Friday, September 30, 2016

Adventures on the Queen Mary...tales of a teenage crew member! - Dave Wooders with James Radford

Summary: Take an exciting trip back in time to the Golden Age of Ocean Travel on board the world's favorite liner -- the RMS Queen Mary. Enjoy a visual feast of new and archival photographs, many never before published. At 16 years of age, in 1957, Dave Wooders worked as a bellboy on the Queen Mary!

(Summary from and pic from

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

My Review: I was originally interested in this book because my Granny rode over on the Queen Mary from Scotland during World War II as a war bride. (Is that not cool? I mean, come on. That’s awesome.) Anyway, I was super excited, hoping that there would be some insights into what it was like to ride on the Queen Mary as a war bride. Although I did talk to my Granny quite a bit about her life while she was alive, I didn’t get to ask a lot of details, mostly because I was young and didn’t really know what to ask. I wish I could go back in time and ask her lots of different stuff. She had a fascinating life. The moral of this story: ask your grandparents about their lives—in detail—before they’re gone. Okay. Now onto the book.

This book was not about the Queen Mary during the time it was a warship or the time it carried war brides. It’s actually about the ship after all of this, starting in the late fifties. By this time it had been restored to its former glory and was a beautiful sailing ship with excellent, world-class accommodations, and famous people riding it back and forth. Now, although I do wish that I had known more about the Queen Mary as a ship when she carried the war brides across the ocean to their new lives, this book was still really interesting. It doesn’t go into a lot of history about the Queen Mary. There are definitely tidbits here and there, and there are some great nuggets of info that I think would only be discussed in a memoir-type situation and for that it was really cool. I really enjoyed the human element of the story. This man obviously had an incredible time serving on the Queen Mary (in different service-oriented capacities) and it was fun to read about his experiences. I’m pretty sure that there are tons of information-based books that only discuss the Queen Mary and her long history as a luxury liner and her successful history as a warship (including the war brides). So this isn’t that book.

The writing is very memoir-like. Wooders is obviously a really nice man, and I really appreciated his gratitude for all things in life as well as his happy and upbeat outlook. Because it’s a memoir, there’s repetition here and there about various things, but it’s not like I felt like there wasn’t tons of new information in every chapter. He has a lot of fun stories and experiences to share, and it was fun to read about them.

One of the strengths of this book is the pictures. It really has a ton of pictures in it and I loved that. I really felt like I knew about the ship—what it looked like then, what it looks like now, etc., from the pictures and his descriptions. It’s just a fun little book to have.

Wooders’ love of the Queen Mary is infectious. I really learned to love the ship and although I’ve wanted to go and see it because of my Granny’s war bride history, now I would really like to go and would appreciate the luxury liner that it was and still is, even if it is permanently docked. I fully plan on eating at the famous brunch and maybe even staying on the ship/hotel.

If you love the Queen Mary or just want to know more about her from the perspective of one who worked there, this is an excellent book. The pictures are great and the stories are a lot of fun.

My Review: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is clean.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Someday Someday, Maybe - Lauren Graham

Summary: A charming and laugh-out-loud novel by Lauren Graham, beloved star of Parenthood and Gilmore Girls, about an aspiring actress trying to make it in mid-nineties New York City.

Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates-Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material-and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works. 

Meanwhile, she dreams of doing "important" work, but only ever seems to get auditions for dishwashing liquid and peanut butter commercials. It's hard to tell if she'll run out of time or money first, but either way, failure would mean facing the fact that she has absolutely no skills to make it in the real world. Her father wants her to come home and teach, her agent won't call her back, and her classmate Penelope, who seems supportive, might just turn out to be her toughest competition yet. 

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a funny and charming debut about finding yourself, finding love, and, most difficult of all, finding an acting job. (Summary and image from

First things first, did you know Lorelei could write?!  I didn’t! I only stumbled upon this book because I was trying to add Lauren Graham’s upcoming memoir to my TBR shelf.  To my delight, this novel did not disappoint, capturing the essence of what I imagine Graham would be like in person: sweet, unaware of how talented she really is, clumsy, driven, but still a little flighty. 

Before we get into the story, let’s just appreciate the fact that a celebrity wrote a book that is well written.  (I’m looking at you, Modelland, still looking at you.)  Franny’s father is an English professor, and the literary references sprinkled throughout the novel are as much fun as cleaning out the pantry and finding an unopened bag of SF chocolate you’d forgotten you had.  The story would have been fine without them, but their inclusion just added that much more delight to an otherwise content story.

The story itself is relatively predictable, but is presented in such a fun manner that you can’t help but allow yourself to be swept up in the fun of it. At the beginning of every chapter there is an illustration of Franny’s Filofax planner during the time of the chapter.  I can’t begin to tell you how delightful I found those illustrations! It made Franny and her New York more real and even more relatable.  

This is the perfect Beach/Road Trip/Rainy Day/Lazy Day read. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s sweet — in short, it’s a great palate cleanser to rely on.

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There are a few steamy scenes of the fade-to-black variety, a few expletives, and I found myself personally offended for Franny at one point. But overall, it’s much cleaner than I thought it would be.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Brink of Dawn - Jeff Altabef & Erynn Altabef

Summary: Follow-up to the multiple award-winning Wind Catcher

They walk among us as if they are gods.
Only the Chosen know what they are.
Only the Chosen know to fear them.
And only the Chosen can defeat them.

