Friday, May 29, 2020

Alma Underwood is Not a Kleptomaniac - by Lacey Dailey: Book Review

Title: Alma Underwood Is NOT a Kleptomaniac
Author: Lacey Dailey
Pages: 264
Publisher: Lacey Dailey Books
Publishing Date: September 30th 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
Format: Kindle

I enjoyed this YA novel, but you have to be in the right frame of mind for a YA romance.

I liked how there were no two characters alike. The Underwood family is quirky and fun and downright funny! Alma's friend, Arthur, and her brother, Jackson had the funnies lines and attitudes. It was so fun to see the dynamic of the family and how well each character stayed true to their nature. As for Alma, she's a sweetheart, at times way too good, almost perfect, but I'd like to have her as a loyal friend.

As all well done YAs, this one deals with serious topics such as home runaway, grief, death, first love. I liked how the author threaded these and how she approached them.

There are a few things I didn't like. The first one is the language. There were a few instances where I frowned upon the words used in conversation by Rumor and his Josh. It didn't read authentic and it made Rumor, the male main character, seem shallow. Speaking of language, I wonder if this is the way people aged 17-18 speak like, all mature and deep and I-have-lived-and-seen-things wise.

Then there's a scene towards the end {Spoilers!} where Rumor learns some news and he and Alma have a fight. Actually, he yells and Alma takes the punches. Keep in mind these two kids know they love each other, but boy here, enraged as he is, spews cruel words at her. I did not appreciate that, and no matter the reason, I don't think that's normal. Honestly, that was the point where I really hoped this would not be a happy ever after. Had I been Alma, I would have packed the boys' duffel bag and send him to his grandpa in a heart beat. Don't come at me with love and stuff!

And now the thing that really bothered me - all.the.physical.touching. I get this is a YA novel and this is how they show their love. But people, these two kids don't know if they are girlfriend and boyfriend by the 85% of the novel! YET they can't keep their hands off each other. That bothered me so much! It made their relationship look like infatuation, not real love, and that is a shame because it started out cute and nice.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed in these reviews are mine.

Dream Big - by Bob Goff: Book Review

Title: Dream Big. Know What You Want, Why You Want It, and What You're Going to Do About It
Author: Bob Goff
Pages: 256
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publishing Date: June 23rd 2020
Genre: Christian Nonficion
Format: Kindle

I liked this one because it read like a collection of pieces of advice from a father or grandfather. The tone is friendly, like a pep talk from someone who really believes you're the guy for the job, namely to work on your own ambition(s).

Although the book is structured into seven main parts each with a stated idea and its own chapters, I found the book to be somewhat disjointed. I don't know if this is because I read it framentarily, or because, repeatedly, the final point of each part was to focus on your ambition. Do you know those quotes that aim to lift you up and encourage you to get things done? This read like that, and this is the overall tone.

The structure is like this: there's a story and then it transitions into telling the reader how this applies to our lives and ambitions. I loved all those stories and how they did actually drive home the point he was trying to make. However, make sure you get the idea of the stories, because I am sure not many will recognize themselves in the stories of building schools in war-ridden countries, making a bid for a town (!), setting up a flying company, or some other crazy and cool ideas.

For those who've read and enjoyed Bob Goff's previous books this might be something they're interested in. I liked Love Does and Dream Big better, the latter being more mature, less fluff, and actual sound, practical ways to get things moving towards your most desired ambition. In typical Goff way, there's the constant reminder to pay attention to the people around you, to surround yourself with the right people, and to love people.

Read it like a gentle nudge to move forward with your more or less wild ambitions that take up the most space in your head and heart.

I received a free e-book copy of the book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Latest Reads: Children's Books (II)

One thing I like about children's books is that they compress a lot of information in fewer pages than a book for adults. I read four nonfiction books for children lately. 

