Friday, November 21, 2014

Life is So Good - George Dawson, Richard Glaubman

Summary:  In this remarkable book, 103-year-old George Dawson, a slave's grandson who learned to read at age 98, reflects on his life and offers valuable lessons in living as well as a fresh, firsthand view of America during the twentieth century. Richard Glaubman captures Dawson's irresistible voice and view of the world, offering insights into humanity, history, hardships, and happiness. From segregation and civil rights, to the wars, presidents, and defining moments in history, George Dawson's description and assessment of the last century inspires readers with the message that-through it all-has sustained him: "Life is so good. I do believe it's getting better."  Summary and image from

My Review:  George Dawson was born to work hard.  As the oldest of seven, he had to start working with his father at the age of four.  Just a few short years later, he was sent to work full time on a farm a few hours away from home.  He worked harder and in more varied jobs than most of us will ever work in our lifetimes, and he did it with a smile.

His greatest regret, however, was also his darkest secret.  George never learned how to read.  Working as much as he did never provided time, but it's also a secret he kept from his own children until they were in high school.  However, just because he couldn't read doesn't mean his mind isn't as sharp as a tack.  Through a series of interviews, George tells us about life over the last 100 years.  He remembers the events that affected the African-American community, retells the shock of traveling outside the country and witnessing a life outside of Jim Crow, and relives the good times as well as the bad.

At 98, George finally went to school to learn to read.  Through snippets, we learn his impact on those around him, the joy he finally found in reading, and what he considers his greatest successes. 

This book was such an uplifting read.  It was one I was able to finish in a weekend (and a busy one at that ... the Portugal/US game took up more than a little chunk of time), but that I was sad to finally lay down.  It left me feeling grateful for my education, grateful for the opportunities we have, and humbled at the easy road my generation has had with our educations.

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Multiple uses of the "N" word, and the book opens with an unjustified lynching.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Gym Life Cooking Technique Book - Colin Stuckert

Summary:  From the Gym Life Manifesto

WIth how important food is in the "looking good" formula, it's amazing just how lazy people get when it comes to the kitchen.  And their results always suffer because of it.  It's a correlative relationship: the more work in the kitchen, the more it shows in the mirror.  (Summary from back of the book.  Book given free for review.  Image from

My Review:  I'm not a cook--more accurately put, I don't enjoy cooking.  I can follow a recipe and have it turn out and have spent plenty of time preparing meals for my family. I just don't enjoy it.  To say I know what I'm doing in the kitchen isn't  completely honest: I just know how to do the basics and maybe a little beyond that.  When I was offered this book for review I was hoping to learn just a bit more about cooking techniques beyond the basics.  I think my hopes were a little misguided.  This book is truly for beginners in the kitchen.  And there are probably plenty of people who could really learn a lot from what Stuckert has to share.  My mother raised me to cook low-fat and how to substitute ingredients or cut down on ingredients you don't need.  Therefore, this was a good refresher for me, but not anything new.

The book's format is easy to read and follow.  It's set up in a logical progression for learning something new with logical, valid points.  And, there are great recipes in the back to try out (not many, but some) with some solid advice on how to season and cook meat without a  high fat content.
He even shares some dessert recipes--you don't have to give it all up!
The emphasis of this book is to help those who are interested in cooking healthy meals for themselves, especially if they are conscious of losing weight or looking at their physical peak.  And it's true that what you eat makes a big difference in reaching those goals.  If you're someone who needs a little help in getting started cooking and eating healthier to reach your fitness goals, this is probably the book for you.  I think I was just hoping for something a little longer that went a little further than the basics.

Rating: 3 Stars

Sum it up:  A little small, but for a true beginner of cooking, this would be a helpful book.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Thought Scout Uniforms were Fireproof - Shane Barker

Summary:  Finally! A perfect resource for any leader who's ever had trouble creating scouting programs and activities compelling enough to compete with school, sports, jobs, and the thousands of other activities in your scout's life. These ideas, hints, and tips will spark your imagination and make scouting activities the highlight of your boys' week.  (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  My son is a cub scout.  The first time I walked into the scouting store here in the DFW area, the employees not only welcomed me with open arms, they guided me through the store, helping me choose what I needed to start his journey.  It'll be a long one, as my husband is holding with his family tradition of withholding a driver's license until the Eagle is completed.  (Truthfully, I'm rooting for a near-to-the-end finish!)

This is a great resource for scouting leaders both of the cub and the boy--even the girl--variety.  Barker has been involved in scouting for years, and his experiences have helped him discern what works and what doesn't.  He has anecdotes showing how to increase troop morale, how to make everything, from knot tying to inspections, fun, and excellent advice about how to better interact with the troop boys.  While I'm not yet a scout leader, I found myself making mental notes of my friends who are who may be interested in the nuggets of wisdom in this book.  I also found myself tucking ideas away for my own family - this little book is chock full of them!

I have a feeling that as we stay in scouting (we have about 15 more years), this book is going to be worth its weight in gold!

