Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Urchin of the Riding Stars - M.I. McAllister

Please welcome guest reviewer, Court Cope!
Summary: Triumphant heroes and brilliantly wicked villains do battle on the island of Mistmantle in the first book of a new heart-stopping adventure series in the great tradition of Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows. Illustrations. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I'm a massive fan of anything animal related, especially when those animals are anthropomorphic, wield swords, solve mysteries, and are heroes and villains, following in the vein of Brian Jacques' Redwall series.

While I love the Redwall books (do not get me wrong, they are some of my favorites), what I love about Mistmantle is that anyone can be a bad guy.  If a rat comes walking along in the Redwallverse, he is almost instantly a baddie.  However, in the world of Mistmantle, inhabited mainly by squirrels, hedgehogs, moles and otters, anyone can be turned, anyone can fall, which I think adds to the suspense, mystery, and reality. There is still evil, and there is still good, but there is also grey.

The characters in this book are incredibly well-rounded.  They are eager, earnest and flawed.  Those who try to be good have their faults, they stumble, they come short, but they keep trying, while those who follow a darker path or do cruel things have good cause (in their eyes), and come upon it bit by bit.  It is a book filled with intrigue, betrayal, adventure, friendship, and heroism, with characters you can relate to, hate, feel sorry for, and laugh with.

I also must commend the illustrations by Omar Rayyan.  It was these illustrations, in fact, that led me to the book in the first place, as I came upon a small postcard set of several of the main characters.  They are expressive and compliment the story.

While Urchin of the Riding Stars works well as a standalone, I also recommend the entire five book series, as each one goes deeper into this magical world, fleshing out already solid characters and delving into varying themes and adventures.

My rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: There are several deaths throughout, though nothing horribly gruesome. The main villain is haunted by someone he murdered, which can be a little intense, and likewise the opening scene is a squirrel in childbirth.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

500 Little-Known Facts about U.S. History - George W. Givens

Summary: The more we know about the past, the better we understand the present. Do you know? • That Pocahontas wasn’t the only daughter of Chief Powhatan to be courted by an English explorer? • How dead English soldiers took revenge on a tribe of Indians that massacred two thousand unarmed English prisoners? • The name of the woman patriot who rode five times as far as Paul Revere on the same kind of mission? • Which two former presidents died fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence? • What Abraham Lincoln’s last words were just before he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater? • The name of the president who introduced sexual shenanigans into the White House long before Bill Clinton arrived? • That the military mounted dummy cannons, known as “Quaker guns,” to protect the White House during World War II? In this entertaining and enlightening book, you’ll learn little-known facts from America’s colorful past that you’ll never forget! From the author of 500 Little-Known Facts in Mormon History and 500 More Little-Known Facts in Mormon History/ (Summary from goodreads.com, image from Amazon.  I was given a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)
Review: Trivial Pursuit was my favorite game growing up.  My mom and I would play for hours, sometimes much longer than she would have preferred.  I'm sure it's not a shocker that Jeopardy was my favorite show as well.  I love trivia.  I love the little nuggets and stories that lie in trivia, and I love that my mind holds onto those little nuggets so well.  My kids' names, I can't remember, but trivia?  Bring it.

George W. Givens has done an immaculate job assembling 500 of those amazing little pieces of trivia spanning from 1480-1950. I was expecting to know most of the stories, or at least have some recognition of some of them, and to my pleasant surprise, I had heard very few of the trivia Givens had included, and the majority of the treasures he has unearthed are truly delightful.  I've talked a few times about my non-reader husband -- I had to hide the book from him, just because of the little bits I would read him on the fly.  For example, did you know that General George Washington's temper was so terrifying that his secretaries were afraid of his cussing streaks? Or that the baby Sacajawea brought along her journey with Lewis and Clark grew up to be a guide for the Mormon Battalion?   I just love stuff like that!

This is a good book to read in chunks.  I tried to read it through like a novel, and some books are just better doled out in parcels than devoured in one go.

Rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader:  There is mention of brutality between settlers and Native Americans in multiple instances and some mention of rape.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Beginning of Everything - Robyn Schneider

Summary: Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes? 

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

Summary and cover art from Goodreads.com

My review: At first pass, you might think you've picked up a John Green novel. Wise, witty teenagers dealing with darkness, flirting with happiness, yet knowing that no happy ending could ever be in store for them. But unlike Green--who comes off as self-indulgent to me--Schneider is less trite and weaves a more dimensional tale that is a joy to read. 

After Ezra's accident, he resigns as the reigning king of the school. While other YA books might have had him banished to his table of misfits, Ezra willingly banishes himself. It takes most of the book for him to discover that his jock friends are still his friends, willing to do anything to help him bridge his "before" and "after." And Ezra learns he never really was king of the school. Perhaps king of his clique, perhaps Homecoming king, but he learns that other cliques have their hierarchies that he never knew about nor appreciated. The lines of cliques he once saw are blurred. The growth and tragedy he experiences during his senior year--though he initially attributes it to his relationship with It-girl Cassidy Thorpe--comes from his own development. I was quite pleased with that. I'm all for a good transfiguring love story, but in YA, it's especially nice to have the main character's development be independent from the love story. 

The characters shine as the heart of the story. Ultimately the theme of the book is that people are kind, good, compassionate, and understanding. The limits we live in are often self-imposed. Who we are at 16 will never be who we are for the rest of our lives, and that's a very good thing. And, of course, young love is wonderful and heartbreaking, but it's not meant to last and that's okay. 

My rating: Four stars

For the sensitive reader: Swears, including a handful of F-words, though not as riddled with profanity as some YA books (Looking for Alaska, for example). A hazy memory of a decapitation at Disneyland, handled in a mostly comical way--not gory. Kissing and teen sexuality. Teen drinking, though it's fairly demonized. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happy Birthday Reading For Sanity!

