Review & GIVEAWAY: Fairhaven Forest Series by Sheila Robertson

Title: The Adventure Begins
Series: Fairhaven Forest
Author: Sheila Robertson
Illustrator: Liz Holt
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Genre: Children's
Pages: 28
ISBN: 1625102992
Source: Purchased from Author

Lost in the woods after dark, kittens Fuzz and Spatz don't know which way to turn to get back to their big white house. Many of the animals that live in the woods try to give them directions, but the kittens don't listen very well. Cold, hungry, and scared, they wait out the long, dark night. Soon they realize that they would already be home if they had just listened to older and wiser animals. Come join Fuzz & Spatz as they learn a valuable lesson on their big adventure.
Title: Monster
Series: Fairhaven Forest
Author: Sheila Robertson
Illustrator: Liz Holt
Publication Date: October 27th, 2015
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Genre: Children's
Pages: 34
ISBN: 1625102992
Source: Author

Fuzz and Spatz let their imaginations run away with them when they see evidence of something living under the backyard deck. Their human pets don't seem concerned that all their orange things are disappearing, but the two small kittens are very worried. Will the orange thing-eating monster find them all the way around on the front porch? Come join Fuzz and Spatz as they learn a valuable lesson about fear and run-away imaginations.
Title: Sugar Baby
Series: Fairhaven Forest
Author: Sheila Robertson
Illustrator: Liz Holt
Publication Date: November 10th, 2015
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Genre: Children's
Pages: 34
ISBN: 1681872234
Source: Purchased from Author

When Fuzz and Spatz find a baby kitten in the woods, they think their dreams have come true. They always wanted a baby sister! They soon discover that taking care of a baby is a lot more work than they expected. When the mother arrives looking for her lost baby, Fuzz and Spatz get an even bigger surprise!
Join Fuzz and Spatz on their newest adventure while they learn a valuable lesson about responsibility.

Sheila Robertson first started writing stories to entertain her younger cousins while spending time at their grandparents in the country. Her child-like imagination and love of writing has produced the new juvenile chapter book series June Bug & Kat.
Her first series, Fairhaven Forest, is for younger audiences with 3 books released with the 4th one in production right now.
Sheila lives in Fairhaven Forest in rural southern middle Tennessee and daily enjoys all her woodland friends. She has written many children’s stories, skits, plays, and Vacation Bible School Programs.
Sheila also has a book entitled Alzheimer’s…There Is Hope available online.

Her favorite past times include: reading Christian Fiction, developing new products to accompany her books, and sitting on the front porch watching the squirrels play.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sheila Robertson and her husband at a book signing in a local coffee shop. This was my first time being introduced to the adorable, playful world of Fuzz and Spatz. If you or your child is an animal lover, these books are a fun and playful way to teach simple life lessons through words and pictures.

The Adventure Begins - In this introduction, Fuzz and Spatz learn a valuable lesson in active listening when they get lost in the woods. As night falls, they only seem to go around in circles before giving up for the night. Had they listened to those who tried to guide them, they would've found themselves in their cozy big white house with their bellies full.

The first thing that caught my eye was the illustrations. Vibrant and fun, the art is something that draws the eye instantly. And how can you resist how adorable Fuzz and Spatz are? If you aren't a cat lover before reading these books, you may change your mind.

Although this may seem like a simple element, I appreciate the dynamic in graphic around the text. I see several picture books come across my table where it's difficult to read because the text overlays directly on top of the illustrations, causing the reader to strain their eyes to read it. The text in The Adventure Begins is set on top of a soft-transparent white box that creates a more pleasing aesthetic.

After reading this book, I had wished for a little bit more. The story is very adorable, but I think it could have used a little more plot element to really push off the series. However, comparatively I liked the way the illustrations were done in The Adventure Begins the best out of the three.

Monster - One time when I was little and my family lived out in the country, I went downstairs to our big box freezer to get something. I heard a strange noise coming from the ceiling above me and I looked up to see what it was. It was hard to tell, but something was definitely moving. I ran upstairs screaming and my brother went and got whatever that thing was out of the house. He claimed it was a bird, and I claimed it was a bat. Considering he's 8 years older than me, he was probably right. But nonetheless, that thing scared the bajeebies out of me and I was too afraid to go into the basement by myself after that!

This book reminded me of that experience. Fuzz and Spatz return with another adventure that will leave you laughing, and perhaps reminiscent of a similar time in your life when you allowed your imagination to run away with you. This time, there's a mysterious creature lurking beneath the deck, and it's causing the questionable orange things their human pets keep setting out to disappear. What could it be? Better keep watch through the night just in case...

