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Review! Avians by Timothy Gwyn

11 Oct

By Timothy Gwyn
316 pages – ages 12+
Published by Five Rivers Publishing on August 1, 2017

Synopsis from Publisher- “Orphans. Runaways. Thieves. The Avians don’t ask questions about a girl’s past. Or her age. They need glider pilots, and the smaller the better.

Raisa is fourteen. Born to a line of powerful silk merchants, her rebellion against an arranged marriage is doomed. The Avians are her only alternative.

Mel is the young servant blamed for Raisa’s disappearance. She meets an Avian recruiter and seizes the chance to spite her employer.

When Mel and Raisa are sworn in with two other girls to form Blackbird squad, their simmering conflict undermines the whole team.

The flying is difficult, the discipline is fierce, and the older pilots don’t even bother to learn their names. The Blackbirds are starting to look like the weakest squad in years.

Then a deadly accident reveals the truth: only the best survive.”

What I Thought- This was an extremely well-written dystopian book. The book takes place on a planet (Celadon) that was inhabited after humans left Earth. It is quite fascinating. The character of Raisa is very well-developed, with aspects that both make you love her and hate her – she’s a brat, but she’s the main character, so it creates an awesome conflict. It also makes it really amazing when she starts to go through changes as a character. I also really enjoyed Chief Corvid, the leader of the entire Avian fleet – the book shows her struggles as commander, with making tough decisions and being moral support for the Avians, quite well, in a touching manner. The book is clean, with no content for kids, but I do think the book is better for an older audience, because the style of the book just lends itself to a more mature reading. For example, there is not much humor – the story’s tone reflects the dystopian feel of the book. Gwyn is able to write in a way that doesn’t make a book dark or light, but just perfect for upper middle-grade readers wanting a more serious book. I really like that. I cannot wait to read the second book when it comes out!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!

Review! Dirt by Denise Gosliner Orenstein

24 Sep

By Denise Gosliner Orenstein
224 pages – ages 8-12
Published by Scholastic Press on July 25, 2017

Synopsis from the Publisher- “Things are hard for eleven-year-old Yonder. Her mother died and her father has sunk into sadness. She doesn’t have a friend to her name . . . except for Dirt, the Shetland pony next door.

Dirt has problems of his own. He’s overweight, he’s always in trouble, and his owner is the mean Miss Enid, who doesn’t have the patience for a pony’s natural curiosity. His only friend is Yonder, the scrawny girl next door. So when Miss Enid makes the cruel decision to sell Dirt for horsemeat, Yonder knows she has to find a way to rescue him. Even if that means stealing Dirt away and sneaking him into her own house. What follows will make you worry, will make you cry, and will ultimately fill you with hope, love, and an unshakable belief in the power of friendship. Especially the four-legged kind. ”

What I Thought- I had mixed feelings about this book. The intended audience is ages 8-12 and I felt it was a tad heavy for that age. Unlike most young middle-grade stories, this one had no real solution to the problems to even say that they worked out in the end, even if it wasn’t the solution the reader was hoping for. Honestly, I think Orenstein is trying to tell a Young Adult story in a lower Middle Grade book – she has so many great aspects to the plot, but then throws in a lot of material suited for an older audience. Yonder has so many problems, it weighs the story down. Plus no one seems to notice and offer help to Yonder.  That being said, the story has so many wonderful aspects – a window into bonds between animals and kids with disabilities, kids in poor circumstances – I think if this novel was geared toward a bit older audience and given a bit more to the story, it would be spectacular. If you have a tween who likes sad stories or a teen who is looking for a quick read, this book is well worth a try.

I give this book three out of five bookworms.

