Review: The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman

This is a charming story about Samantha moving back home to small town Michigan from her temporary pastry chef stint in NYC. Though her big city boss was a total jerk, Samantha did leave behind good friends and big dreams.

She didn’t realize that her dreams could be fulfilled in Michigan if she’d only give it a chance. Back at her family’s orchard, Samantha spent time with her mom and grandmother, finding out little by little just how special the family recipe box was. I loved how her two worlds collided via the recipe box, giving Samantha the opportunity of a lifetime – if she decided to take it.

I loved the orchard setting, the convivial relationships among the women, persistent Angelo, and that awesome recipe box. I couldn’t quite identify with Samantha’s personal struggles, and the story was fairly predictable, but in the end I was satisfied — much like I am when hearing the expected crunch of an apple. All good stuff.

-calliope

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Review: Gregor the Underland Chronicles

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As a teacher, I’m often asked for kids’ book recommendations.  And I’m always looking for great books to offer to kids.  One series that always gets top mention is the Gregor Chronicles.

Written by Suzanne Collins of The Hunger Games fame, this is a milder, gentler series for younger readers not quite ready for that world.  With Gregor as our hero, we are taken to a world hidden deep beneath the streets of New York City.  His adventures bring him into contact with giant rats, bats, and roaches among others.  There are legends to be followed, and destinies to be realized.

It’s not without violence, however, as there are deaths along the way.  However, I was able to read and recommend this series to second graders with no hesitation. And older readers have no fear. This is still one of my favorites to read MYSELF.

The boxed set makes an excellent gift and truly should only be bought that way as eager eyes are sure to zip through the first volume and immediately look for the next.  Happy reading!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Gregor the Underland Chronicles

Review: The Memory of Things by Gail Polisner

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For people over a certain age, it’s hard to remember a time when September 11 wasn’t part of our shared history. We’ll never forget where we were that fateful Tuesday morning fifteen years ago. But for younger people, it’s been relegated to an event found in history books. That’s why books like this one are so important.

When that first plane hit, Kyle was sitting in class just like any normal teenager. It soon become clear, however, that this was more than just an accident. Released from school, making his way home across the Brooklyn Bridge, he comes across something. At first glance, a bird. But upon closer inspection, a girl covered in ash and wearing a pair of feathery wings. And was she trying to jump off the bridge? Nevertheless, he saves her from herself, from the crowd of people walking across the bridge, from the chaos that ensued in those first days.

When he gets home, he realizes that she has no idea who she is and no memory of what happened. So this becomes his focus while at the same time trying to manage in such a time of tragedy. His mom and sister are stuck on the west coast. He doesn’t know where his police officer dad is or if he’s even still alive. And his Uncle Matt needs constant care after a tragic accident months ago. All this falls on Kyle’s young shoulders.

This is such a beautifully written story. Kyle’s story is our main one, with the girl’s voice told in poetic bits and pieces interspersed throughout. There’s a lot going on-fear of the unknown, a confusing teen romance, family dynamics, and just pure resilience. An excellent pick for both young and old!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The Memory of Things

Review: How Many Letters Are In Goodbye? by Yvonne Cassidy

9780738747453I love stories told in alternate writing styles. When you read as much and for as many years as I have, you gotta mix things up from time to time! Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it does. In this case, it’s a bit of the first but much of the latter.

Rhea’s had a rough life by anyone’s standards. Her mom dies before she can hardly remember her, a tragic accident causes the loss of her arm, her dad drinks too much, she’s struggling with her sexual identity…the list goes on and on. When her dad dies and she’s sent to live with an aunt she hardly knows, it’s just too much. So she runs away, fleeing to New York City? Why New York? Because that’s where she feels closest to her mother, where she can immerse herself in her mom’s past as she tries to come to grips with her loss.

She copes by writing letters to her mom. Letters that she’ll never send, of course. Letters that she’s been writing since she was a little girl, way before her life went so far off course. She writes about her grief over her dad’s death. She writes about her confusion and pain over being gay. She writes about living on the streets and all that encompasses. And as she digs deeper into her mom’s past, she writes about buried secrets from long ago.

This is how the story is told. Each chapter is a letter in itself. It works for the most part. The story is easy to follow, and the narrative of Rhea’s letters are plausible and heart-tugging at the same time. The only fault I can find is that, towards the end, they seem to be a bit long-winded and drawn out more than is necessary. But still, a great story!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: How Many Letters Are In Goodbye?

Review: Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

Auntie_ClausIn the spirit of the holidays, one of my absolute favorite books to share with young children is the delightful story of Auntie Claus.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  But the youngest readers won’t get it right away, keeping the magic going until almost the very end.

Little Sophie has always adored her glamorous but eccentric aunt. There’s just something not quite right about the woman known as Auntie Claus.  Most intriguing to young Sophie is her aunt’s annual “business trip” right around Christmas every year.  When Sophie’s curiosity gets the best of her, she finds herself in for the trip of her life.  Along the way, though, she discovers more than she bargained for.  Most importantly, she finds out what the true meaning of Christmas is.

Kids will enjoy the magic of the story, and the trip to the North Pole is nothing short of amazing.  Older readers will love the puns and references to Christmas sprinkled throughout the story.   Add this one to your shopping list!

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Auntie Claus deluxe edition

Review: Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale

  
This book is EXACTLY WHY I put so much stock in endings. For example, I loved Outlander but hated the ending. In fact, the ending RUINED the whole book for me. 

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, however, had such a lovely ending that it redeemed a book I almost gave 2 stars. That’s me being honest, not mean! 

Christmas Wishes started out slow, but I’m a sucker for a merry Christmas story, so I marched on. The middle was more interesting, but also contrived. I mean, how many “accidental” ways are we going to get Nick and Abbey in the same room? 

And then came the last third of the book. The third where I was so invested I could feel the scarf on Abbey’s neck, I could hear Nick’s mom’s crazy voice, I could see the excitement in Max’s eyes. I cried, people. Cried!!! 

So, ultimately, I’m glad I read Christmas Wishes. Hale wrote a wonderful hero in Nick, and gave him realistic charm. Abbey being a nurse / designer was a fresh take on the young-woman-figuring-out-life trope. Most importantly for me: a happily ever after in the best way possible. 

-calliope

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Review: One Wish in Manhattan by Mandy Baggot

  
I know it’s still October, but the cold New England weather has me thinking of snowflakes and hot cocoa. And Christmas stories! 

One Wish started out slow, which annoyed me. However, the author redeemed herself with lovable characters, a gala to die for, and a romance that ended the happily-est ever after, EVER!   

My favorite part of the book was watching Hayley plan the gala. She was in her element, she encouraged her daughter to help, and she showed such graciousness working with Cynthia. 

Mandy Baggot successfully wrote in characters that aren’t in most romances – and she gave them substantial roles: a brother, a daughter, a CEO who ISN’T a jerk, and the CEO’s mom who is just lovely. 

The story includes a heartwarming message about love and loss, and ways to move forward without leaving the memories behind. 

Uplifting for sure, and just Christmassy enough. 🙂

-calliope

Buy ONE WISH IN MANHATTAN – just 99¢!!!