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Penguin Days–autism spectrum disorder

Penguin Days

by Sara Leach

Illustrated by Rebecca Bender

Penguin DaysLauren’s family makes a difficult two day car trip to North Dakota for Auntie Joss’ wedding because flying has been a disaster before for Lauren who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is learning how to control her reactions to changes and to certain things that make her uncomfortable. She takes things literally and doesn’t always understand jokes or react instinctively to facial expressions or body language. She is, however, an intelligent child with a passion for reading and insects.

Several problems arise in Penguin Days with the whole wedding scenario. Lauren is under the impression she will be the only flower girl when, in fact, she is one of three. She doesn’t like her dress because it isn’t comfortable and itches. Without meaning to, Lauren ruins the dress. Lauren’s mom has several solutions up her sleeve because she works hard to understand what Lauren is thinking. You’ll enjoy learning how the parents solve these problems and enlist the help of extended family members. Lauren even begins to make friends with her cousins as the story comes to a close.

If you are ever in public and you see a child having a meltdown, don’t judge. Maybe he is a child who needs more discipline and boundaries, but maybe, just maybe, you are witnessing a child on the Autistic Spectrum. If the child is lucky, like Lauren, she is receiving professional help to learn how to control her inner fireworks and to interact with others socially. In the U.S., where for whatever reason autism is on the rise, we are becoming more aware of autism and learning how to manage its effects better. Not everyone, however, has the money or skills to navigate that system. Also, the intervention is most effective when it happens early, and the changes do take hard work, consistency, and time. Meanwhile, Penguin Days is a wonderful, sensitive tool to help the child with autism and the rest of us to understand how autism plays out on the inside and manifests itself on the  outside of the child on the Autistic Spectrum.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Pajama Press (Myrick Marketing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: 1. Very good illustrations

  2. Sensitive book sharing the perspective of both the autistic child and her family.

Publication:   January 18, 2019—Pajama Press (Myrick Marketing)

Memorable Lines:

“You’re precious.” “Gems are precious,” I said. “I’m not a gem. But I would like to be an amethyst. They are purple.”

Mom and Dad always say my brain works differently than other people’s brains because I have Autism Spectrum Disorder. They say my different brain is one of the things they love about me.

The barn got really noisy. Mary Lou mooed. Kevin yelled. And somebody was screaming. I lay on my back in the prickly hay. Mary Lou stepped toward me. I curled into a ball, covered my head with my arms, and started rocking back and forth.

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Flower Power Trip–flowers at the heart of a mystery

Flower Power Trip

by James J. Cudney

Flower Power TripThe third cozy in the Braxton Campus Mystery series does not disappoint its fans nor leave out new readers. It begins with a helpful Who’s Who briefly describing the characters in the series. The first chapter follows up  with a summary of the action in the first two books as told by the main character Kellan, while getting the plot for the new book underway.

Kellan discovers a dead body and again finds himself in the middle of a homicide investigation. Flower Power Trip swirls delightfully with interesting characters, a multitude of clues, and humorous repartee. Several threads continue on from previous books: Kellan’s rocky relationships with his boss Myriam and Sheriff April Montague, Nana D’s bid for the mayoral seat, and Kellan’s presumed dead wife Francesca with ties to a mob family. There are also romantic conflicts and more than a little danger.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series but works quite well as a standalone

Publication:   March 30, 2019—Creativia 

Memorable Lines:

Helena recently celebrated her birthday by doing a pub crawl across all four villages in Wharton County. Eight hours, eight bars, eight different drinks. I wouldn’t have survived that level of commitment.

…”you are nothing but a nosy, interfering, non-stop questioning, painful wart on the tip of my pinky toe that has aggravated me beyond any reasonable expectation.”

…you must always have more physical books than e-books. I wanted Emma to experience a multitude of technology at her fingertips from an early age, but she also needed to respect and cherish all that our country had accomplished in the history of bookmaking and printing.

