Category Archives: Book Reviews

Summer Reading 2014

I’ve seen several new Summer Reading lists for children in the last few days — some have various prizes for accomplishing them, for others the prize is just getting introduced to some great books.

Thought I’d share:

Reward based mega-list: 

American Library Association picks:

Scholastic Challenge:


From a reliable teacher-website:

Annual Reading Rockets List:

and of course, my favorite:

Classic Children’s Books (20 years or older, but still readily available):'s_classic_books

Happy Summer Reading! 🙂


1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Critical Thinking, Gifted, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized

Summer Reading 2013

I am very pleased to announce that one of my favorite Oldies But Goodies has been selected by my local school system for their 9th grade gifted summer reading program: A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins

(along with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers – not an Oldie But Goodie, but a fine read nonetheless). Great choice, Local School System!

Students (and adults) of both sexes will enjoy this book, a first-hand account of Peter Jenkins’ 1970’s true life adventure, in which he finds his dog, his bride and ultimately himself.

Additionally, a sister Oldies But Goodies novel is making news this season with its re-release from Ballantine Books. Formerly very difficult to find (believe me, I’ve tried and there’s NOTHING out there for under $75.00…) The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

by Peter Benchley is available for pre-order with a shipping date of August 20, 2013. Although Benchley is best known for Jaws, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is (in my opinion) his masterwork. A beautifully visual read, it is the story of Paloma, a girl who lives near the Sea of Cortez in Mexico (a.k.a. The Gulf of California, located between the Baja Peninsula and the mainland. For more on this area of the world, see ).

Her love of the sea and the creatures in it is threatened by greedy outsiders without a care for the destruction they will leave behind. Not only is it a great book, it makes my environmentalist heart go pitter-pat.

Both Walk Across America and The Girl of the Sea of Cortez (and Outliers and Jaws, too, for that matter) are great books for a summer read at the beach, the pool, or curled up in bed with the air-conditioner blasting on you. Even if you don’t have plans to travel this summer, after you’ve read them, you will feel well-rested and dream of faraway places.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Gifted, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized

Reader’s Block

My job as a sixth grade language arts and math teacher keeps me jumping, and during the school year, I have found it best to shelve all thoughts of leisure-reading. This year, looking forward to winter break, I was all set to hibernate for a few days with Lauren Willig’s The Betrayal of the Blood Lily Product Detailsand Susan Vreeland’s Product DetailsClara and Mr. Tiffany. They were both a little on the thick side, but I was confident that I’d be able to finish them in two weeks.

Around that same time, one of my favorite friends from AgentQueryConnect, Sophie Perinot (a.k.a. Litgal, a.a.k.a. @Lit_Gal), announced that there was a contest on Goodreads to win an advance copy of her debut novel, The Sister Queens. I’d already pre-ordered it, but getting the chance to read it before the rest of the world did was intriguing, so I entered. And then I won a copy. Product Details

When it arrived, I was in the throes of getting ready for Christmas, so I added it to the pile on my nightstand.

Now I had three books to read. I mentally arranged them: Clara and Mr. T looked good, but it could wait because my book group wasn’t meeting until the end of January. A fan of Willig’s whimsical romances, I was tempted to pick up Blood Lily, but Sister Queens had a deadline because I’d told Litgal that I would write an advance review on my blog. The Sister Queens it was.

Despite my sons’ constant arguing over their yuletide haul of small electronics, I managed to get some reading in during the week before New Year’s. I was enjoying the book, and by page 185 was confident that I would finish by the time school resumed on the fifth, with maybe even enough time left over for Clara. And then the Kindle that I’d ordered with my Christmas gift-cards arrived.

Suddenly my interest was fixated on my own small electronic. At first I restrained myself to just figuring out how to use it, but when the purple leather case arrived two days later, I succumbed to downloading many of the titles I’d previously selected with my “Kindle for Mac” app. I couldn’t wait to try it out, but The Sister Queens e-book will not be available until March 6th, so I was out of luck in that department. I tried to satisfy myself by downloading the electronic version of Clara and Mr. Tiffany from the library for later, but I was itching to push those buttons, and really wanted to experience reading in bed using only one hand.

“You are not allowed to use your Kindle until you’re done with The Sister Queens,” I told myself sternly. Five or six times.

“It couldn’t hurt to read just a few chapters of something,” Myself said back. Agnes Grey, by Anne Brontë, it was.

Product Details

Unfortunately, Agnes’s woes of being a governess to a family of singularly unruly children ran in remarkable parallel to a recent classroom management situation of my own, and I couldn’t put it down. And then school started up again.

I still haven’t finished The Sister Queens, although I’m loving it whenever I get the chance. I was only able to get the first chapter of Clara read in time for book group, and Blood Lily has gotten knocked off the table and is under the bed somewhere, waiting for Presidents’ Day.

Will. Finish. Sister. Queens.

Stay tuned for my review…

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Critical Thinking, Miscellaneous, Reading, Uncategorized

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

I was first acquainted with The Thirteenth Tale when I won a contest on author Mindy McGinnis’s blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. The prize was a book of my choice, and Mindy (a school librarian by day) helpfully suggested several titles, including this one. Billed as “a classic gothic,” I was a little nervous that it might be Victoria Holt-like, but after checking it out on and Goodreads, I decided to risk it.

