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Books for the whole family

Just Pru

Just Pru - Anne Pfeffer Pru has only been away from home for two months when she loses all of her belongings, bar her journal and her cat Chuck-Chuck, in an apartment fire. She even loses her medication for anxiety and depression - all this after her therapist, Dr Abbot, died only a week ago! Pru is helped out by her neighbor Adam, who suffers from a few neuroses of his own. Ellen, another neighbor who is a playwright and director, takes Pru in and offers her a job as her assistant and chauffeur. The problem is, Pru has never had a job, has trouble dealing with people, and is terrified of driving! Pru learns to cope with her new living arrangements, her new job, and the attention of not one, but two, hot guys by implementing the life lessons she has learned on television. In the meantime, she lives in fear of her parents, Lloyd and Phyllis, showing up at any moment to drag her back home to Oregon - the worst fate possible.

Pru is a very endearing protagonist, and the rest of the characters are both quirky and likable - except for Pru's parents! The story is interspersed with entries from Pru's journal, which give us an insight into just how far she has progressed following the death of her therapist. As Dr Abbot once said, Pru needs to "practice the art of living." And that she does. I truly enjoyed Pru's tale of learning to cope in the big, bad world. All of the story lines wrap up neatly. But, who knows? We may see more of Pru in the future. I sure hope so!

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/03/just-pru-by-anne-pfeffer.html

Faith Seekers

Faith Seekers - Sherry Rossman Hannah leaves college after her scholarship runs out and her dad loses his job. Now her family (father Alex, mother Rose, and brother Ian) is homeless, apart from the RV they live in while travelling around the country selling their wares at craft shows. They have become "Faith seekers, a family searching for the great America that had failed them and so many others - the land that had failed them into nomads." Along the way, the meet Dan and his pregnant girlfriend Nia, and young photographer Miguel and his uncle Mac. As Hannah struggles with her strange visions and unwanted attention from Dan, she doesn't realize that it will all culminate in a battle between the forces of good and evil.

The book is very slow to start; not much happens, but the atmosphere is dense with foreboding. The writing is beautiful and lyrical, full of the recurring themes and imagery of tree roots, elk, Harriet Tubman, prophets, stars and stripes, and wind chimes. While there is no doubt that the author is an extremely talented writer, the story is at times confusing, there is too much repetition, and the central conflict is resolved too easily. I also had a problem with the similarity in names - Michael and Miguel (Spanish for Michael), Hannah and Harriet, Nia and Ian, Dan and Mac and Ian - especially during the climactic scene towards the end the book.

This book is classified as young adult, but is actually clean new adult.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

3.5 stars

Slightly Stalky: A Romantic Comedy Walks Into a Bar... (Slightly Series Book 1)

Slightly Stalky: A Romantic Comedy Walks Into a Bar... (Slightly Series Book 1) - Amy Vansant Emily's friend Kady talks her into going to darts night at the Irish pub in order to meet men. Emily is instantly attracted to Sebastian. Sebastian is also attracted to Emily, but he's stuck in a relationship with the buxom Greta. Emily has a history of being "slightly stalky" in her pursuit of men, and she is no different with Sebastian. As she tries to get closer to him, circumstances always seem to intervene. While Sebastian tries to fight off the desperately clingy Greta, Emily deals with the not-unwelcome advances from the gorgeous but inanely simple Mark. Will Emily and Sebastian ever get their timing right and end up together?

Slightly Stalky is a sweet romance as well as an extremely funny comedy of errors, told from both Emily's and Sebastian's points-of-view. The absurdly comical incidents had me laughing out loud. I especially enjoyed Sebastian's interactions with Greta's insane "blind" dog Binkers, Sebastian's hunt for a place to live, and Emily's dealings with Sebastian's family.

