Making Your Mark, Leaving A Legacy, And Then . . . A Grand Exit That’ll Have Their Tongues Waggin’ by Peter Davidson


Making Your Mark, Leaving A Legacy, And Then . . . A Grand Exit That’ll Have Their Tongues Waggin’ by Peter Davidson
Publisher: Sweet Memories Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

If you want your life to amount to more than just anonymously passing through this world unnoticed, this book is for you. It describes how you can make your mark on your family, friends, and society and how you can create a legacy that will benefit future generations.

When the time comes for you to leave this world, you can go out with class, style, and pizzazz, just like you lived your life, There are many options, possibilities, and decisions involved in planning a final farewell as we will see as we watch the Grand Exit of Timothy A.B. Smythe. Timothy’s Grand Exit will have people’s tongues waggin’ for a long time and it can serve as an inspiration for your final farewell, when the time comes.

Much of the information in the book is presented in true stories, scenarios, and examples that are upbeat, often humorous, and fun to read.

Who says that the end of life has to be a somber affair?

Some of the most touching ideas were ones that talked about writing memoirs, autobiographies, or other works. I have several ancestors who wrote down the stories of their lives, and those memoirs have been cherished for multiple generations in our family. There are so many small but fascinating details about the lives of regular people that are generally not recorded in history textbooks. It’s incredibly important to preserve them for the future in my opinion.

I appreciated the wide variety of suggestions here in general. The author was careful not to make any assumptions about how much disposable income his readers had or what kind of legacy they’d want to leave. Plenty of his ideas didn’t require spending any money at all, and many others could be scaled up with repeated modest investments if needed. This was something I’d feel perfectly content to recommend to people from any background or social class. There truly was something here for everyone.

Mr. Davidson had a playful sense of humor that was woven into every chapter of this book. For example, some people might be remembered for the flamboyant clothing they wear or the funny quips they were known to make under all sorts of circumstances. The author even mentioned funny ways that someone can be remembered for their personal shortcomings like the guy who ate a burrito and then attempted to light his flatulence on fire. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone else attempted it, that was definitely the sort of story that would be passed down to future generations.

Making Your Mark, Leaving A Legacy, And Then . . . A Grand Exit That’ll Have Their Tongues Waggin’ was a thought-provoking read that I’d recommend to everyone.

Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, non-fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts two ferocious insects. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling pair before finally discovering the winner!

This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

Yeah, this one wasn’t what I was anticipating, nor did I expect to learn a bunch of new facts about hornets and wasps – don’t call them bees. I know quite a bit about honeybees due to family interests, but I could never get it straight on the differences between a wasp and hornet. With the facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta, and the clear and vivid illustrations by Mr. Bolster, I have a much firmer understanding. Since this short story is a book geared towards 6-9 yr.-olds, I’m pretty sure kids get the picture and will probably retain the information far better because of the delivery.

This little book doesn’t confine itself to the insect world per se. The author shows how wasps have inspired humans in all sorts of unexpected ways, both whimsical and practical. Until it was explained in a condensed and focused presentation, I was clueless. Kids have an incredible resource with the Who Would Win? Series. Parents will be as fascinated as their kids as they share this reading adventure into the hows and whys of hornets and wasps.

The author was thorough in his research, from nests, to food, to air battles, to the difference in stingers – I didn’t know that! – and how they compare with other insects that we see every day. The author even shared his misadventures with the stinging critters. The climax of the story is the battle between hornet and wasp. Who won? You’ll have to check it out.

My head is a buzz with all I learned, and I’m an adult! I am glad there are books like this out there. It’s just the right number of pages, information and visual stimulation in a well-presented format for young kids with maturing attention spans. Whether you use the print book or an eBook, the colors and illustrations pop. This is a must read. I mean, who hasn’t seen a bee/hornet/wasp by the age of 6, right? Hornet vs. Wasp has information that’s a must for inquisitive kids. Yes, bees are furry, but hornets and wasps can actually bite! I didn’t know that!

Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different jungle animals battle it out in an epic fight! Who will be the champion?

