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Books for the whole family

Caterpillar Shoes

Caterpillar Shoes - Angela Muse, Ewa Podleś Patches is a caterpillar sporting all the colors of the rainbow. Follow along as she tries to decide which shoes she should wear and what she should do today. And find out why caterpillars have so many feet!

The illustrations by Ewa Podles are bright and colorful and full of texture. Unfortunately, the rhyming text doesn't flow very well, and there are a couple of editing errors. Nevertheless, this is a cute book that can help your child learn about colors. The story is followed by interesting caterpillar facts.

I found this book during a free promotion.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/caterpillar-shoes-by-angela-muse.html

Just Like Elizabeth Taylor (Small Town U.S.A.)

Just Like Elizabeth Taylor (Small Town U.S.A.) - LuAnn Brobst Staheli Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor was so named because her mother was - and still is - obsessed with the actress of the same name. Unfortunately, just like the actress, Elizabeth is going through a hard time. He mother is being physically abused by her boyfriend, and Elizabeth herself is being sexually abused by his son Ryan. Elizabeth makes a plan to run away and waits for the perfect moment - when Mark leaves his money on the kitchen bench while he's passed out drunk in the living room. She rides her bike to the next town and finds an empty shed in an abandoned campground, where she proceeds to hide in plain sight by enrolling in the local middle school and changing her name to Beth Burton. She makes a friend, Ida Mae, and she comes to the rescue of the lunch lady, Ms Meyers. But then her old life intrudes on her new life, making it impossible to keep up the charade. Elizabeth discovers that running away can cause more problems than it can solve.

This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening story of what a young girl has to endure when she has no support. From an adult's point-of-view, I found the story to be a bit contrived and predictable. There are too many coincidences, and things seem to work out a bit too easily. I'm also disappointed that Ms. Meyers' situation is never explained. Nevertheless, it is well-suited to the target young adult audience, with no explicit language or sexual content.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/just-like-elizabeth-taylor-by-lu-ann-brobst-staheli.html

Books, Blogs, & Reality

Books, Blogs, & Reality - Ryan Ringbloom Four women who have never met bond online over books, blogging, and men. Brooke begins a forbidden relationship with her new boss, Rachael wants to experiment with bondage like in the books she's been reading, Lizzie rekindles a relationship with an old boyfriend, and Jess thinks she can change the bad boy like they do in the books she loves to read. These four women start off just talking about books, but quickly turn to other topics, especially men. As these conversations become more intimate, the girls reveal more to each other than they do to anyone in their "real" lives.

Books, Blogs, & Reality is told in a mixture of online chats, narrative, and book reviews, and ends with a blog post by each woman on the lessons learned. Basically, they all discover that real life is not like it is in a novel. This is a compulsively readable book. It is very insightful and contains some wonderful lines. This is a book for the modern times, for the modern woman who spends a lot of time online. I'm sure my fellow book bloggers will see themselves in at least one of these women.

A light, humorous, and emotionally satisfying read.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/books-blogs-and-reality-by-ryan-ringbloom.html

Gianna the Great (Genealogy)

Gianna the Great (Genealogy) - Becky Villareal Gianna is a curious fourth grader who always wants to know about everything. So, when the new after-school History Club starts up, Gianna is the first to join, along with the class know-it-all, Matthew. With the help of her History Club teacher and the power of the Internet, Gianna makes it her mission to find out about her family's heritage.

This is a short book with cute illustrations at the beginning of each chapter to help us visualize the characters. Using Gianna as the narrator, the author adopts a great conversational tone which keeps the story flowing nicely. Unfortunately, while extremely well-written, this is merely a vignette; the story is nowhere near complete and will leave the kids unsatisfied and wondering what happens next. I can understand the author wishing to create a series around the character of Gianna, but each book should comprise a complete story, not a mere fragment. In addition, Gianna's Mamá (her mother) uses a bit of Spanish in her speech, and it would be helpful to have a glossary at the end of the book.

A promising start to the series.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/gianna-the-great-by-becky-villareal.html

Monster Squad: The Iron Golem

Monster Squad: The Iron Golem - Christian Page In 1938, a spaceship crash-lands in Roswell, New Mexico, and a giant metallic man emerges, exposing four scientists to something that gives them incredible powers. In the present, Blaine Davis is starting seventh grade at Autumn's Hallow Junior High, Oregon, where Drake Harker has just moved to town. Along with Shelley Merry and Daschle (Dash) Gaunt, they discover they have some strange new abilities. But why is the principal of the neighboring school, The Grimm Academy, so interested in these four friends? What's with the mysterious creature seen lurking in the woods? And how are these events related to what happened in 1938? This disparate group of friends will have to band together and use their own innate talents and newly-found powers to defeat an ancient evil.