Review! Merlin’s Vow by Rosie Morgan

21 Nov

merlinMerlin’s Vow

Series: The Camelot Inheritance #3 (#1, #2)

By Rosie Morgan

281 pages – ages 12+

Published by Liscarret Creations on July 2, 2016

Synopsis- Arthur Penhaligon probably has the world’s best inheritance – he is the new King Arthur, in modern times, and he and his friends are the Guardians of Cornwall. This would be great, if an evil lady didn’t want to rule Cornwall. And, in this book, winter is coming, and the Lady of Clehy, lady of ice, loves the winter. So much, she gets stronger. So much, that it would take an army to stop her. An army the Guardians don’t have…

What I Thought- This was a really good installment in the Camelot Inheritance series! The characters are refined even more, and you learn more about the “legend” behind it all. I really like how Ms. Morgan has a part-time omnipresent narration style, with characters that aren’t characters – the Writer and her Watchers. They look at the story unfolding, but aren’t supposed to interfere. Of course, the narration also switches between the main characters’ points-of-view as well. This style really makes the story a joy to read. There were a few times the h*** and d*** words were used, and they didn’t really need to be put in there. The descriptions are spot-on, and the word choice really makes it an enjoyable read. I really like this, and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review and Cooking! Vegetarian Sushi Secrets by Marisa Baggett

7 Nov

sushiVegetarian Sushi Secrets: 101 Healthy and Delicious Recipes

Recipes by Marisa Baggett

128 pages – ages 12+

Published by Tuttle Publishing on October 11, 2016

Synopsis- Have you ever wanted to make your own sushi? Did you not know where to start? Marisa Baggett has written a vegetarian sushi cookbook for people who want to make and eat their own sushi and don’t want to eat the meat. In a previous book, she did cover normal sushi, but now she is telling how to make vegetarian and vegan friendly meals. She includes cooking the sushi rice, and how to roll and cut the sushi.

What I Thought- This is a very easy to understand cookbook. There are clear pictures that help you visualize the instructions. The instructions are simply stated and cover everything. I put the age group as 12+ just because of use of sharp objects, boiling water, etc., on the assumption of “without parent supervision”. If a parent is helping cook, the age group would be a bit lower, depending on how comfortable the parent is with that. We decided to make a thick sushi-style sushi, through lack of common ingredients on our part. I think it turned out rather well – here’s what we did!

First, we had to boil/cook the sushi rice – which is different from “normal” white rice; it has more starch to stick together.


Then, we had to prepare the rice dressing for the rice and then let it cool. You put on rice dressing to get a sushi taste.

Then I got my bamboo rolling mat out, and placed the nori (seaweed) down so it was placed vertically.


Following the simple directions, I laid rice on the nori, and then placed thinly sliced carrots, cucumber, and avocado, along with butternut squash “spaghetti” horizontally along the bottom edge of the nori/rice.


Then, you slice it.


We also made tempura from a recipe in the book!


We took leftover vegetables from the sushi, and put in some onions and broccoli. The directions were easy and the tempura came out great!

In fact everything came out great!


Altogether, this is a really nice cookbook!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review! 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up By Bianca Schulze Blog Tour! AND GIVEAWAY!!!

12 Oct


101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

Series: 101 series for Kids

By Bianca Schulze

Published by Walter Foster Jr on October 1, 2016

144 pages / ages 8-12

Synopsis from the publisher: 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up provides a comprehensive list of kid-friendly books for children to read before they grow up. This must-read review list acts as an interactive journal where kids can document the books they read, why they like them, and how they rate them. Divided into sections by subject, from fairy tales and fantasy to sports and nonfiction, 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up celebrates the importance of reading and encourages family participation to develop lifelong readers. The perfect reference guide for book lovers of all ages, 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up helps both kids and parents decide which books to read next!

What I thought: This is a nice addition to the 101 Series for Kids. When I first saw the title of this – 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up – I immediately thought – come on, how can you possibly come up with this list? There are SO MANY books you should read before you grow up! Then I read the following author’s note –

“There are so many amazing books to be discovered and read—and far too many to list in one fun book. The 101 awesome books contained in these pages have one collective message: Be kind, be brave, and make good choices. Remember the struggles of those that came before you and those who will come after you. Be true to yourself, and with every page you turn, live your life like an epic adventure.”

Makes sense.

