Saturday, March 31, 2012

Freedom Train : The Story of Harriet Tubman - Dorothy Sterling

Summary:  Let my people go!  Born into slavery, young Harriet Tubman knew only hard work and hunger.  Escape seemed impossible -- certainly dangerous.  Yet Harriet was strong-willed and couragous.  "Some day," she said, "I'm going to be free."

When finally she did escape North, by the secret route called the "Underground Railroad," Harriet didn't forget her people.  Again and again she risked her life to lead them on the same secret, dangerous journey.

Freedom Train  is the exciting, true story of Harriet Tubman's bold and daring life.  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review:  I was really excited to read this book to my older girls.  We’ve been reading a great deal about boggarts, mermaids, and enchantments lately and I decided it was high time I read them something real.  Something with meaning.

Freedom Train tells the true story of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who made her way to freedom on the famed Underground Railroad, only to return repeatedly and, like a female Moses, lead many more of her people out of bondage.  Her life was truly remarkable.  My children listened to her story quietly with wide, disbelieving eyes and clamored for more whenever I finished a chapter. 
Harriet’s thirst for freedom, rebellious spirit, and unfailing determination were inspiring, but her life as a slave was unfair and often brutal.  This worried my girls.  Occasionally, I had to stop and explain the more unpleasant aspects of U.S. history and why people were treating Harriet and other slaves so badly.  I didn’t mind these moments, and enjoyed the opportunity to teach lessons to my kids on the importance of equality, sacrifice, and courage.

I found the story of Harriet’s escape and many of her return trips to be quite fascinating, but partway through when Harriet began to contribute in other ways, as a spokesperson and Union soldier, the book took on a slightly drier tone and my daughters lost some of that light in their eyes.  They still tuned in occasionally when Harriet did something particularly interesting, but I could tell they weren’t as interested.  I think that an older reader would probably be fine. 
Freedom Train is one of those books that I believe everyone should read.  It’s not an amazing book, in and of itself, but it is a wonderful tribute to the life of a true American heroine.

Kaisa (age eight) says:  I thought that it was a good book because it teaches you history.  I thought that Harriet Tubman was a great person and she acted like a hero.
Sophie (age six) says:  It was a really good story and I liked it when she tried to join the army and also I liked when she was good girl.  I liked the things that she did.  And that’s all I have to say.
My Rating:  4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  This book discusses the difficult issue of slavery, racism, and basic human cruelty.  I felt these issues were handled with care and presented in a way that might make children rightfully concerned, but not traumatized.  There were also two instances of profanity in this book – biblical, of course, but used in an exclamatory fashion.
Sum it up:  An inspiring story of one woman’s courage, sacrifice, and irrepressible spirit.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

Summary: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
Summary and Cover Image from indiebound.org

My Review: Erin Morgenstern has created a unique tale of a peculiar circus, one only open at night in which the most curious illusions are performed. It’s more than a circus though. This is the venue for a deadly competition. Two magicians chosen and trained during childhood will dual without rules and with no end in sight. The magic rolls off these pages. And interlaced throughout is a tale of forbidden love. It’s most difficult to say much more without giving away the story.

The detailed writing style will take the reader directly into the circus.The reader will be introduced to multiple interesting characters, each unique in his/her own way. The story jumps around the timeline so attention must be paid to dates. There are several storylines that merge into one and bits of a poem that appear occasionally and only make true sense in the end.

The author toes the line of excessive detail, yet her descriptions manage to blend perfectly to create a story rich in detail without being weighed down by excessive verbiage. The cover and overall design of the novel are beautiful. It is masterfully designed both inside and out to entertain a tale where magic, love, and a dangerous game unite.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

To Sum it up: A beautifully mysterious spellbinding tale.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Edenbrooke - Julianne Donaldson

Summary: Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she’ll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry.

From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will she be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.  (Summary and Image from www.goodreads.com) - Book given free for an honest review)


________________________


My Review:  Hold on.  Before we start the review, stop and admire this book cover for a second.   I think it’s gorgeous!  It makes me think of lazy summer days, romance, and Mr. Darcy.  When I saw this book, my plan for the day became:  Read this book in the warm sunshine and then maybe take a nap.  Okay, on we go…

