My Heart

REVIEW: My Heart by Julie Manning


Julie Manning tells her story of discovering a serious heart problem when she was delivering her second child. That discovery changed how she viewed her life and how she related to God.

The book includes journal entries, Julie’s prayers at various points in her journey as well as letters to her boys with her hopes and dreams for their lives and their relationships with Jesus. Through life’s hills and valleys, Julie shares how her thinking and her faith have changed and evolved. How trusting God with her life – literally – has helped her trust God in new ways in other parts of her journey.



This is an inspiring story!! I was challenged from page one to the end by how the author thinks about God, where she finds her identity and peace in the midst of struggle, and how she prays for her boys.

This is a terrific book for those who love memoirs and spiritual growth stories. It’s inspiring like the Steven Curtis Chapman memoir was. But if you are looking for a book that will challenge you to grow and mature in your faith or in your prayer life or in your identity in Christ, this would be an amazing book for that as well.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Don't Feed the Boy

REVIEW: Don’t Feed the Boy by Irene Latham


Whit has grown up at the zoo. His parents both work there. His mom is in charge of the whole place, and his dad is one of the elephant trainers. Whit is homeschooled and gets to spend time with the animals, learning all about them. Sounds awesome, right?

Usually it is. But sometimes Whit feels like the zoo and the animals come first for his parents. He longs for a “normal” life – opportunities to leave the zoo, to have friends his age, and to have a normal amount of his parents’ attention.

Whit gets to pursue one of those things when he meets Bird Girl. Stella comes to the zoo every day to sketch the different sorts of birds. This gives Whit a chance to make – and be – a friend. And Stella really needs one. She comes to the zoo to escape her home life. And the more Whit learns, the better he understands why she hides at the zoo. But hanging out all day with the animals may not be enough to help Stella with her situation at home.



This is a solid middle grade story that will appeal to a lot of kids. Animal lovers will enjoy learning about the different critters at the zoo. They may also enjoy reading about Whit’s experience basically growing up there.

Kids may have a little harder time figuring out Whit’s relationship with his parents, depending on their maturity. I think the description of Whit’s frustration could help kids empathize with Whit – and others who struggle to find their place at home. Stella’s home situation is more dangerous than Whit’s. It’s probably not too over the top for the average reader, and sadly some kids may find it all too  familiar.

There are great moments here where Whit is trying to figure out how to be a friend. Some of his choices would make great discussion points in a classroom or at home. Put this in the hands of kids who favor realistic fiction, animal stories, and stories about family and friendship.

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Unicorn of Many Hats

BOOK NEWS: May 30, 2017

Hard to believe that May is almost over already! The last Tuesday of the month is full of great new books. Here are some of the May new releases that are on my radar:

Books for Kids

Dog on a Frog? – Sequel to Frog on a Log? which is a hoot of a rhyming story. Looking forward to this one.
Firefighter Duckies – A trio of firefighter ducks rescue all manner of creatures because they are brave and strong. I have seen a few pages of this one and it looks FUN. Definitely on my list!
Welcome – Picture book for babies and new parents by the amazing Mo Willems.
Fairy Floss – Picture book story of cotton candy
She Persisted – Picture book by former First Daughter, Chelsea Clinton, about thirteen American women who changed the world.
Baxter Is Missing – Book 6 in the delightful Owl Diaries series from Scholastic/Branches. I love this line of books for kids ready to branch out into chapter books (as well as older kids – and adults like me – who just love the darling owls and the cute, fast read).

