Category Archives: Everything Else

Book Review: Moo by Sharon Creech

MooMoo by Sharon Creech
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The truth is, she was ornery and stubborn, wouldn’t listen to a n y b o d y, and selfish beyond selfish, and filthy, caked with mud and dust, and moody: you’d better watch it or she’d knock you flat.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Reena has always been a city girl, and she doesn’t know what to expect when her family moves to rural Maine. She certainly doesn’t expect, along with her seven-year-old brother, Luke, to be volunteered by their parents to help out a cranky elderly lady. Mrs. Falala lives alone, except for a pig, a cat, a parrot, a snake, and a cow. The cow is Zora, and Reena and Luke are tasked with grooming her for an upcoming fair.

Review: There are a few short chapters written in prose, but most of the book is in free verse and concrete poetry. This writing style, packed with sensory details, brings the reader well into Reena’s experience. Reena and Luke are believable city kids plunked down in an unfamiliar rural setting, and Reena’s thoughts and feelings will resonate especially with (sub)urban kids who are curious about life in the country. It’s a quiet book, focused more on emotions and personal growth than action. The poetic style and short chapters make it a faster read than it appears at first glance. There is a good deal of gentle humor, but be prepared for some realistic sad moments.

Personal Thoughts: I wanted to read the book based on some information given at a Book Buzz segment at an ALA Conference. By the time I got it, I mistook this book for another book that I also heard about at the same presentation, with left me a little bit confused for a chapter or three! But I was quickly engaged by Reena’s story. I grew up in the suburbs, and I clearly remember the first few times I encountered a real, live cow; Reena’s reactions rang true. I also loved the moment Reena and Luke realize where hamburgers come from, as well as the follow-up discussions with local boy Zep, their tutor in things livestock-showing-related, and with their parents. This would be a great choice for a parent-child book club.

Source: Borrowed from my public library.

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Book Review: Up to This Pointe

Up to This Pointe
Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been in Antarctica a total of eighty-three minutes, so I’m positive more exciting surprises will probably (hopefully) reveal themselves, but for now, the most intriguing thing about McMurdo, the American science station, is all the condoms.

Synopsis: At seventeen, Harper Scott is on the verge of achieving her lifelong dream. Since they were very small, she and her best friend, Kate, have been following The Plan. The Plan involves total dedication to ballet, and it culminates in both of them joining the San Francisco Ballet shortly after their early graduation from high school. But Harper doesn’t have Kate’s undeniable natural ability, so despite all the years of hard work, one audition might just crush her dreams. When things get suddenly and surprisingly complicated, Harper decides to follow her distant relative Robert Falcon Scott’s footsteps to Antarctica. She manages to land a highly coveted research assistant position for the six-month winter at McMurdo. No matter how far she goes, though, the problems she has to deal with come right along.

Review: This is a finely-crafted young adult novel, packed with descriptive details that bring life in San Francisco and Antarctica to life. The chapters alternate between Harper’s present, in Antarctica, and what happened back in San Francisco several months earlier. The sharp dichotomy between the first two chapters sets the tone for the book, as the reader knows where Harper ends up, but has no idea how she got there. Enough information about ballet is provided that readers without a background in dance can understand, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. Life at McMurdo, too, is explained through the eyes of a newcomer without any tedious “information dumps”. For reader who do want to know more, there is a short bibliography at the end, listing recommended books and films.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve long been fascinated by Antarctica, and I dearly hope to visit one day. (I found all but one of the books on Antarctica in the bibliography already in my to-read queue here at GoodReads.) I loved the glimpse into the life of those staying there long-term, rather than tourists. I kind of wish they hadn’t gone for the ballet pun in the title, but that’s really just me.

Recommend to: Fans of character-driven contemporary realistic fiction

Source: e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley

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Book Review: Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I couldn’t tell what was going on – just a bunch of skating, hitting, and falling.

Synopsis: Astrid and Nicole have been best friends since first grade, after an incident involving the class Mean Girl, Rachel. They do everything together. Astrid assumes this means that they’ll spend the summer following fifth grade together at Roller Derby Camp – Astrid’s newfound passion. She is stunned to discover that Nicole has other plans, namely, Dance Camp… with Rachel. With middle school looming and things changing all around her, Astrid rolls into the toughest summer of her life.

