‘Froggy Gets A Doggy’ by Jonathan London is a PERFECT doggy froggy book

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Rating: 5 stars

In “Froggy Gets A Doggy,” author Jonathan London and illustrator Frank Remkiewicz get it just right. A picture book that’s clever, is filled with onomatopoeia, and sends the right message? Here it is.

Froggy wants a doggy, and he is excited when his mother tells Froggy and his sister they are going to the animal shelter. (First star: they are going to the animal shelter to adopt a dog. Too many picture books show kids going to a pet store to buy a dog that comes from a puppy mill. Adopting a dog or a cat or a bunny is the RIGHT message to send to children.)

Froggy is thrilled, but his mother says she wants a bunny. (Many shelters have rabbits that are abandoned and need homes.) But Froggy wants a doggy. He sees one that he wants. (Second star: it’s not a puppy. Adult dogs make great pets for families with children because you know what you are getting. Also, puppies get adopted quickly, adults not so much. Yet they make wonderful companions.)

Mom falls in love with the dog, too. They adopt her, and when they get home, Froggy wants to play with her. (Third star: mom makes him put on her new collar and give her water. Kids can be responsible for caring for dogs and cats — but only under the watchful eyes of parents. They are not responsible enough to care for most pets by themselves.)

After Froggy does that, he is ready to go for a walk with Doggy. (Fourth star: mom tells him Doggy needs a leash and a pooper scooper.) Finally they are ready to go for a walk.

The family loves their new dog and Froggy learns that while it’s a lot of responsibility, it’s wonderful to have a companion who sleeps next to you and wants to play with you.

The fifth star? (rarely given to picture books and even more rarely to books that are usually silly and aimed at getting laughs.) The fifth star is because this picture book combines humor with a hugely important message. Most kids want a dog. Most kids don’t realize the work and responsibility involved. Maybe “Froggy Gets A Doggy” will help.

Jonathan London has a special place for rescues in his heart. He not only went to the animal shelter (like Froggy) to adopt a dog, but he has a cat as well. Both get along beautifully, just like the animals in his books. He told me, “We always get rescue dogs. They need–and give–so much love.”

Thank you to Jonathan London for a picture book that I will be reading often with students when bringing my facility dog to classes and teaching students about dogs and their needs.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the Penguin Young Readers Group for review purposes.

Interview with bestselling author Stephanie Evanovich

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Stephanie Evanovich burst onto the writing scene last year with her debut hit, “Big Girl Panties.” In this story, the female protagonist is not the typical slender fashion plate who graces the pages of many women’s books. She is blatantly overweight and not dressed to kill. Yet in the end, she gets the guy.

In Evanovich’s second book, “The Sweet Spot,” based on characters pulled from the first book, Amanda Cole is the protagonist who is “20 pounds from being a prom queen.” Again, this woman is not a size 0, nor is she even in the single digits (in Evanovich’s mind, at least).

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‘Woof’ by Spencer Quinn: Middle grade version of the Chet and Bernie series

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Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Adults love the Chet and Bernie series of books told in narrative form from the mouth of Chet, the dog. (“Paw and Order” was the seventh book in that series.) As in that series, “Woof: A Bowser and Birdie Novel,” also is narrated by a dog, this time named Bowser. And readers of the adult series will swear that Bowser is Chet’s alter ego.

Quinn (or in real life author Peter Abrahams) loves New Orleans, so it may come as no surprise that this children’s story is set in Louisiana in a small town on a bayou. Birdie lives with her grandmother because her father died and her mother is an engineer on an oil rig. For Birdie’s birthday, they go to the pound to get a dog. Birdie picks a large dog who had spent some hard time with drug dealers.

Part of his difficult previous life lends some humor to his narrative — especially when he’s talking about his need to use his teeth for biting, although Bowser heroically refrains from actually biting. At least most of the time.

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Interview with ‘Jasper’s Story’ author Jill Robinson

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Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears” by Jill Robinson is not your typical picture book. It’s written by the woman who began saving China’s Moon Bears over twenty years ago. On tour promoting the children’s picture book and her sanctuary, she took time out for an interview.

Ms. Robinson told me that she first glimpsed the degradation of “farmed” Moon Bears in 1993 while working for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. She broke away from the tour group she was with and went down some stairs. While taking in the horror of the bears in cramped tiny cages, she felt a touch on her shoulder. It was a Moon Bear reaching out to her.

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‘The Sound and the Furry’ by Spencer Quinn: Pure Chet and Bernie mystery fun

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Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mystery series has a lot of fans and with good reason. With the latest in the series, “The Sound and the Furry,” Quinn (also known as Peter Abrahams) again brings his particular style of mystery joie de vivre to his readers.