These sort of books never cease to surprise me how well they can speak to an adult, as to a child. Here are my latest reads in this genre:

Publishing Date: August 18th 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: Kindle

Alicia Alonso Takes the Stage is one of the books in a series published by Rebel Girls. It's a more in-depth look at the life of an influential woman in history, someone who persevered in spite of obstacles and proved herself in a certain field. Alicia Alonso was a famous Cuban prima ballerina who became well-known all over the world. Her grit and work ethic were obvious when she became visually impaired. 

The story follows Alicia from her childhood in a prominent Cuban family in Havana, through her dance classes as a teen and young adult, to her marriage to Fernando Alonso, and her first opportunities to dance ballet on big stages in the US. It is simply told, but it captures the essence of her character and focuses on the positive aspects. It's just as encouraging and inspiring for an adult as it is for a child. What's great about these stories is that they're not just for girls. In this story, for example, Alicia Alonso's husband was a ballet dancer as well. That's so cool for boys and girls to see, I think.

At the end of the book there is some information about ballet, a few techniques and prompts to immerse the (young) reader into the world of this art. 

The book beautifully accompanies the episode on theGoodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast, episode read by Yuan Yuan Tan, a prima ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet.

Illustrator: Marianne Ferrer
Pages: 36
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publishing Date: October 6th 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: Kindle

The story is short and to the point. It's about Piplantri, a small village in India where the former village head, Sundar Paliwal, decided to plant 111 trees every time a girl child was born. This led to a turn-around in economy, social mentality, gender equality for children, and access to education for all children in the village. 

The first part of the book is designed in a traditional children's book way: illustrations and a story appropriate for children. The last few pages are basically the same story, but without illustrations. Not sure why the choice for this approach. However, the book is worth the read. The example Sandur gave to his community and to all those who learnt of his idea is worthy of praise. 

A book for both boys and girls, 111 Trees teaches children about the importance of gender equality, eco-feminism, and cultural awareness.

Illustrator: Josh Holinaty
Pages: 48
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publishing Date: September 1st 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: Kindle

Our bodies, the nocturnal plants and animals, the sky - all have an intense activity once we humans go to sleep. This is the premise of In the Dark.

The first chapter focuses on the brain and the activities that take place when we sleep at night. The stages the brain goes through are explained in a simple, easy to understand way. It's truly fascinating. The same informative, but reader friendly tone is adopted for the following chapters focusing on the night creatures, night plants, and the sky. 

I'm sure I won't remember more then 1% of all the information in the book, but it's the kind of book kids interested in science and that sort of stuff will find fascinating. It makes for a great gift for a nature and science lover. And, may I suggest, a great coffee table book!

Title: This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes. How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias
Author: Tanya Lloys Kyi

Illustrator: Drew Shannon
Pages: 88
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publishing Date: September 1st 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: ebook

The book starts by explaining the meaning of bias, stereotype, prejudice and discrimination, then moving on to tackling serious topics. I was surprised at how in-depth it went and how well it approached the topic. 

It is structured in chapters, so you could say it's a chapter book, but each one is full of information. The illustrations are beautiful and makes it different from a classic textbook. It's something a middle gradder would enjoy, either on their own or with a parent. I think it could also be used in class. The diverse cultural focus is also something I appreciate reminding the reader there's a world outside US. It talks about neurological and psychological aspects of the problem, and how different categories reacted to various situations over the years.

The tone it uses is matter of fact, no watered-down information, which I think young readers would appreciate. Even me as an adult reader found the book interesting and full of relevant and actual information. This could be only the starting point for further research. There's a section with suggestions for further reading and also sources for each chapter. It's very well researched, something necessary these days.


Disclaimer: I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed in these reviews are mine.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Latest Reads: Children's Books

 I have been on a children's books kick lately. Here are the last four I've read.

Title: How to be a Person: 65 Hugely Useful, Super-Important Skills to Learn Before You're Grown Up
Author: Catherine Newman
Pages: 160
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Publishing Date: May 26th 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: Kindle

How to be a person offers young people tips for different life situations such as interactions with family members or other people, using words in different situations in writing, making themselves useful around the house by doing *gasps* chores, how to cook basic meals, how to wisely earn, save, invest and spend money, and random, but useful to have skills.