Review: A smart and funny realistic look at that stage so familiar to anyone who was once an almost-teenager, when friends start growing into their own people, and sometimes growing apart. Astrid speaks, thinks, and feels like a regular kid, someone you might know (or remember). She likes the way things are and doesn’t want them to change, but she ultimately faces those changes with good humor and strength. There are lessons in her story about growing up, accepting yourself and others for who they are, and working hard to achieve a dream, even when it doesn’t turn out quite the way you hoped, but it avoids didactic condescension easily. Totally charming.

Personal Thoughts: I happen to love roller skating, and I am a little sad that I didn’t encounter the whole roller derby phenomenon at an age/time/place when I might have joined in. I’ll just have to live vicariously through Astrid, I suppose. I loved everything about this book, from the painfully realistic depictions of the way pre-teen girls interact to the wonderful relationship between Astrid and her mother. (There’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment in which Astrid literally winks at the reader about an interaction with her mother that cracked me up.) I adore this book.

Recommend to: Fans of Raina Telgemeier… and pretty much any tween girl, actually. (Although I’d *love* to see some tween boys reading this one.)

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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2016 Reading Challenges Check-In 1/12


Here we are, a month into 2016, and I have not forgotten about my Reading Challenges for the year!

Let’s see where we stand. First up…

I Love Libraries RC BBN

I Love Libraries Challenge
hosted by Bea’s Book Nook

Goal: Middle Grades (18 books)

End of January Progress: 17% (target pace: 8%)


One month in, and I’ve read three library books. I haven’t managed to post a single review for any of them (we’ll come back to that later), but it’s still not a bad start.

Moving on to…

Mount TBR 2016Mt. TBR Challenge
hosted by My Reader’s Block

Goal: Pike’s Peak (12 books)

End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

Right on target with one book from Mt. TBR. I’d kind of like to get ahead of this one, though, to be honest.

Okay, now for the embarrassing confessions.

NERC2016Button12016 Netgalley/Edelweiss Challenge
hosted by Falling For YA

Goal: Bronze Level (10 books)

End of January Progress: 0% (target pace: 8%)

Oh, dear. I did start a book from NetGalley. Did I finish it? No. Is my Nook sitting on my nightstand, looking sad and neglected? Yes.


2016 Review Writing Challenge
hosted by

Goal: 50 Reviews

End of January Progress: 0% (target pace: 8%)

No reviews yet. I really have no excuse, either. That image is pretty spot-on.

So, how’s your 2016 reading going?

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Challenges 2016

I found this list of 2016 Reading Challenges.

I promise, I will not sign up for all of them. But I am signing up for these:


I Love Libraries RC BBNI Love Libraries Challenge
hosted by Bea’s Book Nook

Goal: Middle Grades (18 books)

I check out a lot of library books. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, given that I spend 40+ hours per week in a public library. The books are right there! And they’re free! I am choosing a low-ish goal for this, though, because I have a few other book sources I want to focus on in 2016.

Mount TBR 2016Mt. TBR Challenge
hosted by My Reader’s Block

Goal: Pike’s Peak (12 books)

And here’s the main complement to the library challenge, because this one is specifically for books one already owns but has not read. A great many of the books in my GoodReads to-read queue are not books I own, but I certainly own more than 12 books I haven’t yet read. In an attempt to give myself the best possible start (and – okay, let’s be honest – because I really, really, really love the planning phase of these things), I’ve tagged 12 books for this already.

NERC2016Button12016 Netgalley/Edelweiss Challenge
hosted by Falling For YA

Goal: Bronze Level (10 books)

I have a terrible habit of requesting books from Netgalley and Edelweiss and then neglecting to read them before the files expire. This challenge is intended to force gently prod me to actually read the books. The next step, of course, is to write and post a review of each book, but there’s a whole separate challenge for that. I’m going for the lowest level on this one, because, honestly, 10 books would be way more than I read from Netgalley/Edelweiss in 2015.

2016 Review Writing Challenge
hosted by

Goal: 50 Reviews

I already mentioned my issue with downloading e-ARCs and then letting the files expire. Now that I’ll be reading them, how about some reviews, eh? My feedback percentage on Netgalley is appallingly low, and I’d like to change that. I’m not limiting my reviews to e-books, though. I’m setting a goal of 50 reviews – just under one review per week.

I’m not sure that I have ever successfully completed any Reading Challenge I have signed up for in the past. 2016 will be the year, yes? Yes.

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Read Harder!

instabooksI am such a sucker for a reading challenge. They always sound like so much fun, and sometimes my TBR just inspires analysis paralysis, so a little guidance can come in handy.

(It’s not unlike the way the Sock Knitters Anonymous Sockdown monthly challenges have prodded me to actually knit certain patterns from my insanely long Ravelry queue.)