My Rating:  Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  The author is LDS and makes mention of various positions in the Church of Jesus Christ.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

If You Were Me and Lived in ... Portugal - Carole P. Roman

Summary:  Award winning and best selling author Carole P. Roman travels to beautiful Portugal. This pro active book invites children to think about Portugal's many wonders from the sunny Azores to the wide variety of food. Roman's If You Were Me books have a simple, winning formula: portray children from other countries and explain how familiar items and customs are the same, and how they differ, in the country being discussed... The appeal of Roman's If You Were Me series is that this information is not offered in the bland style of an encyclopedia entry, but rather as part of a tour of real life in India...It's this organic conversational tone that keeps the book interesting and inspires kids' own curiosity for other cultures." Peter Dabbene The Foreword Review Join Carole P. Roman as she takes you to explore the friendly country of Portugal!  (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  My kids and I love reading Roman's If You Were Me series.  We love visiting each country through her books, learning about their culture, their foods, key phrases, places to visit, etc.  It's a fun way for my kids to realize what an incredible world they're part of.


I was worried when I received Portugal that the formula had grown stale.  NOT SO!  Hooray!  Roman has included all of the same incredible information we've come to expect, but has shaken things up a bit.  The vocabulary is clear, but it's left to the kids to use the illustrations to translate the words.  I love that.  I love books that encourage them (subconsciously) to learn and to take more in than just the words.  The illustrations are varied as well.  There's a two-page spread of the Azores that is so gorgeous, it made me want to go.  Like, tomorrow.

My Rating:  Five stars

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

One Sweet Cupcake - Janell Brown

Summary: Winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars, Janell Brown, gives expert advice on all aspects of cupcake baking, including ingredients, techniques, and equipment. You'll also learn the basics of cupcake decorating, along with ideas for themes, seasons, and holidays. Discover all these sweet secrets for making your cupcakes look professional and taste great. (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

My Review:  When I got this cookbook I was really excited. I actually love cookbooks. Just opening one brings up so many possibilities. Plus I’m greedy. I do quite a bit of home cooking—I’m not really one of those people who serves things out of a box—and I like to bake. So I love when I get a cookbook that has really pretty things to bake and best of all, it’s something that I can actually tackle.

I’m not a novice baker by any means. I’ve watched my fair share of Food Network over the years, plus my husband and I are self-proclaimed foodies. I’m no Julia Childs, but I do have my fair share of cooking experience and I think that I can pretty much pull off any recipe with a little bit of practice. (Though most of the time I don’t practice because I live on the edge like that. And that doesn’t mean that it turns out perfect, just that I didn’t practice. Haha.)

So going into this cookbook, I was hoping that I would be able to tackle everything in it, and if I couldn’t, she would show me how or at least describe it in terms that would be easy enough for me to figure out.  And I was happily surprised that yes, I could do everything in the book with little to no trauma. There weren’t any huge surprises, but there were some fun little hints that I appreciated and helped me out.

I went into this little cupcake extravaganza project by deciding that I would do it just how she told me—especially with ingredients. I don’t feel like its fair for me to judge her recipes if I just used whatever I had on hand instead of what she recommended (i.e. normal cocoa in place of Dutch-processed cocoa). If I’m going to judge the recipe, then I need to judge her recipe. So I did. I have a pretty well-stocked pantry, but I did have to get a few things—vanilla bean paste, Dutch-processed cocoa (which was harder to find than I thought), and a few other things here and there when I was trying a more specific recipe. I also bought some new pastry bag tips that she recommended and I love them. It made my cupcakes look professional and although I did know how to frost a cupcake before this, her tips helped me out to put on a nice finishing touch.

I made a lot of different cupcakes from this cookbook, but I knew I couldn’t make them all, so I had a few baker friends try a couple recipes to let me know what they thought as well. I also gave quite a few cupcakes away and got opinions from those people as well.  We all agreed that the cupcakes were good—they’re denser than box cupcakes, and sometimes drier, and some of them called for applesauce instead of sugar. Alone the cupcakes were not nearly as sweet as a box-mix cupcake, but once you add her (fabulous, delicious) different types of frosting, you’re good to go.  Also, because these cupcakes are pretty complex (with a cupcake, filling, frosting, and sometimes various toppings), making them takes longer than a normal cupcake baking session may take (assuming you’re just whipping out the old Betty Crocker box mix and frosting tub) so plan accordingly. Also, the recipes say that the yield is 24 cupcakes. I never got that many cupcakes. Mine were mostly around 18 normal-sized cupcakes, which is fine, just be warned. It’s definitely a different experience than just buying a box and frosting the cupcakes, even if you make your own frosting. It takes longer, they taste a little different, and this is all to be expected if you want to make bakeshop-type cupcakes. But just as long as you know what your end goal is, you’re set.

