Monday, April 30, 2012


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

I will admit that I am one of the legions of fans of "Downton Abbey."  When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued as it sounded like a twist on the "Downton Abbey" genre.  As the book begins, it is very reminiscent of the television show.  The year is 1912 and Emerald Torrington is preparing for her twentieth birthday party that evening.  Emerald and her family are owners of a lovely English estate called Sterne.  The Torringtons are not landed gentry with a long pedigree.  Emerald's father had earned (and lost) all of his money and invested much of it in Sterne in order to build a better life for his family.  Several years prior to the story, Emerald's father died of a sudden illness leaving the family in financial dire straits.  The story opens with Emerald's stepfather leaving Sterne in order to meet with a potential financial savior who will help the family retain Sterne.  Facing the loss of her childhood home, Emerald approaches her birthday festivities with mixed feelings.  When her brother leaves to pick up some guests at the train station, everything is thrown into chaos.  He returns with news that there has been a terrible accident on one of the rail lines and the Sterne residents have been asked to take in the survivors until the Railway can make other accomodations.  This is when everything starts to go awry.  The survivors begin trickling in including a mysterious upper-class stranger who immediately insinuates himself into the Torrington group.  Emerald and her family and guests attempt to go forward with the birthday celebration while the crash survivors become more and more rowdy.  But everything is not what it seems...

The book began in a promising manner. I really enjoyed the writing and was immediately drawn into the story.  By the time I got to the twist, however, I started to get confused and frustrated.  The twist is fairly obvious and unnecessarily convoluted.  I understand what Jones was trying to accomplish but the ending just fell flat. Everything wrapped up too quickly and too neatly and I just didn't buy it.

BOTTOM LINE: I can recommend the first half but not the last half.  The book starts out so well but the last half felt forced and confused.  I was disappointed with it.  I'm not sure what would have fixed the problem.  The idea is very clever but the execution is poor.

Library Showdown

Back in my public library days, I came very close to having a moment this like many, many times....

I couldn't get the video to embed but follow this link to see a clip from PARTY GIRL.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

MY FIRST GYMNASTICS CLASS by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

This adorable book with foldout pages takes children through a typical beginning gymastics class.  The photographs by photographer Laura Hanifin are wonderful!!!  Each page demonstrates some of the activities and techniques that children could encounter in a gymnastics class:

I love the fact that the book explains each activity so that you can try them at home.  The main story is on the double-pages.  Readers can get more detailed information by unfolding the pages:

My preschooler enjoyed trying out the different activities.  I love the combination of book and exercise.  The pages are a heavy weight so they are easy for little fingers to turn and will hold up to repeated use.   This would be a wonderful gift for any little girl getting ready to start gymnastics. 

My only complaint about the book is that there are no boys in it.  I love the diversity of the little girls but I was so disappointed that boys were not included!  I noticed that they are not included in another book in the series as well, "MY FIRST BALLET CLASS."  The series also has two other titles: "MY FIRST KARATE CLASS" and "MY FIRST SOCCER GAME."  I am happy to report that little girls are included in both of those books. That makes it all the more confusing why boys are excluded from ballet and gymnastics!  I believe that if there had been little boys in this book as well as girls in my son might be more interested in the book.  And in gymnastics!!!

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended! This is an adorable book with wonderful, clear photographs that take children step-by-step through the various activities they may encounter in a gymnastics class.   It also has the bonus of suggesting and explaining activities you can do at home!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Three Minute Fiction on NPR

Today I am so proud to announce that my friend Megan Malone is a semifinalist in the NPR Three Minute Fiction contest.

Read her lovely original work of fiction here:

HEAVY by Megan Malone

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

SING TO YOUR BABY by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer's SING TO YOUR BABY.    When I used to work in a public library, I got to do both a Preschool storytime and a Bookbabies storytime.  Libraries were just starting to do storytimes specifically for babies and caregivers and I absolutely loved it. More and more often people are starting to understand how important the first five years of a child's life really are in terms of learning. Engaging with our youngest children through song, fingerplay and other interaction can be so important in their development.  Plus, it has the added benefit of helping caregivers bond with children.

This wonderful book and CD set helps parents and other caregivers get started in what will hopefully be a lifetime habit of singing to their children.  The book works as both a primer that teachers parents HOW to sing to their children and also as a lovely picture book and music CD.  The book includes sections on the importance of music and singing to one's child as well as good "how to" information.  Colorful illustrations accompany the lyrics to each song.  On the CD itself, the authors have included two tracks for each song in different keys so that female and male caregivers can more easily learn the songs.  The songs range from sweet lullaby-like songs to fun catchy "get up and dance" songs.  Although many songs are geared to babies and younger children, my almost four-year-old really enjoyed them.  We listened to the CD while preparing dinner and it had the whole family dancing along.  These songs could easily become a part of any family's traditions.  When I asked my son what his favorite song was I was surprised when he chose one of the slower, sweeter songs, "Love is What I Feel For You."

To learn more about the book and hear samples of the music, go here.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended!  I can't stress enough how important it is to engage children in music at a very young age.  This set provides the perfect "How To" while introducing families to music that will be favorites for years to come.  This would be a great gift for any new parent.