Monday, September 29, 2014

Rose Under Fire - Elizabeth Wein

Summary: While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that's in store for her? (Summary and pic from

My Review: Oh my. I really loved this book. It’s the companion book to Code Name Verity, and as I’m sure you remember (haha!) Code Name Verity is one of my top fave books. (In case you don’t remember, here is that list again).

So it’s no surprise that I really loved Rose Under Fire as well. In fact, I dare say that I read this one more quickly and was more entranced by it. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a concentration camp book. They’re always an emotionally difficult read and at times I have to actually stop and just step away because it is horrific to read about the sufferings and tragedy, but I think it’s important that I do read them and that I do periodically step into that horror and remember that this really happened and that, as the old adage says, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” And I think this is the appropriate time to reconfirm once again that I hope Hitler is burning in hell even as I write this. Just putting that out there.

This story is inspiring, as it shows strength of character and devotion and resilience in situations where it would appear there is no hope. The characters are a fine mix of both ordinary and extraordinary people who are put in impossible situations and who face them with strength and bravery. I loved that the author did so much research and when I looked into some of her resources that she used (especially the internet resources), I was able to confirm that many of the characters were based at least in part on women who survived to tell the tale of what really happened in Ravensbruck.

This is a juvenile fiction book, but don’t think that because of that it’s going to be light sauce on the horror of the concentration camp. In fact, I think this book has some of the most realistic descriptions of day to day living in this particular camp, and probably others as well. However, because it was written for a YA Fic audience, those situations are very clearly written and understandable, possibly in ways I hadn’t understood before.

After reading Rose Under Fire, as with many historical fiction topics that I find fascinating, I got a little obsessed and searched out some of the references Wein includes in her “General Bibliography” and “Internet Sources.” And that includes getting some books on interlibrary loan from my own library. I’m serious, people. That’s a commitment for me.

Rose Under Fire is certainly the kind of book that not only brings you through the actual situation, but leaves you wanting to research and understand more. I found it very well-written and heartbreaking. If you love historical fiction, especially the World War II genre, or even if you haven’t read a book on concentration camps in awhile and you are feeling like it’s time to go there again, you should definitely give it a try.

My Rating: 5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is based on actual accounts of women who lived in Ravensbruck, so it is horrific, but is on par with others of its genre.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Park Avenue to Park Bench - Michael Domino

Summary: On long daily walks around Manhattan, Mike Domino meets some amazing characters and listens as they tell their stories.  He finds them everywhere — parked on benches, stoops, or bar stools.   (Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.)  We meet, and even learn to love these only-in-New York characters through the twenty, mostly factual stories of this highly readable romp along the streets of a city that Mike Domino obviously loves.  Manhattan has its own Studs Terkel. (Image and summary from  I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review:  I've only spent a few days in New York as an intern way back in 2001.  It certainly wasn't long enough, and I would have been happy to park myself in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and watch the people of New York the entire time I was there.  Michael Domino seems to have done just that - with the benefit of being a resident and having years to collect stories and friends from all walks of life.

Domino has a very readable style.  His easygoing manner in writing made me feel like I knew him; like he was somehow a distant relative I kept in contact with and was shadowing.  His collection of short stories felt a little disjointed at times, as in one story he'd talk about living alone on a ground-level apartment, the next he's been in an 11th story apartment with a view for twenty years, but he's also married and doesn't live in the city.  I had to remind myself (with this and with another story that just stretched my belief a little too far) that these stories are "mostly factual" and chalk it up to literary license, but had I not read the book straight through and had just been reading a story here and there, it wouldn't have bothered me a bit.

