Friday, April 29, 2016

Series Spotlight: The Selection Series - Kiera Cass

I am a firm believer in everyone needing some down time.  I remember reading a baby book that told parents to watch out for their new child's needs, keeping in mind that as much as we cherish our alone time, some babies do, too.  It stuck with me.  I started noticing how much I needed alone time, mental break time, and physical rest.  Sometimes you just need some fluff.

I have a dear friend I go to church with who has anxiously been awaiting my reading of this series for over a year.  After some mandated down time in October, I figured it was time and reluctantly picked one up.  Two hours later, I was frantically searching through my friends to see who had the rest of the series so I could read it THAT NIGHT.  

Two days later, and not only had I read the four books in the series, I'd researched when the new book was coming out, read all of the novellas, and laughed at myself for delaying my downtime with this series for as long as I did!  I give you - The Selection.

The Selection is an interesting concept.  Part "The Bachelor", part The Hunger Games, the girls are competing to be the prince's bride.  It's no secret that girls from better sectors have a better chance, but their challenges are not only date-related, but have to do with decorum, likability, intelligence, and intrapalace politics.

The first book introduces us to this new world on the American continent.  While the changes and the time has made it nearly unrecognizable, relying on a caste system to maintain order and determine who could marry whom, the main character America is thrust into a world of cameras, higher caste assignments,  and isolation, despite being in the public's eye all the time.  She is unsure of whether she wants to love anyone other than her childhood sweetheart, but knows that her presence in the competition is helping her family.

The Elite, oh my.  Prince Maxon has narrowed his choices to eight ... is America still the favorite of the people?   Will her outspoken attitude hurt her chances with her beloved?  And is that beloved still her childhood friend, or has it become Prince Maxon?  Setting the Bachelor-esque parts aside, the true instability of the current regime starts to manifest.  Attacks upon the castle and upon the Elite increase, drawing everyone closer and causing a sense of urgency to drive the plot.

The choice has been made.  Up until now, I won't lie, this was a guilty pleasure series.  Okay, it still is.  but the final book truly showcases how far Cass has thought out the story.  While at some points I was tempted to shake the book and shout "Use your darn words, dagnabit!!" at the characters, the underlying political unrest and subversive underground movements come into the forefront of the series in a dazzlingly breathtaking and unexpected way. 

It's been years since the last Selection, and Princess Eadlyn finds herself in the unique position of being the first woman to rule the nation -- after her father steps down.  In an attempt to appease the upswell of discontent, she and her family agree to a new Selection - one where this time, the princess selects her groom. She has the support of her father who had to make brutal and life-changing choices, but does she have the strength to make her own?

I quite enjoyed the series.  It was exactly what I needed at a time my brain needed something fun and light. Is this something I'd give to someone who needs to write a critical analysis on a novel they choose?  Nope.  But would I hand it to the same reader after completing their paper?  Yep.  This is a toes-in-the-sand kind of series.  Grab a yummy, cool drink, your favorite shades, some sunscreen, and enjoy!

Series Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are some pretty intense kissing scenes, some milder cat fights among the contestants.  The conclusion to The One is brutal - much more so than I would have anticipated.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sky On Fire - Emmy Lambourne

Summary: Trapped in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, including a monster hailstorm and terrifying chemical weapons spill, brothers Dean and Alex learned how to survive and worked together with twelve other kids to build a refuge from the chaos. But then strangers appeared, destroying their fragile peace, and bringing both fresh disaster and a glimmer of hope. 

Knowing that the chemical weapons saturating the air outside will turn him into a bloodthirsty rage monster, Dean decides to stay in the safety of the store with Astrid and some of the younger kids. But their sanctuary has already been breached once. . . .

Meanwhile, Alex, determined to find their parents, heads out into the darkness and devastation with Niko and some others in a recently repaired school bus. If they can get to Denver International Airport, they might be evacuated to safety. But the outside world is even worse than they expected. . . (Summary and image from

Review: The last time we saw our Monument 14, they had split into two groups in order to find help.  Those who are safe - or who at least don't turn into monsters in the contaminated air - are taking the bus to the Denver Airport to bring back a rescue squad.  Dean, Astrid, and a handful of the younger kids decide to wait it out in the store, in the hopes that rescue will come quickly.