Reading For Sanity, this lovely little book blog for those who love to read and love to find new reads to love, is seven years old today! It's been an amazing journey with literally thousands of reviews under our belts. We have loved to do this and have loved to share this most important past time of reading with you. Here is to many more years of sanity-saving reading!

Our lovely friend at Gnome Sweet Gnome Shop helped us celebrate by giving us these darling candle holders. I mean, seriously? It was so hard to choose which to use--the horse (LOVE) or the shark (LOVE). Whimsical fairytale? Girls party? Horse. Shark week? Boys party? Shark. Hard.to.choose.

But don't be jelly. You can get your own! There are tons of cute animals to choose from to make any event super special. Lovely Liv has got you covered. Visit her etsy site. Follow her Instagram gnomesweetgnomeshop. You will thank me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah

Summary:   My new friends have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
"Yes, sometime."

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.
What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.
In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.
This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.  (Summary from Amazon.com and image from macmillan.com)

My Review:  I read this book rather unwillingly--this is not my typical book of choice.  I was assigned this topic by the Text Set Project I was a part of and had no idea just how much I was to learn.  This book was part of a collection of texts on the issue of child soldiers--articles, a graphic novel, videos, etc.  I believe this text gave the most vivid and clear depiction of what these children go through, but even with this firsthand account you miss some details because the boys were kept high on drugs like cocaine that blurred their thinking and memory.  Additionally, this is a boy's perspective.  A girl's perspective and experience would be different and one that would be necessary to have a complete understanding of what's currently happening.

Beah is a beautiful writer--and an incredible survivor.  The majority of the book is not of the boys fighting.  Beah attributes this to his being so high that he doesn't remember everything.  These haunting images come back to him when he least expects it and torments his mind without his knowing they're coming.  His healing process and his avoidance of the war are what make up the majority of the memoir.  It does put a clear face and family to this horrific situation in war torn countries.  To say using children as soldiers is evil is an understatement.  The more you know and learn, the more sickening the story becomes.  Read at your own risk.

For the sensitive reader:  I do not recommend this to anyone younger than 17 or 18.  The themes and overall story is heart-breaking.  Violence and war is the premise--reading accordingly.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  One boy's memories of living as a child soldier through the warfare in Sierra Leone.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reading Bingo Challenge - A Mother/Booklover's View

Our school has the best program in the world.  Starting at the end of the school year, children are given a sheet of colored paper with twenty subjects listed on it.  They have the summer to fill in all twenty boxes.  Once school starts, they work their way through five more sheets - eventually reading 120 books by the middle of April.  For those who accomplish this goal, our amazing librarian hosts an in-school party complete with fun assembly, prizes, and a special recognition for the exiting elementary school kids who have completed all five years of Reading Bingo Blackout.

Our school has quite a high success rate with this program.  Granted, the kids are  motivated by the prizes they receive - for each card, our kids get to choose a literary Spirit Stick for their backpacks, and in addition to the End of Year party, they get a T-shirt sporting their accomplishment.

I love volunteering in the library and even more, I love being part of the support staff for the End of Year party.  These kids work hard to accomplish these goals -- 120 books in seven months isn't easy! This summer, however, our Reading Bingo challenge has been a little different.  My son realized at the end of the party last year that he wouldn't the five year award at the end of Fourth grade, since he wasn't a student at our school for Kindergarten and First grade.  He was a little upset.  He kept assuring me he would have done it had the opportunity been there, so I asked him how much he wanted that extra recognition.

He spent some time thinking about it, and proposed an idea to me.  What if, he thought, he were to do the Kinder and First grade Reading Bingo Blackouts this summer?  Forget that that would be 240 books he'd need to read -- not to mention the 20 he'd have to do for his Fourth grade Reading Bingo, it didn't matter to him!  He ended up asking the librarian  (read: he had me ask her), and because she truly is awesome, she agreed.  He came home with a list of 260 books to check off before the end of the summer.

This was a lot harder than we thought it would be.  Our library only allows ten books (TEN?!  I know!!!) to be requested at one time, and we can only check out fifty items at once.  We knew we couldn't go in without a game plan, so I ended up creating a two-page cheat sheet for us to use to check books off.  Checking books off has been truly satisfying, but 260 books is a daunting challenge, especially when not all of them are picture books.  It was also difficult to keep track of which books go where.  With many books coming off of Texas-specific lists, I ended up misappropriating books I'd forgotten were meant for other squares.  Oops.

We ended up scheduling not a daily reading time, but a number of books that my guy had to read every day.  Weekly, we'd go to the library, return our forty books (we can check out fifty, but I can only carry forty -- back issues), check out forty more, and repeat.  More than once, I'd hear someone say "Who could ever check out fifty books?!", see my pile, mutter "Oh ...", and walk away shaking their heads.

I am so, so proud of my fourth grader.  He has come close to burning out more than once, but he's persevered, he's found books that fulfill the requirements that also interest him, and he's found some new favorites in the meantime.  Assuming he completes the Fourth Grade Bingo (and he had so better after this summer!), he'll have read 360 books (actually more, but I haven't tracked non-Bingo books) in one year.  That's a lot!

Would I do it again?  Reading Bingo, yes.  On this magnitude?  No.  One of the challenges we've faced is that my kid, who has the memory of an elephant, hasn't been able to retain as much as he normally would while reading.  It's like a memory overload for a brain -- for him to retain the last few books he's read, the first few books have fallen right out!  It's been hard for all of us to have our lives dictated by what C has to read and by when.  Further, I worry about his passion for reading dulling a bit.  His willpower to finish this has astounded me.  It's truly more than I expected from him.  But I know he'll need a break.  I have a feeling he's not going to read anything for a month once this last book is checked off!

