Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review: Pillowland by Laurie Berkner

by Laurie Berkner
Illustrated by Camille Garoche
Simon & Schuster 
Picture Book
ages 4 to 8
32 pages

Laurie Berkner, “the queen of children’s music” (People), pairs the lyrics of her beloved hit with Camille Garoche’s gentle illustrations in this winning bedtime picture book—a must-have for fans of Laurie’s music and all things soft and sweet.

I know a place, a kingdom far away,
where people wear pajamas every night and every day.
Where all the houses, the buildings, and the trees 

are made of fluffy pillows that are soft as they can be. 

Laurie Berkner’s treasured song “Pillowland” is now a beautiful picture book! Featuring magical, lush art by Camille Garoche, Pillowland carries readers away to a feather-fluffed dream world where bedtime is always a grand adventure.

We’re going to land in Pillowland!


With amazing illustrations and a text which invites to fluffy pillows and dreams, this is a lovely book to match Laurie Berkner's popular song or simply as a wonderful, nighttime read.

Pillowland is a fluffy, puffy place full of fun and adventure. The text is simple and follows the lyrics of Laurie Berkner's song, Pillowland. While knowing the song adds a great basis for this book and makes it that much more fun to read, it's also enjoyable without knowing the song. It works great as a read-aloud even for younger listeners, especially with fun sound effects such as 'zoom! zoom!' and 'wheee!' It invites to imagination pure while bringing a comfort of softness and enjoyable dreams. For those who don't know the song, the text might come across a little strange at times, but this problem is solved with an extra treat found on the back of the book. A simple musical score of the song is printed there so kids can learn the song or sing along.

The illustrations are unique and a treat. With a mixture of paper cut-out art and real life items, the illustrations gain a whimsical and imaginative feel. It's fun to simply flip through the book and gaze at the pictures.

Fans of Laurie Berkner are sure to love this one, and those who don't know her will discover a lovely place where kids can dream and enjoy a fluffy world. 

And here they are. . .

Recognized as "the queen of children's music" (People magazine), Laurie Berkner is a singer, songwriter, lyricist, author, and founder of Two Tomatoes Records.  She has released twelve bestselling, award-winning albums, was the first recording artist ever to perform in music videos on Nick Jr., and appeared regularly on the network’s Jack’s Big Music Show.  Laurie's music has graced the short-form animated series Sing It, Laurie! on 24-hour preschool television channel Sprout, and she has been a frequent  guest on Sprout's Sunny Side Up morning show.  Venturing into the theater world, Laurie has written music and lyrics for two Off-Broadway children’s musicals produced by New York City Children’s Theatre:  The Amazing Adventures of Harvey and the Princess and Wanda’s Monster.  A third NYCCT show featuring Laurie’s music and lyrics, Interstellar Cinderella, will open Off-Broadway in November 2017. What sets Laurie apart?  Her music speaks to kids without talking down to them, charming youngsters without boring grownups.  Laurie finds inspiration in her audience.  “I want to create songs that matter for children,” she says.  “I was singing once and saw a four-year-old girl shut her eyes and start swaying to the music.  I thought, ‘That’s the reason I got into music.’  It keeps me wanting to do more.”

Camille Garoche was born on a Tuesday. She spent her childhood in the southwest of France, terrorizing her brothers and sisters by drawing them stories about zombie cats. One day she decided to go to Paris to study applied arts. Now, at thirty years old (and a bit), she has publisehd more than thirty books for children. Today, she devotes herself primarily to her own stories—while listening to detective stories in her workshop in Montreuil, France. 
Se more of Camille's work at

Sneak Peek: Ghosts and Exiles by Sandra Unerman

Spellhaven is no more, but its spirits remain.