Plus, Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review so she knows what she is talking about. Scanning through the table of contents, yes I did see some books I think should have been listed, but I can’t argue against any of the books Schulze lists (well maybe one). And, she only got to name 101 (although in the “What to Read Next?” section following each book description Schulze got to list a few more).


As with all the books in the 101 Series for Kids, the pages are well-organized and colorful. Schulze gives a brief synopsis of each book and some comments as to why the book belongs on the list. There is also a section below each book named for kids to record that they read it and write what they thought of it. The variety of books Schulze suggests is wonderful – ranging from classics to adventure, humor to historical fiction. Schulze even gives a nod to graphic novels. There is a nice selection of culturally diverse books and I was happy with the mix of classic and more modern titles represented.



Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review, a resource devoted to children’s literature and recognized by the American Library Association as a “Great Website for Kids.” She is a reader, reviewer, mother, and children’s book lover. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s bookseller, Bianca’s goal is to share her passion to help grow readers.


To enter the giveaway to win this book, all you need to do is comment telling us what book you think everyone should read!

Review, Interview & Giveaway! Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer

22 Sep

tokyoteen1Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes

Written and Illustrated by Christine Mari Inzer

128 pages – ages 12+

Published by Tuttle Publishing on September 6, 2016

Synopsis from Publisher- “Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and an American father in 1997, Christine Mari Inzer spent her early years in Japan and relocated to the United States in 2003. The summer before she turned sixteen, she returned to Tokyo, making a solo journey to get reacquainted with her birthplace. Through illustrations, photos, and musings, Inzer documented her journey.

In Diary of a Tokyo Teen, Inzer explores the cutting-edge fashions of Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district, eats the best sushi of her life at the renowned Tsukiji fish market, and hunts down geisha in the ancient city of Kyoto. As she shares the trials and pleasures of travel from one end of a trip to the other, Inzer introduces the host of interesting characters she meets and offers a unique—and often hilarious—look at a fascinating country and an engaging tale of one girl rediscovering her roots.”

What I Thought- This was a rather interesting book, chronicling the time that the author as a teen went to Japan by herself to visit her grandparents, and her experiences there. The book is funny, as the American-ized Inzer experiences the differences in the two cultures first hand. There are hand-drawn comics and illustrations throughout the book, providing a lot of humor and information at the same time.


One thing I liked was how she combined the actual photos of the time she went along with her illustrations. It was a nice blend and created a cool contrast on the page. There are some really good thought-provoking quotes in there – like in the end when Inzer gets back to America and says “I guess I will always feel halfway home.” That’s a sentiment many kids who identify with two different places will connect with. There were some really great funny moments too so the whole story has a great balance. Inzer’s writing style blends seamlessly into her comic illustrations, making the story feel less like a comic or graphic novel, and more of a traditional novel.  The book is also a wonderful informal travel guide, and Japanophiles will like hearing about places to see – I know I did! I will be looking for more titles coming from this promising young author!

Five out of five bookworms for this book!fivebooks

For a complete preview of Diary of a Tokyo Teen, visit Tuttle’s website HERE

Christine Mari Inzer was kind enough to agree to an interview with me!

bloglogo When did you decide to publish your musings from your trip? Why?


tokyoteenBefore I had even left for Japan, I decided that I wanted to create a book about my experiences there. My mom is Japanese and I was born in Tokyo, so it holds a special place in my heart. I also love the travelogue genre and combining comics with my love of Japan was something that came natural to me.

bloglogo Have you gone back to Japan since the time the book was written?


tokyoteenYes, I have actually gone back twice since the book was first written, most recently in August. My grandparents live near Tokyo, so we try to visit every other year. I’m always excited to return.


bloglogo Your book is funny, while also being an informal travel guide for Japan, with most of the humor being supplied from the illustrations. What made you decide to have the book be partly in comic form? Did it make it easier to write in information on Japan?


tokyoteenI feel like drawing has always been the easiest way to express myself. In a way I do think that it also made it easier for people to visualize Japanese culture, which is so colorful and vibrant in itself.


bloglogo If you could write another book like this, say for another country, would you?


tokyoteenI would love to make another book like this! I would definitely love to have an opportunity to travel to Europe and do the same thing, especially someplace like France or Spain.


bloglogo What aspect of Japan interests you the most? What would you say someone MUST see if they go to Japan?


tokyoteenFor me, going to Japan is a multidimensional experience, and there’s never really been a single aspect of it that I like the most. I love everything! However, if I can share one thing I love to experience in Japan, it would be Shibuya Crossing at night.


