Cassandra and the Night Sky, by Amy Jackson

Written by Amy Jackson

Illustrated by Donna Paredes

Age Range: 5-12

Hardcover: 32 pages

Publisher: Bright Sky Press

What to expect: Astronomy, stars, constellations

Cassandra and the Night Sky is an interesting book telling the tales of the constellations in the night sky. It is about a world where all the stars have been stolen by an evil King. Therefore, the Kingdom lives nighttime in darkness except for the moon’s light. Cassandra, the Kingdom’s spoiled princess, who had every toy imaginable, has heard about the stars which used to shine brightly in the night sky. She was given a plain, broken teapot for her ninth birthday by her nurse. Being disappointed, Cassandra gives this gift to a servant’s daughter. However, one day, they discover that this teapot is filled with the stars in the night sky of ancient lore. They release all the trapped stars, to find the King who sets a trap of a nasty scorpion inside the teapot. With the help of her pet swan, Cygnus, Princess Cassandra can put the sky to right.

The story finally shows the real names and also the illustrations of the constellations Cygnus, Cassiopeia, the Scorpion, and the Teapot. This tale of constellations will delight all children and will make their telescope viewing adventures with the starry sky more exciting. The book’s illustrations, which are crafted with colored pencil by Donna Paredes, are richly saturated and bright. The book’s author Amy Jackson successfully brings this truly exciting and unique story concept to life by using her extensive background in teaching and in the sciences. This gives a funny reading for the whole family, especially before a star-viewing party.

About the Author

Amy Jackson is the Starry Sky Austin’s founder and director. She grew up in Houston with NASA in her backyard, her dream was to become an astronaut.

Knowing is Growing: Grown-Up Values for Children, by Herschel Kahn

Age Range: 5-8

Paperback: 52 pages

Publisher: Mountain Arbor Press (2018)

What to Expect: Parent-child interaction, family and personal values.

For children, grownups seem to have all the fun and make all the rules. To be “grown-up” is what every child wants. Knowing is Growing – a book by Herschel Kahn – acknowledges this childish preconception charmingly. It offers a volume fostering “grownup” thinking and knowledge, meanwhile reminds children gently that with knowledge and power come responsibility.

Knowing is Growing focuses on not only the values that children need to learn to successfully grow up but also the responsibilities which come with such knowledge. The book covers topics such as kindness, love, creativity, and more practical advice such as staying safe, saving money, and looking ahead. Although this overt didacticism may seem off-putting at first, the delivery in this book manages to be refreshing by involving the child reader in dialogues with adults about their roles in the social contract without hiding its practical motivations. This way empowers both the child and the adult, acknowledges the power imbalance that integral to childhood, and also helps the children try to gain knowledge, independence, and “grownup” values. The dialogues in the book are emphasized by spaces at the end for the child and adult readers to make free-style discussion, then to sign and date. This feature is particularly endearing, giving the book another function as a memoir of a child’s progress through his life. In addition, the illustrations of the book help to further highlight the idea that growing up is a process like life. The drawings may be not perfect or very professional, but colorful, engaging, and enthusiastic.

In general, Knowing is Growing has fantastic potential as an educational aid for child and adult readers to enjoy together.

About the Author

Herschel Kahn is a proud member of the octogenarian generation. He and his wife, Jody, have traveled around the world, visiting more than 80 countries. They live in Marietta, Georgia.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard

Title: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark

Author: Glenda Millard

For ages: 12 years +

Type: Young Adult Fiction

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publication Date: February 2009

Noticing a headline about ‘urban tribes’ on a newspaper, Glenda Millard began thinking about the main character for this story and wondered how life would be for a young homeless boy, who lived with people thrown together in circumstances that they couldn’t control. While the backdrop for this story is war, she intended to capture the indomitable nature of hope. And in fact, the story has become a powerful tale of loss and the struggle to survive.

