Monday, October 30, 2017

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

Summary:  Kit Tyler knows, as she gazes for the first time at the cold, bleak shores of Connecticut Colony, that her new home will never be like the shimmering Caribbean islands she has left behind.  She is like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world.  And in the stern Puritan community of her relatives, she soon feels caged as well, and lonely.  In the meadows, the only place where she can feel completely free, she meets another lone and mysterious figure, the old woman known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond.  But when their friendship is discovered, Kit faces suspicion, fear, and anger.  She herself is accused of witchcraft!  (Summary from back of book)

My Review:  The Witch of Blackbird Pond has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, sending out sticky tendrils of guilt and shame in my general direction.  Something along the lines of: Hey!!  I'm an award winning classic work of YA historical fiction!!!  Why haven't you read me yet, Mindy?!  You call yourself a READER!?!?  Do books ever do that to you?  Mock you from their place on the shelf??  No?  Just me then...well, this is awkward.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond is an incredibly easy read that paints a stark picture of live in the colonies in the late 1600s. It begins with a young Katherine "Kit" Tyler aboard a ship on her way to her aunt's home in Wethersfield, Connecticut where she hopes to find lodging after her grandfather's passing.  Kit soon discovers that everyday life in their strict household is vastly different from the freedoms she had enjoyed living with her grandfather in Barbados, and she struggles to find her place in a Puritan community that is far from welcoming.  As an adult I liked the book well enough on a superficial level but felt it lacked the depth and teeth to be truly memorable.  Honestly, I was a little distracted as a I read her story.  I spent most of the book waiting for the witchcraft hammer to drop and read with a sense of impending doom.  It took a while, but when the hammer fell and things came to rather swift and neatly-tied resolution, I felt a little let down.  That having been said, I imagine the younger readers in my household would enjoy it exactly as written.   Older readers looking for a bit more bite and texture might set their gaze on The Crucible, a play by Arthur Miller's set around the same time period.  That having been said, I think The Witch of Blackbird Pond  would be a good introduction or companion book for a middle or YA reader studying the history of the area. 

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some racist ideologies expressed that were typical of the time and some very mild discussion of witchcraft.

Friday, October 27, 2017

All the Lovely Bad Ones - Mary Downing Hahn

Summary: Travis and his sister, Corey, can t resist a good trick. When they learn that their grandmother's quiet Vermont inn, where they're spending the summer, has a history of ghost sightings, they decide to do a little haunting of their own. Before long, their supernatural pranks have tourists flocking to the inn, and business booms. But Travis and Corey soon find out that they aren't the only ghosts at Fox Hill Inn. Their thoughtless games have awakened something dangerous, something that should have stayed asleep. Restless, spiteful spirits swarm the inn, while a dark and terrifying presence stalks the halls and the old oak grove on the inn s grounds. Only Travis and Corey can lay to rest the ghosts they stirred. This means discovering the secret of Fox Hill and the horrors visited on its inhabitants years before... Once again, Mary Downing Hahn has created a chilling and gripping ghost story in the tradition of The Old Willis Place, Witch Catcher, and Deep and Dark and Dangerous."

My Review: I have a very vivid memory of a day in fourth grade when I was supposed to be doing my math but instead was avidly reading Wait Til Helen Comes. Mrs. Balginy (who I just looked up on Facebook) came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I kid you not—I jumped up and screamed so much because I was just totally in the book zone and it was right at the part that Helen is coming out and when she touched me…well. I still remember that fear. If you’ve read Wait Til Helen Comes, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That book is scary! It’s still creepy! That being said, as soon as I saw that my son brought home a copy of All the Lovely Bad Ones I just had to read it because I wanted to be that creeped out again! And it’s Halloween season! So it was time.