Tilda Gray hates Spellhaven, the city where her husband was born, even though she has never set foot in the place, and she does not believe in the magic it’s supposed to have held. Now her husband is dead, she would rather avoid any mention of the city. But her sons, Nicholas and James, have befriended Hugo, a young boy threatened by forces none of them understand. When Hugo's uncle and guardian, Stephen Cole, visits the Gray family to ask for help, Tilda agrees against her better judgement. Between them, as they search for ways to banish or at least help Hugo cope with the ghosts that are driving him mad, they seek out the dubious aid of the exiles from Spellhaven. In doing so they must face new dangers and unknown magic, unlike anything Tilda could have believed possible.

Book Details:

Print Length: 300 pages
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Genre(s): Magical Realism, Historical Fantasy

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Stephen Cole would never have asked for help on his own account, not from strangers and especially not from a woman and a couple of young boys. Since his slow recovery from his experiences in the trenches during the First World War, he had devoted himself to his work at the Bar and had spent little time in the company of women or children. But the help was for his nephew, Hugo, and by the time Stephen arrived at the Grays’ house in Highgate one Sunday morning in November 1933, he did not know where else to turn.

When he was shown into the drawing room, Stephen looked round to try and gain an impression of the family. He decided that the room had been decorated about ten years ago and hardly changed since then. The yellow and grey curtains had lost their bloom and the wooden feet on the armchairs were scuffed, but the parquet floor round the carpet was thoroughly polished, as were the tiles inset into the fireplace. Mrs. Gray must have had skilled and hardworking servants, not as easy to find as they would once have been. Botanical illustrations hung on the panelled walls. Stephen had no time to notice more before Mrs. Gray entered the room. 

Her appearance took Stephen aback. When he had been told she was a widow, somehow he had pictured a middle-aged woman, dumpy and depressed. Maybe he had been thinking of Queen Victoria, even though he had seen enough war widows in the early days of his practice to know they came in all shapes and styles. Matilda Gray was tall for a woman, with light eyes and a pointed chin. Her pale brown hair was bobbed and smooth. She wore a fawn twin-set and a brown skirt, not new or fashionable but shapely and trim.

‘Thank you for seeing me on a Sunday, Mrs. Gray,’ Stephen said. ‘It’s your son, Nicholas, I’d really like to talk to. He is home for the weekend, isn’t he?’

Hugo lived at school all term, and often in the holidays as well, but Stephen had been told that the Grays were weekly boarders.

‘The boys are at breakfast, Mr. Cole.’ Mrs. Gray looked as wary of him as he was of her.

‘I hope your maid gave you my apologies for disturbing you.’

‘It doesn’t matter, but you will have to explain what this is about before I decide whether Nicholas should be involved.’

‘Very well, although he is already involved in a way.’

She frowned and raised her chin at that but she said, ‘Please sit down.’

Stephen folded himself into the nearest chair as his hostess settled down opposite.

‘I’m here on behalf of my nephew, Hugo. He’s at school with Nicholas and he’s in trouble. The school is threatening to send him down.’

‘And you believe that Nicholas has something to do with this?’

The words were chipped out of ice. Stephen took a breath and sat back. ‘I’m not suggesting your boy is to blame, Mrs. Gray. I’m just trying to understand what happened.’

‘Did the school send you here?’ She sounded politely incredulous and he did not blame her.

‘I asked if I could speak to some of Hugo’s friends and the school refused. But they did say he only appeared to have one friend and that was Gray Major. They wouldn’t give me the address but Hugo did. It was about the one thing he was willing to tell me. He hardly knows me so I’m not surprised he doesn’t trust me.’

‘I take it his parents are away?’

‘In China. They haven’t been home for six or seven years, since they brought Hugo over to start him at school. I haven’t been in touch. I was – preoccupied after the war and I’ve never had much to do with children. My mother used to deal with Hugo, but she is not at all well now, so there’s nobody else.’

‘That is difficult for you but I still don’t understand how we can help you.’

‘I’m hoping Hugo might have confided in your son. But even if he doesn’t know what happened last week, if he can just talk to me about Hugo and what might have got him into this state, I’d be grateful.’

