Book Review: Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman, Annie Crawley

Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman, with photography by Annie Crawley, is a children's non fiction book about a scientific expedition known as SEAPLEX. A team of scientists set out to study a massive accumulation of plastic in the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They have a lot of questions about the plastic. How does it affect ocean life? Is it dangerous? And exactly how much is out there? The team of researchers use the scientific method to conduct their investigation and their adventures introduce readers to the basics of ocean science and the hazards of plastics.

Plastic, Ahoy! is a narrative nonfiction book for children, that adults and teens can certainly get a lot out of reading as well. The book details the lives and discoveries of researchers for nearly three weeks at sea. They gathered bits of plastic and ocean organisms and studied the samples, which helped them learn more about the effects of plastic in the ocean and sometimes raised even more troubling questions. Readers follow along on the expedition to find out how scientists studied the Garbage Patch, and what discoveries they made. The photography brings the reader into the adventure and makes them see that everything on the pages is real, not just a story to caution them about recycling and litter.

Plastic, Ahoy! does not avoid using some complex language and ideas, but does includes a glossary, bibliography, and suggestions for further reading. It would be appropriate for older elementary school readers and older, including adults. I liked that there was no talking down to the intended audience, instead offering to increase their knowledge base and understanding.  I believe that the book would be a good classroom or homeschooling tool for fostering discussions about the ocean, Earth Day, recycling, ecosystems, and many more science topics.

Early Book Review: If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems by Brian P. Cleary, Andy Rowland

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Andy Rowland, is a book that explains and celebrates two types of ancient Japanese poetry: haiku and lanterns. It is currently schedule for release on May 1 2014. There are short introductions with an outline of the basic rules of each form followed by a series of poems in explained format. The poems range from silly to sweet, with lighthearted illustrations adding to the books appeal.

If it Rains Pancakes is a wonderful way to explore poetry with children, or for yourself. I loved getting a better understanding of the haiku, and seeing lanterns for the first time. The short non-rhyming poems are unique in style and take some getting used to, but can be great fun to work with. I enjoyed the range of silly, warm hearted, and serious subject matters- showing that the form of poetry is versatile even in its  strict structure. The illustration do a nice job of illustrating the poems and bring the subject home.

I would recommend If it Rains Pancakes for classroom, homeschooling, and pure enjoyment. It can be used as a great tool to help explain these particular forms of poetry, and to foster enjoyment in poetry in general. the illustrations and poems make it well worth perusing for its own sake.

Book Review: 100 Hungry Monkeys! by Masayuki Sebe

100 Hungry Monkeys! by Masayuki Sebe is a picturebook that offers numbers, counting, and more. One hundred monkeys are hunting for food, but something else is hungry, too! Can the monkeys find their food without becoming lunch? Additional seek and find activities are on each page to encourage readers to slow down and study the whole picture, not just the words.

100 Hungry Monkeys! is a colorful and interactive book that could capture the attention of most readers for far longer than it would take to merely read the text. The story itself is cute and well done. 100 monkeys are hungry and search for food, find food as well as someone else that is big and hungry, a fun twist for the ending. However, it is hidden joys in each of the 100 pages that really sold this book for me. Some of the monkeys on each page always have something to say, and there are seek and find activities on each page, like finding a certain number of monkeys with orange hats. Once the main story is over there are further seek and find clues for readers to go back and find through out the book. My son is a big fan of this type of activity, and the book is a big hit with him.

I highly recommend 100 Hungry Monkeys! for readers that enjoy interactive books, and books that you can find something new in every time you pick it up. The story and illustrations are bright, fun, and colorful and can capture the interest and imagination of even the most reluctant readers.

Early Book Review: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash by Frank Cammuso

The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash is the second graphic novel in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso. It is currently scheduled for release on May 20 2014.  While I enjoyed the first book in the series, which sets up the characters, you can enjoy the second book without having read the first. Young witch Salem Hyde is stubborn, impulsive, and loves flying. Her cat and magic tutor Whammy is nervous and much more careful. In this book, Salem is invited to a birthday party, and she wants to make sure everything goes perfectly. But from the invitations to the presents, party games, and spells gone awry, nothing happens exactly the way it should, and she’ll need Whammy’s help to sort it all out.

Big Birthday Bash is a wonderful follow up to the first book, Spelling Trouble. Salem is just as good-natured and brimming with good intent, and just as likely to have things go a little awry. The relationship between Salem and Whammy is solid and their give it take is well done. I also like the use of the classmates and innocent naivete of Salem and her friend. The artwork is a perfect match to the story, and gives the characters great expression and life.