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious jungle creatures. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

You’re never too old to learn, or to enjoy reading to your kids only to find out you’re just as fascinated as they are. I mean, I’ve watched enough National Geographic over the years to be aware of some of the facts in this story/picture book, but there were quite a few I had no idea about. My eyes bugged a few times, as in, “I didn’t know that!!!”, throw in a couple of “Whoa!” and “Yikes” and I can safely say that I am impressed with Ultimate Jungle Rumble.

Once again there are 16 unlikely combatants that are thrown together to see which of their natural protections and instinctual behaviors put them on the top of the jungle kingdom. My favorite was during round one with a gorilla. I’m not sure how 7-yr. olds would respond, it’s been a while, but mentally, I totally cheered and gave a thumbs up to a very effective strategy. Yeah, I could get behind that one. Then there was the defense technique of a capybara. Okay, that one got a snort and a chortle out of me. The illustration from Mr. Bolster that accompanied that battle ending might prod a giggle or two from the younger reading set for sure. I mean, I’m looking at it as I type this and I’m snickering. I showed the illustration to my eldest and my husband and they both gave it a chuckle and grin.

The green anaconda was a creepy contender. I don’t know what age Ophidiophobia starts in humans or why, but just in case – parents – there be snakes.

Accompanying the great illustrations are many amazing facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta. From how many types of bears there are in the whole world – I didn’t know that – to the difference between horns and antlers, which I seem to remember but am admittedly foggy on, well, that was until I read this book, and why a sun bear is called a sun bear. I remember seeing a documentary about the sun bears and they and humans don’t get along so well. This little book gave me information about sun bears that the ‘adult’ show did not. Very cool.

How it ends and which jungle animal ends up being king was what I hoped for, but it was a close one! Then again, I watch a lot of those sci-fi monster movies so you might say I’m a bit biased. I can see why this series is so beloved and popular. It’s fun while learning cool facts about the animals we share the planet with, and if parents haven’t tried this book or this series with their kids, I recommend giving it a look-see. My youngest gave it a thumbs-up, I suspect yours will too.

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different dinosaurs battle it out in an epic prehistoric fight! Who will be the champion?
This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious dinosaurs. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

I adored dinosaurs while growing up but exciting books about them were few and far between. I wish they had the Who Would Win? Series back then. I would have been learning a lot more while having fun.

This picture book had awesome illustrations and the battle wounds for the losing dinosaurs in the matches were tastefully done. It shows where the winner bites to defeat its opponent but there’s nothing gory or worrisome for parents. Some kids might find it really cool. It’s not always the teeth that gives consistent advantage, there were some surprises.

The picture book has the names of the contestants, has fun facts about the meaning of a particular dinosaur’s name, and lists the attributes of each dinosaur that nature gave them to defend themselves. A reader will start with 16 dinosaurs, but there will only be 1 winner. Who will it be?

Now, for parents who might read this book with their kids, which would be a good idea if only to help them out with pronunciations, I would like to share that there is one battle that caught me by surprise. I blurted out a very loud, HA! As in, laugh out loud funny. If you were a fan of the early years of Saturday Night Live, this scene might bring back memories. I showed that dinosaur battle with my not-so-young-anymore son who had never seen SNL and even he thought it was hilarious and in turn said, “You gotta show dad!”.

All in all, this was a delightful read that was brought to life with wonderful illustrations by Mr. Bolster, coupled with facts, like one dinosaur has feet like a chicken, and great battle descriptions by Mr. Pallotta. The most interesting thing for me was that the winner wasn’t the dinosaur I expected.

Even though the range for this book is ages 6-9, and this book is labeled as non-fiction, I think the battles portrayed are wonderful and pure, storytelling at its finest. It uses fiction to make the non-fiction interesting, engaging and entertaining. Could those battles have actually taken place, and used the fighting techniques described therein? Quite probably, but we’ll never really know, will we.

I think this is a wonderful book and I do believe both parents and kids will enjoy watching (reading) The Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble.