Mrs. Gray looked down at her hands for a long moment. Then she nodded. ‘Please wait here for a moment.’


‘...Spellhaven is an intriguing novel with no easy answers or way out, which means you can keep rereading it and drawing different conclusions every time. Jane is never going to be entirely happy and settled in life – but would she ever have been, even without her magical summons? 
Refreshingly, it does not appear to be part of a series: that ending ambiguity is all you’re getting and it will keep buzzing at the back of your mind for days.’ ~ Ben Jeapes, author of Phoenicia’s Worlds and other SF novels, from the BSFA review

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Meet the Author:

Sandra Unerman lives in London in the UK. When she retired from a career as a Government lawyer, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, specialising in science fiction and fantasy, and graduated in 2013. Since then, she has had a number of short stories published. Her latest stories are in Sword and Sorcery magazine, June 2017, and Fall into Fantasy, an anthology from Cloaked Press. She writes reviews and articles for the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. She is a member of London Clockhouse writers and other writing groups. Her interests include history, folklore and medieval literature.

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Review: Ignite The Stars by Maura Milan

by Maura Milan
Albert Whitman & Company
YA Science Fiction
400 pages

Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

In this exhilarating edge-of-your-seat sci-fi adventure—perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles—debut author Maura Milan introduces our world to a thrilling new heroine.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: Blood, Poop, and Dead Skin by Ruth Owen and Ross Piper

The Secret Lives of Insects
by Ruth Owen and Ross Piper
Ruby Tuesday Books
Children's Non-Fiction
32 pages
ages 4 to 8

Inside this book, meet 12 insects that take disgusting eating habits to a whole new level. From dung beetles slurping up elephant poop soup to tiny creatures that could be feasting on your body right now, every page is packed with truly unbelievable facts. Perfect for reluctant readers, these books deliver life sciences in the creepiest, yuckiest way possible!


Kids who love the icky, gross and simply can't get enough of insects and how they eat are in for a huge treat with this book!

This book is about insects. . .some very rare and some more common. . .and the more disgusting habits several harbor. Disgusting as some of the food sources might be, this is not only about hitting high on the grossness scale, but rather, offers all sorts of interesting insect tidbits along the way.

Twelve very different critters are put in the spotlight, including everything from Honeypot Ants to Green Bottle Flies to Tarantula Hawks and so many more. Each insect becomes the star of a two-page spread and is presented in real life, very colorful and clear photographs. Readers get a glimpse into their natural habitats. There's a quick summary of the insect, their environment and their food source as well as a reason for why they eat what they do. A 'The Science Stuff' box sits between the photographs, offering more curious and interesting bits of information about the insect. And to keep the excitement high, little boxes point to various attributes in the photographs and give a short description or another bite of information. At the end of the book, there's a good sized glossary to help with more difficult terms, an index and the mention of a website, where readers can discover even more.

This is not a book for the weak of stomach, but the insects as well as the information is interesting. The text is at the perfect level for middle graders, gets right to the point and keeps things short. This keeps readers from getting bogged down and bored, and lets them simply dive right into the information. And the insects here are not ones often explored. There's definitely something new to discover even for insect fans who know their stuff.

The lives and behaviors of insects can be truly incredible. Some, however, are so gross you probably won’t even want to read about them. Or, do you? From a wasp that turns cockroaches into zombies to a beetle that repels predators with poisonous, boiling-hot farts—each book in this fascinating new series is packed with truly unbelievable facts. Perfect for reluctant readers, these books deliver life sciences in the creepiest, yuckiest way possible!

Discover the four books in this series

Review: Viking's Chosen by Quinn Loftis

by Quinn Loftis
Clean Teen Publishing
YA Historical / Fantasy
300 pages

His orders are clear: launch a raid against England and bring home the spoils of war. But the prophecy is also clear: General Torben will take a foreign bride — one who is a seer and healer just like his mother. The eldest princess of England is said to be just that… a beautiful, charming, and headstrong woman. But he's a Viking army general and she's an English princess — and one who is already promised to the king of Tara.

