The Little Engine That Could – NINETIETH Anniversary Edition

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Seriously! How is it possible that this delightful, inspirational tale is NINETY years old!?! Well, it is and to celebrate there is a brand new edition just waiting to be read and added to your library!

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Everyone knows the story of the little engine, right? I think I can…. I think I can…. and soon she absolutely could! By far this was my favorite story as a child. I was small and so often there were things I was told I was “too little” to do. This engine became my hero, her mantra became mine. When I was a Weight Watchers group leader the members in my group used it as their mantra as well. If you think you can, you will do!

The text in this updated version is the same heart felt prose we always adored but the illustrations are new and absolutely gorgeous. They will make you fall in love with them! Just look at the colors in this one:

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This anniversary edition features the original text, all-new re-imagined artwork and an introduction from Caldecott Medal-winner Dan Santat and a special letter from Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter and founder of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Every child and adult alike should have a copy of this inspiring tale on their shelves to read when self-doubt rears its head. It’s perfection.

 

(Thank you to #Edelweiss, #PenguinPublishingGroup, #Grossett&Dunlap for my copy of The Little Engine That Could)

The Cult of Venus: Templars and the Ancient Goddess

Historians Cameron Thorne and Amanda Spencer-Gunn discover a 14th-century journal which confirms a long-rumored historical heresy: The medieval Church outlawed the Knights Templar because the warrior monks were secretly worshiping the ancient Goddess.  (Based on actual historical artifacts, and illustrated. )
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I was seriously minding my own business when this FREE book caught my eye on Amazon. I loved the cover and, you know me, I never can resist a beautiful cover. What I found inside was one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in ages!

While fiction, The Cult of Venus is based on the factual artifacts and records that show that the Templar Knights came to “North America” long before Columbus was even born. This is a series of nine books thus far and this is book 7 of 9 yet I felt very comfortable reading it as a stand alone. This particular book revolved around Astarte, a young girl destined to be a princess or leader of the “new world” in modern times. You will have to read the book to understand why. However, what I found so incredibly interesting was the archeological aspects of the book as well as the goddess worship. I was, quite literally, reading the book and researching what they were saying throughout its entirety and sat with my mouth hanging open in shock at what I was seeing and reading. There are illustrations throughout the book e.g. photos of henges, ceremonial sites, all here in the US! Fascinating stuff!! If you like history, the truth about history, are interested in paganism at all, or love a good action series based on the Templar Knights then you will LOVE this series. I’ve already downloaded book one so I can catch up with all that I missed.

 

Sunday Morning for Kids featuring: The Hat Who Was Left Behind, Billie Jean and Marie Montessori

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The Hat Who Left Behind is such a beautiful book for young readers. The prose is brilliant and written in a flowing verse with which children will be enraptured  It is the illustrations, however, that captured my attention.

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Each of these gorgeous watercolours tell a story in themselves. They invite the reader to use their own imagination to describe what is happening within them. The language is simple enough that whoever is reading, adult or child, can elaborate on commentary and that is very important for young readers especially.

The theme is one of purpose: can we or an inanimate object be more than what we think we can be. Can a hat, whose purpose was beauty for a small child, be more than just a hat. Think about that and you will find that the philosophy behind this one can be as deep as you want it to be. Again, this is a skill I highly encouraged my own children to develop and the author and artist have done an exquisite job illustrating this. The Hat Who was Left Behind is a perfectly marvelous book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Meet the Author and Illustrator:

Céline Lamour-Crochet was born in Brittany, France and is a well known children’s author whose titles are available worldwide. This is her first book for minedition. Feridun Oral was born in 1961 in Kirikkale, Turkey and graduated from Marmara University. He has illustrated his own children’s books as well as those of other authors. He is the recipient of many awards including an award from UNESCO in Japan. His books with minedition include The Message of the Birds, A Red Apple, A Whisper In the Snow, and A Warm Winter.
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On a different note and in the genre of children’s non-fiction, there were two incredible books that I added to our library: Billie Jean and Maria Montessori.
I think there are few women who are not familiar with Billie Jean King and the accomplishments she achieved for all women. A tennis star in the latter part of the 20th century (that looks strange, doesn’t it?) Billie Jean King played tennis against Bobby Riggs in a match entitled “The Battle of the Sexes.” Billie Jean won the match and went on to open new paths for women of all ages.
She didn’t start out as champion, however. At one point she was a little girl who was considered overweight and wore “coke bottle” glasses. To overcome the stigma, she began playing tennis where is steadfastly prevailed. She is a role model for all children on perseverance, overcoming bullying and what we all can achieve when we work hard. Billie Jean, by Mara Rockliff,  is a well told story of an amazing woman whose legacy should be known by children everywhere.
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Oh wow. I probably could write my own book about Maria Montessori who is and has been my own role model and hero. Few have influenced my life and that of my children as much as Maria Montessori!
Maria Montessori, by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, is part of the Little People, Big Dreams series for children. The books are basically biographies written on child’s level about people who not born into greatness but, instead, lived to achieve their dreams. Montessori is best known for her unique method of educating children that was and still is practiced in many countries through schools founded on her philosophy and by many homeschool families who appreciate the child centered approach to learning. The book often points out, rightly so, that Maria received her education, in science, medicine and more, at a time when girls were not encouraged to do so. She overcame the odds to become an expert in childhood education.
My one drawback to this book is that the author describes Montessori’s method as education through play. While playing in an important part of learning for us all, that is not the foundation of Montessori’s teachings. Learning is everywhere – play, cooking, building, every day skills that we must achieve. Giving the child access to multiple areas in which to learn – including play – is essential to their growth. My son was cooking Mac and Cheese from scratch when he was five years old because he was never told that he couldn’t. All of my kids stayed well above the “normal” achievements of others because they were never held back from learning new skills. Freedom to learn everywhere, that is the beauty of Montessori’s method.
Maria Montessori is marvelous addition to this incredible series and one that I hope parents and teachers alike will utilize to their fullest extent.
If you read these book, or have already, let me know what you think. If you haven’t, then I encourage you to do so regardless of your age. You will learn something new, guaranteed.

