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A Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Magic Tree House: A Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne is another adventure in the Magic Tree House series in which Jack and Annie seek the answer to a riddle. I may have known the answer and my daughter may have pulled it out of me, but she still didn’t believe me and read the whole book to see if I was right.

Jack and Annie find themselves in the Wild West and hiding from horse rustlers. Annie soon pulls them into a caper to reunite a foul with its mustang mother who has been taken by the rustlers. Along the way they meet Slim Cooley whose horses have been stolen.

Magic Tree House: A Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne is another adventure for the kids that leads them to learn things about the old west and themselves. Jack is cautious and a note taker as always, but Annie is as impetuous and instinctual as ever.

RATING: Quatrain

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne is perfect for any kid who loves slime and grossness. From rodents and spiders to the uses of spit and the evolution of toilets, this book as it all.

My daughter loves these kinds of books, even if there are things in there that gross her out, like birds that make nests from their spit and then those empty nests are eaten by Southeast Asian people as a delicacy. She was thrilled when she could do an experiment of wiping her tongue dry before putting a potato chip on it — lo and behold, she couldn’t taste it!

There are also quizzes throughout to test what you’ve learned, as well as if you have any common sense. One of my daughter’s favorites was the much needed break of cuteness in the middle of the book.

Don’t Read This Book Before Dinner by Anna Claybourne can provide a couple hours of entertainment for a family, and we enjoyed seeing who got the right answers on the quizzes. We had a really gross time with this one, and we’re all in agreement that we won’t be eating spiders or bugs no matter how much protein they have compared to a burger.

RATING: Quatrain

Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 4+ hours
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Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine is a collection of four creepy camp stories written by others and introduced by R.L. Stine — The Werewolf in the Woods, The New Camper, Battle of the Bots, and The Ghost in the Cabin. The stories are sufficiently creepy and probably should be read with others if you get scared easily. I listened to these in the early morning hours while getting ready for work, and definitely got the chills a couple times.

My favorite of the stories was The New Camper in which a young man soon realizes that his new cabinmate is slowly usurping his personality and friends. Soon, his friends are calling his new cabinmate by his name. Battle of the Bots was a bit predictable, but it was still entertaining, as as The Werewolf in the Woods. The Ghost in the Cabin was spooky in all the right places, and the laughter was sufficiently creepy. However, to be more accurate, this should have been called “The Ghosts in the Cabin,” since there was clearly more than one (not a spoiler).

These are probably more frightening than the Goosebumps series of books, but they are definitely great campfire stories to add to your own tales in the woods. This is family friendly, and would be OK for younger readers, probably not under age 10. Camp Red Moon by R.L. Stine would be a fun listen on a road trip, especially in the wilds of the Northeast or in the woods.

RATING: Quatrain

Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 74 pgs.
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Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne, a second book in this series gifted by my aunt to my daughter, finds Jack and Annie in Pompeii. This is not the time to be in the popular vacation city, but our kids don’t know it until it might be too late.

On a mission from Morgan La Fey, Jack and Annie are on the hunt for a story scroll. Where could the library be that has the scroll they need. They run into Gladiators, soldiers, shop owners, and a soothsayer. My daughter learned so much from this little book, and I was amazed that she could remember how to say “Mount Vesuvius” and “Pompeii” pretty quickly.

Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne offers kids pronunciation keys to help with difficult or unknown words, and this story has a great deal of tension. It also offers some cliffhangers, which my daughter has learned about in school. She really enjoyed this book and couldn’t wait to finish it.

RATING: Cinquain

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 7+ hours
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The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins, narrated by the author, is a long narration of how to use the 5-second rule to change your behavior and achieve your goals. In addition to a short explanation of how the rule works and how to apply it, she does offer some answers to frequently asked questions she’s received over the years and information about the psychology behind why the rule works.

Much of our indecision and regret are tied to our emotional responses to thoughts and goals — we effectively talk ourselves out of acting on our goals or ideas. Count down from 5 and then act — this leaves no time for your emotions to talk you out of accomplishing your goals or taking action. This advice can be life changing, and her examples demonstrate how it can change behaviors and build confidence in yourself. Invaluable advice and information.

