Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dingle the Helpful Ice Cream Cone Delivery Dog by Audrey Kinsella

Poor Dingle!  His job is to be Gramma's service dog.  The problem is, Gramma can do everything for herself and doesn't need Dingle's help.  He sits there every day bored.  Finally, he has a bright idea for how to help.  He enlists the aid of an engineer friend and soon finds that he can be a good service dog, even for an independent soul like Gramma.

With young children's books, I generally look to see how appealing it is to the child, as well as how useful it could be.  As for appeal, Susan Anderson-Shorter did an excellent job.  The illustrations are bright and colorful.  A few sections on each page have great detail, while the overall page is simple enough for younger children to pick out items.  As for use, I imagined a young child taking this book to a more elderly person to have them read it to them.  Being a children's book, most of the people who use service dogs wouldn't be picking this up to read it.  For a grandparent though, reading this to a child would provide the enjoyment of shared reading time and hopefully give them something to think about at the same time.

The story itself is cute and fun.  On a purely entertainment level, it allows children to have a bright little escape into the book world.  On a larger scale, the book teaches about the use of service dogs as well as the importance of allowing others to help us.  

The Randolph Women & Their Men by Ruth Doumlele

The Randolph Women and Their Men paints a rich and vivid portrait of post-Revolution life in the South on the scale of Gone With the Wind - only this story is true.  A professional historian, Ruth Doumlele has cleverly woven the many lives of the famous and infamous of that time into one seamless narrative.  While the Randolphs hold center stage, their exploits bring them together with those influential people - such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison- who determined our nation's legacy.

Not only does Doumlele bring to life the significant events of those turbulent years, she also provides a scintillating view of the private lives of the privileged.  Incest, betrayal, unrequited love- this book reveals the sometimes shocking, often poignant, always fascinating details of these remarkable women and their men. (Taken from the back of the book)

Though I loved the idea of this book, the reality was unpleasant for me.  Though rich in history, I felt like I was reading a textbook from high school.  The opening scene drew me right in, but the rest of the book put me right to sleep.  If you're looking for a slice of history, this could be your cup of tea.  My other issue with this book is the way that it skips throughout generations.  There are so many characters and the way this book is compiled, it's nearly impossible to keep up with who's being spoken about.  Unless, you have a notebook nearby and keep notes, you're not going to have any idea of which character is which or why you care about them.

Cover Girl LashBlast Mascara

Thanks to Bzz, I recently had a chance to check out Cover Girl's newest mascara.  As a Bzzagent, they send me awesome products to try out and spread the word about.

My first thought when trying out new makeup is always the packaging.  The mascara I tried was in a pretty purple wanded container, similar to the one pictured on the left.  It's easy to handle and looks attractive.  The wand on the inside is plastic, which actually seemed to work much better than the old bristled wands.  The mascara doesn't cake and dry on it.

I was a little disappointed that it didn't seem to make my lashes longer, but it definitely made them look naturally thicker.  Two swipes on each set of lashes left them looking bright and bold and noticeable.

How did LashBlast mascara hold up?  Actually pretty well!  I didn't end up with raccoon eyes, even after a strong bout of crying.  The makeup removes quite easily even with just plain soap and water.  It doesn't dribble down your face, regardless of activity.  Best of all, I didn't get that 'dry eyes' feeling that comes with so many mascaras.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

GOT BOOKS!!!

48 hours is all you have!  48 hours is all you need!  Book bloggers across the US and Canada are giving away books, books and more books!  Click here to see a listing of sites that are offering book giveaways!  Hurry!  48 hours was not a joke, and the clock is ticking!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spirit by Andrew Feder

I read an average of 7-10 books a week.  They vary from flighty romance to historical nonfiction.  I read everything from books on how to fix the government to books on who Miss Elaine was dating in the 1400's.  Most of the books I read are middle of the road.  On a 1-5 scale, most of them fall in the 2-4 category.  Luckily I've only come across 2 books in my lifetime that have registered on the scale of 1.  On the other end of the scale, we have 5.  Books that I'd rate a 5 are difficult to come by.  These are the books that I can't put down.  The ones I read while taking a bath, vaccuuming, driving (ok, I made that one up!).  These are the few, the rare, books that I deem worth of telling my 'reading family' about.  Spirit definitely made it to the 5 category!