The Helios Disaster by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard

The Helios Disaster, written by Linda Bostrom Knausgaard, is an amazingly beautiful work of prose. Please do not go into it expecting your run of the mill fiction narrative for it is far more than that.

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Told in two parts, this is the story of Anna who bursts from her father’s head in full armor, we quickly discover that the birth scream is from her father who is being rushed off to an asylum for schizophrenia. Anna, first taken in by a neighbor, eventually ends up with social services and asks if it is hell. The story continues with Anna who eventually ends up in an asylum herself. This is both a retelling of the birth of Athena and a sad commentary on those with any mental illness. It is, at once, heartbreaking and achingly beautiful. A mere 128 pages, it is very worth reading.

It’s Valentine’s Day – what are you reading? #SundayPotluckClub/FirstComesLove

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I hope you’re having a love-ly Valentine’s Day and are sharing it with those you love and care about most. For me, that would be BOOKS! 

FIRST COMES LOVE by Camilla Isley

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First Comes Love by Camilla Isley includes three of her first books: Love Connection, I Have Never and A Christmas Date. Each of the stories can be read independently from one another but they do have a few crossovers. You can even find the books published separately if you choose.

Love Connection, the first story, was my favorite. Gemma is sitting in an airport with two tickets to two different destinations. One is for the wedding of her best friend; the other is to stop the wedding of her first real love. She ponders the outcome of each and then decides – but is it the right choice? Love Connection actually allows you, the reader, to see the outcome each way and to follow Gemma’s path of self-discovery. It it a thoughtful, well written and humorous story of love, choices and consequences.

The latter two, I Have Never and A Christmas Date, are both fairly typical ROMCOMs. They will make you laugh out loud, I promise you will, and perhaps even cry a little. Camilla Isley writes poignant love stories that are sure to touch each of you, especially on this day of love.  This is my first venture into her writing and I will be sure to watch for her future releases.

Sunday Potluck Club by Melissa Storm

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Love Love LOVED The Sunday Potluck Club. And, by the way, this review is about the entire book and not just an excerpt which was previously published.

Four very different women, with distinct personalities, forge a friendship with one another after meeting on a cancer ward. They are the survivors who, with one exception, have lost a loved one to cancer. Amy, who the story primarily revolves around; Bridget, whose mother has just died; Nicole, whose father is in remission and Hazel who lost her mother before the others. Each are grieving and coping with their loss, as well as survivor’s guilt, in their own unique way. Told from Amy’s point of view, we get to know each woman’s strength’s and their flaws as they encourage one another through difficult times. When Amy meets a man whose daughter is in her classroom and who also is coping with loss, she finally begins to see that there can be life after monumental loss.

The Sunday Potluck Club talks a lot about death, grief, and coping with loss but never in a heavy way. Yes, it is realistic to the point that you hurt for some of the women and there were times that I wanted to slap a few of them, but overall, it was a beautiful story of friendship and overcoming challenges. At its heart, it is a well crafted love story between friends as well as possible romantic interests. It’s a book about life, not death. It also is the first in a new series so each woman will have their story told. I cannot wait for the next one!

Thank you to #Netgalley, the authors, #KensingtonPublications and #PinkBloomPress for my copies of these wonderful books.

 

 

 

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

A dystopian sci-fi novel that is far too close to reality for comfort….

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A pandemic sweeps through the US during which quarantines are mandated. Neither the living or the dead are allowed to leave. There are people trapped in towers who are both stir-crazy and lonely. Metis, a tech company, comes to the rescue with “companions.” Download the brain with all of its electrical currents, memories, and emotions, into a robotic body – some with skin for a more human like touch. These creations are pre-programmed not to harm or do violence and to operate only at the command of their human. One such “companion” – Lilac – goes off track when she learns that she is to be scrapped. Setting out on her own, she is in search of the person who murdered her human form.

Admittedly, this one of the strangest pieces of fiction that I’ve read in a long time. When I began reading I wasn’t sure if I liked it or would finish the book. But then I became invested in Lilac as she hops from body to body. We’re then introduced to more characters, some human and some are companions. Each of the stories seemed to be unrelated – until they weren’t. Going further into the book I realized that each of these “stories” was interconnected and relevant to the others. By the end of the book, I was all in and couldn’t believe how it ended, or possibly I knew how it would end before I even began reading.

