Thursday, August 06, 2015

THE DRESSMAKER by Rosalie Ham





(I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)


THE DRESSMAKER is one of those books that manages to be funny and sad and dark and infinitely readable all at the same time. Tilly Dunnage has finally returned to her small Australian hometown after twenty years ago.  She left in the midst of scandal and spent her years away learning about fashion in Europe. She returns home to take care of her ailing mother and discovers that the past has never really left.

Ham has come with an amazing and interesting cast of characters. The small town of Dungatar is filled with all manner of scandals behind closed doors--illicit affairs, children out of wedlock, cross-dressers, madness, financial ruin. Ham's vision of small-town life is utterly captivating even if it can be difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters. As the bastard child of the town "harlot," Tilly was ruthlessly bullied as a child. The flashback scenes to her childhood are horrific and painful. The scandal behind Tilly's departure is slowly revealed throughout the story.

While the book is often funny and always entertaining, it is also very dark and sad. This is a revenge story and no one really gets a happy ending. I found the book very hard to put down. I was a bit disappointed with the ending. There is a complicated plot line involving a play that I felt caused the story to drag. It was necessary in order for the ending to occur but I felt it was a bit of a letdown after such an entertaining story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book is currently being made into a movie starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. I am interested to see how a story with so many characters and so many plot lines can be developed into a movie. I am hoping the movie will have a little more humor and a little less darkness. While I was disappointed in the ending, I found this book to be a very enjoyable read overall.

See the international trailer for the new movie here.


Monday, August 03, 2015

MAX THE BRAVE by Ed Vere

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

I have been getting so many quality children's books to review lately.  This one is no exception.  I was immediately charmed by this book because of our recent addition to the family:

(Bacchus the Brave)

MAX THE BRAVE is about a fearless and brave kitten named Max. Max desperately wants to chase mice but he doesn't know what a mouse is. Max visits a variety of animals trying to find a mouse to chase. Through some clever misdirection, he is eventually led to a monster and told that the monster is a mouse. Brave little Max decides to take on the monster. In spite of the monster's big teeth!

This book is absolutely adorable.  This was my very favorite illustration:

I love the simple and graphic illustrations and the story is quite amusing. The little kitten's journey will remind some readers of I WANT MY HAT BACK.  I think this would be wonderful to pair with SKIPPYJON JONES.  Skippyjon is another kitten with delusions of grandeur and I think the two go together quite nicely.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A charming book about one kitten's quest to be a brave mouse-chaser.  Very sweet story with wonderful illustrations!


Friday, July 31, 2015

YOUR ALIEN by Tammi Sauer and GIVEAWAY!!!





I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am so excited about this one!  YOUR ALIEN is an absolutely charming children's book from Tammi Sauer and Goro Fujita.  A little boy looks out his window one day to see an alien spaceship crash landing. He and the cute little alien become good friends and have a lot of fun together. That night, however, the alien gets sad and the boy has to figure out how to comfort his new friend.

Not only is this book incredibly sweet but the illustrations are so charming!  The rhythm and style of the text are reminiscent of Numeroff's IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE books. My 7-year-old son read the book out loud to me. There were only a few tough words and he was able to use picture clues to figure them out.  He laughed out loud several times during the story and told me this was his favorite part:



I loved that this picture book was both funny and sweet.  It has lovely things to say about friends, family, and helping others. I think kids of all ages will like this one but especially Preschool through 2nd Grade.  Even if your child is already a good reader, the story and illustrations will draw him/her in.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Incredibly sweet and charming. Lovely illustrations and a great message.


***GIVEAWAY***

Want to win a copy of this wonderful book?
Leave a comment telling me your favorite alien in books, television or film. 
Open to US residents only.  Contest closes August 7, 2015 at 8:00am PST.

SUSIE IS THE WINNER! Thanks for playing!  I will have more giveaways soon!

