Tuesday, September 24, 2013


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

When I first started reading, I remember loving the Cam Jansen series because I always love a good mystery and it was fun to find a series with a plucky girl detective.  I was happy to hear that the author of the Cam Jansen series, David Adler, is back with new new series for young readers.

Fourth-grader Danny Cohen's new friend is a little eccentric.  Calvin Waffle is curious about everything and likes to try unusual experiments. Including challenging the teacher's list of rules. He even asks Danny to fill his pockets with jellybeans but NOT eat them.When Calvin figures out a way to predict the opposing pitcher's throw at Danny's baseball game, Danny thinks he has a secret weapon. The only problem is that Calvin doesn't like baseball.  Danny and his friends must convince Calvin to change his mind so that they can win the big game.

This fun story is told through both words and drawings so it makes a nice transition from picture books to chapter books. The characters are fun and kids will really enjoy Adler's doodles throughout the book.


I have a copy of this book to give away!  If you'd like to get a child started on this fun new series, leave a comment at the end of the post.  For extra entries, follow me on Facebook and Twitter and leave a post saying that you did.  (For United States residents only.  This contest ends on Monday, September 30 at 4:00pm PST)

Monday, September 16, 2013

THE OTHER ROOM by Kim Triedman

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

Three years ago, Claudia MacInnes and her husband, Josef Coleman, lost their one-year-old daughter Lily.  Since then, their marriage has begun to unravel as the two of them deal with their grief in different ways.  Josef longs for a physical connection that his wife is unable to provide so he turns to a young surgical nurse for comfort.  Claudia looks for an emotional connection that her husband seems unable to provide and uses her therapy sessions to fill that void.  As their lives continue to fall apart, we see the roles that others played in the tragedy and the secrets of the past are slowly revealed as well as the details of Lily's death.

This book was both heartbreaking and beautiful. As a parent, I can think of nothing worse than losing a child. I'm always amazed that anyone can get through such a loss.  Triedman does a wonderful job revealing the effects of such a tragedy on one particular family.  Much of the story is told through Claudia's journal entries and we see that there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.  However, since the reader doesn't really know the details of Lily's death until the later part of the book, the journey can be harrowing.  No one is innocent. Everyone is struggling to deal with pain and loss in  his or her way and it is so painful to see how it rips this family apart.

I was so impressed with this book.  The subject matter could have skewed maudlin and over-the-top but Triedman does a masterful job dealing with the intricacies of the loss of a child.  My heart ached for ALL of the characters.  Triedman does an excellent job of fleshing each of them out so that they are all multi-dimensional.  It is a very affecting work.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  A beautiful and haunting look at the collapse of a family after the death of a child.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Barefoot Books Review: BAREFOOT BOOK OF JEWISH TALES by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand

In honor of Yom Kippur, I thought I would share with you one of the latest additions to the Barefoot Books canon.  The brand new BAREFOOT BOOK OF JEWISH TALES is absolutely beautiful.  Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand shares eight tales from the Jewish tradition and the book comes with a CD narrated by Debra Messing.  The stories range from biblical times to 19th century Poland and make for a wonderful readaloud for children ages 6 and up.

In the "Wall Street Journal" review of this book on August 23, 2013, it states that "All the stories have an uplifting quality. "The Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster" introduces us to an addled fellow who eventually gives up his fowl ways after a heavenly messenger named Ezra teaches him that "God gives human beings the ability to make choices" and that "no matter how we feel on the inside, we can choose to behave better than we feel." The tale of "Clever Rachel" gives us a brave, intelligent heroine whose parents understand that "what really matters in life is not how clever you are, but how kind," as they raise a daughter who will ultimate wed—and outwit—a king. Amanda Hall's inviting illustrations of rabbis, palaces, fruits and challah loaves have such soft edges and delicious colors that they might be made of marzipan."

 I feel so lucky to get to sell such wonderful books as a Barefoot Books Ambassador.  I decided to work for Barefoot Books because of the high quality of their books and their multicultural emphasis.

To purchase the BAREFOOT BOOK OF JEWISH TALES, go here.