I was so pleased to get my mitts on this book.  Personally, I’d rather read a sweet romance, filled with gallantry, flirting, and a little making out, than read a novel concerned primarily with, say, the highly unrealistic sex life of the Scottish Highlander.  Edenbrooke, is touted as a proper romance and “everything a romantic novel should be, without all that other stuff…”.  In the copy I received, the publisher described the book as “a love story that has the Regency flavor of Jane Austen, the heart-tugging romance of Cinderella, and the page-turning allure of Twilight – without the vampires.”  Honestly, they had me at Jane Austen but they clinched it with the lack of vampires. 
Like many romance novels, Edenbrooke is far from perfect in a literary sense.   The narration was in first-person, past tense (which led to a lot of “I” statements), the story was rather predictable, the writing lacked complexity, and the main character was rather dense* when it came to recognizing her own feelings or understanding the motivations of others.   However, once I really got a chance to dedicate myself to the story, I stopped noticing the little imperfections and quirks (or rather, I forgave them) and was pleasantly swept away by the romance. 

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but I will say that the “intrigue” aspect of this book wasn’t as intriguing as the blossoming romance between Marianne and a certain character. Oh, I’ll just say it. Philip. Oh, Philip. He was the perfect gentleman, an incorrigible flirt, and my favorite character. I was rooting for the young lovers right away, delighted in a few of their more entertaining misunderstandings, and wanted to scratch out the eyes of any and all of Marianne’s competition. I would also be remiss if I didn’t talk about the kiss. It was a niiiice kiss – I’m thrilled to say there was a bookcase involved. *Sigh* 
Overall, I thought this story was charming, romantic and a fun way to spend the afternoon.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take that nap.

*I really can’t fault that character trait, since it’s fairly standard in romance novels.  After all, if any of the characters were to actually communicate with each other about how they were feeling then the story would be over in a matter of chapters.
My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Have at it.
Sum it up: A sweet and simple romance – perfect for those searching for a little light, blush-free, romantic reading.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Magic Finger - Roald Dahl

Summary:  What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted?  To the Gregg family, hunting is just plain fun.  To the girl who lives next door, it’s just plain horrible.  She tries to be polite.  She tries to talk them out of it, but the Greggs only laugh at her.  Then one day the Greggs go to far, and the little girl turns her Magic Finger on them.  When she’s very, very angry, the little girl’s Magic Finger takes over.  She really can’t control it, and now it’s turned the Greggs into birds!  Before they know it, the Greggs are living in a next, and that’s just the beginning of their problems… (Summary from book – Image from www.randombuzzers.com )

My Review:  The little girl who lives next door to the Gregg family does not like hunting – something that the Gregg family does an awful lot.  Ordinarily neighbors would just have to agree to disagree, but this little girl has a magic finger and when she turns it on the Gregg family the feathers begin to fly.
I don’t often read children’s books on my own, but in this case I wanted to see if this book would make an interesting read-aloud for my six-year-old, or a better read-alone for my eight-year-old.  Having read all 63-pages, I think it would work for either of them.   There were roughly drawn illustrations on every page and the story was very simple and straight forward.  Girl curses family of hunters with her magic finger.  Family turns into birds and learn their lesson.  While I can’t say that I was riveted, and I would have liked a little back story on the girl’s magic finger, I think that younger minds would enjoy it. 
My Rating: 3 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  If you are an avid hunter, you’ll probably hate this book.  When the Gregg’s learn what it feels like to be hunted, they vow to never hunt again.  They also get guns pointed at them. 

Sum it up: Fine for the young reader, but nothing terribly special.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara

This guest review comes to us from Elizabeth Marsh, a friend of RFS reviewer Natalie.  Since I don't really know Elizabeth that well, I thought I'd turn the introductions over to Nat.  Here goes...

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Elizabeth Marsh! I met Elizabeth back in 2001 while we were training to be representatives for the LDS church in Austria. We hit it off really well and managed to keep each other sane during those crazy months. Elizabeth is now happily married and lives in Illinois with her husband and three children. She's a stay-at-home mom by day and a bibliophile by night who reads just about anything except self-help books. When she's not reading or taking care of her family, she teaches Zumba and R.I.P.P.E.D. classes a few days a week. She's also very interested in politics and has passed that interest (as well as her love for reading) to her oldest child, who enjoys watching presidential debates. (How cool is that?) I'm excited that Elizabeth is joining RFS today!