Evolved Publishing presents the second book in the multiple award-winning Chosen series of young adult mystery thrillers, which feature an American Indian fantasy and supernatural theme, from the same author who brought you the award-winning thriller Shatter Point, and his daughter.

Juliet Wildfire Stone and her best friend, Troy Buckhorn, barely escaped their sleepy Arizona town alive. Now they’re speeding to New York City to find the three other Chosen. The Chosen must band together to face an ancient foe that threatens all humanity.

Yet Juliet doesn’t know whom to trust, and strange things are happening in the City.

The Chosen will be tested, their resolve questioned, and their flaws exposed. Each must decide whether he or she will fulfill their destiny—or run. To defeat the enemy, they must stop battling among themselves and overcome their own struggles.

Only one can lead them. Will Juliet embrace her powers in time?

Brink of Dawn picks up where the multiple-award-winning first book in the Chosen series, Wind Catcher, left off, but it can also be read as a stand-alone novel. Continue the adventure! And be sure to watch for the third and final installment in this exciting series, Scorched Souls, to launch in late 2016.

WINNER: Readers' Favorite Awards -- Gold Medal 2015: Young Adult Coming-of-Age

WINNER: Mom's Choice Awards -- Silver Medal: Young Adult Books

WINNER: Beverly Hills Books Awards - 2015: Best Young Adult Fiction

WINNER: Awesome Indies -- Seal of Approval: "A treat to read."
(Summary and pic from

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

Review: Sometimes it’s difficult to read a sequel either because it starts so fast that unless you just barely finished the one before it you have no idea what is going, or­—and this is just as bad—it starts off so slowly that you probably didn’t even need to read the first one to know exactly what’s going on. I am happy to report that Brink of Dawn was actually a good mix of both—it started out with an exciting scene but there was enough back story as things went on that I remembered what was going on. I don’t usually re-read the first book in a series, so I was happy about this. I like knowing what’s going on but I don’t need the entire book again. All I need is just a few refreshers and this is a strong point in this book. The Altabefs do a good job of keeping the pacing. I think that adventure novels—especially YA novels—need to have good pacing. Without it the story falls flat and it stops feeling like an adventure and more like a slog. This one moves along quickly, covering a good amount of ground while still giving the reader a sense of what’s going on. I really appreciated that.

As far as the story, I would put this on the upper end of YA paranormal fantasy/dystopian fare. It had lots of elements to make it interesting, and the special powers given to the characters were interesting and unique. It’s got the standard “chosen” thing going on, which is obviously not unheard of for a book like this, but I think that that’s okay in the YA genre. I don’t expect everything to be unique and never heard of not only because it’s YA and readers enjoy what they enjoy, even if they’ve read something similar to it before, but also because these features may actually be unique to younger readers. They’re probably not as old and jaded as many adult readers, so that makes it okay. That being said, I think the storyline and the book is unique enough. It doesn’t make me immediately think of any other book, and it’s a cool story with some fun twists and differences from the other books in the genre.

I also liked the variety of characters. There were people of varying abilities, which always make for some fun character and story tension. I liked the characters, too. I thought they were relatable and realistic-esque. You know, as realistic as you can be with superhuman powers.

I think what I really missed about the first book was the Native American lore. This particular addition to the series doesn’t talk much about that, and in fact has switched more to aliens, which I don’t like nearly as much. I really liked the interweaving of Native American culture with a paranormal element, and I missed that.

Overall, I think this book stands strongly in the YA paranormal/fantasy/dystopian genre. If that‘s your thing, you should check this out. It’s an indy book, which makes it cool and different and something maybe you haven’t heard of before.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language but nothing too serious.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ella's Will - Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee

Summary: Will Hawkins is just a mere stable boy. How can he ever think to woo Ella, his once-wealthy childhood friend who is stubbornly independent, especially when his competition is the prince? Without any magic or fairy godmothers, Will must show Ella that he is her true prince charming in this perspective twist of the Cinderella story. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  We know the story of Cinderella.  But what if there was no fairy godmother to make everything right?  What if there was just a sweet, strong-willed girl, a kind and ignorant village, and her best friend—a former stableboy of her father’s, now working for the king, who just happens to be desperately in love with her?

I loved, loved Peaslee’s retelling of the classic Cinderella story.  I loved the depth and the humanity she brought to her characters, the sweet moral of her story (which, refreshingly, wasn’t a pretty dress and cute shoes will get you all your heart desires), and the best possible ending I could have hoped for.  We’re revisiting the story in this novel, but this time watching it unfold from the eyes of Will, the stableboy and Ella’s best friend.  (Think Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun, but not hacked and leaked online.)

As a standalone novel, this is cute.  It’s sweet, it introduces a new dynamic into the story, delving into the lives of the servants charged with pulling off a  kingdom-wide ball in a week, the havoc such a ball wreaks on the lives of betrothed couples in the kingdom, and the hopes, dreams, and fears of a relatively minor character in the first novel. I loved that side of it.  Again, Peaslee has a real talent for fleshing out a character quite quickly and efficiently.


