Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stolen

Stolen
by Lucy Christopher

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  You saw me before I saw you.
A girl: Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation.
You had that look in your eyes.
A guy: Ty, rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice.
Like you wanted me.
She steps away.  For just a second.  He pays for her drink.  And drugs it.
Wanted me for a long time.

He takes her, before she even knows what's happening.  
To sand and heat.  
To emptiness and isolation.  
To nowhere.  
And expects her to love him.

Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma's desperate story of survival.  Ty has stolen her body.  Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma's heart?
from the back of the book

Review:  I had a hard time with this book because I didn't buy Ty's motivation for kidnapping Gemma.  I thought Ty was too nice of a guy to be a kidnapper; I liked Ty as a character.  I also was rooting for a relationship between Gemma and Ty even though Ty kidnapped Gemma.  I think the author wanted us to believe that they were going to fall in love (I'm not saying that they did, I'm saying what the reader wants to happen).  I should not be rooting for a romance between an abductor and a victim. That is just wrong!  I do love the description of the scenery and the landscape.  It makes me want to explore the desert of Australia.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Heroes Are My Weakness

Heroes Are My Weakness
Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Heroes Are My Weakness

Genre: Romance

Summary (from the publisher): The dead of winter.

An isolated island off the coast of Maine.

A man.

A woman.

A sinister house looming over the sea ...

He's a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs.

But she's not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her. Now they're trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It's going to be a long, hot winter.


Review:  Just like her last two new releases, this book didn't live up to Phillips' usual high standards for contemporary romance.  The beginning was difficult to get into, especially because most of the conversations occurred between Annie and the puppet voices in her head, which almost made me put the book down several times.  More importantly, though, Annie is convinced that Theo once tried to kill her, and yet she finds herself having romantic feelings for him?  Completely unbelievable.  Plus, the summary hints at a huge gothic mystery suspense, and I figured out right away what the twist was going to be. The last half was much better, especially once Theo and Annie start talking more and sharing secrets from their pasts. 

Rating: 3 stars

Secret Santa

Secret Santa
Fern Michaels, Marie Bostwick, Laura Levine, Cindy Myers

Secret Santa

Genre: Christmas Romance

Summary (from the publisher): Christmas is the time for miracles, mayhem, and holiday romance in these wonderful stories from four of today's most beloved authors…


"Mister Christmas" by Fern Michaels
A week before Christmas, attorney Claire O'Brien is summoned to Ireland to change her wealthy client's will--only to encounter resistance from his handsome nephew. Will Claire be forced to spend the holidays up close and personal with her irresistible Irish nemesis?


"The Yellow Rose of Christmas" by Marie Bostwick

Though Miss Velvet Tudmore wrote off romance years ago, rumor has it she has a secret admirer. And when her surprise suitor promises to reveal himself at the annual Christmas ball in Too Much, Texas, Velvet starts to wonder: is it ever too late to find love?


"Nightmare on Elf Street" by Laura Levine
Aside from the mortifying costume, how bad can a gig as a mall Santa's elf be? Jaine Austen finds out when she's teamed up with the Santa from Hell. But things go from bad to worse when he's found murdered on the job--and Jaine is a suspect. Now all she wants for Christmas is to find the real killer…


"Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers
When a Rocky Mountain blizzard forces Barb and her husband to spend Christmas in a remote Colorado cabin with their fellow travelers, Barb struggles to cope--especially when her husband reveals troubling news. But sometimes a holiday shake-up is all a woman needs to discover what she's truly made of….


Review:  I have a secret weakness for cheesy holiday romance short story collections, and so I thought this would be a fun book to read in the car on the way down to my in-laws to celebrate Christmas.  However, I was seriously put off by the beginning of the first story, when Claire gets drunk in an airport and vomits in the bathroom then runs to catch her plane completely hungover.  I have no interest at all in reading about the shenanigans of irresponsible young women like this, so I gave up on the book.  I did come back to it later and read the last story, "Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers, which I mostly enjoyed.  It was a nice little story where rich society wife Barb discovers the joy in having a simple Christmas, and in the last page, discovers what she really wants to do with her life.  I read the first page or two of the middle two stories, but decided they weren't my cup of tea either.

Rating: abandoned

The Christmas Promise

The Christmas Promise
Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Promise (Christmas Hope, #4)

Genre: Christmas Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): Each Christmas we are given a promise from heaven. And each year on earth we make promises to each other.

