‘Just My Luck’ by Cammie McGovern: Middle grade fiction about life


Rating: 4 stars

In “Just My Luck,” Cammie McGovern writes a middle grade story about a fourth-grader, Benny Barrows, who is having a really bad year. McGovern’s books are created and written to make the readers think carefully about the themes presented in the stories. Her beautifully written novels feature people who are different in some way; developmentally delayed or suffering from cerebral palsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, or autism. Her stories make people who are “different” more accessible to all of us.

Benny is the youngest child in a family with two older brothers, one of whom is autistic. George, the autistic brother, is an important character in the story. Benny’s best friend has moved away, and out of desperation, he befriends Jeremy, another boy with few friends who isn’t very likable much of the time. At least that’s how it seems to Benny, who is often the subject of Jeremy’s pointed comments.

Continue reading

‘One True Loves’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid: A different love story

one true

Rating: 4 stars

In “One True Loves,” author Taylor Jenkins Reid explores what might happen if someone’s husband is presumed dead but is discovered after several years alive and desperate to return to his loving wife. But in the meantime, that wife has worked through her massive grief and is now engaged to a man she (also) really loves.

Emma and her sister grew up in a quiet Massachusetts town working (often unpaid) in their parents’ bookstore. It was expected that one of them would eventually take over the store. Emma’s sister wanted to be a writer and travel. In high school, Emma fell for Jesse Lerner, the handsome swimmer. They bonded over their shared desire to leave the East Coast and go to school in California. From there, they wanted to travel. Emma wanted to see every exotic location she had ever heard of. Her writing began in college when a course on travel writing included a trip to Alaska. Jesse encouraged her to take the class for the trip, and Emma found that she liked writing about travel.

Jesse was a photographer, and when he got his chance to visit Alaska, it was on their first wedding anniversary. He really wanted to go and Emma couldn’t say no. But he didn’t come back from that trip. And after a while, Emma left their vagabond lifestyle in California to move home to Massachusetts and work in the family bookstore. To her surprise, she loved the bookstore and the quiet peaceful town. She realized that while she loved the ten years of traversing the globe, now she craved the serenity of a regular schedule and familiar faces.

Continue reading

‘Return to the Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel’ by Melissa de la Cruz


Rating: 4 stars

In this second “Isle of the Lost” novel, “Return to Isle of the Lost,” Melissa de la Cruz continues her story about the next generation of the Disney characters we all love (and love to hate). Meet Carlos, Cruella De Vil’s son and Mal, daughter of Maleficent. The children of the most evil cartoon characters attend school in Auradon, far from their parents who still live under the dome on the Isle of the Lost, where magic is forbidden. The characters from the first novel all appear with a few additions.

The danger from Maleficent has been neutralized. She is now a small lizard (transformed from a dragon) under a dome of glass. She appears to be sleeping most of the time. Or is she? That’s part of the mystery that comes about when each of the main characters gets a mysterious message that they must return to the Isle of the Lost before the next full moon. Those from the Isle of the Lost aren’t sure why or from whom the messages originate. King Ben, one of the “good” guys, has his own adventure which keeps him busy throughout the story although he still communicates with the others.

Continue reading

Dog found in retention pond after rubber band castration almost killed him


He looks years older than one year old

Paradise for Pets Rescue

If not for the act of a good Samaritan passing by, Trooper was destined to die slowly, painfully, and cruelly. He was abandoned horribly injured — intentionally — in a rural area near a retention pond. A woman driving by saw a beagle standing in the water. She thought it was curious that he was just standing there in the water, so she stopped to investigate.

What she saw horrified her.When she pulled the dog from the water, she saw something out of a horror movie. This young dog’s testicles had been wrapped with thick rubber bands and the whole area had turned black. The testicles were literally rotting off his body. She rushed him to the veterinarian, and it was lucky that she did, for without immediate surgery, this dog would have died. The rescuer paid the $500 bill for the surgery, but the dog was also diagnosed with heartworm, and the woman didn’t have the money for treatment. She posted for help on a local Oveido Facebook page.

A local rescuer saw her post and contacted Paradise for Pets Rescue, a local rescue. They were filled and not taking in more animals, but couldn’t turn this dog away. Even with their already huge vet bills, they accepted the dog into their rescue, and appropriately named him Trooper. Trooper went to a foster home, and two days later, when he stopped eating and drinking, he went to the veterinarian. The veterinarian is keeping Trooper for five days without charging for boarding. They are charging a deeply discounted rate for his antibiotics, pain patches and wound cleanings.