Domino has done his best to capture the "It" factor that makes New York so captivating.  It's not in the glitz and the glamor, it's in the life teeming throughout the island.  His stories made me long for a trip back -- perhaps this time to people-watch a little more.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Language.  Lots of language.  Domino is primarily talking to regular old Joes on the street, and that includes some pretty rough characters with some pretty salty language.  It nearly made me quit as I felt he could have captured the essence without the foul language.  Also, there's a pretty gruesome murder.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Unbelievable Truth - Dr. Graeme Garden and Jon Naismith

Summary:  Enter Mr. David Mitchell’s amazing Cabinet of Curiosities and prepare to marvel at this hand-picked and lavishly illustrated compendium of incredible facts, each one painstakingly culled from the hugely acclaimed BBC Radio and Australian TV show The Unbelievable Truth. Plus—try your own truth-detection skills over a series of ingenious comic essays on a diverse range of subjects, from Armadillos to Sir Walter Raleigh, by the show’s co-inventor Dr. Graeme Garden. Each essay contains five incredible truths, tantalizingly concealed amongst a host of barely credible lies. The Unbelievable Truth is hosted by the award-winning actor, comedian, and writer David Mitchell, and was first broadcast on Radio 4 in 2006, since when it has become one of BBC Radio’s most popular and successful shows. (Summary and Image from I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review:  I grew up playing Trivial Pursuit and watching Jeopardy!.  I love random facts!  I don't know what it is, if it's the further understanding of a topic, or because I think it's fun to have weird, random, fascinating tidbits to toss in a conversation when it comes up, but I've always been drawn to them.  The Unbelievable Truth is based on the BBC program QI, where contestants try to sort fact from fiction.

Ooh, this book was so much fun!  There are a plethora of topics to choose from, each receiving two pages of factoids.  Some facts are a little racy (I skipped over a few), but most are delightfully surprising.  I absolutely loved diving into this book and surprising my family with the crazy facts therein.  (My son is very much like me ... he loved me reading this book, too!)  

Even better, this was a quick, quick read.  I've been suffering from a reading rut, and this book was a perfect book to break through that.  However, it made me want to check out QI.

As this book was from an international publisher and based on a british program, many of the facts were tailored to a British audience.  Some facts reported in British pounds, but the majority of them are broad enough that it was only rarely I was reminded that I'm not British.  In no way did it really detract from the fun of this book.

My Rating:  Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are a few sections that were not quite appropriate for all audiences.  Those were easy to skip over. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week 2014

I found an amazing article today out of Arizona that did a great job of detailing why we celebrate Banned Books Week. It also included a list of the ten most challenged books last year, along with the incredible news that NO BOOK was banned, according to the ALA. PROGRESS!!

Check out the article here: and don't forget to come back and tell us what you think!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mum is in Charge - John O'Neill

Summary: The story Mum is in Charge' is based on true events, covering the period 1939 to 1945, with some flashbacks to earlier years. It is related by youngest child of the family, with a host of interesting, exciting, challenging moments. 
There is a close encounter with death, the controversial friendship with an old lady ghost, sadness, hardships including school bullying, which developed into what all families need, a bonding as a single unit. The making of a few close friends, which grew into a happy camaraderie. The experiences of a young infatuation and romances. There are veiled secrets which are for the first time revealed after seven decades, and brings into play emotional heart searching. 
It is Mum who had the most common sense in the family and turned all types of situations into acceptable realities, resulting in Mum is in Charge'. (Summary and pic from

My Review: At the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I lived in a neighborhood that everyone referred to as “newly wed and nearly dead.” We were, of course, on the newly wed side, although we were among the oldest of the newly weds. The next closest in age to us were people who were 70 years old, and it just went up from there. We lived there for about four years and we really enjoyed it, and we got to know a lot of the older couples. We still stay in touch with them, mostly in the form of Christmas cards. Ours are slick, complete with photo and print-on-demand, and sometimes we’ll include a witty poem about our goings on of the year. Theirs are always typed, but much less froofy and are obviously from an era where texting wasn’t the main form of communication. K thnx bye ttfn cu l8er

Mum Is in Charge reminded me of that. The writing is almost stream of conscious—like you’d picked up in the middle of an ongoing conversation, a reminder that people did actually write long letters back and forth and didn’t necessarily expect a response within the minute. R u there? In fact, Mr. O’Neill talks a lot about keeping a scrapbook, and spent a lot of time keeping it up, so this book ends up being a unique memoir. Obviously a lot of information in it is taken from his perspective of events as they were taken at the time, with the added bonus of his perspective of those same events as an older man.

