Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kid Konnection: National Geographic Kids U.S. Atlas


Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you a terrific atlas for kids.

Summary: Kids will have fun learning about every U.S. state in this amazing atlas, packed with maps, stats, facts, and pictures. National Geographic's world-renowned cartographers have paired up with education experts to create maps of the 50 states, U.S. territories, and Washington, D.C., that pinpoint the physical features, capitals, and towns and cities of each state. Discover the latest data and trends along with colorful photography of each state and the people who live there.

Key points reflect the latest information about land and water, people, and places. Lively essays cover each region of the country. Eight specially themed maps on nature, population, energy, climate, and more, delve deeper into key issues. State birds and state flags add to the high visual interest. This is a great reference for home and school with all the basics kids need to know to succeed in middle school, high school, and beyond. -- National Geographic Kids

National Geographic Kids has done it again, but that really shouldn't be a surprise if you regularly follow my blog. Their latest release is NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS UNITED STATES ATLAS, and it's fantastic. This oversized paperback book, aimed at ages 8 - 12, is a Parent's Choice Award Winner as well as a terrific resource for home and school libraries!

This atlas is perfect for kids (and adults) who want to know more about the U.S.A.! Not only does it have over 75 maps, including ones for each of the 50 states, but it is full of facts, photos, and statistics about the United States. I know I say this all of the time, but National Geographic Kids makes learning fun.

The book is divided into sections based on regions -- The Northeast, The Southeast, The Midwest, The Southwest, The West, and The Territories. Within each section, there are maps that you'd expect from an Atlas with physical and political data, but there are also lots of photographs and fun facts about the areas. Each state within the region is then broken down with specific maps and economic information. There truly is so much to look at on each page!

I really enjoyed the beginning section of the atlas. It teaches kids how to use the atlas, but it also provides some very cool maps of the U.S. including a physical one, a natural environment one, a natural hazard one, a political one, a climate one, and a population one. It even features Washington D.C., the nation's capital.

Overall, I can't rave enough about the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS UNITED STATES ATLAS! It's a book filled with so much important information, but it's presented in a way that makes discovering things about our country fun. Highly recommended!

If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Review: Busy Family 2018 Planning Calendar

Summary: Keep your family's schedule organized and track up to five family members while enjoying charming season artwork by Alison Cole. The large calendar grid, colorful reminder stickers, and handy storage pocket make it fun and easy to manage everyone all year long! -- Rock Point Gift & Stationery

I mentioned yesterday that school starts for both of my kids on Monday. That means my daughter will be a freshman at Penn State, and my son will be starting seventh grade. Needless to say, we are definitely in back-to-school mode which means over the next 10 months, I'll be making lots of lists and tracking many activities.

And that's where the BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR will come in handy! This 17-month calendar (which runs from August 2017 through December 2018) has everything a busy family needs to be organized. This wall calendar is really adorable... and of course, practical. Each month has a large calendar grid with different colored lines on each day. These lines can be used for each family member's activities, but I just like that they make my to-do list easier to read.

The BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR is a terrific. The whimsical artwork is positively adorable with different scenes for the various months. For example, August has some sea creatures while January has some woodland animals. In addition to the cute artwork, the calendar includes reminder stickers for birthdays, doctor and dentist appointments, half-days, and more. There are also fun stickers for school breaks, family fun time, and vacations. And this might just be my favorite "mom" part of the calendar -- there are stickers for chores and dinner that are large enough to customize.

I love the BUSY FAMILY 2018 PLANNING CALENDAR and I think it would be a great help to busy families! Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a sample of this calendar.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: Color for Calm All Year Long 2018

Summary: Our lives become busier with each passing day, and as technology escalates, so does our access to work, obligations, and stress. Constant stimulation and expectation have left us burnt out and distanced from the present moment. Color for Calm All Year Long 2018 offers over 300 coloring templates all designed to help you get coloring and get relaxed throughout the year.

This boxed calendar has a unique feature of five double sided colored pencils attached to the back stand. This will make it easy to color yourself calm all year long! -- Rock Point Gift & Stationery

With school starting for both of my kids on Monday, I'm definitely starting to think about fall and football! But it also means that the holidays are right around the corner, and I do like to get a head-start on Christmas shopping. One gift that I always received as a kid (and tend to buy for my own children) is a yearly calendar.