On top of everything else, I thought the book was really pretty. The pictures are nice (and tantalizing, I must say), and it’s a really fun book to look through. I have it sitting on my recipe holder and a lot of my friends would pick it up and look through it just because it is eye catching and beautiful. Plus. Cupcakes. Who doesn’t love cupcakes?

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: Squeaky clean. But full of temptation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beam N Read LED3 & LED6

Summary:  Beam N Read LED3 and LED6 Deluxe Hands Free Light
  • Extra wide and bright personal light from 3 or 6 LED's that won't disturb others
  • Especially useful for needlecrafts and all craft work
  • 4 standard alkaline AA batteries (not included) last 50 hours at full brightness 
  • 2 clip-on filters: red for maintaining night vision, orange for a softer light
  • Large 4"x5" acrylic fresnel magnifier for detail work attaches to light with adjustable clip-on hinge in either vertical or horizontal position (Lights given free for review.  Image from and

My Review:  I started using these in June, but with it staying light outside so late, I didn't use them as much as I am now.  I have a kindle fire and read before bed.  I was finding that the light from the Kindle screen was not allowing me to relax and fall asleep.  Having been sent two of Beam N Read's portable lights I figured I'd give them a try.  The lights have two clip on filters that soften the glow of the light to red or orange.  This is exactly what I needed.  I found that with the clip on filter I was able to fall asleep quickly because the light from my Kindle screen wasn't keeping me stimulated.

I also started using this when reading in the car on long trips.  The light is subtle enough to not disturb my sleeping children or my husband while driving.  I'm sure it will come in handy for finding that fruit snack that rolled under my seat too!

Beam N Read sent me two portable lights (one small and one a bit larger), and I've shared the smaller light with my daughter who shares a room with her younger sister.  She struggles to fall asleep at night and wants to read to decompress.  The problem is that the light keeps her sister awake and the bickering ensues.  Beam N Read has been a little life saver for our sanity in the evenings and has helped my oldest find a way to relax without bothering her sister.  That right there should be endorsement enough!

If you're looking for a light for detail work you do in the evenings, need a light to read at night that won't bother the person you share a room with, or need something to help you utilize your e-reader

Rating: 5 stars

Sum it up:  A great little light to help you read at night.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Phantom Instinct - Meg Gardiner

Summary: When shots ring out in a crowded L.A. club, bartender Harper Flynn watches helplessly as her boyfriend, Drew, is gunned down in the cross fire. Then somebody throws a Molotov cocktail, and the club is quickly engulfed in flames. L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees a gunman in a hoodie and gas mask taking aim at Harper, but before he can help her a wall collapses, bringing the building down and badly injuring him.

A year later, Harper is trying to rebuild her life. She has quit her job and gone back to college. Meanwhile, the investigation into the shoot-out has been closed. The two gunmen were killed when the building collapsed.

Certain that a third gunman escaped and is targeting the survivors, Harper enlists the help of Aiden Garrison, the only person willing to listen. But the traumatic brain injury he suffered has cut his career short and left him with Fregoli syndrome, a rare type of face blindness that causes the delusion that random people are actually a single person changing disguises.

As Harper and Aiden delve into the case, Harper realizes that her presence during the attack was no coincidence—and that her only ally is unstable, mistrustful of her, and seeing the same enemy everywhere he looks. (Summary and pic from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:You know those books that start off with a bang (okay, I’m being funny here because this book literally does start out with a bang) and they suck you right in? This is one of those books. Right away you get this mental image of what is going on—your surroundings, the people, the sounds, the smells, and even if you’ve never been in a place like the one described, you know immediately what it’s like. And that’s cool. Because it isn’t every author that can make you feel that way. Oh, sure, most try (because who likes to be the author that no one can relate to?) but this book actually does bring you right to the spot and whisks you away and never stops.

This book was a really quick read. First off, it’s got a fun plot line, and one that isn’t necessarily static or what you might expect the entire time. Secondly, the characters are pretty realistic. I didn’t find myself loving or hating any of them (except for the obvious bad guys who deserve to be hated anyway, right?) because they were real enough feeling that they could be people that you know, or at least people that you know of. Third, there is some serious action that goes on, as all good books in this genre should have. If you’re not reading and page turning until the last second, the book has missed the boat. Not so with this book. It picks you up, takes you with it, and never lets you go until the end, at which point you’re still feeling a little unnerved because it didn’t resolve quite how you would have liked…the best way, right? Tidy little packages are for chick lit.

Another thing I liked about this book, and this is just because I’m a prude, is that it wasn’t unnecessarily gross or violent. Sure, there was some violence (cause it is a crime novel after all) but it isn’t like my mind will be haunted forever by images I wish I could scrub away with my trust Magic Eraser. It gave me enough to feel like a crime novel, but didn’t step over the line, which I appreciated. Also, the language wasn’t terrible, which can often be the case in a book like this. There is some language, don’t get me wrong, because toughened cops just talk like that (don’t they? I don’t know any), but it wasn’t overly shocking or overwhelming, which I certainly appreciated as well.