I don’t know if it’s because I enjoyed the first novel so much, but this one disappointed a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Will.  I love his humor, his perceptive nature, his personal goals to be a gentleman, even if he’s not born into the breed. But he simpers.  He is so desperately, hopelessly, idiotically in love with Ella that she got on my nerves a bit in this book. Will, frankly, has a coke-bottle-thick set of Love Goggles on, in super extra thick strength.  Unfortunately, it cheapened the story for me having a main character who could see the worst in everyone but his ONE TRUE LOVE, who is perfect and has the tiniest feet ever in the whole wide universe of feet.  Because they’re tiny.  Did I mention how tiny they are? (Will, it seems, is a little fixated on little feet.)

I’ve recommended Ella to every mom I know with a tween or up girl in the house.  I don’t know if I could recommend this book as heartily, but if they asked what I thought, I could honestly say it’s cute.  I don’t regret reading it, but I wish it had toned down the mushy-gushy and dialed up the secondary characters’ storylines.  

Rating:  Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: There are scenes that could be triggers for those sensitive to abuse.  There’s a perpetually drunk and lecherous character (don’t worry, he gets his reward), but that’s about it.  This would be a solid PG in the movie world.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio - Peg Kehret

Summary: Ten years ago, in a riveting story of courage and hope, Peg Kehret wrote of the months she spent in a hospital when she was 12. The book deeply touched readers of all ages and received many awards and honors. This anniversary edition includes an updated and extended Epilogue, 12 pages of new photos, and a new section about polio.  Summary and image from

Review: My generation and subsequent generations will never know the terror that came with a polio diagnosis.  As a formerly pervasive and deadly disease, our generations have benefitted from its eradication in most of the world, predicted to be global eradication of the disease.  However, it wasn't that long ago that many children and even more parents feared the word, knowing it could be a death sentence.

Small Steps chronicles the long, terrifying, and difficult year of Peg Kehret, a survivor of this horrid disease.  Her words, written for children, are so sweet and pure as she describes the pain, the fear, and even the boredom that came with her diagnosis.  Because her diagnosis came during a time of research and experimentation, she was blessed with cutting-edge therapies that saved her life and preserved her ability to walk. 

My son and I read this book together. and it touched me to see how much Kehret's story impacted him. He was so amazed at her resilience, at her ability to live in a hospital for the better part of a year, and her physical therapy and her determination.  Even better, he read this book two or three more times on his own. 

As a mother, this was a difficult book for me to read -- simply because of the emotions that were involved. Putting that aside, it's one everyone should read. 

Rating: Five stars

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

City of the Lost - Kelley Armstrong

Summary: Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows this crime will catch up to her. Casey's best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana's husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it's time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a domestic violence support town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you're accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council's approval. As a murderer, Casey isn't a good candidate, but she has something they want; she's a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn't the only secret Rockton is hiding - in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I am surprised how much I liked this book. I didn’t expect it to be as compelling or interesting as it was. I’ve read a lot of crime novels, and I’ve read a lot of crime novels recently, actually. I expected this one to fit squarely in the middle of all the others, somewhat unremarkable but a decent crime story. I have traditionally liked Armstrong’s writing; I’ve read at least one series that she’s written as well as another book here and there, and some I liked more than others. But like I said, this one surprised me.

There are a few things that stood out in this book that made me really like it. First of all, I enjoyed the writing. I always think Armstrong does a good job of writing a very conversational book that is easy to read and understand. When I read her books, I’m not expecting literary genius, I’m just expecting to enjoy it and know what’s going on and not have to think about every sentence. I want to just enjoy the book. She certainly accomplished that in this book. Secondly, I usually like her characters. The main female character is not completely dissimilar to others I’ve read of hers, but that’s okay. I like that they’re intelligent and snarky and sarcastic. I connect with that. I like cool female leads and this is certainly one of those. Her other characters are usually great as well, and this book definitely had some fun and interesting characters.

I think the strength of this book, though, was the storyline. I thought it was fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for reading about weird hidden communities where strange stuff goes on and they operate by their own rules. My love of cultures really shows here, and I thought the community and the situation was fascinating. Put it in a remote, rugged place with hostiles and unpredictable people and you’ve got a great mix of stuff going on. I really enjoyed it, like I said.

I read this book in about a day and a half. I usually don’t read books like this in that short of time. This one had me captivated. There was a lot going on and the storyline was interesting. There is a romance, as with all things Armstrong, and there is plenty of drama, so be prepared for that. I’m definitely looking forward to the second installment in the series.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is has some seriously bad language (one of the characters uses the “F” word in almost every sentence. And sometimes that’s the only word in the sentence). There is violence and also some sex scenes. I’ve reviewed Armstrong before and feel that sometimes her sex scenes are gratuitous, and I think that in this case, she was elevating some of the language and violence and sex scenes to try to keep up with others in the genre. It’s not Scandinavian author quality, but it is definitely not “Murder She Wrote.”

Monday, September 19, 2016

And After the Fire - Lauren Belfer

Summary: The New York Times-bestselling author of A Fierce Radiance and City of Light returns with a new powerful and passionate novel—inspired by historical events—about two women, one European and one American, and the mysterious choral masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach that changes both their lives.