Although the book is targeted to children and it's a good starting point for the child that wants to be more grown-up, it's also like a refresher for older tweens and teens as well. I personally, as an adult, learned some tricks from this book, but I'm not telling which, hehe! The writing is friendly and not at all parent-y or sounding patronizing. The illustrations are lovely and they make the reading even more enjoyable. For an adult, this book would look cool and cheery as a coffee table book.

Title: The International Day of the Girl. Celebrating Girls Around the World
Author: Jessica Dee Humphreys; Rona Ambrose
Illustrator: Simone Shin
Pages: 32
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publishing Date: September 1st 2020
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Format: ebook

This is the story of how October 11th became the International Day of the Girl. It focuses on nine girls from different backgrounds and different countries like Brazil, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Syria or Afghanistan, each hoping for something many girls don't have access to. Everyone knows there's an International Women's Day, but I personally didn't know there is a day to celebrate girls. Such a day is important to teach all children the importance of gender equality and girls' rights.

It reminded me of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, but this book focuses not on famous girls, but on ordinary girls longing for things usually reserved for boys only. Through nine different girls we learn of social issues girls worldwide struggle with such as illiteracy, access to education, child marriage, sanitation, or right to play, which something I didn't know was written in the Rights of the Child. Each girl in the book is given the name and a positive trait that characterises her, like bravery, creativity, talent, humour, ambition. Then a short and concise presentation of what the issue she faces is. I love that structure and the positive light shone on each girl.

At the end of the book there is a timeline of how the International Day of the Girl came to be, and further information on all the struggles and social issues mentioned in the book.

This is not a book for girls, but for children, boys and girls! As a quote from the book says, equality benefits everyone in the end.

Title: The Most Beautiful Thing
Author: Kao Kalia Yang

Illustrator: Khoa Le
Pages: 32
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publishing Date: October 6th 2020
Genre: Children's Picture Book, Asian Children's Book
Format: ebook

It tells the story of a Hmong-American family, focusing on the relationship between the aging grandma and her granddaughter. 

This intergenerational story is simple, yet deep and the illustrations add to that depth. In a natural way is presented the hard life of an economically struggling family, and the ways parents and children make do with little while so many take things for granted.
It has a poetic tone to it, and for some reason I read it in a sing-song rhythm. It's a good starting point to have conversations with children about refugees and immigrants.

I think it'd be suitable for a child aged 6-9 because of the serious and mature content.

Series: Tales from Deckawoo Drive
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen 

Pages: 96
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: June 9th 2020
Genre: Children's Fiction
Format: ebook

It's a darling story about patterns, surprises, curiosity, courage, and how anything really is possible.

Stella Suzanne Endicott learns how to come up with metaphors for the poetry unit her class teacher, Miss Tamar Calliope Liliana is teaching them. On an ordinary day in second grade, due to an argument with know-it-all Horace Burton Broom, the two children are sent to the principal's office. Believe it or not, anything can happen, even unlike friendships, surprises in unexpected places, and opportunities to show courage and curiosity. 

The writing is smart and funny, a delight for children and adults alike. The story references to characters in the previous books in the series, but it can easily be read as a stand alone. New words and new life lessons are for all in this book.

This was my first children's book by Kate DiCamillo, whom I've first heard about on Anne Bogel's podcast, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's a delight and I highly recommend it!


Disclaimer: I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed in these reviews are mine.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Sun Sister - by Lucinda Riley: Book Review

Title: The Sun Sister. A novel
Author: Lucinda Riley
Pages: 528
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: 19th May 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Format: Kindle

The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley is the sixth novel in the The Seven Sisters series. It focuses on the story of Electra d’Apliese, one of the six daughters adopted by Pa Salt.

At this point I’m so invested in this series, and although I can see that the writing is not perfect and there are plenty of shortcomings, the story is too captivating to stop reading. Alas, this was about 100-200 pages too long.