I look forward to reading the next installment in this series.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/slightly-stalky-by-amy-vansant.html

Interference

Interference - Dakota Madison Sedona is studying to be a neuroscientist, and she only has eight weeks left to complete her undergraduate course when her world comes "crumbling down" around her. She injures her arm in a car accident, and then she gets fired from her job at the library. Her flatmate, Lewis Armstrong, suggests she gets a job tutoring college athletes. That's how she meets basketball player Jesse Walker, "the guy every girl on campus wants to date". But is his bad boy reputation really warranted? Jesse is more interested in playing basketball than learning, but is there perhaps another reason for his apparent lack of interest in studying? Although Sedona and Jesse have nothing in common, they grow closer while Lewis becomes more distant. It turns out Lewis is hiding a secret as well. When Sedona's mother, Sunny, finds out about her daughter's relationship with Jesse, she fears that Sedona will end up following in her footsteps. What is the real story behind Sunny's single-mother status, and who is Sedona's father? And what secret will Sedona uncover that will threaten to bring them all down?

Interference is a very predictable book; I guessed all of the "secrets" right away. In addition, all of the problems are resolved way too easily. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the journey. Sedona and Jesse are likable characters and, as unlikely a couple as they are, you can't help but root for their happiness. Support characters Mr and Mrs Armstrong are hilarious. I also enjoyed Sedona's neurobiological explanations about falling in love.

A light, easy, entertaining read.

3.5 stars

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/interference-by-dakota-madison.html

The Outcast Star

The Outcast Star - I.M. Tu Brother Star and Sister Star love to dance by the edge of the dangerous Black Hole. But, while Brother Star always keeps an eye on the Black Hole, Sister Star dances with carefree abandon. One day Sister Star gets too close ... Meanwhile, the scientists on Earth watch on through their telescopes.

This is a lovely, touching story that gives life to astrophysics. It is based on true events that are explained in the two articles at the end of the book. The kids will learn while they are entertained by the fable-like tale of Brother Star and Sister Star. The colorful illustrations by Larrea Young are absolutely stunning.

Highly recommended.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-outcast-star-by-i-m-tu.html

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing With an Autistic Sibling

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing With an Autistic Sibling - Shaila M. Abdullah A Manual for Marco is written from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old girl learning how to deal with her autistic brother Marco. She decides to make "a list of all the things that make Marco special and not-so-special" in her purple diary. When she is finished, she realizes she has created a manual for Marco.

The book is presented in a notebook format with highlighted characteristics followed by anecdotes to expand on these qualities, both good and bad. The book is illustrated by author Shaila Abdullah, with contributions by 12-year-old Iman Tehpar, Sophia Ali (the inspiration behind the book's narrator), and the author's daughters Aanyah and Aaliyana. At the end of the book, there is an introduction to the Ali family who are the inspiration for this story, as well as some tips for parents by Dr Salima Ali, and a list of helpful autism website resources.

This is a confronting, yet touching book about sibling love, suitable for the whole family. It is perfect for children who are having trouble coping with an autistic brother or sister.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/a-manual-for-marco-by-shaila-abdullah.html

Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy

Bash and Lucy Fetch Jealousy - Lisa Cohn, Michael Cohn, Heather Nichols Bash's golden retriever Lucy is the coach of his soccer team and her special brand of encouragement has led them all the way to the championships. But Bash tends to get jealous of the attention and affection Lucy bestows on his teammates. Then, on the day before their championship game, Tristen asks Lucy to coach his Olympic soccer team of kids with special needs. While Bash is initially jealous, he finally comes up with a solution to help both teams.

The lovely watercolor illustrations by Heather Nichols help bring Bash and Lucy to life. You can tell that Bash loves his dog Lucy and identifies very closely with her. Bash's speech is littered with dog-speak, and he even acts and thinks like a dog when he is looking for Lucy. I like the fact that Bash thinks about the situation and comes up with a solution to his dilemma on his own. Dog lovers, especially boys, will enjoy this entertaining story that also conveys the great message of showing compassion for others.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/bash-and-lucy-fetch-jealousy-by-lisa.html

How to Unbreakup

How to Unbreakup - Rebekah L. Purdy Grace Evers and Sage Castle have been best friends since they were two and started dating on Grace's thirteenth birthday. Eleven months later, everyone thinks they spend too much time together, to the point where they are collectively referred to as "Grage". So, Grace decides to break up with Sage. It's now three years later, and Sage still hasn't spoken to her. Grace's dad plans a family holiday to Lake Michigan for the summer, only he doesn't tell her he's invited another family, too - the Castles. Grace wants to get back with Sage and gains an unexpected ally in Sage's sister Allie. They plan to find a way for Grace and Sage to "unbreakup". But things get complicated when neighbors Lila and Logan take an interest in Sage and Grace. Will Grace finally get her guy?