In this book, we have Randall Lender.  He's a spiritual guru who's life is spent trying to enlighten others.  His life is filled with love and the sharing of that love.  He's also a wanted man.  His 'preaching' has been showing people how organized religion, the government and even operations designed to aid humanity are actually sucking the love and life out of us. 

The Guilders are a group of men from different organizations.  We have every one from a rabbi to the Dark One.  The Guilders know that lender is a threat to their very existence and want him taken care of, and not in the 'get him a stripper and a bottle of Jack' sort of way.

Lender decides to cancel his appointments for one afternoon, taking a much-needed break to relax.  He decides to astral project himself out of his body and go 'astral surfing'.  Instead of being pulled back into his body, however, he finds himself in someone else's.  This body is covered in warmth and he finds a murdered woman right beside him.  As he discovers the murder weapon in his hand, the police swarm him.

Lender's spirit has been trapped in the body of Johnny M, a mob assassin.  Now Lender is trapped, not only in the wrong body, but in the midst of the mafia, the government and the police.  Not only that, he's in a war to save his very soul.  He is a WARRIOR OF LIGHT!

Seriously, this was just such a fun book for me!  I haven't read any of Feder's work before, although I'm not sure why.  The plot behind the book is pure genius and I wonder why no one's thought of it before.  They mystery is welll-done.  The characters are quirky and alive.  Fast-paced reading and cliffhangers keep you turning page after page.  Best of all, for me, the sex scenes were delicious!  Anyone who knows my reading knows that I nearly always skip over the sex scenes in books.  They just aren't for me.  I don't really care about anybody else's love rod or where they're sticking it.  Feder made this fun for me though :)  I swear he had to have Googled horrible cliches to write these scenes.  No woman is going to read these sex scenes and swoon.  I'm sure a few men would love them, however!  For me, I giggled right through them and enjoyed every single 'hackey sack' moment :)

Overall, this book is a gem and one I've been suggesting to family and friends alike.  I definitely wouldn't call it classic literature, but it's a wonderful read.  It also contains some thoughtful information regarding spirituality and religion. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fearless: The 7 Principles of Peace of Mind by Brenda Shoshanna, PhD

When I first received this book, I had to chuckle.  It's rather a large book to just list 7 principles for peace of mind.  By the time I finished, however, I had a completely different mindset.  It's rather a tiny book for all of the information that it holds.

Taking both eastern and western philosophies and religions, Dr. Shoshanna has created a book for everyone regarding how to take control of your life.  She shows us how to remove fear and fantasy from our daily lives.  The importance of being oneself and knowing oneself is something that we all need to be interested in.  I wouldn't necessarily consider this a self-enlightenment book, although that's what I took away from it.  Shoshanna uses several stories as comparisons to get her point across. 

For myself, going through a period of change in my life, I found this book particularly helpful.  It explained to me the importance of not only embracing change, but enjoying it in all of it's chaotic glory.  I strongly suggest this book for anyone who's going through a divorce, lonely, looking for love, looking for enlightenment, or simply wanting to know themself and their surroundings better.  Though at the beginning the book comes across as dry, stick it through until the third and fourth chapters.  It definitely picks up and flows better and the knowledge contained is immeasurable.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quicksand by Marilyn Randall

Imagine that you're sitting in a large overstuffed chair in a comfortable room.  An older lady is sitting in another chair across from you.  As you sip your tea and munch on cookies, you say, 'Tell me about your greatest love.'  The woman goes to a shelf on the side of the room and removes a large ornate box.  Upon returning to her seat, she opens the box, revealing several papers.  As she begins to speak, you find yourself in a different world.

This book is the story of Natalie, a white woman in her 60's and Randy, a large black man in his 50's.  After Natalie buries her husband, she begins looking for love on the internet and finds Randy.  As soon as they meet, they know that it's a love beyond anything they've ever known and they must be together.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy the story as Natalie tells it. 

As I began this book, I was confused.  I started noticing behaviors in the characters that were less than perfect.  Of course, this makes them realistic, but for being such a grand love story, I found myself confused at all of the issues between them and how quickly they were set aside.  It's difficult to explain until you read it.  I was under the impression that this was a fictionalized story of the author's own life, and it very well could be, but at the gritty end, I find that it is indeed fiction and all of my worries for the author were unfounded. 

