Friday, November 30, 2012

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Calpurnia Tate is as spirited a character as the indomitable Anne of Green Gables.  You will fall in love with her and cheer her along. 

5 stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchey

Four strangers, with nothing in common but a need to escape, meet in a Greek taverna high above the small village of Aghia Anna. From Ireland, America, Germany and England, they have each left their homes and old lives, when a shocking tragedy throws them unexpectedly together. Fiona is a young nurse, trying to make her family understand her need to follow her own path. Thomas desperately misses his young son and fears that his ex-wife will come between them. Elsa abruptly left her career as a television presenter, but someone from her past refuses to let her go. And shy, quiet David is determined to make a stand against his overbearing father. With these four is Andreas, the taverna owner, who badly misses the son who left home nine years ago and has never returned. “Nights of Rain and Stars” is the story of one summer and four people, each with a life in turmoil. With the help of Vonni, a middle-aged Irish woman who lives in the village and is now a near-native, they find solutions - though not necessarily the ones they anticipated.

Although the book is a bit predictable, I still loved it.  Reading a Maeve Binchey novel is like have a conversation with an old friend, warm and comfortable.

4 Stars (Rated PG)

The Puzzle Maker by Betsy Carter

On a gray morning in 1936, Flora Phelps stands in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany.  She carries a gift for the consul, whom she will bribe in order to help her family get out of Hitler’s Germany.  This is the story of unlikely heroes, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two Jewish immigrants who were each sent to America by their families to find better lives. An improbable match, they meet in New York City and fall in love. Simon—inventor of the jigsaw puzzle—eventually makes his fortune. Now wealthy, but still outsiders, Flora and Simon become obsessed with rescuing the loved ones they left behind in Europe whose fates are determined by growing anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inspired by her family’s legends, Betsy Carter weaves a memorable tale. You will fall in love with Simon and Flora, they are two of the most endearing characters I’ve ‘met’ in a long time.

4 Stars (Rated PG-13, mild sex scenes)

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellini

Some in Santa Cecilia think that a rich, beautiful girl like Maddalena Piccinelli wouldn't look at Vito Leone if he were the last boy on earth. But it is 1943, and Vito is nearly the last boy in the village-and in a few months, after he turns eighteen, the soldiers may come for him too. For now, he is determined to win her. And he is beginning to get past her self-contained reserve and melt her stubborn heart. But as forces from the world outside-including an American stranger-begin to invade their quiet refuge, Vito will face challenges far more daunting than coaxing a kiss from Maddalena.

Against a backdrop of Nazi-occupied Italy, this is an interesting story of life going on despite the horrors surrounding you. I would give it 3 stars for the story, but 4 for history value.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for violence and mild sex)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rise of the Elgen (Michael Vey #2) by Richard Paul Evans

This is book two in Richard Paul Evans YA Sci-Fi series. I think it might have been better than the first book.

Michael was born with special electrical powers—and he’s not the only one. His friend Taylor has them too, and so do other kids around the world. With Michael’s friend Ostin, a tecno-genius, they form the Electroclan, an alliance meant to protect them from a powerful group, the growing Order of Elgen, who are out to destroy them. The leader of the Elgen, Dr. Hatch, has kidnapped Michael’s mother, and time is running out.

After narrowly escaping an Elgen trap, Ostin’s discovery of bizarre “rat fires” in South America leads the gang to the jungles of Peru, where the Electroclan meets new, powerful foes and faces their greatest challenge yet as Michael learns the extent of the Elgen’s rise in power—and the truth of their plan to “restructure” the world

I really enjoyed it and my only complaint is that the ending is a cliffhanger and now I have to wait for book three (I think it is supposed to be a six book series.)

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for violence)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas

Sal Lizard began to resemble Santa Claus in his twenties, but did not start to play him until his thirties. Sal continued to make appearances as Santa for many years in such varied places as hospitals, private homes, appearances for a radio station and the ubiquitous Santa at the mall.

One of the most poignant stories for me was about Timmy, who was in the burn unit at a hospital and asked Santa a imploring question.

He quickly learned that children have a unique and often more meaningful view of Christmas than adults.  His stories are charming, touching, and funny.  This is a delightful book that would make a great aloud reading for families with older children (you don’t want create suspicions in the youngsters).

I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from

4 Stars (Rated PG-13 for ‘Santa Secrets’)

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Journey to dazzling seventeenth-century Hindustan (modern-day India), where the reigning emperor, consumed with grief over the tragic death of his beloved wife, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum as a testament to the marvel of their love. This monument would soon become known as the Taj Mahal—a sight famous around the world for its beauty and the emotions it symbolizes.

Princess Jahanara, the courageous daughter of the emperor and his wife, recounts their mesmerizing tale, while sharing her own parallel story of forbidden love with the celebrated architect of the Taj Mahal. Set during a time of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, this impressive novel sweeps you away to a historical Hindustan brimming with action and intrigue in an era when, alongside the brutalities of war and oppression, architecture and the art of love and passion reached a pinnacle of perfection.

Fascinating historical fiction. I learned a lot about the Taj Mahal and the history of India that I did not know. The author, John Shors, also wrote “Beside the Burning Sea” which I read recently. I WILL be looking for more of his books to read. 

5 Stars (Rate PG-13, for mild sex and violence)