This book is scary, just as one would hope from Mary Downing Hahn. There’s just something awesome about an author whose total goal is to scare children out of their wits. I was pleasantly surprised to be scared by this book as well. Its one thing to build up a book in your head and then go back and read it again only to be disappointed, but its super cool when you go back and it’s just as scary and cool as you remember. I had not read this book before, but it certainly is similar enough in its feeling to Wait Til Helen Comes that I knew I’d be disappointed if it was totally lame and not scary at all. Luckily, it lived up to my expectations and was totally creepy full of a nightmare-inducing ending that can only be the workings of an author hell-bent on scary the crap out of little children. Which again. Is awesome. This book was actually really fun to read on a dark and stormy night, which is why I’m putting this review so close to Halloween. It’s a short enough and easy enough read that you still have time to go get it and scare yourself for the season! (It can’t be just me that does that, right?) I like to have some good mood reading to bring me into one of my favorite holidays. It’s not a good Halloween without some creepy ghosts.

One thing I love about this book is that the ghosts are legit. I always feel let down when a “ghost” is not really a ghost, rather some ridiculous misunderstanding. If I want to be scared, I want it to be legit! And these ghosts are cool and scary and definitely bring some nightmares. The story itself is pretty cool and from what I remember of Wait Til Helen Comes, (you know, from a few decades ago) this plot was a little more complex than some of her other work. The back story was there and was actually sad and tragic and also super scary.

I liked this book, obviously, but I don’t want you to go into it thinking that if you’re a hardcore ghost story reader that you shouldn’t read this in place of adult ghost story books. No. This is merely a book that is short enough and accessible enough that you could squeeze it in RIGHTNOW before Halloween is over and still enjoy your normal reading seasonal reading.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This is a children’s book and therefore the language is clean and there is no sexual content, but there is some violence discussed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (The Illustrated Edition) - J.K. Rowling, Illus. by Jim Kay

Summary:  Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground.  He knows no spells, has never helped to hatch a dragon, and has never worn a cloak of invisibility.  All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley -- a great big swollen spoiled bully.  Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.   But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry -- and anyone who reads about him -- will find unforgettable.  The beloved first book of the Harry Potter series, now lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist Jim Kay.  (Summary from book flap)

My Review:  If you know me at all, you know I'm a huge Harry Potter fan.  As in, I went to Universal Studios Orlando without my kids so that I could experience it myself.  Yup.  I'm that girl.

I've read the series countless times to my husband and two older children and have two more little kids that I am excited to introduce to Hogwarts.  If you'd like to know my full thoughts on the story, my review of the picture-less version is here.  Ordinarily, I read the first book to them, and then they have to read it themselves and take the AR test before they get to watch the movie and we move on to the next one.  That's how we roll and it works for us. 

However, we ran into a little snag when my third daughter started trying to read chapter books in the 1st grade.  We noticed she would come home from school with a headache almost daily, would squint when reading, and complain about blurry vision and losing her place.  Our first stop was the optometrist, but her prescription was negligible.  It took some time and a myriad of appointments and opinions, but we finally discovered she has some vision issues (with fancypants names) that will require weekly vision therapy.

We have high hopes for the therapy, but realistically, it might be a while before she can read Harry Potter on her own.  I decided to cheer us both up by announcing that, unlike her sisters, I would read the Harry Potter series to her until she is able to take it on herself, without all the AR hoops, etc.

To ease the transition, I decided to pick up the illustrated edition of the first book in the series because I figured it would help enhance her vision and grasp of the story.  Jim Kay's illustrations are fantastic -- magical and whimsical in all the right places.  He brought the cupboard under the stairs, Hagrid's Hut, and Hogwarts Castle (and so many other places) to splendid life...even the owls have attitude!  I especially loved his detailed illustrations of Diagon Alley, the creepiness of Snape's classroom, and the page on trolls torn out of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them.  Kay's vision of the characters is spot on and I loved that the characters didn't exactly resemble their cinematic counterparts, allowing my little girl to put her own mental spin on them.

In short, when I didn't think Harry Potter could get any better, J.K. Rowling met Jim Kay.  And it did.  I recommend this book to anyone who has (or hasn't) read Harry Potter yet.  It's a must have, must read for your collection.