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Summary:  In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.  (Summary from book -- Image from www.swotti.com )

My Review: I am not a military strategist.  I don’t have the brain for tracking multiple, simultaneous battles, keeping all of the key players straight, and understanding the outcomes. (It probably didn’t help that my first experiences with Gettysburg came from Rhett and Scarlett’s reactions.)   Shaara humanized Gettysburg in a way I had never experienced.  I remember avidly studying each of the battles in high school, piece by piece, but it was so hard to reconcile those battles within a four-day timeframe. Shaara writes in such a way that acknowledges his reader’s familiarity with Gettysburg, but opens a new window into the fray – the hearts, wishes, and dreams of those fighting the battles.

I read The Killer Angels with my laptop next to me so that I could double check my faulty memory as to who the characters were, where they fought, and what sides they were on. (High school history was a LONG time ago.)  I became obsessed with the decisions, wept with the characters at their heartaches and fears, felt their exhilaration and single-minded focus during battle, and marveled at how intricately Shaara had woven his story.  It seemed to me that for the myriad characters he portrays, every single one was fighting for a different reason – each had cast the war in his own light.  The dusty names we all know became human.

It surprised me to find out that this was the basis for the movie Gettysburg (because, apparently, I live in a cave!).  After staying up until much too late to finish it, I woke up this morning with a burning desire to rent the movie, book a trip to Gettysburg again, and read the book to my family as we travel.

My Rating:  4.5 stars.  Almost five, but there were a lot of incomplete sentences, and it lost its artistic feel after a while.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is battle and blood, along with the aftermath, but it’s masterfully handled.  The language is largely mild, but there are a few instances of the Lord’s name being taken in vain.

Sum it up:  Read it.  Soon.  And then book a trip to Gettysburg and read it again!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium is the sequel to Delirium.  Read our review of Delirium here.

Summary: I'm pushing aside the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do. 
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.
(Summary from book - Image from www.laurenoliverbooks.com)

My Review:  If you’ve read Delirium, I probably don’t need to tell you to read Pandemonium.  You’ve either purchased it, borrowed it, or you’re on some type of waiting list and desperately trying to hack the local library database and jump the line.  Lucky me, I have a mom who likes to buy books and then sends them to me so that I can read them first.  Go ahead.  Be jealous.  She’s awesome.  Any-hoo, I received Pandemonium in the mail last week and have been itching to pick it up ever since it arrived.  Once I was able to devote some serious the-kids-are-finally-in-bed time to reading, I blazed right through it. 
In Pandemonium, Lena is torn between a past she can’t forget, Alex, the love she left behind, and the promise of a new future.  The chapters alternate between then, Lena’s struggle to survive after her harrowing escape into the Wilds, and now, her present mission as an undercover spy for the resistance movement.  Then and now, but never before.  No one talks about before.  Before is her mother, Hana, Grace, and Alex.  Before no longer exists.   
Moving back and forth between the Lena’s past and present only served to increase my anticipation; the author’s mini-cliffhangers always propelled me into the next chapter.  Along with a different time and setting, this book introduces a wider cast of characters – Lena’s new friends in the Wild and those she meets while working as a spy.   I enjoyed these additional characters but wanted to know more about them, especially Hunter and Tack.   Raven and Julian were the only two characters who stood out to me, and that was because the author gave them  a little backstory. 
Pandemonium is far more action-based than Delirium, which mostly centered around Lena and Alex’s relationship.  Fear not hopeless romantics, some romance does come into play as the story unfolds.  However, with romance in the background for much of the book, the author was able to create a more complex view of the conflict between the government and the resistance.  She expanded the resistance into several, sometimes opposing factions, and made the government seem that much crazier with the addition of the DFA (Deliria Free America) organization.
Unfortunately, there was quite a bit more profanity in this book than in its predecessor.  Much of it could be explained away by the rougher setting and characters, but I thought some of it was highly unneccesary.  Obviously, this is a matter of opinion and preference, but in some instances I felt the word mouse droppings would have been just as effective.   Now, if someone gets stabbed I tend to me more forgiving of profanity, even in fictional characters.  I’m not a total Molly.
As the second book in a trilogy I didn’t expect to get all the answers in this book, but I did expect a brutal cliffhanger ending that would keep me around for the next book and Lauren Oliver did not disappoint.  Did I see it coming?  Yes.  But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.  Thankfully, the odd moment of plot predictability doesn’t necessarily ruin things for me.     
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a great sequel.  I plan on reading the final book, Requiem, as soon as it comes out in Spring 2013.  Mom, are you getting this?! 

