Saturday, April 14, 2018

Kid Konnection: Celebrating Autism Awareness

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 new Golden Book with a new character!

Summary: We’re Amazing 1,2,3! is the first Sesame Street storybook to focus on autism, which, according to the most recent US government survey, may, in some form, affect as many as one in forty-five children. It’s part of Sesame Street’s autism initiative that has expanded to include a new character with autism. Elmo introduces his longtime friend Julia to Abby, who’s a little confused at first because Julia isn’t saying hello. Elmo explains that Julia has autism, so she does things a little differently. Julia sometimes avoids direct eye contact, flaps her arms when she’s excited, and is sensitive to some noises. But Abby soon learns that she also has a lot of things in common with Julia. All kids want love, friendship, and to have fun! They are all wonderful, each in his or her own way. -- Golden Books

April is National Autism Awareness Month and I thought it would be a great time to share the picture book WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3!: A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND AUTISM. This book is a Golden Book (remember those from when you were a kid?), and it's geared towards children three to seven years old. What makes this book so special (besides being about Sesame Street characters) is that it spotlights autism.

WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3! is a very cute storybook that also teaches children about others who have autism. Many of you are probably familiar with Julia, Elmo's friend who has autism. In this picture book, Elmo introduces his friend Abby to Julia. Abby is confused because Julia doesn't say hello -- that's not how she was expecting to be treated. Elmo, the great friend that he is, explains Abby's behavior to Julia. For instance, Julia doesn't always look people in the eyes, and she doesn't like noise. She also flaps her arms when she gets excited.

Abby learns that she and Julia actually have a lot more in common than not. These three friends discover that they are all different and all amazing!

I loved this WE'RE AMAZING 1, 2, 3! I'm a huge fan of Golden Books and Sesame Street - they remind me of my childhood! This book has a fantastic message and I think kids will definitely benefit from understand Julia. Highly recommended!

Check out this read-along video:

If you'd like to learn more and see amazing in all children, check out the Sesame Street Autism Resources Page.

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

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!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Educated (Audio)

Summary: Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing one’s closest ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it. -- Random House Audio

I decided to listen to EDUCATED: A MEMOIR by Tara Westover after seeing that Kathy (aka Bermudaonion) enjoyed it. The comparisons to HILLBILLY ELEGY were a plus too; however, I'm not always the best listener of audio books. I was hoping that I might have better luck with a memoir because for some reason, I can usually stay focused on memoirs more than novels. It was definitely true with this "truth is stranger than fiction" story.

EDUCATED is Tara Westovers life story... so far -- she's still only in her early 30s. She was born to Mormons in rural Idaho, and her family was a bit unusual in that they were survivalists. Her mother was a midwife and herbalist, while her father ran a junkyard. Neither was normal by conventional standards, but her father's behavior bordered on manic. He distrusted the medical establishment so much that even when members of the family were seriously injured, he wouldn't take them to the hospital. He just relied on the mom's treatments.

In addition, he distrusted any and all of the establishment. His children, including Tara, didn't attend school; and truth be told, they weren't really homeschooled either. Tara decided tot each herself enough to do well on the ACT and admitted to Brigham Young University. So at 17, she entered a classroom for the first time... and it was truly an experience. She didn't know the basics (including the truth of the Holocaust for starters); and she wasn't exactly socially adept either. It is an amazing story that she went from these beginnings to eventually Harvard and Cambridge... and even earned her doctorate!

EDUCATED is truly an incredible story. First and foremost, Tara Westover is amazing to overcome her childhood and get such a wonderful education. (She's also pretty amazing to have survived it all with some sense of sanity!) In addition, I am blown away that she wanted to share her story with others. It's shocking and even disturbing at times, and I can't help but be impressed by how Ms. Westover worked through her family issues. I honestly have so much respect for her -- she's only strong woman!

The memoir is incredibly honest, painfully so at times, and I throughly enjoyed it. (That sounds twisted!) So many of her childhood memories are larger-than-life including her interactions with her dad and abusive older brother. It's almost hard to believe that one family could have this much happen to them, but I guess that's why she had to write a book. As interesting as these tidbits were about her youth, I appreciated even more what she had to overcome to become the person she is today.

The audiobook version was read by Julia Whelan, and she did a fantastic job. For most of the book, I felt as if Ms. Westover was telling me her story -- not a narrator. It's 730 minutes long, so it's not a quick read/listen. However, I think it's well worth the time.