Each chapter starts out with a poem that is written in regards to what is going on in that chapter.  Most of them are beautifully verse and it's quite worth the purchase price of the book just for the poetry.  If you're not a poet or  poetry lover, however, you can easily skip through the poems and simply read the story. 

At the core of this story is the interracial issues that the couple share.  Not only do they have outside influences such as family and friends, they find that they have differences in their expectations and treatments of each other.  Natalie attributes this to their being of different colors, but most couples deal with the same issues. We all come from different backgrounds and must learn to coexist.

Though in the beginning I found myself confused about why the couple were together, by the time I reached the end of the book I was in love.  The way Natalie tells the story is that of a woman in love who is happy to take part of the blame for the issues and do her best to make excuses for her partner.  She becomes a confused, lovable part of your life that you hate to lose when the book ends.  Though the cover of the book kind of scared me off, this book should definitely not be judged by it's cover.  There is a truely wonderful story hidden inside.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pandas' Earthquake Escape by Phyllis J. Perry

In this book, we find mother and child panda bears, Liling and Tengfei. As they’re sleeping, they noticed that they’re tree is rocking. Frightened and confused by what is going on, they begin to run in an attempt to find safety. As the earthquake continues to move their world, they finally find a cave that offers them a bit of safety. Once things have calmed, they try to find their way back to the reserve, only to find that they are lost. Will they be saved and returned home before hunger and fear consume them?

Illustrations in this book are elegant and beautiful. Each page is realistically drawn with a strong element to detail. Susan Detwiler, the illustrator, definitely has a gift for giving serenity to both creatures and humans. Even amidst the frightening center of the earthquake, the pandas appear quiet and beautiful.

The story is definitely written for older children, probably from ages 7-9. Each page boasts a large, in-depth paragraph. Though it’s not difficult to read or comprehend and none of the words are difficult to pronounce, there’s a lot of material per page for a younger child. I think older children will be enthralled with the story. It’s thrilling without having too much terror added. Though we know the pandas are in danger, it’s not scary. They’re lost and confused, but at no point do we actually feel their fear. It’s more the feeling of confusion that comes across.

At the end of this book we have an educational section. As a parent, I so love this! Here we find information about endangered giant pandas, the life cycle of the giant panda, information regarding earthquakes and the richter scale, as well as a gorgeous map depicting where the largest earthquakes have occurred.

What's the Difference? by Suzanne Slade

I love this book! Each page is so full of information and it’s presented in such a fun, unique way. It teaches not only about different endangered species, but also what those species enjoy doing, as well as how humans are helping them and subtraction.

Though the subtraction may seem out of place, it really fits in quite nicely and adds a lot to this sweet book. Each page has a small box in the corner that tells a bit about the animal and how humans are currently helping them. These facts are definitely geared more towards older readers, parents and caregivers. Then we have a cute rhyming verse with a subtraction problem embedded in it. These verses can easily be read and enjoyed by younger children. Then we also have a large, bold-faced subtraction problem that coincides with the rhyming verse! None of these are overly difficult and are definitely geared towards children learning the basics of subtraction. The largest number used is ten.

The illustrations in this book had me fooled at first. Looking at the front cover, I thought they were more realistic and geared towards older children. I found as I went through each page though, that they’re bright and colorful. Though mostly realistic, they still have a touch of whimsy that will engage younger children. My four year old fell in love with a page full of butterflies.

At the end of this book is an educational section. Again, this section has a wealth of information. There’s a section on endangered animals, food chains, as well as animal math.

Little Red Bat by Carole Gerber

Fall has come and nearly winter. It’s time for Little Red Bat to figure out what he’s going to do for the winter. He comes across several other animals who tell him what they plan to do for the winter and warn him of possible dangers if he should stay instead of migrating.

Illustrations in this book are dark and realistic. Deeper earth tones keep the book in a toned down mood that follows the storyline. Fall has come and with it, everything is quieting down to sleep for the winter. The only bright colors you’ll find are the muted shades of the fall leaves. Though I love how the pictures fit with the mood, it’s not really bright enough to captivate younger readers. Children of 7-8 would probably love the depictions though.

