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Sandy

My Never Ending List

I read almost every genre & I enjoy venturing into unfamiliar territory. As a library volunteer, I'm constantly bringing home novels. Being a substitute teacher, I read lots of YA & children's books.  

Mascot

Mascot - Antony John
I loved this book! There is so many reasons why I loved it and those reasons kept mounting as I read it. I’m only sorry that it took me a while to find this book and now, I’m wondering what else this author wrote that I should be reading.
 
In the beginning pages of Mascot, you will meet Noah who is adjusting to life in a wheelchair. Noah was with his father in a car accident, were his father was pronounced dead and now, Noah is a paraplegic.
 
From his tone, Noah isn’t happy with the way his life is headed. During his weekly physical therapy sessions, Noah’s passive/negative remarks have him moving nowhere, whereas another patient in the room, who Noah has been watching, is slowly making progress. His former teammates taunt and bully him, every chance that they get. The pitcher, once his close friend is the leader in this cruel act. Once a star catcher on the school’s baseball team, Noah can’t use his legs anymore. With his father gone, he must rely on his mother for everything and the way things are going, Noah feels this might be a long time.
 
When Ruben enters the picture, this book just blew up. Ruben cracked me up! Ruben, a.k.a Double Wide or Dee-Dub, arrives in his true form. When he was first introduced to the class, I had many thoughts going through my head as Dee Dub basically says the honest truth without any filters. Like Noah thought, Dee-Dub was crazy or a total genius that knows that being a new kid he can get away with anything. I think he was a little bit of both.
 
Ruben ends up sitting next to Noah and they form a friendship. Ruben is now associated with Noah which gets the attention of everyone especially the baseball team. I wondered how Ruben would handle the harassment now that he was a part of it. Noah and Ruben were now a pair but could they do anything against a team? We meet Alyssa, who is a friend of Noah’s. I thought she was one tough girl. Noah needed to start hanging around her more as she would teach him something, for she was not taking any gruff from anyone.
 
Ruben was not afraid of speaking his mind and now, Noah finally has someone to talk to. Ruben helps us, as readers, get to know the characters as he’s not afraid of talking to them and inquiring into the lives of each of them.
 
What a remarkable, outstanding book! I loved the characters as they felt realistic and I liked how they felt a variety of emotions. There were fears and bleak situations but they worked through them. Now to see what else I need to read by this author.

 

Real Life Dinners

Real Life Dinners - Rachel Hollis
I bought this cookbook after checking it out at the library. This is another great book by Rachel Hollis. So, why did I buy it? Because I liked the recipes and the illustrations that accompanied them. The recipes inside were for things that I really would make, things that aren’t too fancy and the ingredients I can find in my supermarket.
 
Let me walk you through this beautiful book and tempt you with one of my latest cookbook purchases. This last week, I received/bought 3 cookbooks in the mail. With temperatures in the 90’s this week, I might make something but likely, I will be eating strawberry lettuce salad (I could live off this), watermelon, oranges and just cold sandwiches. I don’t like to eat a lot when it’s hot out. T
 
here are 4 sections before we even get into the food sections in this cookbook: intro, table manners, kitchen essentials, spices. Table manners: yep, she lists out some table manners from no electronics, to passing food, to eating. Kitchen Essentials: things you should have on hand. Spices: four blends she created.
 
In the food section, there are 8 sections: Breakfast for Dinner, Kid-Friendly Dinners, Make-Ahead Dinners, Dinner on the Grill, Soup for Dinner, Salad for Dinner, Sides for Dinner, and My Favorite Dinners. Each recipe consists of a two-page spread complete with a short story about the recipe, an illustration, ingredients list (optional ingredient list, if needed), directions, prep time, cook time, serves #, and 3 or 4 step-by-step illustrations for the recipe. She also begins each section with a intro about that section and her thoughts/memories.
 