Two worlds collide in this epic historical fiction centered on an undeniable chemistry that smolders against the odds. Richly written and injected with moments of humor, this action-packed romantic tale will leave you breathless.

Quinn Loftis is the author of twenty novels, including the USA Today Bestseller Fate and Fury.


Viking rawness and strength collides with all the pomp of the English courts in a mix of adventure, intrigue, fate and even a touch of magic.

Torben is respected and feared by his folk, but as a leading general he's more than aware of his King's growing madness, which has them soon on a risky mission to invade a part of England. To make matters more difficult, his mother, the town's Oracle, expects him to fulfill her vision and mate with an English woman. The idea of taking a foreign bride cuts his pride, but that is the least of the problems. Tara, the one he is seen to wed, is an English princess about to be married to a very powerful king, and the lives of those in her kingdom are hanging on the joining. And she's not about to let down her own people.

I was really looking forward to this book and was not disappointed. The author does a fantastic job at bringing both worlds to life. The vikings are as rugged as expected, and the English court is as regulated, proper and yet harsh in its own right. This does not have the flair of a light fairy tale, but sticks to a more historical atmosphere and doesn't fall into the trap of making life more grand than it was.

Still, this is an adventure with a touch of magic and lore. The oracle carries all of the mystery and harshness of a witch. She's got a warm heart buried in there somewhere, but is a result of her rough circumstances. The entire viking tribe is that way. . .even when the men break down to a little joking and humor. Which makes Torben a force not to oversee. He's rugged and crude, yet intelligent, ethical and wise. He's a true viking hero to root for.

Tara is not a spoiled princess but has matured and understands her position very well. She's tough but knows her place, and will live up to what is expected of her and her rank. Sometimes, she comes across a little weak and her decisions seem misguided at times. Still, without flaws, she wouldn't be easy to like. Plus, it fits the era well.

This was one of those books I didn't want to put down. The action rolls from page one all the way through. New problems constantly arrive, and the obstacles grow seemingly insurmountable and heart-wrenching to guarantee high tension to the last page. But the tension doesn't end there. Rather, this has an open end, which makes it hard to wait for book two to find out what happens next. And I do want to know that.

The romance is a wonderful push and shove with snarky wit built in. Both parties are not willing, although there is a spark of 'love at first site'. The oracle's predicted makes the direction of romantic tension clear, but there's enough intrigue and evil on the side to make it clear that vision or not, it's going to be a ruthless fight for both of them. Especially with a villain as evil as the one in this book.

In other words, its a fast-paced, exciting read for viking fans or those who love old England stories of royal intrigue. . . .and all with a touch of magical fantasy.

Sneak Peek: Outcast by Denise Jaden

by Denise Jaden
YA Contemporary (with romantic suspense elements)
April 20th, 2018

She’s not crazy.

Kass Bateman may be a lot of things, but she swears she's not crazy—even when she wakes up strapped to a wheelchair in a psychiatric hospital and can't remember how she got there.
When Kass's family members go missing one by one, she enlists the smartest guy she knows to help find them. Unfortunately for her, underneath his brains and indifference are some dark secrets and a whole lot of distracting sexy.
Can Kass keep her head together long enough to rescue her family members from their captors—the truly dangerous and crazy ones?
Gritty, steamy, and rife with secrecy, Outcast is the first book in a new upper YA/NA crossover series for fans of Gayle Forman and Rainbow Rowell.

