Book Reviews – HistoricalTails

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Book Review: “Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys

“Between Shades of Gray,” by Ruta Sepetys has absolutely NOTHING to do with the 50 Shades of Grey series. As a matter of fact, the book is being turned into a movie and they changed the name to “Ashes in the Snow,” so there's no confusion!

This riveting book tells the story of Lina, a 15 year old girl living in Lithuania during World War II. Her life is uneventful until there's a knock on the door and three Soviet officers (NKVD) storm into the apartment. We follow Lina and her family through their trek in Siberia, moving constantly on the whim of the Soviet officers from one camp to another.

Lina learns some powerful lessons all the while trying to stay sane and survive with her mother and brother. She uses her intellect on a number of occasions to help save her family.

Ruta Sepetys spoke at the recent SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. This story is one that Ms. Sepetys heard growing up as it happened to a family member. She does a masterful job writing emotions and turmoil in a story that's very close to her heart. I congratulate her in her efforts and on the movie deal. I'll be sure to see it in the theater!

 

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Book Review: “The Truth about Twinkie Pie,” by Kat Yeh

I saw “The Truth about Twinkie Pie” on the table in the bookstore at the SCBWI conference, but I wasn’t going to buy it. I read the back cover and it really didn’t “speak to me.” But, then I heard the author, Kat Yeh speak. The book was already sold out at the conference so I bought it on Amazon. And, boy I am so glad I did.

“The Truth about Twinkie Pie,” by Kat Yeh is a wonderfully written book about 2 sisters, Gigi and DiDi who try to make it on their own. Their mother died shortly after Gigi was born and they lived with a neighbor friend until they won a million dollars in a cooking contest Then they move to a new town where Didi becomes a hair stylist. She is 9 years older than Gigi and does everything she can to give her smart sister a good education.

Because Gigi was starting a new school, she figured she’d create her own “recipe for success” and the first thing she did was change her name. She also wanted to make friends (she didn’t have any in her old school) and she took some risks in order to do that. The story is told in 1st person from Gigi’s precocious perspective which makes the book all that more intimate. We know what Gigi is feeling and thinking in every step, which I loved.

I also loved Yeh’s recipe theme throughout the book. At the end of almost every chapter, she includs a recipe for the very thing that was described in that chapter. For example, chapter 2 describes Didi and Gigi making Twinkie Pie. The actual recipe for Twinkie Pie is at the end of that chapter. Some of the other recipes included in the book are “The Perfect Kiss,” “The Ol'Switcheroo,” and my favorite, “Recipe to lose 10 pounds.” I didn’t make any of the recipes, but they sure looked good.

Because Gigi is growing up without a mother, she questions who she is and fantasizes about finding her mother and what she would say to her if she did. She comes upon a mystery and starts uncovering the truth about herself.

This is a delightful middle grade novel and leaves you with a good feeling.

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Book Review: “Viva Rose,” by Susan Krawitz

I've started working again with my wonderful editor, Susan Krawitz on my 2nd children's book, “Victoria and Dash Find True Love.” Susan is a great editor and gave my Buzzy book the flow and consistency it needed. She mentioned to me that she wrote a children's book, “Viva Rose,” about a jewish girl from El Paso, Texas. I thought, “My god daughter would love this book!” So I sent it and the following is her review of the book.

This book is wonderful, small summary, NO SPOILERS: Roses brother Abe, left El Paso saying he was moving to live in Brooklyn, but one day Rose discovers the truth on the daily news paper that is titled the “South Western Scorage” and guess who is on the picture in the photo no other than Abe!!!! Of course Rose is very annoyed about this lie he told his family. She is determined to find him!! This book is a great read and I would recommend it 100% this is by far one of the best books I have ever read!! Love this book ???? !!!! – Windle, 12 years old

Do you have a great children's book you've recently read and would like to review? Contact me for more information.

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Book Review: “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio

"Wonder," by R.J. PalacioWOW! I absolutely love “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio!! I read it in 3 days, thinking about the main character and wondering what will happen to him. R.J. Palacio (R.J.) writes beautifully and ties up everything in the end.

“Wonder” is about a 10 year old boy, August or Auggie who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes facial deformities. He's been homeschooled his entire life and his parents decide he needs to start school. He's afraid to start school, with new people who will stare at him. He only wants to be viewed as an “ordinary kid.”

R.J. writes the book in 1st person which gives the reader an intimate view of what Auggie is thinking and how he's feeling. I loved watching his personality develop, how he handles people's reactions to his face and growing as a person. The chapters are short and there are eight parts to the book, each part is written in the 1st person by another character. I loved how R.J. provides insight into the characters by structuring her book in this manner.