In my opinion, this story had a bit more depth to it than the first one. Fuzz and Spatz are hilarious as they try to solve the mystery of the "orange-thing-eating monster." You will also be introduced to a new character (in addition to the "monster"), Mrs. Squirrel, who you will see reappear later. I'm also hoping that we will see her babies when they get a little older as well.

The illustrations were just as wonderful in this second installment as the first, but we seem to see a little less of them on some pages. The format is more like an Early Reader rather than a picture book, which I think serves the story well. It took me a moment to decide which section I wanted to catalog it as when I added it to our library, but I decided on identifying it as an Early Reader. Nonetheless, this is another sweet and fun story from Fairhaven Forest!

Sugar Baby - Oh, the joys of learning responsibility. This time, Fuzz and Spatz are trying to fight their boredom by searching for new playmates. However, all of their neighbors have responsibilities calling their attention. As the two retreat to their favorite spot, they stumble upon a lost kitten. Instead of searching for its home, they clean it off and adopt it as their new baby sister. It's not all they had hoped for, as they discover that taking care of a kitten is a lot of responsibility. Eventually, the kitten's mother makes an entrance and we find their new baby sister is no sister at all, but a baby brother! And it already has a family. The girls aren't too upset about it, because now they can get back to napping without the interruption.

Very much like Monster, Sugar Baby is presented in the format of an Early Reader. I have also cataloged it as such, and it has circulated well there. There are some differences between this book and the previous one, and I almost like those changes more. There were a lot more borders added to the pages, and we came back to the white background behind the text like in the first book, but instead of having the scenery illustrated beneath, the entire page has its own template. The bordering then transitions to the image page. I think this is the most flawless of the three, however, I like the full illustrations in the first book the most.

I enjoyed the plot of Sugar Baby, and felt like it had the clearest message out of the three books. Responsibility is a very important issue to tackle, and this was a fun and creative way of approaching it. The twist at the end was also very well done, and it definitely shocked me! Robertson did a wonderful job of weaving her message in a way that both children and adults can learn something.

*   *   *

Fuzz and Spatz are two of the most adorable little kittens! In the back of each book, you will find discussion questions that will help tie in the lesson of the book. I always love discussion questions with books, because you never know when you need it for a storytime or book club. Also, don't miss the special code on the final page of each book to download the audio versions for free! It has been generously provided as a bonus to your experience.

The light-hearted innocence of these two curious kitties is one to be enjoyed for all ages.
About the Prizes
GRAND PRIZE: All 3 Fairhaven Forest books (1 Signed by Fuzz & Spatz) + a T-Shirt!
Second Prize: A Fairhaven Forest Crazy Scramble Puzzle
Third Prize: A Fairhaven Forest Activity & Coloring Book


Spotlight: The Summer of Annah: A Midsummer's Wish by Tinthia Clemant

Title: The Summer of Annah: A Midsummer's Wish
Series: Seasons of Annah #1
Author: Tinthia Clemant
Publication Date: June 10th, 2016
Publisher: River Lady Press
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction
Pages: 328

Synopsis (from Author):  
“The true love I desire shall come to me. I am the lock he is the key. As mine to him, his soul shall speak to me. This I seek, so mote it be.”

When 55-year-old earth-witch, Annah-Belle Henderson, cast a spell for love she never envisioned her wish would be granted in the young nephew of her longtime friend. With a face that rivals the Norse god Thor, and a body to match, the charismatic Eric Ashworth draws Annah into a dizzying current of emotions. Should she accept the chance for love with a man twenty years younger or reject her feelings?

As a past darkness threatens to destroy her, Annah makes a decision that begins a journey fraught with judgement, betrayal, and perhaps death. 