Monday, July 27, 2015

NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon





(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

Jennifer McMahon writes really creepy books. And this one is no exception. Some of you may remember my review of her book THE WINTER PEOPLE.  McMahon returns to the supernatural suspense genre with her latest book entitled THE NIGHT SISTER.  As in THE WINTER PEOPLE, McMahon moves back and forth through time to set up her story.  In 1955, sisters Rose and Sylvie are growing up at the 28 room motel that their parents run in a small town off Route 6 in London, Vermont.  The Tower Motel is known for its tower feature that the girls' father built for his English wife. Sylvie is the golden child and Rose is struggling to grow up in her shadow. Sylvie has big plans to run off and be a famous Hollywood actress. She idolizes Alfred Hitchcock and writes him letters about her life in London.  One day, Sylvie disappears and leaves a letter behind about her desire to leave and start a new life.  In 1989, Rose's daughter Amy is living at the crumbling motel with her English grandmother.  Her best friends are sisters Piper and Margot.  As the girls run wild around the motel, they discover a dark secret.  In 2013, Piper receives a call from Margot saying Amy and all of her family are dead supposedly killed by Amy's own hand. Amy leaves a cryptic note behind that says "29 Rooms."  Piper and Margot immediately know what it means.

THE NIGHT SISTER is a really creepy book.  I couldn't put it down. I had to know what was going to happen. There are supernatural elements to this book so do not read it expecting a traditional suspense/mystery. I think McMahon does a great job in developing characters.  Although there are quite a few heavy hints that point to what is going to happen, it is still an enjoyable read.  I was a little disappointed by the ending. It felt a little too far-fetched. Even for a supernatural thriller. But, overall, I thought it was a fun read.  Perfect for a rainy night.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for lovers of suspense.  Save this one for a rainy night or a cold Winter evening.  A fun, quick read for lovers of supernatural suspense.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

YOU TOO CAN HAVE A BODY LIKE MINE by Alexandra Kleeman





(I received an advance copy from the publisher)


This novel was perplexing.  I had a hard time trying to figure out what it is about.  A woman named A lives with a female roommate named B.  A dates a man referred to as C. A's life is defined by the consumer world around her. Her time with C is spent watching either television or porn. A finds herself mesmerized by a news story about a man who became a celebrity by buying all the veal he could get his hands on. She constantly refers to animated commercials for an artificial food product called Kandy Kakes and spends her time outside of her apartment at either her boyfriend's, her job, or the nearby Wally's supermarket. A's relationship with B has a "Single White Female" quality to it. B's behavior seems bizarre and she appears to be trying to make herself look more like A. C has all the control is his relationship with A and is the only one allowed to define their interactions. One day, A looks out the window to discover her neighbors leaving their home covered in white sheets. She begins to learn about the cult they have joined and decides that this group may have the answers to her questions about identity and self.

I think there are some truly inspired moments in this book. Kleeman is so gifted at description. I could instantly visualize the Kandy Kake commercials and setting that she described in such detail. I had a very clear idea of setting and character. However, I was completely confused most of the time about everything else. I feel like Kleeman has important things to say about identity and self in our consumer culture but I had a hard time following the thread. I was confused in a way I haven't been since reading A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.  Because of this, I just didn't enjoy the book. It was very difficult to get through and I didn't find the ending particulary satisfying or enlightening.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  Although Kleeman is clearly a gifted writer, I just couldn't follow the story. I found the whole thing very confusing.  This very well may be my fault as a reader. I would definitely read future works by Kleeman but this one was a miss for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Meet Max the Brave!



“Are You My Mother?” meets “I Want My Hat Back” in the hilarious new picture book, Max the Brave (Sept. 8), by author and illustrator Ed Vere. Follow fearless Max as he encounters every other creature except the one he’s searching for…mouse. Check out the trailer!

Full review coming soon!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

ORION AND THE DARK by Emma Yarlett






I picked up this little gem on a whim when I saw it on the shelf at the library.  While my child has never had an issue with the dark, I know that many other children do.  ORION AND THE DARK helps children with this phobia in this charming picture book story.

Orion is a boy of many fears--girls, heights, spiders, etc--but his greatest fear is the dark.  He dreads going to bed every night and has trouble sleeping because of his fear of the dark and all that it could possibly bring. One night he finally snaps and tells the dark to go away.  Instead, the Dark becomes an anthropomorphic figure and befriends Orion.  The two new friends explore the night and all of its noises.  Soon, Orion learns not only not to fear the Dark but to embrace it as a friend.