What was so startling about The Companions is on this day, as I finished reading and am now writing this review, I’m listening on the news about quarantines being set up all over the world on the brink of what could be the early days of a Pandemic. In tandem, there is tech news about the first fully functioning AI who is frighteningly quite human. In light of those things, The Companions seemed more current events than “sci-fi.”

This is NOT a book for everyone. It is, however, one of the best dystopian tales that I’ve read in ages. It’s also a great sci-fi experience that does not involve other galaxies, fantasy or world building. If you do not like dystopian fiction or science fiction, then you will not enjoy this book. However, if you like new, different, quirky, dark reads then I can recommend The Companions 100%.

Thank you to @Netgalley, the author and #GalleryScoutPress for my ARC of The Companions.

Recent Reads and Rapid Reviews: Watch Over Me/ The Prized Girl/How Quickly She Disappears

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For various reasons, I’ve struggled with writing reviews for these three books. I enjoyed reading each of them but I felt as though I was saying the same thing over and over again. Rather than be redundant, I decided to go with shorter reviews for them. That doesn’t negate the fact that I truly did like all three and I hope you will as well.

THE PRIZED GIRL by Amy K Green

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Told from two distinct points of view, The Prized Girl is a slow burning mystery revolving around a murdered former beauty queen, Jenny, and her older sister’s quest for finding the truth. When Jenny is murdered, the police quickly arrest a developmentally challenged man who was obsessed with Jenny. Virginia, the sister, thinks there is more to the murder and begins seeking answers. The story is told in such a way that Jenny is reliving the events leading up to her death  while Virginia is dealing with past demons, lies and suspicions that not all of what she thought of as the truth was actually true.

This is a debut for the author, Amy K Green, and I think she did an incredible job with her story telling. The writing was suspenseful, fluid and the characters were very realistic and believable. My only concern was that I felt as though I had “been there, done that” with the story line itself. In a genre that is saturated, it is difficult to be unique and, while this was a very good, interesting read, it offered nothing new to the genre. If you like crime fiction, I think you would like The Prized Girl. Just don’t set your expectations too high.

How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

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Set in the early 1940s in a sparsely populated area of Alaska, How Quickly She Disappears is an atmospheric, suspenseful tale that is dark, gritty and psychologically taut.

Twenty years ago, Elizabeth’s sister disappeared. It changed Elizabeth’s life irreparably. Not a day passes when she doesn’t think about Jacqueline and wonder if she is still alive and, if so, where she might be. Living in a remote area of Alaska, Elizabeth struggles with her loveless marriage and extremely brilliant daughter who she loves more than life itself and who reminds her of Jacqueline. When I strange man suddenly appears in their village, Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when the man murders her friend and then, when in custody, proclaims that he knows where Jacqueline is. However, in return for the information, Elizabeth must do three things for this killer. How far is she willing to go to find answers?

Ironically enough, my family actually has had someone vanish into thin air. While she was no one’s favorite person, except her daughter’s, her disappearance left an unusual hole in the lives of all those who knew her. From that perspective I completely understood what Elizabeth have been feeling when this monster told her he had information about her sister. However, the plausibility of the remainder of the plot was filled with too many holes and inconsistencies.

How Quickly She Disappears was, at once, one of the best atmospheric books I’ve read in a long time and also one of the most unbelievable. This is where I have struggled with reviewing the book. I both loved it and disliked it. I wanted more than it was offering, while I also relished the beauty of the prose. I think this is a book that readers will either love or hate. Into which category will you fall?

Watch Over Me by Jane Renshaw

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Watch Over Me was a complete surprise. I was expecting a simple crime story and what I got instead was a dark, twisty, psychological thriller. Yes, I know, it says psychological thriller right there on the cover but we know that what we readers think of a “thriller” is not always what publisher’s consider “thrilling.” Let me tell you, Watch Over me was suspenseful, edgy, creepy and, yes, thrilling!

A child, Beckie, is being torn between families. One is educated and wealthy and desperately searching for a child they can love and call their own. The other is, well, there aren’t a lot of kind descriptors for this family. They are poverty stricken, unhealthy, morally bankrupt and Beckie’s mother is in jail for murder. It doesn’t sound like the ideal situation, does it? The government didn’t think so and they removed Beckie from the squalor and “gave” her to Flora, a mother with so much love to give. However, Beckie’s family loved her. Her grandmother, a foul-mouthed obese woman, really did love Beckie. So, when is it okay to take a child from one family and give it to another. That is the question at the heart of this book as Beckie’s biological family goes to amazing lengths to get Beckie back. Their actions had me wondering if they were truly as ignorant as they appeared.

BUT – and that is a huge but right there – BUT, the ending and the twist is what will leave you sitting in your seat with your mouth hanging open. I generally do not like twists at the end and only appreciate them when they are amazing. Let me tell you, IT IS. I highly recommend Watch Over Me which grip you tight from start to the startling conclusion.

(My thanks to Netgalley and Edelweiss for my copies of these three interesting reads)