Overall, this is an amazing program.  It provides such a great motivator for reluctant readers, and rewards them for a job well done.  I'm so glad we have this program!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series—Betty MacDonald

Summary: Everyone loves Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives in an upside-down house and smells like cookies. She was even married to a pirate once. Most of all, she knows everything about children. She can cure them of any ailment. Patsy hates baths. Hubert never puts anything away. Allen eats v-e-r-y slowly. Mrs Piggle-Wiggle has a treatment for all of them.

The incomparable Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle loves children good or bad and never scolds but has positive cures for Answer-Backers, Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders, and other boys and girls with strange habits.

Summary from book #1 and cover art from Goodreads.com

My review: The concept of this series is fun and darling. The prose is long winded and repetitive. I was surprised my 6-year-old did not grow bored. These books were written in the 1940s when, perhaps, attention spans were a little longer. The chapters are quite long for a children’s book (30 minutes to read one chapter out loud) and I really had to pace our bedtime routine to be able to have time for a chapter at night.  The book has no overarching plot. Each chapter takes on the bad habits of one child and his/her frustrated mother who tries to get advice from various friends and neighbors and lastly resorts to calling Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle for her unique and always perfect advice. The first book, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, relied entirely on cunning, natural consequences, and giving kids a “taste of their own medicine.” Subsequent books involved magical cures, which I didn’t find half as endearing or fun.

While I didn’t love these books, my daughter sure did. They are a favorite for her. She even learned a lesson or two, and asked for help cleaning her room and caught herself tattle-telling. So that alone raises my rating from three stars to four.

Old-fashioned gender roles and disciplinarian attitudes abound. That could turn some readers off (I did skip the line where a parent was noticing his daughters amazing qualities, summarizing that she would “make someone a good wife someday” ) but most of the time it’s a relic of yesteryear, sort of like watching a black-and-white show on Nick at Night and admiring the wholesome goodness of the era while simultaneously rejoicing that things are quite different today.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: No worries, this book is squeaky clean. Though there are several gender stereotypes that might bother some readers. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

Please welcome returning guest reviewer, Joseph Marshall!

Summary: First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My review: It's no secret to bookworms, theater buffs, or movie buffs what this tale is all about. Over the past hundred years, it's been adapted many times both for film and the musical stage, the latter bringing it its greatest acclaim and fame. The greatest delight I take in the immortal Lloyd Webber production is its faithfulness to the source material. I'm comfortable allowing for artistic license to be taken in an adaptation (yes I'm a Tolkienophiles who still adores the LOTR films), so long as the makers frame it with an amount of accuracy and ultimate respect. I reread The Phantom of the Opera two months ago, then one month ago saw the show for the second time. While the production has all the typical rearrangements in plot, deletions of events and characters (the arcane Persian being the most significant and disappointing) and so forth, I am pleased with its constructors' restraint, and reverence for the original story.

There is a reason why it has so liberally been replicated over and over. It's a classic tale, tragic and tender, of a deranged prodigy smitten as if dead by the sweet and beautiful innocent whose timbre is to him the voice of Deity. (I love Cooper's description of the relationship between King Kong and Ann Darrow: "It was beauty killed the beast.") It is these stories, immortalized by sentiment, that people seem unable to get enough of. We thrive on them, are pained by them, and in the end yearn for more, sometimes in spite of ourselves.

In this tale it is the protagonist Christine Daae whom we follow and root for. A naive yet courageous Swedish orphan, by good fortune she finds herself an up and coming lead singer at the Paris Opera House. She also finds herself seduced by what she can only imagine is an Angel sent from God, appearing to transform her gift of singing into an ethereal masterpiece. She follows his lead for a time, until the Angel of Music is soon unmasked, revealing him a Phantom of Darkness, cold and cruel, yet also hurt and lost. Despite his hatred for humanity and physical derangements, as well as her own terror, Christine takes pity on him, which adds upon her charm and irresistibility. The plot stirs as Christine's childhood playmate, a respected viscount named Raoul, visits Paris and there watches her perform in the Opera House, likewise smitten to the core and determined to fight to the death for her. An amusing side plot emerges as the new managers of the Paris Opera House find themselves increasingly harassed and confused by letters signed "PTO", requiring of them a permanent seat in their finest box for the opera and a monthly stipend to boot.

The Phantom, the book's most enigma, is the reason for its continued retelling by whatever medium. Like many good villains' histories, most of his is untold, left to the reader's imagination, for better or worse. Physically the man is deformed beyond recognition, with two luminescent red beads where his eyes should be, racked with torment and humiliation from it all. But Erik also possesses gifts and ideas which at every turn appear not of this world. Having once studied mysterious arts in Persia, he has a knack for contraptions, inventions, and illusions of the most diabolical sorts. He possesses the deepest appreciate for music, trained in all its theories and techniques, frequently conjuring his own majestic (and also diabolical) manifestations. As for his singing voice it is so unspeakably divine that it can at will turn even the sturdiest minds to hypnosis.

It is the characters and the dialogues, the descriptions and the whole gothic charade that make this novel an unforgettable delight, numbered among classics for reasons far beyond what the greatest theater production could depict.

My Rating: 5 Stars. Suitable for teens and up due to thematic elements.

Sum it up: Gothic, Majestic

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Girl Underwater - Claire Kells

Summary: An adventurous debut novel that cross cuts between a competitive college swimmer’s harrowing days in the Rocky Mountains after a major airline disaster and her recovery supported by the two men who love her—only one of whom knows what really happened in the wilderness. 

Nineteen-year-old Avery Delacorte loves the water. Growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, she took swim lessons at her community pool and captained the local team; in high school, she raced across bays and sprawling North American lakes. Now a sophomore on her university’s nationally ranked team, she struggles under the weight of new expectations but life is otherwise pretty good. Perfect, really.

That all changes when Avery’s red-eye home for Thanksgiving makes a ditch landing in a mountain lake in the Colorado Rockies. She is one of only five survivors, which includes three little boys and Colin Shea, who happens to be her teammate. Colin is also the only person in Avery’s college life who challenged her to swim her own events, to be her own person—something she refused to do. Instead she’s avoided him since the first day of freshman year. But now, faced with sub-zero temperatures, minimal supplies, and the dangers of a forbidding nowhere, Avery and Colin must rely on each other in ways they never could’ve imagined.