The prospect of waiting around for an unknown period of time sounds interminably dull, but this book was even more gripping than the first.  The struggles and fears, trials and triumphs of these kids still rings true to the world that Lambourne has created.  It's terrifying.  It's plausible. It's compelling.  It's certainly entertaining.

This book is marginally darker than the first - not only that the group is dealing with those who have been living outside shelters, but that they're encountering the full measure of the chemical spill and the ramifications that the chemicals have wrought.  At one point I started to wonder if we had crossed into zombie apocalypse genre, Maze Runner style, but I think the Lambourne has found a good way of balancing her world in the midst of so many apocalyptic books and creating her own little niche.  Understandably the violence has increased, but it didn't feel gratuitous.  

Lambourne is writing from the perspective of boys, and while I understand that boys are hormonal and that when they are locked in a building with their crush, things can happen.  But I hated how prevalent it was in the story.  It was unnecessary and tarnished a series that honestly could have been one of my new favorites of the year.  Warning: If you plan on continuing with the series, just go ahead and have Savage Drift, the final book in the series, waiting for you when you finish this one.  It's a heart pounding ending.

Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Murders, brutal beatings, and teen hormones running rampant

Monday, April 25, 2016

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai - Stan Sakai

Summary: Yokai are the monsters, demons, and spirits of Japanese folklore, such as the shape-changing kitsune, the obakeneko demon cats, and the evil oni ogres. Usagi faces all these and more when a desperate woman begs for his help in finding her kidnapped daughter. Tracing the abducted girl deep into the forest, Usagi finds it haunted by creatures of Japanese legend and discovers that they are amassing for a great raid on the countryside! Fortunately, Usagi is joined by Sasuke the Demon Queller, who is also fighting to prevent the invasion, but things aren't always as they seem; especially when dealing with the supernatural! (Summary and image from

My ReviewUsagi Yojimbo is a graphic novel series about an anthropomorphic rabbit who is a ronin--a masterless samurai--traveling through Edo period Japan.  While this series is a fun and worthwhile read, (and I have highly enjoyed the volumes I've read) you don't need to in order to enjoy and understand "Yokai."

As someone who loves monsters of all sorts, "Yokai" was a fun read, following Miyamoto Usagi as he becomes lost in a wood filled with these Japanese demons. It's also a good introduction to the creatures that have inhabited Japanese culture for centuries, and still embody themselves into everyday life.  If you're like me, it will only make you want to search out more information on these monsters.

The story itself is a quick read and straightforward.  Yokai can be scary, but they can also be silly, and this book has a good mix of both. Sakai has always offered a lovely blend of humor mixed with drama, and this book is no exception.

The art is gorgeous--while the regular series implements only black and white line work, in this volume Sakai employs his watercolors, which add another layer to Usagi's world, and are visually pleasing and enriching.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: sword-wielding ronin rabbit action.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Series Spotlight: No Safety in Numbers - Dayna Lorentz

I went on a reading binge at the end of last year.  It was a combination of illness, recovery, surgery, and bedrest needs, as well as getting thoroughly bored with everything on Netflix.  Unfortunately, despite my need for smart books, I couldn't handle it.  I turned to friends for recommendations and was shocked to find quite a few I hadn't read before.  The Monument 14 series was in that group, as was the Selection series.

A friend suggested a series by Lorentz and said it was heart-pounding and just a touch too realistic.  Intrigued, and in need of new books, I checked it out. (All images and blurbs from

When a strange device is discovered in the air ducts of a busy suburban mall, the entire complex is suddenly locked down. No one can leave. No one knows what is going on.

At first, there's the novelty of being stuck in a mega mall with free food and a gift certificate. But with each passing day, it becomes harder to ignore the dwindling supplies, inadequate information, and mounting panic.

Then people start getting sick.

Told from the point of view of two guys and two girls, this is a harrowing look at what can happen under the most desperate of circumstances, when regular people are faced with impossible choices. Some rise to the occasion. Some don't.

And for some - it's too late. 

The first book in the series does a good job of setting up the frustration and the fear that a mall complex and its occupants would feel finding themselves in quarantine with little information, little contact, and way too little supervision.  I was so intrigued at the thought of a mall-based chemical attack - but initially found concern in some of the more unrealistic aspects of the series.