This is a story about how a promise from one person to another shows us the true meaning of faith, remembrance, and love.Seven years ago Gloria endured a family tragedy that almost shook her faith entirely. Each Christmas she places a card in an envelope on her tree, restating a promise she made to her husband before he died. Now, having moved from her small town and all the painful memories it held, she is building a life by caring for people in need. Whether it's a young mother who can't pay her electric bill or a family who needs some extra food, Gloria always finds a way. Miriam is a thorn in Gloria's side. Miriam is a constantly critical, disapproving neighbor who looks with suspicion at all the good things Gloria does. When a twist of fate makes them roommates instead of neighbors, it's the ultimate test of patience and faith.

Chaz has a good job as head of security at Wilson's Department Store, but each night he returns home to an empty apartment. He longs for a wife and family of his own but realizes that the life choices he's made have alienated him. He befriends a young boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, giving him a chance to have a life he thought impossible.In The Christmas Promise, the lives of these characters collide and we learn that even as we move ahead, the past is never far behind. And when we are forgiven much, we love much.

In this warmly humorous and deeply poignant story, we are reminded that the Christmas Promise is the promise of second chances.


Review:  This was a nice, quick, feel-good Christmas read.  The story touches a little on runaways, alcoholism, and domestic abuse, so it's not entire a light and fluffy story.  The main characters had enough flaws to make them interesting, and by the end, everyone had addressed their problems and found their happy ending. There were a few too many ancillary characters for such a short book, and I think a little more depth and length would have improved it.

Rating: 3 stars

Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season
Sarah Loudin Thomas

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)

Genre: Christian Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the small town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle. 

Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique way with food brings both gratitude and condemnation, placing the pair in the middle of a maelstrom of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.


Review:  If I was rating this book solely within the realm of Christian fiction, I would give it 4 stars.  It is a lovely, gentle, non-offensive romance about judging others and forgiveness.  The moral lessons about judging not lest ye be judged and those without sin casting the first stone are as relevant today as they have ever been, and provide a nice reminder to the reader to apply these lessons in her own life.

This story was set in 1954 in Appalachia, and as I was reading, I kept forgetting both the time period and the setting.  It seemed to me that the moral code of the characters was a little outdated for 1954, and would have been more appropriately set in the early 1900s or even late 1800s in any farming state.  The author states that her "love of the Appalachian Mountains informs [her] writing" but I would have enjoyed more descriptions of the beautiful mountainous setting.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Books of 2014


Here is a list of my top reads in 2014.  I had a hard time picking these books because I didn't feel that I had read as memorable books as I did last year and a lot of the good books I read were juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. I did not include any books that were second or third in a series but I would like to mention Prodigy and Champion by Marie Lu as well as Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga.  I rated those books very highly but they are not the first book in the series. These books are in no particular order.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I appreciated Auggie's attitude in this book and how Auggie affected other people in his life.  You can read my review here.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
I love memoirs and this one was well written about a child who had gone through the system in Florida.   I was amazed by her ability to come out of the situation and accomplish so much.  You can read my review here.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I love a good dystopian trilogy and this series started out so strongly!  You can read my full review here.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The story was such an interesting concept and would create a lot of discussion.   You can read my full review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This book has stayed with me since reading it and I can't stop thinking about the story.  You can read my review here.

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman
This was an unexpected fantastically good book.  It is on the lighter side but it isn't too light.  You can read my review here.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
I loved the historical aspect of this story and how it is about a social worker in the 1960s.  You can read my review here.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This is a juvenile fiction book but yet I emotionally connected with this story.  You can read my review here.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Byea
This was a very heartwarming, emotional juvenile fiction book.  You can read my review here.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

This was a heartbreaking, eyeopening memoir of a boy soldier in Sierra Leona.  You can read my review here.

My goal for 2015 is to read my adult books that are good since half my list are not adult fiction books!

The Weight of Silence

The Weight of Silence
by Heather Gudenkauf

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: It happens quietly one August morning.  As dawn's shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, and dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.  Calli's mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband.  Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter's voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice.  But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered.  Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children.  And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
from the book jacket

Review:  This is my second book that I have read by Heather Gudenkauf.  After reading this book (and One Breath Away) I am in awe of her ability to write about major situations that are relatively short lived and make a 300+ page book and manage to keep and hold my attention while providing back story.  The majority of this book happened in about 14 hours but yet I learned so much about all the characters.  It was hard to put this story down because I needed to know what happened to Calli to cause the selective mutism and then what happened to make her finally talk.  I also needed to know what happened to the girls.  Gudenkauf also has talent when writing from different points of view.  This story is told from the perspective of Calli, Ben (Calli's brother), Martin, Antonia and the sheriff, Louis.  The one weakness in this story for me is the perpetrator.  I won't tell you who it is and what he/she did but it just didn't fit in the story and there wasn't enough motive.  We don't find out until the very end who the perpetrator is and that really brings down the whole book.