Staging is Murder–when less is more

Staging is Murder

Staging is Murder

Laura Bishop has quit her boring IT job, but still has debts to pay off from her mother’s illness and funeral. She has allowed herself one year to make a success of a new staging business, helping people prepare their homes to look their best for resale. Her friend Nita, whose large Italian family “adopted” Laura years ago, is the “Lucy” to Laura’s “Ethel” as they try to solve a murder and free Tyrone, Laura’s assistant in the business. There are lots of suspects, and my heart was in my throat when Laura decided to confide in one of them as I felt sure he was the murderer. Was he? Why did someone want Laura to stop investigating? Will she be able to discover the murderer before he or she strikes again? Grace Topping’s Staging is Murder is a good start to a new cozy mystery series. Read it to answer all these questions and to learn if her first staging job is a success or a flop.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #! in the Laura Bishop Mystery Series

  2. Staging tips are included in each chapter.

Publication:  April 30, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Also, trying to find the time to help him while meeting my staging deadline was creating havoc with my stress level. I needed physical activity. Either that or lots of chocolate.

I wasn’t cut out to be Nancy Drew. With nerves like mine, I couldn’t sit comfortably through a scary movie much less play detective in real life.

“Here, I brought you a Snickers—the staff of life.”

The Library of the Lost and Found–family secrets

The Library of the Lost and Found

by Phaedra Patrick

The Library of Lost and FoundThe Library of Lost and Found is Martha’s story woven by author Phaedra Patrick into a tapestry of several generations of women trying to survive, to see their way through. The background is emotional abuse and family secrets. Martha devotes her life to caring for her aging parents, Betty and Thomas, and later trying to please her contacts at the library where she volunteers. Because Martha does not value her own contributions, no one else appreciates her. As a child, Martha is imaginative and creative and her flamboyant nana, Zelda, encourages her to be a storyteller. Unfortunately Martha’s inventiveness is in direct conflict with the wishes of her overbearing father.

The basic plot line-up to this point in the story appears fairly straight forward, but much more conflict brews beneath the surface. There are past romantic entanglements that affect Martha and her sister Lilian. Zelda disappears from Martha’s life and is proclaimed dead. The past and its secrets affect the present and the future.

One of the fun characters is Suki, a young, single, pregnant co-worker with a tendency to misuse words. For example, speaking of her baby’s father she says “He says he can’t make up his mind between us. I’ll have to give him a culmination.” “Do you mean an ultimatum?” She may not always use words correctly, but she believes in Martha and ends up being an encourager for her as Martha takes steps to find her independence.

There are lots of surprises along the way as figurative skeletons in the closet are revealed and as Martha finds herself again. The Library of Lost and Found is appealing to book lovers as books, libraries, bookstores, writing and reading all play important roles. Its appeal spreads wider  though as it addresses universal issues of power and control, love, whimsy, family, and self-worth, and their emotional impact.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harlequin (Park Row) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Publication:   March 26, 2019—Harlequin (Park Row)

Memorable Lines:

She often felt like there was an electrical storm around him, and she could sense it crackling now, between him and Zelda.

She didn’t usually feel jealous, but as she watched her mother and daughter, it crept over her now like winter frost across a window.

“Why does something have to last forever to be classed as successful? Surely it’s okay to give things a try.”

My Real Name is Hanna–extremes of human behavior

My Real Name is Hanna

by Tara Lynn Masih

My Real Name is HannaMy Real Name is Hanna is the story of a Jewish girl and her family who live under horrible circumstances in Ukraine to escape death at the hand of the Nazis and others. This book by Tara Lynn Masih has much potential. Many parts of the survival tale are drawn from the story of a real family that had to live underground. The first part of the book bounces around a little and then settles down into a sequential tale. Although it is a sad story, I didn’t really find myself emotionally involved with any of the characters. Parts of the narrative got my attention, such as when family members were in danger. I wanted to see them survive, but mainly I wanted the book to be over.

The author uses words from other languages freely. I like the authenticity of that but I would have appreciated a glossary, and I think young people would find that helpful as well. The area the family lives in has been occupied by many countries so there are competing cultures and languages—Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and German.

I actually found the “Historical Notes” at the end of the book more interesting than the book itself. Unfortunately, the author includes her own political stance on current events in these historical notes. If she wants to put forth these ideas in her book, I would suggest she do it in an editorial type section separate from a discussion of the historical basis of the book. Like the author, I hope the day will come when we don’t need reminders of the Holocaust as cautionary tales against cruelty. I don’t think, however, that it is appropriate to use her historical notes as a platform for indoctrinating young people into her political views. The story should stand on its own merits, and young people are capable of reading the book and making their own moral conclusions.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Mandel Vilar Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Teens

Notes: Interest Level—Ages 12 and up

Grade Level 10-12

Publication:   September 25, 2018—Mandel Vilar Press

Memorable Lines:

I see in my mind again those posters in the window, the big red letters, the lice, the blaming of Jews for the war. Someday, someone will betray us. For money, for food, for their own lives spared.