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

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

Cath and her twin sister Wren have been fans of the Simon Snow books for years. (think "Harry Potter")  The two sisters are now heading off to college and Wren is ready to reinvent herself while Cath is petrified of all the new social obstacles ahead.  When Wren decides to room with someone other than her twin, Cath must learn to deal with a complete stranger as her roommate.  Finding college to be especially difficult for an almost phobic introvert, Cath often find herself retreating in her world of Simon Snow fanfiction where her stories about a gay romance between Simon Snow and his nemesis Baz (think "Harry Potter" and "Draco Malfoy") have gathered a huge fan following over the years. While quite a few people try to draw Cath out including her roommate, a fellow writing class student and even her writing professor, Cath prefers to retreat in the fantasy fanfic world of Simon Snow.  But when things start falling apart at home and Cath meets a real-life guy who may be the match of the fictional Simon Snow in her life, all bets are off.

This is a really sweet young adult offering that captures what college can be like for those who aren't as socially-inclined.  I think Cath is a wonderful character and  you can't help but root for her as she learns to navigate not only the challenges of college but also the changing relationships that she has with her high school boyfriend, her sister and her father. I thought it was a really charming book although I felt that it ended too abruptly.  It seemed like there should have been more.

I hope that Rainbow Rowell will revisit these characters in a sequel. I'd love to hear more about Cath and all the people in her world (both fictional and real).

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Charming young adult offering that will appeal to adults as well.

PARENTAL ADVISORY with spoilers:

Cath deals with complex issues arising from entering college and becoming an adult. Her father struggles with mental illness and her sister becomes an alcoholic who nearly dies of alcohol poisoning.  Cath also struggles with her own feelings of desire and fear of physical intimacy when she gets involved in a relationship.  While there is nothing explicit in terms of sex, it IS mentioned along with college underage drinking.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


September already?!!! Sorry I'm a bit late with this post. I'm still trying to finish up FREE TO LEARN and THE BIG DISCONNECT but I'm getting a lot out of all these books!

This month, I thought we could try a classic that I have always heard great things about:

GRAVITY OF BIRDS by Tracy Guzeman

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

THE GRAVITY OF BIRDS combines some of my favorite themes: art and family secrets. Famous artist Thomas Bayber calls on his friend, art historian Dennis Fincher, to help sell a painting he has kept hidden for years. The two men ask authenticator Stephen Jameson to help them.  The possibility of a heretofore unknown Bayber work is an exciting prospect for Fincher and Jameson as well as for the auction house but Bayber's painting comes with strings attached.  The two men must track down the pair of sisters depicted in the painting before Bayber will allow it to go to auction.  As Fincher and Jameson attempt to track down the whereabouts of Alice and Natalie Kessler, Guzeman takes the reader back and forth through time as the backstory of the relationship between Bayber and the two women is revealed.

There was something really beautiful about this story. I loved how a painting could express so much and could become a tangible record of the history of a tangled group of relationships.  There is a lot of sadness within the story but it ends on a note of hope and possibility. It's difficult to say more without giving away too much.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A lovely tale of art and secrets and family.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

HAVISHAM by Ronald Frame

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

The literary world is often split on its opinions about authors using the worlds and characters of other authors to write their own novels.  I happen to like it.  I think it is the best kind of fanfiction when an author imagines a backstory for a famous character or speculates on "what happened after."  In his new novel, Ronald Frame explains to readers why Miss Havisham of GREAT EXPECTATIONS fame became the vengeful madwoman in the wedding dress.

Catherine Havisham is the only child of a wealthy brewer who has high hopes for his daughter. In order to make sure that his daughter learns to mix with the highest in society, Catherine's father sends her to live with a down-on-its-luck noble family.  While there, Catherine meets the man who will change her life forever.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Frame's novel. I think his portrayal of Catherine in the early years was pretty spot-on.  I didn't particularly care for the fact that Frame switches from scene to scene so abruptly. It can make it hard to follow the narrative.  His backstory for Catherine Havisham is completely believable, though.  Until the wedding. The book fell apart for me when Frame's story meets up with Dickens' story.  It just felt so much weaker than the rest of the book and I found myself losing interest. Catherine's descent from promising young woman into the Miss Havisham of Dickens fame feel a bit forced and too quick.  Still, I thought Frame was very creative and I enjoyed the book overall.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations. Some readers may find Frame's style of writing a little frustrating but his backstory for Catherine Havisham is creative and interesting.  The ending may be a disappointment to some.