This story is an homage to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with characters named after many other well-known literary figures, both real and fictional. There are a lot of characters, and it's a bit of a puzzle trying to work out who's related to who across the two timelines - but that's half the fun, so I won't tell you. With plenty of action and character interaction, this is an interesting read that doesn't talk down to the kids and has plenty of references to keep the adults on their toes.

I look forward to sharing the further adventures of the Monster Squad.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/04/the-iron-golem-by-christian-page.html

The Labyrinth Wall

The Labyrinth Wall - Emilyann Girdner, Nicole Zoltack, Allen Sr James The Mahk are a breed of workers brought to life by the Creators, already fully-developed. They mine for obsidian (for a purpose that is not explained) in exchange for meager food rations, and they live in the labyrinths surrounding Simul's castle, fighting and killing each other for their food. Araina is a Mahk who came into existence only two years ago but who resembles a seventeen-year-old girl. She lives in a secret spot in the Labyrinth with only Blue, a large bird with blue feathers, for company. One day Araina witnesses a man in white shimmer through the labyrinth wall, and she follows him to Simul's castle to seek answers. This is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure, as Araina and some new-found friends struggle to find their way back to the wall. But will they find something better on the other side of the labyrinth wall?

This is a totally engrossing book; however, too many sentences begin with dependent clauses. As the book progresses, either this stops, or I stopped noticing as I became more involved in the narrative. Darith's colloquial speech is annoying, especially as it is so different to the formal tone set by the author and the precise language of Araina and the rest of the Mahk. (I'm hoping Darith's speech variation may become relevant in a later book.) The story is also a bit repetitive, and there is too much introspection from Araina (but I thought the same of Katniss in The Hunger Games; interestingly, the author cites Suzanne Collins as one of her influences).

Despite these flaws, this is an action-packed adventure, full of interesting characters, thrilling encounters, and the all-important quest. The author has created an imaginative land full of horrors: hunger, discomfort, hard work, Mahk killing Mahk for food, the cannibalistic Nabal in the Blood Caves, the Darktouch flowers that can turn you to stone, hidden booby traps, the Rotting Pass with its poisonous mist and saber-tooth mutts, the dog-like Sir Riddles, a lava-spewing volcano, the giant snake-like Buyu, and the remorseless Creators themselves. Some scenes are quite gruesome, making this unsuitable for younger readers.

While this episode is complete, further adventures in the labyrinth will follow. I look forward to reading them.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-labyrinth-wall-by-emilyann-girdner.html

Maya & Filippo Visit San Francisco

Maya & Filippo Visit San Francisco - Alinka Rutkowska, Konrad Checinski Maya and Filippo are a sister and brother pair who travel around the world with their parents and their cat Otello on the Fun Princess cruise ship. Today Maya and Filippo dock in San Francisco. With so much to see and do, how are they going to fit it all in? After a busy day sight-seeing, Maya and Filippo learn that there is "no right or wrong way to visit a city."

This is another bright and cheerful offering from Alinka Rutkowska and illustrator Konrad Checinski. Your children will learn about the sights and landmarks of San Francisco. The story is followed by additional information on San Francisco and a short quiz to check your child's understanding of the story.

Fun and educational.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/maya-and-filippo-visit-san-francisco.html

Between Now & Never

Between Now & Never - Laura Johnston Cody's father is an FBI agent who put Sonia Schultz behind bars for mortgage fraud. And Sonia just happens to be the mother of Vic, star basketball player and the only friend Cody has made in Gilbert, Arizona, the town he has just moved to for his Senior year of high school. And Vic just happens to have a beautiful sister called Julianna, who may just turn out to be the love of Cody's life. When Vic gets in trouble with some drug dealers who threaten his sister, Cody steps in to protect them both, putting his basketball career in jeopardy but pretty much sealing his fate with Julianna. Throw in a bubbly cheerleader with her eye on Cody, parents who don't want them together, an inability to express their feelings, drug dealers out for revenge, and the fact that Cody can't remember anything that happened the night they met - and Julianna and Cody have their work cut out for them.

This story is entertaining but a bit repetitive, with a few too many misunderstandings and near-misses. Nevertheless, it's a sweet romance with thoroughly likable - albeit a little too perfect - main characters and dashes of humor and suspense.