Also, if you've got an e-reader, you might like to read about Lena's best friend Hana in the e-book Hana: A Delirium Short Story (available here).
My Rating: 4 Stars. 
For the sensitive reader:  Pandemonium had far more instances of profanity than Delirium.  I lost track of the number of “S” words, but I’m guessing upwards of thirty with a couple of “F” words thrown in as well.  As far as sexual situations go, there was some making out and one instance where a boy “accidentally” sees Lena topless when she is changing.
Sum it up:  An intriguing sequel.  I will be coming back for more.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Big Wave - Pearl S. Buck

Summary: Kino lives on a farm on the side of a moutain in Japan.  His friend, Jiya, lives in a fishing village below.  Everyone, including Kino and Jiya, has heard of the big wave.  No one suspects it will wipe out the whole village and Jiya’s family, too.  As Jiya struggles to overcome his sorrow, he understands it is in the presence of danger that one learns to be brave, and to appreciate how wonderful life can be.  (Summary from book - Image from www.goodreads.com)

My Review:  The Big Wave tells the story of Kino and Jiya, two young boys who live near each other on one of the islands of Japan.   Kino is a farmer’s son who lives on the side of a mountain near Jiya’s small fishing village.  When not hard at work, both boys spend their free time playing together in the ocean surf, exploring caves, and sneaking glimpses of the rich Old Gentlman who lives on a nearby estate.   Kino doesn’t understand Jiya’s fear of the ocean, until a large wave destroys the fishing village, killing Jiya’s family and wiping out their home.  Jiya survives and is taken in by Koni’s family until one day the Old Gentlman offers to take Jiya into his home and raise him as his son in a life of luxury.  Now, Jiya must decide whether to stay with Koni and his family, in a life of poverty and uncertainty, or accept the Old Gentleman’s offer of security and luxury.

Pearl S. Buck is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Good Earth, a classic novel that I read and reviewed back in December.  It was fabulous, but rather long, and I was delighted to find this 57-page novella sitting on the shelf at our local Goodwill.  It only took about a half hour to read, and I loved the opportunity to delve back into the author’s writing style.
Although marketed as a children’s novel, The Big Wave is richly descriptive, incorporating various aspects of Japanese culture and local life, and bursting with life lessons for young and old.  Koni’s father is kind to both boys as they deal with the devastating effects of the tsunami; he allows them to grieve, helps them process their feelings, and teaches them the true meaning of bravery and happiness.
My Rating: 4 Stars
For the sensitive reader:  At one point, Jiya, Koni, and Koni’s family watch in horror as an entire village is swept away by a tsunami. It’s not graphic, but Jiya’s entire family is killed.  This might be hard on a younger reader.
Summary:  A little book with a great deal of wisdom.  Definitely worth your time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cancer : Step Outside the Box - Spotlight & Giveaway

Kelley & Hall Publishing contacted me recently to see if I'd be willing to review one of their latest titles, Cancer: Step Outside the Box by Ty Bollinger.  Now, ordinarily I would have accepted their offer, but right now, in my sixth month of pregnancy and my third month of attempted-house-selling, I am no where near emotionally stable enough to read any books about cancer.  However, I believe the topic is important enough to give it some time on this blog without our official endorsement or review.

Spotlight:  With over 100,000 copies sold and hundreds of 5-Star reviews on Amazon, Cancer-Step Outside the Box is becoming a “must-have” book on alternative cancer treatments and prevention.  This book is striking a chord and saving lives. Dr. Rashid Buttar, author of The 9 Steps to Keep the Doctor Away, says, “Ty Bollingers’ book is an extraordinarily thorough and courageously written book, brought to fruition by the dedication of a son for his departed parents. I found it difficult to put down this exceptional book once I began reading it and plan on recommending it to all my patients.”

Bollinger has spent over a decade collecting data on the history of alternative cancer treatments and presents it all in his groundbreaking book. He writes from the point-of-view of an observer and explains both sides (the medical and the alternative) of the war on cancer. Bollinger exposes the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry and the hope found in alternative treatments and preventative measures.

For more information about this book, please visit www.cancertruth.net

If you or someone you know is dealing with cancer, please leave a comment on this post with your contact information.  The first three people to comment will receive a free copy of this book.

Eligibility: This giveaway is for US residents only.  Please only enter this giveaway if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer and is researching treatment options. (ends 3/24)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Milkrun - Sarah Mlynowski

Summary:  Must think happy thoughts. Julie Andrews dancing. Cadbury's chocolate Easter eggs.

But no amount of positive thinking changes the fact that Jeremy—the man of my dreams, the man I would marry, the man who should spend his whole life worshipping me and lavishing me with kisses—went to Thailand to find himself.