My Review:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Light-handed witchcraft and wizardry.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Popcorn - Frank Asch

Summary: Sam Bear invites his friends to an impromptu Halloween party and asks them to bring a treat. (Summary from

My Review: Some books take you straight back to your childhood and, for me, Popcorn, is one of those books. Oddly enough, although I remember the book vividly, I don't remember who read it to me. Statistically speaking, it was either my mother or LeVar Burton (the dude from Reading Rainbow). Either way, I was mesmerized by the author's far-fetched story and characteristically wonderful illustrations. Here's the long and short of it...

Sam's parents leave him home alone while they go to a Halloween party. Is this good parenting? I don't know. The little bear's age is unclear.  As a kid, I just assumed they were amazing.  Sam decides to make the best use of his lack of supervision and throw a raging party while his folks are out. My inner wild child gave him props. After all of his be-costumed friends arrive toting popcorn, they get real crazy and throw it all in a big pot and cook it. Yes, that's right -- they are now operating the stove. As things heat up, popcorn begins to spill out of the pot and onto the floor (see picture below) and quickly fills the entire house. Sam's so-called friends immediately want to bail, but he forces them stay and help him eat up all the popcorn. The night ends with a frightful tummy ache for all involved and Sam manages to drift off to fitful slumber...that is until his parents come home (to nary a trace of revelry), and wake their baby bear to give him a surprise. You can probably guess what they brought, but for the sake of mystery, let's just say that Sam was not a happy camper.  End of story.

This book was written eons ago (okay, 1979) back when people were a lot less PC and snowflake-y about things.  Now, certain parents might try to ban this book for advocating neglect, the reckless application of the culinary arts, and overwhelmingly high-carb diets -- all the reasons I really liked it as a kid and still like it as an adult. After all, what fun is reading if you can't fly in the face of reason every now and again?  I recommend this book as a fast little read and great bed-time story for your little ones.  Just don't actually leave them alone with access to the stove and a gallon of popcorn.  Not for a while, anyway. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:   Should be just fine.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Burning World - Isaac Marion

Summary: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind. Summary and image from

Review: Okay, was anyone a fan of Warm Bodies? Remember that movie with Nicholas Hoult and that girl from America’s Next Top Model? I made my husband watch it with me, we both enjoyed it way more than we thought we would, and I place all of the blame on any zombie-lit book I read on that movie. Because, of course, once I found out it was adapted from a book, I had to read the novel. Clearly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel as well, and have anxiously awaited the promised sequel. To my delight, it didn’t take long for my local library to stock it after publication (sometimes it takes a while, our library system is, um, not good.), and I eagerly jumped in. 

It’s certainly different. Written with a much grittier feeling than the first, Marion explores what life is like after death is “cured” for this little group of zombies and humans. The world certainly isn’t perfect, former zombies aren’t magically trusted pillars of the community, the apocalypse certainly isn’t over just like *that*, and there are still a plethora of challenges to overcome. Matters are made worse when the stadium is bombed and taken over by an unknown corporation, and our heroes (plus a few) set out to discover what’s really going on.

Although the reader is privy to more flashbacks before the plague, which give us insight not only into the humans but into the zombies we’ve come to know and love, the overall feeling of this book is one of despair. I found the humanity surprisingly less evident in this book than in the first, and coupled with the uptick in raunchiness, vulgarity, and gore, it just missed the mark for me. I left the book unsatisfied, and wondering if I will even read the conclusion—whenever that’s published.  Perhaps this is a book best left to the movie?

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Violent. Gory. Foul language. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

Summary:  At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse.  He thinks himself surrounded by idiots -- and no wonder, with all those happy joggers and shop assistants who talk in code, not to mention the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as chairman of his neighborhood residents' association.  People think him bitter.  But must a man be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered on his face all the time, doesn't always tell people what they want to hear, and remains silent when he has nothing in particular to say?