Books for Older Kids/Teens/Young Adults

Bow Wow – Book 3 in the Bowser and Birdie mystery series. I read the first book, Woof, and really enjoyed it.
Bring Me the Head of Ivy Pocket – Book 3 in the Ivy Pocket series about a young maid who has a string of ridiculously bad luck as she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy. I have book one in my TBR pile.
Code Name Flood – Edge of Extinction book 2, an adventure series about dinosaurs. I have book one in my TBR pile.
Crown of Three: A Kingdom Rises – Book 3 in the Crown of Three series about triplets at the center of a prophecy. I need to read the first book in this series!
Dragon’s Green – First book in the new Worldquake series about magic and books.
Keys to the City – A girl tries to find her true passion in New York City.
Orphan Island – Orphan Island, where once a year a boat arrives with a new young child and the eldest sails away, never to be heard from again. I have been hearing rave reviews about this book for months! Anyone who had an early copy has loved it. I can’t wait to give it a try.
Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter – Book 2 in the Pixie Piper series about a descendant of Mother Goose. I have book one in my TBR pile.
Restart – A boy loses his memory and tries to piece together the person he was before and decide who he might want to be going forward. I love Gordon Korman’s work, and I’m looking forward to reading this one.
Wonder Woman Junior Novel – Junior novel for the new movie releasing this coming weekend.
Worst Fairy Godmother Ever – Book 1 in the Wish List series about a fairy godmother in training.
Eliza and her Monsters – The anonymous creator of a popular webcomic  loses her anonymity, and everything she has built starts to fall apart.
One of Us Is Lying – Five students walk into detention. Only four walk back out. This sounds like a  great mystery and a perfect summer read!
Romancing the Throne – Average girl falls in love with a prince. I love stories like this – and Hallmark movies! The setting (prep school) and the sister rivals make this sound like a fun variation on a familiar theme.
Royal Bastards – The illegitimate children of the aristocracy stumble upon something they were never supposed to see. I am SO excited about reading this one! I have an early copy and hope to review it here soon.
When It’s Real – A bad-boy pop star needs to change his image, so he hires a fake girlfriend.

Books for Adults

About a Dog – First book in a new romance series by Jenn McKinlay, one of my favorite mystery authors. I am eager to check out this new series!
Bearly Departed – First book in a new teddy bear mystery series about a factory and shop  that makes and sells teddy bears.
Death by Vanilla Latte – Book 4 in the Bookstore Cafe Mystery series set in a bookstore cafe called Death by Coffee.
A Hiss Before Dying – Book 26 in the Mrs. Murphy mystery series about a post-mistress and her pets.
Marriage Is Pure Murder – Book 6 in the Blossom Valley mystery series set at an organic farm and spa.
One Fete in the Grave – Book 3 in the Liv and Di in Dixie Mystery series about a party planner.
Yews with Caution – Book 19 in the Flower Shop Mystery series.
Star Trek The Next Generation: Hearts and Minds – Activities 350 years apart may bring new details to light about the Federation’s past.
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate – After watching some of the Senate confirmation hearings, I am curious about this memoir from Franken about why he ran for office.
Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently About the People and the Land – I’m curious to read the author’s take on Christianity and Israel.
Knights in Training: Ten Principles for Raising Honorable, Courageous and Compassionate Boys – I’m always interested in parenting books!

Double Down

REVIEW: Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond


Lois Lane and the other teens at the Daily Planet’s “Scoop” are back. Maddy’s twin sister is having weird out-of-body kinds of feelings. They seem to be related to a scientific study she participated in  two years ago for some extra money. The scientist there had told her to let him know if she had any issues. But the lab where she did the experiment has disappeared.

At the same time, James’ dad is home from prison. He’s supposed to be monitored at his home, but he was seen at City Hall during an incident. How could he be in two places at once? Lois’ nose for news tells her there’s more going on with the ex-mayor than anyone realizes.

As if that wasn’t enough, Strange Skies, the online “strange occurrences” message board where Lois met SmallvilleGuy has been infiltrated. Someone says they can guarantee sightings of the flying man who once saved Lois and her dad.

Lois, SmallvilleGuy and the rest of the teens will have to figure out who they can trust if there’s any chance of saving Maddy’s sister, James’ dad and Strange Skies!



GREAT mystery/adventure story! Just as good as Fall Out. Lois is such a smart, tough and brave character. I loved seeing her new friendships grow in this book. Devin had a smaller role in this story, but I’m hoping to see more of him in book three. The SmallvilleGuy piece is a fun thread throughout the series, but he’s still a somewhat mysterious factor in Lois’ life.

There are three main mysteries/plots in play during the book and each one is strong. They differ in scale and level of danger, but each one fits perfectly into the larger whole. There are references to the mystery in the first book in the series, but I think a reader could start with this book and still be able to piece together what’s going on. Some of the interpersonal issues might be confusing at the beginning, though.

The author does a great job of keeping the reader aware that these are teenagers. Lois has an interesting relationship with her school principal. She tries to maintain a positive relationship with her little sister. She works to walk the line between pursing her stories and staying on the right side of her parents and her curfew. Her editor treats her with respect, but also as a teen, still learning and still responsible to her parents.