Rating: 4 stars

Best Books of 2014


Here are the best books that I read in 2014 in no particular order. 

Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle
Villa Triste
A fascinating and beautifully written novel; it's a combination of a modern day mystery and a historical fiction book set in Nazi occupied Italy.  You can read my review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You
Don't judge this book by its cover - it may look like a cheesy romance, but it is a deeply moving story of self-discovery, quadriplegic life, and the difficult topic of euthanasia. You can read my review here.

Runner by Patrick Lee
Runner
The best kind of thriller, with non-stop action and well-developed, compelling characters.  You can read my review here.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See
A beautifully written story about a blind girl living in France during World War II.  You can read my review here.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)
A truly moving story about a girl who experiences a terrible tragedy and has to make a life-changing decision about her future. Warning - this book will make you cry! You can read my review here.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Landline
A good women's fiction summer read about the relationship between a working mother and a stay-at-home dad; Rowell has a gift for character development and natural dialogue.  You can read my review here.

The One and Only Ivan by Daniel O'Malley
This is a fascinating juvenile fiction book written from the point of view of a gorilla.  It's not the kind of book I would have picked up myself, but I was amazed by how the author makes you identify with the animals.  You can read my review here.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park
I loved this story about a weird girl and a geeky boy falling in love with each other; the author really gets inside the kids' heads and makes you feel their pain and joy..  You can read my review here.

Shake Down the Stars by Renee Swindle
Shake Down the Stars
An unexpectedly emotional read about a mother falling to rock bottom after the death of her daughter, and how she makes a new life for herself. You can read my review here.

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman
This book about a woman's process of self-discovery following the death of her mother was such a quick and easy read; the author has a knack for capturing conversations that are both poignant and funny.  You can read my review here.  

The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian
A snarky engineer gets left behind on the planet Mars, and has to figure out how to survive by his wits until a rescue mission can be launched.  I'm not normally a science fiction fan, but this read like it was a true story.  You can read my review here

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
A delightful summer read about a snarky bookstore owner who is drawn out of his grumpy solitude by a quirky and charming book sales rep and a surprising little girl.  You can read my review here.

Leaving Unknown by Kerry Reichs
Leaving Unknown
A quirky and delightful coming of age story with unconventional and loveable characters.  You can read my review here.

I figured that since it was 2014, I should pick my 14 favorite books of the year.  As of December 13, I only have 13 that really stood out, so I wonder if I will read any really fantastic books in the last two weeks of the year?  Once again, my favorite books cover a variety of genres.

Because of Mr. Terupt

Because of Mr. Terupt
by Rob Byea

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: It's the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School.  There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all.  He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn't let them get away with much...until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything-and everyone.
from the book jacket

Review: At first I thought this book was going to be too juvenile for me especially because it was written from the perspectives of fifth graders but the characters started to grow on me, especially after the accident.  I was brought to tears too many times to count while reading this book.  Since the book is being told by seven fifth graders we see the world through their young eyes and experience the accident and aftermath in their eyes and it puts a different spin on the book because fifth graders are young and don't understand the world like adults to.  It was definitely interesting to put yourselves in their shoes. While this book is written for a much younger audience, I think adults would enjoy reading this book as well.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stars Go Blue

Stars Go Blue
Laura Pritchett

Stars Go Blue: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): Laura Pritchett is an award-winning author who has quickly become one of the west’s defining literary voices. We first met hardscrabble ranchers Renny and Ben Cross in Laura’s debut collection, and now in Stars Go Blue, they are estranged, elderly spouses living on opposite ends of their sprawling ranch, faced with the particular decline of a fading farm and Ben’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is just on the cusp of dementia, able to recognize he is sick but unable to do anything about it —the notes he leaves in his pockets and around the house to remind him of himself, his family, and his responsibilities are no longer as helpful as they used to be. Watching his estranged wife forced into care-taking and brought to her breaking point, Ben decides to leave his life with whatever dignity and grace remains.

As Ben makes his decision, a new horrible truth comes to light: Ray, the abusive husband of their late daughter is being released from prison early. This opens old wounds in Ben, his wife, his surviving daughter, and four grandchildren. Branded with a need for justice, Ben must act before his mind leaves him, and sets off during a brutal snowstorm to confront the man who murdered his daughter. Renny, realizing he is missing, sets off to either stop or witness her husband’s act of vengeance.