Ove's well-ordered, solitary world gets a shake-up one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors -- a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters -- who announce their arrival by flattening Ove's mailbox with their U-Haul.  What follows is a funny and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unlikely friendships, and a community's unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

A word-of-mouth bestseller that has caused a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman's irresistible novel about the angry old man next door is an uplifting exploration of the unreliability of first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it is shared with other people.  (Summary from book cover)

My Review:  It's been a while since I've really felt called to a book.  You know?  The kind of book that you think about when you're not reading it. The kind of book you talk about with others even though you haven't finished it yet.  The kind of book that physically pulls you back to your reading spot and says: Listen up Missy!  Yes, I know you've got stuff to do.  Screw it.  READ ME.  RIGHT NOW.   I picked up A Man Called Ove on the recommendation of my favorite librarian and former RFS Reviewer, Heather and  I am so glad I did.  I needed to wash the what-did-I-just-read taste out of my brain left by the last book* I failed to force myself to finish.  Thankfully, A Man Called Ove was just the thing.

If you want a one sentence summary of the book:  Think Gran Torino, but with much less violence and slightly less racisim.  For those of you who haven't seen Gran Torino or who'd like a little on.

In A Man Called Ove, I pretty much took my measure of the main character, Ove, within the first few pages.  Yowza, he's a grump -- old, angry, unpleasant, unreasonable, and just plain rude to pretty much everyone.  It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to read an entire book about a cross old fogey, but I kept on reading because there was just something about him that was the tiniest bit ridiculous and I had a sneaking suspicion that there was more to his story. I was right (go me!).  With each chapter, I learned a little about Ove's history, personality, and motivations.  Each glimpse into his past, made me love him a bit more.  The time spent in Ove's present was a somewhat sadistic delight as various members of the community he scorns worm their way into his life and heart and seriously mess with his plans for the future.

Sometimes authors spend all their time on a main character and forget to flesh out their secondaries, but A Man Called Ove, does not disappoint in that department.  I loved Ove, first and foremost, but Parvaneh, Patrick, and their kids, Sonja, Anita, Rune, Lena, the Blonde Weed, Anders, Adrian, Jimmy, the White Shirts, and even (and especially) the Cat, were all clearly established in my mind.  I could see each of them and even their mannerisms as they interacted - like a movie was playing itself out in my head.  It was awesome.

One of my favorite aspects of any well written book is the moment where things come together and a book gets flipped on its head -- reorienting my perspective and bring things together in a jaw-dropping way.  This book held a few of those moments for me, but I am being deliberately vague about the details because I don't want to yank those moments away from anyone who might be reading this review and thinking, "Hmmm...this Ove guy sounds interesting."  A Man Called Ove is beyond interesting.  And unbelievably sweet.  And a lesson to all about love, the importance of principles, and the absolute necessity of looking a little deeper before pronouncing judgment.

*The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest.  For me, it was mind numbing.  And not in a good way.  That's all the review you will be getting as I don't wish to waste any more time thinking about it.

My Rating:  5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  The occasional swear word.  Some brief discussion of a homosexuality.  One very angry (and kind of adorable) man.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick

Summary: A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Pitch Perfect, Twilight, Up in the Air, Into the Woods and Trolls. Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, defiant, and '10 per cent weird'. When she was thirteen, a classmate dropped by her house unexpectedly and discovered written evidence of Anna's social ineptitude. From then on she decided to 'keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here's the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.'

 In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites her readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candour and winningly wry observations. With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she's experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can - from her unusual path to the performing arts (her older brother's affinity for Vanilla Ice may have inadvertently launched her career) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial 'dating experiments' (including only liking boys who didn't like her back) to the perils of reading The Shining while filming Twilight in the isolated Canadian wilderness to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual 'man-child'. Enter Anna's world and follow her rise from 'scrappy little nobody' to someone who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page - with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).  (Summary from
*SIDENOTE* After the birth of my fourth child, something peculiar happened to my reading habits.  They hit a brick wall.  Full stop.  As of right now, if I try to read during the day, my kids invariably need something every five seconds until I give up and decide to try again after everyone is in bed.  When that blessed hour arrives, I usually grab my book eagerly, park my butt on the couch, crack it open...and am asleep within seconds. In recent days, I've turned to audio books to squeeze in something that at least approximates reading.  It's going okay.