However, there are far too many testimonials and it ends up sounding like a long-winded sales pitch. This could have been much shorter and succinct, with a link to a bunch of testimonials on her website for those who were interested.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins is a little long-winded and promotional, but if you want the CliffNotes version, view her TEDTalk.

RATING: Tercet

Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne

Source: Gift
Paperback, 72 pgs.
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Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne is one of a bunch of books my aunt sent my daughter over the summer. It is book 19 in the series, but kids can follow along pretty well reading them out of order. Personally, this would drive me crazy not reading them in order, but my daughter is not bothered.

Jack and Annie are siblings who have adventures in a magic tree house. In this book, the kids are sent to India in search of a gift to free Teddy the dog from his furry state. Using a nonfiction book as their guide, they meet langurs, elephants, a hermit, and a tiger. There is danger, fun, and a bit of fear that they won’t uncover the gift or find their way home.

My daughter took to this book instantly, and part of it is the mix of fiction and nonfiction. She likes to learn about the natural world while reading fiction and this has both. Tigers at Twilight by Mary Pope Osborne was a good adventure story that’s not too scary, but packs in enough information about a real place to help kids learn about the world.

RATING: Quatrain

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer

Source: the poet
Paperback, 89 pgs.
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The Broken God by Laura Roklicer is a slim, questioning collection in which trauma and broken pieces are picked up, rearranged, and reassembled into something hopeful and more beautiful. We all make mistakes and feel pain when we lose someone we love, even those who leave us that we know were no good for us. But like many of us, these poems speak to the root of the problem.

In “Cowards,” the narrator asks, “Can you even tell/the good from the bad?/We’re noble for the world,/cowards for ourselves.” (pg. 37) How many times do we speak for others without raising our own voices for our own selves? How many times do we offer advice to others that we don’t even listen to in our own lives?

From "Follow Me" (pg. 73)

Put some more make up on my soul,
Shape me into something my love wouldn't recognise.
Give me something my hatred won't laugh at.

This fear of advocating for ourselves leaves others to do it for us or no one at all to do it. Roklicer looks at these situations from multiple angles — a person who drinks and drinks, a person who molds into the life of another and loses it all — these are the broken gods. The broken people unable to pick themselves up and rearrange into better people. But all is not lost.

The Broken God by Laura Roklicer explores our turmoil — internal and external — as we search for something outside ourselves to make us feel complete. But what we need — the god we seek — is within us all. We only need to reach out and grab hold.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Laura Roklicer is a 23-year-old freelance writer, scriptwriter, lyricist and a filmmaker, whose educational background is in film production and psychology. She has worked with over a hundred artists worldwide and is a citizen of the world who doesn’t believe in borders that people put up (geographical or mental) and finds her thrill exploring different areas of the world, as well as exploring the cultural differences, individuality, and different worldviews.

She believes the true beauty of nature lays in those differences and the power of subjectivity. Laura is on a mission to contribute to the world change for the better and she hopes to do so through her writing and films. Please view the Book Teaser on Facebook.

View the guest post.

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A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace (audio)

Source: Purchased from Audible
Audiobook, 2+ hours
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A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is well researched, offering tidbits about Regency versus Victorian traditions. Whether Jane Austen would have had a Christmas tree, is one big question many wonder about — you’ll find out in this volume. I love that the length of the holiday celebrations are longer than our own — imagine taking several weeks to spend time frolicking, playing games, and more. Sounds like a child-like illusion, doesn’t it?

A time when Christmas was not just about presents and kids, but about adults and enjoying one another’s company. On audio the cooking and recipes are not as interesting as seeing them in print, but getting a chance to see how things really were in the past, is an eye-opener.

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions by Maria Grace, narrated by Barry Shannon, is a book that any writer in the Jane Austen spinoff/continuation realm must have on the shelf.

RATING: Quatrain

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (audio)

Source: Audible Purchase
Audiobook, 5+ hrs.
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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson takes elements of Buddhism and westernizes them in a way that most readers can relate to them. This is an approach to life that requires an individual to take a hard look at themselves, realize their own limitations, and keep those in mind as they make choices about their work, play, and relationships. Unlike the generations he talks about in his book, I was not treated as special simply for showing up and I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons. Some of the lessons I learned may not be as hard as lessons learned by others, but they have provided me with a certain perspective on my own limitations.

