November 26, 2014

Review: Catch the Wind: My Journey with Caroline

Catch the Wind An American Girl Beforever Journey
By Kathleen Ernst
Available now from American Girl
Review copy

I used to get the Pleasant Company catalogs for American Girl and would page through them, wanting each and every one of the dolls.  I never got one, but I could go to the library and check out the American Girl books.  Since Mattel bought American Girl, they've played around with the focus and product offerings.  The latest is a line of choose your own adventure American Girl books.  As a fan of both, I couldn't resist giving them a whirl.

The actual CYOA element could be deployed much better.  You don't get to make many choices.  Most of the time a section tells you to flip to the next page (or to another specific page).  It's maybe one in six sections that you actually get to make a choice.  Some of the storylines end very quickly, and one per book requires you to go online to read the ending.  I really didn't like that element -- I had to stop and boot up my computer to read maybe six pages.  It's a good idea but needs some tweaking.

I do like that each book includes a short introduction to the history of the time at the back.  Caroline's story takes place during the War of 1812, near the Canadian border.  It's a war I wouldn't expect the elementary-school-age audience to be very (if at all) familiar with. 

In this story, you take the place of a young girl with a Navy mom who is about to be deployed and younger twin sisters.  You travel back to Caroline's time using a compass.  There, by Lake Ontario, you meet Caroline, whose father is a prisoner of war.  Caroline is one of the American Girls who was after my time, so her story was new to me, but easy to pick up.  There's lots of exciting storylines, including one involving a naval battle.

I like that CATCH THE WIND was very easy to read.  I think my eight-year-old niece could manage, especially since it is divided it to short sections.  This one is a good choice for a girl who is interested in war history or who has a parent in the military.  Or, perhaps, for a girl who has to stick with the books because a doll is out of le parent's budget.

November 25, 2014

Review: Chaos

Chaos Book three of the Guards of the Shadowlands trilogy
By Sarah Fine
Available now from
Review copy
Read more at my Sarah Fine tag

I really enjoyed FRACTURED and SANCTUM, the first two books in the Guards of the Shadowlands trilogy.  I picked up CHAOS eagerly, wanting to know how the Mazikin would be defeated forever and Malachai and Lela would find a way to be together again.  (Plus, there was that whole cliffhanger ending to SANCTUM.)  CHAOS satisfied those questions, although it took a bit longer to do so than I would've liked.

The main problem with CHAOS is that the meat of the plot ends about halfway through the book, and multiple twists are required to sustain the rest.  Plus, as wonderful as Malachai and Lela are, I got tired of them sacrificing themselves to save each other.  At some point heroic death comes cheap.  By the third time, it's definitely cheap.

I absolutely love the series as a whole.  Sarah Fine is a great writer, and the Guards of the Shadowland series is filled with both dynamic action and convincing romance.  There's also an exploration of different kinds of love; mother-daughter relationships are particularly important in CHAOS.  The afterworld Fine invented is clever, compelling, and unlike most anything else I've read.

In fact, I think I'm only complaining about CHAOS because the first two books in this series were so strong.  It had a tough act to follow.  I think it would've made it with one or two less extraneous subplots.  At the same time, it's much better than many books I've read lately.

If you're looking for a series with a fierce and determined Latin-American heroine, a romance that spans life and death (several times), a desperate fight against body snatchers, and battles against impossible odds, give Guards of the Shadowlands a try.  It's terrific fun.

November 24, 2014

Review: Disney Princess Hairstyles: 40 Amazing Princess Hairstyles With Step by Step Instructions

Disney Princess Hairstyles By Theodora Mjoll Skuladottir Jack
Photos by
Available now from Edda USA
Review copy

I remember my mom buying Klutz hairstyle books in order to properly do my sister's and my hair for ice skating competitions and ballet recitals.  As I helped her out and learned how to do the styles myself, I started finding more complicated things to do with my hair.  It is a fun way to pass the time, and now I enjoy doing my niece's hair.  (She enjoys doing mine in return, which often leads to giant rat's nests.)

I really liked the idea of a book of hairstyles inspired by Disney Princesses.  It's a great hook for young girls.  Most of the forty styles assigned to various princesses don't have much to do with the actual princess, but there is a wide variety.  I am not sure about the other styles, but the three Tiana styles will work with natural black hair.  Also, there are more than forty styles total thanks to an overview of how to do a variety of basic braids at the beginning.