Looking at the Make-Ahead Dinners section: her intro talks about being prepared and prepping. She discusses what she does and how to use these recipes in your own life. There are 9 recipes in this section. I would eat any of them as they all look good. From Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork, Homemade Frozen Burritos, Hawaiian Chicken, Mexican Casserole, Chicken Potpie, Tex-Mex Fiesta, Spaghetti Sauce, Ranch Beef Stew, and Lemon-Pesto Chicken. I thought I might have to cut back on the lemon on that Lemon-Pesto Chicken but it’s not that much and hey, it has green beans in it! The Tex-Mex entree looks super good and so does the Hawaiian Chicken (and I don’t normally do Chinese food) but the ingredients look like something I can handle. I’m super excited to get this cookbook and guess what? I also picked up Rachel’s other cookbook at the same time, Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up. That cookbook is a keeper too.
 
The illustrations in this book look very appetizing and real. They don’t look all glamorous, as if someone spent weeks, spraying and angling the camera, trying to get the right shot of the bun, to make it look perfect. They look delicious and they look like something that I could make. Thanks Rachel, for keeping it real.

 

And Then There Were Gnomes

And Then There Were Gnomes - Colleen A.F. Venable, Stephanie Yue
I thought this little graphic novel was funny. This is the second book in the series, I haven’t read the first book yet. The satire comments and the story were laced with comical moments that had me laughing out loud as Harnisher, the hamster, tried to get Sassypants, the guinea pig, to put on his detective hat and get back to work.
 
Harnisher was just plain funny as he tries to light a fire under his friend Sassypants so he’ll start being a detective again. Living inside Mr. Venezi’s pet shop, Harnisher comes up with some very creative mysteries that Sassypants must solve. He seemed like a great friend and a positive person to be around yet Sassypants was not liking it. Sassypants claims though that he’s not a detective but Harnisher is not listening.
 
When Mr. Venezi’s arrives to open the shop wearing shorts, Harnisher starts in. Determining there’s something peculiar going on, Harnisher tries to enlist the help of Sassypants. Someone needs to help Mr. V recover the rest of his pants! I thought this was really funny as Harnisher’s excitement filled the air.
 
The pet shop owner has mislabeled all the animals and now the mice are disappearing. A group of children come to the shop to purchase pets for themselves and notice the problem which leads to some interesting conversations. Can someone find the missing mice before they all disappear?
 
The illustrations in this graphic novel are super cute and there aren’t a lot of characters in it. I feel that there’s a lot of text to read in this graphic novel yet the text itself is not hard. It’s a fun, creative graphic novel that I enjoyed. I put a hold on the next couple books in this series.

 

Weber's Ultimate Grilling

Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius - Jamie Purviance
Meat it is, inside this book with its gorgeous pictures. I picked this book up from the library as I saw it on a cart for the cover and the name Weber caught my eye. Looking at that steak over those coals and knowing that Weber knows a thing or two about grilling, I wanted to know the latest.
 
This book is heavy and is more than a cookbook. This book begins by giving you lots of information about grilling, from temperature (and maintaining), the techniques of grilling (indirect, direct, smoking (doing that in a smoker and in a regular grill), timing (for all different types of grills and food), and tools for grilling. There are lots of graphs and illustrations to look at and refer to in this section.
 
The book has seven chapters devoted to food: starters, beef & lamb, pork, poultry, seafood, vegetables & sides, and desserts. The last section of the book is The Pantry. It you don't get hungry looking at this book, there is seriously something wrong with you.
 
In each food section, they begin with a Q&A section, which answers a few questions about that section of food. So in starters, the questions pertain to appetizers, the pork section pertain to cooking pork on the grill, etc. What I love about this cookbook is the illustrations, how easy this book is to look at and follow, and the step-by-step illustrations that accompany EACH recipe in this book. Each recipe takes up 2 pages and is accompanied by a small intro about the recipe, an ingredients list, step-by-step directions with an illustration for each step, prep time, how many it serves, time required on the grill, marinating time (if any), stove time (if any, for additional ingredients for the recipe), any special things you might need, variations printed with them (if any) , and some have tidbits to help with the recipe.
 
