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The Snow Bear
by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Artful Doodlers
Do you want to share information about the Arctic with the children in your life in an engaging way? The Snow Bear by Holly Webb is a great way to do it. Sara goes to visit her grandfather who lives on a cliffside in Canada. As it snows, he talks with Sara about going to the Arctic when he was a boy with his father to record the life and customs of the Inuits living in the Arctic as Sara’s great-grandfather could already see the old ways disappearing.
When Sara goes to bed that night, she dreams herself into the stories Grandpa told her and has her own experiences which bring the Arctic to life for her. She rescues a cub, falls into a crevasse, and shares a warming Inuit soup.
The Snow Bear is a chapter book. I think children would benefit from reading this with an adult as they look at a map of the Arctic and discuss the terms used. An Internet search of corresponding images for items such as “Arctic tern” and “quilliq” would be helpful too. Although the story is fictional, there is much information included.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Myrick Books/Tiger Tales for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: 1. The illustrations did not show up well in my Advanced Reader Copy, but the sample line drawings shown on Amazon were perfect for this story.
2. This is the first book I have read by Holly Webb, but I discovered she is a prolific children’s author with books suitable for all the various ages.
3. I also learned that Artful Doodlers is responsible for many of the illustrations that children’s book lovers cherish.
4. This book is part of a Wintry Tales Series.
Publication: October 1, 2019— Myrick Books/Tiger Tales
“That’s why we went. We wanted to record it all, before it changed forever.”
…the nearest dog, who was curled up in the snow, with his tail wrapped tightly around his nose and his paws. Sara had never seen a dog curl up so small—he looked almost like a cat. “They can sleep through a blizzard like that. And they have to stay out—they’re our guard dogs, too. They let us know if there’s a polar bear around.”
“We always share what we have,” Alignak said, sounding almost surprised. “Food belongs to everyone who needs it.”
Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas
I had a blast reading Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas. Author and illustrator Juana Medina, like the main character in her book, is from Bogotá, Columbia. I know some bilingual teachers who would be uncomfortable with the code switching in this book; I love it. For me, inserting some Spanish words in places where the context or illustrations make the word meanings plain adds color and flavor to this chapter book written mainly in English.
Juana, her Mami, and her dog Lucas have an almost perfect life together. They have a routine and a support group of family and friends that keep them happy. Things start to change when Mami gets a new hairstyle and starts wearing more perfume. The new man in Mami’s life is Luis, an architect. Juana likes him but she doesn’t want things to change, and she doesn’t want Mami and Luis to get married. We learn about Juana’s dad who passed away and about the sadness of not having a father. We share in the characters’ preparations for the wedding and the move. All of this is portrayed sensitively, but also with humor. The illustrations fit the book well.
I learned about a favorite Columbian soup, ajiaco. It is creamy and made of several types of potatoes that cook to various consistencies. It has corn on the cob, capers, chicken, sour cream, and herbs, and is topped with a slice of avocado. The other unfamiliar food to me is chocolate con queso. This special treat consists of hot chocolate with chunks of cheese—chihuahua, queso fresco, or mozzarella. Evidently it is a delight of sweet and salty and is served with bread. I’m ready for a trip to Columbia!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Publication: May 14, 2019—Candlewick
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir
by Jean Guerrero
Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir attracted my attention because I live part of each year in Mexico and part in New Mexico, U.S.A. After five years of cross-border experiences, I have such mixed feelings because I love the U.S. with its fairly balanced mixture of freedom and order, but I also have enjoyed the kindness and diverse cultures of the Mexican people.
Crux, however, addresses cross-border experiences on a whole different level. The author Jean Guerrero is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Mexican father. Guerrero survives a dysfunctional childhood to become a journalist. This book is an effort to understand herself through an attempt to understand her father, a brilliant man who at various times is addicted to drugs, and alcohol, believes the C.I.A. is performing experiments on him, and is schizophrenic according to her mother, a medical doctor.
