The Last Laugh by Mindy McGinnis

5 stars YA Suspense

It went off the rails pretty quickly!  I suggest that you read the first book in this series before you tackle this book, as you’ll want to enjoy this ride to the fullest effect.  There was quite a bit of drama amongst the characters even before this book began.  As things started to heat up, I had a hard time putting this book down.  Taking off right where the previous book left off, Mindy’s not just wrapping things up inside this book, Mindy begins by stoking up the fire.  Into this dark storyline, I met some fantastic characters that I didn’t trust but they fit perfectly inside this story.  Thanks, Mindy, for that fantastic ending.  

Yonder by Ali Standish

5 stars Historical Fiction Middle School

Jack was a hero.  Jack jumped into the racing floodwaters and rescued the two girls from downing while the rest of the congregation stared as the raging waters carried the girls away.  If you ask Jack though, he’ll tell you a different story as Jack doesn’t want the attention and the glory. Jack just wants to be Jack.  Jack is street smart which is working out for him but the truancy officer thinks Jack needs to be book smart too so he hunts Jack down and tries to make him attend school.  Jack doesn’t learn much from the books in school but he does learn about the individuals inside the building. 

Danny is the book’s narrator and he attends school with Jack.   Like Jack, Danny also delivers the newspapers around town while Danny’s mother keeps the newspaper running.  Danny’s mother has an important job and I liked that she was honest with her son as this helps Danny.  It’s June of 1943, the war is raging and segregation is occurring.  Danny’s father has enlisted while Jack’s father has returned home from the war, bringing home with him parts of the war which overshadow his life.  Two teen boys: they’re the same, yet they’re different. 

I liked the relationship of Danny and Jack.  They could be themselves and they enjoyed being around each other.  They liked to have fun together and they were able to talk freely without worrying about what they were saying.  When Lou showed up, they tried to include her.  Danny had led a sheltered life but when his eyes were opened, we got to see his world through his eyes now. 

There seems to be some mysteries popping up in the book when Jack disappears and Danny takes it upon himself to find him.  Lou has a different mystery that she wants to solve.  I feel that Jack’s disappearance is based on Jack’s solving his own mystery and perhaps, Jack will never find him.  Will anyone solve their mystery?  I liked how Danny started to take an interest in the war besides just collecting his scrap metal for school.  Jack feels comfortable around Danny and talks to him about some personal issues.  I loved hearing the excitement in Jack’s voice as he talked about and wondered about Jack’s disappearance.  

This is such a fantastic book.  A book about war, bullying, friendship, family, and love.   

The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

5 stars Fiction Fantasy

I was totally sucked into this short book as a fifteen-year-old girl and her brother, Michael dealt with their mother and The Crane.  I thought at first that The Crane was a metaphor for something else; perhaps a tall person, or someone who tried to take over (casted shadows over them) but when I started reading about wings and feathers and how this bird “nipped the well behind her collarbone, making a bright spot of blood,” I was startled! Their mom was in love with a bird!  How can someone, a human, actually have a relationship with a crane?  Was she seriously going to continue with this relationship?

The crane wore a hat, shoes, spectacles and he was holding his broken arm which had been tended to by their mother, when she introduced him to her children. Their mother was an artist, so usual behaviors around the house are not that uncommon but this Crane was pushing the limit.  The Crane made himself right at home, at their house.  Their mother seemed so calm about this new arrangement, yet the children were far from recognizing that this new male in the home, would now be their new father.  The children didn’t want another father and they definitely didn’t want the Crane to fill that position.  The Crane and mother were inseparable and the feathers were flying, literally.  Mother tries to cover up her bruises and deep cuts, but they’re seen.  She calls them paper cuts when her daughter draws attention to them and tries to dodge the conversation.  Mother has her blinders on but her children see everything that’s happening.  As the daughter tells me stories of their families past, I see mother’s relationship with her husband when he was still alive and what their family was like.

As an artist, mother’s studio was out in the barn.  Like now, there were days that mother would vanish inside the barn all day.  As a weaver, mother’s work was considered magical as she created pictures and stories at her loom where she worked weaving a variety of items into her prints.  It’s a good thing that the siblings have a strong, supportive relationship with one another because when their mother would get wrapped up inside her work, everything else seizes to exist around her.  Like before, mother is spending most of her time out in her studio.  Mother’s obsession is twofold: her work and The Crane.  As mother and the Crane disappear into the studio, the children must tend to themselves. 

Imagine what it would be like to have a crane come into your home.  His body size, his appetite, and his behavior are just a few of the things that you’d have to consider.  The Crane brought with him some brand new issues and considerations that would otherwise seem strange and unnecessary to their home which the children noticed.  The children wanted him gone but their determined mother said he was staying.  How would this book play out?  I had to know why?  Why him? Why a Crane?  Why was she working so secretly in her studio?  Why would she do this to her children?  A great book that fascinated me and kept me captivated until I closed the last page.  5 stars.      

