Monday, September 26, 2016

Brink of Dawn - Jeff Altabef & Erynn Altabef

Summary: Follow-up to the multiple award-winning Wind Catcher

They walk among us as if they are gods.
Only the Chosen know what they are.
Only the Chosen know to fear them.
And only the Chosen can defeat them.


Evolved Publishing presents the second book in the multiple award-winning Chosen series of young adult mystery thrillers, which feature an American Indian fantasy and supernatural theme, from the same author who brought you the award-winning thriller Shatter Point, and his daughter.

Juliet Wildfire Stone and her best friend, Troy Buckhorn, barely escaped their sleepy Arizona town alive. Now they’re speeding to New York City to find the three other Chosen. The Chosen must band together to face an ancient foe that threatens all humanity.

Yet Juliet doesn’t know whom to trust, and strange things are happening in the City.

The Chosen will be tested, their resolve questioned, and their flaws exposed. Each must decide whether he or she will fulfill their destiny—or run. To defeat the enemy, they must stop battling among themselves and overcome their own struggles.

Only one can lead them. Will Juliet embrace her powers in time?

Brink of Dawn picks up where the multiple-award-winning first book in the Chosen series, Wind Catcher, left off, but it can also be read as a stand-alone novel. Continue the adventure! And be sure to watch for the third and final installment in this exciting series, Scorched Souls, to launch in late 2016.

AWARDS FOR WIND CATCHER:
WINNER: Readers' Favorite Awards -- Gold Medal 2015: Young Adult Coming-of-Age

WINNER: Mom's Choice Awards -- Silver Medal: Young Adult Books

WINNER: Beverly Hills Books Awards - 2015: Best Young Adult Fiction

WINNER: Awesome Indies -- Seal of Approval: "A treat to read."
(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

Review: Sometimes it’s difficult to read a sequel either because it starts so fast that unless you just barely finished the one before it you have no idea what is going, or­—and this is just as bad—it starts off so slowly that you probably didn’t even need to read the first one to know exactly what’s going on. I am happy to report that Brink of Dawn was actually a good mix of both—it started out with an exciting scene but there was enough back story as things went on that I remembered what was going on. I don’t usually re-read the first book in a series, so I was happy about this. I like knowing what’s going on but I don’t need the entire book again. All I need is just a few refreshers and this is a strong point in this book. The Altabefs do a good job of keeping the pacing. I think that adventure novels—especially YA novels—need to have good pacing. Without it the story falls flat and it stops feeling like an adventure and more like a slog. This one moves along quickly, covering a good amount of ground while still giving the reader a sense of what’s going on. I really appreciated that.

As far as the story, I would put this on the upper end of YA paranormal fantasy/dystopian fare. It had lots of elements to make it interesting, and the special powers given to the characters were interesting and unique. It’s got the standard “chosen” thing going on, which is obviously not unheard of for a book like this, but I think that that’s okay in the YA genre. I don’t expect everything to be unique and never heard of not only because it’s YA and readers enjoy what they enjoy, even if they’ve read something similar to it before, but also because these features may actually be unique to younger readers. They’re probably not as old and jaded as many adult readers, so that makes it okay. That being said, I think the storyline and the book is unique enough. It doesn’t make me immediately think of any other book, and it’s a cool story with some fun twists and differences from the other books in the genre.

I also liked the variety of characters. There were people of varying abilities, which always make for some fun character and story tension. I liked the characters, too. I thought they were relatable and realistic-esque. You know, as realistic as you can be with superhuman powers.

I think what I really missed about the first book was the Native American lore. This particular addition to the series doesn’t talk much about that, and in fact has switched more to aliens, which I don’t like nearly as much. I really liked the interweaving of Native American culture with a paranormal element, and I missed that.

Overall, I think this book stands strongly in the YA paranormal/fantasy/dystopian genre. If that‘s your thing, you should check this out. It’s an indy book, which makes it cool and different and something maybe you haven’t heard of before.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language but nothing too serious.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ella's Will - Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Summary: Will Hawkins is just a mere stable boy. How can he ever think to woo Ella, his once-wealthy childhood friend who is stubbornly independent, especially when his competition is the prince? Without any magic or fairy godmothers, Will must show Ella that he is her true prince charming in this perspective twist of the Cinderella story. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  We know the story of Cinderella.  But what if there was no fairy godmother to make everything right?  What if there was just a sweet, strong-willed girl, a kind and ignorant village, and her best friend—a former stableboy of her father’s, now working for the king, who just happens to be desperately in love with her?

I loved, loved Peaslee’s retelling of the classic Cinderella story.  I loved the depth and the humanity she brought to her characters, the sweet moral of her story (which, refreshingly, wasn’t a pretty dress and cute shoes will get you all your heart desires), and the best possible ending I could have hoped for.  We’re revisiting the story in this novel, but this time watching it unfold from the eyes of Will, the stableboy and Ella’s best friend.  (Think Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun, but not hacked and leaked online.)

As a standalone novel, this is cute.  It’s sweet, it introduces a new dynamic into the story, delving into the lives of the servants charged with pulling off a  kingdom-wide ball in a week, the havoc such a ball wreaks on the lives of betrothed couples in the kingdom, and the hopes, dreams, and fears of a relatively minor character in the first novel. I loved that side of it.  Again, Peaslee has a real talent for fleshing out a character quite quickly and efficiently.

But.

I don’t know if it’s because I enjoyed the first novel so much, but this one disappointed a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Will.  I love his humor, his perceptive nature, his personal goals to be a gentleman, even if he’s not born into the breed. But he simpers.  He is so desperately, hopelessly, idiotically in love with Ella that she got on my nerves a bit in this book. Will, frankly, has a coke-bottle-thick set of Love Goggles on, in super extra thick strength.  Unfortunately, it cheapened the story for me having a main character who could see the worst in everyone but his ONE TRUE LOVE, who is perfect and has the tiniest feet ever in the whole wide universe of feet.  Because they’re tiny.  Did I mention how tiny they are? (Will, it seems, is a little fixated on little feet.)

