes an earthquake to breakdown the prejudice barriers and Ms. Clare certainly provides it. She shakes the Shadowhunter community to its very core ...and it's awesome. I loved the fact that even though I figured out a few things, she still had me guessing about how things would resolve right to the very end. I loved the final showdown too. Cassandra Clare does a fantastic job of jumping between characters without the narrative becoming confusing or choppy.

Now, that I'm through the first three books of the series, I must say I wish Cassandra Clare had found another way to keep Clary and Jace apart. I know nothing is quite as effective, but that type of story line troubles me, even though I knew it would resolve itself. It's one of the things that pulled me forward. I'm sure she will find a way to mess with them through the next three novels in the series, so I'll see how well she can find a new way to keep the tension.

I think I've reached a point in the series where I can put it down for a while and come back to it later. At least I hope so, because there are a ton of books in my TBR pile that are feeling rather neglected. I look forward to mulling these first three over in my mind before I return to Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunters. I especially look forward to starting the Infernal Devices series.

Final Take:  5/5

PS.  There are tons of great things on the Mortal Instruments website to dive into like cut scenes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Gail for winning our copy of Taken at Dusk by C. C. Hunter!

You should have an email waiting for you.

As always GJR used to generate the winner.

Thanks to all for entering!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Jenn's Review: City of Ashes

Summary: Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what's normal when you're a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who's becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn't ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary's only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

Review: City of Ashes picks up shortly after City of Bones left off. Things quickly start spiraling out of control. The tenuous threads that held the teenage Shadowhunters together are starting to fray. Clary is trying hard to put her interest in Jaece behind her and concentrate on Simon... but circumstances are not making it easy.

There is not a dull moment in City of Ashes. It's action packed from start to finish, with a few quick respites for regrouping. Valentine is a formidable foe, especially with two out of the three Mortal Instruments. He's a swift talker, and charming when he wants something, but a ruthless maniac to the core. Many prejudices come to light in this book along with old fears and buried vengance. The progression of the characters was nice. Alec is finding his way, Isabelle is learning to trust Clary, and Simon learns to take control of his life. Even Jace, who is reeling out of control, softens around the edges when Clary is around.

I found this plot slightly more predictable than City of Bones, but enjoyable nonetheless. There were a few clichés, one particularly cringe-worthy one, and a couple of blatant moments of foreshadowing but on the whole the characters and overarching plot twists kept it interesting.

I must say that I love the available extras on the Mortal Instruments website.  Aside from that the fact that excerpts also come in audio format (how cool is that?!?), Cassandra Clare has also included a reading group guide (love when these are available).  But the more fascinating part for me are the deleted scenes, which are more frequent in quantity as the series advances.  They're wonderful little bonus morsels.

Cassandra Clare still hasn't resolved several big issues by the end of the book. Plus this one is left on more of a cliffhanger than the last, so there is no way I'll be able to read anything except City of Glass next. Yes, I'll admit it. I'm hooked.

Final Take: 4/5


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Children's Corner: You Will Be My Friend

You Will Be My Friend... a definite statement instead of a question. Once again, Peter Brown, author of Children Make Terrible Petsexplores a difficult situation with humor. With his traditional brown toned art, Mr. Brown teaches that it's not about being what others want us to be, it's about being ourselves.

Lucy decides to make a new friend and sets forth with confidence and determination.  But, Lucy is having a difficult time; she's trying too hard.  Lucy's single-minded tenacity, exuberance, and, as is often the case with my daughter, the sheer force of her enthusiasm bowls people over. It is not only exhausting, but it it is frightening potential friends off. Lucy tries everything she can think of to fit in, including ugly threats ("You won't get any snacks until you start liking me right now.").  Finally in desperation, Lucy yells finds herself facing an egg and shouts, "You will be my friend! I can wait."

Eventually, Lucy makes a friend when she's not trying, of course. It's a tough lesson for any child to learn. Trying to fit in and/or forcing situations without thinking the consequences through, can make things harder.  And while confidence is key, it's also important to be yourself.  I think it's a wonderful story and Peter Brown knows how to spin it without it being too heavy or preachy. It's a good reminder for any child that sometimes, you just need to be patient, slow down, and do your own thing.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alice's Review: More Like Her

Summary:  What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences? In Frances’s mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection. Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa’s too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill’s recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage. Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems—like Emma’s enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.

Review:  Look at the cover of More Like Her…three friends, legs crossed, high heels.   Total chick-lit.  Summary?  Girl loses boy, gets new boss, girl meets other boy.  Total chick-lit.   I read one novel by Liza Palmer before this one, Conversations with the Fat Girl.  Great book.  Great writer.  Total chick-lit.  What’s my point?  Oh, Liza Palmer pulled a fast one on us.

This starts as a classic novel about a few girlfriends and failed romance and turns into one of the best contemporary works of fiction I have read in a while. This novel is anything but typical. Ms. Palmer took a boy meets girl story and laced it with shock and tragedy. I knew from the summary there would be death. What I didn’t know was how it would come to fruition. It wasn’t what I expected. I was as stunned to experience it as the characters in the novel. It caught me off guard, I was genuinely shocked. I love that in a novel.