This book features some of the same characters as the author's previous book, The Romeo Club and, once again, my only complaint is the author's choice of annoying names (Lyncee, Delyla, Rori, Rochelle, Kenadi for the girls; Sage, Benji, Caleb, Lor, Trey, Logan, Ty for the boys). This is a quick, easy read, with likable characters - even a crazy cat! It is full of humor, with mishap after hilarious mishap getting in the way of Grace's plan to win back Sage. It also has an extremely well-planned and well-executed storyline, and the ending wraps everything up very neatly. Loved it!

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/how-to-unbreakup-by-rebekah-l-purdy.html

Maisy and the Money Marauder

Maisy and the Money Marauder - Elizabeth Woodrum Maisy Sawyer is a fourth grader who loves solving mysteries. When she's on a case she literally sees things in black and white, like an old movie. And her fee? Why, cherry lollipops, of course!

This book follows straight on from Maisy's previous adventure. It's the following Monday and Maisy returns to school expecting a reward of her favorite cherry lollipops for solving the case of the missing mice. She learns a new word in class - "marauder" (someone who steals) - and decides to use it in her next case, which just happens to come up at lunch time when the lunch money of a few third graders goes missing. When Maisy starts seeing things in black and white she knows she's got a case! Then some money goes missing from Maisy's own fourth grade classroom. Could the money marauder be one of her own classmates? There are a few clues and a few suspects for Maisy to consider. But could there possibly be more than one marauder involved?

This time, Maisy's friend Veronica gives her a hand, providing some comic relief and being of vital assistance to Maisy because she can see in color! The story is full of unimportant (or are they?) details that flesh out Maisy as a character. On the down side, the writing is a bit stilted, and there is a bit of repetition and rehashing of the previous case. It's too much for those who have read the previous book and probably not enough for those who haven't. I feel the series would work better as totally independent stories (although I can already see the next installment coming - Maisy and the Missing Meat perhaps?). I was also a bit concerned about the resolution of this case; Maisy has a good opportunity of coming up with an altruistic reward rather than accepting more cherry lollipops when she already has a locker full of them.

Still, this is an entertaining read for its intended audience, with a nice blend of comedy and mystery.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/maisy-and-the-money-marauder-by-elizabeth-woodrum.html

Sleeping Tom

Sleeping Tom - E.V. Fairfall Rebecca leaves her abusive boyfriend Sean and decides to change her name to Caden, which is a combination of her first name (Rebecca) and her last name (Worden). Her aim is to change her personality as well - to leave the submissive Rebecca behind and embrace the new, more assertive Caden. While hitchhiking, she is picked up by the abrasive Gabriel who relents and lets her stay on his couch overnight. She is woken up in the middle of the night to find a boy who looks like Gabriel, but isn't Gabriel. Turns out Gabriel becomes sweet and playful Tom at night and, in the morning, he switches back to being mean and violent. Does he suffer from a multiple personality disorder? How did he come to be like this? Does he know what happens to him at night? And what is the significance of the iridescent butterfly both Gabriel and Tom seem so attached to? As Caden gets to know Gabriel better, her feelings for him grow, but while she thinks of Tom as a brother, her feelings for Gabriel are anything but. Will Caden be able to make him whole again? And what will happen to Tom if she succeeds?

This is a compulsively readable book. I found myself constantly wanting to get back to it. I love these characters; Caden/Rebecca, Tom/Gabriel, and even the secondary characters are extremely well-drawn. I wonder if Caden herself suffers from a dissociative personality disorder, as she increasingly refers to Rebecca in the third person. The story is rich and multi-layered. And the food descriptions are mouth-watering!