Each step for each hairstyle is accompanied by a small photo, along with a large photo of the finished hairstyle.  The large photos aren't always helpful.  Sometimes the angle doesn't show the full hairstyle, or the photo is too dark to see.  One Aurora style has a plant shadowed in front of the girl, leaving her hair practically invisible.  The small photos, however, are helpful.  Moreso than many line-art illustrations I've seen in similar books.  The instructions could be a little clearer, but they're good enough with the photos.

I don't think any of the hairstyles are too hard for a beginner, especially not the curling techniques.  Once you get the braids in the front down, these should be simple.  Some do require special equipment, like bun fillers.  Also, most of these styles are best done with hair that is longer than shoulder length.

This is a beautifully photographed hairstyle book with a lot of appeal for young girls.  If you're looking for ideas for your daughter or niece's hair, or just want to learn to braid, this is a good choice.

November 21, 2014

Celebrating Jacqueline Woodson, and matching donations to #weneeddiversebooks

Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for BROWN GIRL DREAMING, a memoir in verse.  I'm not a memoir fan, but I've heard nothing but good things and intend to read it after the Cybils are over.

However, her win was overshadowed by remarks made by the presenter, Daniel Handler.  (Also known as Lemony Snicket.)

His first apology acknowledged that he'd taken the moment away from her.

This morning he made a second apology acknowledging that his remarks were racist.  He again acknowledged that the conversation about the National Book Awards should be about the books.

Therefore, he is donating $10,000 to #weneeddiverse books and matching donations up to $100,000 made in the next 24 hours since his tweet.

Let’s donate to to . I’m in for $10,000, and matching your money for 24 hours up to $100,000. -DH [3/4[

He closed by reiterating Jacqueline Woodson's achievement, as he should.

So let's celebrate Jacqueline Woodson's win for BROWN GIRL DREAMING and help support diversifying the publishing industry and texts in classrooms by donating to We Need Diverse Books.  You can donate to their IndieGogo here.  For $75, you can #CelebrateJackie and get a signed copy of BROWN GIRL DREAMING.

Review: Chasing Before

Chasing Before Book two of the Memory Chronicles
By Lenore Appelhans
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy
Read my review of The Memory of After

Note: I know Lenore Appelhans.

It's been awhile since I read THE MEMORY OF AFTER (published in hardcover as LEVEL 2), so it took several chapters before I readjusted to the mythology of the series and remembered what had happened before.  Felicia and her boyfriend Neil have both moved on to Level 3, the second level of the afterlife.  Unfortunately, the Morati (a group of rogue angels) have moved into Level 3 too. 

There were several things I liked about CHASING BEFORE and several things that frustrated me.  I liked that we got to meet Felicia's best friend Autumn, who had been murdered before the events of THE MEMORY OF AFTER.  Autumn is still working through her afterlife, and though she says she's forgiven Felicia for stealing her boyfriend, there is still an obvious friction between the girls.  They also run into Neil's older brother Nate, which felt like a bit much.  Maybe if he'd died many years after, but it sure feels like a lot of their peer group conveniently died off.  Nate, however, does provide one big revelation: Felicia and Neil didn't die in the car crash like they thought.  They're both missing months of memories.

CHASING BEFORE is full of neat twists like that, and they keep coming though the climax of the book.  The end of CHASING BEFORE can serve as a conclusion, but I'm excited to see Level 4 and find out what's next.  Unfortunately, the exciting twists and things blowing up keep getting bogged down by relationship drama.  The issues between Felicia and Neil are very realistic.  She wants to have sex; he still wants to keep to his ideal of no sex before marriage.  She's prone to jealousy and he's stubborn.  But their fights didn't endear me to Neil, who I've never found that swoonworthy.

Level 3 itself is also a mix of good and bad.  I liked the character development Felicia goes through as she learns to let go of her life on Earth, even as she's desperate to recover her lost memories and the whole of herself.  At the same time, Level 3 is apparently where you learn your afterlife career.  Thankfully we don't have to spend too much time in class.  There are less flashbacks in CHASING BEFORE than in THE MEMORY OF AFTER, if you're one of the readers that was bothered by those.  The past continues to be helpful to discovering what's happening, but it is no longer a focus.

CHASING BEFORE is a breezy read with an intriguing take on the afterlife and a heroine who is both brave and determined.  There is a love triangle, for those who hate that, but it is very much in the background.  It's probably best if you read THE MEMORY OF AFTER first, but I think CHASING BEFORE can stand on its own.


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