My Review:  Scrappy Little Nobody is the perfect audio book for the Anna Kendrick fan, in large part because it is read by one of the funniest people in Hollywood -- Anna Kendrick.   I haven't watched Anna's entire body of work, but I am a fan of her talent and I've loved her in everything I've seen her in (Twilight, Into the Woods, The Last 5 Years, Pitch Perfect, and Trolls (voice)).I loved listening to her read.  No one else could project her particular brand of snark, self-deprecation, and dead-pan delivery with any amount of success. She nailed it.  Anna gives a delightfully honest, witty, and down-to-earth perspective on how she made it in Hollywood -- from her childhood on the stage, horrifying auditions, loneliness, paparazzi, and awkward kissing scenes, to relationships, award shows, intimacy, and an inside look at her experiences on the set of shows like Twilight, CampInto the WoodsPitch Perfect, Up in the Air, and stage productions like High Society.  

Even though the author and I don't necessarily see eye to eye on certain moral issues and it was a bit rather inordinately salty in the language department, taken as a whole, I thought Scrappy Little Nobody was a laugh riot and insanely insightful.  Sometimes Hollywood starlettes tend to come across as superhuman Glamazons, but this book wasn't that at all.  I loved when Anna got real and talked about her obsession with baking, how exhausting it was pretend to be someone you're not, or how broken she was after getting dumped.  I never would have imagined that when she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Up in the Air that she was sleeping on IKEA furniture, struggling to make ends meet and cover up the tar-stains on the middle of her living room carpet (her roommate did it). Anna also doled out bits of wisdom on the deeper issues women (and men) can face. She's pretty much always funny, but it was when she was encouraging those in abusive relationships to turn to their friends for help, ranting about society's double standards, or talking about the importance of not being a "nice" girl if being 'nice' means always doing whatever you're told, that I really felt her passion come through.

To be perfectly honest, I can't recommend this book to most people I know because most people I know would be completely turned off by all the swearing, but I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves Anna Kendrick in all her glory.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars.

For the sensitive reader: Anna is adorable and I love her, but she doesn't shy away from swearing or talking about sex.   If you're sensitive to those sorts of things, this is probably not the book (or audiobook) for you.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

The House of Blood and Tears - Lenore Eidse

Summary: "She gazed at the majestic stone building from a distance; with the sun reflecting in the tall gabled windows, it was lovely enough to be a little palace. But appearance is deceiving; inside it was a chamber of evil."

In 1939, Hitler's invasion of Holland crashed like a thunderbolt upon the unsuspecting Dutch people. The dreaded word "Occupation" ruled their existence, but this family of three chose to defend the Motherland. Hillie worked as a double agent; shy, twelve year old Anje was a courier, and Jan became a collaborator. Secrets and lies, the concealment of Jews, Allied pilots in hiding, all were considered acts of treason which could condemn them in this notorious "House of Blood and Tears." The consequence of their involvement was costly in Hitler's Holocaust. A vivid history of World War II in the Netherlands, this is an amazing account of great courage and daring, with a surprise conclusion. (Summary and image from I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Anje lived a near-idyllic life. Her parents spoiled her, her father’s best friend doted on her, life was good until the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. In the blink of an eye, her life changed permanently. Her father, a lover of the finest and the best, was caught embezzling funds to support his spending habits and found himself without a job. More and more he wasn’t home, leaving Anje and her mother Hillie alone to figure out food, safety, and financial security.  It wasn’t long before the pair decided to do whatever they could to drive the Nazis from their homeland, even if that meant participating in the Underground. 

The strength and tenacity of both Anje and Hillie are amazing. While this book is historical fiction, it is directly based on the life of Anje Minnes and her mother Hillie. Anje started acting as courier shortly after the Occupation and continued through the end of the war. Her mother, who not only found herself needing to support the family financially, also worked directly with the Underground, as well as posing as a double agent. Together they would deliver ration cards, rescue and aid downed pilots, help forge papers for fleeing citizens, hide Jews and place Jewish children in foster homes, and live with the constant fear that any moment, or any person, could bring disaster. 

Along with working for the Underground, these incredible ladies live in an occupied territory and have to struggle with all that entails. Danger doesn’t just come from discovery - it lurks in the darkened streets, wears the face of the neighbor across the way, or comes bringing famine.

