Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

 Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin is the story of a Rose Howard, a young girl on the autism spectrum.  Rose has a difficult time at school.  Because of stimulus overload, sometimes Rose has outbursts in class.  She is assigned an aide who sits with her and helps to monitor her behavior.  In addition, she gets a report sent home to her father.  Virtually friendless, Rose spends her days gathering homonyms for a special list she keeps, as well as calculating numbers based on the letters in a person’s name.
         Rose lives with her father, and her uncle takes her back and forth to school each day.  Her mother, she is told, has run away and left the family.  Rose is profoundly lonely, as it seems that all her father does is work and drink at the bar down the street.  He is exasperated with Rose’s behavior and frequently asks her to better control herself.
         When her father finds a dog, he brings it home and Rose names it Rain (since that is a homonym).  She adores this dog and when Rain is lost in a storm, she seeks to recover her friend.  Through a twist of fate, Rose is required to do what is right instead of what she would like to do.  This results in her losing her very best friend.  She is, by far, the most honorable person in this book.
         Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book to any child reader.   Rose’s father is down at the bar more often than he is home.  He lies to Rose about what happened to her mother.  He is at odds with the uncle, who is the only positive family relationship in the book.
         At one point, the father raises his fist to his daughter after calling her a “brat”.  (Rose is questioning her father about why he let the dog out without a collar during a huge storm.  A reasonable question, if you ask me.)  When the dog tries to protect her, he punches the dog on the back and there is a crack.  The girl gets under the table, cowering in fear. Later in the book, the dad also threatens to punch the uncle and a boss that fires him.
         Finally, at the end of the book, the father abandons her.  He dumps her on the uncle’s doorstep at midnight after only allowing her a few minutes to collect her belongings.  Her uncle tells her the truth about what happened to her mother—which is less painful than the lie she has been told about her mother choosing to leave her.
         I don’t care about the hardships in the father’s life.  You don’t get to abuse everyone because of your miserable little life.  The only characters who make noble sacrifices in this book are the uncle and Rose.  The father is just a jerk.
         I would never put this book in my classroom library, and I would never encourage any child to read it.  
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.  Regina

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Eric Foner

More than any other scholar, Eric Foner has influenced our understanding of America's history. Now, making brilliant use of extraordinary evidence, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian once again reconfigures the national saga of American slavery and freedom.

A deeply entrenched institution, slavery lived on legally and commercially even in the northern states that had abolished it after the American Revolution. Slaves could be found in the streets of New York well after abolition, traveling with owners doing business with the city's major banks, merchants, and manufacturers. New York was also home to the North s largest free black community, making it a magnet for fugitive slaves seeking refuge. Slave catchers and gangs of kidnappers roamed the city, seizing free blacks, often children, and sending them south to slavery.

To protect fugitives and fight kidnappings, the city's free blacks worked with white abolitionists to organize the New York Vigilance Committee in 1835. In the 1840s vigilance committees proliferated throughout the North and began collaborating to dispatch fugitive slaves from the upper South, Washington, and Baltimore, through Philadelphia and New York, to Albany, Syracuse, and Canada. These networks of antislavery resistance, centered on New York City, became known as the underground railroad. Forced to operate in secrecy by hostile laws, courts, and politicians, the city s underground-railroad agents helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom between 1830 and 1860. Until now, their stories have remained largely unknown, their significance little understood.

I read Gateway to Freedom/ The Hidden History Of The Underground Railroad by Eric Foner. This book is very enlightening on the subject of slavery in the United States and the importance of the underground railroad in the northern United States from its inception up to, during, and beyond the civil war. It is very scholastically written with attention to historical detail both widely known and newly surfaced material.

 Every aspect of the characters portrayed are all at once brave, inspiring, and humbling. The author goes into such detail that I felt as though I had met both the fugitive slaves as well as the abolitionists. Mr. Foner was able to weave fact and his personal interpretations of not so widely accepted resources into a very believable historical representation. He tells the story in a chronicled style that was easy to follow and understand. With access to all of the  resources he utilized. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves history and are open to new suggestions of the way history actually happened.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Brenda

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Graveyard Book: Volume 2 The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

