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


(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.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bloggiversary Approacheth

Do you remember when people first started blogging?

When I wrote my first blog post on June 20th, 2003, I thought of blogging as an online journal that would help me keep in touch with far away loved ones.  We weren't really thinking about oversharing or who could see what you wrote or how to monetize your blog or even how to post photos at that point.  I look back at those early posts and cringe.  I also try to figure out who that young woman was. I was dating a man that I had nothing in common with and didn't particularly like. I was struggling in a job that I didn't feel fulfilled in.  I felt pretty lost and it shows in my writing.  The one thing I really knew then was that I loved books.

For awhile, my blog was a hybrid of personal anecdotes, book reviews, and creative pursuits.  For me, the knitters were the ones who really figured out the potential of blogging.  They shared projects and hosted fun swaps and got knitters to connect with one another.  I started to see what blogging could really be.  A chance to connect with like-minded people all over the world and share ideas and projects.  In May of 2007, I decided that I needed a separate blog for creative stuff and I decided to maintain Life by Candlelight as a book/personal blog.  In Crafting by Candlelight, I shared all my crafty endeavors and participated in a bunch of swaps. I really miss swaps. Why doesn't anyone do them anymore?

So much has changed since then.  Many of the bloggers I met in the early days have closed up shop.  Some people say blogging is a dying art form.  I disagree. I still think it offers wonderful inspiration and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people.

I think I have lasted so long as a blogger because I am not interested in making money doing it.  It is just something that I enjoy and I only do it when I have time or something worth sharing.  I don't feel any pressure to post or need to please to advertisers or sponsors.  I will keep book blogging until they quit offering print galleys.  Because I am a purist and hate reading books on a screen.  I like to underline and take notes and it is more meaningful to me to do that in my own handwriting.  Maybe my son will look through some of my books one day and smile at finding some of my scrawled marginalia.

On June 20th, I may or may not write another post to mark the 12th anniversary of this blog. In the meantime, I will keep reading and I hope you will too!

(from 2007)

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

ENCHANTED AUGUST by Brenda Bowen with GIVEAWAY!!!!

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

When I was 16, I went to see a movie called "Enchanted April."  Not long after, I saw "A Room with a View" and my love for and fascination about Italy was well and truly formed.  Where "A Room with a View" was a romantic film, "Enchanted April" was a film about women finding themselves in an idyllic Italian setting in the 1920s. It was the perfect escapist film. And book!  I loved the fact that the women in the story come from all different walks of life and background but they are all drawn to Italy and the chance to get away from it all. And, of course, they all become fast friends.

Brenda Bowen reimagines these same women in a more contemporary setting.  The names and general story are the same but Bowen updates the story for a modern audience.  Sweet Lottie Wilkes has an overbearing husband who controls every aspect of her life.  Rose Arbuthnot is a harried mother. One day, these two unlikely friends discover a notice about a Maine vacation rental on the bulletin board at their preschool.  They come to the conclusion that they absolutely MUST get away.  But money is an issue and they need to recruit two other women for their adventure.  They decide at accept movie start Caroline Dester and elderly Beverly Fisher. Once they arrive at their vacation rental, all four women are transformed

 Much as I am usually enchanted by modern interpretations of Shakespeare, I love how this story works as perfectly in a modern setting as it did in its original 1920s setting.  Women are still dealing with many of the same kinds of problems!  With even more added on!  The updated story is just as charming as the original and makes for the perfect beach read!

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A very sweet update adaptation of THE ENCHANTED APRIL. The perfect beach or vacation read!


Win a set of ENCHANTED APRIL and ENCHANTED AUGUST in paperback!    Comment by telling me what your ideal getaway destination would be.

Giveaway closes Thursday, June 11th at 5:00pm PST.  Open to U.S. residents only.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not New but Notable with Lydia: FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue

(Editor's Note: Welcome to our new guest blogger, Lydia Vald├ęs!  So excited to have her on board!)

As Donoghue’s follow-up novel to her wildly successful and imaginative ROOM, I welcomed the opportunity to reunite with this author. What I found was a story I wanted to devour but had to trudge through, at times. Donoghue uses a historical fiction format to infuse suppositions and create a narrative frame for the research she gathered about a real-life, unsolved murder.

FROG MUSIC takes place in San Francisco, summer of 1876. Jenny and Blanche quickly strike up an unexpected friendship, and Jenny’s murder soon after they meet leaves Blanche wanting answers. Blanche sets out to find Jenny’s killer, and we continue learning about Jenny (and Blanche herself) through Blanche’s investigation. Jenny, a professional frog catcher, sold frog legs to local restaurants. Her methods and ethics were questionable, and her penchant for cross-dressing was off-putting to many at a time when cross-dressing was illegal in San Francisco.

Blanche is a burlesque dancer and prostitute with complicated relationships. Her profession and network allows her to ask some questions that others might not in her quest to solve the murder. Blanche also has cause to examine her own choices as she looks into who would want Jenny dead.

