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Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie – Great Middle Grade Novel

Armstrong & Charlie

By Steven B. Frank

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Armstrong and Charlie are sixth graders this year. Both of them have reservations about the coming school year for very different reasons.

Armstrong is going to be bussed to a new school that is much better than the one in his neighborhood, so he will be leaving all of his friends. Everyone knows that friends are very important, and Armstrong is worried he won’t fit it.

Charlie will be losing some of his friends. Their parents aren’t as excepting as Charlie’s are about integrating his school. He also has a deeper problem. His brother died not too long ago and once he completes sixth grade, Charlie will be older than his brother ever was.

The school year starts out rocky, but soon the boys begin an awkward kind of friendship. It is shaky at best, and they don’t see each other out of school because Armstrong lives so far away.

Charlie’s mom and dad are not the same as before. The death of his brother has changed their family dynamic. Armstrong has a bustling family that includes four sisters and his parents. His mom is a nurse and his father was injured in the military.

The boy’s personal lives do not mingle – until a weekend trip with their class. The question is – will the boys grow closer or will they make choices that will cause their differences to explode?

This is a great book for kids in middle school. It is a time of changes and sometimes they feel like they are the only ones feeling left out or different. Armstrong & Charlie shows them they are like other kids their age.

I really like where this book ended up. At first it seemed a bit cliché with the racial issue of the white family being from the “better” area of town and the black family being from the “worse” side of town. For a few chapters I almost wished it had been flipped, with Charlie being bussed.

But as the story unfolds, the author squashes all of my doubts. It is an interesting plot with enough surprises to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. The choices the boys make have consequences, both good and bad. The author isn’t afraid to let the reader know what could and does happen as the boys grow up during the school year.

I highly recommend this book.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Every Trick in the Rook (A Birds of a Feather Mystery)

every-trick-in-the-rookEvery Trick in the Rook

A Birds of a Feather Mystery

By Marty Wingate

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

Julia Lanchester is juggling work and her personal life just like many of us do. She is excited to get away from the tourist bureau for a weekend with her boyfriend Michael. Things have been busy for her, planning events in and around the Fotheringill estate, the most popular place to visit in the village.

She and Michael head out and disconnect from everything for a wonderful few days. They spot unusual birds and enjoy each other until the hotel notifies her of an urgent phone call

The news opens the cage on crazy – turning a relaxing weekend into an abrupt return to reality. Julia’s ex-husband has been found murdered. Even worse, he was on the Fotheringill property. Why has he returned to a place he didn’t like from the isolated island he retreated to when they divorced?

The local constable has questions for Michael and Julia, surely they are not suspects! They are questioned and released, but Julia is warned to keep her nose out of the investigation. She has good intentions, but just can’t seem to let the questions about her ex-husband’s arrival and murder go. Will this put her in the crosshairs of the killer?

Wingate spins a great cozy mystery. It has all the elements that keep loyal cozy readers interested and turning pages. This series is exceedingly interesting to nature and bird lovers. One of my favorite characters is avian – a super smart rook named Alfie. He flies in and out of the plot at the most interesting times. The little girl he lives with is also very interesting. Her name, Tennyson, is as complex and fascinating as the child. I hope both of them show up in later books.

This is the third book in The Birds of a Feather Mystery series. It works perfectly well as a stand-alone mystery as I have not read the previous two books in the series. I did read one of Wingate’s Potting Shed Mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are a fan of cozy mysteries or mysteries in general, I highly recommend checking out one or both of Marty Wingate’s series. I am willing to bet you will come back for more.

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Book Review: Die For You – Fabulously Complex YA Novel

die-for-youDie For You

By Amy Fellner Dominy

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Teenagers fall in and out of love daily. But the love Dillon and Emma have is more than puppy love. They have a real connection, bound together with deep emotion and a short, but encompassing past.

Emma met Dillon when she moved in with her father after her parents split. It was her choice to leave her friends, high school just before senior year and start over in a new place. It was rough for her and meeting Dillon helped fill the emptiness she felt after making one of the hardest choices of her young life.

Emma helped Dillon fight some demons he was struggling with. This made her feel needed and loved. They planned a future together after senior year. Both had been accepted to the same college and were planning to spend the next four years and the rest of their lives together. They knew their young love would withstand the test of time and both of them wanted to be together forever.

But when Emma unexpectedly receives the most unbelievable opportunity for an internship in Rome for the next year, she knew she had to try for it. Her life dream of becoming an archeologist like her father made studying in the ancient city a dream come true. She felt sure that Dillon would support her dream, after all, it was only a year apart and they could phone, skype and text to keep in touch almost as if they were together.

