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Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 44 pgs.
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Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit is published by Penny Candy Books. Trini is a fearless gymnast and a kid with a can-do attitude. But how she faces a challenge will be a lesson to all her readers. When faced with a challenge, how do you react? Do you give up? Do you ask for help? Do you ask someone to do it for you? Or do you work with others who have different skills.

Trini spies her friends in another room building things with blocks, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t build the castle she envisions. When Mr. Ed asks if she needs help, she refuses, even though she’s discouraged and frustrated. She doesn’t understand why she can’t do it.

Sulit’s delightful illustrations bring the bouncy Trini to life, and kids will engage with her high-energy activity. The pages are colorful but soft, and are a great complement to the story.

Trini’s Big Leap by Beth Kephart, Alexander de Wit, and William Sulit is a delightful picture book with a great message about perseverance and discovery. Take a journey with Trini and her friends and see how teamwork can save the day and move mountains.

RATING: Quatrain

Good Crooks: Missing Monkey! by Mary Amato and Ward Jenkins

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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Good Crooks: Missing Monkey! by Mary Amato and Ward Jenkins is a story about kids whose parents are thieves, but they have other plans. Billy and Jillian Crook are happy to do good deeds, but one good deed lands them in hot water when their parents assume they are at the zoo to steal a monkey. Complete with funny lists of what taking care of a monkey is like, these two Crooks are sure to have kids reacting out loud — whether that’s with loud EWWs or laughter.

My daughter has been reading all summer, which is a plus given that last summer she flat out refused. We’re now in a nighttime reading routine, which I hope to continue in the fall when school starts. With this one she read 2-3 chapters per night because she wanted to see what happened next. It took her a few chapters to get into the story, which is told from Billy’s point of view. Razzle the monkey made the story even more funny, since he liked to cause mischief.

Good Crooks: Missing Monkey! by Mary Amato and Ward Jenkins is a delightful story with adventure, humor, and gross stuff that kids will relate to. There are a number of harder words that kids will have to sound out, but it is well worth the effort. There’s also an underlying message about the power of doing good deeds not only for your own community, but for yourself too.

RATING: Quatrain

Giveaway: Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney

Source: the author
Paperback, 75 pgs.
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Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a look at the immigration experience from an Irish American. Although many cite economics as the main impetus for immigration, there are always secondary factors that push people to leave the countries where they were born. And many, even after many years of productive lives as Americans, still have that fear that they will be sent home where they no longer have a connection.

From “Introduction”:

“In the dream, my American venture has suddenly failed and now, I must repatriate to rural Ireland where, in middle age, I have no country and no money. The dream startles me awake. As I lie there staring at the ceiling fan above my bed, I wonder how many of us immigrants live with this persistent fear that one day, all that we have built and loved in America will disappear.”

While not an immigrant myself, I can see how this would be a major concern today and before today. Some of my immediate family are immigrants and struggled hard in their jobs to make ends meet. There many stories about their sacrifices — how my grandmother gave the meet to my father and his brother and ate next to nothing herself every evening. These are the stories of our country. The underlying darkness of these struggles is that not only are immigrants working hard, but they also face discrimination and bias at every turn. Whether its the passing comment about an accent or more blatant comments about their work ethic.

Greaney touches on all of these issues based on her own immigrant experience and her “ah-ha” moment when she realized she carries her own biases against other immigrants. But she also touches on how we all strive to hold up a mirror to the life we wish to have, rather than the reality of our lives. This is ever more pronounced in letters home from immigrants who focus on the moments of joy rather than the daily turmoil in factories, restaurants, etc., which are the main focus of their new lives in America. But all of this struggle is to have that dreamed of better life. Green Card & Other Essays by Áine Greaney is a must read — we need more of these voices to educate us about immigrant experiences to dissipate our false perceptions.

RATING: Cinquain

GIVEAWAY:

  • Comment with your own immigrant story or one from your family or books that stuck with you or changed your viewpoint below.
  • 2 winners will be selected to win a copy of this collection.
  • US Entrants Only
  • Deadline is Aug. 30, 2019 at 11:59 PM EST

Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin is the second book in the series of early chapter books for young readers. Wallace and Grace are the best of friends. Wallace loves facts and often takes notes in his notebook when they are working on unraveling a mystery, while Grace loves to puzzle things out based on those facts. In this case, Edgar, the rabbit, says there is a ghost preventing him from eating the kale in his garden.