While the story itself is incredible and deserves to be told, I had a difficult time with the writing. The writing was fairly immature, reading like an early-reader chapter book (lots of Hooray! or Boo! sentences, many short, minimally descriptive sentences that could have easily been fleshed out, and many instances of elementary paragraphs [A went here. B did that. C happened.]), and I felt like it detracted from the peril and suspense of the story. I feel like it would have been an easy thing to fix had an editor pointed it out, so that’s where I choose to lay the blame.  Despite the writing failings, I am glad this story fell into my hands. The strength, courage, and perseverance of Anje in the face of unspeakable tragedy and betrayal is one everyone ought to know. 

Going beyond the events of the Occupation, the reader is also privy to Anje’s life after the war, as well as how her actions during the Occupation blessed lives generations later. I won’t lie, I may have reared up reading the final chapters of the book.

Rating: Four stars (could have been five, but the writing needed some tightening up)

For the Sensitive Reader: Betrayal that no one should ever face, talk about soldiers raping Dutch women, talk of the torture that goes on in the House of Blood and Tears.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Pandora - Victoria Turnbull

Summary: Pandora lives alone, in a world of broken things. She makes herself a handsome home, but no one ever comes to visit. Then one day something falls from the sky . . . a bird with a broken wing. (image and summary from

My Review: I attend a book conference every year that focuses on books for young readers, and each year, aside from hearing from children's book authors and illustrators, we are given a spotlight of new books that have come out.  Pandora was one of them.

It's a gentle story about being broken and alone, and then finding a sprig of hope, in Pandora's case, a little bird with a damaged wing.  She works hard to care for and mend this little creature and, in turn, the bird itself leaves her a greater gift.

Being a picture book, this review is a short one, and all I can say is you need to check this one out.  Aside from the beautiful little story, the art itself is so gorgeous.  Pandora's world is well crafted, her character design soft and welcoming, and the ending pages lovely.

My Review: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing offensive

Monday, October 9, 2017

Girl in Disguise - Greer Macallister

Summary: For the first female Pinkerton detective, respect is hard to come by. Danger, however, is not.

In the tumultuous years of the Civil War, the streets of Chicago offer a woman mostly danger and ruin-unless that woman is Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective and a desperate widow with a knack for manipulation.

Descending into undercover operations, Kate is able to infiltrate the seedy side of the city in ways her fellow detectives can't. She's a seductress, an exotic foreign medium, or a rich train passenger, all depending on the day and the robber, thief, or murderer she's been assigned to nab.

Inspired by the real story of Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's greatest times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country. (Summary and pic from

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

My Review: I was super excited to get this book. I am really digging historical fiction these days, and historical fiction about women—especially real women in history—is especially awesome. So I had high hopes for this book.

What this book was: This book was a fun compilation of anecdotes about Kate Warne, the first female detective. She worked for the Pinkerton Agency, which is super cool and provides fine fodder for all sorts of fun reading by itself, but to have a female agent in their employ was also awesome. It was really cool to read about the various situations Kate was able to be in since she was a woman, and it made for some good stories about a female and male detective working together, as well. It wasn’t a simple time for this to be happening, as you might imagine, and so seeing the different ways the supporting actors reacted served as a platform for the time period’s sentiment about women working this kind of job. I enjoyed the cameos of the day, i.e. Abraham Lincoln, although not a lot is actually known about Kate Warne so many of the anecdotes were made up or fleshed out in order to make a story. Because of the anecdotal nature of the book, it felt somewhat disjointed, especially at the beginning. Each chapter was basically a new situation, not necessarily a case, and sometimes months or years had passed. It made for somewhat awkward reading, although the writing was simple enough that it was easy to keep track of what was going on. As the book went on, Macallister seemed to be more in her element, and she hit her stride, which made for smoother reading and transitions and a richer story. I enjoyed the last third of this book a lot more than I enjoyed the first two.