Denise Jaden’s novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith, was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007 and she loves talking with writers and students alike about her Just-Get-To-The-End fast-drafting process. Jaden’s other young adult novels include Never Enough, Foreign Exchange, A Christmas Kerril,  and Avalanche. Her non-fiction books for writers include, Writing with a Heavy Heart, Fast Fiction, and Story Sparks. In her spare time, she homeschools her son, acts with the Vancouver film industry, and dances with a Polynesian dance troupe. 
Find out more at

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I beeline toward them, anger blurring my vision. It’s not like I even know Elijah, but I need to protect him like no one protected me.
"What are you doing here?" I say straight at Elijah, since I know Sebastian could take this little transaction somewhere where I won’t be watching. I was the one who needed to get a clue in eighth grade. Elijah’s the one who needs to get a clue now.
Elijah looks from side to side, clearly not believing I’m talking to him in this tone. He finally looks back at me blankly. Sebastian holds up his soda can and grunts something about needing a refill.
Even better. After Sebastian clears out, I wait for Elijah’s answer, but when he changes the subject, I realize he’s not going to give me one.
“You did the right thing,” he says. I think he’s talking about Sebastian, until he adds, “It’s good you talked to your mom today, even if it made Mr. Burke angry.”  He has to yell the last part, because someone has turned up the music.
My mom? What is he…He motions across to where Hope has her back to us, in my mother’s coat. Right, I had thought it was my mother at school today. That seems so long ago. I have to smile a little that Elijah thinks I’d bring my mother to a party like this.
“It’s my sister,” I mumble.
But when I look back at him and realize he hasn’t answered me about why he’s here, in fact, he’s trying to give me advice, my smile fades.
As if to push me further, he says, “You need to make things right. You have to get rid of any guilt and the things you’ve never been able to say while you have the chance.”
While I have the chance? Does he know that my mother hasn’t been around in years? And how the hell would he know anything about my guilt? He’s staring off over my head, so I can’t read in his eyes exactly how much he does know about me.
“Oh yeah?” I force a mocking tone, but the more I look at Elijah, at his unfazed eyes, the more I want to get the hell away from him. Because I know in my right mind he doesn’t have any clue what Kass-The-Enigma, the girl with the dead sister, the freakshow-of-a-father, and the abandoning-secretive-mother is going through. How could he?
I reach for my most menacing tone to get us off this topic quickly. “Why are you hanging out with Sebastian Brown? I think we’ll both admit, he’s not exactly your type, Elijah.” I cross my arms.
His eyes move to the side, like I knocked a nerve. He murmurs something, but I can’t hear him over the blaring music.
“What?” I step closer and lean in with a scowl. “Spit it out!”
“Don’t call me Elijah,” he says loud and clear.
This surprises me. I could swear Mr. Burke has called him Elijah. Or maybe he calls him Mr. Barton. I start to doubt myself. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”
His face is getting harder by the second, his cheek bones tauter. And I feel myself getting softer. Which I won’t allow. I ball my fists at my sides.
“Eli,” he practically yells. He’s actually kind of cute when he’s angry. “If you could call me Eli, that would be...great.” He meets my eyes on the last word and grits it out through a smile that looks anything but happy.
“What is your problem?” I scowl at him.
“My problem right now seems to be you,” he says, not missing a beat. He turns and marches toward some trees at the far end of the property. It’s more deserted there, further from the sound system, but I’m pretty sure he’s not headed there because he wants to have a quiet conversation with me. He wants me to leave him the hell alone.
I glance back and Liz and Micah have also moved out of the din of the party. They’re arguing again, something they usually only do in private. My mother’s coat is on the lawn swing, but at least Hope’s not in the middle of their argument. I glance around the lawn, but she must have gone inside. I should probably do something about Liz and Micah, but I can’t let Eli have the last word. Not after talking to me like that.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” I say when I catch up.
“Look,” he swings around. “What do you want from me? Have I offended you, or something, because if I have, I seriously don’t remember it. Did you not want me to defend you to Mr. Burke today?” He takes a big drink of his beer, and this time I think it’s slipped his mind how bad the stuff tastes. His cringe is obvious.
“I don’t want anything from you.” I keep walking until I’m past him, so it feels like I’m leading this conversation instead of him. There’s a crap-load of leaves on the ground from a windstorm we had last week and I kick them out of my way with a vengeance. “I think it’s messed up that Sebastian is preying on people like you.” I turn back to face Elijah and lean against the nearest tree. “I actually thought I was helping you, you know, a favor for a favor, but don’t bother thanking me or anything.”
“Helping me how?” He steps closer, keeping his eyes trained right on mine, like he’s not afraid of me in the least. I hate to admit it, but it’s kind of turning me on. Guys don’t stand up to me, they just don’t. But this Elijah guy—Eli—he’s ready to engage in combat. I wonder where in his straight-laced, practically-ironed jeans he keeps his balls, because they seem to be good sized ones.
“I tried...” I pause for dramatic effect, “ get you away from those low-lifes.” I’m not sure why I say “those,” except maybe I’m lumping Sebastian and Graham together for added punch.
He takes another step toward me and now we’re only inches apart. “And you’re better...” he tilts his head and raises his eyebrows, “”
Did he seriously just—? I don’t even know what I’m doing, but all at once, I grab his head and pull it toward me. A splash of beer hits my other hand as he drops his cup in surprise. I plant my lips on his and kiss hard against his rigid ones. It’s a power move, I know that much. I need to get the upper hand here, and I will one way or the other.  He’ll pull away and freak out—who knows if the guy has ever been kissed before.
A second later he responds, but not at all in the way I expect…

