The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (Abbi Waxman)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I wanted to like this book. I tried to like this book. I even actually liked parts of this book. Yet ultimately, I found it slow and a bit difficult to finish, which is sad considering how much of the set-up is great. You’ve got your anxious bookworm of a protagonist (see: Bridget Jones meets every romance heroine ever) who’s going through quite a few life changes (finding out the father she never knew has died and left her with a family and possibly something else in a to-be-read-later will) and of course, there’s hot hero in the background. Parts of this book were absolutely adorable, and there’s quite a bit of fun pop culture, but parts of it felt almost painfully cliche and though there’s a very, very well-written part buried about 3/4 in, I ultimately can’t quite recommend this.
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Castle of Fountains (Douglas A.L. Smith)

(guest review by Mathias)

3 out of 5 Stars

Cut to the Chase
Wyatt’s father has disappeared, leaving only a mysterious note (“One day you will understand). It’s a great hook and a fun beginning. The main character is a teenager from our world who’s somehow transported to this other world, and that’s where the mystery begins. That said, the rest of the book didn’t live up to premise. A lot of things are left unresolved, which is fine if it’s a planned series, but was still fairly frustrating considering where we started. Many of the characters (Wyatt in particular) are easy to relate to and well-developed, there was also a fair bit of action (our heroes getting attacked, etc.) but overall, I felt a little disappointed.

In Greater Detail
Wyatt a lonely thirteen-year-old boy who’s trapped in the middle of nowhere… in a foreign world. Thus, the narrator has the reader’s general expectations about what the world ought to look l ike.

He meets Marrock, who is a wolf (who talks and helps protect him). There’s an element of danger right away: there are storms that are dangerous, eventually trees that are also potentially malicious). Wyatt rides the wolf to safety and they eventually meet Lex, a winged beast who tells Wyatt about a quest he must complete in order to find the Fae Princess (there’s not a lot of explanation about why this is suddenly the quest, just characters, followed by a quest).

There’s also a background threat of war and plenty of solo adventures for Wyatt throughout the book (for example, Wyatt must go to the forest alone, where he then meeds Dryads, and eventually gets some powers).

There’s everything from a dragon a wizard, with a lot of small quests throughout.

This book was slightly disappointing even though there was quite a bit of action. I just felt like none of the larger questions were resolved, and it was a lot of somewhat standard going from one location to another, performing quests without anyone ever stopping to ask why. Perhaps I’m just grumpy or have read too much fantasy recently, but this one was, while entertaining, slightly disappointing after an interesting start.

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Change Science — and the World (Rachel Swaby)

3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a very well-intentioned book that is more informative and encyclopedic than actually inspiring. As a female engineer with two daughters, this is the type of reading material I want to see more of, and perhaps because I had such high expectations, I was ultimately disappointed.

The idea behind the book is fantastic: the introduction explains that a New York Times obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill highlighted her cooking skills (I think specifically, beef stroganoff) and her relationship with her husband (following him to different jobs, raising three children)… as opposed to her own, individual accomplishments.  You know, like being a rocket scientist.

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The Berenstain Bears: All Aboard (I Can Read Book, Level 1)

Good for ages 4-6

An average “I Can Read Level 1″ book.

Pros:
1. Good for a kid who’s a train lover. They not only are taking a train trip, but also get to tour the train and learn about the various parts/people on a train.
2. Age appropriate, family friend story line.

Cons:
1. As a kid, I liked the Berenstain bears, but now, as a parent and adult, I feel as though there are many better illustrated options out there. They’re illustrated the same way they always have been, but I can tell that my kids aren’t as drawn in by these drawings compared to other books produced under the I Can Read series.
2. The reading level feels a little off to me. It’s definitely not a “My First” level, but it’s borderline Level 2? And some of the words introduced aren’t common words (like “caboose” which is great for this book, probably not going to be useful outside of this book).

Though I’m not disappointed to have bought this book, I think there are definitely better “I Can Read Level 1″ books out there…

Seed to Plant (National Geographic Readers, Level 1)

4 out of 5 stars

Decent read for 4-6 year olds

Pros:
1. Great pictures, very vivid and will keep even a younger kid’s attention.
2. Nice, basic information on the seed –> plant process with some good vocabulary (germination, pollination)

Cons:
1. Not sure about the appropriate age group here. As a level 1 book, on the one hand, MOST of the words are super basic (seed, plant, etc), but on the other, the more complicated words are like a few levels up (germination, pollination.
2. Similarly, some of the interesting/fun facts are going to be ones that are too basic for a kid who’s already in elementary school, and a bit too left field for a younger kid.