In the wilderness, the concept of survival is clear-cut. Simple. In the real world, it’s anything but.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: This is one of those books that makes you uncomfortable. I mean, you can’t read about disasters and people dying without being a little uncomfortable, right? It’s interesting. It’s something you want to know about, and it’s comforting that it’s fiction (although there are obviously real-life plane crashes and people dying in them), but still. It’s hard to read. But because I found it so difficult to read, it was even more incredible that I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to know what happened. That is the sign of a good book, people.

Girl Underwater is well-written. It’s not literary genius or a serious classic, but it is one of those books that’s written in such a way that you’re instantly sucked in and feel like you’re part of what’s going on. You care about the characters, you can feel their pain (see above paragraph, ya know?). Seriously, it’s one of those books that you can’t stop reading. I owe at least one very late night to this book thankyouverymuch and was regretting it the next day when I had intended to “go to bed early” and instead stayed up reading for a couple of hours. I blame this on the structure of the book as well. It alternates chapters between the plane wreck and the impending drama of the survivors and then the wreck and their lives now. It’s so hard to stop when books are well done that way. You get right into something, you see what’s going on, and then BAM. Rudely, the chapter is over and it skips to the other reality. Seriously, people. You have to keep reading, even if you want to go to bed early. Consider yourself warned. Also, just as a warning, your children don’t care if you stayed up late reading because the chapters rudely end on a cliff hanger. Oh no. And in fact, they may want to get up earlier than normal just because. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I wanted to give this book four stars. I really did. I am giving it 3.5, though, because I feel like the plane wreckage part ended abruptly. I don’t want to go into too much detail because I’m expecting that you’ll want to read this book, but I would have liked that part dealt with a little better. I would have liked more details. Instead, it just ended, almost like the author had either run out of time and space or just wasn’t sure how to deal with it and so chose instead to just skip over it. Kells is obviously a very competent writer, but I think that this was maybe an inexperienced novelist kind of mistake. That being said, you should read this book. It’s a very interesting, heartbreaking, coming of age story that was a fun read. But be prepared to lose some sleep.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is not much language in this book, and although it deals with new adult issues and romantic situations, it is clean, especially compared to others in the genre.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks and Daggers - Daniel Falconer

Summary: The ultimate celebration of the first two Hobbit movies reveals the culmination of the creative vision for the film through more than 500 previously unpublished photographs, plus exclusive interviews with the designers, cast and crew, written and designed by the team at Weta Workshop.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles – Cloaks and Daggers peers through the silver screen to examine the incredible efforts undertaken to create thousands of costumes, armour, weapons, props and set dressing elements for Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson’s adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Covering both The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, this lavish volume bulges with behind the scenes images, sumptuous photography and film stills. The films’ stars and the creative geniuses behind countless beautiful objets d’art share their insights and stories, revealing how it felt to craft, wield and wear these precious pieces of Middle-earth.

Researched and compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer, with a foreword by Evangeline Lilly, playing Tauriel the Woodland Elf, and an introduction by costume designer Ann Maskrey, this is the definitive guide to the artefacts and sumptuous fabrics of The Hobbit film adaptations.
 (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  I need to start by apologizing to the publisher.  I devoured this book the day I got it.  It's been a staple coffee-table book in my house.  It's almost walked out of my house numerous times -- I have yet to have a guest over who hasn't gotten lost in its pages. I even shlepped it to Utah to show my Lord of the Rings fanatic brothers - who nearly made off with it.  I spent so much time gushing about this book that I was sure I'd reviewed it.

Guess what?  I hadn't.  Oops.  In my defense, I've given it multiple states' worth of Word of Mouth ... ?  And when I love a book, I'm fairly vocal about it!  Okay, so now to it.

This book is an incredible look behind the scenes of The Hobbit.  (Break out the pitchforks ...) I'm one of the few that actually appreciate the movies more than I appreciate the books.  Before you storm the blog, I've read the whole series multiple times.  It just doesn't resonate with me; I get bored.  The movies, however?  They accomplish what I believe Tolkien accomplishes to my personal detriment.  (I find his ability to say in 10,000 words what could be said in 1,000 tiresome.)  Peter Jackson has created the best love letter from a fanboy ever to hit the big screen in his six movies (although the Battle of the Five Armies was a little too long), and the depth and scope of his vision is incredible.  This book, this incredible, perfect book showcases that without fault.

The history that each piece of scenery, weaponry, armor, coinage, costuming, even the footwear that has been written, recorded, created, and masterfully sculpted into reality is beyond comprehension.  The descriptions and snippets of behind-the-scenes cooperation and the camaraderie that obviously developed endeared me to the film even more.  Someday I want to take an entire day to watch the series while reading these books -- just to give myself as much of the backstory I can, and to appreciate the work that went into these movies that much more.

Really, this is one of those books where the words written are amazing, but nothing can compare to the visuals.  The incredible detail and vivid coloring on the photographs are exquisite.  They so perfectly showcase the pieces that I still find myself getting lost in them.  

If you're even a small fan of the Lord of the Rings series, you need to check out this book.  There are multiple other companion books as well ... and I would love to pour through them as well!

Rating: Five stars

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Wind Catcher - Jeff Altabef and Erynn Altabef

Summary: Juliet Wildfire Stone hears voices and sees visions, but she can’t make out what they mean. Her eccentric grandfather tells her stories about the Great Wind Spirit and Coyote, but he might as well be speaking another language. None of it makes any sense.

When she stumbles upon a series of murders she can't help but worry her grandfather might be involved. To discover the truth, Juliet must choose between her new life at an elite private school and her Native American heritage. Once she uncovers an ancient secret society formed over two hundred years ago to keep her safe, she starts to wonder whether there’s some truth to those old stories her grandfather has been telling her. 

