Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Dealing With Dragons - Patricia C Wrede

Summary: Cimorene is everything a princess is not supposed to be: headstrong, tomboyish, smart - and bored. So bored that she runs away to live with a dragon - and finds the family and excitement she's been looking for. (picture and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I used to read this book a lot as a kid, and it always made me laugh, and I wanted to read it again since it's been many, many years.  It's very tongue in cheek, which is delightful, poking fun at all the fantasy and fairy tale tropes, turning them smartly on their head.  It also gives us a very unconventional princess in Cimorene, which is refreshing, and she's always been one of my favorite book characters.  She doesn't want to be a princess and do needlework and be saved by princes, heck, she doesn't want to have anything to do with princes, so she hangs out with dragons instead.

In her upbringing, Cimorene would sneak away from her princess lessons and instead learn fencing, Latin, and magic.  Her exasperated parents finally decide she will be married to a prince from another kingdom, but Cimorene isn't having that and instead goes and volunteers to become a dragon's princess, something that just isn't done (princesses are always captured, they never volunteer).

We also have Kazul, Cimorene's dragon.  When it comes to dragons, she is a sensible one, and a perfect match to Cimorene.  Together, they work to sort out the mystery of what the wizards in the land are up to, and I love the friendship between them.

Wrede's writing is just so cleverly fun, her dialogue and characters are cheeky.  For fantasy fans, the world is a familiar one, but because of Cimorene, we get to see that world in a new light.  Witches, wizards, princesses, dragons, curses, magic, they all take a new light in Wrede's world, and it's one that just makes me smile every time I read it.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: not much of note, this book is clean and fun and very lighthearted.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Big Book of Paleo Slow Cooking: 200 Nourishing Recipes that Cook Carefree, for Everyday Dinner and Weekend Feasts - Natalie Perry



Summary:  Treat yourself to a lifetime of nutritious, delicious, and easy-to-make paleo meals in this big and inspiring book of 200 recipes by a leading paleo blogger.  Natalie Perry takes fresh and easy-to-find paleo ingredients and uses the magic of the slow cooker to make dishes with an incredible richness of aroma and depth of flavor.  Enjoy!  (Summary from book - Cover Image from amazon.com - Review images are my snaps of Natalie's pictures, used with permission)

DisclaimerNatalie Perry of Perry's Plate is, among a great many other things, a former RFS reviewer (you can read her reviews here).  I also know her personally, as eons ago we went to high school together.  I purchased this book and didn't even tell her I planned to review it until I was nearly ready to publish this review.  Regardless, this is an honest review and I'm not receiving any compensation for it or any links contained therein.  

The second thing you should probably know about me is that I'm not strictly Paleo or gluten-free.  I like gluten.  I like dairy.  I like grains.  For the purpose of this review though, I tried to adhere as closely to Natalie's recipes as possible and only substituted when absolutely necessary for time (generally with using store-bought stock or mayo, because I haven't quite mastered the knack of planning ahead).  

My Review:  In a world of Deep Fried [Insert Virtually Anything Here], it can be rare to come across food that is both good and good for you.  Well, The Big Book of Paleo Slowcooking is a pretty freaking amazing combination of both with recipes that are well-balanced, made with real ingredients, and so delicious. Honestly, I cooked almost exclusively from it for nearly a month and my family has rarely eaten better.

One of the first things I noticed about this cookbook, besides the mouth-watering photos, is that it makes for generously sized meals.  Personally, I hate working my way through a recipe only to discover  that it only serves 3-4, and then frantically trying to double things in a way that won't screw up the recipe.  No thank you.  These recipes serve between 6-8 people, with the occasional 10-12 thrown in.  Can you say leftovers you can actually look forward to eating?!  Hallelujah.