Obviously I'm not as cute and witty as I thought I was, since while I've been sitting around every weekend, he's been sleeping with half of Thailand. And then he found Someone Else. That someone not being me.

I have been pathetic.

But now I will date. I will become the queen of dating. I will forget all about him.

Single in Boston, that's me. But not for long…!  (Summary from book - Image from barnesandnoble.com )



My Review: For the life of me I cannot figure out how this book came to live on my bookshelf.  Milkrun has been taking up valuable shelf space for way too long.  I suppose at one point in my early twenties, I was amused by the bubbly personality featured in the summary and threw it in the cart.  It has sat unnoticed on my bookshelf for quite some time until this morning when I was looking for a quick and easy read. 

Alas, I am older now and it didn't take me more than twenty-one pages to realize that I would likely lose IQ points if I continued to read any more of the main character's vapid, stream-of-consciousness ramblings.  I hated her almost instantly.  In my opinion, she deserved to be dumped by her well-traveled boyfriend and, since I had no interest in seeing her happy, I decided not to waste my time. 

How's that for truth? 

My Rating: 1 Star -- didn't finish.

For the sensitive reader:  From what I read, there was plenty of profanity and some sexually suggestive dialogue.

Sum it up:  I have better things to read.  Like the instructions that came with my flat iron.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cinder - Marissa Meyer

Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother.  Being cyborg does have its benefits, though:  Cinder's brain interface has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing.  This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball.  He jokingly calls it "a matter of national security," but Cinder suspects it's more serious than he's letting on.

Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger step-sister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade.   Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an "honor" that no one has survived.

But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig.  Something others would kill for.  (Summary from book - Image from www.penguin.com.au)

My Review:  I love my children.  I love my children.  I love my children.  I just thought I should make that perfectly clear before you read my next sentence.  This week I wanted to lock them in their bedrooms.  Why?  Because they would not let me finish this book.  I swear, every single time I sat down to read their highly attuned mommy-is-reading-a-book-she-really-wants-to-finish radar would kick on and in no time I'd have kids crawling all over me.  Although I wasn't able to read Cinder cover to cover in a day, I definitely wanted to and could have if my kids had decided to let me.  God and I need to have a serious chat about that radar thing...but, I digress.

Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella from an entirely new perspective.  You see, Cinder isn't your typical fairytale princess; she's a cyborg.  Initially, I was skeptical of this departure from the norm (robots don't strike me as particularly romantic figures), but it didn't take long before I was in love with Meyer's version, that combined science fiction, romance, and political intrigue, in a way that was both well-written and thoroughly entertaining.    

Aside from the whole part-robot thing, Cinder's also an expert mechanic with a stubborn streak.  I loved her personality and how she interacted with the other characters in the book.  Kai was every inch the charming prince, but genuinely honorable and not stuffy about it.  Adri and Pearl, Cinder's step mother and step sister, were perfectly horrid but I liked that the author chose to deviate from the standard format with the youngest stepsister, Peony.  All these characters, and the addition of certain plot elements, like an incurable plague that is sweeping the kingdom and a marriage-hungry foreigner with evil intentions, brought a compelling depth to the book that I just don't get from Disney.  Meyer's version was better.  *Gasp!*  I know.  Good ole' Walt is spinning in his grave.

The only downside to this book is that it is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, with subsequent books Scarlet, Cress, and Winter, releasing in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively.  Obviously, Marissa Meyer is trying to make me have a mental breakdown.  With an ending like that (think moderate cliffhanger) there can be no other explanation.

Author's have to walk a fine line when retelling fairy tales; they must stay close enough to the storyline that it can be recognized as a retelling, but not so close that everything seems redundant.  Marissa Meyer walks that line with creativity and style.  I thoroughly enjoyed her fresh, futuristic interpretation of this much loved classic. 

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Read away.  Nothing, that I can think of anyway, to offend.  Unless you are offended by cyborgs.

Sum it up:  A fresh, futuristic twist on a classic fairytale.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two for the Dough - Janet Evanovich

Two for the Dough is the second novel in a series of books by Janet Evanovich. Read our reviews of One for the Money, the first novel in this series, here and here.

Summary:  Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum debuted in Janet Evanovich's award-winning One for the Money.  Now she's back, packing a whole lot of attitude -- not to mention stun guns, defense sprays, killer flashlights, and a .38 Smith & Wesson -- on the trail of Kenny Mancuso, a boy from the working-class burg of Ternton, who's just shot his best friend.  Mancuso's fresh out of the army and suspiciously wealthy.  He's also distantly related to Joe Morelli, a vice cop with ethics that lean toward the gray zone, a libido in permanent overdrive, and a habit of horning in on Stephanie's investigations. 