We all have flaws and limitations and we need to accept them. Point taken.

Manson expresses himself with his no-holds-barred language and jokes — some of which may make you cringe — but his points are these:

  1. Deal with the bad and the good equally.
  2. Stop relying on outside forces or values to make you happy.
  3. Establish value priorities and stick to them. (not like earning more money)
  4. Be honest with yourself and others.

I do feel the author relied a little too much on a certain four-letter word, but even with that, the book offers some advice that many people might need. Do I think those people will pick up this book? Maybe, but most likely not. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is an interesting listen, but much of the Buddhism is lost in the tropes and the humor.

RATING: Tercet

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman is the third book in the series, and as you probably guessed, my daughter loved this one too. She now has me acting out the scenes using her favorite stuffed animals.

Here, Bunjitsu Bunny continues to learn lessons in kindness and patience, as well as the value of practice. In the same zen-like manner, this bunny tackles the challenges she faces with calm thoughtfulness. One great lesson is to look in front of you for the answers you seek before running around everywhere else to find the answers.

In addition to the Bunjitsu Code, which is in every book, there is an interview with the author. Kids can learn about Himmelman’s favorite subject in school, which just happens to be my daughter’s favorite — art. I loved learning about the origin story for Bunjitsu Bunny, especially since this talented martial artist is based on a real young woman who had similar talent in martial arts.

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman is another fantastic installment. Isabel is the best bunjitsu student, but she also has a big heart and is willing to help others and be responsible. There are so many wonderful lessons for children, and they can read these books to you.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman is the second book in the series and further explores how kids and bunnies can avoid fighting even when someone is determined to fight with you. The power of the mind and kindness are on full display in these adventures.

These are great beginning chapter books for kids. My daughter sometimes asks to read just one more chapter before bed, if she’s not really tired or really interested in what Bunjitsu Bunny is doing next. While many of these adventures just take one chapter from beginning to end, it gives kids a chance to see how longer chapter books continue a story with the same characters. It gives them an opportunity to see that longer books are not necessarily going to be too hard or boring.

One of my favorite adventures in this book teaches patience and the importance of practice. It involves a little bit of origami and even offers step-by-step instructions on how kids can make their own paper bunjitsu bunny. Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move by John Himmelman is wonderful second book that moves the series out into its own and away from revamped folk tales.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (audio)

Source: Audible
Audiobook, 12+ hours
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Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover explores Tara’s experiences as a child of survivalists in the mountains of Idaho who also have very restrictive views on Mormonism. As a child, all care was provided by her mother who was an herbalist and midwife. The children were not allowed to go to doctors, nurses, or hospitals. As the family prepared for the end of the world and tried to remain detached from public services, Tara helped her mother collect herbs and worked with her father in the scrap junkyard. Without any public education or barely any homeschooling, Tara entered the classroom for the first time at age 17.

The gaps in her knowledge became very clear to her and her thirst for knowledge propelled her career in education — taking her to Harvard and Cambridge — but she also noticed that her family’s Mormonism was very different from that of her classmates at Brigham Young University. Her will power to educate herself is amazing, as is her ability to learn things on her own or with very little help until she passes the ACT.

But as she becomes more educated, a sense of disconnect begins to emerge between herself and her family. While listening, it seems as though things between her brother and herself are glossed over and then overly dramatic. It’s like watching a train wreck, and I suspect that the things she’s writing about that she wrote journal entries about are a bit like “out of body” experiences for her in some ways. She’s disconnected from that self and her family. This memoir will have readers feeling that acutely, and its a grieving process that doesn’t seem to have reached a conclusion by the end of the book.

For some readers, this could be a trigger given the violence she witnessed and endured throughout her life. Readers will either believe all that occurs from Tara’s point of view, or believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. The family has different points of view on these incidents and Westover does the best she can in sharing those early on.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a deep dive into a family life that may seem impossible. For instance, the burns her father sustains and survives is nothing short of a miracle. This is just one incident and result that seems impossible to believe. The overarching theme of how education can set you free, however, should not be ignored. Westover is a talented writer.

RATING: Quatrain