Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Suffering - Rin Chupeco

Summary: Over the last year I've gone against faceless women, disfigured spirits, and grotesque revenants. Some people keep dangerous hobbies; skydiving and driving at monster truck rallies and glacier surfing. Me? I cast my soul into the churning waters of potential damnation and wait for a bite. 

It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest’, both must resolve their differences and return to that country of secrets to find her. 

Because there is a strange village inside Aokigahara, a village people claim does not exist. A village where strange things lie waiting.

A village with old ghosts and an ancient evil – one that may be stronger than even Okiku…

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: One thing that really gets me in the mood for a fun Halloween season (because I LOVE Halloween!) is scary reading. Now there are lots of different ways to talk about “scary.” War, famine, post-apocalyptic, kidnapping, true crime, serial killers, ya know. The list goes on and yet I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. I don’t want that kind of scary for Halloween. I want uber creepy ghosts or Dracula or something that really gets me in the mood.

This book, my friends, fit the bill.

I think I can summarize this pretty simply by saying it’s based on Japanese ghost folklore. If you have read any Japanese ghost folklore, it’s really scary. The movie The Ring was actually based on Japanese folklore, and coincidentally, the first book in this series (The Suffering is the second book) was based on that same folktale. So if you still see that creepy black and white image of the girl climbing out of the well—hair all crazy and brushed forward—and get creeped out (in the best way possible!) then you should TOTALLY read this book. I’m serious. I reviewed the first book in the series, The Girl From the Well, and while I thought that one was scary and had some really fun, scary moments, I thought this one was scarier.

For instance—my husband was gone for four days. For three of those days, my mom and sisters and whole gaggle of kids came to stay with me and party at my house for the weekend. This book was so scary that if it was in a really scary part (read: the lion’s share of it minus the first few chapters and last few chapters) I wouldn’t read it at night for fear of the dreams and general creeped-out-ness that would come. AND THERE WERE A WHOLE GAGGLE OF KIDS! I mean, who gets scared when there are kids everywhere and the noise and festivity is through the roof? This is that kind of book.

Ghosts. Ghouls. Evil ghosts. Scary graveyardy situations. Mega-haunted villages. This book embraced all things Halloween. I seriously can’t tell you how fun and creepy it was. I just loved it. It really started my Halloween off right.

Now if you are looking for a literary classic, I have to admit that this probably isn’t it. It’s pretty standard YA Fic, complete with some competing love stories, sassy teens, said sassy teens “tricking” their parents, etc. It’s not super poignant or life-affirming, and the characters aren’t super developed and whole, but it didn’t matter. That’s not what this book was about. I am giving this book four stars just because it’s a really great ghost story. I haven’t been this scared about ghosts and loving it this much since I read Wait Till Helen Comes in fourth grade when my math teacher touched my shoulder and I jumped a mile. If you are looking for a really fun, really scary ghost story, you should check this book out. But it’s scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some gory content in here. YA Fic gory, not Scandinavian crime author gory.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The House that Drac Built by Will Hillenbrand

Summary: One by one, a bat, a cat, a werewolf, a monster, a mummy, a zombie, and other frightful creatures emerge in the dark house. They chase, wrestle, and roar--until the doorbell rings and in walks a group of fearless trick-or-treaters who know exactly what to do.

Summary and image from Goodreads.com.

Review: A great book for emerging readers, this book is build like There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or The Twelve Days of Christmas, where the events build upon each other and are repeated on every page. My daughter discovered this book in preschool at age 4 and had it memorized. We borrowed it from her teachers enough that I went ahead and bought our own copy. It introduced her to words like "manticore" and "fiend."

A cat bites a bat and that starts a chain reaction in the haunted house, disturbing all the creatures withing. The mummy comes unwrapped. The werewolf gets out of its cage. The beasts start roaring. And in the end, a group of trick-or-treaters right all the wrongs, down to putting a bandage on the bat's wing.

Cute story. Fun rhyming patterns. We enjoy this book.

Rating: 5 stars. Definitely one of my favorite children's books.

For the sensitive reader. If you're not a fan of the witches-and-vampires side of Halloween, you may not love this book for children. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nightmares! - Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Summary:  Sleeping has never been so scary. And now waking up is even worse!

Charlie Laird has several problems. 

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap. 

What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world—that’s a line that should never be crossed.