Stars Go Blue is a triumphant novel of the American family, buffered by the workings of a ranch and the music offered by the landscape and animal life upon it.


Review:  This book reminded me of Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and in fact, the author thanks Haruf in her acknowledgement section.  I found that interesting.

I don't know quite what to make of this book.  I didn't exactly love it, because the subject matter is so difficult and the characters are so sad, but it was moving and powerful and thought-provoking.  And I think it might be the kind of book that I remember for a long time, but it's hard to say now because I just finished it this morning.

Tackling the depressing subject of Alzheimer's, this novel is written from the perspective of an elderly rancher with dementia as well as from the point of view of his crotchety caretaker wife.  Both characters made me want to cry - Ben, because of his moments of clarity where he realizes what is happening to him and is determined to face the rest of his life with strength and dignity.  And Renny, because she struggles to care for Ben despite challenges they have faced in the past and the difficulties of dealing with his forgetfulness and rage. 

The descriptions of the ranch, ranch life, and the Colorado scenery are hauntingly beautiful, adding to the sense of desolation.

Rating: 4 stars

Delicious!

Delicious!
Ruth Reichl

Delicious!

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.


Review:  Maybe I should create a new genre called Foodie Fiction, because that's definitely what this book is.  Is it great literary fiction?  No.  The main character hints at tragedy earlier in her life, but this isn't explored until very late in the book, and then only briefly, so it was hard to really get to know Billie.  I found quite a bit of this book unrealistic - Billie's first day on the job, her relationship with her family, how perfectly things seem to happen to her, and then why on earth was there such a mystery about the Lulu Swan letters?  It just didn't make any kind of logical sense.  And the characters in this book are such serious foodies that it started to drive me a little crazy.  I mean really, do we need to only eat balsamic vinegar that has been aged in six different types of wooden casks?  Come on.

BUT.... this book was so much fun to read.  I enjoyed reading about Billie discovering herself in New York City, and I liked the sections that talked about recipe development.  I think travel food writer Sammy was my favorite character, with his impressive vocabulary and quirky personality. But my favorite parts were the Lulu Swan letters, and although I couldn't fathom why they were hidden so mysteriously, I did enjoy the mystery of finding them.  

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life
by Leila Sales

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: You think it's so easy to change yourself.  You think it's so easy, but it's not.

Elise Dembowski is not afraid of a little hard work.  In fact, she embraces it.  All her life, she's take on big, all-encompassing projects.  When she's fifteen, she embarks on the biggest, and most important, project of them all: becoming cool.  Except she fails.  Miserably.  And everything falls to pieces.

Now, if possible, Elise's social life is even worse than it was before.  Until she stumbles into an underground dance club and opens the door to a world she never knew existed.  An inside-out world where, seemingly overnight, a previously uncool high school sophomore can become the hottest new DJ sensation.  Elise finally has what she's always wanted: acceptance, friendship, maybe even love.  Until the real world threatens to steal it all away.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was a fast and easy read but not one that stands out.  There was too much in this book that just fell into place too easily and some things were just not explained well.  We don't know why Elise is bullied and picked on.  She doesn't seem that uncool to me.  Elise is quite down on her life at one point and the next time we see her time has passed and she seems to be coping OK.  I just didn't think that was realistic.  I also didn't think that what happened to Elise at the underground dance club was realistic either.  Perhaps I was looking at this book in a too analytic way and perhaps I'm not young enough to really appreciate this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weasels

Weasels
by Elys Dolan

Genre: Picture book

Synopsis:  Weasels.  What do you think they do all day?

Plot world domination-that's what!

This is rollicking madcap weasel adventure is packed full of mischief and mayhem, featuring hilarious weasel antics rendered in Elys Dolan's exuberant style.  Will the weasels succeed in taking over the world?
from the book jacket

Review:  We are big fans of unexpected humor and sarcasm in our house and when we find those in books, we jump all over reading those books.  This book is reminiscent of the Scaredy Squirrel books by Melanie Watt.  Sometimes some of the humor goes over my kids' heads but it makes me enjoy reading the book.  I like when picture book authors and illustrators add in humor for parents and this book certainly does that.  My kids very much enjoyed listening to this story because the weasels did such funny, goofy things.  One of the weasels has a pet mouse and it is on every page in different places so the kids can search for the mouse.  The lead weasel and it is strikingly similar to one of the bad guys from one of the James Bond movies-Blofeld (again, humor that goes over the kids' heads but something that I love).  Each weasel had their own personality and there were so many to look at on the pages.  This book was a tad difficult to read as there were speech bubbles all over but overall this was a great book!