You're not just getting the recipes within that section either, you'll get some information regarding that food too. Useful information to make cooking that food, fun and entertaining. In the beef & lamb section, there some information about putting together different flavors of burgers with wonderful illustrations (I thought they all looked good but after reading about them, I would have to substitute some of the ingredients in a few of them). There was another Q&A section about steaks and then a beautiful section of 4 toppings for steaks. Wow, there were two more sections on different type of steaks, a section about more toppings, a couple sections discussing brisket, a section about what to do with leftover prime rib, and that my friend is amongst all the recipes (18) dealing with beef and lamb, in just one section.
 
Lets talk about the illustrations, they are gorgeous. I really don't need a step-by-step illustrated version of a recipe, but these illustrations are beauties. The browned chicken with its light brown skin and the grilled potatoes stuffed full with nacho goodness just needed my fork. The only issue I had with this book is that the book had trouble lying flat and I think that is because it is new, it needs a good press of my hand on the pages while I get down to some serious cooking.

 

After Zero

After Zero - Christina Collins
I didn’t even know they had a name for it but it all makes sense after reading this novel, Selective Mutism. An anxiety disorder, where a child speaks in a normal fashion at home (or any comfortable, relaxed, safe environment) but in some social situations, that same child, will refuse to speak. When Elise is unleashed into public schooling, she finds that speaking can get her in trouble and perhaps being silent is the way to go.
 
Elise had heard stories from Mel, her neighbor about how great school was. Mel talked about school and her “school friends,” so when Elise’s mom quit homeschooling her, Elise was excited to finally be able to go to middle school.
 
Unfortunately, school turned out not to be as much fun as she thought. It wasn’t long before Elise found herself in hot water. School was a new social situation for Elise and she didn’t know the rules. She wasn’t hurting her peers on purpose but no one had told her the etiquette and now, Elise decided it was just easier to not say anything. It was better to be quiet than to say the wrong thing so, off went her voice and on, went her tally marks in her book.
 
I could feel the stress as Elise struggled with dodging answering the questions that were addressed in the classroom at school. She knew the answers yet to answer them would create a tally in her book, the book that she felt needed to be blank. Even when her peers addressed her or harassed her for her silence, she felt safe under the cover of her book. She wanted no tally marks, and every day she worked towards that goal.
 
I liked that she didn’t run back into the safe arms of homeschooling and that she continued to try other things at school, she wasn’t a quitter. There’s a bit of fantasy in the book as Elise becomes intrigued by an object at school. I thought this gave her something else to focus on while she was there. I think this book is marvelous and I feel that Christina Collins did an excellent job explaining this disorder.

 

Nana's Map - an original piece

This is the craft I had the kids do today at our library’s outreach program. I created this one as the sample to show them and I will then, give it to my 6 year-old granddaughter. They are paper bag books. I got the bags ready, the string and the white paper ready and the kids just had to assemble them. This was their second craft after they did the one supplied by the library. I had many kids just want to make the books which made me happy as we’re pushing reading to them. These are super easy to make and so much fun! I can’t wait to see what Stella thinks. I’m seeing a volume 2 in the future.
 
 

 

Back to the Future

Back to the Future - Kim Smith
Ha! This children’s book is just like I remembered the movie to be, only in a condensed form. What a fun book!
 
Marty McFly talks about his home life and about his best friend, Doc. He discusses the time machine, how he test-drove it and ended up in 1955. Whoops! With no plutonium (not invented yet), Marty had to find his way back home by looking for a younger version of his friend Doc, and convincing him that he needed help getting back home to 1985. It’s a good thing that Marty remembered that lightening was going to strike the clock tower soon, for that would come in handy. Doc could rig up something using that electricity to get Marty back to the future.
 
Marty had been in 1955 only a short time but he was causing quite a stir. He now had problems that he needed to address with his parents, who were now teenagers and if he couldn’t get that back to normal, his future would be wiped out.
 
It’s a blast from the past with this book as Back to the Future is presented in this Pop Classic book. Kim Smith does it again with her outstanding illustrations that will definitely grab your attention. With vivid colors and stunning details, these illustrations will leave a smile on your face. It’s another wonderful book from Pop Classics.

