Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bielawski, R. (2014). Bees Like Flowers. Self published.

Children's / Picture Book / Informational

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars!

Children will read along and learn as our happy young narrator shows readers, in a very simple and non-threatening way, that bees are worthy of a closer look. Author Rebecca Bielawski uses rhyme along with beautiful illustrations to explain the process of pollination and where bees live, and she throws in a few gentle words of caution about stings. In a supplemental section at the end, insects are defined and flowers shown in the story are identified, and there’s even an invitation to the readers to go back and find the flowers in the illustrations. Whether used as a read-aloud or for new readers to tackle alone, Bees Like Flowers is a fun and appealing teaching tool about the life of bees.

The rhyming is very well done and kudos to Bielawski for using easy simple phrases and easy to read print.  There is a repeated use of “cos,” which could create some confusion since the target audience is children learning to read and it’s not a word.  It sounds good when read aloud – though “‘cause” would have worked just as well -- but its use may need to be explained. The illustrations are what really put it over the top. This book is so cute that readers will want to hug it. For starters, the sweet-faced little girl narrating the story is precious and obviously precocious, and she’s not afraid to climb a tree or get her hands dirty as she tromps about nature.  And NATURE! Nature is drawn so vividly and beautifully – the bees have soft, gentle expressions and are definitely represented as friends, not foes. While some of the flowers do have faces, others are drawn very realistically where children would be able to identify them in their own yards and gardens.  Though the location isn’t ever told, readers will want to immerse themselves in the lovely setting of Bees Like Flowers, and this book will be read again and again.

Bees Like Flowers is book two in a series called Mummy Nature.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales

Jackson, B. (2013). Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales: A Young Lawyer's Life, Learning, and Loves. Vol. 1. Self-published.

Adult / Memoir / Humor

I gave this book 4 out of 5 Stars

In Pardon Me for Protruding and Other True Tales, author Bolaride Jackson shows readers that in the world of a young lawyer, truth is often stranger – and more hilarious – than fiction.  Jackson’s memoir, told in short chapters that stand alone but also connect to other chapters, brings readers a cast of clients, co-workers, and kooks that are richly described and quite memorable.  Set in times when those lucky enough to have a TV only struggled with choosing from three stations, Bolo’s job as a lowly associate in a law firm takes him around North Carolina to some of the most remote counties, where his greeting could be a sassy secretary -- or a shotgun.  All work and no play makes for a dull lawyer, so be prepared to chuckle as Bolo navigates not only his career but the dangerous waters of meeting and – pun intended – courting eligible bachelorettes.

If the title doesn’t give you enough of a hint that you are in for some fun, then turn a few pages and you’ll know.  Reading Pardon Me for Protruding felt like sitting around the table after a meal and enjoying stories from the good ol’ days.  Author Bolaride Jackson doesn’t take himself too seriously, and even as he explains legal terminology, he never comes off as pompous or superior.  The story was very well written and speaks highly of Jackson’s skill with the pen.  Readers will appreciate the use of innuendo to keep the stories clean and the writing flows like having a comfortable conversation with a true southern gentleman.  Jackson’s humor runs the gambit from the obvious, laugh-out-loud moments, to the more subtle jabs at his profession. For example, Jackson writes, “Like the military, law firms are in constant need of reinforcements. Not because people get killed or wounded, of course, but because lawyers become unproductive by retiring, quitting, or making partner.” Pardon Me for Protruding, with its Reader’s Digest-like, short, clean chapters will delight its readers, who will most certainly pick-up the sequel.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spell Check

Wright, J. (2014). Spell Check. St. George, UT: Heart Stone Press.

YA / Fantasy / Paranormal

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

Be careful what you wish for because wishes can come true! It's Ally Peterson's sixteenth birthday, and as she dangles from a tree -- the victim of a cruel prank -- maybe Ally wishes a little nastiness on bully Lisa and the rest of the cheerleaders, and maybe those wishes come true. Ally soon finds out that it is not coincidence but her family lineage that is making her wishes come true, and that even the most innocent of wishes can have dire consequences. Already Ally's life is complicated with divorced parents, bullying that's lasted for years, an annoying little brother, and a crush on a boy who seems beyond her reach. But careless wishing creates even more complications, and now the stakes are high, Ally's mistakes are many, and time is running out for Ally to master the magic.  Can Ally balance her life with her new powers? 