Margaret Lea works in her father’s antique book shop, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her dead identical twin. Vida Winter is a reclusive famous writer, emotionally isolated and obsessed to a fairly unhealthy degree with her own dead identical twin. In her dotage and facing a terminal illness, Vida has finally decided to share her mysterious life story, and she wants Margaret to be the one to write it down. Off on the moors (okay, that much was stereotypical), Margaret is fascinated by Vida’s twisted tale, but echoes of her own life story inevitably start to resonate. Shadows and foreshadows of Jane Eyre, a mystery of birth, and twins who just won’t stay dead grip the reader until the last few pages, where the author takes great (and satisfying) pains to wrap up every little detail. I couldn’t put it down.

Maybe I was just tired (it was four-thirty in the morning when I finished the book), but even with the care that the author took to tie up loose ends, there was one detail that remained unexplained for me. Whose initials were IAR? Not whose I thought they would be, which begs the question: Was it a typo, or was Emmeline a serial diary thief? If you read it, I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Thank you, Mindy, good pick.

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶


Filed under Book Reviews, Critical Thinking, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized

Summer Reading List

In the throes of the end of the school year, I was unexpectedly inundated with a lot of great new (at least to me) titles that I stoically forbade myself to read until summer vacation. As usual, my reading list is a tad eclectic, but so far, so good. I’ll probably be posting reviews of most of them, so here’s a preview:

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
by Lauren Willig

Chains (Seeds of America)
by Laure Halse Anderson

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

School of Fear

School of Fear
by Gitty Daneshvari

The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms

The Blueprint
by Kirk Franklin

State of Wonder

State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett

Private Life

Private Life
by Jane Smiley

Silver Wedding

Silver Wedding
by Maeve Binchy


1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized

YA Book Review: Ty Roth’s So Shelly

So Shelly

Life has finally eased up enough for me to write a review of So Shelly (Delacorte Press), the highly anticipated and recently released novel by Ty Roth: young-adult author, high school literature teacher and all-around good guy.

Other than the book-jacket tease about two friends swiping a drowned teen’s ashes to spread as she would have wished, and that the personas of the three main characters are based on Romantic poets Byron, Keats, Shelley and his wife Mary, I had no idea what to expect. The mention of freedom fighters and the phrase “lurid but literary,” were intriguing tidbits from the Kirkus review, but when I opened the book, I was a blank slate.

The first thing that struck me was how funny the novel is. The story is a serious one, but the way that the narrator phrases things left me rotfl. Quickly absorbed in the compelling story-line, I didn’t want to put it down while I was reading and found myself dwelling on it at odd moments after I’d finished — my favorite kind of book.

The vocabulary is enjoyably advanced, with no glaringly absent adverbs or “dumbing down” for teen readers, and I was pleased in four cases to expand my own command of the language. (It must be confessed that I’m still wondering what a “stinky pinky” is, but am pretty sure that I don’t really want to know.)

So Shelly is not for the callow, with topics such as incest (involuntary and otherwise), teen pregnancy, abortion, sexual abuse and graphic violence (not necessarily in that order). Although frequently cringe-worthy, none of it is gratuitous in nature. Some reviewers have recommended the book for ages fourteen and up, but Ty himself has said that sixteen and older is the intended readership, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Ty has mentioned a few times on his blog and in interviews that future titles might be set in the same Lake Erie locale, with a focus on minor characters from So Shelly. If so, the one I hope to see more of is Tammy Jo Hogg, the overweight but pretty girl with the good PR skills who was used and abused by Gordon. (Well, really, who wasn’t?) I want her to grow up, become successful and then leave Gordon with the broken heart.

My only concern with the novel is what seemed to be a somewhat casual view of suicide. At the time of our interview, Ty was confident that modern teens are sophisticated enough to deal with the content of the book, and that to think otherwise is an insult to the reader. I hope he’s right. Other than that, great book.

Layinda’s Blog Rating: ¶¶¶¶(But only because I’m saving the 5 for Jim and Jack. 😉 )

Note: Although I am acquainted with Mr. Roth, this is an unsolicited review, and I paid for my own copy of So Shelly. Actually, two copies. Unwilling to sully my signed-by-the-author first edition, I also purchased the Kindle version.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized, Writing

Oldies but Goodies: Great Books for Pre-Schoolers

Here’s an Oldies but Goodies for early readers and pre-readers who love to be read to. Click on the titles (and/or cover photos) to be whisked away to various descriptions and reviews, but also try your local library, poke through used book stores and check out the Reader Resources column (to the right). Some of the really old titles can also be found on the Kindle and at

Click to return to index
Many Moons
by James Thurber

Make Way For Ducklings
Make Way for Ducklings
by  Robert McCloskey

The Monkey in the Rocket: A Wonder Books Easy Reader

The Monkey in the Rocket
by: Jean Bethell

The Story of Babar (Babar Books (Random House))
The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant
by Jean De Brunhoff

Click to return to index

Picco the Sad Italian Pony
by Louis Slobodkin

What's He Been Up to Now?

What’s He Been Up to Now?
by Eugene A. Fern


by Roger Duvoisin

by Elizabeth Upham



Children of Many Lands: 8 Lands in all, their traditions, customs, and way of life.
by Dana Bruce and Elizabeth F. McCrady

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? (Bright and Early Books for Beginning Beginners)

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?
By: Dr. Seuss


A Good Place to Hide

A Good Place to Hide
by Louis Slobodkin

Fierce John (Image1)
Fierce John
by Edward Fenton

The Real Mother Goose
by Blanche Fisher Wright 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault


1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Miscellaneous, Reading, Recommended Reading, Uncategorized