This is a gentle little book, reliving one of the most important parts of history through the eyes of one who was actually there. The author describes in great detail what it was like to be a youth in England during World War II, living not only the important, flashy parts of the war, but day to day life as well. For this, I find this book invaluable. It is told in little stories and vignettes of remembrances and memories and although I found this a little bit difficult at the beginning, I really enjoyed it by the end. It was a genuine peak into someone’s life during this great historic time.

This book is not a dramatized version of all the important things happening to one person in one brief novel. Instead, it’s a lovely memoir of one man recalling his past and giving the gift of his memories. If you are a WWII or history buff or even just love reading memoirs, you should definitely look into this book.

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

My rating: 4 stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There is some mild language and some teenage sexual exploits, but nothing too shocking. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Of Blood and Brothers: Book Two - E. Michael Helms

Summary:  Following the unexpected death of his father, reporter Calvin Hogue is eager to resume writing his weekly serial featuring Daniel and Elijah Malburn, brothers who fought for opposing armies during the Civil War some six decades ago.

After its resounding victory at Chickamauga and subsequent defeat at Lookout Mountain/Missionary Ridge, the Confederate Army of Tennessee has fallen back to winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia. Spring arrives, and with it come thousands of fresh Union troops to reinforce the armies under the command of General William T. Sherman. Soon the Federals launch a relentless offensive against the greatly outnumbered Confederate army, determined to take the vital railhead at Atlanta.

The Confederates make the first of many valiant stands at Resaca, but are flanked and forced to retreat toward Atlanta. During a fierce battle near the small town of Dallas, Daniel suffers a severe head wound. His “pards” report he’s been killed, but he comes to and is captured. Sent north to Rock Island Prison, Daniel faces a new war—surviving the harsh conditions and cruelties to which the Southern captives are subjected.

After unwillingly leading Union forces on a raid through the Econfina Valley, the Malburns’ lifelong home, Elijah learns the Federals’ next objective is to capture the Florida capital of Tallahassee. The Confederates confront the invaders south of the city at Natural Bridge, and after a vicious battle win a striking victory. Elijah survives the fight, but he’s had enough of a war he wanted no part of. With Union forces scattering in disarray, he and beloved family slave Jefferson desert and set out for home.

The South finally surrenders, but the peace is far from won. Freed from prison, an expectant Daniel faces an arduous, year-long trek home only to find his dreams shattered and his world forever changed.

Trouble stalks the Malburns in post-war Florida. Amid the violent days of Reconstruction, Daniel and Elijah face continuing conflict, family turmoil and heart-wrenching tragedy as they struggle toward a hard-earned and costly reconciliation.  (Summary and Image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review:  I found myself giddy to receive the concluding book of E. Michael Helms' series Of Blood and Brothers.  I was so excited to find out how the brothers would reunite (praying it wouldn't be on a battlefield), what would happen with Annie, and I wanted to know what caused the rift I sensed in the first novel.

Helms has done a great job continuing the brothers' stories and propelling the overall story of the Malburn family forward.  I appreciate seeing different sides of the war than I'm used to (Daniel's time in Rock Island and his journey home), and I was fascinated by his journey home.  Elijah's desertion felt so organic I didn't even question what he was doing, which surprised me.  The grief that the Malburn family feels upon receiving the erroneous news of Daniel's death shook me.

I also appreciated the story continuing on through the Reconstruction, detailing the stress, the worry, and the boiling animosity between the South and the encroaching carpetbaggers.  Unfortunately, the story switched points of view so quickly during this section I found myself confused more than once whether it was Danny or Eli wreaking havoc.  The conclusion to the arc was dramatic and sorrowing ... but the overall conclusion felt a little trite.  I guess it's because I was expecting more of an understanding as to the rift between brothers that I sensed in the first book.  Either I imagined that rift, or that storyline was unresolved.  

My Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Wartime battles, postwar and POW violence, and cold-blooded murders.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Flip - Michael Phillip Cash

Description: Julie and Brad Evans are house flippers. They buy low, clean out the old occupants junk, and try to make a profit. Enter Hemmings House on Bedlam Street in scenic Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island. Too good a deal to pass up, but with an ominous secret. The old Victorian Mansion has dwellers that do not want to be dispossessed. As the house reveals it's past, will the couples marriage survive The Flip? (Summary and pic from  I received a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review: Well. This was a fun little book.  Right from the start, you can tell it’s a ghost story with poltergeist-type ghosts, and it appears that these ghosts are not about to hand over their old Victorian mansion to just whoever.  [Cue appropriately dramatic music] This book doesn’t really pull any punches—it is what it is. It’s a ghost story with some love stories in it, peppered with some good old-fashioned ghostly encounters.  If you’re looking for a ghost story that won’t necessarily have you scared out of your wits but will certainly come back to you if you visit any run-down Victorian mansions, then this is your book.

I wouldn’t say the premise to this book’s plot is anything shocking or new, but it certainly does a good job of creating a spooky environment.  In fact, I think that’s its greatest strength. It’s not like you’re literally too scared to read, but more like fun scared. The characters are unabashedly handsome and beautiful, and although their relationship appears perfect on the outside, there are, of course, some demons (pun totally intended) in the closet. I wouldn’t say I necessarily related to the characters, but I was certainly right there with them when they were being all creeped out by former residents of the mansion.

I am not a huge reader of hard core horror, especially if it involves a lot of gore or creepy satanic things, so this was a fun read for me and definitely my kind of horror. My brother-in-laws watch really disgusting horror movies that only hard core horror lovers even know about. Compared to those, this book is “Watcher in the Woods” (which is totally a compliment, by the way. NAREK!) It’s relatively low commitment: it’s not a literary slog nor full of confusing and inane things.The writing is really accessible and it’s a total page turner. I read it in about a day.

So if you’re looking for something fun, fast, and with a good ghost story, you should check it out. It would be perfect for Halloween readers who want something sort of light sauce or for anyone going somewhere really old and cool like the Winchester Mansion or old Victorian homesteads. You know, just to get in the mood.

My rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and one or two mild sex scenes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Strands of Bronze and Gold - Jane Nickerson

Summary:  The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.  (Image and summary from

My Review: Of all of the princes or villains that I was introduced to as a child, Bluebeard is the one I'd least like to meet.  Blackbeard (I always thought they must be cousins), although not a fairy tale, is someone I'd LOVE to sit down and chat with.  But Bluebeard?  Creepy!

Jane Nickerson is forthright that the fairy tale of Bluebeard disturbs even her, but her retelling is masterful. Set in antebellum Mississippi, Nickerson has crafted the perfect world for her Bluebeard's dealings.  His isolation of our heroine Sophie, his dual personality-one for the charmer, one for the controlling side, his flattery, generosity and simultaneous demands of repayment ... this book read like a manual "How to Spot a Bad Relationship". 

It was disturbing.  It was frightful.  It left me feeling dark and icky, that although Sophie was able to see what kind of man her godfather is, that although she is bright and independent, she still allows the traps to be set.  I think that was Nickerson's point - run while you first can.  Run, and don't look back.

I couldn't help but think of that Twilight study - that Edward and Bella's relationship fits every question used to define an abusive relationship.  This book would as well, but this time, Nickerson paints the relationship in a most unflattering light.  Sophie wants to escape.  She desires it to all end.

Did I regret reading the book?  I don't know.  Nickerson is a good author, and has done a fantastic job retelling a disturbing story.  Did I feel dark and icky? Yes.  Was I supposed to?  Yes.  Will I be checking out more of her books?  Yes ... I don't think she can get creepier than Bluebeard!

My Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  de Cressac's character is a horrible man.  There are multiple murders (only one plays out in the book), one near molestation, and the entire novel is about an abusive relationship.  Although the heroine does escape for the best in the end, it is disturbing.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lights Out - Melissa Groeling

Summary: Even when the lights are out, he can still see you…
Paul Holten’s profession doesn’t leave much room for doubt or conscience but he’s reaching his breaking point. The nightmares are getting worse, the jobs are getting harder to finish and the volatile relationship with his boss, Aaron, is falling apart. Now faced with the possibility of an impending death sentence, Paul makes the fatal decision to run. Drawn into one hellish situation after another, he’s forced to confront his dark past---and wonder if perhaps dying isn’t the better option. (Summary and pic from  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

My Review: Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Just whoa.

Right from the start this book is compelling. First off, it has a character who is instantly unlikeable but also really interesting. He’s been trained to do a job—not necessarily of his own volition—and he is good at it. But he isn’t the one who calls the shots. He’s a man who is trained to kill and is not only good at what he does, but has no choice. He’s got nothing to lose as he feels he’s already reached the bottom, but he really has nothing to gain either, since his life is not his own. So you can see where this is going. Someone with no choice but to do what they’re told—to kill who they’re told—will be pretty good at their job.

This book is gripping right from the start, and once it gets going…well, you’d better plan on just reading. I was particularly exhausted one night, thinking I would just read a chapter to relax before going to sleep (cause, ya know, murder is so relaxing), and then two and a half hours later I was wide awake, reading, wondering how long it would take me to finish the second half of the book.

The story is compelling. You feel like you’re cheering for the characters against almost insurmountable odds. There’s a lot going on and a lot at stake and all you can do is just readreadreadreadread with the hopes that it will all be over soon and end how you want it to.

I am being purposely vague. I don’t want to give anything away because this book is a serious trip. If you like gritty, non-stop action, murder and mystery and mayhem and keep-you-gripped-to-the-end-unpredictable-adventure-in-a-crime-novel, this book is for you.

But let’s address the elephant in the room. This book is violent. Like seriously violent. Like Girl with a Dragon Tattoo violent. With children. Yeah. So if even the idea of that makes you want to ralph up your Froot Loops, you should pass on Lights Out. If you can overlook this, then you should certainly give it a try. If you have read any of the Scandinavian wave of crime novels and you’re fine with that level of violence and gore, you should be fine with this. I do not think I can overstate the level of violence. There were several points where I was trying to decide if I could even handle it (but it’s not like I’m some sort of hard core violence person or anything) but once I felt like I was pushed to the edge, it would stop and give me a reprieve. Because of this, however, I do not know if I would read it again.

My rating: 4 stars.

For the sensitive reader: This book is extremely violent both physically and sexually, and some violence involves minors. No sensitive reader should read it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bossy Pants - Tina Fey

Summary: Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.  (Summary from and image from

My Review:  I have always found Tina Fey to be hilarious.  What I didn't realize is how TV-edited she is!  This book is crass.  Very crass.  If you have any aversion to swearing or harsh language and crude jokes, this is NOT the book for you.  If you can turn a blind eye to those things, or even enjoy the humor that slides into the gutter at times, it's the hilarious Tina Fey you're used to but without a filter.

I listened to this on audio, so one of the aspects I found jarring was the jumping around of chapter to chapter with regards to topics.  It really didn't feel like one chapter had any connection to the previous or subsequent.  I'm sure this was easier to follow with the visual of the chapter headings, but listening made it confusing at times and disjointed at best.

One of Fey's charms is how unassuming she is.  I adore the fact that she honestly doesn't think she's attractive, that she doesn't view herself as anything special, and she knows that a lot of success is working hard, and having connections.  I enjoyed seeing how her career took off.  It's always interesting to see how people's trails are blazed.  Her openness to share how precarious her success and the show 30 Rock was in the beginning is authentic; it doesn't seem that much on TV is authentic any more, so this was a nice change.

A friendly warning to those who are conservative: Fey is a die-hard liberal and makes it very apparent in this book.  If you don't like jabs at all things not liberal, this won't be your book.