I would recommend Big Birthday Bash and the prior volume to young readers that enjoy graphic novels with a character they can both relate to and imagine trading places with in order to enjoy the benefits of magic and a talking cat companion. I look forward to seeing what kind of misadventures Miss Hyde encounter next.

Book Review: The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems is the newest addition to the Pigeon collection from Willems, and it meets all the exceptions of this fan. In this adventure the intrepid pigeon really needs a bath. However, you know the pigeon is not going to make this easy. Pigeon is sure the bath he took last month, he thinks, has him covered. But when even  the flies start telling him he needs a bath, pigeon still is not sure. It's going to take some serious convincing to try and get the Pigeon to take the plunge.

Mo Willem rocks, I love his books and was thrilled to see this on my cart to catalog! In The Pigeon Needs a Bath readers see the pigeon fight against a bath with as much effort as he has previously fought against bedtime, and for driving a bus, having a hot dog party, and so on. Pigeon's tenacity is something I can recognize in both my kids, and honestly myself at times. Also, I know there are parents out there that have battles about getting the kids in the bath. (I am fortunate in that my biggest problem is getting them out of the tub, and limiting the baths to once a day.) So this book is something so many kids and parents can relate to and find entertainment in that I think everyone should read it. Yup everyone, kids that love the bath, kids that hate the bath, and parents that just hose the kids off in the summer or let them play in the rain to avoid the fight.

The Pigeon Needs a Bath is another home run by Mo Willems. It is a great read aloud book to share, and a book young readers can enjoy alone. I think the book, the ending in particular, is something all caregivers can relate to, and will make kids smile too!

Book Review: Good Crooks Book One: Missing Monkey! (Good Crooks #1) by Mary Amato, Ward Jenkins

Good Crooks Book One: Missing Monkey! is the first book in the Good Crooks series written by Mary Amato and illustrated by Ward Jenkins. This early chapter book is about Billy and Jillian Crook. These twins are tired of having to wear disguises every time they leave the house and helping their parents lead a life of crime. These feisty youngsters want to do some good deeds, but have to be even sneakier while doing good than while breaking the law. When their parents steal a monkey to help them steal, the twins rush into action. Not only do they learn just how much a monkey can do in eleven minutes, they also learn what it feels like to do good.

Missing Monkey! is a fun and fast paced story that will capture the attention quickly. Billy and Jillian are well done characters, each with a very distinct personality. I loved some of Billy's asides and lists that more often than not made me laugh. The interaction between the tech genius Jillian, impulsive Billy, and their parents are highly entertaining. Adding and intelligent monkey to the mix just makes everything that much more entertaining. I think the strive to do a good deed in secret, and the humor ingrained in the entire book, make for a combination that will entertain most readers.

I recommend Missing Monkey for readers just making the transition to chapter books, and for those that like the silly humor so often involved in a story involving hum,ans and monkeys. The story is a fun read, with humor and a good lesson about not having to be what others expect you to be firmly woven into the book. I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Dog Gone!, which is waiting for my attention on my Kindle.

Blog Tour Review: Wonder Light (Unicorns of the Mist #1) by R.R. Russell

Wonder Light is the first book in the middle grade series, Unicorns of the Mist, by R.R. Russell. Twig is resigned to living on a pony farm for troubled girls, despite the spooky stories she has read about the island. Soon Twig discovers someone that needs her, mysterious filly that has claimed her as her own. Then there is the mysterious of the wild boy in the misty woods and the terrifying screams from something that is not quite a horse. Twig discovers that the island's secret is the last free unicorn herd, but not all unicorns are good.

Wonder Light is a fantastic series starter. The world and character building are very well done, with little bits of Twig slowly being revealed to the reader. I found her personality and trials to be touching and something most middle grade and even older readers can relate to. I particularly liked that even with the fantastic elements, the real life troubles of Twig are not simply swept under the carpet- instead the two come together in order to help her come to terms with her life and the world in general. Ben is a complicated character, with many mysteries that still need to be revealed but still makes the reader feel for him and root for him. The other characters were less developed, but they did not feel neglected, rather I felt like I knew what I needed to in order to keep the story and personal connections intact but without a massive information dump that might overwhelm the heart of the story.

I highly recommend Wonder Light to readers that enjoy coming of age stories, mystery, adventure, and fantasy. There is a good balance of emotional and physical struggles to keep most readers turning pages and eager to see what happens next. I am looking forward to seeing where this series goes from here.