Thank you Ms. Inzer!

Now for some exciting news!

You can enter a giveaway to win a copy of this book courtesy of Tuttle Publishing by commenting below on something you love about Japan or something that you really enjoyed when visiting another country and discovering a new culture!

The winner will be chosen on 9/29 (and announced on 9/30) by random draw out of all the comments – good luck!

Review! Jet Black and the Ninja Wind by Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani

25 Aug

jetblackJet Black and the Ninja Wind

Co-written by Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani

320 pages – ages 12+

Published by Tuttle Publishing on July 26, 2016

Synopsis- Jet Black has always been different. She doesn’t go to parties, she doesn’t wear designer clothes, and she most definitely does not have a normal pastime. You see, Jet Black is training to be a ninja – don’t laugh. You’ll never see your demise coming. Just like she didn’t expect her mother to die. Or how, when she gets to her grandfather’s house in Japan, he ends up dead as well. Now Jet must go and stop the single man who will go to any length that her mother spent her entire life hiding from. And only one will walk away…

What I Thought- Bottom line – I really liked the book.  I wasn’t quite sure I would review it when the publisher sent it to me. I think what threw me off was the cover (I really dislike it – it needs more ninja – to me it looks like a teenage vampire romance – I know, I know don’t judge a book based on it’s cover…). One day I picked it up and started paging through it and what I found was a really good action story with good characters. I found myself wrapped up in it enough to finish the story and I enjoyed it. I like how the book gave insights into another culture (actually two – Japanese and Ninja) while the story was evolving. While the story keeps the reader involved, I thought it could be tightened up a bit especially at the end. Never-the-less, the book is definitely worth picking up. The story about Jet Black and the personal struggles which she faces coming to terms with this responsibility of being a ninja really sold the book for me.

I give this book four out of five bookworms.fourbooks

Review and Taste Test! Katie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook by Katie Chin

13 Jul

katiechinKatie Chin’s Everyday Chinese Cookbook: 101 Delicious Recipes from My Mother’s Kitchen
Written by Katie Chin, recipes by Leeann Chin and Katie Chin
Photography by Masano Kawana
Foreword by Raghavan Iyer
160 pages – ages 12+
Published by Tuttle Publishing on April 26, 2016

Publisher’s Synopsis – “Author Katie Chin’s love of cooking blossomed at an early age—watching and later helping her renowned mother, Leeann Chin, prepare delicious Chinese dishes in her popular restaurants. Born in China, Leeann was an award-winning restaurateur and author revered for her ability to demystify Chinese cooking for the American home cook. Katie inherited her mom’s passion and talent, and has become a respected food writer and television personality in her own right. Sadly, Leeann passed away in 2010, but her recipes live on. Katie is eager to share her mother’s food legacy with you in this book—an homage to Leeann’s mastery of all that Chinese cooking has to offer.
This treasury of family recipes includes many unique dishes that Leeann developed during a six-decade career in the food business, including time-honored classics that she herself learned from her mother in China. Some dishes reflect Leeann’s Chinese-American childhood or are recipes which Katie and Leeann developed while together. Others are creations that Katie has developed more recently. Woven throughout the book are fond memories and anecdotes from Katie’s childhood, always involving cooking and eating with her mom.”