The COLOR FOR CALM ALL YEAR LONG 2018 is a really great box calendar that has a different coloring template for each day of the year. Not only can you color a different calming image every day, but this boxed set also includes a set of 5 double-sided colored pencils that attach to the base. The designs by Carrie Stephens are absolutely adorable and guaranteed to give you at least a few minutes of "calm" each day as you color the calendar page... you know, before life gets crazy!

I know it's still August, but it's never to early to discover fun (and reasonable) gifts for the holiday season. I just love the COLOR FOR CALM ALL YEAR LONG 2018 calendar, and I think it's both a practical and entertaining gift for the person in your life that needs a little calm in their life... and really, who doesn't need a little calm?

Thanks to the publisher for providing a sample of this calendar.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Goodbye, Vitamin

Summary: Her life at a crossroads, a young woman goes home again in this funny and inescapably moving debut from a wonderfully original new literary voice.

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she'd realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth's father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life. -- Henry Holt

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I picked up GOODBYE, VITAMIN by Rachel Khong. All I knew was that it was appearing on some Best of Summer lists, and it had a unique cover and title. It ends up that this book is pretty unique in its own right.

GOODBYE, VITAMIN tells the story of Ruth, a thirty-year old woman whose fiancé has recently broken up with her. After receiving a call from her mother, she decides to quit her job and return to her childhood home for the holidays. What greets her there is startling -- her father, an esteemed history professor, is suffering from memory loss and in denial; and her mother is trying to cope with things in some unusual ways.

Moving back in with the parents at 30 years old with no job and no fiancé is never ideal, but Ruth has an interesting take on her life. GOODBYE, VITAMIN is her story, both touching and funny; and it definitely gives readers a glimpse into the things that life can throw your way... and how important it is to keep things in perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed GOODBYE, VITAMIN, and I am extremely impressed with Ms. Khong's writing. The novel is written in Ruth's voice and readers get a peak into her life through vignettes. What starts as brief accounts of her life, full of stories about her parents and her father's memory loss, eventually turns more insightful as Ruth begins to reflect on her own past. It's almost as like Ruth's memories become more important in her life as her father's disappear.

I really can't express how much of a pleasant surprise Ms. Khong's writing was to me. I didn't have a lot of exceptions, but I ended up being really moved by how well she brought this story to life. I had a grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's so parts of Ruth's story really resonated with me. And I'll be the first to admit, that Alzheimer's is a terrible disease for both the victim and the family; however, it's true that my family has many hilarious memories of my grandmother's behavior. I think we had to laugh or we'd go crazy, and the author certainly captures those feelings in this story.

Finally, I want share how much I loved so many of the messages in this novel. There weren't in your face themes, but they were messages that stayed with me long after finishing this book. It's true that we see our parents in a different light the older we get, and Ruth certainly saw her father differently that she did as a child -- and that was both good and bad for her. But this novel also focused on universal themes like loss, love and family; and I especially appreciated how insightful the story and characters were.

I highly recommend GOODBYE, VITAMIN to fans of literary fiction and especially those that enjoy novels about families.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kid Konnection: Duck and Hippo Lost and Found & Giveaway


Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week I'm going to share with you an adorable picture book with some familiar faces.

Summary: Duck and Hippo have a picnic and a new adventure!

Duck and Hippo invite their friends Turtle, Elephant, and Pig to a picnic at their favorite pond. Yippee! It’s time to dance and sing, swim and eat. Everyone brings goodies to share…except Hippo. He didn’t bring ANYTHING. So Hippo sets off into the forest to find some berries. But he is gone a long time, and Duck begins to worry that Hippo is lost. What should his friends do to find him? Join Duck and Hippo on another fun adventure! -- Two Lions

The cute characters Duck and Hippo are back in DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND by Jonathan London and illustrated by Andrew Joyner. In this picture book installment, Duck and Hippo invite their friends to a picnic at their favorite pond. Duck brings an basket of goodies, while Elephant brings peppermint peach juice and a watermelon. Pig brings a pizza and Turtle brings chips, paper products and a blanket. Everyone contributed to the fun... everyone that is except Hippo! Hippo felt as if he couldn't join in their celebration because he forgot to bring something to the picnic.