It's Day 7 in the quarantined mall. The riot is over and the senator trapped inside is determined to end the chaos. Even with new rules, assigned jobs, and heightened security, she still needs to get the teen population under control. So she enlists Marco's help--allowing him to keep his stolen universal card key in exchange for spying on the very football players who are protecting him.

But someone is working against the new systems, targeting the teens, and putting the entire mall in even more danger. Lexi, Marco, Ryan, and Shay believe their new alliances are sound.

They are wrong. Who can be trusted? And who will be left to trust?

The virus was just the beginning.

Fans of Life As We Knew It and those who love apocalyptic plots will love this modern Lord of the Flies. The sequel to No Safety in Numbers is a pounding, relentless rush that will break your heart and keep you guessing until the end. 

Hmm.  I started to get a little disillusioned with the series at this point.  There was enough excitement in the first book to keep me reading, but man, Lorentz did an amazing job of capturing how boring it would eventually be to be stuck in the same place with your freedoms being systematically stripped on a daily basis. It truly started to feel like I'd been stuck in the mall for as long as the victims.  The series also started to darken at this point - heading into a more anarchist area.

Perfect for fans of Life As We Knew It and Michael Grant's Gone--this conclusion to the No Safety in Numbers trilogy will make your heart race, your palms sweat, and will leave you wondering exactly what you'd be willing to sacrifice in order to survive.

First--a bomb released a deadly flu virus and the entire mall was quarantined.

Next--the medical teams evacuated and the windows were boarded up just before the virus mutated.

Now--the power is out and the mall is thrown into darkness. Shay, Marco, Lexi, Ryan, and Ginger aren't the same people they were two weeks ago. Just like the virus, they've had to change in order to survive. And not all for the better. When no one can see your face, you can be anyone you want to be, and, when the doors finally open, they may not like what they've become.

If you think it's silly to be afraid of the dark, you're wrong.
Very wrong.

And now we enter the Lord of the Flies territory.  The action is more intense here, but it's brutal, violent, true anarchy reigns, and it seems that the goal is to show how little it takes for the worst of humanity to come out.  I lamented reading this far (I have issues with leaving things unresolved) and the redemption I hoped for on so many levels never came.

This isn't a series I could in good faith recommend.  It left me depressed and slightly bitter, and life is too short for books that aim to depress for no other reason than to depress. I think part of the problem I had with the series is that I had just read Monument 14, a series along a similar thread with many differences.  That was so well-executed, this was like reading a penny dreadful in comparison.

Overall rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Anarchy reigns.  Brutal violence, drug and alcohol use, Lord of the Flies but with teens and hormones.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lincoln's Grave Robbers - Steve Sheinkin

Summary: A true crime thriller -- the first book for teens to tell the nearly unknown tale of the brazen attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body!

The action begins in October of 1875, as Secret Service agents raid the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd. Soon after Boyd is hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring gather in the back room of a smoky Chicago saloon to discuss how to spring their ringleader. Their plan: grab Lincoln's body from its Springfield tomb, stash it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand, as a ransom, the release of Ben Boyd --and $200,000 in cash. From here, the action alternates between the conspirators, the Secret Service agents on their trail, and the undercover agent moving back and forth between the two groups. Along the way readers get glimpses into the inner workings of counterfeiting, grave robbing, detective work, and the early days of the Secret Service. The plot moves toward a wild climax as robbers and lawmen converge at Lincoln's tomb on election night: November 7, 1876. (Summary and image from

Review:  In the 1870s, it still hadn't occurred to anyone that the President of the United States needed guarding.  In fact, the Secret Service wouldn't assume control over guarding the president until two more had been assassinated. Yet the Secret Service existed with the express intent to hunt down, arrest, try, and remove counterfeiters from the nation's money supply.  Counterfeiting was so easy that it's estimated that at some points during the 1800s, half (HALF) of all the currency being circulated was fake.

So, what does this have to do with robbing the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln?

Sheinkin delves into a fascinating, head-scratching, bewildering story of a group of counterfeiters who plot to steal Lincoln from his grave.  The logic they show is sometimes flabbergasting,  but the methodical way they plan to execute their plot is frankly unsettling.  At the same time, Sheinkin tells the story of the Secret Service agent who stumbles upon the plot and works tirelessly to foil the attempt.