What I Thought- First, I just want to say that the reason I suggested ages 12+ for this book is just because that is around the age where I think it is reasonable to start cooking without omnipresent supervision (of course, this is up to the parents). These recipes can be made by younger kids, but parental supervision should be present throughout the cooking. That being said, the book is an excellent cookbook, with clear instructions. I liked that Ms. Chin did not assume that the reader/cook already knew information, including things such as “Basic Cooking Techniques and Tips” and “Understanding Chinese Ingredients” so the reader/cook is not left in the dark. All of the back material was very interesting and is a great help in learning to cook Chinese food. The recipes themselves are easy to read, and include simple ways to cook and prepare the food. The anecdotes into Ms. Chin, her mother, and how she gets her kids to eat things like mushrooms and spinach really make the book more personal. The book is filled with great color photos of the steps and finished dishes. This was a great cookbook!

I give this book five out of five bookworms! fivebooks

Knowing me, you probably aren’t surprised that I decided to cook something with my family from the cookbook. We chose to make the “Crystal Shrimp Dumplings” found on page 30-31. My sister Josie helped make the dumplings too.



We started by making the filling with cilantro, egg white, cornstarch, sugar, pepper and sesame oil.


We prepared the shrimp as it said in the cookbook so it won’t taste “fishy.”


We minced the shrimp in a food processor and added it to the filling mix.


Then it was time to fill the dumplings.


I don’t think our wrap job was as pretty as the ones in the book – but pretty good for beginners!



Next we cooked the dumplings!





They were delicious! The soy sauce had balsamic vinegar in it, and it gave it a nice citrus-y flavor somehow. Ms. Chin really knows how to make a meal!

Review! The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

31 May

soulThe Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

By Sy Montgomery

272 pages – ages 14+

Published by Atria Books on May 12, 2015

Synopsis- What makes you think? What makes you have your own thought process, that is different from all other animals? Wait. What if animals do think? How could we tell? Sy Montgomery was determined to find the answer – and to look in the most unlikely place: an octopus. Could these creatures really have an independent, unique thought process?

What I Thought- This was an interesting book. I was given it as a gift and at first I wasn’t really jazzed about reading a nonfiction book about octopuses – but I gave it a try. As I was reading, I felt that the book was enlightening. I was seeing things in a different perspective. The book is a chronicle of Ms. Montgomery’s experiences with octopuses, and how they are different from us, yet similar in so many ways. I found that I enjoyed it thoroughly. Montgomery’s writing style has an enjoyable flow to it. She mixes science with narration and spins it into a story-like product that kept me entranced. The text itself brings up a lot of questions  that are thought-provoking, and makes you appreciate the odd lifeforms that are octopuses.

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review! To Stay Alive by Skila Brown

9 May

stayaliveTo Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

By Skila Brown

304 pages – ages 12+

Will be published by Candlewick on October 11, 2016

Synopsis- It was 1846, and Mary Ann Graves was 19 when her father and her entire family decided to move west. Her 21-year-old sister (and her husband) were coming as well. They had to go from Illinois all the way to California. They would see most of the country as they traveled through the land. They met up with several other families when they were traveling, including the Reed family, and the Donner family. All they need to do is make it through the infamous Rocky Mountains before it snows…

What I Thought- This was a slightly disturbing book. It is a historical fiction of the infamous Donner Party, and for the most part it was telling the story of their journey westward. The novel-in-verse format is interesting, and makes it a rather fast read. It was odd reading the part where they started eating the dead flesh (which honestly, didn’t bother me – some consider it a valid survival technique (when there is nothing else, of course)) – it was the part where they started killing the weaker travelers for food that grossed me out a little, but it is part of history and needs to be told. That aside, the book was very good, and I enjoyed reading about the journey westward. Ms. Brown’s poems stir an emotional impact with the reader, while still telling of the lives of the families going west. I liked that she included an Epilogue, Author’s Note, and a list of the members of the Donner Party, with facts as to what happened afterward, during, and other such things. All-in-all, a very compelling read with solid writing and having it in verse makes the story even more surreal. I’d just recommend for a more mature kid-reader.

I give this book five out of five bookworms.fivebooks

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