Another great thing about this cook book is that, although it is written for use with a slow cooker, the author/chef provides a free Instant Pot Conversion Chart on her website, which means that for most of the recipes, I had the option to cook with either crock or Instant pot.  When I began the review process, I didn't have an Instant Pot, but was gifted one when I was about halfway through, and so I was able to use both modes of cooking.  It allowed me to choose the perfect way to make yummy, nutritious meals for my family.  Busy morning?  Instant Pot dinner.  Insane Afternoon?  Crock pot it is!  I loved the flexibility.

Now, on to the even better stuff -- the recipes. I've included three linked recipes from the actual cookbook that are available to try for free online.  They're peppered throughout the review, so happy hunting.  I haven't been able to work my way through all 200 recipes (yet), but as I write this review, I've managed to make 23 of them.  I selected recipes based on what I thought my family would be most excited to try and on what I felt would be easiest for me to recreate.  My skill level as a chef is novice.  If there is a level lower than novice, that's me.  Basically, if I can make them, anyone can.  Here are my thoughts on the recipes I tried.


First, the appetizers.   Woah, baby.  Yum.
  • Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip
  • Sweet and Smoky Mixed Nuts
I made these first three recipes for my husband's Super Bowl Party.  The dips were a hit and quickly consumed.  My husband went gaga for the Caramelized Onion Dip (top left), but personally, I think the Buffalo Chicken Dip (top right) was my favorite.  It tasted amazing with celery and went quite well with some decidedly non-paleo tortilla chips.  Now, as for the Sweet and Smoky Mixed Nuts.  I may have cooked the nuts a little longer than necessary, so a few were a little too "smoky", but the rest were thoroughly snackable and tasty.  I even wrestled my daughter for the last handful.  Not my proudest moment, but I won.  I wish I could say the same for the Rams.  Anyway, on to the SOUPS.

Can I just say, Natalie excels at soup.  Here are the ones I have tried so far. 
  • Un-Tortilla Soup
  • Russia's Palace's Borscht
  • Mulligatawny
  • Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)
  • Smoky BBQ Beef Chili
If I had to pick my family's favorite soup from this lot....there would be three of them.  Yes, three.  Honestly, I was a little skeptical that something as simple as Un-Tortilla Soup (bottom left) would be any good.  And yet it was simply fantastic, flavorful, and (even better) allowed my kids to customize their own bowls.  I had always heard of Mulligatawny (botttom middle), but never had the opportunity to try it until I made it myself.  I have no idea if it tasted how mulligatawny is supposed to taste.  I only know that I made it twice short succession because my family loved it so much.

My personal favorite soup was the Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (bottom right).  It was the perfect kind of savory, with a broth that was just everything. Everything.  I want to bathe in it. The Russia Palace's Borscht was a beautiful, vibrant violent.  I loved it, but my kids turned up their noses.  They like pickled beets, but apparently beet soup crosses some sort of previously undetermined line for them.  It was, get this, too pink and too purple.  Umm.  Okay?  My family gave mixed reviews on the Smoky BBQ Beef Chili.  Some devoured it, others did not.  Personally, I liked it and I will say that it made for some pretty good (again un-paleo) chili nachos the next day.  If you'd like to try your hand at Natalie's Creamy Mushroom Soup with Bacon, you can click right HERE for the free recipe.


We eat a lot of chicken in my house.  More so than any other meat.  Here are the chicken recipes that I tried:
  • Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken
  • Orange-Sesame Chicken
  • Maple-Mustard Chicken with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts
  • Strawberry-Balsamic Chicken
  • Southeast Asian Coconut Chicken Curry
  • Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower
All of the chicken dishes were well received by my kiddos, with the Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken and the Orange-Sesame Chicken earning rave reviews.  Both were a great way to satisfy my Panda Express craving, without all the guilt.  I enjoyed the new flavor combinations in the Maple-Mustard Chicken and Strawberry-Balsamic Chicken (bottom right). I'd never thought of a strawberry balsamic combo before, and the flavor is quite unique in a very good way.