All she wants is to be an average sixteen-year-old girl, but she has never been average—could never be average.

Betrayed by those she loves, she must decide whether to run or risk everything by fulfilling her destiny as the Chosen.

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

My Review: I am embarrassed to admit that even in my advanced age (hopefully you’re laughing and not thinking that I am actually of advanced age) I have read quite a few books in this genre. I am familiar with the sassy, slightly defiant teen. Her well-meaning parents. Her boy who is not a boyfriend but they both like each other and should be hooked up by now and everyone thinks it and you get the drift. Her girlfriends that are somewhat distant for whatever reason but in the end it all works out. Anyway, you get it. I know the drill.

In that light, I was happily surprised by this book. First off, I wasn’t sure what to expect because it’s an indie book and sometimes those can be touch and go. Not so with this one. I think it holds up well as far as writing and story. Also, it is co-written by a father and daughter, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wouldn’t normally think a teenage girl would be able to write about being a teenage girl simply because she is a teenage girl. This one did, though. I think she did a good job with the angstiness and the drama but didn’t take it too far. It read easily, which I always think is really important for a book in this genre. YA Fic should not be convoluted and hard to read. The writing doesn’t need to be literarily perfect or poignant or even awesome, but it does have to be easy to read and accessible and I think this book is definitely that.

Now. The story. This is a typical coming of age story. Ya know, the one where the main girl—sassy, slightly defiant—realizes that she is Chosen for whatever reason and has to grow up and accept that and become who she is supposed to be. There is no doubt that this is done a lot, but there is also no doubt that this is because teen girls like to read about this kind of thing. I liked this particular book because it had a lot of Native American lore which I found interesting. I thought it was a nice change from the paranormal regulars (although there are some paranormal beings that come into play because, let’s face it, there’s gotta be in this genre).

There is a love story, of course, but it’s not annoying and there are some genuine familial relationships, which I appreciated. The older I get the more I appreciate a fleshed out familial life because despite the fact that the teens may want to be only involved with their friends, family actually plays a huge part and this did a good job of including those normally peripheral characters.

So this is definitely an indie book you should check out if you’re into this genre. I think it’s a fun read and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean. There is a little bit of language, but nothing too harsh and there is no discussion of sex. There is also some violence, but it is not really descriptive or grotesque. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)—George R.R. Martin

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional world in which seasons last for years on end. Centuries before the events of the first novel, the Seven Kingdoms on the continent Westeros had been united under the Targaryen dynasty established by the first Targaryen King, Aegon I. As A Game of Thrones begins, it has been 15 years since the feudal lords led by Robert Baratheon killed the last Targaryen ruler, King Aerys II Targaryen, and made Robert king.
     The principal story chronicles a power struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros after King Robert's death in A Game of Thrones. Robert’s son, Joffrey, claims the throne, along with Robert’s two younger brothers. Several regions of Westeros raise kings of their own, succeeding from the realm and reverting to the boundaries that existed before they were united.
     The second story takes place on the northern border of Westeros, where an 8,000-year-old wall of ice defends Westeros from the Others. The Wall's sentinels, the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, protect the realm of Westeros (land of the seven kingdoms), whereas the "Free Folk" or "wildlings" are humans living north of the Wall. The Night's Watch story is told primarily through Jon Snow, who is introduced as the bastard son of Eddard Stark, and who joins the Watch, rising quickly through the ranks. In the third volume, A Storm of Swords, this story becomes entangled with the civil war.
     The third story is set on an eastern continent named Essos, and follows Daenerys Targaryen, isolated from the other characters and plotlines. On Essos, Daenerys rises from a pauper sold into marriage, to a powerful and intelligent ruler. Her rise is aided by the birth of three dragons from eggs given to her as wedding gifts: used initially as symbols, and later as weapons.

Summary from Wikipedia.com. Cover art from Goodreads.com.

My summary/review: A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic fantasy series, already an acclaimed classic compared to the likes of Tolkein. It has been made into an HBO television series titled Game of Thrones. Unlike other fantasy works, there is not a lot of emphasis on the supernatural, on unfamiliar landscapes, foreign languages, and terms…a reader could honestly be reading a medieval historic novel. The introduction of the fantasy elements is subtle and slow. This could frustrate lovers of the high-fantasy genre, but makes this series more palatable to those who find high fantasy outlandish, cumbersome, or weird.  Rather, A Song of Ice and Fire takes on more of a political bent in a complex tale of a fractured kingdom and political upheaval strongly flavored by the War of the Roses. I have never read a book with such an intricate, interlaced, cunningly smart plot; nor have I read more realistic, wholly developed, complex characters. I was instantly and wholly engrossed with this series. I am one of the obsessed! I have read the lengthy (and unfinished) series two times now and still know I could read it a dozen more and pick up on clues and foreshadowing that will culminate in the final book. There are forums, websites, wikis, and an entire Reddit page dedicated to the series. In fact, I recommend readers to make friends with the ASOIAF Wiki because you’ll need it to keep all the characters straight.