And when your worst nightmares start to come true . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird. For good.  Summary and image from goodreads.com

Review:  Okay, who knew Jason Segel could write?  Forget whether he could write, who knew he could write so well?  My last foray into celebrity-penned fiction didn't end well.  (Ahem, Modelland, cough, cough.)  But my son was desperate for a new book, we're always desperate to find him something fictional he's willing to read, so we grabbed this off the shelf and figured it would be worth a shot.

He didn't sleep.  One, the book did indeed give him nightmares, but fun ones, and two, it was too much fun to put down.

The whole premise of the book is that Charlie Laird has so much fear that he's opened a portal to the Netherworld where nightmares are really real.  Not only is this affecting his whole town, President Fear (the dictatorial leader of the Netherworld and principal of Charlie's school) is planning on using Charlie's fear to take over the waking world.  In order to save his friends and his town, he'll have to confront and embrace his deepest fears ... even the one he hasn't shared with anyone.

I was so pleasantly surprised with this book.  Segel's imagination and his combined writing with Miller was entrancing! Charlie's bitterness was palpable in the beginning of the book, and his perspective was difficult to read, but it was totally believable.  His time in the Netherworld was scary and nailbiting and fun and still completely believable.  The resolution?  Let's just say that I can not wait for the second book to come out.  There was no cliffhanger.  It was resolved beautifully.  I may have cried a bit.  But the writing was so much fun, I need the next one!

Rating:  Five stars


For the Sensitive Reader:  In the first part of the book, before Charlie enters the Netherworld, he's mean.  He's outright cruel to his stepmother, he belittles his brother, he is disrespectful to his father.  It's explained why very well, but it did make me wonder why I'd let my impressionable and very mimic-y nine year old read this!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mouse's First Halloween by Lauren Thompson

Summary: Join Mouse on a spooky fall night. He hears bats flying, leaves falling, and children singing, "Trick or Treat!" What can it mean? Find the answer in this sturdy board book edition of the best-selling picture book.

Summary and image from Goodreads.com. 

Review: This is a favorite board book at my house all year long. It's too fun for kids to only bring it out at Halloween.

It is a book for babies or toddlers with lots of repetition. As Mouse runs around on Halloween night, different shapes in the dark and sounds in the night raise his hackles and pique his curiosity, causing him to exclaim, "Eeeek! What could it be?" on every page. Kids love to jump in on the repetition and squeak with Mouse as he discovers scampering kittens, winking jack-o-lanterns, and swooping bats. I enjoyed this book so much that I sought out other "Mouse's First" books, only to be disappointed. This is my favorite by far.

Rating: 3.75 stars. My kids do love this book and would probably give it 5 stars, but let's be real--it's a repetitious children's board book. It's cute and memorable, but it is what it is.

For the sensitive reader--nothing to worry about here! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Best Halloween Ever - Barbara Robinson

Summary: The Herdmans plus Halloween have always spelled disaster.
Every Halloween, the six Herdman kids steal candy, spray-paint other kids, and take everything that isn't nailed down. And this year promises to be the same, until the Mayor decides to up and cancel Halloween. True, that means there'd be no Herdman trouble to contend with, but that also means no candy, no costumes, and no trick-or-treating! Is it possible that the Herdmans themselves could make what looks like a horrible Halloween into the best one ever? (Summary and image from goodreads.com)
Review -  Remember the Herdman clan from the Best Christmas Pageant Ever?  They're back, and this time they're taking on Halloween.  Halloween is the best day of the year for the Herdmans, since it's the day their naughty ways get to shine in full.  In fact, it's typical to see many more Herdmans running around than normal, since they're so scary, it's a popular costume!  But when the Mayor puts his foot down and cancels Halloween for the whole town, the Principal tries to have a Herdman-free/Parent-supervised "SAFE" Halloween at the school, and the Herdmans get word?  You'd better hope the usual hijinks are the only thing that happens!
I'd forgotten how much I loved Robinson's writing.  I hadn't even known she had written more adventures with the Herdmans, and guess what?  They're even more fun than I remembered!  She has such an active imagination, such a fun way of writing (I totally identified with the 12 year old narrator), and such a canny voice that this is definitely one of my new favorite Halloween reads.  Perfect for the younger kids in the family (the scariest it gets is a veiled threat by Imogene and a planned blackout ... and some disappearing kids), this is definitely a book that would be fun to read on Halloween night after the festivities are winding down.
Rating: Five stars
For the sensitive reader:  The Herdmans are thieves, vandals, naughty as can be, and unsupervised at home.  But under all of that, they're hiding hearts of gold -- all six of the little devils!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes


Summary: Follow los monstruos and los esqueletos to the Halloween party.