Hippo gets the bright idea to pick some wild berries in the forest, but it took him quite awhile to return. His friends get concerned and head off in search of Hippo. Nighttime is rapidly approaching and the critters still can't find Hippo because Hippo is still searching for the berries. When they finally find Hippo, he's naturally relieved to see his friends... and he even gives each one of them a berry. They return to their picnic site and the festivities (and eating) can finally begin!

I thought DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND was another cute depiction of these two friends' adventures. The story is very sweet and the illustrations are the perfect complement to the fun text. Once again, Duck and Hippo demonstrate the power of friendship... friendship between two unlikely characters, and I think both parents and kids will appreciate the messages in this picture book.

I think Duck and Hippo and their friends are adorable, and I love how much fun their stories are. There is quite a bit of humor incorporated into this story, especially through Hippo's words and actions. In addition, the illustrations so cute. They are bright and whimsical, and I think they convey the personalities of the various characters. All in all, I think DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND is a picture book little ones will love!

If you can't get enough of Duck and Hippo, then check out these free downloadable activity pages.

Thanks to Blue Slip Media for providing a review copy of this book.

I'm excited to say that I have a copies of DUCK AND HIPPO LOST AND FOUND and DUCK AND HIPPO IN THE RAINSTORM to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before Friday, August 25th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!



If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: Lost and Found Sisters

Summary: From New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis comes her first women's fiction novel—an unforgettable story of friendship, love, family, and sisterhood—perfect for fans of Colleen Hoover, Susan Mallery, and Kristan Higgins.

They say life can change in an instant…

After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.'s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she's looking for a missing piece she can't find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. This shocking revelation washes over Quinn like a tidal wave. Her whole life has been a lie.

On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn't quite fit in right away, she can't help but be drawn to the town’s simple pleasures…and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there's another surprise in store for her. The inheritance isn't a house or money, but rather something earthshattering, something that will make her question everything she thought she knew about herself, about her family. Now with a world of possibilities opening up to Quinn, she must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have—and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she's searched so long for. -- William Morrow

I'm not a reader of romance novels, but I guess Jill Shalvis is a huge fan favorite! I've been hearing about her for years, and I'm amazed by not only her following but how much she's written. Ms. Shalvis has written nine different series. That's not novels -- that's series! Amazing! Her latest story, LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is actually her first foray into women's fiction, and I figured it was high time for me to give her books a try!

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is touching story about a women who discovers that her life is a lie -- basically, she isn't who she thought she was! Quinn Weller is a chef who seemingly has it all. She has a terrific family, a great job in an L.A. restaurant, and a gorgeous boyfriend. However, life hasn't always been this great. Quinn has worked hard to bounce back from her sister's death in a car accident.

One day, Quinn's life turns upside down when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a secret that makes Quinn question everything. He surprises Quinn by revealing that she has a mysterious inheritance from someone she never knew, and this information throws Quinn into a tailspin. She ends up dropping almost everything from her life and heads north to the small town of Wildstone. It's very different than L.A., but Quinn feels like she belongs there. Of course, the hot stranger who shows up doesn't hurt either!

Quinn doesn't inherit a house or money. Rather, it's a small cafe that needs some work. Quinn also learns that she has a teenage sister named Tilly who basically is all alone. Now, Quinn has to face that her life is far different from what she's thought... and decide if her new life in Wildstone is the right one for her.

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is a heartwarming story about loss, family, and second chances... with some romance thrown in. I understand that this novel is classified as women's fiction, and rightly so, but there is enough romance thrown in to please Ms. Shalvis' fans (I think -- I'm definitely not an expert on romance novels!)

I liked LOST AND FOUND SISTERS, but I don't know that I'd say I loved it. It's certainly entertaining and I couldn't help but like Quinn... and I was definitely interested in everything going on in her life. However, it's not a book that's likely to stay with me. Overall, I guess I'd say that it was a fun summer read!

There were a couple of things that stood out to me about LOST AND FOUND SISTERS. I actually liked most of the characters in the novel. Quinn was a lot of fun, although I did feel sorry for her at times. It seemed like she was not even over the loss of her sister when she had to face that her parents were keeping some pretty big secrets from her. I definitely liked her love interest Mick (and his smelly dog) as well as many of the quirky people who resided in Wildstone. I even liked the "supernatural" appearance of Quinn's dead sister Beth!