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

3.5 stars Children’s

I’m on the fence on this one.  This is a sweet, slow story which might not capture the attention of some children (like my young grandchildren) but I liked that it actually shows how animals live in winter.  This might be a good picture book for older readers who are looking for information on animals or a good bedtime story but my little readers didn’t care for it when I read it to them.

The story is told from the point of view of a young boy who is snow-skiing with his father out on the fresh-fallen snow.  Quietly they are alone, using hand-poles and navigating around trees and up and down hillsides throughout the story.  The story begins when the boy notices a squirrel scamper by and then, it vanishes.  The boy asks his father, “Where did it go?”  The story takes off as the father explains all the different wildlife that is hiding under and around the snowy area.

There are lots of animals included in this story: from the owls on the branches which the boy can see, to the hidden tiny shrews and voles in the chilly tunnels under his feet, and the fat bullfrogs sleeping under the snow, the duo continues on their journey through the snow.  They’re thinking about all the creatures that are around them in this white landscape.  You’ll need to stop and look at the illustrations in this book as many of the pages, the illustrator has layered the landscape so the reader can see the chipmunk under the snow with his nuts and leaves, the queen bee safely sleeping under the roots of an tree, and the mice cuddling up together to stay warm (just a few of the examples).  While not a bright and colorful book, the book hues take on the warmth of the story and the quietness of the snowy day.  3.5 stars

Paradise Sands by Levi Pinfold

5+ stars Children’s

Cover Love!  I fell in love with the cover of this book while browsing the new picture books at my library.  As I thumbed through the book, I knew I had to read it as the illustrations were just spectacular!  I flipped to the back of the book, to read the author’s bio and then, I headed to my library’s website and placed all of the author’s books that they had on hold.  Levi’s debut picture book Django was the Winner of the Book Trust Best New Illustrator Award and her other book, Black Dog also won a different award.  I think Paradise Sands should also win an award as the illustrations are magnificent!  Great artist detail and I loved how the author combined real world with fantasy to create such stunning artwork.  Ok, on with the book.

The story is labeled, “A Story of Enchantment” and it definitely is.  A girl is taking a car trip with her three brothers. From the faces on the children and the tone of the book, this is a serious trip.  The siblings are visiting their mother.  Sister wants to take their mother flowers so Bill pulls the car over and they all get out. 

In the desert, this is a destination that they all recall, there’s white roses in Teller’s Hollow and they’ll take them.  I liked how the text and illustration came together to show the family’s relationship.  On foot, the four siblings climb the sandhills and rocky hills to gather flowers on this deserted rocky ledge.  They spot a building in the distant.  Sister wants to continue on their journey, they need to go see their mother while the brothers want to quench their thirst from the building.  The brother’s thirst wins and they travel toward the building. Sister refuses to get a drink from the fountain but she watches as they do.  They can’t leave now, the brothers feel the building calling them to enter, a feeling the boys can’t deny.  Sister is on edge, memories from her mother flood her head and she knows they should be leaving.  Her brothers seem to have forgotten about their original plans as they are now charmed by the paradise that this building is providing them.     

It seems a bit odd why Sister is not behaving like her siblings in the building and why do mother’s comments pop into her head.  Is there something more sinister happening here?  When Sister is approached by the Teller, he tries to understand why she’s not accepting this “wonderful, safe place” that he’s offering them. 

She tries to explain yet the Teller wants to strike up a deal with her.  As she accepts this deal, I wonder what the Teller was capable of doing?  Was Sister strong enough for this deal?  Will they see their mother, wherever she was?

The illustrations inside this book were phenomenal!  The way she captures the characters on the page was just remarkable and bringing in the element of fantasy, I was whisked away to where anything was possible.  The story comes full circle and I had to start the book over again to experience the joy all over again.  What an experience!  I need to share this book with everyone I know!  So yes, definitely pick this book up, I highly recommend it.  Pick it up for yourself and then, share it with everyone that you know.  I can’t wait to read the author’s other books! 5+ stars

Dementia in Lewy Body and Parkinson’s Disease Patients: Partnering with Your Doctor to Get the Most from Your Medications by J. Eric Ahlskog

2 stars Nonfiction

I have a family member who has been recently diagnosed with Lewy Bodies Dementia so I was pretty excited to find this book at the library.  I was hoping for some good information that I could use and according to the synopsis, Eric with 30 years of experience, would provide that for me.   He would “arm patients and families with crucial information that would enable them to work in tandem with their doctors.”  He would, “clearly explain all aspects of these disorders, their causes, symptoms, most effective drug treatments, proper doses, and which treatments to avoid.”  He’d also discuss complications from these disorders, give us choices of medications available, their side effects, and interactions.  Well, I found some of this information to be correct.