 

Nightbooks

Nightbooks - J.A.  White
I loved listening to this audio. It was like listening to stories within a story. I thought some of the stories that Alex told were just a good or better than the main story. There were times that I found myself crackling and laughing this sinister laugh as I listened to this audio, for the witch would make her appearance and she would shake things and of course, that would affect me too. There were a few twists in this novel too which I didn’t see coming. Such an enjoyable novel to listen to, one that the whole family could get involved in.
 
She lures them in, she knows exactly what entices them and then, when the door closes, they are hers. There’s no way out, at least not in the traditional sense and so they’re stuck.
 
Alex is lured into the apartment on his way down to the basement, for he was on a mission that he hoped would change his life. But now? His life is changed and he’s glad that he didn’t make it down to the incinerator because he needs his journals, those pages have his stories on them and he needs them now, more than ever.
 
Witch Natacha says she needs to hear Alex’s stories, his scary stories each night and so, she makes him write a new one every day. Natacha says she enjoys them but in reality, it’s really not her that needs these stories but Alex better keep the stories coming if he’s going to make it out of her apartment alive.
 
Alex meets Yasmin inside the witch’s apartment for she’s been trapped there for a while. Alex is determined to escape but Yasmin tells Alex to stop talking like that. The cat will tell the witch what he hears and you never know what the witch will then do to them. Alex is determined to escape yet he has to spend his days writing stories in the apartment, the apartment that is charmed by magic.
 
This was an excellent story, I really enjoyed the audio and hated to take it back to the library.

 

Camp Tiger

Camp Tiger - Susan Choi
I don’t want to understand it, I loved it! To fully understand it, would take away some of the glamour of this children’s book. No overthinking on my end, this little boy had a fabulous end to his summer and he’s ready for first grade.
 
He’ll be making a big transition this fall from kindergarten to first-grade and he, like many other children, would rather be back in kindergarten. He’s not looking forward to losing some of his social/playing time and gaining more time working on educational matters. His parents have already started this approach at home and he’s doing some things that his parents would have done for him previously.
 
It’s their yearly family campout and as they get their tent and site ready, a tiger arrives out of the bushes. It is a talking tiger which wants to sleep beside them. Now, I’m thinking this has to be a fantasy story as there’s no such thing as a talking tiger but as I read and the tiger joins the family on their vacation, there’s something about this tiger that’s off. He’s not your typical tiger. The young boy and the tiger have some close moments, there are also some great moments with the tiger and the family.
 
The illustrations are wonderful too. Just by looking at the book cover, you see a glimpse of what to expect inside this children’s book. I love the pictures of the tiger, the reflections on the water, the shadows, the faces of the characters, and the pictures of the boy with the tiger were my favorite.
 
As the camping trip comes to an end and they make their way home, the boy starts to think about school. He thinks back to his family’s camping trip and it’s a trip he’ll never forget.

 

The Someone New

The Someone New - Jill Twiss
What a sweet, simple book about what it’s like being new and how to embrace someone who is new. I like the fact that this book tells children that basically everyone was a new person at one point or another and that, it’s okay to change your mind (to be wrong). I think this book would make a great conversation starter for children and a great one that helps them understand emotions.
 
One day, Jitterbug the chipmunk, wakes up and feels there is something different about that day. She sees some of her friends but it isn’t until she sees Someone New, that she realizes that they are what is different about that day. Her friends talk with Someone New, learning a lot about them while Jitterbug listens. Suddenly, Jitterbug starts to get worried and scared. She feels threatened and begins to worry about herself and the forest and she makes a comment to this new individual (Pudding).
 
Jitterbug has many questions about what Pudding says: what will happen to the forest if he stays? will her friends like Pudding more than they like her? What will happen if he stays? Even though Puddings life was in jeopardy where he lived, Jitterbug reaction shocked me but it’s a reaction that some children have when a new child becomes popular or looks interesting and they feel threatened. When Jitterbug’s friends try to talk to her about what she did, I liked how they approach her. They were smart in handling their friend’s behavior.
 
I feel that for younger children this is a cute read but for older children it could also be used as an educational book that could help children understand both sides of what it is like to be a New Person and how to accept someone who is New.