This book is fascinating.  Not only reading about how counterfeiters worked, how prevalent it was at the time, and how truly powerful they were, but reading about the methods used to push the money into mainstream currency flows, how they were tracked and prosecuted, and the lengths they'd go to in order to continue their business, this was a world I knew nothing about! Throw in a good whodunit, a botched attempt of grave robbing (or two), politics, and the influence of a presidential election in the investigation into the mix, and you're sure to be entertained.

I had heard about the plot to rob Lincoln's tomb before, but really only in passing, and never as detailed as this.  I devoured this book in under a day, and immediately passed it along to my son who hungers for nonfiction books.  As a side note, why are nonfiction books like these so hard to find for Middle Readers?  Seriously, that's an untapped audience.  

If you've got a budding historian in your life, or if you need a quick and educational book, this is definitely one to add to your list.

Rating: Five stars

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Pumpkin Lover's Cookbook - Lyuba Brooke

SummaryUse your fall decor for more than just jack-o-lanterns! 

These delicious pumpkin treats will make your friends and family turn orange with envy. With over seventy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizers, and desserts, this book is stuffed with tasty and tempting treats you’re sure to love. 

Try the 

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins 
Pumpkin Cheesecake Angel Trifles 
Pumpkin Curry Sauce 
Mushroom & Onion Dip in Roasted Pumpkin 
Baked Pumpkin Gnocchi and Cheese 

And then wash it all down with some pumpkin hot apple cider! Perfect for autumn or all year round, this cookbook will have your whole family falling in love with pumpkins! (Summary and pic from

My Review: I am not at all embarrassed to admit that I am one of those people who is obsessed with pumpkin. Pumpkin cookies. Pumpkin cupcakes. Pumpkin ice cream. Pumpkin hot chocolate. Pumpkin bread. The list goes on and on. If it has pumpkin in it, I wouldn’t guarantee I’ve tried it because there are a ton of things with pumpkin out there nowadays for obsessed people like me, but I have tried quite a few things. I have loved, almost unequivocally, all of it. Now. Sometimes it doesn’t work—and I get that. I haven’t tried ALL the things because of that. However, it is my humble opinion that pumpkin is deelish.

I have a friend who unabashedly indulges me in all things pumpkin. She buys me pumpkin treats all year round, and keeps my pantry, fridge, and freezer well-stocked. Imagine my delight when she also got me this cookbook for my birthday! Oh my heck! I was seriously excited. I love cookbooks anyway, but considering my love of cookbooks AND my love of pumpkin? This was a dream come true.

Here is what I love about this cookbook—the recipes are really delicious, and not just because I’m a pumpkin freak (which I am). The recipes are actually legit recipes of normal things (from breakfast, to lunch, to dinner, to dessert, and beyond) with pumpkin as one of the main ingredients. I was a little skeptical, if not cautiously optimistic. My family and I ventured from the normal things (cookies, treats) to the not necessarily normal (pumpkin alfredo, pumpkin enchiladas, etc.). They were all good! I have to admit that when I made different pumpkin recipes four days in a row my kids, who are notoriously picky and ridiculous, were crying uncle, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t like it, just that they maybe would like something a little different than a daily dose of pumpkin. So maybe my suggestion would be to not make all the recipes in the space of a week. Because of this initial binge I’ve had to space things out a bit, but the things we have tried have been really, really good. Surprisingly good, actually. Even I wasn’t sure of the levels of my pumpkin love, but this cookbook has assured me that yes, I do love pumpkin, and yes, it is good in things that aren’t just sweet or snacky.

The book itself is soft cover and has pretty pictures. The author is a food blogger so you know that there are some great pics and some fun writing going on. It’s a really good addition to a specialty cookbook collection.

If you are a person who loves having lots of cookbooks for all kinds of things, and especially if you are a lover of pumpkin, this book is for you!

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Neptune Project - Polly Holyoke

Summary:  With her weak eyes and useless lungs that often leave her gasping for air, Nere feels more at home swimming with the dolphins her mother studies than she does hanging out with her classmates. Nere has never understood why she is so much more comfortable and confident in the water than on land until the day she learns the shocking truth—she is one of a group of kids who have been genetically altered to survive in the ocean. These products of the "Neptune Project" are supposed to build a better future under the waves, safe from the terrible famines and wars and that rock the surface world.