If you want to read about medications, this book is for you.  That is what the bulk of this book is about: medications.  I thought it started out okay as it was discussing different aspects of the disease and then, the conversation switched to medication and it stayed on this forever.  The book talks about medication- all aspects of medications.  The author states at the beginning of the book, that you don’t need to read it like a typical book but that you can jump around.  I started reading from the beginning but when it started to talk endlessly about medications, I started to skip sections.  I would read a bit out of each section but it was about medications, how medications interacted with other medications, or something along this line.  When there was a topic that I might be interested in, say hallucinations, I would dig in only to find, “hallucinations are primarily due to the disease itself: however, certain drugs can exacerbate this problem.”   Then, that section would talk about clinical trials, drugs, and then……finally, “they may be caused by sleep deprivation or a urinary infection.”  Finally, a bit of information that doesn’t talk about drugs.  If I wanted more information about hallucinations, I was referred to a different chapter.  That other chapter was only 4.5 pages long and it too talked about medications.  Over half of its pages were about medications.    

I didn’t want a book about medications, I understand that it’s part of these diseases but to spend the majority of this book discussing them, it was too much.  I also realize that there’s no treatment but drugs can’t be the only answer. This book was a big disappointment to me.   2 stars

A Beginner’s Guide to Knitting: A Complete Step-by-Step Course by Tracey Lord

5 stars Nonfiction

I want this book!  I have been wanting to learn how to knit and crochet so when I saw this book at the library, I grabbed it.  I’ve heard that you can teach yourself this at home and since I’m a beginner, here’s my sign.  Between books and online videos, I figured that I could be successful.  I’ve had a difficult time attending class while I learn something new, in the past.  I get anxious, confused, and stressed about the process and I feel myself tuning out.  If I can get some knowledge about knitting from this book and online, perhaps I could take a class in the future and strength my skills. 

I like that this book is oversized so I can spread the book open and see clearly what each page is all about.  The book clearly understands me as it seems to have everything covered from what to look for in yarns, needles, reading patterns, what other accessories I might need, how to even go about starting a project and how to make my project presentable.  I like that the book presents projects for you to complete too. 

The book starts with simple easy projects and progresses to more complex ones.  So, from making a basic knit stitch, to making a slouch beanie hat, to knitting some baby shoes, this book will help me along the way. I know absolutely nothing about knitting except that I’ll need some knitting needles and yarn.  I like that this book explains everything in simple terms and includes lots of detail.  I had no idea that there were 6 different weights of yarn and the book even tells me what to look for in yarn and what yarn to use for what project.  I’ve heard of the terms “casting on” and “casting off” but what they are I had no idea.  The book explains it and shows me how to do it with step-by-step illustrations.

There’s even information on how to read a pattern.  I do think that there are some workshops (projects) in this book that I don’t really want to complete so we shall see if I attempt them but I like that they are there for me.  These “workshops” (projects) build upon one another, getting more difficult as you progress through the book.   I’ll learn at least one new skill as I create something new in each workshop with their detailed directions and illustrations.  Yep, this book is just what I need to get me knitting.   It’s a 5-star book for me.

The Windeby Puzzle by Lois Lowry

5 + stars Middle School/YA

Wowza! I read this book on a car trip and well, my husband heard it secondhand as I couldn’t stop talking about it.  Lois Lowry is one of my all-time favorite authors and she really had me along for the ride on this one.  I was thinking more of a young children’s novel when I originally picked this one up but it turned into quite a tale for all ages.  Based on a true account, this story was such an enjoyable story.

I was first whisked away to Germany in the middle of 1952 when I opened this book for a group of workers were working in a bog, digging up some peat.  What?  Lois went into a discussion about these words which seemed foreign to me: peat and bog.   Back in the day, this area sounded like a spooky area with some hidden dangers which could have been fun depending on the individual.   While the workers were digging, they discovered some bones.  Animal bones?  No, human.  This was not something for the police but it was a human body that had been buried in the bog.  Come to find out, over the years, there have been hundreds of bodies that have been found buried in bogs.   This was crazy! 

The one that they discovered that day was a young child that they believed to be a female.  They found some interesting traits on her body which I’ll let you can read about but yep, I totally intrigued about bog bodies and how this this body in Germany was going to be related to the story I had in my hand.  Scientists had some theories as to why this young girl died in the bog, at the age of thirteen which I found very interesting. Actually, I found all this information about the bog very interesting and now, I was interested in these bog bodies.  Giving this girl a name, which they do to all bog bodies, Windeby Girl was born.  

Lois was also intrigued with Windeby Girl and she decided to create a story about her.  With her research in hand, Lois constructed a story about a girl named Estrild who became just as real to Lois as the bog girl was that the workers discovered.  Lois wanted to recreate what she thought her life was like before she ended up in the bog. Using research and her creativity, Lois weaves a story about Estrild, a girl whose death still remains a mystery. 