Wright tells a great story with a unique premise (trolls!!) that manages to hit on a variety of elements that readers will recognize: imperfect families, friendship, finding your strengths, figuring out who you are, falling in love. There was one line I really liked, which could be taken literally within the context of the story but also at a more basic level about humanity:  

People speak of dark magic and light magic, but there is no such thing on either side — there are only people who practice in darkness and people who practice in the light.

Humor really helped carry the story along and when things got intense, the funny chapter titles  served as much needed comic relief.  Excellent secondary characters, like Ally's fabulous, feisty Swedish grandmother Farmor, further enhanced the story and their descriptions and actions made them easily imagined.  

There were so many good messages in the book, and it was refreshingly clean -- Ally had plenty of circumstances where no one would have blamed her for dropping an Fbomb or two, but how wonderfully surprising that there was no profanity, and the romance was sweet and thoughtful (but not at all dull).

Despite the main character being sixteen years old, this book would be great for middle grade readers or older reluctant readers.  The storyline doesn't get bogged down with too many details and the writing is pretty simplistic, yet highly interesting.  By the end of the story, I did feel there were too many people who were supposedly "in the know" and sworn to secrecy, and yeah, I think readers know how that probably would turn-out. And though I was happy that Ally ultimately handled being bullied, the scene itself was somewhat vague and anticlimactic. 

I do have a gripe about the cover (but it didn't affect my review) -- it just doesn't fit.  There are no spell books or fancy form fitting dresses for Ally, and if anything, Farmor mocks the preconceived notions of witches and spells. 

I received this book from Ebooks For Review in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jack the Puddle Jumper

Maddox, T.K. (2014). Jack the Puddle Jumper. Self-published.

Children's Picture Book

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

In Thomas Key Maddox's picture book, Jack the Puddle Jumper, readers are introduced to the peaceful town of Pockinshook, where rebellious young Jack bucks the rules by doing what he loves the most: jumping in puddles. Much to the chagrin of the townspeople, Jack isn't like the other children who are quiet, calm, and neat. No other children join Jack to play, which leaves Jack feeling lonely and discouraged until local scientist, Doctor Calabash, discovers that the town is in dire environmental danger and that Jack just might have the answer to saving it. Will the townspeople believe Doctor Calabash and put their faith in Jack?

This is a terrific story and what is equally impressive is that author Thomas Key Maddox was just ten years old when he penned it. Jack the Puddle Jumper is a fun and imaginative story, written at a level well beyond Maddox's ten years. There is plenty of scientific terminology thrown in, the meanings of which readers will hopefully be encouraged to investigate (and perhaps discover that it is force, not velocity, which equals mass times acceleration). Truly, the book could be used in a science class as a springboard for students to come up with their own theories. The illustrations were colorful and interesting, but they were a little small to see in eBook format and didn't necessarily match-up with the text. Nonetheless, the illustrations will be a big attraction to readers since they were made by children from all around the world. A short explanation at the end of the book, telling how Maddox went about getting and choosing the pictures, would be a great addition to future editions. The book's content will challenge and entertain young readers, and it's likely to inspire young readers to write their own stories and make their own illustrations.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

We Were Kings

Blotta, R. (2014). We Were Kings. Self-published.

Adult / Novella / Realistic Fiction

I gave this book 5 of 5 stars!

“Only when you’re a little lost can you start to find direction.” 

In Rafael Blotta's We Were Kings, Robert Bartholomew doesn’t know he’s lost; he is living his own life as a writer in Guatemala, far from his South Philly upbringing and the family and neighborhood ties he found a little too binding.  Robert has nothing in common with those people, especially his brother who has become a guitar god on the rock scene. Good riddance, Robert tells himself.  He has happily moved beyond his days as Robbie from Gloucester City and has no plans to look back -- that is until the arrival of the invitation to come home for his father's fiftieth birthday party.  Robert begrudgingly finds himself on an airplane back home, then facing his past which, alarmingly, is his present. Robbie soon realizes that families are bonded by things that distance can't break: love, acceptance, and understanding, and perhaps those aren't such bad ties after all. Rafael Blotta tells a poignant story about family and friendship and the perspective on them that comes only with maturity.