Bernie, of the Little Detective Agency (Bernie’s last name is Little), and Chet, the almost-K-9 (who unfortunately flunked out of K-9 school at the end due to an unfortunate incident with a cat), take their partnership from the dry Arizona desert to steamy Louisiana.

There’s a mystery to be solved, and leave it to Chet, with some assistance from Bernie, to solve the crime. As usual there are lots of suspects, lots of threads to be untangled, and lots of confusion. But Quinn, as usual, comes through at the end with it all neatly tied in a bow, crime solved, bad guys in custody, and Chet riding shotgun in the Porsche.

Chet learns a lot about himself in the deep South — namely that he doesn’t like alligators named Iko.

The beauty in Quinn’s writing is immediately apparent to anyone who has a dog. Chet, the narrator of all the stories, tells it all from a doggy point of view. And, like all dogs, he’s interested in food, smells, more food and more smells.

For example, “I’m pretty good at remembering who smells like what, hard to explain why, just one of the things I bring to the table at the Little Detective Agency. But as for where I’d picked up this particular scent before, the answer refused to come forward in my mind…All of a sudden I wanted to lift my leg — just a notion, of course — against this hat stand Lord had in his front hall. You’d probably get some different sort of notion.”

“The Sound and the Furry” includes family feuds, drug dealers, a shrimp heist, oil wells, a hungry alligator, a stolen dog, a kidnapped inventor, and, of course, lots of bad guys. It’s lots of fun, lots of excitement, and an overall good read. Don’t miss it.

For those wanting to start the series at the beginning, “Dog On It” was the first book; then “Thereby Hangs a Tail,” “To Fetch a Thief,” “The Dog Who Knew Too Much,” and “A Fistful of Collars.”

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Atria Books, for review purposes.

‘Your Perfect Life’ by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke is touching and tender

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Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Your Perfect Life” is by debut authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. It’s about best friends Casey and Rachel, whose lives have taken different directions, and whose¬†friendship may have wandered a bit, also.

Casey has become the host of a gossip television show while Rachel dropped out of college when she got pregnant. Married to her high school sweetheart, she’s the mother of three girls. Each does not understand the lifestyle and choices the other has made.

Casey dresses in designer clothes, interviews the rich and famous and is, herself, rich and famous. But Casey lives in an apartment that looks like a hotel, and she sleeps alone most nights on her fabulous silk sheets. Casey has one-night flings, worries that someone younger will take over her job, and is obsessed with staying on top. She envies her homebody friend, who has family and all the love that Casey might be missing.

Rachel’s life is very different. Rachel’s two older daughters are teenagers and she feels as if they are always at odds. Her “accidental” baby, Charlotte, disrupted her plans to go to work. She is frustrated by her life and perhaps a bit envious of her glamorous friend, Casey.

Their twenty-year high school reunion is where Casey and Rachel are each awarded prizes. Casey wins “Most Successful Graduate” and Rachel wins “Least Changed.”

Each friend has brought her insecurity to the reunion. Casey feels like an outsider. She is successful and beautiful, but she is alone. Rachel feels like a failure. She didn’t finish college, she’s never worked in any profession, and her days are filled taking care of children. And when Rachel gets her award, it intensifies her feeling of inadequacy — the fact that she thinks her lack of success is why she is the “least changed,” not that she really just looks much like she did in high school.

Casey and Rachel argue and then the magic happens — they wake up the next morning having switched bodies.

Rachel finally gets the chance to fulfill her college ambition to be on television. Casey gets to find out what’s it’s like to have a family. And the story is what they learn not only about themselves, but about each other. And it’s fascinating to see what each brings to the life of the other — and what the switch makes each of them realize about her own life.

The book raises some interesting questions about friendship, life, and what defines success.

To appreciate your own life, do you need to step outside of it — even for a short time? Can someone reinvent herself after twenty years? What is important — family, success, friends, or all three?

Liz and Lisa get it right. It’s obvious that there’s a bit of each of them in the main characters of this story. Of course, the fact that Liz and Lisa have been friends for twenty-five years (that’s five years longer than the characters in the book) doesn’t hurt. They get what it takes to keep a friendship going.

It’s a story that everyone with a family, everyone with a career, everyone with a heart will love. “Your Perfect Life” is touching, humorous, heart-warming, and just lovely. Enjoy.

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by Goldberg McDuffie Communications for review purposes.