This is a story of Skip, a young teen boy who tries to find a home and a family to belong to and care for. His life has left him feeling separated and out of sync with the others around him. Ignored by his parents and the foster care system, he decides to live on the streets. Then he teams up with Billy, an old homeless man. When war happens, Skip and Billy meet a six-year-old boy, Max, and a beautiful teenage dancer, Tia, with her baby, Sixpence. They form a fragile family together, set up home and hide out in the ruins of an amusement park when the conflict rages around them.

Scavenging for food, baby formula, and diapers, they have to stay out of sight of the gangs and lawless soldiers. Firstly, they rely on Billy, the only adult. But when life deteriorates, Billy falls apart. Skip, just a 12-year-old boy, must take over and lead the family to search for sanctuary. How long can Skip and his fragile family hold out while the war grips the city?

Glenda Millard has a great ability to track all the characters’ internal conflict right to their own potential breaking point. Although there are some shocking and disturbing moments, none of them is gratuitous. And the story is always kept compelling and moving.

For all of these things, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is among the most un-put-downable favorites of pre-teens and younger teens, both girls and boys, to read and enjoy.

My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie

Age Range: 1 and up
Hardcover: 108 pages
What to expect: Nursery Rhymes, Mother Goose, Favorite Characters
To all children, words are magical. And the most magical words are the beloved words of Mother Goose. My Very First Mother Goose, a beautiful book for children, covers the world’s most favorite nursery rhymes.
From the great story of Humpty Dumpty, Hey Diddle, Diddle, Pussycat, Pussycat to the lesser known Milkman, Milkman, the book of Twentieth Anniversary Edition is a large volume of the most popular and meaningful classic nursery rhymes. In this book, Iona Opie, the editor, and Rosemary Wells, the illustrator, collect the best of Mother Goose’s ageless work to a brilliant shine: more than 60 rhymes appear here in four chapters of large, toddler-friendly type. Besides the old-time favorite rhymes, the 60 plus rhymes in this book include some more recent ones such as “Shoo Fly” and “Down by the Station.”

Rosemary Wells is the famous author and illustrator of the Max and Ruby series, the Yoko series and many more. In this book, she has created an engaging and exuberant world filled with distinctive characters guaranteed to delight the youngest child. Her sweet and precocious animals bring the tales to real life and attract even the smallest children to flip the pages. The scenes in the book sometimes look like in old-time England or the rural hills of America. Besides, she chooses to use the bold color that will help to entrance little readers and bring excitement to these classic tales. Unlike many compilations of nursery rhymes, each page of this book is really colorful and interesting with inventive pictures, decorated letters, and tiny hidden easter egg-type surprises. The characters in the pictures often have their own conversations that help to increase the richness and interest to the rhymes.
Iona Opie’s fine research in the world of nursery rhymes has made My Very First Mother Goose become a special treasure that will enhance any child’s library. Although there are many distinguished entries in the nursery-rhyme book section, this book certainly adds special joy to any collection.

The Spy and The Traitor Review

The Spy and The Traitor by Ben Macintyre takes place a year after Alexander Litvinenko, a former agent for Russia was poisoned to death in 2006. Once again the world was captivated by another former agent, one that happened to be a double agent, fighting for his life. Only this time, the act did not happen on Russian soil but took place on United Kingdom soil.

Oleg Gordievsky was living in Surrey, England and leading a quiet life. He had assumed a new name, but it was not enough to hide him from the Russians. He too was poisoned and was acutely aware that he had been marked for assassination as a result of work he did decades earlier.

As a young man, Gordievsky led the life of a double agent working in London as the KGB bureau chief. While performing his role for the KGB, Gordievsky was revealing Russian secrets to the British Government. The information he passed along was so sensitive that even top government elected officials did not know his true identity.

Gordievsky’s life Retold

The publication of Macintyre’s The Spy and The Traitor takes a detailed look into Gordievsky’s and retells his escape from the Soviet Union in the 80’s, and it is only now that we understand the true meaning of the Gordievsky file.