The latest reading challenge to catch my eye is hosted by Book Riot and called Read Harder. There are 24 slots on the game card, and 12 months to fill them in. Because I dearly love the planning phase of this kind of thing, I’ve already spent days thinking about what to read for which task. My very much not-written-in-stone plans so far:

  1. Read a horror book: The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin – I picked up a used copy a while ago and haven’t read it (and, yes, I already know the twist, but I’m going to read it anyway).
  2. Read a nonfiction book about science: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach – I love popular science books, so I’m taking the opportunity to read one that’s been on my list a good long time (since 2010, according to GoodReads).
  3. Read a collection of essays: Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson, although I do have Knox’s Essays in Satire on my shelf, too.
Read a book out loud to someone else: Do picture books count? Because I read three of those out loud every Monday.
  5. Read a middle grade novel: I read a lot of middle grade books that come through the library, so something will come along for this one.
Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices by Leonard S. Marcus
  7. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Nomansland by Lesley Hauge – which could also fit the feminist category
  8. Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: The Seven-Percent Solution by Nicholas Meyer – this may well be the first book on this list I read, since I want to read it before diving into the 2015 BSJ Christmas Annual
  9. Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L. A. Meyer
Read a book over 500 pages long: A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway
Read a book under 100 pages: I’m not sure what this will be. Maybe a graphic novel.
Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender: George by Alex Gino
Read a book that is set in the Middle East: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman – going way before 1900 for this one, although it could also count for book set in the Middle East or book over 500 pages
Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Either The Living by Matt de la Pena or Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez)
  17. Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, & Brooke A. Allen
  18. Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick – I think I’ll be watching the movie on DVD
  19. Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes: Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal – there’s something awfully meta about reading a book about a woman reading feminist works for this, isn’t there?
Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are by Jack Kornfield
  21. Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren
Read a food memoir: Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef’s Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness by Cat Cora – a book I meant to read a while back and didn’t get to
  23. Read a play: I honestly have no idea what I’m going to read for this one!
  24. Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness: Challenger Deep  by Neal Shusterman, which is already on my desk, conveniently enough

Are you joining in the challenge? Maybe I’ll actually complete this one!

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Flannel Friday: Monkey Face by Frank Asch

I am always late to the party, so it should come as no surprise that the first time I make a Flannel Friday post, I’ve got a story that Cate did at Storytiming back in 2011, Sharon did at Rain Makes Applesauce in 2012, and Bridget did just this past January.

What can I say? It’s a good story!


Monkey Face, by Frank Asch, was published in 1977 and is way out of print. My library system doesn’t have a copy at all. I’m pretty sure I first encountered the story as a whiteboard draw-and-tell. I’ve been meaning to flannelize it for a while, and since the theme for next Monday’s Storytime/Craft program is Wild Animals, it was a perfect fit.

I started with the Bongo Monkey image from Ben’s Coloring Pages as a template for the original face, and then I cut the rest of the pieces without a pattern.


The story goes like this:

Little Monkey drew a picture of his mother. He took it home from school to give it to her. He was so proud of his drawing.


Along the way, he saw his friend, Owl. Owl said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the eyes should be a little larger.”

So, Little Monkey made the eyes a little larger.


As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Giraffe. Giraffe said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the neck should be a little longer.”

So, Little Monkey made the neck a little longer.


As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Crocodile. Crocodile said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the teeth should be a little sharper.”

So, Little Monkey made the teeth a little sharper.


As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Rabbit. Rabbit said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the ears should be a little bigger.”

So, Little Monkey made the ears a little bigger.


As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Lion. Lion said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – you’ve forgotten her fluffy mane .”

So, Little Monkey added a fluffy mane.


As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Elephant. Elephant said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – her nose is much too small.”

So, Little Monkey made the nose bigger.


Little Monkey didn’t see anyone else until he got home, where his mother was waiting for him. “Mother, Mother,” he said, “I drew a picture of you!”

“I love it!” his mother said. “Just the way it is.”


Katie at Story Time Secrets has this week’s Flannel Friday Round-Up. Go and have a look at the fabulous posts! Also check out the Flannel Friday Facebook page and the Flannel Friday Pinterest boards.