Aided by her tough bounty hunter pal, Ranger, and her funeral-happy Grandma Mazur, Stephanie's soon staggering knee-deep in corpses and caskets, trying to shake Morelli...and stirring up a very nasty enemy.  (Summary from book - Image from macmillan.com)



My Review:  In Two for the Dough, female bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is struggling with the finer points of her profession, but with fellow bounty hunter Ranger on standby and a vast assortment of weapons, she’s too desperate for money to admit defeat.  As soon as Stephanie’s given the task of tracking down Kenny Mancuso, Joe Morelli starts trying to wheedle his way into her investigation and her...erm...good graces. Pretty soon Stephanie's got her hands full of trouble and it isn’t long before body parts start showing up in the mail, she’s living at home, and her eye is twitching.  Clearly, bounty hunting is tougher than it looks.

Two for the Dough was one those books that doesn’t have a lot, or really any, redeeming literary quality, but it did have an eccentric cast of characters, an interesting storyline, and a little bit of everything else (mystery, humor, romance, etc).  Stephanie Plum shines as a feisty but fumbling, headstrong bounty hunter with a poorly fed pet hamster, a penchant for junk food, and horrible luck with cars.  Joe Morelli.  Well, I have no idea how Stephanie keeps from throwing herself at Joe Morelli.  If I were a different kind of woman….*sigh*…but then I apparently have a thing for cops.  Even though Stephanie and Morelli argue a lot, they have great chemistry, and I loved his increased presence in her personal life.  Oh, and Grandma Mazur is one tough, crazy lady.
I can’t say much about the plot of this book that the summary (above) doesn’t already say.  There wasn’t a whole lot that surprised me, but I still like the way that Evanovich left things and I’ll probably pick up the next book, Three to Get Deadly, especially since it’s already sitting on my shelf, staring at me.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  If you made it through One for the Money then you're probably not a sensitive reader.  This book contains much of the same -- boatloads of profanity and sexual humor.  One almost-sexual situation.  Not as much sadistic violence as in her first book.

Sum it up:  If you liked One for the Money you'll probably enjoy Two for the Dough.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Legend - Marie Lu

Summary:  Once known as the western coast of the United States, the Republic is now a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors, the Colonies.

Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a military prodigy.  Obedient, passionate, and committed to her country, she is being groomed for success in the Republic's highest circles.

Born into the slums of the Republic's Lake Sector, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal.  But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem. 

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths -- until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.  Now, caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June tries desperately to avenge Metias's death. 

But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com )

My Review: Sometimes the only thing that will save a really crappy day is to disappear inside a book.  I've had a lot of those days lately and so last night, when my kids were in bed and my husband got called into work and I should have been doing something much more important, I read Legend instead.  Cover to cover.  I love it when that happens -- even if it means I go to bed at 3am.

War has fractured the United States.  Now, two warring nations, the Republic and the Colonies, engage in a bitter feud over land, power, and resources.  June is the pride of the Republic, a military prodigy, and the only person to ever acheive a perfect score in the Trials.  Day is a wanted criminal with a knack for sabotage, thievery, and disappearing without a trace.  When Day is accused of murdering June's brother, she will stop at nothing to track him down and bring him to justice.  However, once their paths cross, June discovers that Day is not the callous criminal that she expected, but a smart, considerate family man.  As June wrestles with her doubts and Day tries to save his brother from a vicious illness, they stumble onto common ground and a uncover a truth that changes everything.

Was Legend  the be all, end all of YA dystopian fiction?  Not quite -- but I enjoyed it anyway.  Told from the alternating perspectives of two very different teenagers, this novel was full of enough action, adventure, and romance to keep me more than interested.  June and Day worked well together as "star-crossed" lovers, but were equally interesting characters in their own right.  While their chemistry wasn't quite as electric as I'd hoped, it was still pretty enjoyable without being sexual or overshadowing the rest of the story. 

By the end of this book it was clear that Legend is just the beginning of a much larger story.  While this book does offer a great deal in the way of resolution, there is so much more that I want to know about the history between the Republic and the Colonies, June, Day, and some of the other characters in the book.  One way or another, I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  No profanity and the 15-year-old characters managed to keep their pants on (as in, they only kissed), thank heavens.   There was some violence that I would describe it as brutal, but not graphic.