Guerrero longs for her father’s affection. She received it when she was very little, but most of her memories are of an unpredictable and often hateful man who occasionally dropped in and out of her life. Guerrero tries to win her mother’s affection and approval through scholastic achievement. In the process of becoming an adult, she is always introspective but she experiments in dangerous arenas—drugs at raves, trips to dangerous areas of Mexico, bad boys and sexual exploration, and the occult. The occult is tied in with her heritage as she had a great-great grandmother in Mexico who was a healer and diviner and other Mexican relatives who were involved in similar activities.
Crux contains a lot of family stories: Guerrero’s own memories, interviews with her father and his mother, and trips to Mexico to discover the truth of her roots. It also includes some of her philosophical thinking at various times in her life as well as information from her neurological studies in college. She minored in neurology as a part of her efforts to understand her father’s schizophrenia and her genetic predilection to become schizophrenic herself.
As a cross-border tale, Crux is sprinkled with Spanish, some of it translated, some not. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I appreciated the authenticity added to Crux by including Spanish. I do wonder, however, if understanding the book would be affected by a reader’s not being able to translate as they read. One could, of course, use an online Spanish dictionary to help, but that would definitely interrupt the flow.
Crux is a very personal memoir exploring the raw feelings of the author. The point of view changes in the latter part of the book as Guerrero addresses her father. There is also a maturity and cohesion in that part of the book not present in the first. Perhaps that is appropriate as she was initially relating experiences as remembered from a child’s point of view. Readers who enjoy history will receive historical background to provide context; it is interesting and succinct. All in all, Crux is a good read. There are very few heart-warming moments, but that was her life.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to One World (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: There are some sexually explicit portions and offensive language in Crux. The treatment of women is particularly disturbing.
Publication: July 17, 2018—One World (Random House)
Life was not turning out as we had hoped. Creativity was a crime. Innocent creatures were mortal. Fathers left their daughters and broke their mother’s heart.
I had grown accustomed to the idea of my father as dead. If he was dead, he wasn’t willfully ignoring us. This belief had become a sinister source of comfort.
He persisted without pausing for protest, the same anger he had directed at me when he was driving me to my riding lessons as a teenager. I stared at the table, steeling myself. The numbness came naturally—a habit of my adolescence.
The Bagel King
written by Andrew Larsen
Illustrated by Sandy Nichols
The Bagel King is a sweet story about a grandfather who goes to the bakery every Sunday morning, rain or shine, and buys bagels to share with his grandson Eli. Then Zaida’s (grandpa’s) three friends arrive at his apartment with their assisted walking devices for a Sunday morning bagel feast. All of that changes one Sunday when Zaida slips at at the bakery and has to rest for several weeks. All are discouraged but Eli saves the day by making the bagel run himself.
The story is simple and uncomplicated. It is a short picture book so there is no opportunity for character development. There is a mini glossary of sorts defining the five Yiddish words in the book and explaining two food words. The illustrations are my favorite part of the book. They have a little bit of a comic book style to them, are gentle, humorous, and reflect the mood of the characters very well. For me, it is a good read aloud, but not a book I would treasure and pass through the generations.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 5-6 years
Grade Level: P-2
Publication: May 1, 2018—Kids Can Press
Hummus and Homicide
by Tina Kashian
I read and reviewed more nonfiction books in February than I usually do. While I enjoyed most of them, I emerged from the month a little drained. Just as the month was ending, however, I read a review written by prolific book blogger Betty of Hummus and Homicide. Her review made this cozy mystery appealing, and I was able to request it as an ARC shortly before the deadline. It was just the relaxing break I needed. You can go to Betty’s blog to see her review by clicking here:
Now, on to my review:
Hummus and Homicide is the tale of patent attorney Lucy Berberian’s return from Philadelphia to her hometown Ocean Crest, New Jersey. For eight years she had devoted her life to her career but had hit her head on the metaphorical glass ceiling for women. She bounces back to her family’s Mediterranean restaurant in the small New Jersey beach town. Unfortunately, a former classmate meets an unfortunate demise after Lucy serves her food at the restaurant, making Lucy a prime suspect.