As of Tuesday morning, Trooper was still at Vineland Animal Hospital, but he is more alert and relaxed. The pain patches seem to be helping a lot. He has been given IV fluids and has had blood work done. Even though Vineland is full because of the holiday boarding, they are still not charging the rescue for keeping Trooper. Everyone there has fallen in love with Trooper, and staff and their families have donated for his care. If anyone wants to donate for Trooper’s care, they can call the vet’s at (407) 233-3386 and help. Be sure to say that it’s a donation for Trooper.

The rescue is hoping that once Trooper is healthy, he won’t exhibit signs of his abuse. Whoever had Trooper may have just been ignorant and thought that because some ranchers castrate cattle with bands, it’s okay to do on a dog. Or it may have been someone who intentionally decided to abuse this young dog. They hope that Trooper is resilient enough to come through this abuse with his personality and temperament unscathed. A police report has been filed, but there is no indication to whom Trooper may have belonged.

One thing is certain. If not for the woman who stopped because she thought something looked “off” about Trooper in the water, he would certainly be dead right now. And that’s a good lesson. Don’t drive by an animal in need. If your gut tells you something strange is going on, it probably is. This writer has had her family turn a car around on an expressway to double back to an exit where a dog is wandering, just to find that the dog had an owner watching it. Better safe than sorry.

On Trooper’s Facebook thread, the rescue posted: “Paradise for Pets Rescue is a 501c non-profit organization. They are only able to help animals in need through donations. No amount given is too small. Please consider giving, so animals like Trooper have a chance, and more can be saved from kill shelters. There is a Paypal link under “Donate” at the top of the page on the rescue website. Direct to vet gifts can be called into Vineland Animal Hospital as well (see above). The Paradise for Pets Rescue Facebook page may have updated information on Trooper. Page “Likes” are always appreciated! Please foster, adopt, donate, educate, spay, and neuter. Please care.”

Dog found in retention pond after rubber band castration almost killed him


If not for the act of a good Samaritan passing by, Trooper was destined to die slowly, painfully, and cruelly. He was abandoned horribly injured — intentionally — in a rural area near a retention pond. A woman driving by saw a beagle standing in the water. She thought it was curious that he was just standing there in the water, so she stopped to investigate. What she saw horrified her.

He looks years older than one year old

When she pulled the dog from the water, she saw something out of a horror movie. This young dog’s testicles had been wrapped with thick rubber bands and the whole area had turned black. The testicles were literally rotting off his body. She rushed him to the veterinarian, and it was lucky that she did, for without immediate surgery, this dog would have died. The rescuer paid the $500 bill for the surgery, but the dog was also diagnosed with heartworm, and the woman didn’t have the money for treatment. She posted for help on a local Oveido Facebook page.

Continue reading

Miami Dade Animal Services labels dogs “aggressive” and then kills them

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 1.17.26 PM

At least one dog that Miami Dade Animal Services labeled with the often deadly label “aggressive” turned out to be anything but aggressive. He happily cavorted with his rescuers upon his release. Not the biting, growling menace that was indicated on his kennel card. The Miami Dade Animal Services continues to be plagued with complaints that they mislabel dogs which makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to get them adopted or pulled by rescue. In fact, from December 1 of 2015 to now seven dogs have no picture online.

And in spite of the fact that an animal advocate met with the heads of the Miami Dade Animal Shelter over two years ago with concerns about dogs being labeled “aggressive,” and the assurances from those in charge that this would change — kennel cards are still being shown with “aggressive” and “caution will bite” on them. Even when subsequent video shows the dog in question is sweet and friendly.

Continue reading

‘The Last Star’ by Rick Yancey: Last in bestselling ‘The 5th Wave’ series


Finally, the ending to the young adult scifi series “The 5th Wave,” is out. The author, Rick Yancey, has kept readers wondering what the true nature of the 5th wave will be. The first few “waves” have decimated the Earth’s population killing 7.5 billion people. The very first wave was a massive EMP, electromagnetic pulse that killed all electronics. Planes fell from the skies, cars lost power, all electricity shut down. The next wave was when “The Others,” the aliens, dropped some kind of huge rod onto one of Earth’s fault lines resulting in earthquakes and huge tsunamis that destroyed all Earth’s coastlines and those who lived there. The 4th wave consisted of humans called Silencers, a group of humans who while fetuses were downloaded with alien memories and technology. They didn’t know about it until they turned 13. That’s when they began to kill other humans. Other humans know about the Silencers, but because they look and act just like other humans, they are virtually impossible to detect until they start killing people.

Cassie and her group of allies — some are friends and some are not — are trying to survive. Cassie and her brother Sam survived the first waves, and she is with him in this last book, along with former crush Ben Parish (also known as Zombie), and Evan, who is a Silencer but who fell in love with Cassie and will do anything to protect her. Others include Ringer, Poundcake, and Dumbo (names they were given at the military “camp” that trains children to be killers of other humans).