‘A Wicked Thing’ by Rhiannon Thomas: Sleeping Beauty for young adults

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Rating: 4 stars

What if Sleeping Beauty didn’t want to marry the prince? That’s the premise of “A Wicked Thing” by Rhiannon Thomas. When the prince wakes Aurora with a light kiss, it doesn’t lead to happy-ever-after. Not at all. Aurora’s new beginning is realizing that her family and everyone (and everything) she knew is dead — long dead.

In fact, what Aurora finds is a kingdom (her kingdom, 100 years later) laid to waste. A kingdom at the mercy of a tyrant, and a queen and a prince who are powerless. Aurora finds that she, too, is powerless to right the wrongs that are being perpetrated throughout the country. But Aurora isn’t afraid to try to change that which needs to be changed, and she proves that in the end.

Thomas creates multidimensional characters for the most part. With the exception of the king — who is evil through and through — the other characters are not all good or evil. The queen is controlling, but Aurora sees the helpless woman behind the crown. And the prince, Aurora’s betrothed, is kind and good — but he, like the others, is powerless to thwart the king.

The king and the kingdom have been counting on Aurora saving everything. The magic has disappeared and so has the witch who cursed Sleeping Beauty 100 years previously. When Aurora finds that she has magic, she must decide who to trust and what path to take.

This book will be a sure hit with young adult readers who love fractured fairy tales. This is certainly not a happy-ever-after story, but we won’t know what the ending is until the end of the series.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, HarperTeen, for review purposes.

‘The Edge of Nowhere’ by Elizabeth George her first foray into YA literature

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Rating: 5 stars

In “The Edge of Nowhere” Elizabeth George checks out the young adult market. And both young adult readers and adults alike should be glad she did. In fact, she might find that some YA readers, after reading this novel, will then proceed to check out her adult books.

The story begins in San Diego with Hannah, a fourteen-year-old who can hear whispers of what people are thinking. Usually it’s just bits and pieces, but it can be so distracting that she wears an audio box that emits static to help her concentrate.

Unfortunately, when she has the box turned off while in the kitchen, she “overhears” her stepfather thinking about a crime he just committed, and her expression reveals that she heard. So now she and her mom are on the run from the stepfather who killed his partner.

Hannah, now to be known as Becca King, is going to live with her mother’s old friend on a small island near Seattle. Her mother puts her on the ferry and leaves. Their only connection is pre-programmed cell phones. Her mother programmed her telephone number into Becca’s phone.

When her mother’s friend doesn’t arrive to pick her up, Becca manages to make her way to the house. The friend has just died, and Becca doesn’t know what to do.

The story is about Becca making her way alone on the island. Becca must learn whom to trust. Things are not always what they appear to be, and many of those Becca meets have secrets of their own.

This would be a great book club read for a teen group or a mother-daughter book club. There are many themes that are very relevant including drugs, homelessness, self-image, friendship, poverty, and what makes a family.

Please note: this review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Viking Juvenile, for review purposes.

‘Mark of the Thief’ by Jennifer A. Nielsen: New series by bestselling YA author

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Rating: 4 stars

“Mark of the Thief” by Jennifer A. Nielsen is a story that grips the reader from the very first page; the action is nonstop and leaves the reader breathless from a journey through ancient Rome.

Nic, the protagonist, is a slave in mines outside of Rome at the start of the story. He was left there by his mother, who was sold five years earlier. When she left, she told him to take care of his younger sister.

Nic is forced to enter a recently-discovered cave to see if it holds the treasure of Julius Caesar, and he finds an ancient bulla, an amulet that holds magical power. The griffin protecting the treasure scars Nic with her claw, but after he puts the bulla around his neck, they both flee the cave to escape the cave’s collapse.

Now Nic finds that powerful people are determined to find him and take away the magic that he possesses. He must decide whom to trust and how to use his magic.

Fans of Nielsen will love her new series. Her world-building skills are in evidence in the detailed way she describes ancient Rome. Her description of the amphitheater where the gladiators and animals fight to their death is filled with details that use almost all the senses and at times include horrifying images.

Nic is a great hero. He is honest — when he can afford to be. He must decide what is best — but he never does so at the expense of others. He is forthright, loyal, and smart.

There is one major “bad guy” in the story — Radulf — a powerful general who controls the military. It’s Radulf whom Nic overhears in the beginning and who wants the bulla so that he can overthrow Caesar and gain the power of the throne.

Nic and the reader learn about Radulf, who possesses powerful magic of his own. Nielsen slowly divulges information about Radulf’s magic and Radulf’s connection with Nic. Nielsen writes a first person narrative that is believable, and she creates other characters who are not only believable, but likable. When the first book ends, readers will not only recommend this series to their friends, they will also note to get the sequel as soon as it’s available.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press for review purposes.