I’ve recommended Ella to every mom I know with a tween or up girl in the house.  I don’t know if I could recommend this book as heartily, but if they asked what I thought, I could honestly say it’s cute.  I don’t regret reading it, but I wish it had toned down the mushy-gushy and dialed up the secondary characters’ storylines.  

Rating:  Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There are scenes that could be triggers for those sensitive to abuse.  There’s a perpetually drunk and lecherous character (don’t worry, he gets his reward), but that’s about it.  This would be a solid PG in the movie world.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio - Peg Kehret


Summary: Ten years ago, in a riveting story of courage and hope, Peg Kehret wrote of the months she spent in a hospital when she was 12. The book deeply touched readers of all ages and received many awards and honors. This anniversary edition includes an updated and extended Epilogue, 12 pages of new photos, and a new section about polio.  Summary and image from goodreads.com.

Review: My generation and subsequent generations will never know the terror that came with a polio diagnosis.  As a formerly pervasive and deadly disease, our generations have benefitted from its eradication in most of the world, predicted to be global eradication of the disease.  However, it wasn't that long ago that many children and even more parents feared the word, knowing it could be a death sentence.

Small Steps chronicles the long, terrifying, and difficult year of Peg Kehret, a survivor of this horrid disease.  Her words, written for children, are so sweet and pure as she describes the pain, the fear, and even the boredom that came with her diagnosis.  Because her diagnosis came during a time of research and experimentation, she was blessed with cutting-edge therapies that saved her life and preserved her ability to walk. 

My son and I read this book together. and it touched me to see how much Kehret's story impacted him. He was so amazed at her resilience, at her ability to live in a hospital for the better part of a year, and her physical therapy and her determination.  Even better, he read this book two or three more times on his own. 

As a mother, this was a difficult book for me to read -- simply because of the emotions that were involved. Putting that aside, it's one everyone should read. 


Rating: Five stars

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

City of the Lost - Kelley Armstrong

Summary: Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows this crime will catch up to her. Casey's best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana's husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it's time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a domestic violence support town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you're accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council's approval. As a murderer, Casey isn't a good candidate, but she has something they want; she's a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn't the only secret Rockton is hiding - in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I am surprised how much I liked this book. I didn’t expect it to be as compelling or interesting as it was. I’ve read a lot of crime novels, and I’ve read a lot of crime novels recently, actually. I expected this one to fit squarely in the middle of all the others, somewhat unremarkable but a decent crime story. I have traditionally liked Armstrong’s writing; I’ve read at least one series that she’s written as well as another book here and there, and some I liked more than others. But like I said, this one surprised me.

There are a few things that stood out in this book that made me really like it. First of all, I enjoyed the writing. I always think Armstrong does a good job of writing a very conversational book that is easy to read and understand. When I read her books, I’m not expecting literary genius, I’m just expecting to enjoy it and know what’s going on and not have to think about every sentence. I want to just enjoy the book. She certainly accomplished that in this book. Secondly, I usually like her characters. The main female character is not completely dissimilar to others I’ve read of hers, but that’s okay. I like that they’re intelligent and snarky and sarcastic. I connect with that. I like cool female leads and this is certainly one of those. Her other characters are usually great as well, and this book definitely had some fun and interesting characters.

I think the strength of this book, though, was the storyline. I thought it was fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for reading about weird hidden communities where strange stuff goes on and they operate by their own rules. My love of cultures really shows here, and I thought the community and the situation was fascinating. Put it in a remote, rugged place with hostiles and unpredictable people and you’ve got a great mix of stuff going on. I really enjoyed it, like I said.

I read this book in about a day and a half. I usually don’t read books like this in that short of time. This one had me captivated. There was a lot going on and the storyline was interesting. There is a romance, as with all things Armstrong, and there is plenty of drama, so be prepared for that. I’m definitely looking forward to the second installment in the series.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is has some seriously bad language (one of the characters uses the “F” word in almost every sentence. And sometimes that’s the only word in the sentence). There is violence and also some sex scenes. I’ve reviewed Armstrong before and feel that sometimes her sex scenes are gratuitous, and I think that in this case, she was elevating some of the language and violence and sex scenes to try to keep up with others in the genre. It’s not Scandinavian author quality, but it is definitely not “Murder She Wrote.”

Monday, September 19, 2016

And After the Fire - Lauren Belfer

Summary: The New York Times-bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a new powerful and passionate novel—inspired by historical events—about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.

In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.

In America in 2010, Henry’s niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family’s history—and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.

In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city’s glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach’s son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.

Interweaving the stories of Susanna and Sara, and their families, And After the Fire traverses over two hundred years of history, from the eighteenth century through the Holocaust and into today, seamlessly melding past and present, real and imagined. Lauren Belfer’s deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy. (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  I’ve been very, very vocal about how stringently I critique time jump novels.  Writers, take note:  This is how it’s done.  The two stories Belfer tells, the story of an unpublished, never performed, inflammatory in words but exquisite in music cantata written by the Master himself is so perfectly handled.  The stories are dependent on each other, and both are well-crafted, well researched, and touching in their own rights.  The story of the fictional cantata, entrusted to a Jewish aristocrat in 1783 and kept from the public until, through a series of twists and turns, it falls into the hands of the present day protagonist Susanna, enraptured me.  I was taken with the love that Sara showed her niece and nephews and their progeny, I loved nearly every main character that touched the cantata, trusting their discretion and valor.