The story weaves music throughout and touches on various social taboos, many of which remain controversial today. It is a story of friendship, love, motherhood, and the dance between the personal and societal definitions of what it means to be a woman.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with Reservations. The story itself is compelling, but the delivery is convoluted and did not hold my interest fluidly. Various plotlines and too many characters with non-distinctive traits run together leaving the reader flipping back and forth between pages to remember who’s who. 

Monday, April 27, 2015


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

For such a short novel, THE GRACEKEEPERS is incredibly difficult to describe.  When I started reading it, it instantly brought to mind the movie "Waterworld."  However, where "Waterworld" was a failure in its depiction of a world mostly covered in water, THE GRACEKEEPERS is much more successful. THE GRACEKEEPERS takes place in the future where much of the world is now covered in water. Humanity is now broken into two factions--the landlockers who lives exclusively on land and the Damplings who live exclusively on water.  The two groups are even separated in death.  When damplings die, their loved ones must bring them to a gracekeeper for burial. Gracekeepers live solitary lives in the middle of nowhere and survive primarily on the payment given to them for conducting burials. The deceased are wrapped in a shroud and submerged in the waters surrounding the Gracekeeper's cottage.  The Gracekeeper then suspends a birdcage over the body.  The cage holds a special kind of bird called a grace. Graces serve as physical reminders of the length of a period of mourning. The graces are not fed and, when they die, the mourning period is finished.  Callanish is a Gracekeeper and her solitary life helps her to protect a secret. Elsewhere, we meet North who is a circus performer.  This circus on the water travels from island to island entertaining the "clams" in exchange for food and other goods.  North's performance is special because she does an act with a bear. In a world with very little land, bears are unusual. Eventually, the paths of Callanish and North will cross and their lives will never be the same.

Logan has created a really beautiful novel.  The characters are fascinating and Logan manages to convey a lot of story in such a short book.  My only gripe is that I was left with so many questions!  I would have loved for Logan to spend more time introducing us to this world. There was so much more story to tell!  While the story that Logan gives us is ultimately fairly predictable, the beautiful language and imagery distracts the reader from the tale's ultimate conclusion.  Logan does a wonderful job of giving readers a very clear idea of what this world looks like. I only wish there had been more.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely tale of love and loss set in a watery futuristic landscape.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A REUNION OF GHOSTS by Judith Claire Mitchell

I received an advance copy of this book from the Amazon Vine Program.

This was a very unusual book. It reminded me a little bit of THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown. The book focuses on three sisters who live together in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City that generations of their family have lived in.  The eldest sister, Lady, has been suicidal for years and has attempted to end her life many times. The middle sister, Vee, is terminally ill with cancer. The youngest sister, Delph, follows the lead of her older sisters as they have been better maternal figures to her than her own mother ever was.  The sisters come from a seemingly cursed family where many members have met untimely ends. The sisters believe their family might be cursed and that the curse stems from their scientist great-grandfather whose creations may end up having killed millions.  The sisters decide to write the history of their doomed family as they face decisions about their own mortality.

Mitchell is a very gifted writer.  I found myself underlining quite a bit in the book. The Alter family is truly an interesting creation. That being said, I never really found myself connecting with the characters. They were interesting but I could not connect with them emotionally. This meant that the book didn't have quite the impact it could have. Although I found the ending a bit frustrating, I felt the last chapter was the best one in the book.  The story of the Alter sisters makes the reader think about the legacies we inherit and how much blood really affects our destinies.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations. An unusual story that may be off-putting to some.  I didn't particularly care for the story overall but I think Mitchell is a wonderful writer.  I look forward to future novels from her.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Quarterly Book Riot #BKR06 Unboxes **SPOILERS**

I don't do many subscription boxes anymore.  We limit ourselves to Kidstir for my son and the occasional PopSugar Must Have box for me. But the one I can't get rid of is my Quarterly Book Riot subscription.  At $50, it is my most expensive subscription but I can't help being drawn to all things bookish.  Plus, it is only quarterly rather than monthly.

Here is the theme for #BKR06:

"We've chosen a chilling theme to go with the oh-so-chilly weather.  Hunker down, huddle up, and wrap your mind around some matters of life and death and the in-between."

Here is the first thing I saw when I opened the box:

There was a bookmark right on top that accompanied the mass market paperback:

While I typically not a fan of mass-market genre fiction, I am willing to give this one a try as I trust Book Riot's taste.  It could be fun!

Next in the box was a flask:

I am not much of a flask-user but I found this one amusing. I may have to find a reason to use it.

Next in the box was another book:

Although I am more of a fiction reader, this title interests me.  We just recently got a copy in the library.

Finally, there was this cute composition book:

This was probably my favorite thing in the box.  It is almost too cute to use! I'll have to think of something special to do with it.

Although I like to price out my other subscription boxes to see the value, I don't do that with my Book Riot boxes because you can't really put a value on being exposed to new authors and ideas.

Can't wait to see what the next one brings!