My daughter likes this series of mysteries, which are not overly complicated, but do get her thinking about things differently and deductively. One complaint she had was that Grace likes to use big words like courageous, which she finds difficult to pronounce. This may be the case now, but as she grows as a reader I hope that complaint will disappear. Regardless, this does not detract from her enjoyment in reading these aloud at bedtime, and she’s told me she wants to go to the bookstore to buy the series. (I think there are only 3 at present)

Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin is a delightful mystery series with my daughter’s favorite kind of character — animals with personalities. She enjoys reading these at bedtime, and sometimes doesn’t want to stop at just one chapter because she knows she’s close to finding out what the mystery is.

RATING: Quatrain

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman offers a variety of tales of Bunjitsu Bunny, who is a master of the arts. Isabel is a thinker, and she often finds a more peaceful solution to any challenge she faces. Although the Bunjitsu Code is at the end of the book, it is clear throughout the book that the code is Isabel’s guiding force. This early chapter book for young readers offers simple fables with a mix of Eastern philosophy and simple black and white drawings with red. These tales are a new twist on older stories like ‘Tortoise and the Hare.”

Isabel is the best in her class, but she rarely uses brute force to solve problems. My daughter has been looking for books to keep up with her reading this summer, but she initially balked at this story. She told me that she was not into ninjas, but she quickly changed her mind when she started reading. I think Isabel’s calm personality, intelligence, and ability to address problems without fighting interested her.

The Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman is a delightful early chapter book for young readers. It has enough illustrations to illicit laughs and interest from young readers. She’s eager to get the next book in this series.

RATING: Cinquain

We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer

Source: Caitlin Hamilton Marketing
Paperback, 140 pgs.
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We Will Tell You Otherwise by Beth Mayer, winner of the Hudson Prize, is a collection of short stories with quirky characters. Readers will be exposed to the unexpected, as the dead teach us that there is not a moment to waste and the mentally ill provide us with greater clarity than we expect about our lives.

Characters in these stories are frustrated and lost, but they find directions they never expected. With sly irony, Mayer has crafted a set of stories that will open readers’ minds to new points of view, forcing us to examine our own lives and how we perceive others, especially those living just outside the mainstream. Many of these characters are on the verge of irrevocable change in their lives, and there are moments that happen that can change it all.

While of the stories in We Will Tell You Otherwise are vastly different, at their heart, Beth Mayer takes her readers on a journey to explore human fragility and faults, while not losing their sense of hope. These characters have a lot to tell readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Beth Mayer’s fiction has appeared in The Threepenny ReviewThe Sun Magazine, and The Midway Review. Her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the Midwest (Ohio University/Swallow Press) and American Fiction (New Rivers Press), and have been recognized by Best American Mystery Stories among “Other Distinguished Stories.” Beth’s collection was a finalist for the 2016 Orison Book Prize and the 2015 Many Voices Project. The Missouri Review’s 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in fiction named her a finalist and her work in Jet Fuel Review has been nominated for the 2017 Best of the Net. Beth holds an MFA from Hamline University, was a Loft Mentor Series Winner in Fiction for 2015-16, and coordinates the Creative Writing Certificate at Century College. She lives in Minneapolis/St. Paul with her family and impossibly loyal dog.

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin is a cute chapter book that was easy for my daughter to read to me every night. As we’re trying to keep her on track for reading, this was a great choice since she seems to like animal main characters and mysteries. Wallace is a note taker during the case, and he makes sure that all the clues are captured. Grace is a thinker and puzzle solver. She loves to see all the pieces strewn about and ready for her to put together.

Monty the chipmunk’s cupcake is stolen, and he points the finger at the groundhog, Sal, but Sal insists he didn’t take it. He does admit to eating some of the frosting. As Wallace and Grace follow the clues, readers soon find that some other things are missing from the forest.