Belfer’s novel deals with a few main themes, chiefly the recovery from sexual assault, anti-Semitism not only in 18th century Europe but in today’s society as well, the loss of one’s faith, and intertwined in it all is the role that music plays in soothing, healing, and uplifting a soul.  Obviously, this is slightly bittersweet. But the masterful way Belfer handled these themes, juxtaposing the doubts of one of the protagonists with the peace he feels listening to a particular section of Bach made me ache for my days working at the Utah Symphony.  Her deft writing ability was able to simply portray the problems while allowing the reader to view them and draw conclusions based on their own life experiences, not having Belfer’s desire for the text forcefully imposed upon them.  I loved that.  I love it when I put down a book and are able to think about it for a while, how it impacted me as a reader, whether it made me a better person, or wondering how I could improve.  Books like that are ones I’m happy to recommend.

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader:  Susanna is raped and recalls the rape in simple honesty. The theme of recovering emotionally and physically from the assault are key themes in the book, and it’s mentioned frequently.  There is also a love scene that is fairly blunt, although sweet and sensitively written.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Morgue: A Life in Death - Vincent DiMaio, Ron Franscell

 Summary: In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous-from the exhumation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the complex issues in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio's eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country's most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Unless you’ve been living under a [internet repelling] rock, you’re probably fully aware that there is a huge public focus on wrongfully convicted criminals. If you haven’t heard of Serial, the podcast, and its many spinoffs including Crime Writers on Serial, Truth and Justice, and Undisclosed, then maybe you’ve watched the Netflix show “Making a Murderer,” or at least seen it mentioned in the news. My point is that stuff on wrongfully convicted criminals is everywhere right now. I’ve listened to Serial and Undisclosed, and my husband and I binge-watched “Making a Murderer” (with the rest of America). The point is, for me, who enjoyed these things very much and watches “CSI” for comfort viewing, this book was really interesting. It’s another look at those who are wrongfully convicted. And sometimes those who were not convicted, but should have been.

First of all, I loved the mix of cases DiMaio presents. They’re all really different. Some are high profile, some are more small town, but I think they offered a really interesting viewpoint into what a medical examiner does and how a properly trained one can make a difference. The statistics he presented on the amount of doctors specializing in forensic medicine are shocking in that the need is always rising but the actual doctors going into this field is shrinking dramatically. It’s relatively low pay for a lot of training and difficult work. I think that made his book even more poignant. Medical examiners can make or break a case, and the evidence they find is often in complete opposition to what the defense or prosecution is saying. In light of all the hype around the criminal justice system, I thought that this book was really timely and eye-opening. I had no idea the difference between normal medical examiners, who can be elected and can come from whatever field of study they come from versus the medically trained medical examiners. It is, as you might imagine, the difference of night and day.

In light of the cases discussed in this book, it became completely obvious that examining the body by a correctly trained medical professional is a crucial step in the process of determining whether a suspect is guilty or not. I found that one of the most memorable episodes of the podcast Undisclosed talked to a medical examiner who basically discounted the original findings or the medical examiner. These results would have completely changed the state’s timeline, rendering all of their evidence almost obsolete. I mean…this is serious stuff.

One of the things I liked most about this book is DiMaio’s candid honesty. He doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about the guilty or why they did what they did, and I found it refreshing. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get a little tired of all the political correctness that makes an issue almost more confusing. Instead of saying what the truth is, authors often feel like they must dance around it or use language to mask what they’re really saying. DiMaio is not like this. I appreciated it a lot.

I thought this was a really interesting book. It’s not so heavy of medical terms that it’s confusing or hard to read. It’s very accessible and if you’re into all the criminal justice system discussions going on, this is definitely a book you should check out.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: If you’re sensitive, I wouldn’t read this. There isn’t a lot of language or gratuitous sex, but there is a lot of discussion of violence, and one chapter in particular discusses violence against children. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bechdel Friendly Books

Please welcome guest reviewer Lesley!

I love children’s books.  I always have.  In college, when I would start to get stressed, I would go to the fourth floor of the library and just walk through the juvenile literature section.  I’d pick a couple books at random and sit on the floor to read them.  Then I’d be ready to tackle real life again.  I believe in literacy.  I think it makes a very big difference in one’s quality of life.  I deeply want to instill a love of reading in my children.  The good news is, so far, we are on track.  They are young (2, 3, and 5), but right now they love books.  They will sit and let me read to them for a long time.  

I started this list because my daughter lacks confidence.  I understand that there is much conversation around how useful the Bechdel test really is.  I know that there is nothing inherently wrong with books about male characters.  I recognize that, to really have empathy, my children must learn to relate to a person no matter their gender.  But here’s what else I know.  At least once a day my very smart and capable daughter sits on the ground and says “I can’t do it.”  Even when we both know that she can and she has before.  Often she doesn’t even want to try something.  

One of my favorite things to do is watch my kids play when they don’t know I can see them.  They like to “play” the books that I read to them.  They are also at an age where they are starting to explore and understand gender.  So my son gets to be the boy characters and my daughter gets to be the girl characters.  That means, that if I’m not conscientious about what I’m reading to my kids, playing together means that my daughter sits and watches my son do cool fun things.  And that is not what I want her to do, or what I want her to think it means to be a girl.  As a side note, that’s also not what I want my sons to think it means to be a girl.  So I’m making an effort to read more books in which female characters have a positive, empowered, contributing role.  

Alice and Greta
This is one of my very favorite books.  I’m not sure if it strictly passes the test or not.  The narrative style of the story doesn’t include a lot of dialogue.  But there are two named female characters that interact meaningfully with each other.  And their characters are developed beyond the ways in which they relate to men.  I’m counting it.  It’s my list, so I can do that.