The orange head of the match ignited with a flash. Slender fingers held it under the dried kindling. Within seconds, the splintered wood was ablaze, licking up the sides of an oak log, triggering the release of rose-scented oil. Except for the glow cast by the blaze, darkness shrouded the night. Brown eyes peered out from beneath long black bangs. Dressed in white with a pale shawl wrapped around her shoulders, Annah resembled a specter—one who had traveled from outside the realm of the living to watch the dance of the flames. She held a single red rose—an offering for Aphrodite, the Goddess of love.
When the fire reached its fevered peak, she dropped the rose into the inferno and murmured, “Aphrodite, accept my gift as I cast my wish on this Midsummer’s Eve.” The rose stem coiled, and the petals withered under the heat of the hungry flames.
Annah slid her hand into the pocket of her pants and removed a piece of green paper, two cones of sandalwood incense, and five apple seeds. On the paper, in scarlet ink, were written the words to a love spell. “The true love I desire shall come to me. I am the lock he is the key. As mine to him, his soul shall speak to me. This I seek, so mote it be.”
To reinforce the spell two additional recitations were required. During the second reading, she allowed the paper to float onto the engulfed log. The incense cones and seeds followed as she recited the spell a final time. When Annah ended with ‘so mote it be’ a breeze swept through the fire pit and the flames extended scorching fingers toward the heavens. Her canine companion released a soft whimper. “Shh,” she whispered. “It’s okay, Lexy.”
Annah stared into the blaze. “Druids believe it’s possible to see the faces of loves and enemies in an enchanted fire. I wonder.” At first she saw just the ravenous flames but soon an image took shape. A smile emerged. Loving eyes peered back at her as one of the incense cones exploded, sending hot sparks into the perfumed air. The smile turned into a sneer as the wail of a lone coyote pierced the night, bristling her fifty-pound Australian Shepherd’s composure. A series of responding growls emanated from Lexy, but they did little to assuage the sense of unease that passed through Annah. She backed away from the chimenea and sat on the nearby stone bench. “Probably best to leave the fire reading to the   Druids.”
Next to the bench rested a small wicker basket. Its contents, in addition to the bottle of rose oil, included a thermos, teacup, and her cell phone. Annah dropped the box of matches into the basket and withdrew her phone. With a swipe of the screen, she found the song she wanted to play. While the voice of Etta James accompanied her Annah opened the thermos and poured amber-colored liquid, still steamy and hot, into the cup. Before taking a sip, she raised it high, toasted the Goddess, and then bid the ashes that ascended into the starlit sky success as they delivered her wish. The current returned and spiraled within the fire. It carried the scented heat toward her, enveloping her in its warm embrace.
It was past one when Annah switched off the bedside lamp and lay in the darkened bedroom. Behind her bed, an open window granted access to the night air. A quiet breeze breathed life into the backyard’s wind chimes. Entering the room, it carried a subtle hint of sandalwood on its gentle waves. Circling Annah, it stroked her cheeks, softly caressing her lips. Entering that hazy place between dreams and reality, her mind gave shape to her last thought of the day. This will be my summer, a summer for true love.

Tinthia Clemant was born in Medford, Massachusetts, over sixty years ago. In other words, she's old! As a child, she lived happily in a loving home with her three siblings and mother and father. She always wrote. From the time she first picked up a pencil, or perhaps it was a crayon, she wrote. Love stories. Happy stories. Stories about love with happy endings. Her first book was self-published. (At the tender age of seven, she stapled the pages together and presented it to her mother on Mother's Day.)

As contemporary women's fiction's newest author, Tinthia fell in love with love stories and true love when she first learned about true love's first kiss. That did it for her! Unfortunately, she has yet to find that special kiss. Throwing her arms up in defeat, she decided to write about it and live vicariously through her characters.

Tinthia lives on the banks of the Concord River and spends her time teaching science at a local community college, gardening, painting, feeding her multitude of Mallards (follow her natural history blog at: concordriverlady.com), reading, and, of course, writing contemporary women's fiction about romance, relationships, and true love. She also enjoys Chunky Monkey and American Dream Cone and other enticing flavors produced by Ben and Jerry.


Review: Anything You Want by Geoff Herbach

Title: Anything You Want
Author: Geoff Herbach
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 320
ISBN: 1402291442
Source: ARC from Publisher

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Expect a bundle of joy—er, trouble—in this hilarious, heartwarming story from the award-winning author of Stupid Fast Geoff Herbach

Taco's mom always said, "Today is the best day of your life, and tomorrow will be even better." That was hard to believe the day she died of cancer and when Taco's dad had to move up north for work, but he sure did believe it when Maggie Corrigan agreed to go with him to junior prom. Taco loves Maggie- even more than the tacos that earned him his nickname. And she loves him right back.

Except all that love? It gets Maggie pregnant. Everyone else may be freaking out, but Taco can't wait to have a real family again. He just has to figure out what it means to be a dad and how to pass calculus. And then there's getting Maggie's parents to like him. Because it would be so much easier for them to be together if he didn't have to climb the side of the Corrigans' house to see her...

I am the author of the YA title, Stupid Fast (June 2011 from Sourcebooks Fire). I also wrote The Miracle Letters of T. Rimberg, a Novel from Three Rivers Press. When I'm not writing books, I'm writing for Radio Happy Hour or developing ridiculous musical bits.