Overall, I would say this is a fun summer read. It’s fast; it’s not a huge commitment in that you’ll be slogging through. It’s interesting and a fun representation of the genre.

My rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has the normal violence, language, and sex associated with the genre. It is not excessive for the crime genre nor is it unnecessarily over the top.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Third Rail: An Eddy Harkness Novel - Rory Flynn

Summary: At crime scenes, Eddy Harkness is a human Ouija board, a brilliant young detective with a knack for finding the hidden something—cash, drugs, guns, bodies. But Eddy’s swift rise in an elite narcotics unit is derailed by the death of a Red Sox fan in the chaos of a World Series win, a death some camera-phone-wielding witnesses believe he could have prevented. Scapegoated, Eddy is exiled to his hometown just outside Boston, where he empties parking meters and struggles to redeem his disgraced family name.

Then one night Harkness’s police-issue Glock disappears. Unable to report the theft, Harkness starts a secret search—just as a string of fatal accidents lead him to uncover a new, dangerous smart drug, Third Rail. With only a plastic disc gun to protect him, Harkness begins a high-stakes investigation that leads him into the darkest corners of the city, where politicians and criminals intertwine to deadly effect.

With a textured sense of place, a nuanced protagonist, and a story that takes off from page one and culminates in a startling finale, Third Rail has all the elements of a breakout mystery success. (Summary and picture from

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:I read a lot of crime novels because…well…I like them. I didn’t use to think that I really liked the genre, but more and more I’ve realized that not only do I watch a lot of crime shows but when a crime novel shows up on my Goodreads list or my sister-in-law (who is a serious crime novel aficionado) recommends one to me, I’m always be excited and read it pretty much right away. I like the characters in crime novels. The main characters are usually flawed with some dramatic back-story where they’re trying to be a good guy (I haven’t read many that feature a female detective/police officer/etc.) but then something happens and that good guy-ness is challenged, even though his close friends knew the truth. So they’re a little bit of a grittier character, which is a fun change from other types of characters that I read, if for no other reason that I feel like it gives them depth and a sense of having nothing to lose. Having nothing to lose is, of course, always essentially when you’re gonna go all crazy in a crime novel situation.

Right away, one thing that set Third Rail apart is that it starts in the middle. Not in the middle of the story, per se, but in the middle of all the things going on in this guy’s life. Like you just happened to jump into a life already in progress. I’m not sure I’m explaining myself well here. So many series start at the beginning and you can tell it’s the beginning. It’s almost like the character is being born right before your eyes and the author paints this elaborate story and then you’re all caught up to speed and then you can go on.

Not with this book.

It is the first in the series, but right away it’s obvious that this guy has been living, and you’re just stepping in to catch a slice of it. And it’s a really cool, different feeling. Almost disconcerting, but not necessarily confusing. It makes it seem more realistic. I liked not knowing everything in a tell-all fact finding mission in the chapter. In this case, I liked how there were still things to be discovered later on and questions I still have. An author with less grasp on things may have made it feel like there were holes in the plot, but Rory Flynn made me feel like the answers were all there, but that they were going to be uncovered later in subsequent novels.

The main character himself is cool, and although I wouldn’t say I’ve never read another character remotely like him, I certainly think he is unique and has something to offer in the crime novels world. There are obviously more stories to hear, more adventures to go on, and some good old-fashioned crime scene drama that those who read the genre are always looking for. The story is a good one, but I don’t think it necessarily was just about a new designer drug as the title may suggest. It seemed to be more about connections between people and the seedy underbelly of Boston and I can see how this theme could extend into the rest of the series, which I will look forward to reading.

My rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: I felt that the language, violence, and sex in this novel were on par with others in the genre.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Want to do Yoga, Too - Carole P. Roman

Summary:  Hallie and her mother go to the yoga studio. Hallie wants to join her mom's yoga class, but she isn't allowed. She complains to the babysitter, who gently guides her through four yoga poses. Hallie learns that not only is yoga easy, but fun as well. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for  an honest review.)

My Review:  I have to be honest.  I didn't really like this book the first time I read it.  My oldest and I read it in about a minute and a half, and then forgot about it.  Weeks passed.  School started.  Busy life set in. One night, my husband whisper-called to me to get upstairs quickly.  I ran upstairs, only to have him meet me in the family room gesturing to be quiet as he pointed to my daughter's room, who is six and is just realizing how much fun it can be to lose yourself in a book.  I stuck my head in, and there was my daughter, with my yoga mat and I Want to do Yoga, Too, practicing her poses.  She was fascinated.  It's now become her nighttime routine - she does all the basics, then pulls out my yoga mat and "her" yoga book, and goes through her stretches.

Not surprisingly, seeing her reaction to the book made me revisit it.  From her eyes, and how wonderfully it's impacted her.  It's made my appreciation of the book grow exponentially, and has reminded me the benefit of reading in your level.  Picture books are wonderful for EVERY age group, don't get me wrong, but finding one that resonates and changes your child?  That's so priceless!