But Dillon had other ideas. At what lengths would he go to make sure Emma stayed with him forever? She was about to find out.

I loved this YA book. It was a love story, a coming of age story that had elements of suspense, mystery and family issues. The complexity of the characters and story evolution made Die For You a great book for YA audiences as well as adults. It was well written, with realistic conversations and situations. Once I started reading it, I could not put it down.

Per her website, Amy Fellner Dominy is “…a former advertising copywriter, MFA playwright and hula-hoop champion.”  You have to love an author with a hula-hoop championship under her belt! She is an award winning YA and youth writer, with a picture book coming out soon. Die For You is her fifth novel, I am looking forward to reading the previous four as well as her picture book.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Irena’s Children, Young Readers Edition – True Story of Courage

irenas-childrenIrena’s Children

Young Readers Edition

By Tilar J. Mazzeo

Adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

Tilar J. Mazzeo tells the true story of Irena Sendler. A woman who risked everything to save Jewish children she didn’t even know from the brutality of the Nazi’s in Poland during WWII. The things she saw happening around her frightened her, but she also became angry. She joined others in secret meetings that grew into a network of brave people that helped save hundreds of infants and children from certain death.

The brutalities and atrocities of the Nazi invasion of Poland have been widely documented. This book takes the reader into the burning buildings, the disease infested ghettos and in the brutal prisons of Poland. Irena and her group of brave, everyday heroes suffered greatly for their acts. Some lost their lives, some were arrested and tortured and others lost everything they had, but all of them worked tirelessly to save just one more child every moment of every day.

Through it all, Irena encouraged, helped and understood when others didn’t have the energy to go on. She kept lists of the children so that one day they could possibly be reunited with their families. If that wasn’t possible at least they would know their names and Jewish heritage and the love and sacrifice of the families that hid them and raised them as their own.

Irena lived through all of the danger, uncertainty and brutality she suffered to be reunited with some of “her children” in the 1980’s. She died peacefully in 2008 at the age of 98. Countless survived because of Irena and the network of others devoted to Irena’s children no matter what the cost.

This book was an amazing story of triumph over one of the worst things that happened in world history. It is told in story form with information from archives, historical sources, Tilar Mazzeo’s personal knowledge, personal interviews, historical photos (many included), maps, books and Mazzeo’s original book.

I absolutely enjoyed this book from the standpoint of history, WWII and the courage of people bringing hope to the youngest members of a nation in situations that seemed hopeless. It is not easy to read about the torture, pain and death of the group of innocent people. But not reading about it doesn’t make it go away. It is a painful part of history that needs never to be forgotten.

This is the young reader edition, based upon Mazzeo’s original book, and has been adapted by Mary Cronk Farrell. There is no way to “tone down” the events discussed in the book. The language may be an easier form for young readers, but it is still about a time a group of people were singled out and methodically murdered, maimed and tortured just because they were Jewish. It was a scary and difficult time for adults and children alike.

If they are interested in history, I would highly recommend Irena’s Children. They may have questions that would require further discussion. Adults should read this also. While it is the story of undeniable horrors, it is the story of hope and the triumph of human spirit that encourages all of us to help one another and to make the world a better place no matter who we are or where we live. Everyone can help in his or her way.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Knitted Toys – Must Have for Knitters

knitted toys.peg
Jody Long’s first knitting book is a grand-slam! This book is everything a knitter wants in a book of patterns. There are 20 different patterns included. Each of them have clear, easy to read and understand instructions. The amount of yarn, other supplies and gauge are included to help new and experienced knitters succeed.

There are smaller, easier projects like Squishy Beach Balls and Sebastian the Starfish. Some patterns have color work, which I personally love to do. The instructions are easy to follow even for a beginner. This could be the perfect time to try intarsia if you haven’t before.

At the beginning of the book there are several pages of information and definitions. Be sure to read them. A needle conversion is included, UK and US needles are both listed. The amounts of yarn (with suggestions as to the type to use if you aren’t using the exact yarn as the author) are listed in yards and meters as well as ounces and grams depending upon what country you are knitting in or more comfortable with.

Most knitting books have one or two patterns that are cute. Every single one of these 20 knitted toys are adorable. It is hard for me to highlight a few favorites, but here goes – and this does not by any stretch of imagination mean I don’t like the others.

The first one I plan on knitting is Mrs. Hopper the Rabbit. She is absolutely charming, wearing a sweater and holding a basket with carrots inside. She is 11 inches tall and will make a perfect gift for Easter.