The entire family agreed that the Southeast Asian Coconut Chicken Curry (bottom left) was tasty, but it had little more fish sauce than my husband likes.  I think that's down to his personal taste more than a recipe failing, but I slightly reduced the fish sauce in a few other recipes and he never mentioned it again, so I'll definitely be making that change the next time around.  The only recipe I don't think I'll be making again is the Chicken Tikka Masala with Cauliflower.  My family ate it without complaint (which is a miracle in and of itself), but they weren't much interested in the leftovers and I don't like food going to waste.  Also, it required me to remember to do stuff the day before.  I suck at that.  Still, five out of six recipes isn't too shabby!  Oh, and here's a link to another recipe in the book -- Green Chile Shredded Chicken.  Try it for yourself!


On to the other meats (ie pork, beef, and fish).
  • Balsamic Pot Roast
  • Mongolian Beef and Broccoli
  • Sweet Potato Foil Packet "Tacos"
  • Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf
  • Hot and Sweet Orange Pulled Pork (Try the recipe here)
  • Pesto Cod and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
I actually made a huge substitution with the Balsamic Pot Roast.  It calls for a beef roast and I didn't have one, so I used a pork roast instead.  And you know what?  It was fantastic.  I'm guessing it would be equally fantastic with beef.  The Mongolian Beef and Broccoli was one of the first recipes that I tried and, while I overcooked the broccoli (novice, remember), the beef was amazing and definitely a family favorite.

I have been making Natalie's award-winning Sweet Potato Foil Packet Tacos for years.  I love the combination of savory meat, sweet potatoes, and saucy black beans and I always make a few extra packets to eat later on.  Although I don't often make meatloaf, but the Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf  (bottom left) was ridiculously easy, specially since I used Natalie's Instant Pot Conversion Chart to make it.  I served it with some less-than Paleo oven roasted russet potatoes and the crowd (ie. my family) went wild.

The Hot and Sweet Orange Pulled Pork (bottom right) was the first recipe I made from this book and it. was. inedible.*GASP*  I know. I had to throw most of it out.  It was so very bad and all my fault.  I used liquid aminos instead of the called-for coconut aminos, thinking they were the same thing and THEY ARE NOT.  Liquid aminos are much saltier.  Still, I could tell that underneath all that excess salt was a dish with "good bones" and I wanted to try again.  The next time I used the correct aminos (and even halved the required salt just to be safe) and it turned out much better.  If you'd like to give this recipe a try for yourself CLICK HERE to get the free recipe.  Finally, Pesto Cod and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.  My husband raised a skeptical eyebrow at this one and I get it.  On paper it looks like kind of a weird flavor combination, but it was actually really delicious.  I've already used the pesto/fish combination a few times since with great success.


Alas, I didn't make any of the decadent-looking desserts.  It's part of my resolution to not learn how to make desserts I will likely end up making and not sharing.  Sorry, guys.  However, I did make a few of the side/miscellaneous items.
  • Cauliflower Rice 
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning
  • Balsamic BBQ Sauce
My kids gobbled up the Cauliflower Rice (see right).  My only problem with this is that my kids GOBBLED UP the cauliflower rice! I hardly got any!  I have been a die-hard fan of Perry's Plate Homemade Taco Seasoning since it first debuted on Natalie's website.  She's tweaked it a bit since then to make it gluten-free and it tastes amazing.  I'll never ever go back to store bought.  I used the Balsamic BBQ Sauce on the yummy Italian Balsamic BBQ Meatloaf we just talked about, but I've also used it before on BBQ chicken and roast potatoes, to great success.  I love that it's so versatile!

There are still some great pantry staples and meals that I plan to try as I keep exploring this cookbook.  I've included a few pics to get you salivating....

Next on my list for pantry/staple/side items: Cider BBQ Sauce, Homemade Ghee & Paleo-Friendly Mayonnaise (bottom left), Dry Ranch Seasoning Mix, Thai Spice Blend, Zucchini Flatbread (bottom right) , Creamy Dilled Cauliflower...