I can now hear what sounds like heavy boots approaching the house from down the lane, grinding the dirt and gravel with their murderous purpose.

When you’re hidden away, with no freedom, you crave news of the outside world as much as you crave food.

Back to McGuffey’s–over the years

Back to McGuffey’s

by Liz Flaherty

Back to McGuffey'sFrom Harlequin’s Heartwarming books comes Back to McGuffey’s by Liz Flaherty. This was my first in this genre of books, and it lived up to expectations. If you are interested in a steamy romance where the characters jump from shaking hands to bouncing in the bed, you will be disappointed. If, however, you want to focus on relationships and emotional needs, then Back to McGuffey’s fits the bill.

Kate Rafael is in her late thirties and hears her biological clock ticking. Ben McGuffey, having broken up with Kate, his longtime sweetheart, thirteen years earlier, still has feelings for her. Kate has lost both her house (to a fire) and her job. She is caught at a crossroads as she want to find a direction she can be passionate about. By the end of the book you will feel like you know the McGuffey family intimately, maybe wishing you could be a part of the Irish-rooted clan and their pub.

The characters are well-developed and interesting. I especially enjoyed the side story of Jayson, a young man with Down syndrome being cared for by his sister and the impact he has on others in the book. Another character whose story is gradually revealed is Mrs. Hylton-Wise, a harsh woman, secretive about her past.

I liked the book and was prepared to rate it as a four star book. I was so impressed, however, with the surprise ending that my rating jumped to five stars. After providing an adrenaline rush, the author wraps things up nicely for the McGuffeys and for the reader. 

I would like to extend my thanks to blogger Laurie at cozynookbks.wordpress.com, author Liz Flaherty, and Harlequin for providing this book to me in a giveaway with no expectations at all.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Publication:  2014—Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

Kate joined her, feeling useless—this woman was crying and there was nothing she could do but listen to the splintery sound of heartbreak.

He was hard on one’s patience. But he was loving and kind and he felt things with every bit as much intensity as someone who didn’t have Down syndrome.

The question caught him unaware, a condition he thought he might as well get used to because it was happening all the time.

Burning Ridge–searching for family

Burning Ridge

by Margaret Mizushima

Burning RidgeThe action starts in Burning Ridge in the first chapter where readers also get filled in on the series background and meet some of the characters. From a rough and tumble bar fight, this novel moves on to a bright and sunny horseback ride for Cole, the local veterinarian, and his daughters in the Colorado mountains. The family ride turns dark and the mystery begins.

Margaret Mizushima has written a K-9 police procedural. No cozy mystery, this work of fiction looks at an evil-plotting mind plagued by excesses of greed. Main characters Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find themselves in danger as she tries to solve a horrific crime that turns personal. Many are involved in finding the murderer, and there are a variety of suspects. Get ready for a surprise ending. In the process of the investigation, Mattie discovers parts of her past that she never knew as well as secrets buried deep in her psyche. She learns to accept help and to expand her ideas of what constitutes a family.

Burning Ridge is a page turner as are the other books in this fast moving series. It contains lots of information about K-9 officers shared in a non-didactic fashion.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Thriller

Notes: 1. This is #4 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. It is good as a standalone, but be aware that each book reveals a little more about Mattie’s past as she comes to grips with it.

2. This contains more upsetting violence than I usually read, but it is within the acceptable boundary for me. Everyone is different so be aware that it contains some torture.

Publication:   September 11, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

An occasional clump of young aspen shot up toward the cloudless blue sky. Spring leaves, bright green and as yet unblemished by summer dryness, quivered at the ends of branches, their spade-like shape seeming to catch even the slightest of breezes. “Look at the aspen leaves, girls. They’re dancing.”

Robo lay on his cushion, his eyes pinned on her every move. She’d learned from experience that her emotions went straight to her dog.

“Life can be full of regrets if you focus on them. We make decisions for whatever reasons we have in the moment, not because we have some superhuman vision of what will happen in the future.”

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