When I'm not writing, I'm teaching writing at Minnesota State, Mankato, which means I write a lot of comments about writing on student writing. 

Writing a lot of writing and reading about writing and writing on reading.

Where do I even begin with this book? It was crazy, nonsensical, hilarious, and reminiscent of "that one guy" from high school. The cover is a bit misleading because you expect this book to be another young adult love story you can take to the beach and daydream about your literary boyfriend. But a dude named Taco, yes you read that right, who sneaks into your window at night, ends most of his sentences with "dingus," and really doesn't understand where babies come from probably isn't your ideal summer literary fling.

Anything You Want is about a guy named Taco who is a big hot mess and probably still has to wear velcro shoes. Only a Freshman in High School, Taco gets his girlfriend, Maggie, pregnant without having any thought of birth control or consequences (not for simply neglecting it...he seriously thought you had to be intentional about it). Maggie's parents are furious and forbid them from being together. While Taco is excited to have a family again, because his mother passed away and his father is never there, he struggles to grasp the reality of the situation. His older brother is left trying to convince him of how big the mess truly is.

For those who DNF this book, there were times it was a struggle. Mostly because I was torn between enjoying the positive stupidity of Taco and wanting to bang my head against a wall because, really, how can someone be that dumb? But then there was an aspect of this entire scenario that reached a little deeper, and made me sympathize with Taco's positivity. He didn't have parents around to educate him, and his alcoholic brother, the only other person he had, was an even bigger mess than he was. There was a hint of beauty woven into this reckless and silly story that made me want to finish it: the dynamic of coping with life.

I think Taco's character was taken just a little too far, and that is what annoyed so many readers of this book. It was really exhausting at times, when it could've been taken down a notch to make it more comical. I'm also confused about the part where Taco says he calculated when Maggie got pregnant and they were still virgins at the time, so their baby was some kind of miracle. Did he miscalculate? Was it even his baby? This part confused me.

More than halfway through, our story shifts and becomes much better. I expected more of Maggie, but she ended up being a minor character...another reason why the cover is misleading. I liked the ending, but I wish we could've gotten there a little differently. Taco is a bit of a trip and a handful to the point of being unable to relate to and an unrealistic character. You can only face-palm through a book so many times before your head and your hand begin to hurt. And all the lines that end with "dingus" just make you laugh because it stops making sense after a while!

For what this book is meant to be, it is light hearted and funny. It will drive you crazy in some of the best ways. It will also give you the insatiable urge to reach into the book and knock some sense into Taco. And in a strange way, it will also make you want tacos. Dingus.


Review: Priscilla McDoodleNut Doodle McMae Asks, "Why?" by Janet Mary Sinke

Title: Priscilla McDoodleNut Doodle McMae Asks, "Why?"
Author: Janet Mary Sinke
Illustrator: Craig Pennington
Publication Date: October 1st, 2007
Publisher: My Grandma and Me Publishers
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Pages: 48
ISBN: 0974273287
Source: The Library

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Janet Mary Sinke has written in wonderful storybook rhyme a delightful take rich in meaning and simple symbolism. Through the courage of one little girl, the inhabitants of one tiny moon are forever changed when Priscilla dares to ask why.

Embrace diversity. Celebrate difference.
Respect all people. Dare to ask, Why?

For each of us has the power to make a difference.

I am generally known by many as Grandma Janet Mary, author of the Grandma Janet Mary Series.  In eight years the company has sold over 50,000 books.  Several of my books have taken national awards.  I have spoken to thousands of school children.  My message is simple, “Make your memories today for in the end, it’s all we really have.”

Now, a new and different story emerges. It is titled: Priscilla McDoodleNutDoodleMcMae Asks “Why.”  It is a delightful story with a wonderful message and although I love my grandma and grandpa books, this story is, in many ways, is my best work.  (Go to the Priscilla web page and take a peek)

My goal now is to make the Priscilla story into an animated film.  I feel strongly about the message of this story and that message is this:  embrace diversity, celebrate difference, respect all people for we are, each of us blessed with our own individual gifts. These gifts when recognized can empower us to work  together to make the world a better place.

I have often been asked, "If you could give one piece of advice, what advice would you share."  

So here it is in a nut shell.

" Look for blessngs not only in brilliant rays of summer sun but also in clouds of storm.  Recognize your own individual worth, share your own unique gifts and put to use the power that lies within your own individual soul.  That way in your own moment of final surrender when the eyes are closing and the heart is stilled, your spirit will look back and say,' WHAT A GREAT LIFE!'"