In the ruins of Germany in 1945, at the end of World War II, American soldier Henry Sachs takes a souvenir, an old music manuscript, from a seemingly deserted mansion and mistakenly kills the girl who tries to stop him.

In America in 2010, Henry’s niece, Susanna Kessler, struggles to rebuild her life after she experiences a devastating act of violence on the streets of New York City. When Henry dies soon after, she uncovers the long-hidden music manuscript. She becomes determined to discover what it is and to return it to its rightful owner, a journey that will challenge her preconceptions about herself and her family’s history—and also offer her an opportunity to finally make peace with the past.

In Berlin, Germany, in 1783, amid the city’s glittering salons where aristocrats and commoners, Christians and Jews, mingle freely despite simmering anti-Semitism, Sara Itzig Levy, a renowned musician, conceals the manuscript of an anti-Jewish cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, an unsettling gift to her from Bach’s son, her teacher. This work and its disturbing message will haunt Sara and her family for generations to come.

Interweaving the stories of Susanna and Sara, and their families, And After the Fire traverses over two hundred years of history, from the eighteenth century through the Holocaust and into today, seamlessly melding past and present, real and imagined. Lauren Belfer’s deeply researched, evocative, and compelling narrative resonates with emotion and immediacy. (Summary and image from  I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review:  I’ve been very, very vocal about how stringently I critique time jump novels.  Writers, take note:  This is how it’s done.  The two stories Belfer tells, the story of an unpublished, never performed, inflammatory in words but exquisite in music cantata written by the Master himself is so perfectly handled.  The stories are dependent on each other, and both are well-crafted, well researched, and touching in their own rights.  The story of the fictional cantata, entrusted to a Jewish aristocrat in 1783 and kept from the public until, through a series of twists and turns, it falls into the hands of the present day protagonist Susanna, enraptured me.  I was taken with the love that Sara showed her niece and nephews and their progeny, I loved nearly every main character that touched the cantata, trusting their discretion and valor.

Belfer’s novel deals with a few main themes, chiefly the recovery from sexual assault, anti-Semitism not only in 18th century Europe but in today’s society as well, the loss of one’s faith, and intertwined in it all is the role that music plays in soothing, healing, and uplifting a soul.  Obviously, this is slightly bittersweet. But the masterful way Belfer handled these themes, juxtaposing the doubts of one of the protagonists with the peace he feels listening to a particular section of Bach made me ache for my days working at the Utah Symphony.  Her deft writing ability was able to simply portray the problems while allowing the reader to view them and draw conclusions based on their own life experiences, not having Belfer’s desire for the text forcefully imposed upon them.  I loved that.  I love it when I put down a book and are able to think about it for a while, how it impacted me as a reader, whether it made me a better person, or wondering how I could improve.  Books like that are ones I’m happy to recommend.

Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Susanna is raped and recalls the rape in simple honesty. The theme of recovering emotionally and physically from the assault are key themes in the book, and it’s mentioned frequently.  There is also a love scene that is fairly blunt, although sweet and sensitively written.  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Morgue: A Life in Death - Vincent DiMaio, Ron Franscell

 Summary: In this clear-eyed, gritty, and enthralling narrative, Dr. Vincent Di Maio and veteran crime writer Ron Franscell guide us behind the morgue doors to tell a fascinating life story through the cases that have made Di Maio famous-from the exhumation of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to the complex issues in the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Beginning with his street-smart Italian origins in Brooklyn, the book spans 40 years of work and more than 9,000 autopsies, and Di Maio's eventual rise into the pantheon of forensic scientists. One of the country's most methodical and intuitive criminal pathologists will dissect himself, maintaining a nearly continuous flow of suspenseful stories, revealing anecdotes, and enough macabre insider details to rivet the most fervent crime fans. (Summary and pic from

My Review: Unless you’ve been living under a [internet repelling] rock, you’re probably fully aware that there is a huge public focus on wrongfully convicted criminals. If you haven’t heard of Serial, the podcast, and its many spinoffs including Crime Writers on Serial, Truth and Justice, and Undisclosed, then maybe you’ve watched the Netflix show “Making a Murderer,” or at least seen it mentioned in the news. My point is that stuff on wrongfully convicted criminals is everywhere right now. I’ve listened to Serial and Undisclosed, and my husband and I binge-watched “Making a Murderer” (with the rest of America). The point is, for me, who enjoyed these things very much and watches “CSI” for comfort viewing, this book was really interesting. It’s another look at those who are wrongfully convicted. And sometimes those who were not convicted, but should have been.

First of all, I loved the mix of cases DiMaio presents. They’re all really different. Some are high profile, some are more small town, but I think they offered a really interesting viewpoint into what a medical examiner does and how a properly trained one can make a difference. The statistics he presented on the amount of doctors specializing in forensic medicine are shocking in that the need is always rising but the actual doctors going into this field is shrinking dramatically. It’s relatively low pay for a lot of training and difficult work. I think that made his book even more poignant. Medical examiners can make or break a case, and the evidence they find is often in complete opposition to what the defense or prosecution is saying. In light of all the hype around the criminal justice system, I thought that this book was really timely and eye-opening. I had no idea the difference between normal medical examiners, who can be elected and can come from whatever field of study they come from versus the medically trained medical examiners. It is, as you might imagine, the difference of night and day.