 

The X Files: Earth Children Are Weird

The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird: A Picture Book (Pop Classics) - Kim Smith
There is nothing like a sleepover outside to get your imagination going and that is exactly what happens in this book, which is a classic on The X Files: Earth Children Are Weird. All outdoor noises can be explained by everyday events, right?
 
This is an enjoyable and lively story which begins with two young children (Dana and Fox) camping outside, in the backyard, inside a tent. Fox definitely looks scared after hearing Dana read to him the book, The X Files. Fox begins to question all the noises that he hears outside their tent. Dana tries to reason with Fox, explaining that aliens aren’t real and as they venture out into the yard, she tells him that things look different outside because its dark. It sounds like a great explanation but when Dana gets spooked too, they all take off running into the house where they think they’re going to be safe.
 
I enjoyed looking at the illustrations for they felt like they’d pop right off the page. Bright colors, crisp details and the facial expressions were fantastic. The story is told by using speech balloons as each character talks and by using various onomatopoeia's throughout the book. It really is a fun book to look at and the language is easy to read so children will be able to read it on their own in no time. The ending is super cute.

 

Over the River & Through the Woods: a Holiday Adventure

Over the River & Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure - Linda Ashman
This is a fun twist on the classic. Everyone is going to grandma’s but they’re coming from different regions and in different methods of transportation. I enjoyed the creative modes the author used to get the guests traveling to grandmas yet somehow, when they arrive, they are all together, in the old traditional means of transportation. What happened along the way?
 
The whole family has received Grandma and Grandpa’s invitation to come to their house for the holidays and they’re all coming, with a pie. The four families pack up and begin their trip. Written in rhyme, each family has travel issues along the way but have no fear, just when they think they will not make it, they hear a “Neighhhh!” They are saved! The horse is pulling a large sleigh which has enough room for everyone, driven by a friendly fellow. Once everyone has boarded and everything is put on the sleigh for the holidays, they head off to another family member who is stranded.
 
After all four of the families have been loaded and their holiday goodies have been loaded on, they head out to grandma and grandpa’s house where the they celebrate with family and friends.
 
What a cute and fun holiday book. I loved the illustrations; they are simply beautiful to look at. Kim does an amazing job! Her attention to detail, the bright and colorful illustrations really make this book spectacular! It took me a while to find my rhythm with this book but once I did, it was fun to read. I really liked this book.

 

Builder Brothers: Big Plans

Builder Brothers: Big Plans - Jonathan and Drew Scott
I picked up this book because I like this illustrator but then, I saw it was about The Property Brothers so I scored twice! This was a cute, entertaining story from the brothers.
 
You really have to love this illustrator. Her illustrations are bright, colorful and fun to look at. I love how much energy flows from the pages and how everything looks real, yet with a cartoonish flair to it. The ruler, crayons, and papers are proportionate to the page and there’s so much detail and items to look at, on each page.
 
In this book, the brothers are young with big dreams. They want to build something amazing, but what? Like most kids, they want it to be spectacular but they can’t come up with the perfect plan until they see their dogs lying on the floor. They plan out everything perfectly, so they thought, until they take their final look at their final product and well, it wasn’t perfect. They have to adjust their thinking. It all works out in the end.
 
It’s a cute book that I think shows kids that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams even if it doesn’t work out, just readjust their thinking or idea, it still works. I like how the boys work together, work hard and how they still go after their dreams even when others are not encouraging them. I like their facial expressions (from sad to happy to excited) all on the same project. There are also instructions on how to build a birdhouse on the last page.

 

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls - Rory Power
Wow! Let me see if I can find the correct words to describe this book: enticing, captivating, startling, and remarkable. The more I read of this book, the more questions I had and the more I needed to know. The females who lived on this island fought for their own survival, barricaded behind a fence, they fought to live, yet somehow the Tox had made its way into their compound, so what is the fence keeping out?
 
They were all girls inside this huge house, originally labeled Raxter School for Girls, located on an island. What’s left of them, live in quarantine, staying alive by the rations supplied to them by boat and brought to the house by the Boat Girls and an adult, the only people allowed past the fence.
 