My summary/review of A Game of Thrones: Eddard “Ned” Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North is a man who puts honor above all, taking his role as a father, a lord, and a leader more serious than most. Yet his moral ideals create more conflict than peace when he is asked by King Robert to come to King’s Landing as the new Hand of the King, replacing the late Hand—Ned’s brother-in-law and foster father Jon Arryn. Lady Catelyn Stark’s widowed sister tips her off that her husband’s death was not natural. She suspects he was murdered by the Lannisters—a wealthy, power hungry family at the center of realm’s troubles. Though Ned has no desire for the power and prestige that come from being the King’s Hand, his honor forces him to do his duty.
     Along with Lady Catelyn, Ned plans to leave his oldest son Robb and his youngest son Rickon behind at Winterfell. He will take his two daughters, Sansa and Arya, and middle son Bran to court. Lord Stark also leaves behind his bastard son, Jon Snow—the one blight on his impeccable honor. Though raised with his trueborn children and seen as a true brother by them, Lady Catelyn insists there is no place for him at Winterfell with Ned leaving. As a result, Jon joins the Night’s Watch.
     Just before Ned’s departure, Bran climbs one of the ruined towers of the castle and happens upon Queen Cersei engaging in incestuous relations with her twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. Jaime pushes Bran out of the window. Bran miraculously survives the fall, but is unconscious. If he lives, he’ll never walk again. The circumstances of Bran’s “fall” are unknown to everyone else. It is with a heavy heart that Ned and his two daughters leave Bran and the others behind and travel to the king’s palace. Once in King’s Landing, Ned Stark will unravel the mysteries surrounding Jon Arryn’s death and his son’s “accident,” but not before learning that honor and justice have no place when everyone around you is playing the game of thrones.
     The story is told through various Point-of-View characters, developing a complex, interlaced plot, and making each character both a protagonist and antagonist, depending on who the current POV character is. Favorites include Jon Snow at the Wall; Tyrion Lannister, the cunning and bookish youngest Lannister, who happens to be a dwarf; spunky tomboy Arya Stark; and Daenerys Targaryen, a teenage girl living in exile who happens to be of the last true heirs to the Iron Throne.
     Sorry that summary was so long, but the book is 704 pages long and that setup will help with other reviews I do. I like fantasy, but I don’t necessarily love it, especially high fantasy. I like mysteries, but they aren’t my usual genre. Political stories? No thank you. Definitely not my cup of tea. I do love me some historical fiction. Somehow, though, I am OBSESSED with these books. I was first intrigued by the memes and jokes and Buzzfeed lists surrounding this series. I was hooked by the second chapter when Bran was pushed form the window. Summer 2013 was pretty much spent in sleep-deprived zombie mode as a devoured the five lengthy books that are currently published. If you embark on this journey, be warned—the series will likely have 7 books and it takes Mr. Martin about 6 years to write each one. Luckily, there is enough meat, unsolved mysteries, and fan theories to warrant multiple readings of the five published books.
     As you’ll see in the warning below, these books are not for the sensitive reader. They portray the medieval lifestyle in all its gory glory, which includes brutal battles, murders, rapes, castrations, torture, and the like. Despite being set in a world where women had few rights, Martin crafts memorable and stunning female characters that demonstrate surprising power and influence.

My rating: 4.75 Stars The plot can be confusing—the wiki became a crutch for me at times—and truthfully, I’d be okay if the language and the graphic scenes were toned down a notch. But this series will forever be a favorite for me. It’s such a rich experience as a reader. As a writer, it was a master class in character development, all kinds of character development arcs, and plotting.

For the sensitive reader: This book (and series) is not for you. A Game of Thrones is probably the tamest of all the series (I noted in my re-read) so maybe a sensitive reader could push through, but the series as a whole contains every swear word under the sun, sexually explicit scenes with sexually explicit language, sexual violence, graphic physical violence, racism, sexism, oppression, and whatever else may offend readers. There’s a reason the television show is on HBO. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold - Mark Schultz, David Thomas

Summary: The riveting true story of Olympic wrestling gold medal-winning brothers Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz and their fatal relationship with the eccentric John du Pont, heir to the du Pont dynasty 

On January 26, 1996, Dave Schultz, Olympic gold medal winner and wrestling golden boy, was shot three times by du Pont family heir John E. du Pont at the famed Foxcatcher Farms estate in Pennsylvania. Following the murder there was a tense standoff when du Pont barricaded himself in his home for two days before he was finally captured.

Foxcatcher is gold medal winner Mark Schultz’s memoir, revealing what made him and his brother champion and what brought them to Foxcatcher Farms. It’s a vivid portrait of the complex relationship he and his brother had with du Pont, a man whose catastrophic break from reality led to tragedy. No one knows the inside story of what went on behind the scenes at Foxcatcher Farms—and inside John du Pont’s head—better than Mark Schultz.

The incredible true story of these championship-winning brothers and the wealthiest convicted murderer of all time will be making headlines this fall, and Mark’s memoir will reveal the true inside story.

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

My Review:This book was not what I expected. When I read the blurb, I expected it to be a lot of info about John du Pont. How he was crazy. How the trial went. The nitty gritty, ya know. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love juicy details about real-life crazy people?

This book was not that.

This is not to say that Foxcatcher didn’t have its fair share of describing the craziness of John du Pont. There was plenty of evidence for that for sure. However, the way it was built up (and the way it looked, frankly) was like it was going to be this really heart-wrenching story that had adapted easily to the movie and would leave us all in tears. It was not that, however.

Not to say that this wasn’t a sad book or that didn’t have plenty of room for sorrow. It did. It was just misleading.

I would say that the most accurate description of this book would be that it is a wrestling memoir of Mark Schultz. Now, to be fair, Schultz is a legit wrestler. He is an Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Champion, three-time NCAA champion, and seven-time national champion. He has also coached at many prestigious places and done a lot for the wrestling world. It’s just that a wrestling memoir is not what this book claimed to be. But it was. The first 1/3 of it, actually, deals almost exclusively with that. There is actually a section—I kid you not—which reads like the famous shrimp reciting by Bubba Gump in “Forrest Gump,” only it involved wrestling moves instead of ways to cook shrimp. So, ya know, that was not really my kind of thing. Also, I think that this book was more of a cathartic release of anger and animosity than anything. Schultz obviously thinks du Pont is completely crazy, and spends a lot of time describing different behaviors that obviously show evidence of this. However, a lot of the book is just his memoir and the hard things in his life. He’s encountered a lot of adversity (both real and perceived) and so I’m just hoping that by writing this book he was able to be a little bit at peace, because it is obvious that it was torturing him in so many ways.