I love this book.  The story is great.  The illustrations are adorable.  There is an obvious moral – be kind – but the story is playful and imaginative, so it doesn’t feel preachy.  I love everything about this book.  

My No No No Day
Technically this one doesn’t count either because the women who speak aren’t named.  But, as far as my kids are concerned, my name is Mom.  And since that counts as a name in my house, I’ve decided it counts as a name in this book too.  Also, Miss Louisa, the Ballet teacher, is named and does speak.  It’s just not really part of a conversation with another woman.  

I think every parent can relate to this book.  We’ve all lived through days where our kids are contrary from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.  This book is like Reasons My Son is Crying, but from the kid’s perspective.  I like this book because it doesn’t tell kids to get over it and be happy (I might have said that to my son today.) Mom sits next to Bella and tells her “We all have those days sometimes, but perhaps you will be more cheerful tomorrow.”  Good advice for adults and kids.  

Olivia Forms a Band
(See above note on using “mom” as a name)
I picked this book up because I was looking for something with a musical theme.  I was happy to see that I inadvertently picked a book that could also go on this list.  This book was my first introduction to Olivia.  I’ve been aware of the character for a while, but this is the first book I’ve pick up and read.  I like that Olivia thinks that there should be a band, so she makes one.  I like it even more that her friends aren’t interested in doing it with her, so she finds a way to do it herself.  I love that at the end she dreams of being on the Supreme Court.  I’m not sure this is a favorite though.  The humor was a little too complex for my kids to understand.  I felt like I had to do a lot of supplemental explaining.  They are still pretty young.  Maybe older kids would like it better.  The book felt more like a day-in-the-life than an actual story.  When we were done reading it my kids wanted to know how it ended.  

Madeline – Series
I’m not sure if every book in the series passes the Bechdel test, but it follows the spirit of the law.  There are times when the conversations between Miss Clavel and Madeline are summarized or implied rather than detailed.

I gave this book bonus points because the main character is a redhead.  They are useless bonus points, because I have not actually given any of the books a score, but bonus points nonetheless.  I vaguely remember seeing a preview for a Madeline movie at some point in my life.  I never saw the movie.  I don’t know if it does the books justice, but these are excellent books.  I like the character.  My kids like the familiarity of the rhymes across the stories.  They get really excited to say “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and “The smallest one was Madeline” with me.  

I’m always impressed with an author that can tell a story in meter and rhyme.  There is some French thrown in, and the illustrations depict some actual landmarks in Paris, so I feel super cultured when I read these books to my kids.  When my three year old can point to a picture and say “that’s Notre Dame” it warms my nerdy mother heart.  

The Dot
My son picked this book up at the library because he wanted a Halloween book.  He thought the orange circle on the cover was a pumpkin.  Yes, my kids are thoroughly confused about seasons and holidays.  He was looking for Halloween books in May.  This is not a Halloween book.  It is, however, a fantastic find.  I have yet to encounter a book published by Scholastic that I do not like.  This one is no exception.  We sat down to read it, and I was quite excited that after one page it qualified to go on the list.  I found all of the characters very relatable.  I smiled about a little girl who refused to do a project because she didn’t think she would be good at it.  I also laughed when her teacher framed her attempt at defiant resistance and hung it on the wall.  I’ve been on both sides of that encounter before.  I especially liked that Vashti learned that she could be an artist, even if she started with nothing more than a dot.  My kids were not even a little bit disappointed about the lack of pumpkins in the book.  As soon as we were done reading it they all wanted to paint.  Somehow my little boy stumbled on exactly the kind of book I was looking for.  I guess I’ll keep taking him to the library with me.  

Hello Kitty – Series
These books aren’t going to win any literary awards, but my daughter likes them and they pass the test.  I don’t know if every single one passes the test.  I don’t enjoy reading them enough to go back and check, but I know most of them do.  I believe in literacy.  I want my kids to enjoy reading.  I want my boys to know that they can enjoy stories about girls.  So, even though I don’t enjoy these books, I’ll read them when my kids pick them.  

Red Wagon
Renata Liwska is brilliant.  This story makes sense as stand-alone text.  But when combined with the illustrations, the text suddenly means something entirely different.  I fudged a little bit on the Bechdel test here too.  I’m assuming that when it says “Lucy asked her mother” that means Lucy spoke.  I love this story for the way it promotes creativity and divergent thinking.  I also like that it subtly suggests to my kids that they can work and have fun at the same time.  

Bread and Jam for Frances
I have fond childhood memories of this book.  I remember checking it out of the library repeatedly.  I remember being disappointed if it wasn’t there and I had to pick a different one.  I even remember where on the shelves at the library I would look for it.  When my parents were cleaning out their bookshelves a couple of years ago and asked all of us what we wanted, I was quick to claim this book.  Although the fact that they had it kind of confused me.  I’m really sure I remember this being a library book.  Perhaps all of my memories of kneeling on the floor to find the book on the bottom shelf – second set of shelves from the right on the row furthest from the window- are all just made up.  Maybe I checked it out so many times that my parents bought it.  But, whatever the case, a book from my childhood is now part of my kids’ collection.  

I think Frances is endearing.  The point of the story is to encourage kids to eat a variety of foods, and that’s a message I can get behind.  I hate it when my kids ask me to read them this story.  It’s soooo loooong.  I don’t think I ever noticed or cared about words per page before I read books to my kids, but this book has way too many.  It’s right up there with the Berenstain Bears books.  So. Many. Words.  It’s a good, well written story.  It’s awful to read aloud.  I look forward to the day that my kids can read it to themselves.  I don’t mind it as much during the middle of the day.  But at bedtime, I hide this book.  