I do think EDUCATED would be a smart book club selection. I was excited to find a reading guide with nine interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include family dynamics, mental illness, abuse, parent/child relationships, trust, freedom, healing, and grief.

EDUCATED is a fantastic memoir that fans of HILLBILLY ELEGY and THE GLASS CASTLE will enjoy.

Thanks to the publisher for the audio download of this book.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Kid Konnection: Chronicle Picture Books

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 two picture books published by Chronicle Books.

Summary: How do we love numbers? Let us count the ways: They're on street signs and bus stops, featured on phones, thermometers, chalkboards, and scales. They show the time and the date, and help us to measure distance, sizing, and so much more. This spirited picture book by beloved author-illustrator Taro Gomi will charm and inform the youngest of readers, offering them a unique—and useful—look at a key concept we count on. -- Chronicle Books

I KNOW NUMBERS! by Taro Gomi is an adorable book that showcases the importance of numbers. In this whimsically illustrated picture book, young readers will see that numbers are everywhere -- from street signs to telephones, to scales, to televisions, to sporting events... Well, you get the idea!

I thought this book was adorable and I can totally see toddlers taking this book to heart. I'm sure most kids will start pointing out to their parents that numbers are, indeed, everywhere. I KNOW NUMBERS is a terrific way to introduce the importance of numbers. Hopefully, children will be encouraged after reading this book to take the next steps of number recognition and counting!

Summary: Celebrate the time you have with the ones you love.

The seconds that count in catching the bus;
The idyllic hours that slip by so quickly during a perfect day on the lake;
The summer days that disappear into blissful happiness . . .

This gorgeous picture book is a conversation between parent and child across the course of a single day. Inviting comparisons to All the Wonderful Things You Will Be, I Wish You More, and Love, this celebration of cherished moments with loved ones is at once simple, profound, and truly beautiful. -- Chronicle Books

FOREVER OR A DAY by Sarah Jacoby is a gorgeous picture book that's certain to warm parents' hearts. Usually, I rave about how much kids will love a book or occasionally I share that parents will appreciate the humor; however, FOREVER OR A DAY is just beautiful for all types of readers. This book has gorgeous illustrations, but it's the words and meaning of this book that make it extra-special.

FOREVER OR A DAY reminds readers to appreciate the time you have especially as it pertains to spending time with loved ones. It focuses on the little things that make a day special with an emphasis on living in the moment. I think we all need to be reminded of that, right!

The book is written so cleverly that it almost reads like a mystery. It's clear to adults reading the book that it is talking about "time," but to kids, it might take a few pages to figure out what the book is referencing. For example, the book begins with:

If you look closely, you can see it. 
You can almost touch it. 

I love FOREVER OR A DAY for its lovely pictures and it's important message. It's one special book that families will want to read over and over again.

Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of these books.

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!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: I've Been Thinking...

Summary: A book of reflections for those seeking wisdom, guidance, encouragement, and inspiration on the road to a meaningful life

As a prominent woman juggling many roles, Maria Shriver knows just how surprising, unpredictable, and stressful everyday life can be.

In this moving and powerful book, she shares inspiring quotes, prayers, and reflections designed to get readers thinking, get them feeling, get them laughing, and help them in their journey to what she calls The Open Field–a place of acceptance, purpose, and passion–a place of joy.

I’ve Been Thinking . . . is ideal for anyone at any point in her life. Whether you feel like you’ve got it all together or like it’s all falling apart–whether you’re taking stock of your life or simply looking to recharge, this is the book you will turn to again and again. Spend the weekend reading it cover to cover, or keep it on your nightstand to flip to the chapter you need most. Like talking with a close friend, it’s the perfect daily companion—an exceptional gift for someone looking to move forward in life with hope and grace. -- Pamela Dorman Books 

I have had some pretty big changes in my life these past few months. My daughter went off to college and I started working after a 15 year hiatus. If I'm being entirely honest, I've been in a bit of a funk; and sometimes I don't feel like I'm doing anything well. My house isn't as clean as I like. I don't cook as much as I should. I'm not home when my son gets home from work. I don't work out as regularly as I used to. And so on and so on....

I'm sure I'm not always easy to live with. In fact, I've been told so much by my husband and kids. I'm grumpy and depressed, and most importantly, I've been having a lot of self-doubt. I realize it's not a good thing for me or my family. And that's why this new little book by by Maria Shriver called I'VE BEEN THINKING... REFLECTIONS, PRAYERS, AND MEDITATIONS FOR A MEANINGFUL LIFE is so important to me.