Writing as R.R. Russell for kids and R.H. Russell for teens and adults. She grew up traveling the world as an army brat and now travels the country as a coach with a non-profit judo club. She loves to read and draw, and like Twig, once spent a lot of time sketching unicorns. Visit her at

Book Review: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes #1) by Christopher Healy, Bronson Pinchot

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is the first book in The League of Princes series
by Christopher Healy. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Bronson Pinchot. The story is that of four Princes Charming. Prince Liam, Prince Frederic, Prince Duncan and Prince Gustav are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

So there is the plot and the main characters, which are all very well fleshed out and grow considerably as the story progresses. they all are stereotypes that grow far beyond what we expect, and what they are prepared for. The lovely princesses are also very strong characters that defy the roles that they are thrust into. I loved that characters we all thought we knew are cast into new light and given further adventures. BUT, what really made this book for me is the narrator. I do not know if I would have enjoyed The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom to the extent I did if it were not for the voice talents of Bronson Pinchot. Oh my, he gave each of the characters such distinct voices, enhancing the images I had for each and giving them different accents to boot. The phrasing, inflections, and accents of each character just brought them to life for me. I am currently listening to the second book in the series- and he is even more impressive there.

I highly recommend The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom to readers that love twists of fairy tales, action, adventure, and humor (there is tons of humor here!). I even more highly suggest listening to the book, just be aware that you might catch yourself laughing out loud, which might inspire strange looks from those nearby.

Book Review: Red Hot Dragon (Dragon Heat #2) by Lolita Lopez

Red Hot Dragon is the second novella in the Dragon Heat series by Lolita Lopez. In this installment we see Griffin Cadogan is shocked to see Avani Monroe, sworn enemy of his dragon family, walk into his gym. With his mating phase soon approaching, Griffin is curious as to why she has to come enemy territory knowing the risks. Not only does she surprise Griffin and his cousin, Mad, by coming to enemy territory, but what she wants is borderline insane. She wants Griffin to help her have a baby.

Red Hot Dragon is a novella with plenty of steamy sex scenes, but very little character and greater plot development for the larger story arc. Griffin is a mega alpha male, that is entering his mating phase and while more than willing to make a baby, is not willing to walk away from any child that might result. Avani is the last of her line, and desperate to be everything to a child that her parents were not. the pair start off all about the sex, but almost instantly feel more for each other. The hunters play their part, and there is a tantalizing glimpse at who best be the staring couple of the next book. when I finished the book I was more interested in the characters for the next book, than in Griffin and Avani.

If you are looking for a short read with lots of sex, then Red Hot Dragon is for you. If you expect a little more character and plot development, yes it can be done in a novella, then you might be disappointed with this offering. it was not a bad read, it just did not live up to my expectations. that being said, I do think I will read the next book, if only because I have had my interest peaked in the characters and due to the length of the stories I will not be sacrificing much of my time if it does disappoint.

Fire of the Sea by Lyndsay Johnson: Blog Tour including Interview and Exerpt

A New Young Adult Book, Fire of the Sea by Lyndsay Johnson

Sharp, sleek, and golden. Like the dagger she has worn since childhood, eighteen-year-old Aeva is all three of these things. But there is something else that this mermaid and her prized weapon share – they are both hunted.

Hidden within the caves off Iceland’s dark shore, Aeva waits to take her place as the next ruler of the Meriads. But when Aeva uses her potent and alluring song to save a drowning human, she disrupts a delicate balance. Realizing she has unexpectedly bound herself to Gunnar, Aeva is torn between duty and love.

Aeva severs one life to begin another, and soon finds herself not only rejected by the sea, but also stalked by an old enemy. As the worlds of myth and man intertwine, Aeva will challenge fate to protect her own sacred relic and the man she loves.

But legends and lies cast an intricate net. With time and safety quickly unraveling for Aeva and Gunnar, there is only one clear course: Find and defeat Delphine before she can shift again.

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1. Was there a specific moment or idea that inspired writing Fire of the Sea?
 I had a dream, actually. I’ve always had really vivid, detailed dreams. One morning I woke up after dreaming that I was a mermaid. I had rescued a pilot who had fallen from his plane (he was being dragged under by his parachute). I was swimming through all of this billowing, white fabric. It was amazing. I woke up and had to type a rough draft of what would eventually become the second chapter in my book. (*for an excerpt from this chapter, see below)

 2. Do you see bits of yourself, your family, your friends, or your life in your characters that surprise you?
 I can definitely see some of my flaws in Aeva. She worries a lot about what her course in life should be. I think that’s something inherent in all of us at some point. But I can look back at myself at 18 and see how I shared a lot of the same anxiety about life and love and which direction to take. (Granted, I wasn’t a daughter of a sea king with a heavy mantle weighing on me…)

 3. Did you always want to write. or were you brought to writing by a completely different path?
I have always loved to write. For me, there is a constant creative drive, whether it’s writing, illustrating, painting, or designing. I have degrees in graphic design and creative writing. When I was younger I wrote and illustrated a lot of stories and poetry. Once I was older, I focused on graphic design for more than ten years. But over time the desire to write began to resurface again. So I decided to just go for it! Writing offers different fulfillment creatively. I love being able to still take part in the visual arts while exploring what stories are floating around in my head, as well.