Next on my list for entrees to try: Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Zoodles, Jambalaya with Roasted Cauliflower Rice, Thai-Pulled-Pork Tacos with Creamy Chili Slaw (bottom left), Deconstructed Egg Rolls with Sesame Cashews (bottom right), Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops with Mango Salsa, Asian Beef Short-Rib Lettuce Wraps, Thanksgiving Turkey Meatloaf, Ranch Chicken and Broccoli with Bacon, and...well, you get the idea. 



There's just SO MUCH GOOD STUFF IN HERE!  

Reviewing The Big Book of Paleo Slowcooking was a downright pleasure.  I came away with a ton of delicious new meals for the family and a newfound respect for some previously untried ingredients (ghee, nutritional yeast, coconut aminos, tapioca powder, etc.)   I also love that I'll be able to pull out some gluten-free or dairy-free meals for friends or family who have with those specific dietary restrictions.  I don't have to panic or scramble now!  I highly recommend you pick up this cookbook and give it a try.  If that's not in your budget right now, head on over to Perry's Plate and try a few of her online recipes.  You won't be disappointed.

Oh, and did I mention Natalie has a new cookbook out -- The Big Paleo Book of Pressure Cooking.  I bet you can guess what I'm up to now!  Trust me, if I love it (and I suspect I will), you'll hear about it.

My Rating:  5 Yummy Stars

Sensitive Reader:  If you're offended by meat, coconut milk, zoodles, or curry, this cookbook is not for you.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Girl in the Tower - Katherine Arden

Summary: The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  The first book in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale, was very much in the modern fairytale genre. I enjoyed the taking of old Russian folk tales and making them into a cohesive story. This book is the continuation of that story, but I think that although it continued with fairytale and folklore characters, it was very much in the fantasy realm. It kind of surprised me, actually, as the first book was very folkloric and this one had a completely different feel about it. There is a third book, and I will be interested to see what the third book is like compared to these two. I don’t always love fantasy, especially high fantasy; it just really isn’t my thing. This book was pretty much in the high fantasy realm, but because of the characters and folkloric characters I had come to enjoy from the first book, I was able to talk myself out of my knee-jerk reaction to high fantasy. It isn’t always fair, I know, but it is what it is.

So. About the book. I did like it. It was different than the first one, like I said, and it was different enough that it took me a minute to get into the swing of it. Also, it just jumped right back into the story, and since it’s been awhile since I had read the book, it took me a few pages to get up to speed and feel like I knew what was going on again. The characters had matured since the last book, too, and they were in quite different positions than they were before. Because of that, I felt like it was a completely different book. I liked the changes in a lot of ways, and I really liked how the main character, especially, had matured. Because of these differences, though, I think that a reader could comfortably pick up this book and still enjoy it and understand it even while not having read the first book.

I enjoyed the story in this book, and I really enjoyed the female protagonist. Sure, she had to pretend to be a male for most of it, but she was scrappy and smart and did many things that the men couldn’t do. I love me a strong female character. She wasn’t without faults, though, which I think makes her feel more authentic. She’s young, too, so obviously some of the things she is faced with will be challenging to her. Her magical horse is awesome, too. Everybody needs a magical horse, no? A good book is not made by just one cool character and her magical horse, though, and I am happy to report that the other characters in this book were fun as well. They didn’t get as much face time in the book, and I think that as with many fantasy books this one had so many characters that it is hard to go into detail with too many of them, which is too bad. Some are just left hanging. There is one character in particular that I wish had had more background (and I’m avoiding being specific here because I don’t want to ruin it) but he turns out to be a lot more than one would think at first glance and I think a lot more description and background could have been given to him. Maybe that’s coming in the last installment?