Rating: 4 stars

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans
by David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Mark Fearing

Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis:  They're mean.  They're green.  They're the baddest beans around.

"Green beans are good for you.  Green beans will make you big and strong."  Martha doesn't believe what her parents tell her.  And nothing will ever-EVER-make her eat them.

But when some bead-eyed, boot stomping beans bust into town and start causing trouble, Martha knows she has to take action against this gang of outlaws, cutthroats, and desperadoes.  She can think of only one way to stop the villainous veggies, and it's not pretty...or tasty.

Even the pickiest of eaters will be unable to resist this deliciously ridiculous tale of how Martha saved her parents-and the world-from green beans.
from the book jacket

Review: I loved the unique story line in this book with the green beans being the bad guys.  I think we all have kids who think that one particular food is horrible and would love to have a reprieve from eating it.  I really enjoyed how the green beans were portrayed as being the enemy and being the bad guys.  The pictures of them throughout the book are hilarious and just what we would imagine them to be as the bad guys in the story.  The story is humorous and will make kids giggle while listening to the story.  Spoiler alert: Martha ends up saving her parents from the green beans by eating all the green beans and then from then on out Martha never has to eat green beans.  I didn't like the message that you're never going to be served the food that you don't like again.  I think it would have been nice if Martha learned to like green beans or at least she learned that they are tolerable.

Rating: 4 stars

Ivy and Bean

Ivy and Bean
by Annie Barrows
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Genre: Chapter Book

Synopsis:   The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they would never be friends.  But when Bean plays a trick on her sister and has to hide-quick!-Ivy comes to the rescue with her wand, some face paint, and a bucket of worms.  Will they end up in trouble?  Maybe.  Will they have fun?  Of course!

Meet Ivy and Bean, a pair of best friends who never meant to like one another.
from the book jacket

Natalie's and Noah's Review:  This was a funny story.  We liked the people in the story.  We liked this book because Ivy and Bean kept doing trouble like putting a dancing spell on Nancy (Bean's sister).  When they would do trouble it made us laugh.  I like how Bean was going to play a trick on Nancy because she wanted her sister to stop being bossy.  Nancy was trying to be Bean's mom and would boss Bean around.  Ivy looked silly because she was wearing a bathrobe with moons and stars.  We liked that this was a chapter book with pictures in it.  You should read this book because it's funny and it will make you laugh.

Becky's Review:  This was a great early chapter book.  It really held my kids' attention especially Natalie's who has difficulty with listening to chapter books without many pictures.  My kids laughed out loud while I read this book to them.  They really liked how Ivy and Bean made mischief in an nontraditional way.  I liked that Bean was not a girly girl and that she loved to get dirty, play outside and cause trouble.  Bean thought Ivy was too girly for her but then the two of them develop a friendship and have similar interests even though first appearances would make it seem like they wouldn't get along.  My kids definitely want to read the next books in the series.

Natalie's and Noah's Rating: 5 stars

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling
by Siri Mitchell

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Synopsis:  When a look-alike friend asks Ellis Eton to fill in for her as a telephone operator, Ellis jumps at the chance.  For her, the job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get Ellis a start in the movies.  She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either.  It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid.  But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.
from the back of the book

Review:  I picked up this book off the new fiction section at my library thinking that it would be a nice easy read that had a good story.   But this novel certainly failed to deliver.  I really wanted to stop reading after less than 50 pages but I forced myself to keep going to see if it would get better because the ratings that I saw for this book were favorable.  I let myself stop after 110 pages.  Ellis seems like such a flighty and ditsy girl who didn't make for a great protagonist.  I read later in the author's notes that Mitchell purposely gave Ellis "impulsive, restless minds" that would be diagnosed as ADHD these days.  I didn't get this at all from the character.  Ellis just annoyed me.  Her behavior seemed so young and immature and I just didn't want to keep reading about her.

Rating: abandoned

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.


Review:  I don't have the words to describe how beautiful this book was.  You should read it.

Okay, I did have a few complaints about this book, but it was such a deeply moving story with truly beautiful descriptions, and that is what I'll remember for years to come.  Well, the other thing I'll remember is that I wasn't entirely happy with the ending; while I think it was the only ending possible for Werner, that doesn't mean I have to like it.  There was also a fair amount of jumping back and forth between different characters and different times, and I found that needlessly confusing.  But, oh, I felt so connected to the characters, even though I had absolutely nothing in common with them, that their hard decisions and their losses touched a cord in me and made me cry along with them.  And the writing was just lovely, so descriptive and lyrical.