Book three is out now, Triple Threat. It is definitely on my TBR list!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Between Heaven and the Real World

REVIEW: Between Heaven & the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman



An autobiographical look at Christian music’s superstar, Steven Curtis Chapman. The book covers Chapman’s childhood, the start and growth of his music career, his marriage and family, and of course the tragic death of his daughter, Maria.


This was outstanding! I started listening to Chapman’s music around the launch of his second album. It was fun to read about all the things that went on behind the scenes with his songs and tours as I attended many of those tours and own many of those songs.

This feels like a very honest book. Chapman is up front about hard moments in his upbringing and his marriage. He works at being transparent about his struggles – personally, professionally and spiritually.

Anyone reading this book who is familiar with the Chapman’s story knows that the book is moving toward the tragic death of their daughter, Maria, in 2008. And the story is as painful as you can imagine. But again, that honesty and transparency is on display. Steven shares the struggle to keep moving forward after their loss, their questions for God, and their pain.

This was an engrossing and moving read. If you loved his wife’s book, Choosing to See, I highly recommend this. This fills in some of Steven’s part of the journey, and it gives more current information about how the family is doing as they continue to miss Maria, and yet choose to keep trusting God day by day.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW: Randoms by David Liss


Zeke Reynolds is one of four Earth kids chosen to spend a year in space learning about the Confederation of United Planets. If the kids perform well, Earth will be invited to join the Confederation. The three other kids were chosen because of their skills – academic, martial arts, chess/strategy. Zeke was chosen by chance. He’s the “random.”

Historically, teams have chosen to ostracize the Random and try to win without him or her. Zeke tries not to care – he wants Earth to join the Confederation so his mom will get a cure for her ALS. He hangs out with the other Randoms and hopes to help his team as well as his new friends as he can.

But Zeke keeps running into obstacles. The Earth chaperone keeps trying to throw him under the bus and get him kicked out of the competition – or worse. Zeke saves a ship under attack and somehow becomes the villain in the story. One of the other delegates is out to get Zeke. And plenty of folks are keeping secrets. Zeke is going to have to prove himself in a lot of ways if he wants to save his mom.


This is an excellent science fiction story with tons of awesome sci-fi references and lots of laughs. I read this on the recommendation of my teen, and he nailed this recommendation. This book was right up my alley!

The characters in the story are great. Zeke is funny, smart and sarcastic. His pop culture references – especially for Star Trek and Star Wars – are endearing (at least to this Star Trek/Star Wars fan!). The other characters – human and alien – are well defined with interesting quirks, alliances and agendas.

The story is compelling. I cared about Zeke’s success first because of his mom and then because I liked him. I wanted him to overcome the obstacles placed in his path. As the “mystery” developed, I kept flipping pages to see how Zeke and his friends were going to survive, much less if they would succeed in earning membership in the Confederation.

The story ended with something of a cliffhanger. Several loose ends were left dangling. I will obviously have to sneak the sequel, Rebels, from my teen so I can find out what happens next. Book 3, Renegades, releases this fall.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Unicorn of Many Hats

BOOK NEWS: May 23, 2017

Once a month there is a week where fewer new books make my list. This is that week for May (next week is HUGE). Enjoy looking at these books releasing this week:

May I Have a Word? – A battle of the magnet letters!
Wallace and Grace: Take the Cake/The Cupcake Caper – New early chapter book mystery series. Looks adorable!
Beach Party Surf Monkey – Book 2 in the Welcome to Wonderland series
Rise of the Isle of the Lost – The third Descendants novel based on the Disney movie.
William Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle – A kid with a gift for code-breaking and puzzles is pulled into a mysterious new school
Science Comics: Flying Machines – Graphic Novel about airplanes and other flying machines
Crazy House – New dystopian book for teens by James Patterson.
Watching the Detectives – Book 5 in the Country Club Mystery series

Unicorn of Many Hats

SUMMER READING Recommendations

“Summer Slide” is the drop in reading and math skills that students experience during summer vacation. I pinned a few things on Pinterest about the summer slide. There are hundreds of posts out there on the topic – ideas of things to do and graphics about why the summer slide is a big deal for students. There’s an entire industry built on this concept, and they churn out summer workbooks for students at every grade level. The hope is that students will spend a little time every day to keep their skills up so they start the new school year on track rather than spending the first few weeks trying to recapture what they learned last year. At least in my experience, this felt like just more school to my son, and he despised the workbook no matter what incentive he earned to finish.