In light of the cases discussed in this book, it became completely obvious that examining the body by a correctly trained medical professional is a crucial step in the process of determining whether a suspect is guilty or not. I found that one of the most memorable episodes of the podcast Undisclosed talked to a medical examiner who basically discounted the original findings or the medical examiner. These results would have completely changed the state’s timeline, rendering all of their evidence almost obsolete. I mean…this is serious stuff.

One of the things I liked most about this book is DiMaio’s candid honesty. He doesn’t pull any punches when he talks about the guilty or why they did what they did, and I found it refreshing. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get a little tired of all the political correctness that makes an issue almost more confusing. Instead of saying what the truth is, authors often feel like they must dance around it or use language to mask what they’re really saying. DiMaio is not like this. I appreciated it a lot.

I thought this was a really interesting book. It’s not so heavy of medical terms that it’s confusing or hard to read. It’s very accessible and if you’re into all the criminal justice system discussions going on, this is definitely a book you should check out.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: If you’re sensitive, I wouldn’t read this. There isn’t a lot of language or gratuitous sex, but there is a lot of discussion of violence, and one chapter in particular discusses violence against children. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bechdel Friendly Books

Please welcome guest reviewer Lesley!

I love children’s books.  I always have.  In college, when I would start to get stressed, I would go to the fourth floor of the library and just walk through the juvenile literature section.  I’d pick a couple books at random and sit on the floor to read them.  Then I’d be ready to tackle real life again.  I believe in literacy.  I think it makes a very big difference in one’s quality of life.  I deeply want to instill a love of reading in my children.  The good news is, so far, we are on track.  They are young (2, 3, and 5), but right now they love books.  They will sit and let me read to them for a long time.  

I started this list because my daughter lacks confidence.  I understand that there is much conversation around how useful the Bechdel test really is.  I know that there is nothing inherently wrong with books about male characters.  I recognize that, to really have empathy, my children must learn to relate to a person no matter their gender.  But here’s what else I know.  At least once a day my very smart and capable daughter sits on the ground and says “I can’t do it.”  Even when we both know that she can and she has before.  Often she doesn’t even want to try something.  

One of my favorite things to do is watch my kids play when they don’t know I can see them.  They like to “play” the books that I read to them.  They are also at an age where they are starting to explore and understand gender.  So my son gets to be the boy characters and my daughter gets to be the girl characters.  That means, that if I’m not conscientious about what I’m reading to my kids, playing together means that my daughter sits and watches my son do cool fun things.  And that is not what I want her to do, or what I want her to think it means to be a girl.  As a side note, that’s also not what I want my sons to think it means to be a girl.  So I’m making an effort to read more books in which female characters have a positive, empowered, contributing role.  

Alice and Greta
This is one of my very favorite books.  I’m not sure if it strictly passes the test or not.  The narrative style of the story doesn’t include a lot of dialogue.  But there are two named female characters that interact meaningfully with each other.  And their characters are developed beyond the ways in which they relate to men.  I’m counting it.  It’s my list, so I can do that.

I love this book.  The story is great.  The illustrations are adorable.  There is an obvious moral – be kind – but the story is playful and imaginative, so it doesn’t feel preachy.  I love everything about this book.  

My No No No Day
Technically this one doesn’t count either because the women who speak aren’t named.  But, as far as my kids are concerned, my name is Mom.  And since that counts as a name in my house, I’ve decided it counts as a name in this book too.  Also, Miss Louisa, the Ballet teacher, is named and does speak.  It’s just not really part of a conversation with another woman.  

I think every parent can relate to this book.  We’ve all lived through days where our kids are contrary from the moment they wake up until they go to bed.  This book is like Reasons My Son is Crying, but from the kid’s perspective.  I like this book because it doesn’t tell kids to get over it and be happy (I might have said that to my son today.) Mom sits next to Bella and tells her “We all have those days sometimes, but perhaps you will be more cheerful tomorrow.”  Good advice for adults and kids.  

Olivia Forms a Band
(See above note on using “mom” as a name)
I picked this book up because I was looking for something with a musical theme.  I was happy to see that I inadvertently picked a book that could also go on this list.  This book was my first introduction to Olivia.  I’ve been aware of the character for a while, but this is the first book I’ve pick up and read.  I like that Olivia thinks that there should be a band, so she makes one.  I like it even more that her friends aren’t interested in doing it with her, so she finds a way to do it herself.  I love that at the end she dreams of being on the Supreme Court.  I’m not sure this is a favorite though.  The humor was a little too complex for my kids to understand.  I felt like I had to do a lot of supplemental explaining.  They are still pretty young.  Maybe older kids would like it better.  The book felt more like a day-in-the-life than an actual story.  When we were done reading it my kids wanted to know how it ended.  

Madeline – Series
I’m not sure if every book in the series passes the Bechdel test, but it follows the spirit of the law.  There are times when the conversations between Miss Clavel and Madeline are summarized or implied rather than detailed.