This book is full of excitement and sword fights and challenges for the throne and all kinds of fun fantasy things. Mix in the magical folkloric characters and you’ve got quite the heyday of epicness on your hands. If you are into fantasy books, especially ones that are steeped in folklore and tradition, I think you would really enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book is pretty clean, and even the battle scenes are not super graphic, although there is some peril.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Squids Will Be Squids - Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

Summary: A collection of new and wacky fables with fresh morals, which are about all kinds of bossy, sneaky, funny and annoying people. A general moral offered by the book is, "If you are planning to write fables, don't forget to change people's names and avoid places with high cliffs". (image and summary from goodreads.com)

My Review:  Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka have a delightfully irreverent way of telling stories that I have loved since I was a kid.  If you've read The Stinky Cheese Man, you'll know what I mean.

This particular book deals with fables related to the Aesop kind.  And just as Aesop used animals in his tales, Smith and Scieszka follow suit, using animals like echidnas, sharks, wasps, gnats, walruses, and also inanimate objects like toast, froot loops, matches and straw.

If you haven't caught on yet, these aren't your classic fables.  Each page brings us a new tale about certain characters that will teach us a lesson as fables are wont to do.  For example, the tale about Straw, who goes to play with Matches, but whenever he suggests something to do, Matches hijacks the situation, greedily making it something that will favor him and making Straw realize what a selfish person Matches is.  The moral?  Don't play with matches.

The off the wall humor of these stories has long been one of my favorite sorts, and is probably where I get some of my dark humor to this day (that and Monty Python).  All the stories follow this strange humor, and you never quite know where the tale will end up or what moral you'll get, but you know it will be ridiculous, which is the charm of Squids Will Be Squids.

Smith's art is also wacky and fun, and fits these fables perfectly.  A lot look like they've been pieced together from cutouts, and the characters are zany and unique.

I find books like this tend to pair well with reluctant readers, as they let kids see that stories can be hilarious and make them laugh, and even lend to kids creating their own such fables.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: these stories can be a little irreverent, as I've noted above, but there's nothing too extreme.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Stonebearer’s Betrayal - Jodi L. Milner

Summary: A secret society of immortals, tasked to protect the world. A demon bent on revenge. A girl brave enough to fight for her family when the two collide. Archdemoness Wrothe stirs the ashes from a long dead war, rekindling a fire that threatens to burn the world. Only the legendary Stonebearers of the Khandashii have the power to stop her, if they catch wind of her plans in time. Katira didn’t believe the legends. She didn’t believe a person could alter the fabric of reality or live forever. She didn’t believe in the dark mirror realm or in the dangerous creatures prowling there either. That was before the first shadow hound came for her. (Summary and Image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.) 

 Review: Katira is the daughter of a blacksmith and a healer, nearly betrothed to her best friend and love, and happy in the secure, small village where she’s spent her life. While her parents have never made any secret about her parentage (orphaned by fire and adopted by her rescuers), she is happy. Sure, the myths of magic and “wielders” are fun stories designed to spook and scare, but they can’t be real.

 First time novelist, Jodi Milner, has crafted a high fantasy novel that is relatable and immersive, even for non-fantasy readers. I’ve always been wary of high fantasy (I prefer fantasy lite) because of the new rules and the names and the different magics — it’s overwhelming. However, I was much more than pleasantly surprised to find that Milner’s novel is so organic, so well-crafted that these qualms were wholly unfounded. The rules were parsed out as the reader needed to, avoiding the common pitfall of talking down to the reader or condescending to them in their explanations. It was easy to pick the novel right back up and slide into Katira’s world after a pause.

 As for the story, it is well done. Amazingly so. While there are a few passages that made me feel like I’d skipped a paragraph, they are rare. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among novels - it’s as though the storyline is the same, just the background and the scenery change. It was a breath of fresh air to read a book where the main character isn’t the “destined one” or the “only one to cure the evil”. Katira is brave, she’s resourceful, but she’s also scared and unsure and untrained. She’s naive, but she has a good heart.  While the novel is set up for a series, and our main character could easily develop into the most powerful of all, she isn’t there yet. She’s nowhere close. It’s wonderful. It’s also nice to see the development of multiple characters, instead of just the one. While we are each the main character in our own stories, there’s never just one story being told. I feel like Milner embodies that.