Oh Uganda: An Intrepid Volunteer’s Perspective by Karen L. Smith


Oh Uganda: An Intrepid Volunteer’s Perspective by Karen L. Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this book, the author recounts her experiences as a volunteer with VSO in Uganda. Using tongue-in-cheek humour and a Canadian’s viewpoint of the Ugandan culture she tells the stories of her daily observations and interactions with Africans.Having agreed to live and work in the bustling city of Kampala, Karen finds herself being sent to tough it out in rural Uganda within weeks of her arrival. There she is forced to live without electricity, running water, a working knowledge of the local Lusoga language or other overseas volunteers for support. Although she has some success at integrating, Karen never fails to find the Ugandan ways amusing, exasperating and even bizarre. Karen describes her everyday encounters ranging from chickens and servants at home to managing an educational project and installing boreholes in the community. Then just when Karen is ready to wrap up her volunteer stint, things take a surprising turn.

Changing the world is much harder than it looks.

Ms. Smith had a marvelous sense of humor that shone through brightly in her memoir. I chuckled as I read about the creative solutions she came up with for all sorts of ordinary problems in Uganda, from keeping most of the bugs out of her bed to asking for directions in an unfamiliar town when her understanding of languages like Lugandan wasn’t good and the people she was talking to knew little to no English. Sometimes the best thing to do in life is to find the funny side of frustrating or unexpected events, and the author definitely excelled at that here.

I did find myself wishing that more time had been spent exploring what the people living in Uganda who knew the author thought of her as a person. There were some delightful passages that shared some of their assumptions such as the idea that all white people and all Canadians are wealthy. These were such eye-opening scenes, and they provided a nice framing for the culture shock that Ms. Smith often felt when she was living in Uganda. If they had occurred more often, I would have happily gone for a full five-star rating.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the many cultural differences between Uganda and Canada. Ms. Smith arrived in Kampala with assumptions about everything from how animals should be treated to what the definition of a good teacher should be. Of course, the people already living in Uganda had their own opinions on those topics, too. It amused me to see how everyone responded to being exposed to other ways of looking at the world, especially when the two cultures had wildly different ideas about the same topic. There is so much to be said for expanding one’s horizons and learning about how other people live.

Oh Uganda: An Intrepid Volunteer’s Perspective was a humorous and educational read.

Home Boys by Seth C. Kadish


Home Boys by Seth C. Kadish
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the year 2000, new therapist Seth C. Kadish is assigned a caseload of Probation boys at a Southern California group home. It’s trial and error, with moments of insight and learning, as Seth attempts to connect with the challenging teens – violent, manipulative Timothy who loves his mother and sister … Ramon, a bouncing butterball of energy and mayhem … odd Ryan who states a desire to be the first man buried on the moon … rapper Joey, jokester Enrique, sweet-natured Manuel … wanna-be gangster Antonio whose father is in the Mexican Mafia … and Rodney, angry and mistrustful, whose sole aim in life is to get back to his drug-addicted mother.

The generational cycle of trauma and abuse can be broken, but nothing in life is guaranteed.

One of my favorite aspects of this book had to do with how many questions I was left holding by the end of it. That may sound unusual but let me explain. I’d expect a work of fiction to resolve most of the conflicts in it, but that’s not how real life works. It felt utterly right to meet these individuals but not necessarily get to know if they lived happily ever after in the years that followed after the author moved on to other work. While I would love to read a sequel that gave updates, I was also satisfied with the idea that not everything in life can be tied up neatly in the end. Sometimes simply meeting interesting people is more than enough.

I wish more time had been spent diving into the backstories of specific residents of Cal Home. Every time it did happen, I was fascinated by the experiences these kids had and how trauma can be passed down from one generation to the next so easily if there’s a tragedy or if the adults in question don’t seek help for their troubles. It was a little odd to compare those scenes to the ones that fleetingly mentioned residents but never gave the audience a chance to get to know them on a deeper level. I think I would have preferred to only be introduced to residents who were going to share their stories.

There was so much compassion woven into this memoir. All of the kids Mr. Kadish worked with had experienced traumatic events, from being the victim of various forms of abuse to losing parents or parent figures at tender ages to seeing other people die from sudden acts of violence. It was impressive to me to see how the author shared examples of the suffering his clients experienced without broaching confidentiality or making excuses for the things they did that lead them to being sent to Cal Home or juvenile detention. Not only did he give wonderfully nuanced accounts of their pasts, but he also made it all seem so effortless even when he had very mixed feelings about particular kids on his caseload.

Home Boys was an engrossing read.