Frannie, our protagonist, shares her story with us in a voice that is refreshing and honest. A key plot point is her breakup with the perfect Ryan and subsequent blooming romance with architect Sam. This has the perfect funny debacles of romance characteristic of chick-lit. Frannie thinks too much, at times analyzing things to an exasperating level. She relies on her friends for guidance and support, and they give both with wisdom and with comedy. I was especially drawn to Jill, she reminded me of my BFF Roe. Ms. Palmer gives the reader multi-faceted characters. There was more to Frannie than her love life. And it’s this other part of her that gets tested, what shines in the face of this disaster. One would think romance and tragedy couldn’t coexist in the same story, but they do. And that’s the beauty of More Like Her, Ms. Palmer weaves them together organically.

There are two blemishes in this otherwise perfect novel. The first is that the ending was just a bit too conventional. I loved it, but for some reason it felt off. The second is the synopsis of this novel does not do it justice. Lisa does not come across as too career-focused, if anything she is the one whose heart is most opened to finding, giving and receiving love. Jill’s recent unexpected pregnancy isn’t revealed until the last 50 or so pages of the novel. This knowledge robs the reader of the surprise and makes us think it is a major plot point when in reality it is relatively insignificant.

Those two things aside, More Like Her is a page turning powerhouse.  I was riveted to the end.

Final Take:  4/5


Friday, April 20, 2012

An Author Event: Ree Drummond

Here's what's happening at Barnes and Nobel in Union Square....

Late last year I discovered a fantastic show.  It was about an accidental country girl living on a ranch with her family, cooking great food and taking beautiful photographs.  Oh, and she's a famous blogger too.  I'm not a long time reader of The Pioneer Woman blog.  I vaguely remember checking it out way back when it started in 2006. I never read her cookbook but thanks to my love of the Food Network, I discovered her.

During her introduction, I texted Julie that "she's purty."  Julie told me I have a girl crush on her, which I am not ashamed to admit is absolutely true. How could I not?  She is amazing, warm and welcoming.  She showed us a visual presentation because she is nervous talking in front of crowds.  I loved the presentation.  It was an intimate portrayal describing how she came to be who she is. She told stories and showed pictures of herself growing up as well as her wedding, her husband and kids, and life on the ranch. These are all things that are presented on her tremendously personal blog, but to have her share them in her own voice was great. 

She didn't talk about the cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  Food from my Frontier at all, referencing it briefly in a slide only at the very end.  I did look through the cookbook while waiting for her to sign it.  I'm looking forward to making the gazpacho, fig-prosciutto pizza, and for dessert?  Homemade vanilla bean ice cream with peach-basil topping.  Swoon.

I especially enjoyed her serenading Charlie with Endless Love.  For those you who don't know, Charlie is her basset hound.  Her sweet rendition included singing Charlie's part in a hopeless howl.  Classic.

I wanted to spend more time with her.  She is very amusing, gracious and well, down to earth.  She took her time with each and every person whose books she signed, sharing friendly pleasantries and smiles. 

She also imparting some wisdom on her audience, saying that no matter what you do, be it cook, write, take're going to get better at it the more you do it.  She started a blog as a hobby, posting photos of her family, anecdotes and recipes.  Now is the author of 4 books, stars in her own TV show, and has a well known blog.  Not bad for an accidental country girl.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jenn's Review: City of Bones

Summary:  When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

Review:  I have been meaning to get around to reading the Mortal Instruments series for a long time.  I'm glad I finally got to City of Bones and frustrated at the same time. Glad because it's fantastic and I couldn't put it down and frustrated, because I'm going to have to dive right into the next book because, well, I can't put them down!

Cassandra Clare has an easy writing style that continuously catches me by surprise. Maybe it's the ease with which a complicated story flows, or the quirky humor imbued in her characters. I loved all Ms. Clare's characters. Clary may have started the narrative in a position of weakness, but she doesn't throw up her hands and wail, she absorbs knowledge, accepts the challenge, and sets off to defend her family and friends no matter the odds.  I loved wounded Jace, feisty Isabele, protective Alec, and lovesick Simon. 

I love her obscure references and symbolism and I love that she doesn't try to veil it but incorporates it honestly.  It made me see some of the twists coming, but certainly not all of them.  I was still caught by surprise on several points and routing for things to turn out differently.  I actually feel like Ms. Clare wrote herself into a bit of a corner and I can't wait to see how she writes her way out of it.  It's one of the reasons I will be reading City of Ashes next.  Yes, she left things open ended, it was a good stopping place and not a horrendous cliff hanger, but it's the curiosity of where she will go from here that is pulling me into this series.

I have heard tell that Cassandra Clare's Infernal Devices series is even better than Mortal Instruments so I'm excited that I will have lots more Shadowhunter goodness to go.  However, the time is come to end this review because, well, I've got some reading to do...