Under October's luna, full and bright, the monsters are throwing a ball in the Haunted Hall. Las brujas come on their broomsticks. Los muertos rise from their coffins to join in the fun. Los esqueletos rattle their bones as they dance through the door. And the scariest creatures of all aren't even there yet!

Summary and image from Goodreads.com. 

My review: I picked this up at the library's Halloween display a few weeks ago and have thoroughly enjoyed it. A fun Halloween book with a Mexican Día De Los Muertos vibe and fascinating illustrations.

Spanish words are woven into every stanza of this rhythmic, rhyming story in such a way that you understand what each word means. Witches, vampires, skeletons, zombies, mummies, and, of course, black cats all come together to have a party in a haunted house underneath the October moon. Yet there is something that scares even these scary fantasmas--children trick-or-treating!

I really enjoy this fun Halloween book. My six-year-old loves it. She is always trying to learn Spanish when she can and this was an engaging and memorable way to add a few offbeat Spanish words to our vocabulary. My three-year-old did not like it the first time we read it, calling it scary, but since has enjoyed repeated readings. I love, love, love Halloween--especially the old traditions surrounding it--so this book was right up my alley.

For the sensitive reader: I know there are some people who prefer to leave the ghosts and witches out of Halloween and focus on superheroes and princesses. Those readers may find this book a little macabre for children. The illustrations are a little spooky, but not disturbing or gross. After an initial viewing, my 3 year-old now likes this book and enjoys counting the skeletons and the zombies with glowing eyes.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer

Please welcome back guest reviewer, Jessica Clark!
Summary: THE HEIRESS

A novel set in Regency London and Brighton. It is in regrettable circumstances that beautiful Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine first encounter Julian St. John Audley. The man, they both agree, is an insufferably arrogant dandy. But unfortunately for the orphans, he is also the Fifth Earl of Worth, a friend of the Regent and, quite by chance, their legal guardian...

Judith Taverner had captivated all London society. A bevy of elegant bachelors swarmed about her, vying for her favors. But then her brother suddenly vanished, she was forced to seek the aid of her mysterious guardian, the powerful Earl of Worth.

Once Judith had looked upon the Earl as a protector -- and then as something far more. But now she was gown up, worldly-wise... and prey to a chilling suspicion. For Judith was not only a bewitching young lady, but also heiress to a great fortune -- a bewildered creature trying to discover the difference between a man's love and a man's greed.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com)

Review:  After spending many decades reading and re-reading Jane Austen novels, I felt it was time to brave new territory. Not one to go lightly into new things, yet incurring an insatiable need for all things Regency, I spent far too much time reading reviews on various books and authors that focused on my favorite time period.

One name kept popping up over and over again.

Georgette Heyer.

As I stumbled over her name again and again, I began to discern that she was not just another writer trying to cash in on the obvious obsession with the regency era that began with Jane Austen and has now risen to a fever pitch today. In fact, Georgette began her writing career in the early 20th century (read: early 1900's) as a young woman. To this day, 48 of her books are in print.

So, deciding I had stumbled upon a genuine article, I decided to dive in.

Regency Buck is GH's first regency era novel. Many would tell you that it is a take off of Pride and Prejudice, one of Jane Austen's greatest hits. And so, dear reader, I would have to agree.
If, by agreeing, I mean there is a boy and a girl who meet, fall out of like with each other, are thrown together again and again, and then realize they are made for each other. And you know what, I like that. I like a good story of unrequited love becoming requited again. Isn't that what all of our teenage hearts yearned for at one point or another anyway?!

If you have ever wondered what Elizabeth Bennet would have been like if she had been in different, more fashionable shoes, this is the book for you. Not only is it filled with timely descriptions of the Regency era and all of the machinations of the ton, it gives you a heroine that learns to navigate the confining restrictions of her day with an altogether refreshing twist.

Whether it's driving a carriage “hell for leather” through the countryside in her own curricle, or cleverly avoiding the advances of one of the Regency era's most illustrious historical figures, you'll enjoy unraveling the plot and the details of this Regency novel that kicked off the genre in the first place.

Rating:  I give this book a 4 star rating because there are some overly long descriptions of different cultural aspects of the regency era. While I love the regency era, and would normally eat up any descriptions, it did slow the plot down. 


