Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book Review: 'Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes' by Geoff Kersey

✰✰✰✰½ The title of this slim book caught my eye as I browsed through the books about watercolor painting. As much as I like to purchase new paints in awesome colors, I have often wondered if I could mix the colors myself. It turns out that I can! Geoff Kersey takes what might be an intimidating concept and boils it down to the basics. By starting out with a simple cloudy sky and working through the exercises, it's easy to gain confidence in mixing colors. In simple terms, Kersey explains about how to use the colors and the brushes. The book also includes tips and jargon busters in appropriate places. If you have ever wanted to try your hand a watercolor painting, this is a great way to get started. Plus, it's so much fun!

The Bottom Line: This workbook is simply a delight. I had a wonderful time working through all of  the exercises, but my favorite was 'Glencoe' (pictured below).


I would highly recommended this book for both beginning and intermediate watercolor painters. The steps are easy to follow, and there are lots of full color examples. It provides an excellent foundation in mixing colors; however, I do need a little more practice mixing grays. I can't wait to tackle Kersey's other book in the series, Take Three Colours: Watercolour Seascapes.

Details: Take Three Colours: Watercolour Landscapes by Geoff Kersey. Paperback published by Search Press in 2017. 64 p. ISBN: 978-1-78221-297-3

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: 'Marley & Me' by John Grogan

✰✰✰✰✰ When you are young and in love, everything seems like a new adventure. So when newlyweds John and Jenny Grogan moved to Florida to begin their life together everything was going as planned. Then came Marley, a cute, cuddly, and wiggly puppy full of boundless energy. This rambunctious pup soon grew up to be nearly one hundred pounds. Obedience school was a joke, and there was just no stopping the antics Marley would get into.

Although he stirred up plenty of trouble, Marley’s heart was in the right place. He was a loyal and faithful companion even during the young couple’s most challenging times. Is it possible for a mere dog to teach humans a lesson or two about life? Check out this book to discover the joys and trials of being a pet owner.

The Bottom Line: This quick read made me laugh and cry over and over again. Marley reminded me so much of the dogs that have been a part of my life over the years. Reading about Marley's bond with John and Jenny will make you look at your own pet with new eyes. Author John Grogan is a gifted storyteller. This humorous and touching story is very enthusiastically recommended for teens and adults who enjoy books about animals, humor, and memoirs.

Book Club Notes: Although this title was and still is a popular one, none of the book club members had read it before. We were surprised by how much this story touched our hearts. We laughed. We cried. Sometimes we laughed and cried at the same time. This book gave us the opportunity to talk about our own pets and the lessons they provide. We also discussed the relationship between John and Jenny, as well as their relationship with Marley individually, as a couple, and as a family.

Our group has some very discerning readers, and all were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this book. On a rating scale from 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest, we gave the book an overall rating of 5+. Wow! Out of all the discussions I have hosted over the years, that’s the highest rating ever. The movie, on the other hand, received a rating of 4. The group simply felt that the book provided more depth on sensitive and intimate moments than the film.

Grogan’s writing style combines humor and sensitivity to make this book a winner. Both John and Jenny were amazingly open with their story. This was one of the most animated discussions I have ever had the pleasure of hosting. It left the participants feeling positive about both human beings and animals. Pet lovers of all ages will relate to this memoir. Highly recommended for book clubs or film clubs.

Discussion questions and reading guides are available at Heartland Film and LitLoversAlso, check out scenes of Marley (as himself) in the film, The Last Home Run.

Details: Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan. Hardcover published by William Morrow in 2005. 291 P. ISBN: 978-0-06-081708-4 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Review: 'Happy Easter, Davy!' by Brigitte Weninger

✰✰✰½ Little Davy and his family live in the woods. When his big brother tells the story of the Easter Bunny bringing pretty eggs and presents to human children, Davy and his siblings search for him. They want to know why the Easter Bunny doesn't visit them. They search high and low, but the Easter Bunny is nowhere to be found. Davy doesn't want his brothers and sisters to be disappointed on Easter day, so he comes up with a plan. Easter morning brings a surprise for everyone including Davy!

The Bottom Line: This is a sweet story of thoughtfulness written for the holiday. The watercolor and graphite illustrations in spring tones of greens, yellows, and blues are engaging. This tender tale will appeal to  preschool age children.

Details: Happy Easter, Davy! written by Brigitte Weninger & illsutrated by Eve Tharlet. Hardcover picture book published by North-South Books in 2001. 32 p. ISBN: 0-7358-1437-6

Friday, March 30, 2018

Book Review: 'Hoppy Passover!' by Linda Glaser

✰✰✰✰½ Two little bunnies visit their Grandma and Grandpa to celebrate Passover. There is much to learn as the little ones help fill the Seder plate. They sample the parsley, Grandma's special charoset, and even try the horseradish. After dinner, it's time to find the afikomen. Then they open the door for the prophet Elijah. Will he drink any wine? The little ones wait and watch as they learn about the best parts of the holiday.