Final Take:  5/5

Read an excerpt here.
Listen to an excerpt here.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Summary:  Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Review:  I saw a preview for the film Hugo in the theaters and said, 'Wow!  I have to read that book!'  It's been sitting on the TBR pile ever since partly due to the fact that it's a large book (533 pages) and I didn't want to haul it around with me.  Had I taken a moment to look at it, I would have realized that it could be read in a sitting.  This is a concept book, part picture book, part graphic novel, with almost 300 pages of original art work, photographs, and film stills.  I understand now why it isn't available as an e-book, though I think it would make a fabulous interactive e-book, the expense to create it would make it cost prohibitive to the publisher as well as the consumer.

In many ways this book is like the Middle Grade equivalent to The Night Circus.  It's fantastical and magical, and you never know what turning the page may bring.  Parts of the story are told through pictures and some through prose; some pages are filled with drawings; some pages are almost blank save for a paragraph on them.  The plot is mysterious while not being overly complicated, and it is full of scope for the imagination with automata and gears and magic... Not only is the story amazing, and incredibly well researched, but Brian Selznick's artwork is marvelous. I keep picking it back up just to sift through the pages. 

It's marvelous -not to be missed.  I'm truly sorry it took me so long to get to this book.  I think there is much to be taken from it at any age (I want to know all about Georges Méliès now!). And I can't wait to see the movie.

Final Take:  5/5


Monday, April 16, 2012

Giveaway: Taken at Dusk

We are thrilled to be able to giveaway a copy of the latest book in the C.C. Hunter Shadow Fall's series, Taken at Dusk.  (Jenn's review)

To enter, fill out the form below by midnight EST, April 23, 2012.  You must be over 18 and a resident of the US or Canada.  One entry per person.

Girls Just Reading Blogspot uses to select our winners.  Please visit our Giveaway Policy for more information.

Good luck!!!


Jenn's Review: Taken at Dusk

Summary:  Kylie Galen wants the truth so badly she can taste it. The truth about who her real family is, the truth about which boy she's meant to be with-and the truth about what her emerging powers mean. But she's about to discover that some secrets can change your life forever ~and not always for the better.

Just when she and Lucas are finally getting close, she learns that his pack has forbidden them from being together. Was it a mistake to pick him over Derek? And it's not just romance troubling Kylie. An amnesia-stricken ghost is haunting her, delivering the frightful warning, someone lives and someone dies. As Kylie races to unravel the mystery and protect those she loves, she finally unlocks the truth about her supernatural identity, which is far different-and more astonishing-than she ever could have imagined.

Review:  The Shadow Falls books from C.C. Hunter make up one of my favorite YA series.  I don't think it gets the recognition it deserves either. C.C. Hunter has created a fascinating world where all paranormals coexist, but not always peacefully.

Shadow Falls is a camp for supernaturals where they can learn to harness their abilities and break down prejudices towards each other. It's about to enter its fledgling year as a year-round school, if they can just keep things from falling apart. The story is fast paced and full of constant developments but not to the point where it's overly intense. It's not so fast that the reader feels rushed either; it's taken us three books to cover one summer's worth of time but it's worth every page. I find Ms. Hunter's Shadow Falls books hard to put down once I've started them.  Given the opportunity I could devour them in a sitting.  I reach then end and I'm craving more.

Taken at Dusk is the no exception.  Awake at Dawn left Kylie in a rather precarious place and Taken at Dusk picks up right where we left off.  Someone is out to get Kylie and she is having a hard time figuring out who to trust, not to mention her new ghost visitor isnt much of a talker.  I love the way the characters are developing and growing. Kylie's roommates are still bickering, but they are also friends who have each others back no matter what.  They are still mystified by boys (who isn't?), but they have learned how to recognize a friend in need. There are love triangles that aren't whiney and heroines that are strong.   The only thing that I find slightly aggravating is the lengths Hunter's characters go to to avoid swearing.  And really, how minor is that?

If you're looking for an engaging, fast-paced paranormal YA series, this is for you.  Every time I start one of her books, I wish it would just keep going.  Personally, I can hardly wait until October for Whispers at Moonrise.

Final Take:  5/5


Sunday, April 15, 2012

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Johnni ClarkLori for winning our autographed copy of The Drunk Diet: How I Lost 40 Pounds . . . Wasted: A Memoir by Luc Carl.

You should have an email waiting for you.

As always GJR used to generate the winner. Thanks to all for entering!


Children's Corner: Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom

Review: I don't think there's at least 3 nights a week that Chicka Chicka Boom Boom isn't my 4 year old son's choice of a book to read. He was introduced to this at pre-school and received it as a gift at Christmas. He is now at the point where he can recite the book while I read it. He has his own inflections for certain parts of the book. He even likes to recite the book while we are on our way to pre-school. I crack up and think it's cool that he can do it from memory. Perhaps that's because between school and home he's probably heard it 100 times.

What I like about it is that it flows easily. Not only for me but for my 6 1/2 year old daughter if she chooses to read it with him as well. It's a cute story about all the letters of the alphabet climbing up the coconut tree but they are a little too heavy for the poor tree and they all fall down.

There is something special about this book for kids. It helps reinforce the alphabet that they are learning about in a fun way. The illustrations are marvelous and bright.

I'm sure at some point I'll tire of reading it but that's the beauty, pretty soon he'll be able to read it all on his own.