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper by Heather Alexander and Laura Zarrin is a great starter chapter book for early readers that still has enough illustrations to keep kids motivated and engaged. My daughter was excited about getting the next book in the series.

RATING: Quatrain

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 13+ hrs.
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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, is a true-crime look at murder in Los Angeles through the lens of one reporter and a case of black-on-black crime that was solved. The murder of a black cop’s son, Bryant Tennelle, by a gang member and a young man trying to fit in and stay on the good side of a gang member is not the case I expected to hear about in this book. With all Leovy’s talk about black-on-black crime and how there is a sort of lawlessness and take-it-in-their-own-hands mentality there, I expected to hear about someone other than the “good” son of a cop who chose to raise his family in the district where he worked as a homicide detective and police officer.

The case does highlight a bit of hero-worship on the part of the author with regard to Detective John Skaggs, who led the investigation. Skaggs is a persistent investigator, and Leovy does mention that his skills have closed many cases, which made me wonder why she focused on the case he helped solve related to the death of a cop’s son. Although it seems she is trying to suggest that the case wasn’t solved effectively because the victim was the son of a police officer, her entire book does the opposite, especially when there is no counterpoint to this case. As a reader, I would like to have seen another case in parallel involving another black man who was not the son of a police officer and how that case unfolded in the department.

The most enlightening part of the narrative is the commentary on how the criminal justice system has devalued the lives of all black men in these communities by failing to invest the time and resources necessary to investigate their murders. In her passages about how departments were merely pushing papers around and closing cases without putting the time in — unlike Skaggs who persistently visited and revisited communities to find evidence and witnesses — it is clear that real police work was not being done and that the officers gave up easily and had too little resources to follow-up on evidence or tips, etc. This is not to say that there were not officers and detectives in those departments who were not dedicated to finding the murderers, but without appropriate resources, the deck can be stacked against them actually closing cases.

Ghettoside by Jill Leovy, narrated by Rebecca Lowman, takes on a large problem in America — black-on-black on crime. The topic is a bit broad, and while she uses one case as an example, it might be the wrong one for her to have used. In the author’s note, it is clear she relied heavily on reports she wrote for news outlets, and she did offer a great many statistics. But what she espouses is a tougher state-based control over enforcement, and I’m not sure that’s the right answer, especially given many cases of bias, policy brutality, and the over enforcement/sentencing of minor crimes involving black men. This book has a lot of discussion points, however, and would be fantastic for book clubs.

RATING: Tercet

Pug Pals: Two’s a Crowd by Flora Ahn

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 121 pgs.
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Pug Pals: Two’s a Crowd by Flora Ahn is a story about accepting change and learning to accept a new situation — and eventually come to enjoy it. Sunny is a pug who is spoiled by her owner, with a billion stuffed toys, run of the house, and lots of love. But when her owner brings her not another new toy but a little sister pug named Rosy, Sunny is less than pleased. She doesn’t like sharing at all, and she’s annoyed by Rosy’s antics all the time. She particularly hates how Rosy is always slobbering all over her ears.

Eventually, Sunny blows up angrily when Rosy loses Sunny’s favorite stuffed bunny. Sunny says some harsh things to Rosy. After cooling off, Sunny has to go out in search of her little sister and her missing stuffed toy.

This summer, my daughter and I have traveled to the library in search of more challenging books to read, so she doesn’t lose her skills over the summer. We’ve read this book together over the last week or so in between summer swim team activities. For the most part, the story was right up her alley with animals and a mystery. There were some harder words for her to sound out, which was good, but also a bit frustrating for her. But overall she enjoyed the adventure with these two pups.

Pug Pals: Two’s a Crowd by Flora Ahn is a good read for early readers looking for a challenge, but who also want some illustrations to help them visualize the story, too. There are about 10 chapters in this book, so we’re gearing up for longer chapter books. We’ll likely seek out book 2 in this series.

RATING: Quatrain

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

Source: St. Martin’s Press
Paperback, 448 pgs.
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Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews is slightly different from the lighter side of her other novels. Drue Campbell’s life is turned upside down with the death of her mother, the reappearance of her estranged father, an accident that takes away the one thing that eases her mind, and the loss of her job — a job she hated. Campbell hasn’t had an idyllic life, but with her mother she was at least grounded. Now, she’s adrift and wary of accepting her father’s help, especially after being estranged for so long.