I gave this book bonus points because the main character is a redhead.  They are useless bonus points, because I have not actually given any of the books a score, but bonus points nonetheless.  I vaguely remember seeing a preview for a Madeline movie at some point in my life.  I never saw the movie.  I don’t know if it does the books justice, but these are excellent books.  I like the character.  My kids like the familiarity of the rhymes across the stories.  They get really excited to say “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and “The smallest one was Madeline” with me.  

I’m always impressed with an author that can tell a story in meter and rhyme.  There is some French thrown in, and the illustrations depict some actual landmarks in Paris, so I feel super cultured when I read these books to my kids.  When my three year old can point to a picture and say “that’s Notre Dame” it warms my nerdy mother heart.  

The Dot
My son picked this book up at the library because he wanted a Halloween book.  He thought the orange circle on the cover was a pumpkin.  Yes, my kids are thoroughly confused about seasons and holidays.  He was looking for Halloween books in May.  This is not a Halloween book.  It is, however, a fantastic find.  I have yet to encounter a book published by Scholastic that I do not like.  This one is no exception.  We sat down to read it, and I was quite excited that after one page it qualified to go on the list.  I found all of the characters very relatable.  I smiled about a little girl who refused to do a project because she didn’t think she would be good at it.  I also laughed when her teacher framed her attempt at defiant resistance and hung it on the wall.  I’ve been on both sides of that encounter before.  I especially liked that Vashti learned that she could be an artist, even if she started with nothing more than a dot.  My kids were not even a little bit disappointed about the lack of pumpkins in the book.  As soon as we were done reading it they all wanted to paint.  Somehow my little boy stumbled on exactly the kind of book I was looking for.  I guess I’ll keep taking him to the library with me.  

Hello Kitty – Series
These books aren’t going to win any literary awards, but my daughter likes them and they pass the test.  I don’t know if every single one passes the test.  I don’t enjoy reading them enough to go back and check, but I know most of them do.  I believe in literacy.  I want my kids to enjoy reading.  I want my boys to know that they can enjoy stories about girls.  So, even though I don’t enjoy these books, I’ll read them when my kids pick them.  

Red Wagon
Renata Liwska is brilliant.  This story makes sense as stand-alone text.  But when combined with the illustrations, the text suddenly means something entirely different.  I fudged a little bit on the Bechdel test here too.  I’m assuming that when it says “Lucy asked her mother” that means Lucy spoke.  I love this story for the way it promotes creativity and divergent thinking.  I also like that it subtly suggests to my kids that they can work and have fun at the same time.  

Bread and Jam for Frances
I have fond childhood memories of this book.  I remember checking it out of the library repeatedly.  I remember being disappointed if it wasn’t there and I had to pick a different one.  I even remember where on the shelves at the library I would look for it.  When my parents were cleaning out their bookshelves a couple of years ago and asked all of us what we wanted, I was quick to claim this book.  Although the fact that they had it kind of confused me.  I’m really sure I remember this being a library book.  Perhaps all of my memories of kneeling on the floor to find the book on the bottom shelf – second set of shelves from the right on the row furthest from the window- are all just made up.  Maybe I checked it out so many times that my parents bought it.  But, whatever the case, a book from my childhood is now part of my kids’ collection.  

I think Frances is endearing.  The point of the story is to encourage kids to eat a variety of foods, and that’s a message I can get behind.  I hate it when my kids ask me to read them this story.  It’s soooo loooong.  I don’t think I ever noticed or cared about words per page before I read books to my kids, but this book has way too many.  It’s right up there with the Berenstain Bears books.  So. Many. Words.  It’s a good, well written story.  It’s awful to read aloud.  I look forward to the day that my kids can read it to themselves.  I don’t mind it as much during the middle of the day.  But at bedtime, I hide this book.  

The Aesop for Children
This book spectacularly fails the Bechdel test.  I don’t think there is a female character in the entire collection.  And that’s 145 fables.  But my kids can’t read yet, so sometimes I cheat and switch up the pronouns.  It’s pretty easy to do in this book because most of the characters are unnamed animals.  I see no reason why Lion and Ant and Fox can’t occasionally be “she”.

Minnie Mouse – Scaredy Cat Sleepover
See Hello Kitty

A Bad Case of Stripes
This book is published by Scholastic so, as previously noted, I love it.  This was part of my book collection long before I had kids.  (Because I’m the type of person who had a collection of picture books long before I had kids.  I’m also the type of person who would read a picture book to a high school history class if I thought it would help.  Dr. Seuss was good for that)

This book approaches the line of too many words per page, but all of the words contribute to the enjoyment of the story, so it doesn’t ever feel like reading the story that will never end.  The Illustrations are great.  They make my kids giggle.  I enjoy the subtle satirizing of the doctors and specialists.  This book does a great job of striking a balance between a story that is straightforward and clear enough for the kids to understand without me needing to explain it to them, but also complex enough for an adult to find it interesting.  That is probably why, even though it almost has too many words per page, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read about book.  It also promotes vegetable consumption, so bonus points there.  (Yes, I know lima beans are not vegetables.  But my kids don’t know that, so the point remains)

Strictly speaking, this book probably doesn’t pass the Bechdel test either.  A handful of women converse with Camilla, but Camilla is the only female who is named.  I decided to include it anyway because there are at least four female characters who are important to the story.  More importantly “the old woman who was as sweet and plump as a strawberry” is a mysterious character, and her lack of name is important to her (very significant) role in the story.  I think her anonymity is an intentional device.  Other very minor characters are named.  They are knowledgeable, self-important, and ultimately useless.  This woman is the only one who can help Camilla, and she comes and goes without anyone knowing who she is or where she comes from.  Although she is not named, she is central to the story. I’ve decided it counts.  Once again: it’s my list, I can do that.  