The authorities are still working on a cure and the girls were left in the dark about the Tox. Waiting and living with their conditions, each of them are growing older and watching each other, as each one of them receives their own form of the Tox and have their “first.” Individually, as one of the girls begins twitching and then shaking, I was eager for what was about to begin but nervous and scared for the actual event to occur.
 
The story is told by Hetty and compared to some of the other girls at Raxter, Hetty is down-to-Earth. Byatt sleeps next to Hetty on the bottom bunk and Reese sleeps on the top bunk, you really get to know these girls in the novel as they are very close to one another. One day, Byatt is missing. How can she be missing when no one goes outside the fence?
 
The novel felt creepy and mysterious, like there was a big secret that no one was telling you. What was beyond the fence was exciting and it felt like Little Red Riding Hood mother said, “stay on the path.” I really enjoyed the author’s writing, the imagery I had while reading was fantastic. I liked the storyline and how, there were times that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. This was one of those books that ran in a cycle for me, it was slow at times, then fast and this cycle continued as parts of the novel’s mystery was revealed throughout its pages. There were a few times that I had to go back and reread a few things, but other than that, I really enjoyed this novel. 4.5/5
 
Thank you, Penguin Random House, for providing a copy of this novel to me in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

Far Away

Far Away - Lisa Graff
I thought this was a sweet book and as CJ got swept away, I was hoping this girl’s journey wouldn’t end in a disaster.
 
I enjoyed the idea that CJ (12) and her aunt contacted CJ’s mother’s on CJ’s birthday. As a medium, CJ’s aunt had the ability to connect with her and CJ looked forward to celebrating her birthday with her mother. Unfortunately, the day arrives when her mother informs them that she can no longer visit them.
 
After traveling on the road with her aunt for years doing shows, her aunt decides that this lifestyle is probably not the ideal situation for CJ either and enrolls her in a boarding school. She feels it’s time that CJ has a stable lifestyle. You can just imagine how CJ felt about her current situation now. Her world had suddenly come crashing down.
 
CJ saw no reason for all of this. Why a boarding school? CJ had heard about tethers and spirits and she felt that her mother just needed a tether to keep her connected to the human world, but where was her mother’s tether?
 
Well, jump aboard on CJ’s journey as she takes you on a ride with Jax as the two of them set off to find this tether. As Jax learns to drive, CJ tries to find her mother’s connection to the human world. On this journey, these two learn more about themselves and each other, a revelation they didn’t know they’d find.
 
I love CJ’s “signs” as everything seems to fall into place yet Jax sees these “coincidences” popping up just when they need them. They are a fun pair, sometimes pushing each other just enough to make the trip fun. I started to get nervous as some of the events were being led with emotions but in the end, things worked out. The ending was perfect for this novel.
 
A great novel with a mystery element, friendship and family ties and an all-around entertaining read. I think many upper elementary or middle school readers will enjoy this novel and the characters within it.

 

Burial Rites

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent
I was surprised how much I liked listening to this novel. It felt dark and as the story continued, I started to have feelings for the woman who was just waiting for her sentence to be carried out.
 
The farmer’s wife was not too happy to have this prisoner in her house but she had no choice. They choose their house and now, they had to deal with it. Agnes was not supposed to be there long, for she was sentenced to death for her crime. When they brought Agnes, I loved the way the wife took charge over the situation. She was not having this prisoner contaminate her house and the guards upset her household. She seemed strong and determined, as she looked over the prisoner that was before her.
 
As the story progressed, the characters seemed to transform. We hear the truth and I began to have a change of heart. Did Agnes really commit the crime, that they said she did? That’s the question that really needs to be answered here.
 
I liked the darkness of the novel and how the story progressed. She was a prisoner yet it there were times, I couldn’t see it and then, we had to remember what they said happened. There was something about how the story was written, for when I listened to it, the words just flowed out and the images were right beside them.
 
I really wished that I would have read this novel instead of listened to it as I had a hard time with the audio. I thought the main character was flirty. Why? I thought the narrator’s voice had an accent which translated to the main character and in this dark novel, it didn’t sit well with me considering her situation. It’s just me, but this effected how I felt emotionally towards the characters too. I would like to reread this novel in the future to hopefully get more connected with the characters. A great story!  4.5