Be warned, this book ends on a massive cliffhanger but, on this occasion, I didn't mind. I can't wait for the next book, Waking Gabriel!

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/sleeping-tom-by-e-v-fairfall.html

How I Fall

How I Fall - Anne Eliot Ellen is a high school junior with mild cerebral palsy, who has been working hard to walk without a cane. Her one true passion is photography, and she plans to win the scholarship to the Western Ontario Arts School summer program. Ellen's best friend is Patrick, who has just made it onto the school football team. They have been friends since grade seven, when they both started high school as outcasts. Cam, the school's star quarterback, has had a crush on Ellen since grade eight. Turns out Ellen has a long-standing crush on him, too. Only they have never spoken. Now Cam has joined the photography class and is trying to come up with a way to finally talk to Ellen. Then fate intervenes in the form of Irish girl Laura London. But how will Ellen react when she's forced to work on a major photography assignment with Cam and Laura when she's so used to working on her own?

The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Ellen and Cam, with cute asides from Ellen in her parts. I enjoyed the style of writing, however, the narrative is very slow and repetitive and there was a bit too much explaining going on. In addition, the relationship between Ellen and Cam is frustrating, to say the least. They both like each other, but are afraid of saying anything. Even as they seem to be getting closer, neither of them is willing to admit their feelings to the other. The climactic scene towards the end of the book is very unrealistic and over-the-top, as are the reactions of Cam's parents. Irish girl Laura provides comic relief, but her character is a bit of a stereotype. When Ellen and Cam finally do get together, their relationship is very sweet, and I did enjoy those parts.

This story is full of teenage angst, bullying, domestic violence, family dramas, abusive parents, and physical pain. These aspects are balanced out by a sweet first love and great friendships.

Be warned, this book ends with no resolution, and the story concludes in How I Fly.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/how-i-fall-and-how-i-fly-by-anne-eliot.html

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mimi's Adventures in Baking Chocolate Chip Cookies - Alyssa Gangeri Mimi dreams of clouds of flour and mountains of chocolate chips and, when she wakes up, all she wants to do is bake chocolate chip cookies. But she's never done it before, so she asks for Nonni's help. Nonni finds the recipe and teaches Mimi how to collect all the necessary ingredients and materials before starting. Then Nonni shows Mimi how to measure each ingredient. She also answers all of Mimi's questions, including why we add salt to a sweet recipe. And finally, they get to bake!

This is a cute and funny book, and the illustrations by Chiara Civati are delightful. The text clearly explains all the basic steps for a beginner. There are safety instructions, tips on getting ready, explanations as to why certain things are done, and - best of all! - a delicious recipe, plus variations. I read this book with my daughter, and then we baked the chocolate chip cookies. She was quoting the book back to me as we cooked (e.g. the brown sugar "making a sand castle", placing the cookies "four fingers apart", and being on "cookie guard" duty). Let me tell you, the cookies were delicious! Our verdict: "Best cookies ever!"

I love the relationship between Mimi and her Nonni (her grandmother) and the fact that they set the table for the whole family to share milk and the cookies they bake. My only concern is that the oven temperature is described as 325°, without specifying whether it's Fahrenheit or Celsius. While it would be okay to just use F in the story, both temperatures should be provided in the recipe at the end. By the way, 325°F is equivalent to 160°C.

I look forward to Mimi's next baking adventure. Happy baking!

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/mimis-adventures-in-baking-by-alyssa-gangeri.html

Cinderella's Secret Slipper

Cinderella's Secret Slipper - Alinka Rutkowska What happens after a fairy tale's "happily ever after"? Well, Cinderella is now married to the Prince and their son Junior is about to celebrate his fourth birthday with a royal gala. But where is Cinderella's missing glass slipper. And who will come to her rescue?

This is author Alinka Rutkowska's first book in her new series of fairy tales with a twist. She once again teams up with Konrad Checinski, whose illustrations are bright and colorful. The cute story is followed by a quick quiz to check your child's comprehension, as well as a short version of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. The kids are sure to enjoy finding out what happens after the original story ended!