But there are some big challenges ahead of her: no one ever asked Nere if she wanted to be part of a science experiment; the other Neptune kids aren't exactly the friendliest bunch, and in order to reach the safe haven of the new Neptune colony, Nere and her fellow mutates must swim across hundreds of miles of dangerous ocean, relying on their wits, their loyal dolphins and one another to evade terrifying undersea creatures and a government that will stop at nothing to capture the Neptune kids ... dead or alive.

Fierce battle and daring escapes abound as Nere and her friend race to safety in this action-packed marine adventure. (Summary and image from

Review: Hunger Games meets Splash, sort of.  Life on land has gotten too hot, too dry, and too dystopian for the citizens of what used to be California.  When disastrous news is announced that their town is being shut down and they'll be relocated inland, Nere's mother gathers her and a handful of other children, injects them with something painful, and then frantically explains that they're part of an experiment to see if humans could be genetically modified to live underwater, in order to form a better, safer community.  Before she can fully explain the purpose and the intent of this project, let alone find the forgiveness of her daughter, police arrive to arrest all of them.  Nere and her companions are left adrift in the ocean with meager supplies and more questions than they have answers for.

Holyoke does a good job creating a world under the sea for her readers to explore.  Threats of wildlife and the government are easy to understand and grasp, and the dynamics of a group of teenagers and tweens traveling together felt honest.  It surprised me that within hours of finding another mutant group heading to the same coordinates, cliques form and little love interests start popping up, but it was all very sanitary.

I had a difficult time sometimes remembering that they were underwater, but mainly because I've never read any mermaid books.  Ever.  Outside of The Little Mermaid, this was my first exposure.  Although, to be honest, these are still humans, just with an enhanced ability to breathe underwater and with better underwater vision.  But the terminology confused me, causing me to have to keep reminding myself that sprinting meant swimming really fast.  That yes, it would be totally natural for sharks to be following them.  But those failings are mine alone.

As far as dystopian fiction goes, this wasn't bad.  There are attacks (both from humans and animals), there are love triangles, there are unanswered questions, but it felt like the kind of book I could give someone who wants to read The Hunger Games but isn't quite emotionally prepared for the series.  I wonder if that will remain true throughout.

Rating: Three and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are a few deaths, shark attacks, and an attack by a giant squid.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce

Summary: When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait? 

A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past. As the volunteer points out, 'Even though you've done your travelling, you're starting a new journey too.' 

Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was the beginning. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I must admit that I came into this book with some very heavy expectations. I really enjoyed the first book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and so I really wanted this one to live up to that. It’s so hard with sequels. So many times they just don’t deliver like they should. A lot of times they just don’t deliver like they should.

I was pleasantly surprised by the writing in this book. I believe that Joyce is a talented writer. I really enjoy her ability to tell a beautiful story without all the wordiness. I would describe her writing as “gentle.” A lot gets said, a lot gets told, but it’s almost like you’re just going along for the journey and learning it. It’s really quite awesome.

This book is sad, as you might imagine. If you’ve read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (and if you haven’t, you should) then you know that Queenie is dying in a nursing home while she waits for Harold Fry to come. With this environment comes a lot of sadness­—there’s just no way to avoid it, really. There’s also loneliness and hopelessness and pain, but there is also a lot of fun and there are some very hilarious people and situations. I found myself really enjoying reading about the shenanigans of the people living in Queenie’s nursing home. So I guess it’s a lot like real life, really. There are funny people, there are funny situations, but there are sad times, too. It just is what it is.

So did this book live up to my expectations? Well, I have to say that in some ways it did and in some ways it didn’t. One thing that I found to be confusing was that I felt like I almost knew too much. With The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry some of what is magical about it is that you don’t know what’s happening. The whole back story is there, you can feel it, but the mystique of it is almost as important as the knowing. In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy we learn a lot of the back story, and that’s maybe not what I wanted, even though I thought I did. I could see that it would be realistic in the way Joyce created it—it’s not like it couldn’t have been there—but it certainly lost some of its subtlety. Also, I wasn’t really sure I wanted Queenie to love Harold in the way she did. I’ll leave that there and let you read it.