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review: First Words - Mandarin by Lonely Planet Kids

First Words
by Lonely Planet Kids
Illustrated by Andy Mansfield and Sebastian Iwohn
Children's Non-Fiction / Children's Language / Travel
208 pages
ages 6 to 8

Bring the Mandarin language to life with this beautifully illustrated children's book from Lonely Planet Kids, an imprint of Lonely Planet, the world's leading travel guide and phrasebook publisher. Perfect for the whole family, First Words Mandarin features 100 words to use while travelling, from food and transport, to animals and weather.
Each word is accompanied with a bold illustration and a simple pronunciation guide to make the vocabulary fun and easy to learn. Plus, its small size makes it a handy addition to any trip to China or Taiwan.
Also included is a free audio pronunciation guide. Scan the QR code on the back cover or visit our First Words website to hear each word spoken by a native child.
Also available:
First Words French First Words Spanish First Words English First Words Italian First Words Japanese
About Lonely Planet Kids: Come explore! Let's start an adventure. Lonely Planet Kids excites and educates children about the amazing world around them. Combining astonishing facts, quirky humour and eye-catching imagery, we ignite their curiosity and encourage them to discover more about our planet. Every book draws on our huge team of global experts to help share our continual fascination with what makes the world such a diverse and magnificent place - inspiring children at home and in school.
Note: The digital edition of this book is missing some of the images found in the physical edition

Or get this one directly from Lonely Planet Kids here
which. . .btw. . .
is currently running a buy 2 get 1 free sale!


With 100 different words, this is a great way for kids to get a first glimpse into this Asian language.

With a sturdy and easy to clean cover, this is a book ready to travel the world and beyond. There are 100 words to learn, starting on the first page with a hello and ending with goodbye. In between, there is everything from chopsticks to map to cat and so much more.

Each word is presented on a two-page spread. First, comes the word in bold type in English, under it the word written in Mandarin, next the Mandarin word written with English characters, and last but not least, a pronunciation. The other side of the spread offers a simple, unmistakable, and very brightly colored illustration of the word. In some illustrations, there's even another term in Mandarin which might be closely related to the main word. For example, the main word is computer and on the illustration the term for mouse is added.

My daughter dove onto this book the second in was brought into the house and ran away with it into her bedroom to immediately learn a few words. The easy read print and simple layout keep it inviting and make it look simple. And it is. She's been throwing the words into our daily conversations ever since. As an extra bonus, there's a website where kids can hear the audio version of each word and work on their pronunciations. The only thing missing from this book is an index, something which the intended age group (8 to 12) could easily use.

This is a wonderful, easy way for kids to pick up a few words in Mandarin and get a first feel for the language, while keeping it light and easy.