There are more words per page than the average 4 or 5 year old could handle in a sitting. This would be a great bedtime story since it has such quiet, hushed tones. It would also be a great story for older children. The wording is more in the fashion of literature than rhyme. An older child might find this engaging where a younger child would probably be bored.

At the end of the book we find an educational section. It has information regarding bats, how animals deal with seasonal changes, and regarding red bats specifically. There are also a few creative activities about bats. I love this section as a tool for both parents and teachers to use with children.

Felina's New Home by Loran Wlodarski

Felina, a Florida panther, is noticing all the changes in her home. What was once a lush forest has now become littered, noisy and tiny. As she goes through the forest noting the differences, other animals agree with her and see the same issues. One day, while hunting for food, Felina is shot with a tranquilizer gun and ends up in a cage. What will become of her?

This book deals pretty nicely with environmental issues for children. Instead of jumping headlong into a discussion about how people harm the environment and animals, it takes the point of view of the animals and shows how they feel about different thoughtless actions we have.

The illustrations in this book are realistic and bright. I did notice that Felina has a frightening look in most of the pictures. Somehow the illustrator was able to keep the untamed portion of the animal depicted in the eyes. As an adult, I admire this ability but wonder how young children will see it.

Each page is set up with several sentences, making this a good book for ages 5-8. Younger readers will love the pictures of the different animals while older readers will enjoy the story. It’s easily adaptable as a bedtime story book.

At the end of this book is a section on animal information. It covers the gopher tortoise, Florida panther, red-cockaded woodpecker, manatee, wood stork and American crocodile. This is a useful tool for parents wanting to help further their child’s education with animals, or simply for a child interested in learning more animal facts. Along with each animal’s information, there are facts regarding how our impact, as people, has affected each.

Newton and Me by Lynne Mayer

A young boy learns about the laws of physics while playing with his dog, Newton. They spend the day playing, exploring, and helping Mom.
Illustrations in this book are captivating. My four year old was immediately drawn to the bright colors and the dog, Newton. Personally, I loved how you can easily see the reactions on each person’s face.

The story is well spaced for a young child. Each page has a few sentences so that a younger child can puzzle them out slowly or an older child can read it, still having enough to keep him interested. Rhyming sentences makes it enjoyable to read out loud.

My favorite part of this book is the educational section at the back. As your child reads through, they see the laws of physics in motion, but there isn’t any detail explaining how and why things work. We see that a toy car is easy to push while a full size automotive isn’t. In the educational section, it goes through each science law and gives questions that coincide with it. It’s a wonderful tool for parents to explain gravity, weight, friction and other similar ideas to younger children.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photographs and Memories by Barbara Fifield

Should have been a good drama....but overloaded with flashbacks!

When Angela finds out her alcoholic sister, Martha, is sponging off their aging parents in Florida and making herself a problem they are now far too old to deal with, Angela must persuade her husband to give up all they have in New York and move south to help out.  Struggling with new jobs, a new climate and the impossible Martha, Angela and her husband, Kevin, find their nerves becoming more and more raw and their lives more and more strained.  They never had to deal with anything like this in their peaceful life in New York.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, Angela's mother dies.  Angela turns to her husband for support, but in the cruelest turn of fate, he too suddenly passes away.  All alone, except for the helpless Martha, Angela must now gently coax her failing father into a nursing home.  how does Angela cope?  how will she fare when her need to act has passed and, alone, she must quietly face her losses? (taken from the back of the book)

This was actually a touching story.  Most of it was well-phrased and formed.  The characters are interesting, although they could have used just a bit more brightening.  Watching Angela dealing with her losses was difficult as a reader.  Some of the plot just had me shaking my head though.  It was hard for me to fathom a woman in her fifties/sixties behaving in the manner of Martha.  I don't doubt those people exist, but I'm thankful I don't know any of them. 