The aliens who caused this devastation have been watching Earth for ten thousand years and have watched the gradual deterioration of the planet under mankind’s less-than-stellar stewardship. Finally, in order to save the planet, they create a series of events designed to decimate Earth’s population. One of the most fanatic of the alien followers is Colonel Vosch, the Nazi-like, unfeeling, sadistic person in charge of the military camp where Cassie and her group each have spent some time. Eventually, every character in the book meets up with him.

For those who read the first two books as soon as they were published, it’s probably better to reread those books before attempting the third and final book. Yancey creates a group of characters and a plot and subplots that are complicated and interwoven. The only way to really remember and know what is going on is to have recently read (or at least skimmed) the first two books.

Yancey’s writing is just as solid and descriptive as in the first two books. The story is told all in first person narrative from several different points of view. It allows the reader to understand the characters’ motivations and actions. What Yancey does beautifully is reveal the human condition. Some of us take whatever we can get in times of trouble and, like Vosch, use power to ensure survival at all costs. Other humans realize that individual survival at any cost is not always the most courageous option. When humanity is in danger, what is one life worth?

None of the characters is perfect. Cassie kills an unarmed soldier in the first book, but this incident and the reason she killed him are replayed throughout the series. She thinks of those issues when she is forced to make difficult choices. What is one life worth? A valid question and one that is worthy of discussion and reflection.

Yancey makes a statement here about the fact that when hundreds or thousands of people die, we can somehow become inured to those deaths. But when one person dies in front of us — it can be a revelation. 7.5 billion people is an unimaginable number, but a little girl with a bomb in her throat is just one person. What is her life worth? What is the value of the lives of the children who are brainwashed into carrying bombs of their own and detonating them? That really happens in our world. Those questions are certainly thought-provoking; and young adult readers should be carefully and painstakingly considering them.

What finally vanquishes the aliens and their evil plan to exterminate the human race? No spoilers here, but it’s a human emotion that resonates in each book. It’s the strongest human emotion there is.

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

Board books for babies in 2016


There is a plethora of board books for young babies this summer — from teaching a baby about seasons and shapes and the alphabet to telling stories that even older children will enjoy.

Lovers of the plush teddy bear Corduroy will love to read the two board books: “Corduroy’s Seasons” and “Corduroy’s Shapes.” In the first book, children learn about the seasons by seeing Corduroy play in each, from autumn through summertime fun. In “Corduroy’s Shapes,” Corduroy has a birthday party. and the shapes form part of each page from the rectangle birthday gift to the diamond-shaped kite they fly.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s ABC” by Eric Carle contains Carle’s distinctive illustrations from “A – ants” to “Z – zebra” with caterpillars, frogs and other animals in between.

“Little Sleepyhead” by Elizabeth McPike and Patrice Barton is a simple rhyming book about the different parts of little children’s bodies. Each spread features a different child with plenty of diversity and plenty of cuteness. By the end, it’s been a long day and the child in the story is ready for bed (and one might hope the child the book is being read to, as well!).

“Look!” by Jeff Mack, “Blue Boat” and “Yellow Copter” by Kersten Hamilton and Valeria Petrone are board books that are the same as the children’s books by the same names. In “Look!” Mack cleverly balances the words “look” with the words “look out” through illustrations and situations that will make kids laugh. It also clearly demonstrates the difference adding the “out” after the word “look” makes in meaning.

In “Yellow Copter” and “Blue Boat” the copter and boat each save the day when danger is near. Simple words, rhyme, lots of onomatopoeia, and simple illustrations make these books that kids will want to read again and again.

Please note: This is based on the board books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

‘Summerlost’ by Ally Condie: Middle grade fiction about friendship and family

Summerlost cover

In “Summerlost,” Ally Condie expands her repertoire from fabulous young adult to thoughtful and touching middle grade fiction. In this story, Cedar Lee is coming to terms with living life with her mother and younger brother after the sudden death of her father and brother, Ben. It’s the summer after the tragedy, and the three of them are in the small town where Cedar’s mother grew up. Her mother buys a house for them to live in during summers, and they spend their first summer — post accident — there.

There are many layers to “Summerlost,” and Condie handles them all with loving care. The first layer is that of a family in which tragedy has been a visitor. The lives of Cedar and her mother and brother were forever changed by a drunk driver. A serious storm that could have cost her mother’s life also serves to remind Cedar, and the reader, how precarious life is. In a continuation of the theme, Cedar and her brother play the board game “Life” often that summer.

Cedar also makes friends and gets a job with her friend at the Shakespeare festival that the town hosts every year. The job and the people she meets because of the job become important, but the focus is on Cedar, her family, and her new best friend, Leo. They start a side business, giving tours about a deceased actress who became famous because of the town’s festival. Her famous life ended prematurely, and there was a mystery surrounding her death. While Cedar and Leo are fascinated with her, they don’t solve that mystery.