My Rating: Five stars ... there's just nothing cuter than a darling little redhead in tree pose.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ashley!!

Happy, happy birthday to our own dear Ashley! My your day be filled with books ... And enough sugar-exhausted kids to allow you to read them!!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

Summary: The classic supernatural thriller by an author who helped define the genre

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

For more than sixty-five years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,500 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators. (picture and summary from

My Review:  Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. Hill House? Oh, you betcha peeps. This book is not only a horror classic, but Hill House itself deserves its place in the pantheon of classic monsters.

The book starts out with the description of the characters, which I feel really describes the time period in which it was written. It gives an introduction of each player—including the house, cause it’s cool like that—with enough information that you can tell that the people are not only doomed, but that they’ve been groomed and hand-selected for an adventure such as this. I think this is great about books from this era—there is no need for pop psychobabble or too much delving into feelings or drama. This person has this background. They may or may have not killed their mother. They may or not be a psychopath, time will tell. They may have a temper problem. The end. It’s a fun and spooky way to introduce the characters and lets them to develop in a way that allows me as the reader to not be too involved in their psyche, but also to be involved in a way that only a person very removed can see the degradation of character and the rising of insanity.

And oh, does this ever happen. Because Hill House is a force unto itself. There are things that happen in Hill House that are the stuff of nightmares. It’s not the covert blood sucking of Dracula, but a more visible and psychological assault that you can’t help but watch and experience with horror.  The writing is great and allows for this, too. Shirley Jackson doesn’t beat around the bush. She’s writing a horror story about a monster house and you bettah believe she’s gonna deliver.

There’s nothing much cooler than a scary atmosphere, right? It’s all about the atmosphere. Even the best villains are nothing if they aren’t set in a scary atmosphere. And so that’s what’s great about Hill House. The background—the very atmosphere—is the actual monster. Even if there are, per se, monsters within Hill House, it’s Hill House itself that creates this fear and dread and in the end, claims something for its very own.

The thing I loved about this book is that it really is legit scary, and it doesn’t need to be all Walking Dead with visible gore and pushed-to-the-limits language and happenings. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Walking Dead. But I really loved the creepy, wait-for-it dread and then downright scary moments that Hill House had to offer. It’s a great Halloween read, a definite classic, and one to check out if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path with a monster that isn’t your normal run of the mill vampire or other Halloween trickster.

My rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is uber creepy and does have some shocking scenes, but it is relative to the time period and pretty light sauce for today’s horror standards.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rooms - Lauren Oliver

Summary: Lauren Oliver makes her adult debut with this mesmerizing story in a tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways.

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Image and summary from

My Review: Loner and eccentric collector Richard Walker has passed away. Now his estranged family including ex-wife Caroline, teenage son Trenton, and daughter Minna with her own child Amy in tow, arrive to clean up the house and claim their inheritance. Returning to this home they once shared as a family will draw up memories, some better left forgotten. And serveral surprises await them. Richard did not lead a nice and orderly life. His avid collecting has left the large house in dire straights. The will, with it's mention of an unheard-of woman, is not as expected. Oh and the house is shared by two ghosts.

The ghosts, Alice and Sandra, died years ago and cannot leave the house. They have no voice so they use the sounds of the house to communicate with the inhabitants (except for Trenton who seems to be able to hear them well). Perhaps because of this restriction all the action in the story takes place on the estate, either in the house itself or on the grounds outside. When a third ghost enters the scene things become a little claustrophobic and the house seems to be breaking at the seams, as do the occupants, both living and dead. The only way out is to face the inner demons each character carries but this is not an easy feat.

The story is told in alternating voices. Each chapter is narrated by one of the main characters, including ample time for the ghosts. The chapters are  neatly labeled for easy distinction. This allows the reader to quickly get familiar with the characters, to know what each is not only saying but thinking and feeling. Each character is carrying a heavy secret that is drowning the happiness out of life (or death in the case of the ghosts). These secrets are slowly unraveled throughout most of the story, hooking the reader. The stories begin to weave together allowing the book to flow effortlessly, much like a ghost on the move.

Readers who must like the characters in order to enjoy a book be forewarned. These are not likable characters. If fact, with the exception of Amy (because an unlikable six-year-old would have been unbearable), none of the characters possess a redeeming quality until the final chapters, where even then it it questionable for a few. Their words, actions, and self-destructive behavior will leave a bitter taste. Yet despite all these individual flaws the relationships between the characters really work. Alice and Sandra banter like an old married couple. Minna and Trenton struggle to understand each other but the sibling love is evident. And mother Caroline, while she has no chance of winning mother of the year, no doubt wishes to protect her children.

The story overall is suspenseful and packed full of drama. It has touches of humor and plenty of surprises throughout. It is haunting in unexpected ways. Though this might not prove to be an all-out genre break through, Oliver has proven her skill to write for a more mature audience. The end encompasses a solid message regarding the power of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, and the importance of letting go of past mistakes.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sensitive Readers: Oliver leaves no question that this is a adult book. She does not hesitate to use profane language, sexuality, drugs, and alcohol throughout. Some of it is necessary for the plot while other instances are over-the-top, almost as if thrown in just to prove this is not a young adult title.