 At once a supernatural delight and a coming of age story, The Graveyard Book:  Volume 2  The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell was a joy to read and savor.
         Volume 2 picks up right where Volume 1 leaves off.  (If you have not read The Graveyard Book or Part 1 of the graphic novel, I highly suggest you do before reading this book.)  Bod, now a school aged young man, is still living in the graveyard under the watchful eyes of the ghosts and his enigmatic protector, Silas.  As he gets older, Bod realizes that he is different from the other creatures in the graveyard.  He is alive, while they are not.  It is this life within him that compels him to want to see the world—and as a first step, to go to school.  Of course, he is shrouded a bit to make him less memorable to the other students, but Bod finds new freedom and purpose at school.  When he encounters bullies, he uses his special talents to make them see the error of their ways.
         In a later chapter, Bod comes face to face with his past and the man who killed his family.  He is reunited with an old friend, who unknowingly brings the danger straight to Bod.  With his intelligence and skill, Bod is able to avert the danger and save his friend.
         Volume 2 ends with a bittersweet parting of Bod and the residents of the graveyard.  He is all grown up and must find his place in the world.  I found myself a little sad that he needed to go out on his own.  And, surprisingly (since graphic novels are really not my thing), I was wishing that there was a Volume 3 to look forward to.
         As I did after reading Volume 1, I must caution that this book is a bit too dark for younger readers, but older more mature readers would love it I am sure.  I loved the art and the story flowed quickly and beautifully.
         The themes of growing up, learning who you are, and letting go were especially poignant in this novel.  I loved it even more than I loved Volume 1.  Beautiful, touching, and amazing artwork makes this book one not to be missed.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.

Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day.

In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own. 

Upon receiving this book I didn’t know whether I would like the story or not; even after reading the summary on the back I still wasn’t really sure. Part of it was because I don’t read many books that are so far off from what I usually read. I usually prefer to stick to certain genres for book, but I am so glad I started Secret Of A Thousand Beauties with an open mind!

 I became so engrossed in each characters life and the complete story that I was halfway done on the first day of opening this book; I was enjoying the story that much!        

     Although this is a fictitious story I feel like the author put a lot of cultural traditions that she may have grown up with into the book. I really enjoyed reading about a different country and culture through the characters eyes. I felt anger and sadness not only for “Spring Swallow” but for all of the girls that I encountered in the story. Although the women became jealous of each other I felt it was more about “survival of the fittest” than actual jealousy.  

      I thought Ms. Yip wrote a very beautiful novel and I found this story easy to read. The words seemed to flow together and at times I felt like it was more like a poem than a novel at all. Ms. Yip’s words connected so well together as if she knew what I was looking for in a story. I really loved reading Secret Of A Thousand Beauties and was really surprised at how quick I was done with this beautiful novel

I think most women would enjoy reading this beautiful story, especially women who are “looking” for themselves. I feel like those women will be able to identify with “Spring Swallow” and really enjoy this book as much as I did. I give Mingmei Yip and “9” and Secret Of A Thousand Beauties a “10.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Tiffany

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Handle a Heartbreaker (The McCauley Brothers #2) by Marie Harte

It’s lust-at-first-sight when Brody Singer first sees Abby Dunn. Abby looks a lot like a woman he once knew, one who died years ago. But Abby’s definitely different—shyer but sexier. 

Abby’s still trying to put her last disastrous relationship behind her and overcome the flaws her ex wouldn’t let her forget. But somehow Brody isn’t getting the hint. It doesn’t help that when writing her steamy novels, she keeps casting Brody as the hero. 

Only Abby can write her own ending—will she choose her own happily-ever-after, or stay safe in her shell?

How to Handle a Heartbreaker is book two in The McCauley Brothers Series. Like the first book it was a very steamy read, mixed with laughter, and a great storyline. This one was a little more emotional and serious at times but that only added to the depth of the story and characters. I admit I cried a little but to me the good fun feeling of the majority of the story and the ending left me feeling like it was a great read and didn't leave me a sobbing mess like some I've read.  
Although Brody, dubbed the adopted McCauley brother and Flynn's blonde twin, is not the relationship type, something about Abby won't let him get her out of his head. Abby is one of Maddie's roomates and best friends. Since Flynn and Maddie are an item, Brody breaking Abby's heart could be a big problem. His and Abby's chemistry is electric, practically crackling off the pages! They challenge each other but also compliment each other perfectly.  The banter between these two is delicious and fun and had me smiling behind the pages.