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Booker - Streets of Mayhem (A Private Investigator Thriller Series of Crime and Suspense)

Booker - Streets of Mayhem (A Private Investigator Thriller Series of Crime and Suspense) - John W. Mefford Booker T. Adams is a biracial cop in Dallas, too white for some, too black for others. After witnessing an incident of police brutality, Booker assaults the officer in question and is suspended from active duty. Then a bomb blast kills fifteen people aboard a school bus, and it is followed by several more bomb threats, all seemingly racially motivated. As the attacks escalate, Booker seeks vengeance on those responsible, but he begins to wonder who is actually behind these acts of terrorism. Is the perpetrator a racist, or is he just a psychopath? And what can Booker do now that he no longer has his badge?

Streets of Mayhem is told from the alternating viewpoints of Booker and a mystery man we find out more about as the story progresses. There are a number of editing errors, including incorrect word usage, and the narrative is a bit repetitive. Nevertheless, the story is interesting and the author maintains suspense throughout.

The book features a likable cast of characters, including Booker's foul-mouthed parakeet roommate Big Al, his barman friend Justin, his DA friend Henry, Justin's barmaid Alisa, and CSI tech Felix, all of who contribute in their own ways to help Booker solve his case. I'm sure we'll see more of them is further books, and I look forward to reading Booker's next adventures.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/booker-streets-of-mayhem-by-john-w-mefford.html

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic - Vivi Barnes Sixteen-year-old Alexis (Lex) gets caught shoplifting a lipstick and, to make up for it, her mother arranges for her to spend the summer working at SmartMart. This arrangement interferes with Lex volunteering at the softball camp for underprivileged kids and with her own practice sessions, putting her position on the team in jeopardy. Lex also has problems at home, competing with her seven-year-old sister Aurora (Rory) for her mother's attention and approval, and dealing with the deteriorating condition of her beloved grandmother, who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Her first day at SmartMart doesn't go too badly - until she learns about a Code B! Things start looking up when she meets her supervisor, the "uber-hot" Noah Grayson. But why does he look so familiar? When Lex finally realizes who he is, she tries to avoid him and keep her growing feelings for him hidden from her friends Bryce, Court, and Syd. This leads to some awkward situations, especially with Bryce. If it comes down to having to pick between Noah and Bryce, who will she choose?

The SmartMart setting allows for the introduction of numerous quirky characters (kind Mr. Hanson, Lex's on-the-job trainer Bessie, weird old Jake, bubbly Ruthie, bitchy Roxanne, boring Merrill, the phantom prankster) and provides the basis for a number of amusing situations (being the official store greeter, playing rollercoaster cart, box bowling, dealing with difficult customers such as the coupon diva). Lex is a likable character, with her cute habit of keeping score and her loyalty to her friends and family. I especially love her relationship with her grandmother.

Paper or Plastic is full of family problems, work relationships, personal relationships, romance, softball, beauty pageants, Alzheimer's, humor, first love, and Florida's crazy summer weather. And, while this story is complete, I can see a sequel coming!

An absolute delight.

I received this book in return for an honest review.

Full blog post: http://booksdirectonline.blogspot.com/2015/02/paper-or-plastic-by-vivi-barnes.html

Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance

Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance - Thomas B. Dowd III Time Management Manifesto is comprised of 30 chapters, each giving an actionable piece of advice. The author provides real-life examples from his own experience to illustrate his points. The author's main advice is to keep a detailed daily schedule. Other helpful hints include: double the time you think it will take to do something, under-promise and over-deliver, stop multi-tasking, file things immediately, learn to ask for help before it's too late, and make sure you have some "do not disturb" time.

My only note to the author is that it would be helpful to highlight these actionable points in bold in each chapter and provide a list of them at the end of the book. However, the contents list at the end of the book is hyperlinked to each chapter, providing a quick way to review particular aspects.

All of the tasks in the book are simple and easy to implement. I started straight away. I work from home, so I found it helpful to set up a detailed daily schedule, including both family and work commitments. The most helpful hint for me was to "touch each email only once". I also plan to incorporate some self-improvement time into my schedule shortly.

Thank you, Tom.

I received this book in return for an honest review.