There was much focus on Cecily’s story, which is mostly set in Kenya, Africa, but not much is revealed about that culture, except the bare minimum necessary to help the story make sense. Of course her part is crucial, but I wish more were told about Stella or Rosa. The pattern of every book in the series is that we learn more about the great-grandparents or a great-relative, rather than the closer family members. And yet, in a novel focused on a character of African descent, a lot of time is spent talking about the world of the white people.

An aspect that was distracting was the brackets used. This could have been better handled by the editor. The information put between brackets was a natural part of the story and I don’t understand the function of these brackets. Actually, I don’t understand brackets in novels, period. The writing, as I said, is not much, the characters have little depth and the romance between Electra and her new love interest is silly, added almost as an afterthought to have that box ticked. Also, why do characters use the addressed person’s name so much in dialogues? It just makes all the dialogues even more unnatural. It’s also cute to keep hearing about how smart a character is only to see them lacking common general knowledge. Good thing they have a pretty face, huh?

There were important issues approached in this novel, two biggest being racism and drug addiction. It is a relevant topic for our time, and it fit with the main character’s lifestyle and background. I was afraid it’ll be turned into a pathetic plea against drugs, which is usually badly handled, but it was nicely addressed.

What irks me is why we’re repeatedly told that every female interest in every romantic relationship in every book in the series has to be skinny or voluptuous, and beautiful – so the focus is on the outward appearance. This is the case both in the past and the present day stories. Speaking of relationships, it’s curious that most? all? romantic relationships have an older-by-at-least-ten-years male partner and a young in-her-early-to-mid-twenties female. I’m so curious if this is a coincidence or a thing the author has, or a nod to something in her life, or a simple preference. I’ve been thinking about this since the second book! 

I was worried for a second that the series would end abruptly. I shouldn’t have feared because this novel ends with a reference to the seventh unknown sister. There are also some mysteries at Atlantis that need uncovering, I believe. I can’t wait for the seventh book in the series, but only due to the entertainment it provides, not the depth of the novels.

I received a free e-book copy of the novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

What I've Been Reading Lately #19

Here's what I've been reading lately.

The Moon Sister - by Lucinda Riley - 3*
This is the #5 in The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley. I enjoy reading about each sister every year or so. It's fun to discover bits and pieces of each sister's life and see how they become better humans and fully themselves.
The male characters are mostly meh in this series, and this book is no exception. I like the past story line better than the present one, but I liked Tiggy's character, and her personality. I am curious how the bits we learned about Zed and Pa will play out in the next book.
The novel is full of action, and although it starts a bit slow it picks up. I was intimidated by the 500+ pages, but I am glad I am almost all caught up with the story of the seven six sisters.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse - by Charlie Mackesy - 5*
I loved this book! I like nice, deep quotes, and this book is just that - about 100 pages of quotes and beautiful sketches and drawings.
I reminded me of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint - Exupery, a book I didn't like that much and it felt pretentious, but if you liked that one, I am sure you'll like The Boy... too.
There are a lot of life lessons (I know this too sounds pretentious), and they could be a good starting point for discussions with older kids, maybe 7-8+.
This is one book I am sure I'll come back to in the future, especially because it reads quickly, but most importantly because it's like a warm cup of cocoa and a much needed hug from your mom.

The Paris Hours - Alex George - 4*
I liked this one. It had a slow start, but it picked up and I enjoyed learning about the lives of four fictional characters that briefly brush shoulders with well known figures of the 1927 Paris.
The span is one day, but we learn the stories of the four main characters through flashbacks provided by the narrator. It's one of my favourite ways to learn about a character.
This historical fiction is for anyone who likes novels set in Paris between the two World Wars.