 I think the more serious tones toward the end really helped to add some depth and reasoning to Brody's character and I loved him that much more for it. On a happier note I love dogs, so it was a sweet treat to also have his dog Mutt appear so much throughout the story and I really enjoyed the antics he threw in.
I love how the author has written a great story even without the steamy bits, although I really enjoyed those too ;-) I highly recommend this and book one of the series and will be looking forward to reading more from Marie Harte.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  April

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tess in Boots by Courtney Rice Gager

Tess Dougherty plans every aspect of her life right down to the last detail. But she doesn’t plan on running her boyfriend off by bringing up the topic of marriage before he’s ready. And she doesn’t plan to lose her job on the day she’s set to receive a huge promotion. So when her perfect world unravels, Tess makes a new plan: disappear.  

Tess packs her bags and leaves her city apartment for a remote vineyard in North Carolina. At first, she’s put off by the slow pace of small-town life in the South. She’s especially irritated by Thatcher, the vineyard’s smart-mouth, dimple-faced farmhand. But she soon begins to appreciate the area’s charm, and Thatcher’s charm, too. She even swaps her trademark heels for a pair of cowboy boots. As Tess spends more time getting to know Thatcher, she finds herself loosening her grip on her old life little by little. Unfortunately, things on the vineyard aren’t as simple as they seem. There’s a secret here, and when the truth comes to light, Tess is forced to reconsider every plan she’s ever made.  

What I thought was going to be a sweet light romance turned into a great story.  I loved this book.  Tess is a very organized and career oriented person.  She just got a promotion at work, for which she worked hard for.  She has been dating the ideal man for years and is going to spend the rest of her life with him.   Then everything comes crumbling down.  She loses the man and her job all within a 24 hour period.   

Her twin brother calls and asks her to help him.  With this one phone call she finds a whole new lifeher voice and the person she should have been all along. Tess is a well put together woman who has put her all into her career and the man she loves.  She thinks she has to be perfect, but she soon finds out that perfect is not everything. 

Thatcher is the tall dark handsome man who Tess meets when she goes to work for her brother Jake.  He lets Tess be Tess and not who he thinks she should be.  Even as Tess is learning to care for Thatcher there are secrets that he is not willing to share. Logan is the boyfriend who Tess has been dating for seven years.  Tess thinks he is the perfect man for her.  She loves him or does she?

I was really impressed with the writing of this book.  Courtney Rice Gager has a light easy style of telling a really good story.  Her characters are well rounded and the descriptions of places and things brought them to life. I loved this book and I would recommend it to everyone.  If you want a book that is just a great read this is the book for you. 

Courtney Rice Gager first fell in love with reading as a child on summer vacations by the ocean. Today, she enjoys writing her own humorous and heartwarming stories that are best paired with plenty of sand and sunshine. Courtney is the author of The Buggy List. Her upcoming title, Tess in Boots, is contracted with Anaiah Press for release in December 2014. She lives in Southern New Jersey with her husband and daughter. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Stephanie

Friday, January 30, 2015

Haatchi and Little B by Wendy Holden

Is there a more magical combination than a boy and a dog? Haatchi and Little B by Wendy Holden has reaffirmed that there isn’t.  The relationship between Owen and Haatchi is truly one of a kind.  Their unique and powerful bond is one that will not be easily broken—or forgotten.
            Cruelty to animals is a heinous thing, and Haatchi, an Anatolian shepherd, survived the unthinkable.  Whacked in the head and tied to railroad tracks as a train approached, Haatchi somehow survived.  He was rescued by kind people and made his way through many rescue personnel and organizations.  Though Haatchi lost a leg and endured challenges, he did not become aggressive and was a delight to those who worked with him.
            Finally, Haatchi (who is named after the famously loyal Japanese dog, Hatchi) found a forever home.  His closest friend is Owen, a young boy with physical challenges of his own.  Owen suffers from the rare Schwartz-Jampel disorder that affects his breathing and muscle development.  When Owen met Haatchi, he became less withdrawn and was able to better interact with the world.
            Written in a straightforward, uncomplicated style, Haatchi and Little B was an easy and inspiring read.  Owen’s father, mother, and step-mother work together to continually improve his quality of life, and it was a delight to read about how much support and love they have received.
            My only complaint was that the book would have been far better had it focused on the feelings of the people involved, rather than on the events (such as awards, fundraisers, etc.)  Since I am not English, the significance of many of these flew right over my head.  In addition, in some places, the book read more like a list of events rather than a touching tribute to a boy and his dog.  I was not a big fan of the inclusion of the “doggy talk” Facebook page postings, either, but I can see why some other readers might think they are cute.
            In short, I really think this is a remarkable story of a boy and his dog and is an quick read.  A tighter focus and more insight into the people who populate the book would have enriched my reading experience.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Regina