An enjoyable read.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/04/between-now-and-never-by-laura-johnston.html

Snitch & Sneer - Fairy Tale Crashers: Hit The Hood (Sntich & Sneer - Fairy Tale Crashers Book 1)

Snitch & Sneer - Fairy Tale Crashers: Hit The Hood (Sntich & Sneer - Fairy Tale Crashers Book 1) - Julia Dweck, Daryll Collins Snitch (the dog) and Sneer (the cat) travel in their spaceship to Fairy Tale Land. There, they decide to visit Little Red Riding Hood, so called because she always wears a red hoodie. Snitch and Sneer insert themselves into the story with some hilarious results.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments, with some humor aimed at the kids but with some targeted at the adults as well. The illustrations by Daryll Collins and bright and colorful, with Red being particularly cute (until she isn't). At the end of the book, Daryll teaches us how to draw the Big Bad Wolf and Snitch and Sneer answer some tricky questions.

I look forward to sharing Snitch and Sneer's further adventures in Fairy Tale Land.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/snitch-and-sneer-hit-the-hood-by-julia-dweck.html

Four Rubbings

Four Rubbings - Jennifer Hotes Grace, the cemetery caretaker, spots four youths rubbing headstones on Halloween and, thankful that they aren't there to vandalize, she sends a prayer to God. Little does she realize that this prayer will lead each of the teens on a strange journey with the gravesites' occupants. Fourteen-year-old Josie sets out to rub her mother's headstone, but is drawn to that of a witch instead; Casey, who lives in the shadow of her older brother, rubs the headstone of a baby boy whose parents still show him more attention than she has ever received; Blaze, whose mother is an atheist, rubs the headstone of a priest; and Seth, who is having a troubled relationship with his father, rubs the headstone of a dead soldier with no living relatives. As each teen finds out more about the subject of their rubbing, they are forced to come to terms with an important aspect of their own lives. Even Grace will be affected by the events set in motion on Halloween night.

The chapters are told from the alternating points-of-view of Grace, Josie, Casey, Blaze, and Seth, with the cute chapter headings indicating who is narrating each chapter. This book is beautifully written and contains some lovely descriptive passages. There is a lot of detail that is not strictly necessary but that adds an extra dimension to the narrative. I came to know each of these characters very well, and I was invested in their stories. This is a complex tale of friendship, love, family, and history.

A pleasure to read.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/four-rubbings-by-jennifer-hotes.html

Reality Natalie

Reality Natalie - Katie Sparks Eleven-year-old Natalie Greyson is obsessed with the children's talk show Kidz Konnection. When they launch a competition for a guest host, Natalie thinks all of her dreams have come true. Now all she has to do is win! But what happens when she finds out that her talented best friend will be competing against her? Will Natalie succeed and, if so, at what cost?

The author has a fresh, natural voice. I like the way the book is written, interspersed with hand-written notes and Natalie's entries on her "In A Nat Shell" blog. From a moralistic (parent's) viewpoint, I am a bit concerned about the way Natalie lies to her parents and about the bad feelings between supposed-best friends, Natalie and Kailyn. But I guess real life is like that. At least Natalie learns a few lessons and grows as a person as a result of her experiences. And, from an entertainment aspect, I'm sure the kids will love the shenanigans the cast of great characters gets up to. Robbie is especially entertaining.

A funny, fast-paced story especially suited to tween girls. The ending leaves it open to a sequel.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/reality-natalie-by-katie-sparks.html

Fire in Frost

Fire in Frost - Alicia Rades Olivia Owen died a year ago, so why can Crystal see her? When fifteen-year-old Crystal Frost walks in on her mother, Andrea, conducting a séance with her friends, Crystal finds out her mother is a psychic. Not only that, but she discovers that she's a psychic herself! So when the ghostly Olivia asks her to help out a friend, how can she refuse? As Crystal struggles to use her new-found powers, she keeps more and more from her best friend, Emma, threatening to ruin their relationship. But who can Crystal trust with her secret? And should she?

This story of a teenage girl struggling with a very big secret started off slow but kept me entertained and wondering what would happen next. There is a nice mix of the paranormal, suspense, and mystery, with a hint of romance to come. The book's name is a nice play on the main character's name, while the main character's name is a nice play on her affinity with the crystal ball. Even though this story is complete, the ending sets us up for Crystal's next "psychic adventure".