R.J. weaves a powerful story about courage, strength and kindness. She writes about one of Auggie's teacher's homework assignment, “precepts,” which are monthly quotes to live by. As homework, each student is expected to write what the month's precept means to them. This carries her theme beautifully and adds a lot depth into the story.

As a writer, I learned a lot from R.J. She had an idea for the story, did a lot of research into the abnormality and mutation, connected herself with various nonprofits and offers a solid lessons for all to live by.

I recommend this book to EVERYONE! I know most adults don't read middle grade novels, but this book is a MUST. Congrats to R.J. for setting the bar high for fellow writers.

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Book Review: “All Four Stars,” by Tara Dairman

I love writing book reviews. I also love cooking and raised a son who loves cooking, so much in fact that he became a chef! So when a friend of mine recommended a children's fiction chapter book about a girl and cooking, I ordered it from Amazon right there amidst my appetizer at dinner!

“All Four Stars,” by Tara Dairman is the first in a series about Gladys Gatsby, an 11-year old who loves cooking and writing and wants to become a food critic. The problem is her parents don't understand food, cooking or healthy eating and have banned her from cooking in the kitchen. Gladys is distraught but soon finds herself on a culinary adventure that brings her new friendships, tastes and fun in her fictional home town on Long Island, NY.

Ms. Dairman uses Gladys' voice to tell the story and boy, did she get an 11-year olds voice right down to the “fudge.” Her descriptive writing makes your mouth water while reading about the sites, smells and tastes in Gladys' life. I cared about Gladys and her dilemma, and wanted to keep reading to find out what happens.

If you have an aspiring chef in the house, boy or girl, between the ages 8 and 11, this book is one not to be missed!

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A Couple of Middle Grade Novels Reviewed

I finished 2 great Middle grade novels recently and I wanted to review them for you. So here are the Middle grade novels reviewed.

The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford

Middle grade novels reviewed, historical fiction, This middle grade novel takes place during the War of 1812, between the US and Great Britain. The heroine, Lucy Bluecrowne was raised on the sea by her father, Captain Bluecrowne and captain of the Left Handed Fate. Hired by Max Ault, they are on a mission to capture the pieces of an ancient engine renown as a weapon of war. But there's other people in other countries who also want to find the hidden items to make the engine themselves. 

The tale woven by author Kate Milford is one of fantasy, adventure, daring and courage. This book is one of a series by Ms. Milford, the others I haven't read. I was drawn to the book because of the title and the historical reference. I'm left handed myself and was intrigued by the references to the superstitions held in that day by sea going workers. 

The book kept me interested the entire read. Many times I was afraid for the main characters as I got to know them and saw them in danger. As I'm not very sea going myself, some of the terminology was beyond my comprehension but I was still interested in the story. 

You and/or your child will love this book if you like historical fiction, adventure and fantasy. It's that all rolled into one. A little bit of magic and mysticism helped move the plot along. 

A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins

Middle Grade Novels reviewedLast month, I did a reading at my kids' elementary school. I hadn't been back in many years and there was a new Librarian there, Carter Higgins. When she told me that she had her first novel coming out at the end of that month, I immediately pre-ordered it on Amazon.

“A Rambler Steals Home” is the story of a girl, Derby Clark who lives with her father and younger brother in an RV and spends every summer in a town called Ridge Creek (Virginia) grilling hamburgers after the local minor league baseball game. It's a sweet story with a very distinctive voice. Derby's character is deeply written and show up in her accent, her thinking and her actions. Higgins is a talented writer and portrays Derby's summer filled with traditions, old and new friends, sadness and lessons learned.

I got to know each character's personality, their quirks and their voice and you get to know the relationships between each character. I cared about each one and was intrigued as to how the story would end.

You and/or your child will love this book if you like a female heroine, baseball and good writing.

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I’ve been waiting for reviews and now Buzzy has received 5 stars!

Buzzy and Thomas Move into the President's House with rating seal, book reviewsI've been very busy sending out print copies and download links to various reviewers. I'm getting new reviews every day, but last night (maybe it was a New Year's Eve present), I received an email from ReadersFavorite.com that my review was ready.

Today, I logged into my author account and there was a 5 star review! Here is a quote from the review:

“The story is delightful…The illustrations are lively and colorful and they breathe life into the characters and give the story a good pace and movement. The book is informative and educational as it tells readers a bit about the history of the United States and teaches them new words. The book is a good bedtime storybook for parents and grandparents and can be used for read aloud sessions in classrooms and school libraries. Buzzy’s fear of moving to a new place and missing her friends is palpable and readers can connect well with those emotions.”