The Aesop for Children
This book spectacularly fails the Bechdel test.  I don’t think there is a female character in the entire collection.  And that’s 145 fables.  But my kids can’t read yet, so sometimes I cheat and switch up the pronouns.  It’s pretty easy to do in this book because most of the characters are unnamed animals.  I see no reason why Lion and Ant and Fox can’t occasionally be “she”.

Minnie Mouse – Scaredy Cat Sleepover
See Hello Kitty

A Bad Case of Stripes
This book is published by Scholastic so, as previously noted, I love it.  This was part of my book collection long before I had kids.  (Because I’m the type of person who had a collection of picture books long before I had kids.  I’m also the type of person who would read a picture book to a high school history class if I thought it would help.  Dr. Seuss was good for that)

This book approaches the line of too many words per page, but all of the words contribute to the enjoyment of the story, so it doesn’t ever feel like reading the story that will never end.  The Illustrations are great.  They make my kids giggle.  I enjoy the subtle satirizing of the doctors and specialists.  This book does a great job of striking a balance between a story that is straightforward and clear enough for the kids to understand without me needing to explain it to them, but also complex enough for an adult to find it interesting.  That is probably why, even though it almost has too many words per page, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read about book.  It also promotes vegetable consumption, so bonus points there.  (Yes, I know lima beans are not vegetables.  But my kids don’t know that, so the point remains)


Strictly speaking, this book probably doesn’t pass the Bechdel test either.  A handful of women converse with Camilla, but Camilla is the only female who is named.  I decided to include it anyway because there are at least four female characters who are important to the story.  More importantly “the old woman who was as sweet and plump as a strawberry” is a mysterious character, and her lack of name is important to her (very significant) role in the story.  I think her anonymity is an intentional device.  Other very minor characters are named.  They are knowledgeable, self-important, and ultimately useless.  This woman is the only one who can help Camilla, and she comes and goes without anyone knowing who she is or where she comes from.  Although she is not named, she is central to the story. I’ve decided it counts.  Once again: it’s my list, I can do that.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dorothy Must Die - Danielle Paige

Summary: I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.

But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas.

I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I've been trained to fight.

And I have a mission.

Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review:  Amy is a misfit.  She doesn’t fit in at school, which just suspended her for fighting with a pregnant girl (who totally threw the first punch).  She doesn’t fit in at home, where her mom cares more for her rat and her addictions than for Amy.  She can’t wait to get out of Kansas someday, but how, when her life is going nowhere?

Again, cue the tornado. 

Before she knows it, her trashy little trailer is being swept up in a twister and she lands in an unfamiliar land.  It’s weird here.  It’s definitely Oz … so why is it all … wrong?

Paige has taken a childhood favorite and turned it on its ear.  By addressing the power of the magic in Oz, what it may do to outsiders, and how Oz would inevitably fight back from its destruction, she has crafted a story that was very entertaining.  Paige’s main character has to address her own moral compass, what defines good and evil, and whether she is willing to join up with a cause that might destroy her for a land she’d never thought real.  

This was a very interesting take on the ‘Bad is Good’ theory that is cropping up more and more.  As a fan of the original series, I did appreciate the appearance of some of the more true-to-series characters, while marveling at the creative manner in which the Oldies-but-Goodies are portrayed.  While some of them were a stretch for my imagination, Paige’s alternative portrayal of Glinda was frighteningly believable.

This had more language than I thought necessary, but it didn’t stop me from running out and checking out the second book.

Rating: Three stars (language)

 For the Sensitive Reader: Language.  Torture.  Magical and medical experimentation.  Definitely for a more mature YA audience.  Also, Dorothy is totally evil.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eleanor - Jason Gurley

Summary: Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.

Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones. 

One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: There’s a lot to be said about this book. First of all, it’s a strange book. It really is. It breaks into different sections and viewpoints, which makes it easier to keep track of, but doesn’t make it any less strange. There’s some weird and funky stuff going on. Almost sci-fi-esque. Now, I am not necessarily a sci-fi reader. My husband mourns the fact that I hate aliens and space. I really hate space. (Who hates space? I know. It’s lame.) This book was not too sci-fi for me. It does have some funky goings on, but because of the way it is organized it makes it palatable and in the end it makes sense. It’s still strange, but it makes sense. I would say it’s more stylized than anything. It’s not one of those weird abstract books where you’re all “What the heck is going on here? I don’t understand a thing.” You can tell what’s going on in the main story, but it does take until the end of the book to figure it all out and even then it’s still a little funky. But fun. A fun funky.

Secondly, this book is well-written. The characters have depth and breadth, which is hard to achieve. They feel like real people. When I look back, I can clearly imagine what they’re like and what their reality is like. I appreciated the writing in this book a lot, actually. I think that’s what made the funkiness okay. It was well-crafted and the story is definitely compelling.

No on to the story. It’s sad. Tragic, really. It is. I mean, the death of a child is horrible and this one in particular ripped the heart and soul out of this poor family and they paid for it for so long. In this the book is very emotional. The writing isn’t raw and gritty, but it is poignant and accessible in a way that helps the reader relate to the characters and to the story. I actually think the cover does a really good job of summing the whole feeling of the book up, actually.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It wasn’t so sad that I couldn’t read it a lot (You know those books where it’s so horrible you can barely face reading them? This isn’t one of those.)  But it is one of those books that does a good job of describing things to the point where you understand that the situation is hard and it feels real and tangible.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language in this book, but it is not excessive. It is about the loss of a child and also a severe case of alcoholism, so be aware of those potential triggers.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Raising a Gifted Child - Carol Fertig

Summary: From the author of the nation's most popular blog on parenting gifted children, comes the definitive how-to handbook for parents, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook. Raising gifted children isn't easy, but when armed with the practical knowledge and tools in this exciting book, parents can navigate the maze of raising bright kids, leading to success in school and beyond.