Also, this book was not well written. It’s written pretty much like you would expect a wrestler to write.  A wrestler with an education, but still. A wrestler. So don’t be expecting anything spectacular if you choose to read this book.

I wouldn’t suggest reading this book if you’re looking for an extensive and journalistic look at the du Pont trial and John du Pont. A lot of this is glazed over in the book, and I think it’s because Schultz just couldn’t face it. If you love wrestling and know who Mark Schultz is (because, like I said, he’s legit) then you should definitely read this memoir.

My Rating: 2.5 stars.

For the sensitive reader: There wasn’t a lot of sex or explicit violence, but there is a murder and quite a bit of discussion of drug use.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Up in Smoke: A Complete Guide to Cooking with Smoke - Matt Pelton

Summary: If the mention of St. Louis-Style ribs, beef brisket, or smoked bacon gets your mouth watering, then Up in Smoke is for you! Perfect for any barbeque enthusiast, this book breaks down the low and slow cooking method, guiding you through the flavor profile. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: When I started this book, I was a complete and total novice to cooking with a smoker. (And I still am). I’ve always wanted a smoker, and I have brother-in-laws who love smoking and I have personally enjoyed the fruits of their labors many times. My husband and I decided that for Christmas we would get a smoker, and so we did. After lots of research, we decided on the Pit Barrel Smoker. Now, the reason why we chose this particular smoker is because everyone assured us that it was easy, low maintenance, and made delicious food. What could go wrong, right? Cue Up in Smoke and I would basically be a smoking master.

People, I am. We are. I mean, we have had some seriously delicious smoked food because of this cookbook. I love my Pit Barrel because it is easy and straightforward, and I love this cookbook because it made things even better.

Now, everything hasn’t turned out perfectly, but that is completely user error. There was one Rib Incident of 2015 that resulted in some pretty dry ribs that left even our kids questioning if we were, in fact, having ribs, but it was not the fault of the cookbook. Oh no. The rub we used on the ribs was delicious. Also, the barbecue sauce. Yum.

Our greatest success was probably the pulled pork. My husband and I still dream of that pulled pork. The rub was fabulous. The Basic Barbecue Sauce was fabulous. The instructions were fabulous. Even though we had watched the YouTube videos for our Pit Barrel, it was nice to have Up in Smoke as a little manual for or culinary escapades and to fill in the gaps that a 10 minute YouTube video can’t. And believe me, this knowledge worked. The pork rub was possibly the best I’ve ever had, and that is saying a lot because I do love me some pulled pork and have had quite a bit of it. My husband still brings up the barbecue sauce and gets those little hearts in his eyes all emoji style.

I have also made many of the sides that are included in this little cookbook of smoking love. They were deelish, too. And the directions were very straightforward and made everything seem easy. Indeed, after reading through this book I felt like I could tackle a lot of things that A) I had always wanted to and B) never thought of but for sure would want to try now.

Although the information in this book is great and knowledgeable and thorough, I wouldn’t say the pictures are fabulous. They are certainly accurate portrayals, but they are not the glossy and perfectly photoshopped pictures of many of the mommy blogger cooking blogs you will see. Like I said, they are certainly adequate, however.

I think the thing that impressed me most about this book was Pelton's dedication to his craft. I mean, the man knows what he’s talking about and it’s obvious from his recipes that he can back up his yapping with the actual delicious goods. In the author description in the back it talks about how he took his Dutch oven in his suitcase while on his LDS mission for two years in Boston. HE TOOK IT IN HIS SUITCASE. I mean, come on, people. Have you ever been that dedicated to anything? I think not.

And I’m serious. Try the pork rub and the basic barbecue sauce. You’ll thank me.

My Rating: 4 stars.

For the sensitive reader: You may cry at how delicious these recipes are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Please welcome our guest reviewer, Karima Al-Absy!

Summary: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I really liked this book, as in recommending it to everyone I meet levels of liked it. Uprooted is one of those novels that make you remember why you fell in love with a certain genre in the first place. It’s also one of those novels that stayed with me long after I finished it, altering the way I thought of certain things. 

Novik’s language style is lovely and sophisticated and even though she hits many common fantasy tropes—powerful wizard mentor, a cursed kingdom, a young protagonist discovering hidden powers— she puts enough of a spin on them that you can’t quite guess where the story is headed next. Many fantasy novels draw their inspiration from medieval Britain or France, but Uprooted shies away from that, expressing more of a Slavic influence than anything else (for one thing, the main character is named Agnieszka; for another, a powerful witch called Old Jagaplays a role in the novel, a nod to the Baba Yaga folklore of Eastern Europe.)

I love reading novels about women, written by women, and Uprooted is no exception. Agnieszka’s character is very well-written and it’s a delight to read the novel through her perspective. She believably transforms from a frightened peasant girl trapped in a tower to a powerful witch in her own right, with her voice remaining constant throughout. Her best friend, Kasia, also pleasantly surprised me, starting off as a Mary Sue, but exhibiting real depth later on. 
If anything, I wish the book was longer. I’d love to learn more about Agnieszka’s training with the Dragon or her visit to the capital city. As it stands though, this book is pretty darn near perfect

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Mild sexual content that younger readers may not find suitable

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Fine and Pleasant Misery - Patrick F. McManus

ExcerptMODERN TECHNOLOGY has taken most of the misery out of the outdoors. Camping is now aluminum-covered, propane-heated, foam-padded, air-conditioned, bug-proofed, flip-topped, disposable, and transistorized. Hardship on a modern camping trip is blowing a fuse on your electric underwear, or having the battery peter out on your Porta-Shaver. A major catastrophe is spending your last coin on a recorded Nature Talk and then discovering the camp Comfort & Sanitation Center (featuring forest green tile floors and hot showers) has pay toilets. There are many people around nowadays who seem to appreciate the fact that a family can go on an outing without being out. But I am not one of them. Personally, I miss the old-fashioned misery of old-fashioned camping. Young people just now starting out in camping probably have no idea that it wasn't but a couple of decades ago that people went camping expecting to be miserable. Half the fun of camping in those days was looking forward to getting back home. When you did get back home you prolonged the enjoyment of your trip by telling all your friends how miserable you had been. The more you talked about the miseries of life in the woods, the more you wanted to get back out there and start suffering again.  (Excerpt from book, image from goodreads.com)

Review: Few books that I've ever read to impress others have delighted me as much as this.  As a child, I was dragged on more camping trips than I would have volunteered for.  I'm not a camper, my dad is ... and guess who chose family vacations?  In a desperate attempt to get me to tolerate our trips, my mom thrust this book into my hands during one car ride. 