Funerals Your Way: A Person-Centered Approach to Planning a Funeral by Sarah Jones


Funerals Your Way: A Person-Centered Approach to Planning a Funeral by Sarah Jones
Publisher: Fisher King Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

This short book gives you the information, suggestions and step-by-step guidance you need to create funerals that truly reflect the person who has died. This second edition includes updated chapters about green funerals, funerals in the digital age and information about how to support wellbeing after bereavement.

It will help you if you want to express your own wishes, want to have a meaningful conversation with someone close to you or if you need to arrange a funeral at need.

It is designed to support people who intend to use the services of a funeral director, but would also give inspiration to those who would rather not.

While the author is based in the UK, many of the ideas and suggestions in Funerals Your Way will be relevant wherever in the world the reader may be.

It’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to include in a funeral or memorial service.

I hadn’t realized how much funerals could be personalized before I read this book. They can be formal, religious, humanist, somber, or even a celebration of life. So much depends on the personality, hobbies, and beliefs of the person who passed away. Ms. Jones made it perfectly clear that there are no right or wrong answers here and that it’s a smart idea to respect the wishes of the dead. She included multiple examples of people who planned services for relatives whose preferences or religious beliefs may not have matched those of their loved ones. I thought she handled this matter sensitively and gave the audience plenty of ideas of how to kindly carry out such services.

There were times when I wished that the author had provided the audience a little more guidance on what not to do based on what she has seen as a professional in this industry. Yes, funerals can be adapted to a wide variety of preferences, but it would have been nice to have some advice on common pitfalls to avoid or what she wishes more people knew about funeral and mourning etiquette in general. For example, a friend of mine died when he was very young. There were so many mourners at his viewing that some of them accidentally spilled over into the viewing area of someone else who had far fewer visitors and whose casket was being shown at the same time. I’ve sometimes wondered what the etiquette rules say about situations like those and would have been interested to hear a few stories about paying last respects and showing kindness in difficult situations.

One of the most interesting portions in my opinion was the one that discussed how to honestly discuss someone’s flaws during their funeral without speaking ill of the dead. Some people may have made decisions they deeply regretted later in life, while others may not have ever openly admitted to their mistakes or talked about what they would have done differently if they could live their lives over again. I appreciated the empathy Ms. Jones showed for both the deceased as well as mourners who might have mixed feelings about the recently departed for completely understandable reasons. This is something that is often glossed over when discussing death, grief, and funeral planning. I was happy to see that was not the case here and that there was so much room left to share both cheerful and difficult memories if that is what the next of kin wishes to do.

Funerals Your Way: A Person-Centered Approach to Planning a Funeral was a wonderful guidebook.

Hello, Puddle! by Anita Sanchez


Hello, Puddle! by Anita Sanchez
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Non-Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A nonfiction picture book exploring a deceptively simple but unexpectedly crucial resource for wildlife: puddles! This lyrical, gorgeously illustrated nonfiction picture book is perfect for young science learners and nature lovers.

Hello, puddle! Who’s here?

A normal everyday puddle may not seem very special. But for a mother turtle, it might be the perfect place to lay her eggs. For a squirrel, it might be the only spot to cool off and get a drink when the sun is shining down in July. And for any child, it can be a window into the elegant, complex natural world right outside their window.

With lush, playful illustrations and fun facts about the animals featured, Hello, Puddle! is a joyful celebration of the remarkable in the ordinary, and the importance of even the most humble places in fostering life.

Nature is filled with marvelous things.

This was a detailed introduction to the wide variety of plants and animals that rely on puddles for food, shelter, cooling baths on a hot day, and, of course, fresh water to drink. No one species dominated the plot, so it would be quite easy to use this as a jumping-off point to explore anything from how tadpoles turn into frogs to how seedlings grow to why bats are such an important part of the ecosystem. I thought this was a brilliant way to encourage young children to be curious about the world around them and have some idea of which plants or animals they might want to explore in depth in the future.

While puddles definitely aren’t as active in the winter, I did find myself wishing that Ms. Sanchez had dedicated an extra page or two to what happens in them during that season since she spent so much time discussing spring, summer, and autumn. After all, puddles do sometimes melt during the winter. This was a minor disappointment, and it could be easily remedied by a little research online or at the local library for readers who want to learn more. If all four seasons had been discussed, I would have eagerly given this a five-star rating.