This book offers a large menu of strategies, resources, organizations, tips, and suggestions for parents to find optimal learning opportunities for their kids, covering the gamut of talent areas, including academics, the arts, technology, creativity, music, and thinking skills. The focus of this definitive resource is on empowering parents by giving them the tools needed to ensure that their gifted kids are happy and successful both in and out of school.

Additional topics covered include volunteering at your child's school; different school options and specialty programs; tips for handling special circumstances; specific suggestions for each core content areas; and strategies for finding the best resources for parents on the Web. This easy-to-read book is sure to be a favorite of parents of smart kids for years to come! (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review:  Kids are challenging.  Being a mother is amazing, rewarding, breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s hard.  I only have three children and raising them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, mainly because they’re so incredible I fear any misstep on my part will doom them for life.

Add to that the added challenge of children who are gifted (defined here by an IQ test measured and administered by the school district), and you’ve got yourself a whole new ballgame.  There are emotional considerations that come with gifted children - a higher likelihood for anxiety and depression, boredom, acting out, emotional immaturity that contradicts their intellectual maturity - it’s hard!  And it’s hard to know where to turn for help. 

For years, I’m not going to lie, I’ve felt like I was failing my kids.  I was a good advocate for my children’s needs, but at home?  I felt like a big, fat fraud. Simple job requests became three hour hostage-negotiation-type discussions. Science experiments were everywhere. I had three absent-minded professors that had staged a coup at home and were clearly winning. One day a friend asked my why I couldn’t just tell my kids to do something and have them obey (ha!), and I realized I needed to do more research into these kids’ minds than I’d done.  I spoke with their leaders at school, district leaders, former GT group leaders, and was recommended to this book as part of a book study. 

WOW.

I don’t like self-help books (it’s right there in my bio), but this book has become my new parenting bible.  The research that Ms. Fertig has done is astounding. It’s provided me with new insights into why my children respond as they do, how to better communicate with them, and has literally provided numerous websites and activities to engage them in every possible subject.  Frank and direct discussions about progress in school, the danger of underachievers, children who prefer order to chaos and vice versa, every chapter provided a group of us with stimulating conversation, and more importantly, the feeling that we’re not alone in raising these children.

This was an amazing resource to not only correct common misconceptions about gifted children, but to provide the tools to any parent looking to better advocate, engage, or cope with their children.  I’ve still got more research to do, but this was the perfect jumping off point into this journey.  My only regret is that I didn’t find it five years ago.

Rating:  Five stars


Side note: This book ranges in children’s ages from very young through high school  Some of the websites mentioned are either outdated, no longer function, or are more geared toward high school aged kids.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Bitter Season - Tami Hoag

Summary: EVERY FAMILY HAS A SECRET. THEIRS WILL CHILL YOU TO THE CORE. 

#1  New York Times Bestselling author Tami Hoag returns to the bestselling series of her career with a Kovac and Liska case that will delight fans and new readers alike.

A murder from the past. A murder from the present. And a life that was never meant to be... As the dreary, bitter weather of late fall descends on Minneapolis, Detective Nikki Liska is restless. After moving to the cold case squad in order to spend more time with her sons, she misses the rush of pulling an all-nighter, the sense of urgency of hunting a murderer on the loose. Most of all she misses her old partner, Sam Kovac. 

Sam is having an even harder time adjusting to Nikki's absence, saddled with a green new partner younger than pieces of Sam's wardrobe. Sam is distracted from his troubles by an especially brutal double homicide: a middle-aged husband and wife bludgeoned and hacked to death in their home with a ceremonial Japanese samurai sword. Nikki's case, the unsolved murder of a family man, community leader, and decorated sex crimes detective for the Minneapolis PD, is less of a distraction: Twenty years later, there is little hope for finding the killer who got away.

On the other end of the spectrum, Minneapolis resident Evi Burke has a life she only dreamed of as a kid in and out of foster homes: a beautiful home, a family, people who love her, a fulfilling job. Little does she know that a danger from her past is stalking her perfect present. A danger powerful enough to pull in both Kovac and Liska and destroy the perfect life she was never meant to have. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I’ve seen this book everywhere so I wasn’t sure what to expect. One of the first places I noticed it was Costco, and with books there you never know if they’re just mass produced and they have to get rid of the extras or what.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve purchased and loved many books from Costco, and I especially love shopping for books for Christmas and birthdays there, but you just never know. While this isn’t a serious literary read or one that will probably be shortlisted for the Pulitzer, it was actually a lot of fun and a good mystery with lots of exciting twists.

In some ways this book reminded me of a CSI episode. Don’t judge, here. CSI is my go-to for comfort shows. Ya know, nothing like murder for a nice cuddly nightcap. The book starts with a murder from the past, and then there’s a current murder, and there’s just so much going on. People are intertwined, situations are intertwined, and it just gets really interesting and fun. I don’t want to give away too much here, because I thought that the twists and turns were good ones. I must admit that I’m not one of those people who try to solve the mystery first. I like to just let the book lead me along. If it turns out to be really obvious to me, then that’s pretty lame because I actively try to just enjoy it for what it is and let it go as it is. I was surprised at the end of this. It was a lot of fun.

As with many books from this genre, there was some very grizzly descriptions of murder scenes and also some very salty police officers and detectives. (Yes, I’m apparently a 90-year-old woman). The police officers are crass and crude, and somewhat stereotypical even, but I still found them to be good additions to the story. With books like this, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I often expect and even want stereotypical people because I think that’s what’s part of what makes the book fun and part of this genre. They have to have some uniqueness, of course, but it’s a fun comfort to have something that I can rely on when everything else in the story is going wild.