Rating: 5 stars

Ask the Passengers

Ask the Passengers
A.S. King

Ask the Passengers

Genre: Young Adult

Summary (from the publisher):  Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother's pushiness and her father's lack of interest tell her they're the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn't know the passengers inside, but they're the only people who won't judge her when she asks them her most personal questions--like what it means that she's falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can't share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don't even know she's there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers' lives--and her own--for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything--and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.


Review:  This is another book where I didn't read the summary very well before bringing it home from the library, because I had no idea that Astrid's secret relationship was with another girl.  Turns out this book is a coming of age story about a girl questioning her sexuality.  I have no problem with that, but it's not a topic I'm particularly invested in or even interested in.  I thought the author did a wonderful job with Astrid's character - she was quirky, funny, sympathetic, loveable and just plain real.  But I found the other characters a bit distracting, especially since none of them were very nice to Astrid.  Her mean mother, hippie father, and uncaring jock sister were a bit too much (couldn't someone be normal?) and her friends and girlfriend also had serious flaws (wake up, Astrid, they're not very nice to you!).  The author makes a lot of interesting points about sexuality and labels, and I can see why young adults would find value and entertainment in this book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden
Susanna Kearsley

The Rose Garden

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Summary (from the publisher):  "Whatever time we have," he said, "it will be time enough."

Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.

But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.


Review:  This book was entertaining to read, but not spectacular.  The time travel element was reminiscent of Diana Gabaldon's books without the potential for believability or attention to historical detail that her books are known for.  I was bothered that the men from the past were completely unperturbed by the appearance of this mysterious woman from the future, and that Eva seemed to find it surprisingly normal and didn't miss modern day conveniences.  The love story between Eva and Daniel developed too quickly for me, and I would have liked more detail around their story and their emotions prior to their declarations of love.

Rating: 3 stars

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Zac and Mia

Zac and Mia
by A. J. Betts

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  "When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster.  Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics."  So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia.  A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door.  Once released, the two near-strangers can't forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives.  The story of their mysterious connection drives this unflinchingly tough, tender novel told in two voices.
From the book jacket

Review:  I'm having a hard time pin pointing what it was about this book that made it that I couldn't rate it higher.  This book started out well and I really enjoyed Zac's perspective.  He was an optimistic, caring and selfless boy in spite of him having leukemia.  Reading from Zac's perspective was what made me continue to read this book.  Mia, on the other hand, was not such a nice character.  She was just grumpy and unappreciative.  I can't begin to put myself in her shoes as I can't imagine what my emotions would be like if I had cancer at her age.  However, she just was too pessimistic to make me enjoy reading the chapters from her point of view.  There was a bond with Zac and Mia and it seemed to come from nowhere.  In the cancer treatment center Zac tries hard to befriend Mia but she wants to part of it.  But then all of a sudden Mia can't stop thinking about Zac.  There needed to be more development of their characters and their friendship especially considering what happens later in the book.

Rating:  3 stars

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Those Darn Squirrels!

Those Darn Squirrels!
by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by David Salmieri

Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis:  Old Man Fookwire is a grump.  The only thing he really likes is painting picture of the birds that visit his little old house near the forest.  When the time comes for the birds to fly south for the winter, Old Man Fookwire hatches a plan to keep them close by: He builds birdfeeders and fills them with yummy seeds and berries in the hopes that his beautiful birds will stick around.

But there are other hungry creatures in the nearby forest, and they have plans too.  This is a story of what happens when a grumpy old man and some mischievous squirrels match wits-with hilarious results.
From the back of the book

Review:  I just love this book because it reminds me of how much my dad hates squirrels-they scare away the birds from the birdfeeders.  The story and the illustrations are hilarious!  And I also love just how clever those squirrels are!  My kids really enjoyed the story as well and would giggle at the antics of the squirrels.  The squirrels definitely showed a lot of ingenuity in this story.  I look forward to reading the sequels to this picture book.

Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

One Plus One

One Plus One
by Joyo Moyes

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: One single mother.  Suppose your life sucks.  A lot.  Your husband has done a vanishing act.  You're trying to keep your family afloat, with two jobs and two children.  You've always been an optimist, but it isn't easy.  That's Jess Thomas's life in a nutshell, and it's about to get a whole lot more complicated.

One chaotic family.  Jess's oddball teenage stepson is being bullied, and her math-whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they can't afford to pay for.  Jess has spent her life Doing the Right Thing.  But what if, just this once, she did something that was definitely The Wrong Thing-something that might make all the difference for her family?