 Milner has created a character who I want to see develop. I want to see her growth, I want to see her succeed, I want to see her choices. Instead of a one-off novel a reader would read once and forget, we have been given a novel who invites the reader into a developing and expanding universe ripe with potential. As a non-fantasy reader, I can’t wait for the next book to appear.

Rating: Four and a half stars

 For the Sensitive Reader: This is a solid PG book. There is some violence, some talk of yearning, but nothing I’d deem inappropriate.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Nine Lives of Chloe King (The Fallen, The Stolen and The Chosen Omnibus) - Liz Braswell writing as Celia Thomson

Summary:  Dying can really change a girl's life.

Chloe King is a normal girl.  She goes to class (most off the time) fights with her mom, and crushes on a boy...or two.  But around her sixteenth birthday, Chloe finds that perhaps she isn't so normal after all.  There's the heightened night vision, the superfast reflexes -- oh, and the claws.

As she discovers who she is -- and where she comes from -- it is clear she is not alone.  And someone is out to get her.  Chloe has nine lives.  But will nine be enough?  (Summary from book - Image from

Note:  I don't often review three books in a series at once, but as the book I picked up was an omnibus of all three stories, I figured it would be best to use this format.  As far as rating goes, I will rate each book individually, and then give the series an overall average rating.

My Review:  The Nine Lives of Chloe King omnibus (which contains The Fallen, The Stolen, and The Chosen) was released in 2011, right around the same time that ABC Family debuted a series by the same name and based off the book.  I found the show on Hulu the other day and watched it, not knowing it was based on a book, but thinking that it might be something my girls would like.  I realized it was based on a book about a quarter of the way through, but decided to just finish the season anyway and read the book later if things went well.  I was pleased to find that it was a fairly clean show with a strong female heroine who had good friends and a great relationship with her mother.  Upon discovering her ability to kick butt, Chloe had a decent sense of right and wrong and would often make the choice to help others at her own peril.  Unfortunately, the television show was cancelled after only one season and it ended with terrible yell-NOOOOO-at-the-screen cliffhanger.  I knew that my daughters would kill me for getting them hooked on a show that ended that way, so I decided to pick up the book and see if it was something I could let them run with.  Here are my thoughts on The Nine Lives of Chloe King book series.

The Fallen -   The first book in this series was ridiculously easy to read, likely because I didn't have to spend a lot of time picturing the characters or setting.  Having seen the show, most places I would have to picture were just there already so I took them and ran with it.  The basic characters and setting were much the same, but this book really only covers Chloe's gradual discovery of her powers, the complications she has when her two best friends start dating, and the development of a love triangle -- so, basically the pilot episode of the series.  I'm assuming more will come in the next book.

I liked the basic bones of this story, but beyond that I have to say I was incredibly disappointed.  The show ending the way it did will likely drive others, including kids, to do exactly what I did, and pick up this book.  Unfortunately, what they will get is decidedly more adult than it is family.  It was peppered with all kinds of swearing, underage drinking, lying, sneaking into bars, raging teenage hormones, near-sex with strangers, etc.  Quite frankly, Chloe was kind of a brat to begin with and the manifestation of her powers only seemed to amplify matter.  However, I do allow for character evolution in my assessment of things, so my only hope is that once Chloe fully understands who she is and what is happening her behavior might even out.  Time will tell. 
(My Rating: 2.5 Stars)

The Stolen -  The second book in the series picks up a day after Chloe's confrontation with The Order of the 10th Blade.  She wakes in a strange mansion, surrounded by people like her who tell her the truth about her heritage and and the secret society trying to kill her.  Since Chloe is mansion-ensconced for a good chunk of the book, the author chose to write from several other perspectives to flesh out the story, which offered some background and a wee bit of depth to other characters.. Although Chloe is supposed to stay in the mansion for her own safety, she manages to sneak out and meet with her friends and learn that her mother is missing.  All rather predictably, hijinks ensue, love-triangle abound, tension increases between the Mai and the Order, and it wraps up with another massive cliffhanger.