As a reading advocate, I am most interested in the reading side of the slide. Kids with no access to books at home have the hardest time when school starts back up in the fall. They may be sun-kissed from hours outside – or pale from hours indoors playing video games – but their reading skills have atrophied over the summer. Donalyn Miller, reading expert, says reading just 4 or 5 books over the summer vacation can help students keep their skills up for the new school year.

How do you get your kids to read over the summer?

Try to keep it FUN. When I was teaching, my students loved summer because they could read books that were under their reading level (sometimes frowned upon during the school year) or books that they had already read. Let your student read what he/she wants in the summer! Enjoy the freedom.

Consider a challenge or make it a game. If you have a kid who responds well to a challenge, set one up. There are many options available online. Last summer, my son and I chose the challenge books for each other. It was fun to read things that I wouldn’t have chosen otherwise that he loved. And it was a great way to get him to read things I thought he would like but he sneered at during the school year. If a challenge or game will make reading feel like a chore for your student DON’T do it. You know your child best and know how he/she will respond.

Take advantage of your local library. Some kids don’t have books at home – and others have read everything they have. The library is a great place to discover new reading materials! If your student has a tablet, look into ebooks from your library. Some schools have started making their library collections available in the summer because they know how important this is for students. See if that is an option from your school district.

To help you out, I have created a PDF of book recommendations for kids at different age levels. The age levels are recommendations. I might change those recommendations for a particular reader that I know well, but these are a starting point. Look at the suggestions with your readers. See which books they have already read. Talk about what they loved about their favorite books. Look at the general suggestions at the bottom of the PDF for other ideas.  Here is the PDF: The Neverending TBR Summer Reading List 2017


I hope you and your kids have a terrific summer break. Let me know if you find some great books so I can add them to MY summer reading list!

Ryan Quinn and the Rebel's Escape

REVIEW: Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape by Ron McGee


Ryan Quinn has grown up all over the world. Now that he’s an 8th grader, his family is living in New York City, and Ryan has a chance at a normal life.

The first clue that his life is anything but normal comes when Ryan notices a guy following him through the city. The next comes when the CIA visits his mom’s store, looking for his dad, who is supposed to be on a business trip. When he sees his mom dragged off by a kidnapper, any illusion that his life is normal is gone for good.

Ryan will need the help of his best friend the tech genius and a mysterious young woman if he’s going to have any chance of finding his dad or saving his mom. Ryan’s been surrounded by secrets and lies all his life – and some of the biggest ones may still be yet to come.


A fun teen spy adventure! Think Alex Rider or young James Bond. Ryan has skills he never realized were for the secret life his parents were leading. He lets concern for his family drive him to do things no normal teen would do. And he brings some new friends along for the ride.

You have to suspend disbelief a little to enjoy this. I know a lot of 8th graders. Not one would know what to do in half the situations Ryan encounters. But it doesn’t matter. He’s an endearing kid with fun friends and a compelling mission. I was happy to go along for the ride.

Major cliffhangers at the end set up book 2, Ryan Quinn and the Lion’s Claw, which will release this fall.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Twelve Angry Librarians

REVIEW: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James


Athena is hosting an academic librarian’s conference which means Charlie is enjoying catching up with old friends. But he’s not happy to see every person who is attending the conference.

Gavin Fong is horrible. He steals credit on professional articles and blackballs other librarians from advancing in their careers. He even tries to blackmail Charlie into helping him get the Library Director’s job at Athena College.

When Gavin dies from poison in his bottled water – the special brand he insisted on during one of his diva moments – no one is really surprised. Plenty of people despised him. As an insider, Charlie may be able to ask questions and pursue clues to help the police catch a killer.


Another great mystery in this terrific series! (Book 8 in the series)

The core characters play their usual roles in the story. The detective is willing to hear Charlie’s theories while maintaining a professional distance. Charlie’s family and friends are supportive while also having their own lives and parts to play in the larger story.

The mystery was great. There were a LOT of folks who didn’t like the victim. He was narcissistic and cruel. He cared only for himself and his own advancement no matter the cost. The solution was creative and unusual while also being reasonable and satisfying.

This is one of my favorite cozy mystery series right now. You can’t go wrong with any book in the series! The author’s next book will be a new story in the Southern Ladies Mystery series, Fixing to Die, which will be out in the fall.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