Blotta has a real gift for depicting reality, and his writing flows in a natural, not showy way. His characters are fully fleshed-out and easily imagined as people readers have known or met. I appreciated the adjusted phonetic spellings to help the readers "hear" the strange, exclusive Gloucester City accent described as, "the only accent of its kind in the entire world, a strange mix of South Jersey Irish-American descendents [sic] combined with a South Philly Italian intonation, all wrapped together with the slur and mindset of the dockworkers that had first made their homes here over a hundred years ago.” Blotta uses beautiful, descriptive language and also some colorful figurative language that perfectly illustrate his characters. For example, in describing his great-grandmother, he says, “She had a penchant for sprinkling the truth with flavorful bullshit.” This short description speaks volumes of the character, and really illustrates the overall impression of We Were Kings: Rafael Blotta’s story speaks volumes in just a few pages.

Fortunately, the only improvements needed are easily made with another pass by the editor. There are a dozen or so errors, which is too many for a story of this length. They are not game stoppers, but corrections would take the story to the next level of professionalism.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Solace Pill

Werbeloff, J. (2014). The Solace Pill: Giving You the Time You'll Never Have. . . Self-published on Smashwords.

Adult / Dystopian

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars

Giving you the time you'll never have. . . 

**shiver**  In Jason Werbeloff’s The Solace Pill Omnibus Edition, which collectsThe Solace Pill trilogy into one single volume,  readers are taken into a dystopian world where 3D printing has advanced to having the capability of scanning and reprinting humans with whatever modifications they desire. Want to understand quantum physics or have memories of a Caribbean vacation? Reprint yourself. Want to be young and perfectly sculpted? Reprint yourself. Want to be fueled and fully rested without wasting time to eat or sleep? Yep, reprint yourself.  With so much time freed-up and no limits on life expectancy, the world is overpopulated and overworked, and the solutions provided by 3D imprints are beginning to show their imperfections.   Fortunately, there’s a pill for that. The Solace Pill allows users to escape reality for fifteen minutes, but their perception is five hours of relaxation and rejuvenation without the stress of the real world.  But, as is often the case with seemingly perfect worlds, there is a dark side where some people and issues are erased with a push of a button, and other people aren’t who they seem and have hidden motives.  Civilization collapses when tainted pills have disastrous effects of death, destruction, and mayhem. The few who survive without Solace in their system must find a cure for those stuck in the Solace induced worlds, but time and options are running out. 

The premise of The Solace Pill is both fantastic and frighteningly possible.  While many of us can barely wrap our minds about the reality of 3D printing in our world today, certainly there are scientists who are already considering how to take 3D printing to organic levels. Much like today, in the future, people are fascinated by that which they have lost – authentic, real, unadulterated items which they call “tiques.”   I found it very interesting to read and see how the future society, as is typical today, took something good and perverted it: the loopholes were found, the immoral was done to turn a buck, and the humanity was taken out of the human.  And of course, there was economic bias created so that not everyone had equal access to imprinting or the Solace Pills. In this respect, the character of Anders was particularly intriguing as one of the few who worked his way up from nothing, to seemingly having it all, yet craving the old ways. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to know him better, to better understand him and the turning-point of the book.   

Jason Werbeloff didn’t hold back any punches in showing the self-serving, ugliness of people when they are encouraged to be egocentric and the sense of community is lost.  The loathsome Jordan was probably the best written character because he represented the evil of so-called progress, and he was consistently wicked in all three sections.  The character of Sahasra was promising but then got weird and confusing in book two with the introduction without explanation of the elders – I really had no idea what was going on there. For me, there was also confusion with chapters jumping forward and backwards in time and some full scenes being identically repeated – this could be due to the Omnibus edition consolidating three stories, but it was confusing nonetheless.  

Overall, The Solace Pill is a disturbing snapshot of a feasible future, and it was worth the time to read it. Readers be warned, though: it will leave more than a few questions unanswered and situations unexplained, leaving readers feeling foggy. The book includes sexual situations, violence, and profanity.

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite, who provided me a free eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.