To save her parents’ restaurant from closure and herself from jail, Lucy sets out to discover the killer. There are many possibilities including rival restaurant owners, a famous author, and the boss of a crime family. Along with solving the mystery, Lucy has some personal romantic entanglements to resolve as well as decisions about her career choice to make. Hummus and Homicide is a fun, relaxing read that moves quickly and has interesting, likable characters.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. This is the first book in the new Kebab Kitchen Mystery Series.
2. There are recipes included at the end of the book.
Publication: February 27, 2018—Kensington Books
If curiosity killed the cat, what would it do to an out-of-work lawyer sticking her nose where it didn’t belong?
Her eyes slid shut as she bit into the hot pastry. the crunch of the thin layers of buttered pastry, the sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts, blended together in a sweet ballet.
She knew how fast news traveled in town. The Internet had nothing on Ocean Crest when it came to the information superhighway.
Accessories to Die For
by Paula Paul
Paula Paul has written a cozy mystery set in Santa Fe and tribal lands near there. As a New Mexican resident for many years, I find her use of this setting well done and effective in Accessories to Die For. She incorporates the drug problems that are all too prevalent there and the Native American culture that binds Catholicism with ancient religious beliefs. Paul showcases the tourist impact and the artisan craftsmanship.
If the author did all of that so well, why am I not excited about this book? I think it is the characters; they are just not very likable. Irene has given up her law career to be with her aging and still self-centered mother Adelle. There is a potential love interest with P.J. an attorney. Both lawyers make bad choices and do stupid (illegal) things along with jewelry artist Juanita who is looking for her druggie son Danny. There is a murder, several assaults, and a major theft. When it is all sorted out, the person who is able to lay out the facts and relationships is realistically the least likely to be able to do so.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Alibi) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Irene’s Closet Series
Publication: December 5, 2017—Random House (Alibi)
Danny Calabaza gave the flute its voice as he sat on a low hill that was sparsely carpeted with the brown and white grass of his tribal land. He had crafted the instrument himself from a piece of cedar wood in the manner of his grandfathers—hollowed from a branch, not split and glued together as some men did now.
The sweet scent of piñon fires wafted around her. It was a seductive scent, promising chile stew and fry bread cooked over the fires as well as warm loaves of bread pulled from the piñon-stoked hornos.
P. J. cleared his throat—something he never did in front of a prosecuting attorney. When a lawyer cleared his throat in a courtroom, it made him appear nervous. But there was something about this woman that threw him off balance. No, he wouldn’t go there. He would just look her in the eye and speak.
Raisins and Almonds
by Kerry Greenwood
Raisins and Almonds is a typical Phryne Fisher mystery, but somewhat more cerebral. Evidence of that is found in the inclusion of a bibliography reflective of the author’s research and a glossary of Yiddish words. This mystery is strongly tied into the Jewish community that settled in Australia, the politics of Zionism, and a sub-sect focused on alchemy. Phryne has to do a lot of research in addition to her usual methods of sleuthing in order to find the murderer of a young Jewish scholar and free an innocent bookseller from prison.
Greenwood excels in this book in three ways. She uses the supporting characters to good advantage in solving the mystery as she sends her adopted daughters, her assistant Dot, and friends Bert and Cec out on different missions which play to their strengths. Phryne and Jack agree on the bookseller’s innocence enabling them to cooperate in their separate missions to solve the mystery. The ending of Raisins and Almonds is a fun surprise which wraps up the mystery and the title quite satisfactorily.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Notes: #9 of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
Publication: June 6, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press
Phryne smiled guilelessly into the policeman’s face. He winced. Miss Fisher was at her most dangerous when she was smiling guilelessly. It was a sign that someone, somewhere, was about to be shaken down until their teeth rattled and the Detective Inspector was uneasily aware that he was the closest available target.
Bert was nervous because he didn’t know what to look for in this big bustling market. Neither did Cec, but his Scandinavian ancestors had bequeathed him some Viking fatalism. If they were meant to find out, they’d find out.
Kadimah was as ordinary as a church hall, and as extraordinary as a landing of Well’s Martians. It was as sane as porridge and as lunatic as singing mice.