The Stolen was just as easy to read as it's predecessor.  It's clearly a fluff series.  As in, there's not a lot to chew on, but the story is entertaining if you're just looking for a distraction.  There is a bit of making out and some innuendo, but nothing beyond.  Personally, I enjoyed the less physical Romeo & Julietish nature of Chloe and Brian's relationship, far more than Alyec's persistently aggressive flirting.  I guess I'm on Team Broe.  Team Chlian?  Whatever.  Alyec annoys me. On the plus side, there is marginally less swearing (I say marginally because there is still several handfuls of it) and Chloe isn't nearly as much of a brat in this novel as she was in the first.  Thank heavens, because I'm not sure I could have put up with it.  Honestly, I'm not sure that I want to read the next novel but as I have to take my daughters to a dance in town tonight and then kill several hours, I might as well. (My Rating:  3 Stars.  It is what it is meant to be.)

The Chosen -  Nope.  Sorry.  I tried but couldn't make it more than a few chapters in.  Such is my review and since I didn't make it very far, I won't be giving it a rating. 

AVERAGE RATING:  2.75 Stars.  (Probably less if I'd fully read and reviewed the final book)

For the sensitive reader:  Plenty of swearing, teenage drinking, innuendo, and sexual situations. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Eight Goodbyes - Christine Brae

Summary: “One universe, nine planets, 204 countries, 809 islands and 7 seas. And I had the privilege of meeting you.” - Unknown

When Tessa Talman meets Simon Fremont for the first time, not only is she attracted to him, she’s intrigued by how different their lives are. He’s a dedicated scientist, practical, pragmatic, and grounded—while she’s a head-in-the-clouds romance author. As their relationship grows, they agree to meet in places around the world, while continuing to live on opposite sides of the globe.

Though their feelings for each other deepen, their priorities remain the same. Simon is in a hurry to be financially sound and settle down, but Tessa is enjoying her freedom and newfound success. Neither is willing to give in, but as each goodbye gets harder, Tessa begins to wonder whether fame is the path to happiness, or if she has everything she needs in Simon.

Just as Tessa finds the courage to go after her own happily ever after, the unthinkable happens, separating them in ways they never imagined.

To move forward, she must let go of the past, and determine once and for all if love is truly more powerful than the pain of goodbye.
 (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


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

My Review: You guyyzzzz. Okay. I guess I should preface this by saying that I am not a romance novel reader. Like, not. At. All. It’s not my jam. I don’t like unrealistic situations or people that are so beautiful and so perfect that they’re unrealistic. I don’t read a lot of romance novels, so I’m generalizing here, but I’m thinking that this is pretty standard in a lot of them.

When I took a copy of this book, I didn’t realize it was a romance novel. I mean, I guess I should have? However, it became very obviously very quickly that it was. This ensured much eye rolling from me. But, like I said, because I am by no means a romance novel aficionado, maybe some of these things are not typical and this book just happened to be seriously cliché.

First off, the characters were perfect. They were beautiful and talented and smart and all the things everyone in the land wants to be. The dude has an accent, which seems to be the key to all hot guys in all the novels, and the girl is kinda kooky with her own brand of coolness that no one else can be and yet she’s afraid to settle down cause…that’s just not what girls like this do. They’re both wildly successful and very young, which is great because it’s hard to be the star of your own romance novel if you’re just kind of a loser or middle of the road Joe who doesn’t have much going on.