To Sum It Up: A fantastic premise with a well done, though not perfect, execution. Rooms is a mix of the the fantasy Oliver is known for in her young adult books and realities of life.

Monday, October 27, 2014

GUEST REVIEW: The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg

Please join me in welcoming our guest reviewer today, Sally Treanor!!

Summary: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.  (Summary and image from

My Review: This is the first novel in a series and Holmberg has done an excellent job on several fronts. The novel is takes place in an alternate, early 20th century England where schools of magic are as common as secondary school, and the practitioners of magic are well-respected. The world-building is subtle and well integrated into the story, with the main character acknowledging the way things are without digressing from the story. The main character, Ceony Twill, is vivacious and believable. She has a kind heart without being perfect and with a back-up plan...she could always go to culinary school if the magic thing doesn't pan out. She accepts her world the way it is and so does the reader. The secondary characters are also fleshed out enough to make them interesting without threatening to steal the show. Her villain is appropriately evil with enough backstory to know the villain wasn't always dark.

The journey that Ceony must take is one of self-discovery and serves as the backstory for the other main character, the paper magician of the title. Ceony walks through the memories, hopes, and doubts of her teacher to unravel the mystery of his character and learn how to defeat the evil magician who remains hard on her heels. Though this is the first novel in a series, it does not end on a cliffhanger or leave a reader with too many unanswered questions, though Holmberg wove in several excellent, unfinished plot threads. I can put the date for the next book on my calendar but I will not lose sleep over wondering what will happen next.

I have only two complaints. (1) The continued description of the stifling physical troubles of going through the valves of the heart was ridiculous. Once was enough. (2) I also felt there was a lack in keeping the language period correct, but since this is an alternate world...that can slide a little.

Rating: Four and a half stars.

For the Sensitive Reader: The dark magic performed in this book involves blood and dismemberment as well as murder. Thought this is not dwelt on at length, it is mentioned and could be disturbing to some.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Parallel Journeys - Eleanor Ayer

Summary:  Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck were born just a few miles from each other in the German Rhineland. But their lives took radically different courses: Helen's to the Auschwitz extermination camp, Alfons's to a high rank in the Hitler Youth. This book tells both of their true stories, side-by-side, and shows that two people, cast by fate as mortal enemies, can emerge from war with respect and empathy for each other. (Summary and Image from

My Review:  Two lives.  Two radically different fates.  Helen Waterford, born in Germany, married and fled to Holland in fear of the newly elected Nazi regime is a working mother, a wife, and a Jewish woman doing her best for her family.  Alfons Heck, only ten years old, is a little boy being raised by his grandparents in a farming community, seduced by the power, prestige, and allure of the Hitler Youth.  Eleanor Ayer has captured their stories, two very different journeys, and presented them side by side in this amazing, chilling, book.

When I was in sixth grade, it was my ambition to learn everything about the Jewish Holocaust I could.  World War II history has always fascinated me and I frequently return to the genre.  However, although I have read numerous stories of survivors, I had never, ever picked up a book telling the story from the other side.  Heck was only a boy when Hitler came to power and was only 17 when his world crumbled and the War ended.  It was fascinating to read his story - the measures that the Nazi regime took to brainwash a generation, the methods that were used to insure their devotion, blind obedience, and willingness to serve the Third Reich, and the overwhelming guilt and self-discovery he had to endure as he saw the lies unravel.

Juxtaposed with Helen Waterford's story, entering into hiding, only to find herself betrayed and sent to Auschwitz, (look for some names you definitely know from history) miraculously surviving the war, finding her young daughter safe (but unsure of this woman claiming to be her mother) and fighting to reclaim her life, this book was a heart-wrenching and enlightening one.  

Waterford and Heck both immigrated to America after the war, and met up, years later, by happenstance.  They were able to find forgiveness, form a friendship, and embark on lecture tours nationwide as they shared their stories of the war.

This is a difficult book to find, but it is definitely worth the read.  The chapter on Heck's journey to Nuremburg, as he witnessed the trials and sentencing of men he viewed to be heroes, then as he came to grips with the reality of the Nazi goals and struggled to find peace and forgiveness are haunting.  His story, and the story of an entire generation, are largely untold.  The victors write the history books, and all.  But his struggle to forgive himself, to change his own mind about the lies he had been fed, was heart-wrenching.  

My Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive reader:  There are brief descriptions of the concentration camp conditions.  As fas as Holocaust books go, however, it's rather mild.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nick and Tesla's Super-Cyborg Gadget Glove - Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Summary: Bright siblings—and amateur inventors—Nick and Tesla Holt are back in this fourth installment of their whiz-bang middle-grade series. This time, the twins are out to save science itself, as they race against the clock to figure out why a robotic assortment of history’s greatest scientists and inventors keeps going haywire. Is this sabotage, robo-geddon…or something more sinister? To unravel the mystery, they’ll have to keep adding all-new gadgets to their cyborg glove as they stay one step ahead of a hidden adversary. Together with zany scientist Uncle Newt and their friends Silas and DeMarco, Nick and Tesla won’t give up until an answer is found…but can they do it before time runs out? In this book, readers will learn how to construct a super-cyborg gadget glove that has four incredible functions: LED signal light, ultra-loud emergency alarm, handy sound recorder, and UV secret message revealer. Science and electronics have never been so much fun! (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:   Nick and Tesla are back, and this time, they only have four hours to save a museum, uncover a sinister plot, oh, and rescue their friend DeMarco.  They don't have the benefit of their lab, they are stuck in a maze of museum that has more secrets than science, and it seems like at every turn they run into a new adversary ... or could they be a friend?

Yet again, my scientist son stole the book from me the minute it was out of the envelope and ran off. He loved it.  The idea of "Glovey", the glove that holds all of the tech experiments included in the book, has completely fascinated him.  Unfortunately, Silas' suggestion of a web shooter wasn't realized in the book, so C1 just has to theorize.

This book differed quite a bit from the previous three Nick and Tesla adventures.  Instead of days to mull over the issue, the kids only have a few hours from start to finish to solve the questions that keep arising.  They have to use what's on hand (but since they're assisting their uncle repair an Animatronics exhibit, they're still plenty around).  They're still trying to  digest the shocking news that their parents aren't growing soybeans ... and what is the duct tape doing all over the Nikolai Tesla signs?  Although it wasn't my favorite book of the series, I enjoyed the character development.  These are still twelve-year old kids, but they're starting to grow up, and they're starting to recognize it for themselves. 

My Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader:  Squeaky clean.  The worst I could find is that Nick is a pessimist and Tesla is bossy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy, happy birthday, Lara!!

We'd like to wish our very own Lara a most happy birthday! We wish you all the books (and the time to read them) you could hope for!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Never Fade - Alexandra Bracken

Summary:  Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster. 

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her. 

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself? (Summary and image from

My Review:  Ruby walked away from her friends, from her love, and from any chance of security she had in order to save them.  She's joined the Children's League - a splinter organization labeled a terrorist group by the government - not only to keep her friends safe, but to figure out what to do next.  Uneasy about the choices she's made, worried that the Children's League may truly not have the interest of the children in mind, and desperately missing Liam, an opportunity presents itself giving Ruby the means to fix things.

Middle novels are always tricky.  There's just so much information to convey, but there's also no resolution - just movement.  And sometimes, (really a lot of times), the movement can feel forced.  That isn't the case here!  Bracken has done a wonderful job moving the story forward, creating tension, showing the hazards of the promise of a utopia, and reuniting the majority of the group we saw torn apart in the first book.  New and old villains resurface, Ruby is compelled into a position of leadership and growth, and yet that urgency and tension that was so delicious in the first book is just as present here.

She also drops a huge bombshell at the end of the book that reminded me of the end of Catching Fire.  And darn it all ... the next book doesn't come out for months!!  Do you know how frustrating it is to wait?!

My Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is definitely more adult language in this book than in the first.  There's also some pretty brutal battles and a scene in "East River" that demonstrates the depravity that power can give.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Inside/Outside - Jenny Hayworth

Summary:  Award winning book - Finalist Beverley Hills Book Awards 2014
Jenny Hayworth grew up within the construct of the Jehovah's Witnesses, which she describes as a fundamentalist, cult-like religion. She devoted her life to it for over thirty years. Then she left it. The church "disfellowshipped" her- rendered her dead to those family and friends still committed to the church.

Hayworth is a sexual abuse survivor. The trauma changed her self-perception, emotional development, trust, and every interaction with the world. Inside/Outside is her exploration of sexual abuse, religious fundamentalism, and recovery.

Her childhood circumstances and tragedies forced her to live "inside". This memoir chronicles her journey from experiencing comfort and emotional satisfaction only within her own fantasy world to developing the ability to feel and express real life emotion on the outside.

It is a story that begins with tragic multigenerational abuse, within an oppressive society, and ends with hope and rebirth into a life where she experiences real connections and satisfaction with the outside world.

Those who have ever felt trapped by trauma or circumstances will find Inside/Outside a dramatic reassurance that they are not alone in the world, and they have the ability to have a fulfilling life, both inside and out. (Picture and description from

My Review: Honestly, this is a difficult review to write. What do you say when someone has poured their heart out into a book? They've shared their heartaches, their shame, the ups, the downs, everything. And not only that, but those of their children as well?

And I understand that all authors feel this way. The proverbial blood, sweat, and tears go into their writing, and whether or not it actually turns into that epic smash of their dreams, there's something to be said for the actual cathartic process of writing and getting it out and having a physical copy of all that thinking and planning and mental toil.