The Bottom Line: The sweet tale of a family celebrating Passover will appeal to little ones and their parents. It's also a great introduction to the holiday for people of other faiths who want to learn about the Jewish holiday. Watercolor illustrations in vibrant, seasonal tones add to the appeal of this picture book. Highly recommended for storytime or bedtime reading for little ones in PreK - Grade 1. As a bonus, the book includes a recipe for Grandma's Charoset. Yum!

Details: Hoppy Passover! written by Linda Glaser & illustrated by Daniel Howarth. Hardcover picture book published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2011. 24 p. ISBN: 978-0-8075-3380-2

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Book Review: 'The Night Before St. Patrick's Day' by Natasha Wing

✰✰✰ In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, two children decorate the house and set traps for the tricky leprechaun. With streamers, shamrocks, and plenty of shiny things, how can the leprechaun resist? The next morning at breakfast, there's a loud clatter. The traps have worked! It seems like the little leprechaun has met his match and must reveal the location of his gold. However, as the kids soon learn, the leprechaun always gets the last laugh.

The Bottom Line: This is a cute St. Patrick's Day take on the classic Christmas poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Recommended for storytime for kids ages 3 - 6.

Details: The Night Before St. Patrick's Day written by Natasha Wing & illustrated by Amy Wummer. Hardcover picture book published by Grosset & Dunlap in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-448-44852-7

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Book Review: 'The Perfect Storm' by Sebastian Junger

✰✰✰✰ When the storm of the century hit, the Andrea Gail was on its way home with a boatload of fish. Unfortunately, the Andrea Gail was in the wrong place at the wrong time as every single factor precipitating this situation had to come together perfectly. The Perfect Storm takes the reader to the very center of the storm with waves over 100 feet high. We meet the crew through their family and friends and learn about dangers of the fishing industry. While we'll never know exactly what happened aboard the Andrea Gail, Junger made every effort to craft an authentic and engaging read.

The Bottom Line: Survival stories are a popular topic and this book definitely keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. It's a fast-paced read with lots of information. Highly recommended for fans of adventure, survival, suspense, and tragedy.

Book Club Notes: This book was the topic of a brand new book club featuring nonfiction books and the films based on those books. Club members can either read the book, watch the film, or both. It was fascinating to note the differences between the two formats, and surprisingly every member chose to read the book. About half of us watched the film as well, and we noted the addition of a character (Irene) in the film. The average rating for this book/film was 4.25 out of 5. Most of us really enjoyed the book even though it's been out for around twenty years.

Our discussion focused on the fishing industry, which most of us knew little about. We also discussed the weather and the rescue efforts. Additionally, we discussed how the author crafted this book by using accounts from people who had been in similar situations to those he was writing about. We also took the time to compare/contrast the book to the movie. Those of us who had both read the book and watched the film thought the movie adaptation was very well done. This book is highly recommended for book clubs.

Discussion questions can be found at Reading Group Guides. Finally, we also discussed some movie trivia, which can be found here.

Details: The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger. Paperback published by W. W. Norton & Co. in 2009. 233 p. ISBN: 978-0-393-33701-3

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: 'The Other Wes Moore' by Wes Moore

✰✰✰✰ Once upon a time there were two Baltimore boys named Wes Moore. Both boys had difficult childhoods without their fathers present. Both struggled in school. Both played sports and hung out on street corners. Both got into trouble with the police. Then things changed. One Wes Moore grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar and combat veteran, while the other Wes Moore ended up serving a life sentence in prison.

How could two boys with such similar childhoods end up in two completely different places? Was it fate? Or was there something else at play? When author Wes Moore learned about the manhunt for the other Wes Moore, he couldn’t let go of the idea that it could have been him the police were looking for. Where did their parallel lives diverge? Did the author simply make different choices or was it just chance that led them down their respective roads? This book takes a fascinating look at what makes a difference in a child's life.

The Bottom Line: Author Wes Moore delves into the difficult issues of poverty, education, sociology, racism, and drugs in his debut book. Part biography and part autobiography, Moore takes a look at both the striking similarities and startling differences between the himself and the other Wes Moore. Moore's honesty and engaging writing style will appeal to both young adults and adults. Highly recommended reading for those interested in social issues. Also, recommended for high school and college reading.

Book Club Notes: Our group often tackles challenging issues, and this book brings up many. We looked at the role of the family, growing up fatherless, faith, race, education, inner city life, and personal decisions. We also discussed life in prison and how that situation affects a person. We chose to discuss this title during Black History Month and were able to discuss many African American role models as well. 

Our group gave this title an average rating of 3.8 out of 5. This was an engaging and quick read. It provided us with valuable insight into the issues faced by children growing up in the inner city. We agreed that the author did a great job at making comparisons and contrasts between the two young men while trying to remain objective. The group enjoyed a lively discussion about just what it was that made a difference, and we each had a different answer: lucky breaks, mentors, faith, support systems, personal choices. Perhaps it was a combination of factors that made a difference too. We highly recommend this for book clubs and also high school or college discussions. 

There is an abundance of discussion questions online, including at both LitLovers and MPPL

Details: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore. Paperback published by Spiegel & Grau Trade Paperbacks in 2011. 250 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-52820-7