Ultimately, we’re glad we have it in our collection. It’s bright, vivid and educational. The problem is that the target age group is a little hard to pinpoint, and the reading level is not completely level-1-ish (nor is the information)

Star Wars: The Adventures of Han Solo (Level 2 readers)

Good for 3-7 year olds…
I’m a bit torn on this book.

Pros:
1. If your kid likes Star Wars, your kid will probably like this book.
2. If you kid likes Han Solo, they’re probably love this book.
3. It’s got all the major things you would expect form a Star Wars book (mentions of Chewie, Princess Leia, etc)

Cons:
1. It’s not really helpful in terms of helping your kid learn to read (every like fourth word is proper noun that is useful only in the Star Wars universe).
2. If your kid already likes Star Wars, they’re not really going to learn anything new from this book.

If your kid doesn’t really like to read, but loves Star Wars, this is the book for you. Otherwise, there are other books that are better Star Wars books, as well as books that are better learning to read books. This is for the Star Wars kid who doesn’t otherwise want to read…

Little Bear (An I Can Read Book)

Our family is split down the middle on this one.

Pros:
1. Cute, completely age-appropriate stories. Little Bear has quite the imagination on him (from going to the moon to making a birthday soup), and Mother Bear is very creative (and caring) in how she handles/teaches Little Bear.
2. As a child, I absolutely adored these stories.
3. A great level-1-ish reading book with great introductory-level vocabulary

Cons:
1. While I LOVED these stories growing up, none of these stories seem to hold my kids’ attention. I think more modern stories (similar reading level) just have a much, MUCH higher ratio of pictures to text. Here, while the pictures are cute, there’s a lot more story to get through.

I think that this will be a great book once my toddlers/kids are older, but there are other “I Can Read” books that hold my kids’ attention much better (from Digger the Dinosaur, which I’m less of a fan of, to Pete the Cat and Wild Kratts). I still love it, I just think that my kids are (perhaps unfortunately) used to more pictures per story :(

Wild Kratts/ Wild Sea Creatures (Step into Reading, Level 2)

Average Level 2/Step into Reading Book…

Pros:
1. If your kid is already a fan of Wild Kratts, I think this is a good addition to your library
2. Simple enough sentences and age-appropriate content

Cons:
1. Illustrations make animals seem a bit like caricatures (the mean, angry shark, etc)
2. Not a lot of in-depth information on any of the animals, odd spread of facts that are conveyed

If you want books on whales and sharks, there are better options, if you want books that are good in terms of reading level, there are also better options. This is basically a book you buy if you a) like Wild Kratts, b) want something really basic/introductory that’s nominally about ocean animals and c) don’t mind that the drawings are very meh.

Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Leonard Mlodinow)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Well-written, clearly planned and researched book on how our subconscious often has undue influence over what we believe are logically-driven, thought-through decisions. There’s a nice blend of information with anecdote which will be appealing to most readers. Strict scientists will probably occasionally be annoyed by the use of overarching summation instead of strict numbers and statistics, and non-scientists might sometimes wish for a little more to be grounded in friendly anecdotes. Overall, I found this to be a nice blend of science and well-written non-fiction.

Greater Detail:
Mlodinow starts by using a series of anecdotes and past experiments to help ground you in the history of what eventually becomes brain and cognitive science/neuroscience and lays the foundation for quite a bit of marketing madness that has happened over the past couple of decades. We go from some basic definitions (like what does subliminal actually mean) to how the “science” behind this field slowly grew from pseudo-science to a respected, hot-topic field.

A lot of the history shared was interesting, even if you have taken those intro psychology courses — he goes through everything from some of Freud’s less famous early starts to some better-known experiments in the field (everything from Coke vs. Pepsi to reward pathways in our brain and how we often trick ourselves).

I found a lot of the historical asides to be fascinating (especially as they relate to how the field gradually became established) though the beginning sections were more interesting than some of the middle chapters (which I felt meandered a bit).

A very quick, informative, thought-provoking read overall: enough to make you question the validity of this visceral instincts that sometimes guide us (that are perhaps just an unconscious but active processing of subliminal cues) and also make you wonder how much our senses and logic fool us…

Comparison to Other Books:
This is like a far more science-based version of a book like The Power of Habit, and a far less technical version of something like Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow. It’s a really nice blend of science and story-telling, and will definitely make you wonder about just how you’re making your day-to-day decisions.