Though I enjoyed this story, the flashbacks really ruined it for me.  At one point I started giggling because I reminded myself of the wife in 'Funny Farm'.  There's a scene where she finally reads her husband's book and she's just crying and crying.  He asks her if it's really that good and she responds that it's just aweful!  All the flashbacks have ruined it!  That's exactly how I felt.  A quick rewrite without a flashback every other chapter would do wonders to improve this book.  Sometimes I found myself confused because I wasn't sure if we were still in a flashback and which stage of Angela's life we were in.  Although, since that's my only complaint about the book, that's not too shabby :)  I expect Fifield to keep improving as she journeys further into fiction. 

Public Schools are Achaic by M.R. Ussery EdD and S.R. Pargman (Editor)

Interesting idea that still needs some work!

In this book, Ussery discusses the way that our school systems work as well as his solution for the problem.  Our school systems now are full of children that are studying subjects that they don't believe they'll need in the future.  Teachers are overworked.  The love of learning has slowly been dieing out.  The biggest problem is that all students learn differently and at a different rate.  They're all shuttled into the same room and taught the same way.  This leaves several students behind and confused while leaving others bored and uninterested. 

Ussery's solution to the problem is to change the school system to follow a system that was used by the military.  In his system, school will be year round with students in high school choosing which classes they take.  Each class, as well as extra-curricular activity will be worth a certain amount of points.  Once they reach the necessary amount of points, they're able to graduate.  Some students will take longer while others will finish more quickly.  The idea, as I understand it, is to use media more effectually in classrooms.  Though I admit I may have misread, it's my understanding that each child will basically have a computer and take their lessons from it.  Ussery also suggests that as it's ridiculous to expect schools to switch directly over, it could be a good idea to test in boarding schools.

Though this book is well-written, it reads more as a manifesto than anything.  Having two children, one home schooled and one special needs, I'm always interested in possible changes to the school system.  Though I like Ussery's system for allowing children to work at their own pace, I do have a problem with his point system.  Though children would enjoy being able to choose their own classes and choose what they're interested in and believe will be helpful in their future, they're also missing out on one of the most important pieces of our archaic school system.  As a high school student, I remember taking several classes and wondering why I needed them.  Certainly, I was no art major.  Where would I ever need to know about pointilism or Surrat?  The one thing that high school gave me was exposure.  Though at the time I didn't find them useful, I find that little things that I learned pop up out of nowhere and do have meaning for me.  Also, without being forced to take a few classes that I wasn't interested in at the time, I never would have found new interests.  Basically, my only problem with Ussery's plan is that it gives children the choice to ignore exposure to new things.

Now that I've rambled with my opinions, the book really is an interesting read whether.  I don't suggest it if you're just looking for a bit of light reading, but those interested in the school system and where it may or may not be headed will enjoy this.

Shamra Divided by Barry Hoffman

Fun fantasy read with strong female characters!

Dara, a strong-headed Shamra girl who suddenly finds herself in the leadership role of a ragtag army, learns why it was her destiny to one day save her people from her country's oppressors.  While learning about her heritage she is attacked by what will become her most powerful enemy, Chaos.  Dormant for 170 years, Chaos reappears.  It is intent on destroying civilizations from within and killing Dara, whome he actually fears.  (taken from the back of the book)

First of all, I find it really interesting that Hoffman created this series in response to the Twilight saga.  In Twilight we have a female who'll gladly do anything for her 'man'.  We find wishy-washy women who don't have inner strength and character of their own.  The Shamra people are nothing like that.  These women are strong hunters who marry out of necessity.  Hoffman's females take leadership roles and fulfill their destinies.  These women are adventurous, witty and exciting.

As for the writing portion of the book, I'm rather impressed.  I only found two typos in the entire book, and those were simply missing quotation marks.  I love when an author has taken the time to either proof the book correctly or pay someone else to do it and do it well.  Each page is descriptive and alive.  The characters have a dreamlike quality that leads you to care about each of them.  Though there are many to keep straight, they're all so vivid that it's not difficult at all. 