Why in this book
are some pictures all gray? 
Why does Priscilla seem fearful today?
Why does she cover the hair on her head?
Why you may ask does King Norman love red?


 Why does King Wynthor like hair that is blue?
Why does he think he’s much better than you?
Why should the fate of this one, tiny moon
Depend on Priscilla and one blue baboon?

Now enter the story.  The answers are there.
Just open your minds to all colors of hair.
Then learn in the end how one moon in the sky
Discovers the answer to one simple Why.

Have you heard of this book?! I love it! The last library I worked at had this book and I fell in love. I've been searching for a copy to add to my current library, but I believe it just went out of publishing.  This would be a great read for National Poetry Month or teaching diversity!

With the message of equality, Priscilla McDoodleNut Doodle McMae Asks, "Why?" takes place on a far away moon where there is a conflict between two Kings as to which hair color is acceptable. As a line is drawn in the sand, the people are divided between red and blue. However, Priscilla McDoodleNut Doodle McMae uncovers her head to reveal that she has purple hair, sending the two Kings into an uproar. But Priscilla's courage (thanks to a blue baboon) and open heart just might make a real difference.

The book is written in rhyme and at times a bit of a tongue twister. But it is a lot of fun to read, and children will enjoy the liveliness of the rhythm. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. Craig Pennington brought the story to life with his flawless use of grayscale and pops of color. The contrast and the exaggerated character features really tied the silly, but powerful, lyrics into unity in such a way, that all the many elements of this story mixed together are what make it strong. 

I sincerely hope that this book goes back into print, because it is a great piece to have in any type of library. The message of acceptance and courage brings to light some very real and relevant issues the world faces today. One of the wonderful things is it isn't pushy or preachy or even condescending. It's pure, light hearted, and in a way, curious. It shows that opening a heart to accepting differences, even when those around you are not, and finding courage within yourself to stand for what you believe in can truly make the world a better place...and it only take one voice.

Love love love this book!


Review: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Title: Crenshaw
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Genre: Middle Grade
Pages: 256
ISBN: 1250043239
Source: ARC from Publisher

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In her first novel since The One and Only Ivan, winner of the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

Applegate was born in Michigan in 1956. Since then she has lived in Texas, Florida, California, Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, and after living in Pelago, Italy for a year, she has moved back to Southern California. She has an eleven year old son named Jake Mates, although she says the Animorph leader is not named after him. In 2003 she and her husband, Michael Grant, her co-author on many projects including Animorphs, adopted their daughter, Julia, in China.

Following the end of Animorphs, Applegate took three years off. She is back at work and has written a picture book called "The Buffalo Storm," a middle reader novel called "Home of the Brave," and an early chapters series "Roscoe Riley Rules" with Harper Collins. Her book "Home of the Brave" has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award, and is a Judy Lopez Memorial Award honor book.

Applegate is also the author of the 2013 Newbery Award Winner, "The One and Only Ivan."

Crenshaw was a story with more depth than I expected. This book deals with issues of homelessness and financial hardship from the perspective of a child. It's beautiful and heartbreaking.

Jackson likes facts. He loves science because he finds it tangible and exact. To him, everything has an explanation to some degree, regardless of how impossible it may seem. But then his imaginary friend from his childhood shows up, a very large cat named Crenshaw. Somehow, Jackson can't explain his reappearance.

Crenshaw reminded me very much of the Chesire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. He's large, mischievous, and clearly up to something. But that's what makes this story about so much more than just poverty. It takes the struggle of losing one's innocence to life's troubles and turns it into dealing with those troubles in a childlike way. Although Jackson tried to reason through things at his young age, somehow the wonderment of his childhood was still planted somewhere in his imagination. Whether because it was his fear of his family having to live in their van again, or because Crenshaw was an actual creature that existed, it added a sweetness to the sadness of the story.

I loved how this was a gentle version of dealing with poverty. It gives an introduction to such topics for early readers without getting too heavy to the point of controversy. That doesn't mean it lacks in content, though. I especially enjoyed where Applegate integrated the library as a source of comfort.

The only thing I would complain about is that I actually expected more of Crenshaw. I was a little disappointed when I realized there was less of him than I was expecting. Perhaps if I read it again knowing what exactly the book is about that'll change, but I expected his part in the story to be a little bigger.

This is a wonderful book to add to your collection. I've already ordered it at work and even put together a book club kit for it. I look forward to seeing what my kids have to say about it! Highly recommended.