I also appreciated the theme of sisterhood in this novel. Obviously, Quinn didn't set out to find a replacement for her sister, but she ended up discovering that she had Tilly. Quinn's devotion to Tilly was certainly admirable -- it's never easy to raise a teenager, and I had to love her sense of responsibility for her. I also liked seeing how Quinn depended on Beth (or Beth's ghost!) to help guide her to do what was right.

Finally, it was fairly obvious to me that Ms. Shalvis is a writer of all things romance. There were more of those scenes that most women's fiction books (which makes it a good summer read!); and while I'm not really a good judge of love scenes, I could tell that these were way above average. She did a great job of creating chemistry between Quinn and Mick, but she also described their love for each other in a sweet (and sometimes passionate!) way.

There is a reading guide in the back of LOST AND FOUND SISTERS to help enhance book club discussions although I wasn't able to find an on-line link. Some of the topics you might want to discuss include Beth's ghost and the effect it had on Quinn, parent/child relationships, sisterhood, family, friendships, second chances, loss, grief, love, and forgiveness.

LOST AND FOUND SISTERS is a sweet (and fun) story about sisters, family, friendship, and love. I think fans of Ms. Shalvis' will enjoy this book as well as readers looking for a good escape read.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Guest Review: A Divided Spy

Summary: Thomas Kell thought he was done with spying. A former MI6 officer, he devoted his life to the Service, but it has left him with nothing but grief and a simmering anger against the Kremlin.

Then Kell is offered an unexpected chance at revenge. Taking the law into his own hands, he embarks on a mission to recruit a top Russian spy who is in possession of a terrifying secret. As Kell tracks his man from Moscow to London, he finds himself in a high stakes game of cat and mouse in which it becomes increasingly difficult to know who is playing whom.

As the mission reaches boiling point, the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack looms over Britain. Kell is faced with an impossible choice. Loyalty to MI6—or to his own conscience? -- St. Martin's Press

Booking Pap Pap is finally back -- it's been awhile! His latest read is A DIVIDED SPY by Charles Cumming. Here are his thoughts:

Thomas Kell, a retired British M16 spy, has been depressed since the death of his girlfriend/agent a year earlier and wants nothing more than to avenge her death. He sees an opportunity for vengeance when he learns that the Russian agent responsible for her death may be vulnerable to an effort to turn him. It seems that Russian agent, Alexander Minasian, currently married to the daughter of a powerful Russian oligarch is also in a homosexual relationship with a German business man. Delivering Minasian to M16 would satisfy Kell’s desire for vengeance. His ex-boss at M16, Amelia Levene, reluctantly agrees to Kell’s plan but offers little enthusiasm or manpower support.

As Kell approaches Minasian and they play their game of cat and mouse, they show signs of mutual mistrust as well as mutual respect. As a sign of Minasian’s willingness to cooperate on at least a minimum level, he shares some information with Kell about a possible terrorist attack in a British city. It appears that Shahid Khan, a British born son of a Pakistani immigrant has been radicalized by ISIS and plans a serious attack in the British sea coast city of Brighton.

When Kell reports this information, M16 hesitates to act on it believing that Kell is being used by Minasian. Kell is now divided (thus the book title). Does he continue to satisfy his personal thirst for vengeance by working Minasian or does he attempt to stop a possible attack that threatens thousands of people? Author Charles Cumming nicely weaves these two seemingly independent issues in an exciting spy novel that contains the requisite danger and twists and turns.

I found it interesting that Kell is not the only character that is divided in this story. Minasian is divided between love for his wife and his homosexual tendencies and Shahid Khan is divided between his death mission and the love he has for the woman he met in Brighton.

A DIVIDED SPY is the third book by Charles Cumming featuring M16 agent Thomas Kell but definitely stands on its own. Not having read the prior novels, a little more background on Kell may have actually been helpful. Kell appears to leave M16 for real this time my guess is that a fourth book seems unlikely.

If you’re into spy novels, A DIVIDED SPY should be added to your reading list.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.