As for my personal opinion of the book, I loved it.  It has that something extra that made me want to keep reading.  Though I haven't read the first book in the series, 'Curse of the Shamra', I definitely plan to.  This is a series that I definitely want to collect.  For you romance people, you'll not find it here.  For those of you looking for an alternate world where anything can happen and excitement and creativity abound, this is the book for you.  Nice job, Barry!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Meet Me on the Paisley Roof by Murray Tillman

In 1950’s Georgia, Trussell Jones is having a difficult time.  His stepmother is constantly on his tail and won’t let him get a license.  There’s no way he’s ever going to work up the courage to ask out Ellen, who he’s had a crush on for years, without it.  Add to that a crazy biker gang on his tail and two friends who are constantly helping him get into trouble.  On top of that we have a sweet but nosy aunt and a difficult music career.  Poor Trussell doesn’t stand a chance of finishing out his teenage years with all the troubles he has.

I love these bildungsroman books.  Normally, I find them to be a nice coming of age story that leaves you with a sense of someone finding their purpose in life.  This book was no different in that aspect, but there was just so much more to it.  It was almost like watching A Christmas Story, but reading it in the teen years.  Trussell’s imagination just runs away with him and he has the most vivid thoughts bouncing around in his head.  I giggled throughout most of the book, although parts of it did sadden me.  Most of it is fun and flighty, due to Trussell’s nature, but there are so many dramatic and thrilling facets to the story that you find yourself being pulled in different emotional directions.

Overall, the story is well-written.  It’s fast-paced and easy to read.  The end of each page keeps you turning to the next and it’s difficult to put down.  Characters are easily believable as well as likable.  It’s so much fun to meet them and get to know them as well as getting to see the other characters’ perspectives of them.  I didn’t find one single misspelling or grammatical error, which is always a plus for me since it slows the story down.

Tillman is an experienced textbook writer, but this is his first foray into fiction.  I certainly hope it’s a road he continues down.  

Monday, July 5, 2010

I Will Not Be Silent by April Maley

This gripping drama is April's first account telling of her childhood.  Well, more specifically, the incident that happened when she was nine, the history leading up to that, and what's happened since.  April is the eldest of four children who lived a nightmare of child abuse and domestic violence.  As an adult, April has decided that writing this book will help her come to terms with her past.  I hope it has brought her some peace.

I applaud April for taking the time to make up names and towns so that the rest of her family who wish to not deal with the issue will be protected.  That being said, she did an excellent job of putting this story together.  It's a little difficult to do a book review on someone's life, but as a reviewer, I'm going to stick to the actual story and writing and hope that the book has fulfilled it's need in April's life and not delve into that area. 

The characters are well-written.  Considering they're based on real people, you'd think that would be a given, but it's not.  April did an excellent job of keeping them realistic for the reader.  Were this not a recounting of her history, it would still be good fiction.  Though gut-wrenching, the story is well-told and a fascinating read.  You can quickly get through it within a couple of hours and feel like you walked away with something.

Red Demon by Deidre Knight

This third book in the God’s of Midnight series continues the saga of the immortal Spartan brotherhood. Aristos has recently taken over the demigod power of one of his brethren and is attempting to learn how to control it. The return of his former love, Juliana, wreaks havoc with his system, making it even more difficult for him to come to terms with his now powers.

When I first started reading this, I was pretty disappointed. I haven’t been following the series all along, although I’d heard quite a bit about it. I didn’t have any trouble figuring out what was going on, however I had that déjà vu feeling, as if I’d read this all before. Then it hit me how similar the Spartan brotherhood is to Sherrilyn Kenyon’s brotherhood. As I became further involved in the story, I found that though they do have a similar feel to them, there are actually quite a few differences. Knight takes the story in an entirely different direction than Kenyon, making the story pleasurable.

For paranormal lovers, this is definitely a good read. Not only are we dealing with gods, demigods, demons and immortals, we also have some lovely djinn thrown in. For those romance lovers, there are two wonderful stories going on. Aris and Juliana may be the main topic of the book, but honestly I found my attention drawn more towards the romance between Mason and Nikos. Though it’s the background story, it’s infinitely sweeter and more passionate, not to mention more taboo still in today’s society.

The writing immediately sucks you in. Characters are clear and bright. Though this is the third book in the series, I didn’t have any trouble jumping into the Spartan brotherhood world. I do, however, plan to go back and read the previous two books.

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All books (unless otherwise specified) belong to me already, have been borrowed, or are sent to me by the author, publisher or review company for review. I do not receive any monetary rewards for reviewing books. The opinions expressed in my reviews belong solely to me.