Lois breaks down the book into chapters, five to be exact.  There is History (where this story comes from), Estrild’s Story, History (Lois takes her story and relates that to the history of the Windeby Girl), Varick’s Story (Estrild’s best friend in the book), and History (Lois thoughts and more history about this discovery).  Each chapter begins with some black-n-white illustrations, a central theme running through them. 

Estrild wants to be a warrior. She doesn’t want to follow in the footsteps of the women before her, she wants more.  The males were the individuals who were celebrated and rewarded in their community for who they were.  The females on the other hand, Estrild noticed, grew tired and worn.  Women worked until their bodies could take no more and for what reason?  Estrild wanted to change all that, she wanted to give women an option. 

Varick is Estrild’s best friend.  From a young age, Estrild noticed how special he was and their friendship grew over the years.  Varick has been on his own since he was very young and because of his health, he will not be able to carry a weapon like Estrild hopes to do.  What will happen to Varick, I don’t know but I worry about him as the days pass.  Estrild knows that Varick knows how to become a warrior and she asks for his help.  Early morning sessions has Varick assisting Estrild in the ways of the warrior.  I enjoyed these secret meeting.  She’s determined to learn and be successful and he’s aiding her although, he knows how wrong it is.  The Councilor’s will call forward each new warrior at the spring ceremony and this is the day that Estrild is looking forward to.

It’s the spring ceremony and Estrild is standing amongst the young boys waiting for her name to be called.  The anticipation is building and I’m just waiting for something dramatic to occur.  Estrild wasn’t prepared for what happens next and neither was I but Estrild must act quickly to try and get control of the situation.  Estrild, oh girl……I don’t know if you’re this strong?!?  I was enjoying Estrild’s and Varick’s relationship and I wasn’t looking forward to the day Estrild would try to make a name for herself.   There is no going back and now, everything has changed.  There are more twists to the story and what a fantastic ending to this book, amazing!!   5+ stars!!!

The Berenstain Bears Meet the Easter Bunny by Mike Berenstain

2 stars Children’s Level 1 Reader

I was looking forward to reading this book with my grandsons but I think we all felt disappointed in the story.   I was confused with the whole story and I thought the Berenstain Bears had better storylines than this.  My grandson’s (ages 3 and 3.5) read it with me a few times and boy, they had some questions.  They wanted to know why the Easter Bunny didn’t come the first time, where the bunnies came from when the Easter Bunny needed help, and where the bunnies were taking the candy at the end of the story.   From reading the story and the looking at the illustrations, I had no idea so we just came up with some answers together.   

The story is about Easter, a holiday that the Berenstain Family loves.   It’s Easter morning and the family can’t find any Easter eggs.   They hunt around the house and no one can find any traces that the Easter Bunny has been there.  That’s ok!  Papa Bear will dress up like the Easter Bunny and hide the eggs.  If only, it was that easy.

Papa Bear tries but he can’t take the place of the Easter Bunny so the family takes off to search for the actual Easter Bunny.   They locate his house and each of the children tell him that they need him, in their own way.   Why he didn’t come earlier, I have no idea.  He must act quickly if he’s going to try to save this Easter.

My older children grew up reading the Berenstain Bears so I was excited to start my grandchildren on them but this book fell short on my expectations.  I remember reading stories to my own children and they had life lessons or principles in them.  I still have all their original books.  I felt this book was self-centered.  I love Easter, I love candy and eggs.  I didn’t get any so someone get some for me.  Daddy tried but he didn’t do a good enough job so I’m still not happy.  Find the Easter Bunny and tell him I need him to get me some candy and eggs.  He worked hard.  I got my candy and eggs and now, I am happy.   That’s just my opinion but what about individuals who didn’t get any Easter candy?  Why didn’t the Easter Bunny come earlier?  Did he oversleep?  Could they have brought something for the Easter Bunny – a carrot, a scooter so he can make faster deliveries?  Not a good fit for me  2 stars

Peppa’s New Friend adapted by Michael Petranek

4 stars Children’s Level 1 Reader

After reading this title with my grandson’s,  I realize that it’s just like the video.  It’s a great, little story staring Peppa and her friends.

While Peppa and her friends are at school, they get a visitor.  Everyone is excited to meet this new individual.  If they enjoy their day at school, they will be joining Peppa and her friends every day.  Mandy Mouse fits right in with everyone at school and her day is going great.  Having to use a wheelchair,  Mandy Mouse is used to her own independence but sometimes, it’s nice to have a friend along for the ride.  Will Mandy Mouse decide she wants to be a part of Madame Gazelle’s classroom? 

The illustrations are bright and bold which look great on the glossy pages.  The black simple text font is easy to read and reads like a Level 1 book.   Great book. 4 stars