While there is also an almost subliminal message about those who are different, Condie handles that delicately and with a light hand. Cedar’s brother Ben was autistic (or on the spectrum), and Cedar feels guilty that at times during his life, she wished he were gone. Now that he is gone, she remembers the good times and how much she loved him. She also remembers how horribly he was treated the short time he attended public school. Cedar herself is the butt of cruel behavior when boys make fun of her because she is half-Chinese. Leo, also, is teased for being different than the other boys.

The most important message that Condie repeats throughout the book is that life is fragile. A perfect day, like a perfect breakfast, must be enjoyed. Life must be celebrated and lived to the fullest. Going to London to see the best Shakespearean actor in Hamlet, skiing down a fabulous hill, and even remembering those who have died are important parts of a full life experience.

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

‘The Girl from the Savoy’ by Hazel Gaynor: Beautiful historical fiction


Rating: 4 stars

In “The Girl from the Savoy,” Hazel Gaynor introduces the reader to a wonderful, plucky protagonist who dreams of rising from her humble beginnings and becoming someone. Dorothy, called Dolly by everyone, begins her adventure as a chambermaid at the Savoy, a grand and glittering hotel frequented by the rich and famous.

She and the reader see the huge divide between the “haves” and “have nots.” When cleaning the rooms of the world famous actresses, she and the other chambermaids admire their shoes and their clothes. A chance encounter with a struggling composer leads Dolly to take some risks. She answers an advertisement for a “muse” and is befriended by that would-be composer, Perry, and his sister, a famous actress.

Continue reading

‘Ozzie and the Art Contest’ by Dana Sullivan: A picture book about happiness

ozzie and art

Rating: 5 stars

In “Ozzie and the Art Contest,” Dana Sullivan teaches young readers some very important life lessons. Ozzie, a bright blue dog, is very excited when his teacher announces that there will be an art contest. Ozzie loves to draw and he is sure he will win.

He quickly reads the instructions on the way home and uses his skills in folding paper to make a paper airplane out of the instruction sheet. Once home, he begins to draw his picture of a goat. His good friend agrees to model for the picture. Ozzie just knows he’ll win the contest — he knows a lot about goats!

On Monday, he proudly turns in his picture. The teacher tells the class that the winners will be announced the next day. Ozzie can hardly wait to see his picture in first place.

But the next morning, when he sees the winners displayed on the top row of the bulletin board, his is not among them. He looks and finally sees his picture of the goat in the bottom row, under the heading “Honorable Mention.”

While the rest of the class is cheerfully celebrating a successful art contest, Ozzie sits miserably at a table alone. He is not happy. His caring teacher notices and joins Ozzie, who simply can’t understand why his lovely drawing of a goat didn’t win.

Clever second graders with whom I read the story were quick to notice that all the winning pictures were of boats, not goats. They also quickly surmised that the contest was to draw a picture of a boat, not a goat.

Ozzie’s teacher gives him some simple advice. She says, “Winning isn’t the only reason to do things. Especially when it’s something you really like to do.”

Two life lessons. Read the instructions carefully. Winning isn’t everything — just have fun. What great topics for discussion with primary students. This is a perfect read aloud for classrooms from kindergarten through third grade.

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

Bilingual board books in English and Spanish; perfecto para niños bilingües

bilingual board books

Adorable bilingual board books for young children can be found from several publishers. “La Llorona” by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein (Lil’ Libros, 2015) is a board book based on the scary legend of La Llorona, “one of the oldest folktales ever told.” It’s a counting book that counts backwards from ten to one. Perfect for Halloween or anytime, it’s perfectly appropriate for even the youngest child. It’s not really scary; even the ghosts looks benign.

“A Color of His Own” by Leo Lionni (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016) is the wonderful children’s tale of a chameleon who wanted a color of his own. Each page tells the story in English with the Spanish translation below it. The illustrations are Lionni’s wonderful watery watercolors, and the moral is one that children love: things are better when they are shared.

“Frida” by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein is a colorful board book that is a tribute to famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It’s a counting book with bright colors and counting phrases in English and Spanish. The number 1 is “One blue house” in English and “Una casa azul” in Spanish. That is a reference to the home where Kahlo lived her whole life,La Casa Azul. (Whether you read it to your small child in English or Spanish, he or she will enjoy the artwork and the colors. (Lil’ Libros, 2014)

“Guadalupe” is another board book published by Lil’ Libros. It is written and illustrated by Patty Rodriguez and Ariana Stein. This one is filled with “first words,” like village (pueblo), sandals (sandalias), garden (jardín), and hills (cerros). The illustrations are simple, but colorful, and even for families who aren’t religious, telling the story of the Virgin de Guadalupe is cultural as well as religious.