Rating:  3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  Tina's hilarious perspective on how her life has come to be.

Monday, September 8, 2014

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks

Summary: We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the plague years. (summary and cover from

My Review: Perhaps the most unnerving thing about a zombie apocalypse would be the not knowing what they're really like, or what we're really supposed to do to fight them. Sure, we've all seen "The Walking Dead", let alone the many other books and movies that have fed our zombie obsession for years. Just yesterday I saw Facebook pictures of a friend's 5k race that was zombie-versus-human themed. They’re everywhere now—and not just in geekdom. Zombies have literally (well, hopefully not) grabbed us and we're officially obsessed.

I'm a newcomer to zombie-dom; I have to admit that I didn't have much interest in zombies before the recent onslaught of zombies into everything pop culture. Reading World War Z was never really on my list until I became one of those newcomer zombie lovers (and I'm not alone here, you know), but, surprisingly, I loved it.

And it terrified me.

Because it got me asking what would we really do if there was a zombie apocalypse. I mean, how do you really kill them? Obviously we've all been trained by our zombie reading and watching to aim for the brain and take 'em down and save our bullets when they're close enough to deal with in hand-to-hand combat, but really…what would we do? And that's what's terrifying and awesome and awesomely terrifying about World War Z. It's not sensationalized, hyped-up, Hollywood-type zombies, but more like an unknown evil that sneaked up without us even knowing it. It's not like we've ever really seen a zombie, or ever really expected to see one, so what would we do? And at one point do we stop all the re-creations of Hollywood's version of zombie fighting and actually have to deal with real ones—ones who crossed the ocean floor, ones who were frozen and now thawing, ones who weren't killed correctly in the first place—a nameless, faceless army that never stops, never gives up, has no conscience and no leader?

But this was not the scariest thing in this book. The things that were the most unnerving were both the amount of precise personal information given and the lack of general, overarching information. It’s written with an unknown interviewer/narrator, who then gives personal accounts of various people in various walks of life, who lived through the worldwide zombie war. There are bits and pieces of annotation that give a little bit of a broader picture, but mostly it's just one person's perspective on their little slice of hell living through World War Z. It's scary. It's scary because that's what it would be like—if infrastructure went down, if there were no internet, if modern life ceased as we knew it, we would be left with only our small, isolated personal experience. We would be left with knowing nothing in the fight for our lives.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has jumped on the zombie bandwagon—whether newcomer or old-comer. It's also just a really great read for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic stories or war stories. It's well-written and exciting.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is not for the sensitive reader. There's violence, language, and adult themes.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Of Monsters and Madness - Jessica Verday

Summary: A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.

Summoned to her father's home in 1820's Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father's assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they're letting on.
(Summary and Pic from I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review: I have to admit I was a little surprised by this book. First off, and this should have been an obvious thing, but it was still a surprise to me—Of Monsters and Madness is a fictional account of some of the life of Edgar Allen Poe. When I read the description, I thought it might be “based on” historical fact or even a somewhat-biographical version of his life. Not so. It is more like a nod to the fact that Edgar Allen Poe is a somewhat unknown weirdo. Yeah, he’s creepy. Yeah, he’s obviously got some issues.  So the question is this: would the serious creeper Edgar Allen Poe even in his fictional state make a good gothic novel?

Yes. Oh yes.

And this was the other surprise to me. I’m not your typical teenage reader (who are we kidding? I’m almost decade and a half away from that!) but still. This book creeped me out. In a good way, of course. It’s not like I felt like I had to call up a Catholic priest to have my house exorcised after reading this book, and it’s also not like I had to call Mulder and Scully to come bail me out of an obviously paranormal situation. It just had a creeping dread to it which was super cool. You know, the kind that you’re watching the main character (naïve, beautiful, you know the drill) get herself in these situations where you’re almost yelling at the book “Don’t do it! Don’t you see?! He’s a creep! How can you not know it’s him?!!” In my defense, I never did this out loud. My bulldog was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her.  She keeps my feet warm. But I certainly did think it.