 The Blue Castle - L. M. Montgomery - 4*
This was such an impulse read! I love it when I do that, although I try to temper my reading because I like to (mostly!) stay on top of my reviews.
I first heard about this (I think!) from Modern Mrs. Darcy blog, namely the daily e-book deals.
It focuses on Velancy, a 29 year old woman who suddenly changes. How, I won't tell you. I'll just say that this book was a lovely surprise, I am glad I read it, and this one, had a lot of ideas that are food for thought.
This novel came at the right moment. It's funny+sarcastic+smart, but too pathetic for my liking at times what with all the nature descriptions. Looking back, I see their point, but mid-reading it was something I semi-read, if you get my gist... But other than that, go Velancy! 
I like Sophie's writing, it's like a comfy favourite blanket. This is the third book of hers I'm reading, and I like learning more about her family and her faith. 
In this one I feel there is too much relying on setting up the story and the punchline before the "meaty" part. It's nonetheless deep and mature, honest and relatable no matter the age. For fans of her writing or Melanie Shankle, this is a perfect book this summer.

The Sun Sister - Lucinda Riley - 3*
The writing is not the greatest, the characters are not fully developed, the dialogue is cringy at times, the romantic relationships are forced just to have a box ticked, and the overall depth is lacking. However, it's entertaining and the author sure can spin a tale.
To learn the character's background we go back into the past. The story is more interesting than the present day, but it was about 100-200 pages too long. In a novel focused on a character of African descent, a lot of time is spent talking about the world of the white people.
Racism and drug addiction are issues addressed in this novel, and I think they fit with the main character's lifestyle and background.
More attention should have been paid to the editorial aspects. I don't understand why some things are randomly put between brackets. Why?
There's a seventh book in the works and I can't wait to see how the series ends!

Don't Overthing It - by Anne Bogel - 4.5*
This one is pragmatic and to the point. She made some good and excellent points. It's very helpful, too! It's the sort of book I want to reread at some point because I am sure some things need to be redrilled into my mind.


Not a bad reading month, if I dare say so myself! Here's to a great rest of May, reading-wise!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Children's Books - Candlewick Press: Book Review

Title: Nana Says I Will Be Famous One Day
Author: Ann Stott
Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Pages: 32
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: August 4th 2020
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Format: Kindle

Cute, short story about a dog who has his biggest fan in his grandma. It's a darling read and I'm sure it'll be an encouragement for children to see their grandparents as their number one fans.

I love that the characters are dogs! It's a refreshing perspective. What's also new is that the focus is on the relationship between grandma and grandson, making it a multigenerational book.

The illustrations are beautiful and clear, not just simple drawings. Andrew Joyner did a good job here!

I recommend this for children aged 3-5, but not older because it's short and rather simplistic. 


Title: The Camping trip
Author: Jennifer K. Mann
Pages: 56
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: April 14th 2020
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Format: Kindle

The Camping Trip is uniquely done, but talking about a very common topic: a night away camping. There are a few diverse elements: the characters are African American, the main character, Ernestine, lives with her dad, and her first camping experience is with her Aunt Jackie and her cousin Samantha.

It's like those books that prepare kids for their first something: dentist appointment, plane flight, train ride. This is about a girl's first camping trip. 

The illustrations are simplistic, not too crowded on the page, they are beautiful and they catch the idea of the story beautifully. Even the first and the last pages of the book are cute because they have drawings of camping accessories. The story is darling and encouraging because it never once played into the fears of a new experience, but showed ways to work around possible scares.

I think this would be suitable for children aged 5-7 years.

Title: Bunnies on the Bus
Author: Philip Ardagh
Illustrations: Ben Mantle
Pages: 32
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: July 14th 2020
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Format: Kindle

It's perfect for children how are still into rhymes and very short stories. It's silly and the plot is a mess, something little kids enjoy. What happenes when a (rather large?) group of bunnies get on the bus? 

There's little to it story-wise, but it's nice to see a story from the animals' perspective and see them create mayhem. It ends with the promise of a sequel.

The illustrations are beautiful and full, reminding me of the children's books of my childhood. 

I recommend this to children aged 3-5 years.

I received a free e-book copy of all of the the above books from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.. All thoughts expressed here are my own.