I read this book quite quickly. I think it would be a fun vacation read, especially if you’re like me and watch CSI for a friendly nightcap. It’s not a huge commitment and the writing is accessible and flows easily for a fun and interesting ride into the exciting storyline.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a typical murder novel in that there is violence and language. I would rate it PG-13.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Girl You Left Behind - Jojo Moyes

Summary: What happened to the girl you left behind?
In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything—her family, reputation and life—in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie's portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting's dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened...

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most—whatever the cost.

Review: The Girl You Left Behind tells the story of a painting so powerful it changed the course of two very different women’s lives forever.

Sophie and her sister are managing the best they can under German occupation during The Great War. When a new Kommandant arrives, he overtakes the sisters’ restaurant for his men. In the restaurant hangs a sultry portrait of Sophie painted by her artist husband Edouard, who is fighting at the Front. The Kommandant is a student of art himself and admires the work of the painting—and perhaps the subject as well. As Sophie and the Kommandant speak of art and things beyond the happenings of the war, Sophie begins to seem him a man and even a friend. When Sophie learns that her husband has been captured and sent to a prison camp infamous for its wretched conditions, she decides to risk her tenuous bond with the Kommandant in hopes that he can help her husband return to her.

Flash forward to nearly a hundred years later, Liv Halston is a young widow coping with loneliness and financial distress in modern-day London. On a night out to drown her sorrows, she meets Paul Cafferty. Paul stirs something in Liv that she hasn’t felt in years and she decides to nurture this tender romance.

Paul Cafferty lives in London putting his former skills as a New York City detective to work tracking down works of art wrongfully taken from their owners during wars and restoring them to their rightful heirs. His most recent case involves a WWI-era painting. His jaded attitude takes a backseat when he falls for vulnerable Liv Halston, but that comes to a screeching halt when wakes up in Liv’s bedroom to see the the painting he's searching for, titled The Girl You Left Behind, hanging on his new girlfriend's wall.

Liv refuses to relinquish the painting that meant so much to her deceased husband, opting to have a showdown in court with Paul. She's convinced he knew all along and used her romantically. Paul wishes she could see how cheated he feels by these turn of events, but he knows there is no future for them anymore and must focus on doing his job. As he sees the media pulverize Liv and discovers moral ambiguities in his clients' motives, Paul finds himself digger deeper into what should be an open-and-shut case of property restoration hoping that there’s more to how the Kommandant acquired Sophie’s painting than what his case folder contains.

Though a century apart, two love stories hinge on the power of a beautiful painting—will that power destroy love or buy it a second chance?

Two highly intriguing love stories from two very different eras, but both with much at stake, converge in this riveting book by Jojo Moyes.

My rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: An unpleasant scene of prostitution (though not highly graphic) is likely to make readers squirm. The book also contains some language, war-appropriate violence, attempted sexual assault, and a violent suicide.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Bellmaker - Brian Jacques

Summary: It has been four seasons since Mariel, the warrior-mouse daughter of Joseph the Bellmaker, and her companion, Dandin, set off from Redwall to fight evil in Mossflower.  Nothing has been heard of them since.  Then one night, in a dream, the legendary Martin the Warrior comes to the Bellmaker with a mysterious message.  Clearly, Mariel and Dandin are in grave danger.  Joseph and four Redwallers set off at once to aid them.  As they push over land and sea, they cannot know the terrible threats they face.  Will the Bellmaker and his companions arrive in time to help Mariel and Dandin? (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I'm on a Redwall kick again (it never really goes away, honestly), and I'm working my way through the Redwall series, as I've only read just over half (and re-read several I love--see the struggle?  I just finished reading 'Taggerung' for the third time, but it's hard to write reviews on your most favorite books so I gave up).

I loved 'The Bellmaker.'  I love the way Brian Jacques weaves the world and adventures of these anthropomorphic animals, the villains and heroes and songs and fun.  Not to mention food.  I get hungry every time I read a Redwall book, because he describes the feasts in a way that makes my mouth start watering.

'The Bellmaker' was a fun adventure, a father out to find his adventuring, warrior daughter.  I loved the characters they meet along the way, the always loyal gousim of shrews, the adventuring sea otter Finnabar, the lost children making their own way.  Jacques has such great characters that embody all that is good or evil, that are bold and adventurous or quiet and timid.  Everyone, not just the warriors, has the opportunity to be a hero, the blind characters, the mute ones, the simple, the fearful, the overlooked.  The most wicked will always be brought to justice, and even the strongest of the characters are not afraid to show tears, which I love. 

The thing that I loved most about this book was the good rat.  Yes! A good rat!  If you're not familiar with the Redwall series, Jacques has simplified the world down to good and wicked animals, generally speaking.  Otters, mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, badgers, hares and the like are always 'good.'  While rats, stoats, ferrets, foxes and the like are always 'wicked.'  He's deviated a few times, but I particularly loved the deviation in this book, when the searat Blaggut comes to be friends with those at Redwall Abbey in his charmingly simple and sweet manner.  It was a nice change, and one that made me smile and feel all toasty inside.

You don't particularly have to read these books in any order, as they are all separate adventures, though I would suggest at least starting with the original, 'Redwall,' to get a basis.  Otherwise, I've just been looting the shelf when the fancy strikes me.

The world of Redwall is a encouraging one, yet not without its losses and feelings--it stretches across the gamut of emotions.  But it's always comforting when the invitation comes at the end of nearly all these books for any with a good heart to come to Redwall Abbey.

I miss Brian Jacques, as he passed several years ago.  I would watch the Redwall TV show as a kid and loved his bits at the end, where he'd come on with his wonderful English brogue and tell us about his unique and charming world.  Thing is, you forget he's gone when you pick up these books, because he's there telling you the story, and that's just so magical to me.