So, yeah, I did like this book. I thought it was beautiful and sad and a good counterpart to the first book. I’m glad I read it, even though maybe I wished I didn’t know some of what I learned. I don’t think it’s as good as the first book (although it gets better ratings on Goodreads), but it’s certainly a good companion.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language in this book, as well as an incident of suicide. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Those We Fear - Victoria Griffith

Summary: What do you get when you cross The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre with Psycho? Victoria Griffith's latest thriller.

When Maria becomes a summertime au pair to the children of a Scottish lord, she discovers the family is living under the shadow of two suspicious deaths. Vanishing portraits, cloaked figures, and bizarre shrines add up to a compelling Modern Gothic psychological mystery. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review)

Review: Within the span of a bag of potato chips, Maria's life has been turned upside down.  Her mother murdered, her own life in danger from a terrorist organization, she is forced to enter the Witness Protection Program, quickly briefed on her new identity, and sent to Scotland as an au pair for the summer, a safer location than she worries anywhere else in the U.S. would be.  But the circumstances of the job get odder and odder, and Maria finds herself wondering if there's something more going on in the estate than is of this world.

Griffith is clearly a fan of some of my favorite gothic works, specifically Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and The Turning of the Screw.  She borrows liberally from all three sources to craft her world, either from plot points, the presence of the works in the story, or having her characters pointing out the similarities in certain passages.  The suspense she is able to paint is quite real, propelling the reader through a quick and creepy read.

Unfortunately, there was quite a bit that didn't work with the story.  The fact that Griffith relies so heavily on the tropes so perfectly executed in the three works doesn't allow her to have her characters react authentically for this era or the world she has created for them.  They're doomed to repeat the actions, mistakes, and triumphs of the classic characters they are based upon. The problem with that is that, invariably, I ended up comparing them quite critically to the characters I know and love, and hers were found wanting.  There were too many suspenseful passages that were left unresolved and forgotten, the effort to modernize the stories wasn't strong enough to make it feel realistic.

Finally, I had an extremely difficult time with the numerous grammatical and spelling errors throughout the book.  Not only were words misused (rivets were cried instead of rivulets), dialectal words were used inconsistently. Had this been an ARC, I would have dismissed them, but sadly that wasn't the case.  It's too important as an author to assume the intelligence of your reader.  If they're able to find a correct usage or etymological history in a six minute google search on their phones, so should an author or an editor.  

I was left feeling wanting at the end of the book. It was definitely a book that could have been a bang, but ended up being a whimper.

Rating: One and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There are a few murders, some fade to black scenes, allusions to infidelity, nothing terrible but much was unnecessary to the plot either.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Literature - Saskia Lacey

Summary: Read classic literature from the eyes of the dinosaurs, and learn about the literary greats through humorous, prehistoric mashups and fun, dinosaur-themed facts.

Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Literature mixes prehistoric dinosaur humor with some of the great names of literary history to teach the classics in a fun and inviting way for children of all ages. The first book in a new series, The Prehistoric Masters of Literature, features an assortment of well-known, classic authors, such as the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare, all under the guise of favorite dinosaur mashups (i.e. the "Brontësaurus" sisters). The Prehistoric Masters of Literature features a brief "dino" biography of each author, with real facts intertwined and modified to fit with the prehistoric theme. Each biographical spread also includes a short mini book of one of the author's classic novels, glued into the last pages. For instance, an abridged version of Wuthering Swamp Heights is included alongside the Brontesaurus sisters' biography. With the timeless popularity of dinosaur subjects for children, this new series is sure to engage and delight, as well as teach children about famous figures in history. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)

Review:  Step back in time to meet some of the most noted and celebrated prehistoric authors of the Jurassic (and others) Era. Lacey’s research has uncovered selected works from William Shakespeareasaurus, The Brontësaurus sisters, Edgar Allen Terrordactyl, Mark Twainceratops, Charles Dickensodocus, and Jane Austenlovenator.  Truly, we are better off for learning of these dinosaur geniuses and their works!

This is such a fun concept.  I have a budding paleontologist in my home who happens to be a crazy bookworm — this is the book I didn’t know I wanted to bridge her two interests!  Each Paleolithic author includes a small sample of their greatest work, especially adapted for a younger audience.  For example, Shakespearesaurus writes:

Hark, what lady doth slurp from under pond?
O grisly goddess, thou art a grand sight.
Never have I loved before this night.
I after my claw, my most noble miss.
If thou art offended by its rough touch, 
May I present my snout for a tender kiss?