I spent the whole trip reading.  And snorting.  And rereading.  I was in stitches.  McManus has such an affable form of story-telling that it's hard to put it down.  Coupled with a dry wit that's guaranteed to leave you gasping for air, and you've got an instant classic.  When we got home, I devoured McManus' other books, and enjoyed them just as well.  They were delightful.

After a fishing trip this summer, I passed a copy onto my son.  It didn't smell like Wasatch pine, mountains, or fishing trips ... it smelled like Barnes and Noble.  But he was fascinated.  He's broken, though, as he didn't particularly find this book funny.  Rather, he thought it was an interesting commentary on camping.  I had to read it again.  Perhaps the mountain air had made everything funnier than it really was.  I started it again at my kids' swimming lessons and snorted so loudly I'm surprised my kids didn't hear.  C1 is just broken, this is still one of the funniest books I've ever read.

Whether you're a camper, married to a camper, or have ever set up a tent in a back yard, you'll find something to appreciate in McManus' books.  Definitely worth a summer binge read.

Rating: Five stars

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Ice Cap and the Rift - Marshall Chamberlain

Summary: A COMBOQUAKE RAKES THE MID-ATLANTIC RIDGE. A FIFTEEN MILE RIFT RIPS ACROSS AN ICELANDIC ICE CAP. A DISSECTED CAVE HOLDS MYSTERIOUS ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY. John Henry Morgan, ex-Marine, Director of the United Nation's Institute for the Study of Unusual Phenomena, returns from the devastating attack on ISUP's Mountain project in Belize only to be cast into the aftermath of the Comboquake and the dangers of the rift. Morgan and key ISUP staff mount an expedition to the rift and discover a cavern occupied one hundred and eighty thousand years ago, containing a perfectly preserved high-tech habitat and a traveling machine operated by unknown scientific principles. The benign scientific expedition to study the cave and its contents encounters deceit and violence as nations and terrorist groups ferret out the existence and significance of the discoveries, and mount sophisticated operations to acquire technological treasures for their own purposes. ISUP finds itself at the convergence of clandestine assault from several fronts. Violence escalates. Lives become expendable - a scenario that has plagued the human race through the chronicles of time. Frantic action: Prague, London, New York, Washington, D.C., Libya, France, Spain, China, Iceland. Across oceans and air lanes, factions grapple for power. Survival for the ISUP scientists and preservation of new technologies for the benefit of humanity lie in choices of whom to trust.  (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review:This is book two in Chamberlain’s Ancestor Series, and as you may or may not remember (because I know ya’ll are hanging on to my every word), I didn’t love the first one.  I felt like it was confusing and super long and it just wasn’t great. I’m happy to report that this book was much better. First off, I feel like the writing was better. Even though Chamberlain was no novice when he wrote The Mountain Place of Knowledge, I could tell that he had improved with this book. It was much clearer what was going on, which was one of the big issues with the first book. Secondly, the story flowed more consistently, although it still wasn’t completely seamless. For instance, the book starts out with an earthquake (and not just any earthquake, a…wait for it…combo quake), and I’m still not sure what that earthquake had to do with anything. I mean, I could tell that the earthquake led to the scientists discovering…what they discover…but it seemed a little far-fetched why the one would cause the other. It was also unclear why the same scientists from the first book would be involved with the activities in this one because at first, they appear to be unrelated.

I think that the underlying issue is that Chamberlain has a very detailed story going on in his head and he knows where he wants it to go. He has characters he’s built up and wants to use, and he does keep things exciting with lots of thrilling adventures going on, but in the end, I don’t think he is able to translate all of that perfectly into a story because I was still left a little confused. It’s like when things are getting exciting and events are really happening, the story just sort of glosses over it or leaves out details that just leave the reader confused. Like I said, this is much better than the first book, but it still left me confused. I have wondered before if the confusion and missing details come from poor editing. Maybe the editor just starts cutting and cutting (and I could see how this could happen for length, because these books are quite long) and isn’t careful about where they’re cutting and then the reader, who is less familiar with this somewhat complicated story, is left in the dark along with the dangling participles.

As in the first book, there are lots of characters, and some of them only appear for a little while, so it’s hard to keep track of all of them. They’re not very developed, and that makes it hard to remember who is who or who works for who or whatever. There is a somewhat developing love story (I think?), but it is handled awkwardly and I’m not actually sure if that was what the “tinglings” he described meant. Maybe that was annoyance?  Anger? Rage? I’m not sure.  I think that Chamberlain is just excited about writing a fun, fast-paced story, which this is, but because of that he doesn’t spend much time character-building and that makes it difficult to understand what is going on from several different angles.

Overall, I feel like this was a much better read than the first, and I think the story has potential and definitely has some exciting things going on, but Chamberlain could use more finesse as a writer, and I think part of this could be accomplished with a really talented editor as well who could guide Chamberlain and also make decisions about what to keep and what to cut in the book to make it easier to read overall.

And there better be a next in the series. Because this one definitely leaves us hanging.

My Rating: 3 stars.

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and violence. It is on par with others in this genre.


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