So with this book, that pain and cathartic process is more obvious than other books. This woman has led a tough life. Really tough. She has had some genuinely difficult problems, many forced upon her by those she loved and trusted, and she has tried her best to overcome them. She made difficult choices and distanced herself from the only support she had, at times making things worse, but always trying again and not giving up.  The writing is not necessarily stellar, although I think it is definitely comparable to others in this genre. It is written in almost disconnected chapters with random anecdotes here and there, which makes it seem journal-like and unfinished in places, but all that being said, it is powerful in its honesty and rawness. And horrible. Because she has encountered some truly horrible people. It's heartbreaking and tough to read, especially when both she as a child as well as her children are involved in repeated sexual abuse.

As far as the Jehovah's Witness aspect is concerned, although her descriptions of them and their practices and beliefs seemed extreme, I'm not sure that labeling it a "cult" was fair, and possibly more just a label from the publishers. However, that does not excuse how she was treated by them or their seemingly close-minded beliefs on things like sexual abuse and mental illness.

I don't feel that this book offered a lot of hope or redemption in the end, but I do think that it was certainly helpful to the author and to any others who have experienced such abuse, isolation, and related problems that go with those unfortunate experiences. This book is a testament to the bravery of the author and the resiliency of the human spirit. It is certainly a book I would suggest to anyone who has experienced abuse in various forms, or persecution from within their own religion and who is looking for someone to relate to and commiserate with.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating:  3 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a tough read that includes sexual abuse of adults and children, and although it is not irreverent in its description, it is graphic.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pets Aplenty - Malcolm D. Welshman

Summary:  Join novice vet, Paul Mitchell, in a further six months of hilarious escapades he experiences while working at Prospect House Veterinary Hospital. He's confronted by a ravenous pig while sunbathing naked in a cornfield. He locks jaws with a caiman with scale rot and battles with Doug, a vicious miniature donkey that's always sinking his teeth into him. It ends with a Christmas pet blessing which erupts into pandemonium as frightened pets and owners scatter through the pews. Throughout his adventures, Paul is loyally supported by the team at the hospital - in particular Beryl, the elderly one-eyed receptionist, and, Lucy the junior nurse - together with whom he shares this merry-go-round of mayhem. It's a gripping, fast page-turner that's guaranteed to keep animal lovers entranced. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  Paul Mitchell is a novice vet in an English vet clinic.  Single, lonely, and trying to find his footing both personally and professionally, he tries to navigate working with his ex-girlfriend, as well as doing his best in Prospect House.

This book should be titled Puns Aplenty.  The novel was rife with them, fairly choking every chapter with them.  A few I could stomach.  But puns on this scale were much too much to handle.  They obscured the storyline entirely, becoming so obvious and so desperate that it distracted me entirely.

Second, I had a really difficult time empathizing with our protagonist Paul.  I didn't find the character extremely likable, and in fact, his, um, excessive hormones nearly made me abandon the attempt to read this book more than once.  Not only were his musings unnecessary, they succeeded in making Paul utterly repellant.  I found myself rooting for the badger, the caiman, and the mad donkey.

My Rating:  One and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Paul's imagination is clearly R-rated.  There is also a bit of foul language.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith - Ron L. Anderson

Summary:  What could Abraham Lincoln and controversial Mormon founder possibly have in common?  According to Lincoln Leadership president Ron Anderson, more than you would think.  Using historical records from Illinois, where Smith and Lincoln were living in the 1840s, this book shows you new sides to both men, including their surprisingly similar views on God and their involvement with each others' politics. Find out how two young 'backwoods boys' crossed paths and led parallel lives before each was martyred for his cause in this exhaustively researched dual biography.  Image from, summary from Amazon.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)  

My Review:  Have you ever had a book hangover?  You've read a book so amazing and well-written and perfect that no other book in the same genre will be able to ever compare?  Even years later, sometimes this affliction can strike, and sadly, this was a casualty of my Team of Rivals hangover.  Sadly, it just can't compare.  Goodwin did such an amazing job that I'm STILL recommending it to anyone and everyone who may be interested!  

Please don't get me wrong, Anderson truly did a wonderful job with the writing.  He has an educated and approachable style which I did find enjoyable to read.  However, although there are surprising similarities between the two figures, they never met.  There is no concrete evidence anywhere that there was any interaction or even recognition between the two, and this left Anderson stretching coincidental research to cover the lost ground.  There was a lot of conjecture.  It was distracting.  It wasn't implausible conjecture, but conjecture nonetheless.  Unfortunately, between the Team of Rivals comparisons I couldn't shut off and the amount of conjecture, I just couldn't finish this.  Perhaps someday.  But the timing is just not yet right.  

I'd love to return to this book soon and eat my words.  And I guarantee you that when the time is right to revisit this book and finish it, I'll be updating my review!

My Rating:  For now, two stars. 

For the Sensitive Reader:  Squeaky clean. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails