Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Review: Trouble Blows West

I recieved a free pdf copy for the purpose of review. I have not been otherwise compensated. All thoughts and opinions expressd herein are entirely my own.

Ginnie West leaps before she looks when the school bully Pierce Owens tries to pick a fight with her twin brother. Besides getting suspended for fighting, and the consequences that brings from her dad, her brother is less than happy at her chivalry. Not to mention how angry Pierce is after being bested by a girl in the middle of the cafeteria. Ginnie and Toran come face to face with some big choices. What makes a bully? Can a bully change? Do they deserve a second chance?

I like the character development in this second Ginnie West Adventure, all the main characters are faced with difficult choices, and navigate some very harsh realities.

There are some intense scenes between Pierce and his dad. But, this book can be a really good way to open up a dialogue between kids and parents/teachers about subjects like violence, bullying, and domestic abuse.

Again, I appreciate the respecful relationships expected in the West family.

Again, I feel the pictures deter from story, not allowing it to be taken as seriously.

And again, I felt that Buzz and a few others were unnecessary characters, just more people to keep track of.

But overall, this book talks about real life issues in a way I think young readers can relate to, and can really get them thinking about their own actions. I recommend it for ages 10+.

I give it three stars.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Sisters Club

I received a free pdf copy for the purpose of review. I have not recieved any other compensation. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.

I finished reading the first book in the Ginnie West Adventure series a couple of weeks ago. 

The basic plot:

Ginnie and Tillie are BFFs, but they would love to also be sisters. So they hatch a plot to try to get Ginnie's widowed dad and Tillie's divorced mom to fall in love. Along the way their own friendship is tested, and Ginnie begins to question the plan when she finds her mom's old journals. When her dad suddenly takes the journals away, she feels like she looses the mother she was only just beginning to get to know all over again. Operation Secret Sisters just might be over soon no sooner than it began!

My thoughts:

First off, I really like the characters, Ginnie, Tillie, Ginnie's Dad, and Tillie's mom especially. The girls are well written. They are flawed, they have big emotions, they make bad decisions sometimes, they act out, all extremely relatable to girls in this age range. I like that the parents are smart, kind, and sweet, but have rules and expectations. They are in charge and demand respect. As a parent, I appreciate that in a book for young readers.

I like the plot and I think the twists and turns were interesting.

There were a few things I didn't care for. I felt the character Buzz was unnecessary to the story and his presence was confusing considering this book has such a large cast, including integral characters who are no longer on the scene for various reasons. Maybe Buzz plays a larger roll in the later books, but in this one I felt his inclusion was frustrating to me as a reader.

In line with that, I think an 8 or 9 year old reader would have a hard time keeping up with this cast. I think too, the depth of emotions surrounding a parent dying, alcoholism, family violence, and playing matchmaker are also too advanced for readers of that age, even though these are dealt with with tact and delicacy in the story. Those are topics that need a lot of explanation with loads of reassurance to an age where those things are still very adult. Personally, I feel this book is for ages 11+.

Lastly, because the story is so good and the characters so well developed, I was especially annoyed by the pictures. By themselves they are nice illustrations, but I think they are not the best fit for this book. The pictures give the story an almost cartoonish feel, but this book is far from it. The pictures distorted the characters that I saw in my head and it actually made me think less of them because I was reminded that they were not real people. I don't think pictures are necessary to the story, more than a few sketches with the chapter titles, and the occasional piece of riding tack or basket of eggs here and there throughout the pages. The picture of the girls on the cover is okay, if it were the only one, but I would still prefer an illustration more real to life. I feel it would lend more credibility to the story, allowing more older readers to take it seriously.

Overall, I like the book and would have no problem with Grace reading them in a few years when she is at least ten. It gets four stars from me. 


To learn more about the other books in the series check out this Book Blast post!

Thanks for reading with us! 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fresh Brewed - Motherhood, Confessions of a Not-so-Super Mom

Welcome to Fresh Brewed! Each week I will write about a topic that relates to families. Then, at the bottom of the post is a Linky Tool so that you can link up your posts related to the topic for the week. It doesn't have to be a new post from the past week, if you have written about it in a previous post, link it! The topics will be broad enough to encompass many avenues of thought, but do please only post related posts. Opinion posts are welcome, but not bashing ones please. Please keep it respectful. There may be posts with vastly different viewpoints, or addressing points on vastly different areas of the topic. That's fantastic as every family is different and struggles with different circumstances. If you are not a blogger, but you have an interesting article to share, or read something another blogger posted, please feel free to leave a link in the comments section of the weekly post and a short description of how it relates to the topic. 

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This week on Fresh Brewed: Motherhood
The confessions of a not-so-super mom.

I am not Supermom.

I appreciate the compliment when it has occasionally been bestowed. And I try to be graceful, knowing that it usually comes from a place of kindness, and sometimes admiration. But I always feel guilty, plagued by scores of  'if only you knew' snap shots in my head.

You see, I'm afraid that people will get the wrong impression, namely the impression that I've got it all together. Let me emphatically assure you, I don't.

But I will admit that a part of me doesn't always feel entirely undeserving of a little praise now and then.

Because it is the struggle to keep going that is far more praiseworthy than the short lived, occasional Pinterest worthy moments.

Motherhood is crazy hard!! It's dirty, surprisingly wet, gross, and often full of mystery smells. It's demanding and often thankless.

Kids are inherently self-centered, and by the time our lessons sink in about being kind to others, minding their manners, and picking up after themselves...they move out. Sorry mom, and in case I haven't told you lately, thank you for everything you taught me!

I'm not saying being a Dad is a piece of cake, but let's face it, most Dad's get to use the bathroom alone! Several times a day even! That by no means wraps up a dads role, and it is not meant to be demeaning. I treasure my husband, and he is an awesome dad.

I can't write about life from a dad's perspective though, so mine will have to do.

I'm not complaining. I LOVE being a mom. I just want to talk about the side of parenting that we don't tend to photograph. 

Like the all-nighters spent cleaning up puke and diarrhea, usually getting puked directly on at least once during the process. Then not being able to take a sick day when I inevitably catch whatever bug they threw up on me.

Or the fact that my floor only gets really, truly, deeply mopped about 5 times a year. Just spot cleaned the rest of the time. (Just so you know, this number is about five times the amount the above mentioned puke-fests happen. I honestly believe life in a clean, though not super sanitized house has given my kids some pretty good immune systems. They are rarely sick, even with a cold. But it seems that at least once a year, at least one somebody gets a stomach bug.)

The yelling. Mine, specifically.

The fact that we have fought in front of the kids.

That most days I don't get around to the dishes. It's every few days, in fact.

I am always behind on laundry.

I am not a morning person. My kids are not morning people. Getting this family to anything that starts by, but especially, before 10am is overwhelmingly hard. I literally cry sometimes just thinking about it. I cannot even imagine having to wake them up and get them off to school by 7:30. 

I often welcome, with open arms, the peace and quiet that ensues via screen time.

Having loads of patience doesn't mean I'm not bearing it through tears or chanting something silently to distract myself. "I'm a happy mommy" is the current favorite.

I don't cook every night. Not even close right now.

None of us use top sheets. We all use blankets or comforters that are easy to wash and way easier to make the beds with. When the beds actually get made. 

I do not want people to just "drop by", if you do (and you are not family or a really really good friend), you may not be invited in. Trust me, it's better this way. Let's just all avoid mutual embarrassment, call first.

When I do have people over and the house looks nice, don't open my bedroom door. 

One of my kid's friends found a half-eaten apple in the kids' closet almost every time she came over. Not the same apple every time, but a new old half-eaten apple. In the closet. Like six times! I still have no explanation. 

I found cat hair in the refrigerator. The cat has never been in the refrigerator. That I am aware of.

I buy cheap plastic-ware because I know that inevitably I am going to throw the entire container away rather than open it and clean it.

I haven't ironed a piece of clothing in about seven years. If it can't de-wrinkle after a few minutes in the dryer, we don't keep it. The only 'dry clean only' clothes we own are the guys' suits. 

I hate baby talk. Babies don't talk like that. Only big kids talking "baby talk" talk like that, and it makes me want to throw things. I don't, but I want to. It's forbidden in our house.

We have't been to the movies as a family for three years. I just can't stomach paying $45 for something we could see for $1 by waiting an extra four months. And with a kid with sensory issues, going to the movies is far more stress inducing than fun. (We are going to give it another chance this month though, the new 'Annie' is coming out, and we have decided to try and go see it all together. Here's hoping!! Ed: Victor says he thinks it's a bad idea. We are still officially "undecided".)

I have stopped saying that I want something to happen "just for once" or "just for today". That's a lie. I want it to happen that time, and every other time from then on. 

I have cried during almost every Early Intervention meeting, autism evaluation, and IEP meeting over the last two and a half years. And a whole lot more in between. It's getting easier, just a little. But having had to say good-bye to people who got it and who actually helped my kids progress, heartbreaking. And dealing with those who don't, infuriating.

Feeling utterly helpless during one of Kit's major meltdowns is one of the worst feelings I've ever felt. My child is in complete mental and physical chaos, and I am powerless to stop it. I hate that I can't make that go away for her.

I'm not heroic nor anything of the sort for choosing to homeschool. My sweet, kind, creative kids would be torn apart by the unforgiving demands of public school. They are excelling academically precisely because their developmental needs come first, they are allowed to learn at their own pace, and according to their own style. 

Some days we delve deep into subjects, do expansive projects, feel completely enriched. Some days we fight and argue over getting through the basic minimums. We disagree on the value of learning certain things. Sometimes I put my foot down. Sometimes I relent. 

There are whole days that I am just grateful to be over and hope that their pattern of events does not repeat itself soon. 

There are many things from this season of life that I will not miss. I will look back with fondness on the days of my kids being little, yes. And I am in no hurry for them to grow up. But I do know how to appreciate the peaceful moments that come after the storm. And some days, weeks, months, even years of parenting sometimes feel like storm after storm. 

Weathering out these storms does not make me super. But it does make me a survivor. Someone who fights to hang on through the rough patches. Attempts to make the next ride smoother and be better prepared. But sometimes we just make it through by holding on tight to the ones we love and praying hard.

In the words of Annie...

'tomorrow, there'll be sun.'

I'm definitely looking forward to that. After I sleep in, that is.

Tell me what's on your mind about motherhood. Or fatherhood! Dad's are more than welcome to weigh in here!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: A Different Kind of Safari

I recieved a complementary pdf copy of this book for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are entirely my own, however.

I was very excited to sign up to review this book as I am always on the lookout for books written for children pertaining to Autism/Asperger's.

This book was interesting and different than I expected it to be. I like the approach of learning to accept oneself rather than trying to change to fit in.

"No matter what I did, I could not change what made me uncomfortable...I decided to go to the river, the place where I knew I could be happy, and learn how to be myself...Rosie, a pink hippo." That sentence is so very powerful. That lesson was, to me the most profound, and I relates to it both as someone who has struggled to "fit in" many times in my life, but also as a mom to kids on the Autism Spectrum.

I felt the illustration of the river choosing it's own path was not as clear or concise as the story of Eli-zee, and to me personally, it felt like the story was longer than would have held the interest of my big kids. Kit would probably have liked the pictures, but there is too much text for her, and of course the lessons are directed at older children anyway.

And I'm not positive that Zak, would be able to really discern the lessons in this book and make personal application without assistance, but he might. Grace would need guidance and more explicit explanations.

While not my favorite style, I still think this is a good book for parents to go through with their kids, or teachers with their students.

I give it three stars.


Happy reading, everyone!

Book Blast: A Year in the Secret Garden and $100 Gift Card Giveaway

Hi guys! So excited to let you know that you can get a great deal on this wonderful book right now! Scroll down for details under the subheading "Purchase"! We love this book and had so much fun trying out recipes for our Secret Garden Tea Party. Hope you find it as fantastic as we do!

A Year in the Secret Garden - cover

  Title: A Year in the Life of the Secret Garden | Author: Valarie Budayr | Illustrator: Marilyn Scott-Waters | Publication Date: November, 2014 | Publisher: Audrey Press | Pages: 144 | Recommended Ages: 5 to 99 Book Description: Award-winning authors Valarie Budayr and Marilyn Scott-Waters have co-created A Year in the Secret Garden to introduce the beloved children’s classic, The Secret Garden to a new generation of families. This guide uses over two hundred full color illustrations and photos to bring the magical story to life, with fascinating historical information, monthly gardening activities, easy-to-make recipes, and step-by-step crafts, designed to enchant readers of all ages. Each month your family will unlock the mysteries of a Secret Garden character, as well as have fun together creating the original crafts and activities based on the book.Over 140 pages, with 200 original color illustrations and 48 activities for your family and friends to enjoy, learn, discover and play with together. A Year In the Secret Garden is our opportunity to introduce new generations of families to the magic of this classic tale in a modern and innovative way that creates special learning and play times outside in nature. This book encourages families to step away from technology and into the kitchen, garden, reading nook and craft room.  


Great News!

You can purchase your very own copy of this gorgeous book for only $15 (a savings of $5) directly from Audrey Press between Dec. 1 and 7, 2014. PLUS, if you miss these dates, you can still purchase the book between December 8 and 31, 2014 for $15 using the code word "SECRETGARDEN".

Amazon * Audrey Press * Goodreads


Blog Tour Excerpts

The Blog Tour for A Year in the Secret Garden took place Nov. 1 to 30, 2014. Below you will find review excerpts from some of the participating blogs as well as links to a guest post by the author and an interview with the illustrator. Click HERE for the full Tour Schedule and the full list of participating blogs.

"A Year in the Secret Garden is a treasure trove of activities, crafts, games, recipes and information all related to the classic children's book, The Secret Garden, bringing to life this wonderful book to a new generation of readers. I cannot recommend this beautifully illustrated and detailed, information-packed book highly enough to parents, homeschoolers, teachers, and librarians." ~ Mother Daughter Book Reviews

"The authors love of the Secret Garden book comes through SO clearly and I am a student of literature so I loved it for the explanations and history of what was happening." ~ WS Momma Readers Nook

Guest Post by Author Valarie Budayr: "A brief article on A Year in The Secret Garden" ~ Coffee, Books & Art

"A perfect book not only for the summer activities but all through the year. Truly it shows the way into the SECRET GARDEN." ~ Eloquent Articulation

"These ladies have created a fabulous book that can stand alone or be used as companion to the classic either in a classroom setting, or homeschool setting or for anyone that loves to share great literature and activities with their children." ~ Adalinc to Life

"While the children enjoyed the activities associated with this book, I was entranced by the beautiful water color illustrations and the scrumptious looking images of foods to make. I am certain that any person who grew up hoping to find that secret key to let them into an enchanting garden will fall in love with the magic inside this book to share with their children." ~ Books, Babies and Bows

Interview with Illustrator, Marilyn Scott-Waters: "A Year in the Secret Garden Interview" ~ Pragmatic Mom

"This would make such a nice Christmas gift for a young one to grow up with. Why not add a copy of the reading book and maybe even the DVD and some supplies to do an activity or two. " ~ The Blended Blog

"It is a wonderful, hands on, practical way to take kids on a journey back in time and see how children and families lived in another era." ~ Hide-N-(Sensory)-Seeking

Month by Month Guide


  • Indian Style Chicken Curry
  • Rangoli
  • Magic Carpets
  • Misselthwaite Manor
  • Character Study: Mary Lennox
  • Ploughman’s Lunch


  • Cutouts of the Secret Garden Characters
  • Planting Bulbs
  • The English Garden
  • Character Study: Mrs. Medlock


  • Hot Oatcakes
  • Jump Rope
  • Plastic Bag Jump Rope
  • Jump Rope Rhymes
  • Shovel, Shovel, Spade
  • Character Study: Ben Weatherstaff
A Year in the Secret Garden - Inside Pages 26 27


  • Bringing in the Evergreen
  • Yorkshire Pudding Toad-in-a-Hole
  • The Oak King vs. The Holly King
  • The Story of Mistletoe
  • Character Study: Martha Sowerby


  • Parkin Cake
  • Wutherin' Wind Flags
  • Ice Disks
  • Yorkshire Phrasebook
  • Character Study: Dickon Sowerby
  • Perfectly Good Porridge with Treacle


  • Oaten Pipe
  • Garden in a Jar
  • Death in Victorian England
  • Character Study: Archibald Craven

A Year in the Secret Garden - February


  • Sticky Toffee Pudding
  • Nest Building
  • Seed Paper & Packets
  • Grow-Me Seed Paper
  • Seed Packets
  • Class of Hunger
  • Character Study: Colin Craven


  • Robin Cake
  • Dickon’s Felt Creatures
  • The World of Mason Bees
  • Making of a Mason Bee House
  • British Money
  • Old British Money
  • Character Study: Dr. Craven


  • Freezer Strawberry Jam
  • Planting a Rose Bush
  • Wheelbarrow Race
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Spot-Sitting
  • Character Study: Lilias Craven

A Year in the Secret Garden - Inside Pages 84 85


  • A Midsummer Garden Tea Party
  • Ladybug Sandwiches
  • Rainbow Fruit Kabobs
  • Simply Divine Lemon Cookies
  • Daisy Chain Crowns
  • Midsummer Dancing Ribbon Wreaths
  • Flower Pressing
  • Character Study: Victorian/Edwardian Family Life


  • The Secret Meal
  • Tin Foil Breakfast
  • The Cooking Campfire
  • Creating a Garden Journal
  • Colin’s Exercises
  • Blindfolded Garden Walk
  • Colin’s Magic Chant and Affirmations
  • Affirmation Stones
  • Character Study: Susan Sowerby


  • Scones and Ginger Tea
  • A Taste of Summer
  • Paper Garden Model
  • Garden Games for Family and Friends
  • Blind Man’s Bluff
  • Red Rover
  • Character Study: Frances Hodgson Burnett

About the Author: Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr

Valarie Budayr loves reading and bringing books alive. Her popular website,, inspires children and adults alike to experience their books through play, discovery, and adventure. She is founder of Audrey Press, an independent publishing house, as well as an Amazon and iTunes best-selling author. She has written The Fox Diaries: The Year the Foxes Came to our Garden and The Ultimate Guide to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Valarie is passionate about making kid’s books come alive and encouraging families and schools to pull books off the shelves and stories off the pages.  

Book Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Pinterest | Google+ | Goodreads


About the Illustrator: Marilyn Scott-Waters

Marilyn Scott-Waters

Marilyn Scott-Waters loves making things out of paper. Her popular website,, receives 2,000 to 7,000 visitors each day, who have downloaded more than six million of her easy-to-make paper toys. Her goal is to help parents and children spend time together making things. She is the creator of a paper toy craft book series The Toymakers Christmas: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself (Sterling), and The Toymakers Workshop: Paper Toys You Can Make Yourself (Sterling). She is also the co-creator with J. H. Everett of the middle grade nonfiction series, Haunted Histories, (Christy Ottaviano Books / Henry Holt Books for Young Readers). Ms. Scott-Waters illustrated The Search For Vile Things (Scholastic), and created paper engineering for Pop & Sniff Fruit (Piggy Toes Press).

Website | Facebook | Google+


* $100 Book Blast Giveaway *

Amazon 100 gift card 

  Prize: $100 Amazon Gift Card or PayPal cash (winner’s choice) Contest ends: December 31, 11:59 pm, 2014 Open: Internationally How to enter: Please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the authors Valarie Budayr and Marilyn Scott-Waters and is hosted and managed by Renee from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send and email to Renee(at)MotherDaughterBookReviews(dot)com.

 Copyright © 2014 Mother Daughter Book Reviews, All rights reserved.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Helping Your Child with Dysgraphia

What is dysgraphia?

Put very simply, it is a learning disability in which an individual struggles with writing due to difficulty coordinating motor planning and information processing skills. Symptoms often include poor handwriting, confusion of capital and lowercase letters, poor spelling, difficulty putting thoughts into writing, difficulty with storing words and ideas and organizing them into written form, and many more.

For an excellent, and much more in depth look at this learning disability visit this article

Here today though, I'm going to share with you how it affects our household. In particular, Grace.

Holding a normal pencil and trying to write on regular paper is incredibly difficult for Grace. She works so hard on the mechanics of the task that she is unable to give hardly any mental energy to the point of the exercise which is to learn how words are spelled. Even basic writing exercises quickly dissolved into angry outbursts or tears due to her feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

I have found multiple ways to help ease the physical work which frees up her mind to focus on the mental learning. Hopefully, some of these tips might help others out there with dysgraphia or reluctant spellers.

1.) Use a bigger, thicker writing tool. Big pencils are good, but markers are best. Her hand can hold it more naturally, and therefore is more relaxed. 

2.) Let her write bigger. Even the early learning paper with it's double lines and big spaces are too small for her on most days. I have also discovered that the more lines she sees, the more confused her brain seems to get. To compensate, I have her practice spelling words on blank paper, but we are still practicing spacing, because she tends to cram everything together. 

3.) Use tactile learning. It's easier for her to trace a letter in shaving cream or salt/sand than write it with an instrument, again, in major part because the size of the letters is often much larger than writing on paper. 

4.) Let her copy rather than memorize. Carrying the information in her mind for any amount of time is confusing to her. And trying to spell from her head is overwhelming still. She does best with copying. 

Yes, implementing these tactics means that it is taking her much longer to spell even basic words than the average third grade student, but I'm not worried about it. 

I would rather her grow up to become someone who has to spell check regularly, but loves to write, than hate the entire process and become an adult who avoids writing. There is a lot of help in the adult world for poor spellers, but hating writing becomes an internal dialogue that can be very difficult to reverse and can hugely impact self-esteem. 

Trying to memorize everything but ultimately feeling like a failure in the areas of spelling and writing is much more frustrating than learning very slowly and enjoying the process. Mistakes are fine, giving up on oneself is absolutely not.