What this book was not: This was not a detailed life of Kate Warne, which I found to be disappointing. As mentioned previously, not a lot was actually known about her, whether because of her own lack of record keeping or the destruction of records of the Pinkerton agents in order to protect them, so there was not very much biographical information told about her. Much of the conversation and situations were also conjecture, and so I can’t help but think that the Kate Warne is this book may not actually match the real Kate Warne. We may never know. This book also wasn’t a discussion of the deep inner workings of the Pinkerton Agency, although there was some information about Alan Pinkerton and his home life, some of which is probably also conjecture. Macallister did create some fun and interesting anecdotes, but due to the nature of the information available and the lack of actual deep discussion of Kate Warne, I would say that this is loosely based on Kate Warne, and just more of a historical fiction in general. The writing itself isn’t fantastic, and it read almost like a YA novel. It is promoted as a book club book and I can see how it would provide some good discussion on broad topics such as women in a traditionally man’s job, especially during the time this book took place. Because the writing isn’t really complex or literary, it would be easy to read for a wide variety of audiences, and I can see how many women in my own book club would enjoy it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book was clean. I would feel comfortable reading it with my church book club.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary: As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Summary and image from

Review: Some books you pick up because of the cover (don’t lie), some because the summary grabs you, some because your favorite author wrote it, so it must be good, and some, some you pick up because you see the title on so many book lists you just cave and decide it’s time to increase your cultural literacy. I don’t think that it matters why you pick up a book, what matters is whether you get anything from the consumption of it. Some of the books that have come to mean the most to me are books I read out of an overdeveloped sense of duty.

Never Let Me Go is one of those books I saw too many times on too many lists, and I finally decided it was time. I knew there was some sort of twist, something not right, but I didn’t know what, and it kept me guessing for a serious portion of the book. In a way, I liked not knowing, because I felt as clueless as the students at Hailsham for what was to come, but on the flip side, once the big reveal happened, I felt slightly let down. Which, surprisingly, pretty much mirrors how I felt about the novel in general. There were parts of the novel I absolutely loved. There were parts I truly disliked. But either way, there wasn’t one part of the novel that left me ambivalent. 

Let’s start with what I loved. Oh, my word, the writing is exquisite. I can’t even pinpoint why it’s so beautiful, but Ishiguro is a master wordsmith. I felt transported to Hailsham, to the convalescent home, to the meadow — the words and the sentences were so beautiful I couldn’t bear to stop reading. Somehow, it created this timeless quality to the novel that made me understand why it’s on so many “Top Books” lists. Simply beautiful.

The simplicity of the story, the reconciliation of Kathy’s past and future, were seamlessly worked throughout the narrative, flashing back or moving forward at the appropriate time. Again, this leant itself to the timeless feeling — I wasn’t sure if what I was supposed to be reading was a present day retelling, or took place in the far future. Either way, I didn’t care. It worked regardless of when it happened.

There were, however, parts of the book that I found truly polarizing, and that overall detracted from the beauty so much that it became a distraction. Not only did I find Ruth, the Queen Bee and oddly, the main character of the story even though Kath is our narrator,  to be wholly despicable, I found Ishiguro’s constant and unrelenting harping on sex and pornography grating. Not only was it vastly unnecessary, it was so prevalent it was like beating a dead horse.  Worse, after our characters had reached adulthood and gained some maturity, heading into their Reasons for Living, the incessant obsession and yammering about their escapades didn’t cease. I saw no purpose to it, and it ruined what otherwise could have been a truly incredible novel. 

I would have preferred to see more exploration into the philosophy of Hailsham and the students’ lives, where instead the reader is only given a paragraph or two of rushed, dismissive explanation. It is what it is seems to have been enough of an explanation for the author, and the reader is expected to be satisfied. I wasn’t.

Rating: Three stars

For the Sensitive Reader: So much sex. So much. Ugh.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Strange the Dreamer - Laini Taylor

Summary: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep. (Summary and pic from

My Review: This book was…wait for it…strange. Like legit, though. Super strange.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t admit right here and now that serious fantasy/sci-fi is really not my thing. I’m somewhat of a lightweight. I’ll read around the periphery, and sometimes I even like what I read. I’ve read lots of “gateway drugs” to the world of fantasy/sci-fi, but sometimes it’s just too much for me.