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dorothy Must Die - Danielle Paige

Summary: I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to be some kind of hero.

But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado - taking you with it - you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can't be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There's still a yellow brick road - but even that's crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy.

They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm - and I'm the other girl from Kansas.

I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I've been trained to fight.

And I have a mission.

Summary and image from

Review:  Amy is a misfit.  She doesn’t fit in at school, which just suspended her for fighting with a pregnant girl (who totally threw the first punch).  She doesn’t fit in at home, where her mom cares more for her rat and her addictions than for Amy.  She can’t wait to get out of Kansas someday, but how, when her life is going nowhere?

Again, cue the tornado. 

Before she knows it, her trashy little trailer is being swept up in a twister and she lands in an unfamiliar land.  It’s weird here.  It’s definitely Oz … so why is it all … wrong?

Paige has taken a childhood favorite and turned it on its ear.  By addressing the power of the magic in Oz, what it may do to outsiders, and how Oz would inevitably fight back from its destruction, she has crafted a story that was very entertaining.  Paige’s main character has to address her own moral compass, what defines good and evil, and whether she is willing to join up with a cause that might destroy her for a land she’d never thought real.  

This was a very interesting take on the ‘Bad is Good’ theory that is cropping up more and more.  As a fan of the original series, I did appreciate the appearance of some of the more true-to-series characters, while marveling at the creative manner in which the Oldies-but-Goodies are portrayed.  While some of them were a stretch for my imagination, Paige’s alternative portrayal of Glinda was frighteningly believable.

This had more language than I thought necessary, but it didn’t stop me from running out and checking out the second book.

Rating: Three stars (language)

 For the Sensitive Reader: Language.  Torture.  Magical and medical experimentation.  Definitely for a more mature YA audience.  Also, Dorothy is totally evil.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eleanor - Jason Gurley

Summary: Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.

Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones. 

One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last. (Summary and pic from

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

My Review: There’s a lot to be said about this book. First of all, it’s a strange book. It really is. It breaks into different sections and viewpoints, which makes it easier to keep track of, but doesn’t make it any less strange. There’s some weird and funky stuff going on. Almost sci-fi-esque. Now, I am not necessarily a sci-fi reader. My husband mourns the fact that I hate aliens and space. I really hate space. (Who hates space? I know. It’s lame.) This book was not too sci-fi for me. It does have some funky goings on, but because of the way it is organized it makes it palatable and in the end it makes sense. It’s still strange, but it makes sense. I would say it’s more stylized than anything. It’s not one of those weird abstract books where you’re all “What the heck is going on here? I don’t understand a thing.” You can tell what’s going on in the main story, but it does take until the end of the book to figure it all out and even then it’s still a little funky. But fun. A fun funky.

Secondly, this book is well-written. The characters have depth and breadth, which is hard to achieve. They feel like real people. When I look back, I can clearly imagine what they’re like and what their reality is like. I appreciated the writing in this book a lot, actually. I think that’s what made the funkiness okay. It was well-crafted and the story is definitely compelling.

No on to the story. It’s sad. Tragic, really. It is. I mean, the death of a child is horrible and this one in particular ripped the heart and soul out of this poor family and they paid for it for so long. In this the book is very emotional. The writing isn’t raw and gritty, but it is poignant and accessible in a way that helps the reader relate to the characters and to the story. I actually think the cover does a really good job of summing the whole feeling of the book up, actually.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It wasn’t so sad that I couldn’t read it a lot (You know those books where it’s so horrible you can barely face reading them? This isn’t one of those.)  But it is one of those books that does a good job of describing things to the point where you understand that the situation is hard and it feels real and tangible.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language in this book, but it is not excessive. It is about the loss of a child and also a severe case of alcoholism, so be aware of those potential triggers.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Raising a Gifted Child - Carol Fertig

Summary: From the author of the nation's most popular blog on parenting gifted children, comes the definitive how-to handbook for parents, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook. Raising gifted children isn't easy, but when armed with the practical knowledge and tools in this exciting book, parents can navigate the maze of raising bright kids, leading to success in school and beyond.

This book offers a large menu of strategies, resources, organizations, tips, and suggestions for parents to find optimal learning opportunities for their kids, covering the gamut of talent areas, including academics, the arts, technology, creativity, music, and thinking skills. The focus of this definitive resource is on empowering parents by giving them the tools needed to ensure that their gifted kids are happy and successful both in and out of school.

Additional topics covered include volunteering at your child's school; different school options and specialty programs; tips for handling special circumstances; specific suggestions for each core content areas; and strategies for finding the best resources for parents on the Web. This easy-to-read book is sure to be a favorite of parents of smart kids for years to come! (Summary and image from

Review:  Kids are challenging.  Being a mother is amazing, rewarding, breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s hard.  I only have three children and raising them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, mainly because they’re so incredible I fear any misstep on my part will doom them for life.