For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few descriptions of cultural aspects of the regency era that might give a reader pause. One event described is a boxing match given in all it's gory detail. Another event is a cock fight (two roosters fighting each other). The author gives the reader an entire look into just how these animals go from the farm to the cage match. The last event worth noting is an outing at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton involving the indubitable playboy, the Prince Regent, and our heroine. Her quick thinking gets her out of trouble before it's too late, but she does find herself in a sticky situation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Book of Speculation - Erika Swyler

Summary: A sweeping and captivating debut novel about a young librarian who is sent a mysterious old book, inscribed with his grandmother's name. What is the book's connection to his family?

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon's grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand. 

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler's gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

(Summary and pic from goodreads.com). I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Review:The first thing I noticed about this book is it is really beautiful. I know this is totally a “judge its book by its cover” kind of thing, but seriously. The cover is really cool and inside, the chapters have some color and some drawings, which are really cool. The reason why I am noting this is A) I am a very hearty appreciator of real books. eReaders are really not my thing, despite my love of technology. When I encounter a beautiful book, it is kind of rare, especially in a world where self-publishing is everywhere. Not that there’s anything against that, but they’re not hardbound with that cool velvety cover. B) This book is about an old book—a Book of Speculation, as you may have handily guessed—so to have a book that is actually really cool on the outside added to it. It gave the book an edge of having a cool vibe to it right from the start. It set the tone.

I liked this book a lot, actually. It has an alternating voice between the main character (who is not a reliable narrator, which I actually kind of love although it always throws me off) and reading from the actual “Book of Speculation.” It’s such a cool story. It’s macabre, it’s a little creepy, and it walks the edge between fantasy and realism that I really like. I don’t like it when books are completely out of the realm of possibilities unless I know that it is completely out of the realm of possibilities. Does that make sense? I’m fine with paranormal books (unless the love story is LAME and then I’m not. Don’t get me started) but I am not okay with a book that considers itself to be dealing in reality but actually it’s just stupid and the author takes too many liberties. This book is not that way. This book walks the very fine line but remains in that fun and crackly place where it’s real, but it’s a little more fantastical than real, but it could be real.

And there are carnies and freaks in a freak show. Who doesn’t love that kind of thing? It brings up all the right kind of fun creepiness. The people are interesting, the history is interesting, the fact that this kind of thing actually existed (and still exists!) is just so outside of my realm of reality that I really enjoy reading about it. Swyler does a great job of creating that old timey feel where it’s a little creepy, almost fairytale-esque, and bringing it to the present and carrying that over.

Something I loved—no LOVED—about this book was the idea that this book had a will of its own and found who it wanted to be with. As someone who loves books, and understands the importance of them personally, historically, culturally, I love the idea that books have a personality of their own, that they have a will and a purpose. That they understand their importance as well. Seriously. This is awesome.

I am giving this book four stars because although I think Swyler is great, I do think that there were a few rookie maneuvers with the plot. It doesn’t ruin things and I still highly recommend the book, but Swyler doesn’t flawlessly pull everything off.

Overall, I would recommend this. It’s got a cool, fun vibe with just a hint of the macabre to make it creepy and delicious.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and some discussion of sex. There is nothing too shocking, though, and I find it to be on par with others from its genre. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Skulls - Mike Artell

Summary:  An incredibly cool, close-up look at the skulls of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. Dozens of Images of animals (including their scientific name), fun facts, jokes, wordplay and off-the-word, fascinating trivia related to each animal. Plus, there's a "match the skull" quiz at the end of the book and some links for related web sites. Your young scientist is going to love this book! (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  With three junior scientists in the house, I can't ever have enough science books.  It's just a fact - even though we've spent the summer in the library, and even though they've lived in the nonfiction section, there's just never enough.

Mike Artell has put together a fun book for those interested in animals.  Along with each picture of the animal's skull is a photograph of the living animal and a page of facts.  To be honest, I was fascinated by the skulls of the animals alone.  They're stunning.  It took some imagination, even with the living example next to it, to see how it belonged to the animal it had -- but I loved it.  Aren't bodies fascinating?  It's the kind of book you can breeze through in a short period of time, or you can just as easily use the guide as a reference jumping off point.

Just to give you an indicator of how the target audience responds to the book, I opened it in the car as we were heading out for the day.  Within seconds, I had three voices crying "Mine!"  "No, clearly that's for me!" "I want it!"  Clearly, taking turns is a concept we need to continue to review.  Sigh.  I'm happy to report that they've all gotten a turn and the only battle we have now is which child is the lucky one whose bookshelf will house this book.