When she arrives in St. Petersburg, Florida, she is given her inheritance from her father – her grandparents’ cottage on Sunset beach. But the gift is not without its own headaches — a leaky roof, nasty color scheme, and so much more. While clearing out the trash from the previous hoarder tenant and cleaning up the cottage, Drue uncovers a mystery in her own attic. When she heads to the office to work for her father, she also discovers his new wife is her former best friend and there’s a mystery at the law office that needs a second look.

Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews is a complex read of a young woman finding her place in the world after losing so much, but it’s also chock full of murder mysteries that Drue Campbell and you can’t help but dig into.

RATING: Quatrain

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

Mary Kay Andrews graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1976.  She worked as a reporter at a number of papers, and spent 11 years as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before leaving to write fiction full-time in 1991.  She published ten mystery novels under her own name between 1992 and 2000, and since 2002, she has authored a number of best-selling books as Mary Kay Andrews.

Weird But True! USA

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is a slim volume of unusual facts about many U.S. states and American history. What state has plastic pink flamingos as their state bird? Which state named their fog Karl? Did you know that there was a dog in WWI who could salute? Did you know Russian salad dressing was not invented in Russia and originally contained part of a sea creature? There’s a really cool gargoyle on the National Cathedral in D.C., which I never knew about! And oh, how I wish I had a time machine to go back and have the original Twinkie filled with banana cream!

My daughter and I read this book off and on over a few weeks. Her favorite facts naturally had to do with ice cream and cats. She also wants to check out whether money is magnetic or not. And there are bound to be some facts that you already know, particularly if you live in the D.C. area — many are well known.

Weird But True! USA from National Geographic Kids is part of a series of books that are always informative, fun, and engaging for the entire family. This fourth of July, why not brush up on some weird facts about our country.  You won’t be disappointed.

RATING: Cinquain

The Journey by Jan Hahn (audio)

Source: Meryton Press
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, places Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the hands of road bandits who kidnap them for ransom as they make their way to London. In an effort to save Elizabeth from the rogues, Darcy proclaims that she is his wife, placing them in close quarters as they await rescue or a ransom payment. Elizabeth and Darcy try to come to an agreement about how to share a room, despite the impropriety of it all.

As you can imagine, there is danger from Nate Morgan and his bandits, but there is also danger in being so close to someone you admire and love. Darcy must fight his feelings as Elizabeth makes it clear that his character is not admirable, especially given Wickham’s tales. This adventure from Hahn is high in tension but there also is more intense emotional tension, as Elizabeth comes to know the real Darcy. She begins to admire him, but she also admonishes him when she feels he is arrogant or high-handed.

Without spoiling the adventure for readers, I will say that what happens after they are recovered is a bit ridiculous. Elizabeth Bennet’s reputation hangs in the balance, as does her family, but yet she makes the most awful choice. I fear given the societal norms at the time even Elizabeth would not have made the decision she does in the book. She would have felt the pressure and the love of her family and sisters most acutely. However, with that said, perhaps her PTSD from the situation made her act rashly and without practicality.

Hahn’s Darcy and Elizabeth are like opposites most of the journey, but once flipped, their attraction is undeniable. Emsley is a suitable narrator and she does the characters justice, enabling readers to tell them apart. There are instances where the Austen dialogue should have been shifted more away from canon to suit the story, but it didn’t detract much from my enjoyment.

The Journey by Jan Hahn, narrated by Leena Emsley, is a good adventure for our favorite couple with dashing rogues, danger, and time alone that will change their hearts.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Jan Hahn is fascinated by Jane Austen, 19th Century England, and true love. Having spent years in the world of business, she is now content to leave it behind and concentrate on writing about Austen’s characters finding true love in 19th Century England. A storyteller since childhood, she’s written skits and plays for local organizations and owned a business recording, writing and publishing oral histories. Jan is a member of JASNA and began writing novels based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in 2002. Jan’s first novel, An Arranged Marriage, won the award for Best Indie book of 2011 from Austen Prose.