My Rating: Four Stars
 
For the sensitive reader
: Contains many skirmishes and battles that involve swordplay, violence, and death (including main characters).  Nothing too graphic or gruesome--Jacques' has a delicate way of playing out these events.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Glass Sword - Victoria Aveyard

Summary: If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. 

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. 

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. 

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review: Mare doesn’t know how she got out of the arena alive.  In shock from the carnage she’s caused, the deaths she’s just witnessed, and reeling from the unsteady (and untrusted) alliances of the Scarlet Guard, unknown players, and Cal. She knows something needs to change, she’s Enemy # 1, but how far is she truly willing to go?

Aveyard has found a relatable, realistic (as far as humans who can control electricity are concerned) heroine in Mare. She’s flawed.  She makes mistakes, she has a temper (which she loses sometimes), she’s not the perfect strategist or soldier, and she feels not only an immense sense of needing to enforce justice, she wants revenge.

It was so easy for me to get lost in Aveyard’s world.  She’s an amazing writer who grabs your wrist and races you through the plot, scarcely giving you a chance to breathe.  The plot, while sometimes containing holes I’d prefer filled, is logical and quick enough that you can’t put the book down.  Something might happen if you do!  I especially appreciate the flawed hero.  It makes Mare more relatable, and makes the series more emotionally charged to have a heroine who isn’t perfect.  Not only am I invested to see how it’s going to turn out, I know there’s growth to be had from Mare.  I also know the risk of her fall, which seems plausible.  I loved the Hunger Games, but I always felt that Katniss couldn’t fail.  She may lose the war, but she’d never have a moral battle.  I like this struggle in Mare.

Rating: Four stars


For the Sensitive Reader:  This book is more intense, more violent, more bloody than the first.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Top Secret Recipes Step-By-Step: Secret Formulas with Photos for Duplicating Your Favorite Famous Foods at Home - Todd Wilbur

Summary: A knockout full-color cookbook from America's Clone Recipe King
For more than twenty-five years, Todd Wilbur has been obsessed with recreating America's most iconic brand-name foods at home. In his first cookbook with color photos, the New York Times bestselling author brings you 125 new clone recipes: 75 first-time hacks and 50 overhauled all-time favorites. Each recipe comes with easy-to-follow step-by-step photos so that even novice cooks can perfectly recreate their favorite famous foods with everyday ingredients. And your homemade versions cost just a fraction of what the restaurants charge! The result of years of careful research, trial-and-error, and a little creative reverse-engineering, Top Secret Recipes® Step-by-Step hacks: 


• KFC® Original Recipe® Fried Chicken and Cole Slaw 
• Cinnabon® Classic Cinnamon Roll 
• IKEA® Swedish Meatballs 
• Pinkberry® Original Frozen Yogurt 
• Raising Cane's® Chicken Fingers and Sauce 
• Arby's® Curly Fries 
• Lofthouse® Frosted Cookies 
• Wendy's® Chili 
• Panera Bread® Fuji Apple Chicken Salad 
• Starbucks® Cake Pops 
• Cafe Rio® Sweet Pork Barbacoa 
• McDonald's® McRib® Sandwich 
• The Melting Pot® Cheddar Cheese Fondue 
• P.F. Chang's® Chicken Lettuce Wraps 
• The Cheesecake Factory® Stuffed Mushrooms 
• Ben & Jerry's® Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream 
• Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich 
• Chili's® Baby Back Ribs 
• Chipotle Mexican Grill® Adobo-Marinated Grilled Chicken & Steak 
• Cracker Barrel® Hash Brown Casserole 
• Mrs. Fields® Chocolate Chip Cookies 
• Ruth's Chris Steakhouse® Sweet Potato Casserole 
And over 100 more delicious dishes, from snacks and appetizers to entrees and desserts!

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I thought this was a really fun recipe book. First of all, it had lots of recipes from places I really like. I must admit that I probably won’t be making a Burger King burger at home—just because I can easily go buy one for super cheap about five minutes from my house—but I did like making stuff from restaurants that are not as easily accessible for me. For instance, there’s a Cheesecake Factory about 45 minutes from my house, but getting there and then waiting in line (which can sometimes be hours!) is just not feasible all the time for me. I tried a couple really yummy recipes from Cheesecake Factory.

One of the coolest things about this book is the recipes that from restaurants that I don’t have access to here. For example, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. isn’t even located in my state, and one recipe in particular, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Shrimp New Orleans, was super fabulous and I was indeed dreaming about the sauce the next day, just as promised. I even made some apps from restaurants that I have here and it was fun to have them at our dinners. We even used the mozzarella cheesesticks from Applebee’s as part of our fun Christmas dinner.

Now—these recipes are not always easy. They’re not necessarily complicated, but some of them seem like a heckuva lot of work when you could just easily go buy them at a fast food joint, and for that reason I probably wouldn’t make all of the recipes listed. However, some of them are totally worth it, and I really liked the introduction that Wilbur had written about why copycat recipes are fun and relevant. I thought his points were great. He’s obviously been asked this before, and clearly states his points: cost, customization, discontinuation, scarcity, location, mixed-up menu, fun, and adulation. After reading his points, I totally got why he does what he does and it was even more fun to try the different recipes. I even looked at his website and I’ll probably buy some of his recipes (which are available for individual purchase at a nominal price). Chili’s Chicken Enchilada Soup, anyone?

As far as whether or not these recipes are exactly like the originals, I’m not totally sure. I think some are closer than others. He doesn’t recommend brands of ingredients, and I think we can all agree that in some situations that really makes the difference. Although the recipes I made were delicious, some I made were closer to the originals than others. That’s okay, though. They were still yummy regardless of their authenticity.

I think this is a really fun series of cookbooks and I recommend it for anyone who’s thought, “I should try to make this at home!” after eating something really yummy at a restaurant.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean, but certainly not clean eating.

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