One quirky stranger-and a comic road trip.  Ed Nicholls is a brilliant tech millionaire whose life is falling apart when he happens upon Jess and her family stranded on the side of the road.  She's stunned to realize that her knight in shining armor is Geeky Ed-a man she considers obnoxious in the extreme.  But in perhaps his first unselfish act ever, he agrees to drive them-plus their pungent dog, Norman-to the Maths Olympiad and a prize that could change things for Jess's family forever....

One irresistible love story.  In One Plus One, opposites attract, and two fiercely independent people learn that love can be found in the unlikeliest places.
From the book jacket

Becky's Review:  I was quite excited when I picked up the latest book by Jojo Moyes since I absolutely loved the first book I read by her-Me Before You.  Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations.  The storyline was just not captivating or interesting enough.  I found myself bored while reading it and I actually stopped reading it for a while and read another book in between.  I felt compelled to finish the book but after 150 pages or so I questioned why I didn't abandon the book.  I got tired of their ride up to Scotland to the Math Olympiad.  Nothing really happened in the car except for us being reminded that Ed Nicholls had money and Jess and her family had very little money and had to pinch pennies as much as possible.  There just wasn't any action in this story, it was all about character relationships.  I liked the quirky characters in the book and I did want to see Jess get some help and have something go right in her life.

Marcie's Review:  I was quite excited when I picked up the latest book by Jojo Moyes since I absolutely loved the first book I read by her-Me Before You.  Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations.  As Becky said, it definitely got boring in the middle, and I couldn't figure out why it took them SO LONG to drive from England to Scotland.  It seemed like it was just a plot device thrown in there only to make the characters spend more time together, and it just didn't work for me. I liked the relationships between the characters in the book, but they seemed to develop too quickly (in book time) and yet way way too slowly in the reader's time.  Not my favorite Moyes novel.

Becky's Rating: 2.5 stars

Marcie' Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Faking Normal

Faking Normal
by Courtney Stevens

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  Alexi Littrell hasn't told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool.  Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.  

When Brodee Lennox- "the Kool-Aid Kid"-moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own.  As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up.
from the e-book

Review: I found this book to be too young adult for me.  The relationships that Alexi had with her girlfriends seemed very superficial.  Her supposed best friends really didn't seem to have Alexi's best interests at heart. They didn't seem to notice that Alexi was hurting except for one line in the book when Heather tells Alexi that she can't wait to see her real smile again.  Alexi jumps into a friendship relationship with Bodee after he moves into her house and that seemed unrealistic considering what she and her friends (plus most of the other kids in school) felt about Bodee.  Relationship development in this story just happened too fast for it to seem believable.

As for the major event of the book, the author hints at what happens but spends two thirds of the book leaving us guessing as to what exactly happened.  The author also leads us to believe that one specific character was responsible for Lexi's hurt but yet we find out later that we are wrong (hopefully that didn't spoil the book for us).  By the time we actually find out what exactly happened, I was tired of being strung along.  I didn't give up reading (but I did read another book in the midst of reading this one) because I had to know what really happened but I did end up skimming parts of the story.

Rating; 3 stars

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blood of My Blood

Blood of My Blood
by Barry Lyga

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery

Synopsis:  Jazz Dent has never been closer to catching his father.

Jazz has been shot and left to die in New York.  His girlfriend, Connie, is in the clutches of Jazz's monstrous father, Billy-the world's most notorious serial killer.  And his best friend, Howie, is bleeding to death on the floor of Jazz's own home.

Somehow, these three must rise above the horros and find a way to come together in pursuit of Billy.

But then Jazz crosses a line he's never crossed before, and soon the entire country is wondering: "Like father, lie son?  Who is the true monster?"

From New York City to the small town of Lobo's Nod, the chase is on, and this time, Jazz is the hunted, not the hunter-while Billy Dent lurks in the shadows.

And beyond Billy?  Something much, much worse.  Prepare to meet...the Crow King.
from the book jacket

Review:  It is rare when the third book in a trilogy is the best one but I have to say that this was by far my favorite book of the trilogy!  This book was less about the gruesome ways to kill people (as was my chief complaint with the second book) and more about Jazz hunting down serial killers and trying to solve the mystery of his family.  It answered all the questions that came up in the first two books and really wrapped the series up nicely.  This book also tugged at your emotions as you learned more about Jazz's family.  It's hard to say this but I did enjoy Billy Dent's (Jazz's serial killer father) twisted, dark sense of humor (don't analyze a deeper meaning of that sentence).  I love how Lyga developed all the supporting characters-Howie, Connie, G. William, etc and gave them big personalities.  But they don't overshadow Jazz and Billy.  I guessed what the twist was at the end of the book but that didn't make the book any less enjoyable for me.  The whole series was captivating and one I would recommend to people who don't mind reading some gory details and who like crime books.