 4. Do you have any set writing routine or rituals, or do you work as inspiration strikes?
I think it’s a bit of both. Sometimes I have a day where I feel like I HAVE to sit down and just write as much as possible. Those days I feel like I am hard-wired into a steady flow of inspiration. Other days I have to set goals. When I am writing I definitely have my playlists that I listen to on repeat. And I like to have a box of Junior Mints on hand to keep up the writing energy, of course!

 5. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Oh gosh. I have to admit I loved writing so many scenes in this book. My main character, Aeva goes on quite a journey throughout the story. So there are a lot of beautiful Icelandic settings that I was able to delve into. The underwater caves were wonderful to write. I also really enjoyed the shift in the book when Aeva makes her way to land, and I could describe what that would be like for the first time. Iceland is a raw and wild place. It is just being born compared to the rest of the Earth. So to have Aeva’s first encounter with the Earth as a human happen in Iceland seemed magical to me. I had to experience what it was like for Aeva to wake up for the first time as a human. Learning the words of objects, the feel of wood and grass beneath her feet, the way that saltwater now burned her body. I had to discover it as I went along, which was really thrilling.

6. Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a different theme or idea you’d love to work with? 
 Definitely Aeva’s best friend Sissel. Sissel is a unique mermaid because she is a “Seer,” and has special abilities to see things in her mind’s eye. Sissel has a complicated and detailed back-story that was originally included in the novel. But it was adding unnecessary distraction to my plot, and seemed to slow things down. But it would make a great prequel or novella!

7. What do you do when you are not writing?
I have three children (my youngest is just over a month old). So I am very busy staying at home with my spirited kiddos every day. I am also a graphic designer, which means I have to balance all of my motherly and creative pursuits. In my pockets of spare time, I like to watch movies (I could watch the new version of Pride and Prejudice on repeat forever), go exploring in our small mountain town, and of course I love to read!

8. Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I am so happy to share Fire of the Sea with you! I’ve been swimming through Aeva’s world now for almost three years before the dream became a reality. One of my favorite aspects of writing is sharing the final experience of the story. So thank you for taking part in that!

Excerpt from Fire of the Sea by Lyndsay Johnson Chapter Two: The Call:

  In the deepening blue, what appeared to be an enormous jellyfish was descending slowly and steadily. A white plume the size of a ship’s sail, with long trailing tentacles, hung in the agitated water. Part of it still clung to the surface.
  I moved closer. Reaching out, my fingers felt the edges of the ghostly form. Fabric. I’d read of its tight weave used in human clothing. I’d never seen so much of it, much less touched it.
White strings were attached to the fabric, tangling down into the depths. My gold hair whirled in front of my face as I paused to make sense of what hovered before me. As I whipped my head around for clarity, I saw him.
  Snared at the center of the mass was a young man. A human. What I had first thought to be a jellyfish was something else entirely. The human was attached to the now collapsing net of fabric and rope by a bundle strapped to his back and shoulders. He sank deeper and deeper in a slow-motion descent, as the last of the fabric slipped below the surface. His head was bowed, but his body wasn’t completely limp. He struggled sluggishly. Was he giving up? Why didn’t he remove the pack?
  It took me a moment to tear myself away from my fascination. I managed to remember that humans couldn’t hold air in their lungs underwater for very long. They would lose strength in the sea, not gain it. He was drowning.

About the Author:
Lyndsay grew up in the wide expanses of Texas, where the only thing stronger than the accents was the state pride. An over-active imagination, tale-telling father, and encouraging librarian mother lead to her love of all things creative.

When it comes to books on her bedside table, young adult lit has always been a favorite (Blue Balliett, Libba Bray, and Stephenie Meyer, to name a few.) But it was actually an old, yellowing copy of Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales that planted a particularly relentless seed. Shapeshifters and sea nymphs began forming the seed of an idea that would eventually grow into Lyndsay’s debut novel, Fire of the Sea.

When she is not writing, you can find Lyndsay spending time with her family in the Rocky Mountains of Utah. She enjoys sitting in dark theaters, trying new gluten-free recipes, watching breaking storms over the peaks out her window, and secret naps.