It was refreshing to find a nature book that was accessible to so many different types of people. Puddles form in cities, suburbs, and small towns just like they do in the middle of the woods, and the text supported that fact. They can be observed by folks from a wide variety of backgrounds, too. One doesn’t need to run fast, spend money, listen closely, or carry any special equipment to observe what’s happening in them. This is a fantastic way to introduce kids to nature at story time, especially for families who have tight budgets, special needs, or other circumstances that might make wandering around out in the middle of nowhere difficult for them.

Hello, Puddle! offered an intriguing and educational glimpse into the sort of natural habitat that nearly everyone can find somewhere in their own neighborhood.

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett


In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Non-Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

In In Such Good Company, Carol Burnett pulls back the curtain on the twenty-five-time Emmy-Award winning show that made television history, and she reminisces about the outrageously funny and tender moments that made working on the series as much fun as watching it.

Carol delves into little-known stories of the guests, sketches and improvisations that made The Carol Burnett Show legendary, as well as some favorite tales too good not to relive again. While writing this book, Carol re-watched all 276 episodes and screen-grabbed her favorite video stills from the archives to illustrate the chemistry of the actors and the improvisational magic that made the show so successful.

Putting the spotlight on everyone from her costars to the impressive list of guest stars, Carol crafts a lively portrait of the talent and creativity that went into every episode. With characteristic wit and incomparable comic timing, she details hiring Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway; shares anecdotes about guest stars and close friends, including Lucille Ball, Roddy McDowell, Jim Nabors, Bernadette Peters, Betty Grable, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth, and Betty White; and gives her take on her favorite sketches and the unpredictable moments that took both the cast and viewers by surprise.

So many stories and plenty of pages to tell them!

I love the Carol Burnett show and this book reads a lot like one of those episodes. Carol Burnett writes this about her time on the show and interactions with her costars. There are quite a few tidbits about the actors and actresses and even a few discussions of the bits on the show.

The chemistry between the principals on the show stand out in this book. I felt their love for each other, even when they quarrel. What drew me to this book was the story about Harvey Korman being fired from the show. I had to know more and I’m glad I did. I also had no idea how many people helped bring this show to life. It’s funny, witty and touching. I’m glad I read it.

If you love to laugh and learn about television shows, then this one is for you.

The Assumption of Death by Anthony David Vernon


The Assumption of Death by Anthony David Vernon
Publisher: Alien Buddha Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Poetry
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“By turns charming and deeply disturbing, this collection of poems and meditations enthralls and mystifies. This is an engaging and mesmerizing kaleidoscope of ideas about mortality, infinity, and the very essence of being, and it is one of the most captivating hybrid collections I have ever read. I expect that Anthony David Vernon, this exciting new voice in literature, will be thrilling his readers for many years to come.”
– José Sotolongo

Don’t look away from death. Ask it questions instead.

My favorite passages were the ones that used metaphors from nature to explain concepts that could be a little slippery on their own. For example, one poem reminded the audience that “a spider must work with the web that they weave,” and another one made me smile when it said “time to time I come to paths that result in dead ends. But I found that dead ends can lead to clearings.” It was easy for me to imagine those scenes and then play around with them to understand why it’s important to work with the tools you’ve been given or what the advantages are to following a thought to some of its natural conclusions even if it wanders off of the beaten path at first.

The speakers in this collection kept circling around to the idea that death might not happen to everyone. They gave examples from stories about people who either never died or ended their lives in mystical ways. I kept wishing the speakers would go into greater detail about what they meant and how those statements should be woven into some of the other sections that only seemed tangentially related to immortality at first glance.

Some of the most intriguing sections were the ones that teased out the difference between dying and death. There are numerous records of people’s experiences with dying, but death itself cannot be charted in quite the same way. Most books that explore this concept do so from a particular religious perspective, but Mr. Vernon did not do that. His thoughts on the topic could be applied to people from any religion just as easily as they could be applied to people who aren’t interested in that subject at all. Death is a mystery, and the author embraced every aspect of it.

The Assumption of Death had a unique perspective on the topics of death and immortality.