There are some absolutely charming die-cut pages in this book and the illustrations are wonderful.  My one complaint would be that the handwritten text can be difficult to read at times.  I think the story will speak to children of many ages and would be perfect to pair with this classic:





BOTTOM LINE: Highly Recommended. A terrific story for children who may have fear of the dark.  Beautifully illustrated and incredibly sweet.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ANIMAL GAS by Bryan Bollinger




(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.)

While I am not huge fan of potty humor, everyone loves a good fart joke. Especially kids. Bryan Bollinger's new picture book celebrates the humor in farts. In the book, a variety of animals try to convince others that THEIR farts smell wonderful.  Each animal in turn is disabused of that notion until one animal surprises everyone at the end.  I think Bollinger manages to include just about every slang term for farts that one can think of: foof, poots, cut the cheese, breaking wind, etc. It is definitely funny.

 I really enjoyed Bollinger's whimsical and cartoonish illustrations:


My 7-year-old was highly amused.  I found myself wishing that the book included an additional element of either the science and mechanics of farting or something about manners regarding farts, Instead, the book exists simply as one long fart joke.  For reluctant readers, a fart joke might be just what is needed to encourage them to read.

Special thanks to Sterling for sending a whoopie cushion along with the book. My child had never seen one before and now I have to watch where I sit!!!



BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  Potty humor is not my favorite but kids will enjoy this one. 

My First Experience at ALA Annual Conference

Since ALA was right down the road this year, I decided I had to go and check it out.  My friend Monique is a publicist with  New World Library and it was great to see her in action!  Monique hooked me up with PARENTING WITH PRESENCE which I am really excited to read!!!






I then ventured further onto the exhibit floor.  I was overwhelmed!!! It was hard to know where to begin.  I was excited to check out a lot of the children's book publishers.  I also had Penguin and Random House on my radar.

My first stop was with Mighty Media Kids. Their books are adorable!!! I had never heard of their Monster and Me series and was delighted to pick up a copy of MONSTER NEEDS YOUR VOTE:

This little gem comes out in August.  I will post a review closer to that date. Love the button!!!

I almost fell over when I saw Merry Makers booth!  All my favorite children's book characters in plush form!!!  Their Fall line is so adorable! They gave me a backpack charm of Bad Kitty which looks just like our new mischievous kitten.

The ladies at the booth brought Amy Krouse Rosenthal's UNI THE UNICORN to my attention. Not sure how I missed that one! Their plush version of the unicorn comes out this Fall!


There was a big push going on for CIRCUS MIRANDUS but I missed getting a copy. Definitely looks intriguing!




I was also happy to see that there THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME will be coming out in August!




Philip C. and Erin Stead books are absolute "must buy" books for me and I was THRILLED to see they will have a new release in October.




I was very very selective about galleys.  I only ended up with four but I very pleased with my haul.  Especially the new Bohjalian!!!





If I hadn't been so overwhelmed, I probably would have picked up more.  Still, I had a lot of fun!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erika Swyler


(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher)

THE BOOK OF SPECULATION has a lot of my favorite elements: family drama and secrets, rare books, magical realism, librarians.  The book offers the perfects setup for a reader like me.  Librarian Simon Watson is casting about for something to do after an unexpected layoff.  One day, an old book arrives from a rare book dealer who believes that the book may have connections to Simon's family.  As Simon sits in his crumbling house, he begins to delve into the mysteries of the book. It appears to be the logbook of a traveling circus from the late 1700s and Simon begins to recognize some of the names.  The book may hold answers to the family curse that has taken a woman from each generation by drowning. On the exact same date.

Many times this book reminded me of THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks. The chronicle of this traveling circus becomes the history of several families and the book carries the imprint of its journey within the pages. I loved the circus setting and how many physical objects within the story such as the book and Simon's house become characters themselves. There are several touches of magic throughout the book which add to its charm.  I loved the family history that appeared throughout the book but I was not fond of Simon or his sister. They seemed to be the weakest characters for me and I often found myself feeling irritated when they appeared. The intricacies of the family history and how the various characters are related also felt a bit forced and convoluted at times.  Overall, though, I enjoyed how the story went backwards and forwards through time and how some secrets came to light and others never did. Much like all family histories.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. An enjoyable read.  The circus setting is charming and the secrets of this family will keep you guessing and wondering about the roles of fate and self-determination.