I have to admit, I was sold as soon as I read that.

Although it’s fun to reimagine some of literature’s greats as dinosaurs, Lacey has included biographies of their more modern counterparts.  My daughter is still a few years away from tackling Jane Austen or Edgar Allen Poe, but this is an excellent bridge into making these authors, so important to the life of a bookworm, accessible.

Rating: Four stars

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pax - Sara Pennypacker

Summary: Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax. (Summary and picture from

My Review:  As I read this book, I couldn't help but think of the Carpenter's song:

"Bless the beasts and the children,
For in this world they have no voice--
They have no choice."

Books specifically about war of any kind are difficult, and despite my love of Pennypacker's work, I was hesitant as I started reading, until the book swallowed me up in the emotions of Peter, Pax, and the others they meet along the way.  While a quick read, it is not particularly easy--there are traumatizing things that happen, to both human and animal, but this was absolutely necessary.  As one character comments, and what I feel is the crux of the novel: "People should tell the truth about what war costs."

I appreciated how Pennypacker chose to tell the story from the perspective of a fox and a child, because through their eyes it highlights how war is so utterly senseless and shows the true victims--everybody, but most particularly children and animals.

I loved reading the chapters with Pax, his communication with other foxes he meets, how their fear and ideals are expressed through emotions, scents and memories.  Yet it still felt animal enough, that he was a real fox learning to cope in a world where he knows nothing of a fox's natural instincts.  The other foxes he meets are also well fleshed out, and their relationships with Pax are downright heartbreaking.  Yet Pax still holds onto the hope that Peter will return to find him.

Peter's chapters are equally fascinating, as he sets off alone across treacherous terrain to find his lost fox, until a misfortune places him with an older, hermitish woman named Vola.  I loved their unusual friendship, and how not only does she helps him, but he helps her, as she, too, has been scarred, and we see how war can make you forget who you are.

I have been lucky enough to meet both Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen, and loved listening to them talk about children's literature.  They are both masterful storytellers in their own ways, Pennypacker through her words, and Klassen through his art, which is simple enough that you are able to evoke your own emotions from Pennypacker's story into the drawings, as each person who reads this will be affected differently.

My rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: I would recommend this book for older children, as there are some difficult themes, dangers both man-made and natural.  There is blood and talk of war and death, but it is tastefully done and not graphic, allowing even the younger reader to understand what a terrible thing it is to be war sick.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule - Jennifer Chiaverini

Summary:   The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker and Mrs. Lincoln's Rival imagines the inner life of Julia Grant, beloved as a Civil War general’s wife and the First Lady, yet who grappled with a profound and complex relationship with the slave who was her namesake—until she forged a proud identity of her own.

In 1844, Missouri belle Julia Dent met dazzling horseman Lieutenant Ulysses S Grant. Four years passed before their parents permitted them to wed, and the groom’s abolitionist family refused to attend the ceremony.

Since childhood, Julia owned as a slave another Julia, known as Jule. Jule guarded her mistress’s closely held twin secrets: She had perilously poor vision but was gifted with prophetic sight. So it was that  became Julia’s eyes to the world.
And what a world it was, marked by gathering clouds of war. The Grants vowed never to be separated, but as Ulysses rose through the ranks—becoming general in chief of the Union Army—so did the stakes of their pact. During the war, Julia would travel, often in the company of Jule and the four Grant children, facing unreliable transportation and certain danger to be at her husband’s side.

Yet Julia and Jule saw two different wars. While Julia spoke out for women—Union and Confederate—she continued to hold Jule as a slave behind Union lines. Upon the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Jule claimed her freedom and rose to prominence as a businesswoman in her own right, taking the honorary title Madame. The two women’s paths continued to cross throughout the Grants’ White House years in Washington, DC, and later in New York City, the site of Grant’s Tomb.

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is the first novel to chronicle this singular relationship, bound by sight and shadow. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  Of all the ladies of the Civil War era, I think our history books forget Mrs. Julia Grant, wife of former president and revered general Ulysses S. Grant, the most.  Born into a slave family, growing up as a slave owner and quite content with the peculiar institution, she marries a Union soldier and has to find her way in an abolitionist government.  While she agrees that secession isn't legal, the thought of abolishing slavery is too foreign to her to understand.  Jennifer Chiaverini explores this dichotomy in this book, telling the story of Grant and her slave Madame Jule.