The cases of recent poisonings have reminded people that while the cold war is officially over, it continues to battle on. The beginning of the cold war began over 70 years ago after Igor Gouzenko defected to Canada and shared Soviet secrets shortly after the end of WWII. Gouzenko defection revealed the Soviet had built a network of agents throughout the Western world. In the 60’s another double agent defected to Russia and information shared resulted in the destruction of England’s own spy network and the death of other spies. It also resulted in England out for revenge, and that is where Oleg Gordievsky entered the picture.

His life amplifies the distrust that is common among other countries, even those that share common ground and interests. The British kept secrets from the Americans, the Americans kept secrets from the British, and that led to America taking counterintelligence measure in an effort to figure things out.

Aldrich Ames, the head of counterintelligence for America, was an acting Russian double agent, and that led to the identification of Oleg Gordievsky and his eventual demise. The book provides content about his early professional career while in Denmark, and the decision to forego the Russians in favour of the British.

Macintyre provides old-fashion journalism to track down all those involved in the case, spoke with each and recounts statements that made with respect to events as they happened. For spy lovers, this is a must read that is not only exciting but enlightening as well.

The Woman in the Window by A.J Finn

After seeing rave reviews of the novel is like the iconic “Gone Girl” which combines the highlights of old ligature and new. I had to give this novel a fair shot, and I’m still a bit undecided if I enjoyed it.

First, the book synopsis;

A woman named Anna Fox lives alone in New York City classic brownstone. Though, before this, she had a happy husband and daughter who after a having to deal with her acute agoraphobia, an anxiety-related disorder, caused a rift between the family and ultimately – the husband and daughter left. Nowadays, Anna spends her days chatting with strangers on the internet, drinking and watching movies, as well as almost creepily keep too many tabs on her neighbours. However, after a new family moves in and Anna misses her own, she suddenly realises that the Russell’s may be more malicious than one originally thought.

Just from that, this book sounded to be interesting, obviously inspired by Gone Girl, tale of personal issues combined with mysterious neighbours. In all honesty, this novel starts off like a Gone Girl knock off with the classic protagonist who is locked at home, doesn’t have a considerably normal social life, and enjoys sticking her nose into her neighbour’s personal lives. Along with that, the set up is on the lackluster side as it goes through a rundown of who the Russell’s are, Anna’s past life with her own family, her issues, her childhood therapy sessions, and constant emphasis’s being put on the ominous and shady tenant who is residing in the basement.

Predictability Turned into Twists and Turns

While the novel did start off as being predictable, it does start taking a turn and entering the realm of mystery as one of the movies that Anna is watching are events that are happening in her real world – if that makes sense. While it reads better than trying to explain, that twists are well done. At times, however, it is overshadowed by Anna’s own dialogue of constant self-gaslighting.

After getting over this, the novel continues own and begins to spiral down the path of mistrust to the int where Anna is constantly doubting her memories and previous actions after the realisation that she is truly alone. Plus, once Anna finally decides to go to the police, her seemly never-ending pile of wine and perception drugs fairs to be one of the biggest reason why they aren’t truly believing her story, even though the danger of the entire situation is steadily rising.

Despite the personal touches of Anna’s personality, this novel truly does read as another knockoff to a combination of Gone Girl as well as The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins. Though if you can get that mindset out of your head and read it as its own piece of work, then you can truly enjoy unearthing the layers of mystery of Anna and her dangerous neighbours.

On the upside, this novel isn’t just filled with constant talk of the neighbours. At points, you can see Anna’s motivation to grow and finally get outside of her apartment again. At one point, she even makes the effort to leave – which leads to a conversation with a neighbour and a night filled with drinking wine and playing chess with them. Overall, I’m going to have to give this novel 4.5. Seeing the mystery unfold as well as personal growth from Anna makes it a fun read – but the clear inspiration from other books is a bit too noticeable.