How fabulous is this review! But, best of all, I'm now able to download a special 5 star seal from ReadersFavorite.com! So here it is, placed on the cover of my book.

I have some other reviews on Amazon as well. If you like the book, please write a review on Amazon, ReadersFavorite.com and Goodreads. Thanks!

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2016 Summer Reading Lists

2016 Kid's Summer Reading ListWelcome to summer! Now that school is out, summer is the perfect time for kids to read for fun! Personally, I'm reading, “The War that Saved my Life,” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It's a historical fiction novel about a 10 year old crippled girl during World War II whose “courage and compassion carry far more power than her disability.” You can buy it from Amazon by clicking the image.

I've searched the web and came up with some reading lists you can browse.

 

  1. SCBWI – the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 2016 Summer Reading List
  2. Goodreads – Summer Reading for Kids
  3. ALSC – Association for Library Service to Children's 2016 Summer Reading List
  4. Scholastic – Keep Kids Reading All Summer Long!
  5. Barnes and Noble- Enter your child in their Summer Reading Triathlon
  6. Reading Rockets- Summer Reading Guide 2016
  7. Education World – Summer Reading

Enjoy your summer! I can't wait to hear about your child's favorite books!

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Book Review: “Ben and Me,” by Robert Lawson

While doing research for possible historical fiction stories involving animals, I came across this great book, “Ben and Me,” written and illustrated by Robert Lawson. This 114 page chapter book was originally published in 1939. Robert Lawson was born in 1892 and was the recipient of both the prestigious Caldecott and Newberry awards. As well as writing and illustrating his own books, he also illustrated books for a number of different authors, including Richard and Florence Atwater, authors of “Mr. Popper's Penguins.”

“Ben and Me” is about Benjamin Franklin as told by his mouse, Amos. He starts the book explaining that Amos's manuscript came to him by an “architect friend.” The friend had been working on an old home in Philadelphia and discovered a tiny room “beneath a bedroom hearthstone.” The room contained “small articles of furniture, all of the Colonial Period,” and in the desk was a”manuscript book, the leaves of which, about the size of postage stamps, were covered with minute writing.” Such a cute idea for telling the story of a famous person through the eyes of an animal!

Lawson details the story of the mouse, Amos, his childhood, parents and many siblings and how Amos found his way to Benjamin Franklin's home. Of course the mouse could talk and would freely give Ben advice every day. Mr Franklin was very accomplished and Lawson describes these accomplishments in separate chapters. Amos claimed many of Ben's inventions as his own idea and made fun of the fact that Ben thought that he had discovered them!

Benjamin wouldn't travel without Amos, so he joined him in France. He hid in a special cozy “nest” in Ben's hat, making it very easy to whisper in his ear! Amos met a “royal” mouse who had been exiled from the castle. She implored him to help her return to her family and Amos couldn't resist. A revolution amongst the French mouse population was born!

This book is perfect for children aged 6-9 who can read by themselves or with help from an adult. To buy the book, click on the Amazon link.

I am giving away my hardback copy of the book. If you would like to be entered into the contest, please leave me a comment describing your favorite childhood book.

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“All the Answers” by Kate Messner

magic, breast cancer

In researching books about teens that have a mom with breast cancer, I came across the book, “All the Answers,” by Kate Messner. The book is about Ava, a 12 year old girl who finds a magic pencil. The pencil can whisper the answer to Ava's factual question. The pencil states that she can only answer a factual question as people have free will and to those questions, she doesn't have an answer. She also cannot foretell the future. Ava had to learn to phrase her questions in just the right way in order to get an answer. At first, she uses the pencil to benefit herself and her friend, Sophie. But slowly they learn that they can help other people by knowing certain things.

As I read, all the characters were very defined, Ava is afraid of everything and her fear causes her to have high anxiety. Ava's best friend, Sophie, is high strung but somehow keeps Ava down to earth. Ava's parents hold opposite political views which cause arguments during a presidential campaign. Ava has a very smart older brother and an annoying little sister.

All the characters make for a charming story. Although minor, each character has their own conflict, which was resolved at the end of the book.  The breast cancer part didn't come into the story until 2/3 through the book, but was surprised at my reaction that it wasn't a big part of the story. When I had searched on “breast cancer and teens,” I was expecting a novel that wrapped around the conflict of breast cancer. What I learned, though is that breast cancer is not a conflict. The conflict came about in Ava's own fear and worry.

Overall, it's a magical story that's definitely worth the read. To learn more about the author, Kate Messner, click here. To buy the book, please click on the link on the right side of the page.

Enjoy reading and let me know what you think!

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