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is a wonderful inspirational book on how to lead a more meaningful life. I've always respected Ms. Shriver as a journalist, mom, and philanthropist; and I think she has a unique way of using her life experiences to help others. I first read I'VE BEEN THINKING... in one day when I was home all by myself for a weekend; and since then, I've referenced it when I need a little pick me up.

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is a collection of essays collected from Ms. Shriver's e-newsletter, The Sunday Project. (If you aren't already a subscriber, I highly recommend it. The email is a treat every Sunday morning for me and helps start the week of on the right track.) These essays have a variety of themes including family, motherhood, the power of women, gratitude, faith, forgiveness and more. Each essay is just a few pages long and includes a prayer at the end, so the book is perfect to use as a daily devotional of sorts.

Since I'm coming clean in this review, I might as well tell you that I have a horrible time with keeping perspective. The little things in life drive me crazy, and I rarely look at the big picture and appreciate how very much I do have. I'VE BEEN THINKING... has helped me with that. Just hearing that someone like Ms. Shriver has similar feelings makes me realize that what I'm feeling is not uncommon, and her words of wisdom remind me to be grateful every day... and most importantly to not be so hard on myself. I will admit that it's not easy for me and I'm definitely a work-in-progress; however, I'VE BEEN THINKING... has helped me and will continue to help me. This book will sit on my nightstand for a very long time!

I'VE BEEN THINKING... is one of those books that you want to share with every woman in your life. There is so much advice and wisdom (and even humor) between the pages of this small book, and you will want to reference it over and over again. Highly recommended and it's the perfect Mother's Day gift idea!

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

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review: Tangerine

Summary: The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless. - Ecco

I didn't expect to get much read this weekend because we were visiting relatives both Saturday and Sunday (and I can't read in the car!), but I ended up finishing a terrific novel of suspense called TANGERINE by Christine Mangan. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Mangan's debut novel because it's so smart and entertaining, and evidently George Clooney agrees. He's already bought the film rights and Scarlett Johansson is slated to star (which will be absolutely perfect!)

TANGERINE begins when a dead body is being removed from water... and the reader has no idea who he is. The rest of the book is spent building up to this scene. TANGERINE takes place in the mid 1950s in Tangier. Alice Shipley is a newly married woman who moves to Morocco for her husband's job. He loves Tangier while Alice is almost afraid to leave their apartment. The crazy medinas, the crowds, and the heat are all a bit intimidating to her.

Much to Alice's surprise, her college roommate Lucy shows up in Tangier with virtually no explanation. The two women were once best friends but haven't spoken in over a year after a falling out one night during college. Lucy is determined to put the past behind them, and for brief period, Lucy and Alice return to the comfort of their friendship. Lucy even gets Alice to leave the flat and start exploring Morocco.

However, Alice's reluctance towards Lucy starts creeping back in. She realizes that Lucy is once again trying to control her life, and she doesn't like it. When Alice's husband John goes missing, Alice thinks she might be reliving the nightmare from her past. All of the doubts and insecurities about herself come rushing back in, and Alice has to struggle to get out of Lucy's grip!

I adored TANGERINE -- it was so good. The book was beautifully written, and the storyline was exciting. The novel went back and forth between women's lives in Tangier and the time they spent at Bennington College, and it also alternated chapters between Lucy and Alice's points of view. I appreciated how the story unfolded, and I equally liked how both narrators were a little off -- you could say slightly unreliable. And if you know me, I often times dislike being manipulated by unreliable narrators; however, in this case, I thought be were extremely well developed.

I also really enjoyed how the novel made Tangier into a character of its own. The author brought the setting to life through her vivid descriptions of the coastal city. However, the reader also got a sense of the drastic change and tension that was taking place during this time period in Tangier. It was the perfect backdrop to this story, and I could almost feel Alice's discomfort with the brutal heat and the crowds.

There was so much that I loved about TANGERINE. The characters were incredibly interesting -- both in the present and the past; and I loved the almost cat-and-mouse game that they played. Lucy was able to reinvent herself over and over again (sometimes a little too conveniently), while Alice -- well -- let's just say "poor Alice." It was so intriguing to get inside both of their minds, and I loved how their thoughts and actions got more and more desperate as the tension ratcheted up to the final pages.

I think fans of Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith will appreciate this tale of suspense. I know I did. Highly recommended!

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.