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Book Review: Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Three stories weave together here, all of them fascinating in their own right: the story of the scientists at Los Alamos, including Robert Oppenheimer, the man who would become known as the father of the atomic bomb; the story of the Russian spies, including the unassuming Harry Gold, who were hard at work attempting to steal the secrets to building the atomic bomb, and the efforts of Allied forces, including Knut Haukelid and a few other dedicated Norwegian resistance fighters, to prevent the Germans from building an atomic bomb themselves. The names are important, because what Sheinkin does so splendidly is put human faces to the historic events. Literally, in fact, since each section of the book begins with a scrapbook-style double-page spread of photographs. This is an epic story, and Sheinkin lists a number of consulted sources in the back matter, but he picks out details sure to capture and hold interest all the way through.

This is a fascinating read, with appeal for older kids and teens as well as adults. It has great potential for classroom use, perhaps paired with Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea. MacMillan even has a Teacher’s Guide (.pdf) already prepared with pointers to the Common Core State Standards. Also check out the post at Reading to the Core, which says of Bomb, “This is the kind of book you could build an entire curriculum around.” Suggestions for how to begin to do so are included, of course. Don’t limit this book to the classroom, though. After all, who could resist a true story of international spies and “the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon”?


Recommend to: Older kids and teens (and adults) who would like a “true story” that reads like a spy thriller.


Source: Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Stealing a car had been much more fun than stealing a credit card. But stealing a toddler!


Janie Face to Face (Janie Johnson, #5)Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Janie Johnson was 15 when she recognized the photo of her three-year-old self on a milk carton and discovered she was really Jennie Spring, whose family had been hoping she would come home ever since she was kidnapped from a mall. Now in college, Janie just wants to put the past behind her, stop being known as “the kidnap kid”, and move on with her life. But as her friends and family are pestered by a true crime writer and his researchers to turn her story into a best-seller, she realizes that someone out there does not want to let things go.

When The Face on the Milk Carton was first published, in 1990, it was a different world. It was a world without the Internet in every home, or a cell phone in every teenager’s pocket, or, for that matter, the Internet on a cell phone in a teenager’s pocket. Even when the fourth book in the series – What Janie Found – hit shelves in 2000, cancelled checks could still play a major part in the story. While 13 years have passed since that book was published, only a few years have passed for the characters when Janie Face to Face begins, with the action of the novel spread over the next several years. Because of this, Cooney spends some time allowing Janie and her friends and family to catch up, pondering the rapid changes since the day Janie used a public pay phone during her search for answers. The tendency to tell, rather than show, what is happening bogs down the pace a bit, already an issue with characters mentally recapping the first four books.

Janie’s story is only part of this fifth (and final) installment of the series. Before each chapter – where the third-person narration is squarely focused on the perspective of Janie or one of her friends or family members – is a vignette from Hannah’s perspective (though still third-person), beginning with “THE FIRST PIECE OF THE KIDNAPPER’S PUZZLE” and counting upward. This is the first time readers get inside Hannah’s mind and find out what really happened that day in the mall. Of course, Hannah’s recollections are neither unbiased nor, perhaps, wholly reliable, although Cooney gives no reason to doubt the sequence of events. Fans of the original series should find satisfying closure.

The first four books in the series have remained popular with a new generation of teens, and they were re-released in 2012 with new coordinating cover art.

Recommend to: Teens looking for suspense without gore, and adults who fondly remember the original series and always wondered about Hannah

Source: Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My family name was once Fayleure. But somebody changed it. I’d ask that you get your “failure” jokes out of the way now. I am anything but.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Timmy Failure has a lot going for him, really. A successful business with an unparalleled partner, his own transportation, and all the answers. Okay, so his business partner is a polar bear named Total, so their business is officially named Total Failure, Inc. And “successful” might be stretching things. And his transportation – the Failuremobile – is his mom’s Segway, which she has said he is allowed to use “Never. Ever. Ever.” And his answers might be a little, well, not quite correct. But he has big plans for the “Timmy Empire” and world domination, if he can just get his business off the ground.

Well, and his mom’s Segway out of the hands of his arch-nemesis.

To tell the truth, when I first saw this cover, I rolled my eyes a bit. Another Wimpy Kid read-alike, I thought. But Timmy has a certain charm in his complete obliviousness of the world around him, and his irrepressible optimistic nature. He is absolutely determined that he is going to conquer the world. He is convinced that he is the smartest detective ever, even though the reader can hardly help but laugh out loud at the conclusions Timmy draws from the clues he gathers. Pastis slyly reveals the reality of Timmy’s life at home and at school, as much as Timmy lives in denial of the facts, and the side of Timmy that is a really sweet kid underneath his tough talk. By the end, I was completely won over, and I can hardly wait to get this first volume of the series into the hands of middle-graders at my library (not mention my own hands on volume two).

On shelves: February 26, 2013

Source: ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2013


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