Sum it up:  An entertaining way to spend the evening (and the very wee hours of the morning).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Inquisitor - Spotlight and Giveaway

Look what I got in the mail a few days ago!
 

Now, I haven't had a chance to read it yet, so I can't give my official stamp of approval,
but I can give you a chance to win it so you can read it for yourself.
Their promotion ends at the end of the month, so enter now!

Here's a sneak peek at what you'd be in for:

Geiger has a gift: he knows a lie the instant he hears it.  And in his business -- called "information retrieval" by its practitioners -- that gift is invaluable, because truth is the hottest thing on the market.

One of Geiger's rules is that he never works with children.  So when his partner, former journalist Harry Boddicker, unwittingly brings in a client who demands that he interrogate a twelve-year-old-boy, Geiger responds instinctively.  He rescues the boy from his captor, removes him to the safety of his New York City loft, and promises to protect him from further harm.  But if Geiger and Harry cannot quickly  discover why the client is so desperate to learn the boy's secret, they themselves will become the victims of an utterly ruthless adversary. 

Mesmerizing and heart-in-you-throat compelling, The Inquisitor is a completely unique thriller that introduces both an unforgettable protagonist and a major new talent.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Hunger Games Giveaway Snafu!!!

UH-OH!?  Where'd the giveaway go?!

You might have noticed that the super duper awesome 
'The Hunger Games' Gear Giveaway
sponsored by CafePress has been taken down.

DO NOT FREAK OUT
(especially those of you who have already entered!). 
I have temporarily removed the giveaway and
pushed back its start date until we get the go ahead from Lionsgate.   
All those who have already entered
will STILL be entered in this giveaway when it re-posts. 

Apparently, Lionsgate would like CafePress to wait until after the movie premieres before sponsoring giveaways.  Neither I, nor my contact at CafePress, were aware of this little detail.  Oops.  Now, I'm not one to willingly piss off major film companies, so I hope you'll understand my decisions to pull it as fast as humanly possible. 

Unfortunately, Lionsgate nixed the giveaway. 
*Sniff*
The silver lining? 
There is still a great selection of Hunger Games gear available. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Something WICKED this way comes...

Don't worry.  It's not evil.
But it is wicked!
Very.
Here's a little clue...
I'd keep checking back if I were you....

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Priest and the Peaches - Larry Peterson

Summary: Take a seven day journey with the five, newly orphaned Peach kids, as they begin their struggle to remain a family while planning their dad's funeral.

They find an ally in the local parish priest, Father Tim Sullivan, who tries his best to guide them through the strange, uncharted and turbulent waters of "grown-up world." A story that is sad, funny, and inspiring as it shows how the power of family love and faith can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Summary and cover image from Tribute Books (www.tribute-books.com) Book given free for review.

My Review:  This book details the week after the Peach children are left orphaned following their father’s unexpected death. Teddy, Joanie, Beeker, Dancer, and Joey must learn quickly how to fend for themselves. The road ahead won't be easy. Yet with faith and togetherness they soon discover all things are possible.

The nicknames of the children and the choppy writing style made this book a bit difficult to embrace at first. Yet after a couple chapters the writing style began to mesh well with the setting. It felt natural and the Peach family became quite endearing. This book is full of emotion. The author did a phenomenal job of combining humor with profound sadness, confusion, and even anger. He was able to fully capture the emotion felt after the death of a loved one. There is an underlying religious message but it is not overly done. The motto for the story "LYN" (love your neighbor) is one that should be embraced by all. This story contained a few odd moments that young adults would probably appreciate more than I was able to. Yet the final chapters straighten everything out and my overall feeling when closing the book was one of satisfaction.span>

My Rating: 3 solid stars

To sum it up: A touching tale that will leave you believing in miracles.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New-To-You Savings & the Independent Bookstore

Let's face it, the economy is in the toilet, gas prices are on the rise, and people are looking for ways to save money.  I know that I am seriously considering the insanity of couponing.  But, I digress...

When I am looking to save money on books, I always head over to my local used bookstore, Encore Books.  I love it!  If my children weren't such heathens, I think we would spend most afternoons there browsing.  Encore Books sells new books, offers in-store credit for your used books, and they only charge you 1/2 the cover price (or less) for their used books.   Many other used bookstores operate on a similar system.

I don't think I've ever left that store without a great find (unless I was dragging a misbehaving youngster behind me).