And so here’s what you’ve got—a very fun gothic horror novel with a PG rating. And I really liked that. I don’t feel that I need to be overwhelmed with gore and disgust to get that creepy dread that is so fun. I’m giving it 4 stars for that. Because I don’t think in order to have a creepy book you have to stoop to that level. You can dabble, you can dance around it, you can nod to the fact that all involved are not exactly sane, but keep it clean and do all that? Win. Also, this is a fast read with relatable characters and a fun plot. The best part? There’s a sequel, which is a big relief because it ends on a major cliffhanger and I may have to hunt the author down were it not for that.

Looking for some YA Fic of the gothic horror ilk? Read this. Looking for something low commitment to get you in the mood for Halloween? Read this. It’s a fun, easy read.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: I would rate this book PG for some gore (there is murder, after all), but nothing that is above the sensitivities of a young YA reader.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Running Dream - Wendelin Van Draanen

Summary:  Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don't know what to say, act like she's not there. Which she could handle better if she weren't now keenly aware that she'd done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she's missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that's not enough for her now. She doesn't just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.  (Summary from and image from

My Review:  This book came to my attention two years ago, not long after it was released.  I'm a runner--not a competitive runner, but a daily runner.  And since I'm a YA reader for my job as a teacher, this book spoke to me before I even cracked the cover.  Jessica loses her leg after a freak accident after a track meet.  And being a gifted runner, this makes her world, her hopes and dreams, come crashing down.  And yet, this book is hopeful.

This is what I love so much about this book.  It's complex despite the simplistic idea of overcoming an injury that takes a limb.  Jessica's story is more than just recovering; it's about accepting herself, loving herself in her new form, learning to run again, and learning to love others on a deeper level.

Jessica's teenage attitude is authentic as well.  She's angry--quite understandably--and frustrated.  And yet, it's not hard to read about.  It's easy to relate to her and you learn to love all the flawed people in her life.  I think that's what makes the book all the more compelling: the characters are so deep, so layered, so real.

And then there's her community.  I love the idea of a community coming together to rally around each other.  I wish I could share this book with everyone.  We all won't go through the experience of losing a limb, but we'll all have difficulties we need to conquer.  And Jessica's story shares how although this is hard, it's worth it.

I highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  I don't remember anything offensive.  Jessica is negative in the beginning after what happens to her, but it's reasonable and seems like normal teenage attitude.

Sum it up: One courageous triumph over tragedy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

When a Spider Came to Stay - Rebecca Crosdale

Summary:  She appeared one day next to my chair, right there on the floor.  She looked strange and didn't speak my language, yet there she was, just looking up at me.  I didn't know why.  (Summary from back of the book, image from  Book given free for review.)

My Review:  The main character in this book has an encounter with a spider and over a period of time watches the spider make web after web in the hopes of catching some food. During this time the little girl tries to get the spider to talk to her and tell her its secrets and share some food. The spider doesn't succeed in trapping some food and eventually leaves the room, which disappoints the little girl, but she ends with a feeling of reverence for what the spider has created.

While I like the idea of a book that tries to help children see how spiders aren't scary, I think this one needs a bit more polishing.  Charlotte's Web, on the whole, does a better job.  I realize that that's a longer story and this tries to do that in just 23 short pages. You can tell the author reveres spiders and what they're capable of; I'm just not sure it communicates that in a way that rubs off on children.  My daughter, after reading it to her, didn't change her opinion that spiders are creepy and gross, while Charlotte's Web helped her understand that spiders need to eat just like we do: it's just different.

The other aspect that's a little odd is the artistry, although I'm not sure the author had any control over this.  The colors seem warped, as does the character's body in different pictures.

On the whole, I think the concept is good, but the execution is poor.  I'd still read it to my kids, but I'm not sure I'd recommend this be considered high quality children's literature.

Rating: 2.5 stars

Sum it up:  An attempt to help children not be so afraid of spiders.


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