Rating: 5 stars

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Game

Game
by Barry Lyga

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery

Synopsis: Meet Jasper Dent: the son of the world's most notorious serial killer.

Several months have passed since Jazz helped the Lobo's Nod police force catch the serial killer known as the Impressionist.  Every day since then, Jazz was dealt with the guilt of knowing he was responsible for his father's escape from prison.  Now Billy Dent is on the loose, ready to kill again.

Jazz's reputation has spread far beyond the borders of his sleepy hometown, and when a determined New York City detective comes knocking on Jazz's door asking for help with a new case, Jazz can't say no.  The Hat-Dog Killer has the Big Apple in a panic, and the police are running scared.

Jazz has already solved one crime, but at a high cost.  Innocent people were murdered because of him.  Is the Hat-Dog Killer his means of redemption?  Or will Jazz get caught up in a killer's murderous game?

And somewhere out there, Billy is watching...and waiting.
From the book jacket

Review:  This book was enjoyable just like the first book in the series however it was a lot more gruesome.  Some of the descriptions of the murders I had to skim because it made me a little squeamish.  Some of the scenes were quite disturbing and I really could have done with less descriptions.  I did find it a little unbelievable that the police in NYC would rely on a 17 year old boy, albeit the son of an infamous serial killer, to help with their investigation and that Jazz was able to make so many of the connects.  The end was quite the cliff hanger and I am not a fan of that at all.  I am hoping I can get the next book soon!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood

The Lost Sisterhood
Anne Fortier

The Lost Sisterhood

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure--you'll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she's delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.


Review:  First of all, I think the author of this book did an amazing job depicting the life of Myrina, head of the elusive Amazon tribe of women, and tying her story in to the modern day discoveries of the philologist Diana.  I could never write a book this interesting in a million years, and I have nothing but admiration for someone who can.

I wanted to love this book - I like adventure stories about treasure hunts, I like historical fiction, I like books about women, and I especially like historical fiction where women are the main characters in a treasure hunt.  And the story of Myrina's life in ancient Africa, Crete, Troy and Germany was novel and interesting.  But, there were lots of things about this book that drove me nuts.  First, it was WAY too long and convoluted.  Second, the romance between Diana and Nick was inexplicable - she thought he was a villain, then discovered he'd been lying to her about everything, then fell in love with him?  No way, she was too smart for that.  Third, there seemed to be some kind of weird political anti-government and anti-American agenda going on, and it had no place in this novel whatsoever.  And fourth, there were too many coincidences that were just too unbelievable.

I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had focused primarily on Myrina, skipped the romance entirely, and been a good deal shorter!

Rating: 3 stars

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis:  Ivan is an easygoing gorilla.  Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain.  He rarely misses his life in the jungle.  In fact, he hardly ever things about it at all.

Instead, Ivan things about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog.  But mostly Ivan things about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home-and his own art-through new eyes.  When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.
From the book jacket

Becky's Review:  It's hard to really like juvenile fiction books because they seem so young to me but this book was not like that.  I loved that the author told the story from the perspective of the gorilla.  Ivan  is an interesting character and he has depth even though he's a gorilla.  This was an uplifting story of an animal who cares for others and does everything within his power to help his friends.  The chapters went by very quickly and there wasn't much writing on each page.  I did find that a little fragmented but perhaps it was done that way since this book is intended for a much younger audience.  I would definitely recommend this book to kids and their parents.

Becky's Rating: 4 stars

Marcie's Review: I had NO IDEA that this book was written from the point of view of a gorilla, and I'm not sure I would have chosen to read it if I had known this in advance.  I'm thankful that I didn't know, because I loved this book!  It was so interesting to read about Ivan's perspective on humans, how people talk too much, use too many words, and buy too many ridiculous things.  He was a very observant and intelligent gorilla, and I think adults could pick up some of his lessons about people even more than kids might, making this an appropriate book for all ages.  I was surprised to find myself identifying with a few of the animals in the domain, and even crying about the experiences that they were going through.  Some pages only have a few sentences, and there are pictures interspersed throughout, so I read this book in about two hours. 

The biggest problem I had with this book was that I don't believe animals can have the depth of emotion that was portrayed in this book.  But it was certainly interesting (and educational) to think about how they would feel if they did.

Marcie's Rating: 4.5 stars