For example, today, with stinky toddler in tow,
I found two books that I have been wanting to buy:

Divergent & Entwined 
(see our reviews here and here).
They are both hardcover and in "like new" condition. 
*insert chorus of angels singing*

Cost to purchase both books at a regular box store: $37.98 + tax
Cost to purchase both books at an online mega-store: $23.23 + tax + shipping
Cost to purchase both books at at Encore, pay cash: $9.95 + tax
Cost to purchase both books at Encore, with in-store credit: $1.08  Total. 

Mind blown?  

Thanks Encore Books (visit them on Facebook).  You made my day!

My point?  Get to know your locally owned, independent new & used booksellers! They often have great deals, bargain racks, special discounts, and they can recommend the best books because they actually read them! I know that our local indepent bookstore, Inklings, is my definition of heaven on earth. 

Live in the boonies?  Buy your books online from Powell's Books, the nation's largest independent bookseller of new & used books.

Feel you simply must purchase e-books?  Try to buy them from independent bookstores.  Bet you didn't know you could do that, eh?!  Click here for a list of indepedent's that sell E-BOOKS.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Tail of Emily Windsnap - Liz Kessler

Summary:  Everybody has a secret.  Mine's a little different, though.  I didn't even know about it until the first day of swim class in the seventh grade.  You see, I'd never been allowed to go in the water before.  As it turns out, swimming comes naturally to me.  Very naturally.  In fact, so naturally that you might even say...well, it's true.  Here's my secret:  I figured out that I'm a mermaid.  (Summary from book - Image from www.geneva304.org)

My Review:  Emily has always felt close to the ocean, even though she’s never actually been in it.  Well, not that she can remember anyway.  When her mom finally consents to swimming lessons, and something strange happens during class, Emily uncovers a hidden talent, a fascinating world, and an unlikely friend.  Only someone is watching, and will stop at nothing to keep the past a secret.

I am sure that this book is the sort of book I would have adored as a young girl, but the adult me wanted to stop reading after about twelve pages.  The dialogue, plot depth, etc. made it painfully obvious that this was a book meant to be read by children and tweens and not their parents.  It was fine, really, but I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes at Emily’s ability to solve certain problems effortlessly, while it took her ages to piece together the most obvious of clues.        
I might have been rolling my eyes, but my daughters were not; they were thrilled with the story.  I mean, what little girl doesn’t dream of finding out she’s really half-mermaid?!  I’m fairly certain that I did.  When I drug my feet, they begged me to keep reading.  With every mention of underwater shipwrecks, rainbow rocks, and glittering palaces, they slipped further into the story and their own imaginations.  That is why I kept reading.    

I don’t often recommend that parents skip reading a book before handing it to their children, but I might make an exception with The Tail of Emily Windsnap.  As long as you’re okay with the stuff in my sensitive reader section (below) then you have nothing else to worrya bout with this novel.  Hand it over, spare yourself some eye-rolling, and let your little girl disappear into a world of mermaids, shipwrecks, and sparkling treasure. 

Here’s a little of what my girls had to say (I’m in italics): 
Kaisa (age 8), says:  “I think the story was cool because I really like mermaids.  It’s really a good story that kids can read.  My favorite part was when they were in the courtroom made out of jewels then and they got to go live on an island  (ßoops, sorry.  Spoiler.)  My least favorite part was when she was sneaking out in the middle of the night because it wasn’t really a good thing to do.  (Good girl.)  I like the joke at the front (on the cover) about how it’s a TAIL, like a tail on a mouse, instead of a TALE like a story.”

Sophie (age 6) says:  “I liked it when she turned into a mermaid and I liked the part with the crystal chandelier.  I liked it when she found a new friend that was Shona and that she got to live on an island.  My not favorite part was when she had to the court because guy with the mermaid thing (Neptune) was scary.  The story is a little scary (Not really.  He might have yelled a bit, but this girl has watched The Mummy and been just fine.  Don’t judge me.  It was her dad’s idea).  
Apparently, this is also the first book in a series.  I don't plan on reading them, but my girls might.
My Rating:  My daughters both want me to give this book 5 stars.  I want to give it 2 stars.  I’m going to meet them halfway and go with 3.5 stars.  I can live with that. 

For the sensitive reader:  Emily does some sneaking out at night and has some conflict with a bullying classmate, but nothing that a comment or two from a well-meaning parent can’t diffuse.
Sum it up:  Skip this book as a read-aloud, and just let your child read it on their own.  They’ll enjoy it.  You have better things to read.

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