This is such a sweet book. The love that Julia Grant had for her husband is evident, and the amount of research that Chiaverini has put into the novel is clear.  It is an easy read as far as plot movement, but as the players moved deeper into the Civil War era and as General Grant's history started to be portrayed, I found myself reaching for my phone to check a few details.  I had to keep reminding myself that this is historical FICTION, fiction being the key word there.  Chiaverini glosses over Grant's raging alcoholism, attributing it to migraines, softens Mrs. Grant's opinions and feelings toward Mrs. Mary Lincoln dramatically, and in various other ways rosies up documented history.  It frustrated the purist in me at times, but not enough to stop reading.

I loved the relationship between Julia and Jule at the beginning of the book, before Julia was old enough to "understand" slavery.  Jule was the book's most interesting character, and while her history is so spotty, with the history books telling us next to nothing about her life after she left the Grants, I would have loved to see her character in this book more fully developed after that time, especially since the author had played with history quite a bit already.  It was a missed opportunity that could have truly catapulted this book in my esteem.

Rating:  Three and a half stars

For the sensitive reader:  This is a book that explores the relationship of slaves with their owners.  In one scene, Jule lays out the fears every slave has and demands an answer as to why she can't just be free.  Julia's reply, while in keeping with the thinking of the time, was difficult and uncomfortable to read.  Other than that, it's pretty squeaky clean!

Friday, April 1, 2016


Summary:  It’s a summer to remember . . . at the Jersey Shore.

Giovanna “Gia” Spumanti and her cousin Isabella “Bella” Rizzoli are going to have the sexiest summer ever. While they couldn’t be more different—pint-size Gia is a carefree, outspoken party girl and Bella is a tall, slender athlete who always holds her tongue—for the next month they’re ready to pouf up their hair, put on their stilettos, and soak up all that Seaside Heights, New Jersey, has to offer: hot guidos, cool clubs, fried Oreos, and lots of tequila.

So far, Gia’s summer is on fire. Between nearly burning down their rented bungalow, inventing the popular “tan-tags” at the Tantastic Salon where she works, and rescuing a shark on the beach, she becomes a local celebrity overnight. Luckily, she meets the perfect guy to help her keep the flames under control. Firefighter Frank Rossi is exactly her type: big, tan, and Italian. But is he tough enough to handle Gia when things really heat up?

Bella is more than ready for some fun in the sun. Finally free of her bonehead ex-boyfriend, she left home in Brooklyn with one goal in mind: hooking up with a sexy gorilla for a no-strings-attached summer fling. In no time, she lands a job leading “Beat Up the Beat” dance classes at a local gym, and is scooped up by Beemer-driving, preppy Bender Newberry. Only problem: Bella can’t get her romantic and ripped boss Tony “Trouble” Troublino out of her head. He’s relationship material. Suddenly, Bella’s not sure what she wants.

The cousins soon realize that for every friend they make on the boardwalk, there are also rivals, slummers, and frenemies who will do anything to ruin their summer—and try their relationship. Before July ends, the bonds of family and friendship will be stretched to the breaking point. Will the haters prevail, or will Gia and Bella find love at the Shore?

For everyone who loves MTV’s hit reality show, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s sweet, funny, and sexy novel perfectly captures the heat, the energy, the fun, and the drama of Jersey Shore.  (Summary and cover taken from

My Review:   Wow.  Okay, I know what you're thinking.  I did, too.  I was skeptical at first.  But wow.  Never have I read something so deep, so intensely beautiful, full of wisdom and wrought with angst that spoke directly to me.  This has caused me to reevaluate my standards in entertainment, and I've come to a HUGE decision for the blog.  (Mindy SAID I could make changes if I want.)

This blog is converting to a reality series review.  

I know!  Reality TV is the wave of the future, it's time we embraced it!!  Want to catch up on your favorite smut?  Here's where you'll find the most up-to-date information!!  We're so excited about these developments ... my DVR is already full!

Sum it Up:  APRIL FOOL'S!!   

Disclaimer:  I've never read "A 'Shore' Thing" nor do I plan to.  I already took one for the team and read Modelland.  Sorry.  Have a wonderful April Fool's Day, everyone, and be kind to one another!


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