A quick, entertaining read. I look forward to the next one.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/fire-in-frost-by-alicia-rades.html

Maya & Filippo Show Aloha

Maya & Filippo Show Aloha - Alinka Rutkowska, Konrad Checinski Maya and Filippo are a sister and brother pair who travel around the world with their parents and their cat Otello on the Fun Princess cruise ship. Today Maya and Filippo dock at Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. They learn that the word "Aloha" means both "hello" and "goodbye", but it has another more important meaning as well.

This is another fun and educational offering from Alinka Rutkowska and illustrator Konrad Checinski. This time, the story itself contains a lot of factual information. Your children will learn about Hawaiian geography, language, history, and customs. The story is followed by a short quiz to check your child's comprehension and to reinforce key points. It also includes information about Hawaii and Aloha.

This is my favorite book in the series so far.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/maya-and-filippo-show-aloha-by-alinka-rutkowska.html

Squishy Face and the Moon

Squishy Face and the Moon - Jennifer Oneal Gunn Squishy Face is frightened when she wakes up and sees the full moon shining through her window. But her mother (Big Mama) takes her fear away by telling her all about the moon, its phases, and its influence on the oceans.

This is an educational book designed to teach young children about the moon and to show them that they can overcome their fears by learning a bit more about the unknown. I can appreciate the author's intentions in writing this book but, unfortunately, it fails in the execution. There is no explanation as to why Squishy Face is suddenly afraid of the moon. By the way she speaks, she appears to be at least five years old and would have seen the moon through her window on many occasions. The drawings, also by the author, are amateurish, with a combination of drawing and computer graphics. However, I did like the inclusion of an illustration of the moon's phases. The sentences tend to run on and are too long for the target audience. Finally, the story ends rather abruptly; I would have liked to have seen Big Mama take Squishy Face back to bed, no longer afraid.

This appears to be the first book in a series. The author has dedicated this book to her own little "Squishy Face", her daughter Alezabeth Marie.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/squishy-face-and-the-moon-by-jennifer-oneal-gunn.html

Touched Up

Touched Up - Leo T Dufresne Jr Mitch is on track to becoming the next CEO of CommGear, an engineering company, when things start to fall apart. His wife wants marriage counselling, his teenage daughter is being outright rebellious, his investments are crashing, and his major project is on the brink of failure. Then he starts getting anonymous letters, which hint at blackmail. When Jimmy Lee, one of his underling managers, starts acting out, Mitch begins to suspect he's the blackmailer and decides to take matters into his own hands. This is the beginning of a downwards spiral that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. The only thing that is keeping him sane is his love of photography. And when that becomes the source of one of his greatest regrets, Mitch decides there is only one way to solve all of his problems.

Mitch is a bitter man, constantly recalling things his father did before he killed himself when Mitch was a boy. Mitch speaks in extended metaphors throughout the book, with imagery centering on dogs, horse racing, baseball, and especially boating. He also has an extremely sardonic sense of humor that manages to lighten the mood of this very dark story. The title refers to Mitch's obsession with photography and his attempts to "touch up" his life so that it looks all right from the outside, when things are actually falling apart on the inside. This theme comes together nicely at the end of the book.

Touched Up surprised me constantly; I couldn't tell where the story was going. I also wasn't expecting the deeply religious/philosophical aspects to the story. However, one major incident is resolved without explanation.

A captivating read.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/touched-up-by-leo-dufresne.html

The Ghost of You

The Ghost of You - Amanda Burckhard On the eve of their junior year of high school, Emmy loses her brother Derek and his girlfriend Jess in a car crash. Unable to cope with his loss, Emmy turns to painkillers, which literally allow her to "see" and "speak" to Derek. Is Derek haunting her, or is Emmy going crazy? As her dependence on the pills grows, Emmy's grades start slipping, and she becomes more withdrawn from her friends as she tries to hide her secret from them. The only one who can seem to get through to her is the new boy Logan, who is hiding a secret of his own. After losing Derek, is Emmy strong enough to risk loving someone again?

This is an emotional and heartbreaking story about how seemingly inconsequential actions can result in tragedy. I loved the relationship between Emmy and Logan, and it was great to see the support her friend Skye gave her. As a parent, it was distressing that Emmy's parents were totally oblivious to what she was going through. I know if I had been in the same situation, I would have paid even more attention to her, not less. Even though this story is complete, a follow-up book is in the works. I look forward to reading it.

Warnings: drug use, alcohol abuse, sex (not explicit), coarse language, emotional abuse.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/the-ghost-of-you-by-amanda-burckhard.html