I have several initial problems with this genre: 1) The names confuse me. I hate made up names that make no sense. It’s like an author has rolled a die and whatever comes up matching the quadrilateral triangle of the third alphabet they’ve made up they choose that letter, roll again, lather, rinse, repeat. I end up not being able to read the names and I’m just like…no. 2) I have a hard time imagining what’s going on. Okay, so this may show I’m not very creative. I’m a concrete thinker—I get it. But I can pinterest with the best of them and so I muddle through. However, if something crazy is going on and it requires me to have an extensive knowledge of all things weird and sci-fi and fantastic, I’m confused. And then I’m not even able to read the name of what is going on. You can see my problem. 3) Sometimes I just don’t see the point. I’m confused, I can’t read half the dice-determined names, and then weird stuff is going on…so I’m just confused. When I do get it (and maybe I’m not getting it, ya know?) I’m like…why? So what? Sooooo…..????

Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I have to admit that this book fully embraced all of the things above. Oh there were some characters that were okay, and there was some good tension here and there, especially with a villain who I assume is going to play more of a role in the upcoming books, but overall, I was confused about some of the goings on and some of the names were…ridiculous.

That being said, there were some really good things about the book. I did really like the idea of a mythical city whose name was forgotten. That was cool. I don’t want to give too much away because there were some good surprises. The story itself was somewhat confusing at times, especially in relation to the Gods and the history and you’ll just have to trust me on this lest I give too much away. There were some characters who were interesting, even if they could have used more fleshing out. The writing was decent although not remarkable.

I have been searching my soul and I think that I am able to overlook my own reader issues with the genre and give a fair 3 stars. There were some really strong elements, but there were also some weak things as well. If I were a JFic/New Adult reader really into this genre I would probably be interested in the upcoming books in the series.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There was some language, although I think this was actually a pretty mild book. Sometimes JFic/New Adult pushes the boundaries because it is a little bit of an older audience, but the love scenes were tasteful the content was overall surprisingly clean.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Perfect Horse - Elizabeth Letts

Summary: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II. 

As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred horses. With the support of U.S. general George S. Patton, a passionate equestrian, the Americans planned an audacious mission to kidnap these beautiful animals and smuggle them into safe territory—assisted by a daring Austrian colonel who was both a former Olympian and a trainer of the famous Lipizzaner stallions. Summary and image from

Review: Art and architecture had the Monuments Men looking out for their safety during World War II, and beyond. But what of the living works of art? Who was watching out for them?

Hitler had plans for nearly every aspect of life in his grand scheme. Not only did he plan on creating a world-wide empire, he and his cohorts dreamed of resurrecting extinct beasts that were “purely Germanic” through reverse breeding. Unfortunately, this spelled near disaster for distinctly European horse breeds all over the continent as Nazis seized the stock from their homes. Unlike their human counterparts, however, no expense was spared in these animals’ wellbeing. Pampered, sheltered, and buried deep inside Nazi territory, those charged with caring for these animals could do nothing but hope for their safety as the tides turned and their previously sheltered stables were found to be in the direct path of the Red Army.

Elizabeth Letts has done a masterful job exploring the mystique of and the urgency in rescuing Vienna’s equine pride, the Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School. Detailing the stress of caring for the horses in time of famine, fighting for their mental wellness against a commander who didn’t understand the need, and laying bare the daring plots of Americans and Germans working together to rescue the breed, this book enraptured me. I’ve heard of the breed, heard of their beauty and unsurpassed ability, but their history was never something I’d studied. 

I absolutely loved the history of not only the breed but of the U.S. Calvary. It took me by surprise to switch from the perspective of Alois Podhajsky (director of the Spanish School of Riding) to the history of the Calvary, but it didn’t take long to see how the two were connected. 

There were so many acts of heroism and daring escapades during the Second World War that went unnoticed or have been forgotten by history. So many men risked their lives for causes larger than themselves. Reading about the risks that American soldiers took (with the knowledge but without official backing from the military) to rescue these horses from certain capture and death was thrilling. For a history buff, books like this just make reading even more fun. Especially when they’re as well written and as well researched as this one.

Rating: Four and a half stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Mostly clean — one death is difficult to read about.


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