Add to that the added challenge of children who are gifted (defined here by an IQ test measured and administered by the school district), and you’ve got yourself a whole new ballgame.  There are emotional considerations that come with gifted children - a higher likelihood for anxiety and depression, boredom, acting out, emotional immaturity that contradicts their intellectual maturity - it’s hard!  And it’s hard to know where to turn for help. 

For years, I’m not going to lie, I’ve felt like I was failing my kids.  I was a good advocate for my children’s needs, but at home?  I felt like a big, fat fraud. Simple job requests became three hour hostage-negotiation-type discussions. Science experiments were everywhere. I had three absent-minded professors that had staged a coup at home and were clearly winning. One day a friend asked my why I couldn’t just tell my kids to do something and have them obey (ha!), and I realized I needed to do more research into these kids’ minds than I’d done.  I spoke with their leaders at school, district leaders, former GT group leaders, and was recommended to this book as part of a book study. 


I don’t like self-help books (it’s right there in my bio), but this book has become my new parenting bible.  The research that Ms. Fertig has done is astounding. It’s provided me with new insights into why my children respond as they do, how to better communicate with them, and has literally provided numerous websites and activities to engage them in every possible subject.  Frank and direct discussions about progress in school, the danger of underachievers, children who prefer order to chaos and vice versa, every chapter provided a group of us with stimulating conversation, and more importantly, the feeling that we’re not alone in raising these children.

This was an amazing resource to not only correct common misconceptions about gifted children, but to provide the tools to any parent looking to better advocate, engage, or cope with their children.  I’ve still got more research to do, but this was the perfect jumping off point into this journey.  My only regret is that I didn’t find it five years ago.

Rating:  Five stars

Side note: This book ranges in children’s ages from very young through high school  Some of the websites mentioned are either outdated, no longer function, or are more geared toward high school aged kids.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Bitter Season - Tami Hoag


#1  New York Times Bestselling author Tami Hoag returns to the bestselling series of her career with a Kovac and Liska case that will delight fans and new readers alike.

A murder from the past. A murder from the present. And a life that was never meant to be... As the dreary, bitter weather of late fall descends on Minneapolis, Detective Nikki Liska is restless. After moving to the cold case squad in order to spend more time with her sons, she misses the rush of pulling an all-nighter, the sense of urgency of hunting a murderer on the loose. Most of all she misses her old partner, Sam Kovac. 

Sam is having an even harder time adjusting to Nikki's absence, saddled with a green new partner younger than pieces of Sam's wardrobe. Sam is distracted from his troubles by an especially brutal double homicide: a middle-aged husband and wife bludgeoned and hacked to death in their home with a ceremonial Japanese samurai sword. Nikki's case, the unsolved murder of a family man, community leader, and decorated sex crimes detective for the Minneapolis PD, is less of a distraction: Twenty years later, there is little hope for finding the killer who got away.

On the other end of the spectrum, Minneapolis resident Evi Burke has a life she only dreamed of as a kid in and out of foster homes: a beautiful home, a family, people who love her, a fulfilling job. Little does she know that a danger from her past is stalking her perfect present. A danger powerful enough to pull in both Kovac and Liska and destroy the perfect life she was never meant to have. (Summary and pic from

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

My Review: I’ve seen this book everywhere so I wasn’t sure what to expect. One of the first places I noticed it was Costco, and with books there you never know if they’re just mass produced and they have to get rid of the extras or what.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve purchased and loved many books from Costco, and I especially love shopping for books for Christmas and birthdays there, but you just never know. While this isn’t a serious literary read or one that will probably be shortlisted for the Pulitzer, it was actually a lot of fun and a good mystery with lots of exciting twists.

In some ways this book reminded me of a CSI episode. Don’t judge, here. CSI is my go-to for comfort shows. Ya know, nothing like murder for a nice cuddly nightcap. The book starts with a murder from the past, and then there’s a current murder, and there’s just so much going on. People are intertwined, situations are intertwined, and it just gets really interesting and fun. I don’t want to give away too much here, because I thought that the twists and turns were good ones. I must admit that I’m not one of those people who try to solve the mystery first. I like to just let the book lead me along. If it turns out to be really obvious to me, then that’s pretty lame because I actively try to just enjoy it for what it is and let it go as it is. I was surprised at the end of this. It was a lot of fun.

As with many books from this genre, there was some very grizzly descriptions of murder scenes and also some very salty police officers and detectives. (Yes, I’m apparently a 90-year-old woman). The police officers are crass and crude, and somewhat stereotypical even, but I still found them to be good additions to the story. With books like this, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I often expect and even want stereotypical people because I think that’s what’s part of what makes the book fun and part of this genre. They have to have some uniqueness, of course, but it’s a fun comfort to have something that I can rely on when everything else in the story is going wild.

I read this book quite quickly. I think it would be a fun vacation read, especially if you’re like me and watch CSI for a friendly nightcap. It’s not a huge commitment and the writing is accessible and flows easily for a fun and interesting ride into the exciting storyline.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a typical murder novel in that there is violence and language. I would rate it PG-13.


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