Perhaps because it's my favorite time of the year, but this would be an excellent book to put in a classroom library.  For homeschoolers out there, I'd consider this invaluable!

Rating:  Four stars -- I wish it were longer

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trivia For Adults - Joe B. Hewitt

Summary: TRIVIA for ADULTS contains rules for playing trivia, 620 original questions and answers. Most answers are expanded to fully explain them. If you don't play the game, you can read the questions and answers and increase your general knowledge. Rules for playing the game are included. There is no board or tokens, just 20 questions for each game for team play. Many difficult questions have multiple choice answers so you can make a good guess. These questions are for adults. There are no questions that only a teenager would know. 

An example of the expanded answer: 611. To “tack close to the wind” is what kind of term, (A. Roofer. (B. Sky diving. (C. Sailing. 

Answer: 611. To “tack close to the wind” is a (C. Sailing term. A sail boat or sailing ship cannot sail directly into the wind, but can go at a 45 degree angle toward the wind in a zigzag. When the vessel changes directions it is called “tacking.” In order to go as near to against the wind as possible, the sailor will “tack close to the wind.” 

The author welcomes challenges and comments.  (Summary and Pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: I am not one of those people who can spout trivia all the time, but I definitely know a lot of random things about a lot of things. There’s a difference, ya know? The trivia people win Trivial Pursuit and can remember facts well. They know dates. They know names and intricate details. People like me, well. I love learning, love listening to podcasts about stuff, but I don’t know if I’d win Trivial Pursuit. Maybe I’m splitting straws here. Maybe I’m making excuses? Who knows?

This book is formatted a little differently than I thought it would be. I’m not sure what I thought, but I was happily surprised when I got it. It’s like a party in a book. A party for nerds in a book. It’s structured in such a way that it should be used for a game, and in fact the introduction tells you how to play a game using the book. Although none of the physical game elements are included—it’s just a book—there are plenty of questions to keep you going for many games. The sections are divided into 20 questions, and then the 20 answers are given in the following pages. This makes it nice because you don’t have to hunt down answers—they’re basically right there. They’re numbered clearly, the pages are numbered clearly, and I’m thinking that if it were to be used for a game, it would be quite easy to keep track of where you left off and come right back to it.

Like any trivia game, there are not extensive answers to the questions. A lot of the questions are just answered simply in a few words. However, this doesn’t mean they’re answered with no explanation. In fact, many of the answers have a little bit of an explanation, a little nugget of information for the trivia people to savor.

This is obviously not a book you would read cover to cover in one sitting like you might an awesome novel, but it is definitely fun for a game or in a place where you want to just do some quick, fun reading with little commitment but high entertainment value.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven - Brandon Mull

Summary: This guidebook to the Fablehaven magical preserve is filled with everything a new Caretaker might need to know in order to survive. There are entries detailing important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves.

Immerse yourself into the secret knowledge that has been handed down through the generations by reading the updates and notes written in the margins by the former Caretakers of Fablehaven, including Grandpa Sorenson, Kendra, and Seth. Fully-illustrated, this unique encyclopedia has gathered the world of Fablehaven into one volume.

Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch.  (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book electronically in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  Okay, let's be honest.  If you're not a chronic rereader of awesome series, this book isn't going to be for you.  If you don't love delving into the worlds authors create, if you don't like knowing the backstories before you reread your favorite series, if you don't want to know any nuances you may have missed, books like this aren't going to interest you.

But.  If you are one of those chronic rereaders who loves supplemental material, who loves to fill in backstories, flesh out characters, refine your own theories, and immerse yourself into the world you're currently experiencing, AND if you know that a second series will be coming out soon (squee!), AND if you want to brush up ... you need to get to a bookstore.

This is such a fun series.  I really enjoyed the series the first few times around, but revisiting the series, the baddies and the golden characters, the places, the spells, the magical items, brought it all back.  There are new snippets scattered throughout, there are wonderful illustrations of the characters, this really is well done.

In all honesty, I received an electronic copy.  I don't recommend it.  It didn't translate to an ebook version well -- I nearly quit trying to read it, to be honest!  But let's get real.  If you want a supplemental guide, do you really want a digital file?  I didn't think so.  

This book made me so excited for the new series coming out.  I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Brandon Mull's books I've read, I have no doubt that will be true with Dragonwatch!

Rating:  3.5 stars  I think I'd have been able to give it a better rating with an actual book.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Clean.  Some of the descriptions are a tad gory, but they're demons.

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.

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