Primrose the Nighttime Teddy has a nightcap and nightgown and Rusty the Puppy looks so squishy and cute I can just see a toddler cuddling up with these two for a nap.

Most knitters have yarn in their stashes with would more than complete one or more of these terrific toys. The patterns would make perfect take-a-long projects because each piece can easily be stashed in a purse or backpack. I like to knit during my lunch hour at work and will definitely be carrying these projects with me .

I highly recommend this book.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from NetGalley that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

 

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Children’s Book Review: Starr and the HIgh Seas Wedding Drama – Terrific Series for Girls

Starr book 3Starr and the High Seas Wedding Drama

Written by Lynn Woolley

Illustrated by Karen Wolcott

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley & the publisher in return for my review. Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

Starr Rubio’s Abuela has a surprise for the whole family. She is going to take them on a cruise. But the surprises didn’t end there, Abuela was getting married to Walter. His family was coming on the trip also. Things got even more exciting for Starr when she found out that she and Walter’s granddaughter were going to be flower girls.

But when Starr met Ivy, she soon discovered they were very different. Starr was excited about Abuela falling in love and getting married. Ivy wasn’t happy with the changes that would take place when her Grandpa married Starr’s Grandma. Could these two girls become friends?

Starr and the High Seas Wedding Drama is the third book in the Flower Girl World Series chapter book. The story moved along quickly with plenty of tension to keep younger readers engaged. There were a few words in Spanish sprinkled throughout the text, with glossary and pronunciation guide at the end. Sharing other cultures is a great way for children to want to learn new languages as well as cultures.

I feel the characters would be easy for young girls to identify with. The feelings, experiences and interactions were very true to life.

I would recommend this series for children that can read chapter books by themselves. It is also appropriate for a bit younger age group to have parents or caregivers read it aloud to them, especially if they are going to be flower girls in a wedding.

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Book Review: A Very Vintage Christmas – Nostalgic Look at Christmas Past & Present

Very Vintage ChristmasA Very Vintage Christmas

Holiday Collecting, Decorating and Celebrating

by Bob Richter – Foreword by Christopher Radko

Rowman & Littlefield
Globe Pequot

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher in connection with NetGalley in return for my review. Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

Bob Richter has always been enchanted with all things Christmas. As a very young boy his father gave him a box of vintage Christmas ornaments with the comment, “It’s time you started collecting something…and I know you like Christmas.” Little did his father know this would be the beginning of a lifelong love and devotion to all things Christmas.

Richter begins with the history of Christmas decorations. From candles to lights was an expensive leap for most Americans. The earliest lights needed their own generator. Only the wealthy could afford them. He includes fun facts like the first year the White House had an electrically lit tree and the cost of the colored lights that the president and his visitors enjoyed.

He continues with decorations both inside and outside of homes. Ornaments, trees and decorating inside and outside the home are highlighted.

Most of the early Christmas ornaments were from Germany until the mid-1920s. Ornaments back then were of two categories; either imported mercury glass ornaments, glittery die cut paper ornaments or homemade. Strings of popcorn and cranberries and hand-cut paper ornaments were popular.

Advertising for Christmas became popular in the early 1930s. Books, movies and magazines were and still are popular ways to celebrate the holiday season. Richter gives many examples, along with delightful pictures that will bring back many happy memories for readers of his book.

Christmas doesn’t have to be expensive, but can be. Richter gives decorating and gift options for all price ranges. He suggests flea markets and even lists the top US Flea Markets for Christmas items. I love the fact that he encourages purchasing vintage gifts for friends and family. If it is the perfect gift for someone, it doesn’t have to cost a lot or be brand new.

Full disclosure, I am and always have been crazy about everything Christmas. I love the lights, the decorations, the shopping (especially finding someone the perfect gift), the food, the fun and the love. This book fed my addiction with luscious photography and words that took me back to my childhood.

Many of the decorations, wrappings and pictures are of items I have in my basement. The storage tips Richter gave will be used this year when we put everything to bed after the holidays. The nostalgia and vintage feel of A Very Vintage Christmas was like a warm Christmas hug the whole time I read it. While I don’t do posh decorations, I do have one tree with only glass ornaments, many of which are my grandmother’s and mother’s. One of the ideas to showcase the ornaments that don’t fit on the tree was to put a few of them under a glass dome. This would solve my worry over a few of the more fragile ornaments I worry about falling off of the tree onto the hardwood floors.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Christmas. It would make a perfect holiday gift and if your copy is left on a side table during holiday gatherings, I am sure your guests would love the pictures and bits of Christmas trivia and traditions that are waiting to be discovered within the pages.

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