Secondly, the story was just so far-fetched. It must be nice to be able to just jet set everywhere since they’re both not only wealthy but also very successful so they can do whatever they like. The female lead is a famous author to the point that even J.K. Rowling would be jealous, which is great considering she’s written one romance novel that is apparently so mainstream that random people come up to here everywhere in the world knowing who she is and clamoring for her autograph.

This book did take a little bit of a turn, which was not surprising, but it did add some extra chapters to the book. And here’s another beef I have about it—it was counting down the “goodbyes” (hence the name of the book) and then all of a sudden it stopped doing that and the chapters changed their method of counting down the goodbyes and randomly went elsewhere. I do not like that. At all. If you want to organize a book a certain way, then you should stay with that organization. Naming each chapter a numbered goodbye made sense, but after it stopped (it didn’t make it to eight) it just became confusing and then never picked up the counting the goodbyes again. That bugs.

So many of the situations—the love scenes, the meetings, the utter jealousy and ridiculousness of it all were just too much for me to handle. My husband pretty much laughed at me the whole time I read this book. It was just so romance novel.

Now. I know that this author has quite a following with her other books. She does not need a reviewer like me to okay her book because everyone that is going to buy it has either bought it or will buy it anyway. If you like romance novels, you will probably love this book because as I mentioned above, it’s romance novel gold. That being said, it really wasn’t my cup of tea and as a non-romance novel reader I just can’t. Even.

My Rating: 2 stars (because I’m generous and realize that just because it’s not my thing doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s thing)

For the sensitive reader: There is language and sex in this book. Lots of sex. Romance novel sex. If you are looking for a clean book, I would move along.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Sopping Thursday - Edward Gorey

Summary: An umbrella is missing. A man is distressed. A thief scampers over rooftops. A child is in danger. A harangued salesclerk weeps. A dog save the day.

The intriguing story of The Sopping Thursday is unlike any other Edward Gorey book, both because of its unique gray-and-black illustrations and because it has a happy ending (if one is to dismiss any worry about the child featured in the last frame). In just thirty images and thirty short lines of text, Gorey manages to create a complex tableau of characters and a plot worthy of film noir. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: What I love about Edward Gorey's books is the strange, almost dream-like way they are told.  I read an article recently that talked about how he told disjointed stories because he left a lot up to the imagination of the reader.  His stories will jump from point A to point 12 within one page, leaving you to try and figure out what happened in between and possibly wondering if we have moved onto a different story completely.  However, they always somehow manage to tell a complete, if not disjointed tale, which is really the charm of Gorey's books.  The jumpy storytelling could be jarring for some, but if you just go with it, you will be amused.

The Sopping Thursday is mostly about rain, umbrellas and one very noble dog named Bruno.  As we go from one cleverly drawn page to the next, we jump in and out of different stories, a man looking for the perfect umbrella, a man who has lost his umbrella, a thief of umbrellas, and Bruno going on a quest to recover an umbrella.

Gorey's art has always had a spot in my heart.  If you ever watched the old Masterpiece Mystery on PBS (and I believe they still use portions nowadays) there is an animated intro that is in Gorey's style, as his art lends well to the mysterious and dark.  His art in Sopping Thursday is wonderful, with the rain on nearly every page, and the solid black umbrellas and the hound with the very Victorian-looking humans.

This story is surprisingly lighter fare compared to his other books which tend to have a more macabre trend (check out The Gashlycrumb Tinies if you want a taste), but it still has that unique Gorey flair, and anyone with an odd sense of humor will definitely enjoy.  

My Rating:  Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Nothing of note

Friday, February 8, 2019

Morning Star (Red Rising #3) - Pierce Brown

NOTE:  This is the third book in the Red Rising series.  If you haven't read them yet, check out our review of the first book, Red Risingor the second, Golden Son.

Summary:  Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war.  The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people.  But Darrow is determined to fight back.  Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society's mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.  Finally, the time has come.  But devotion to honor and hunger  for vengeance run deep on both sides.  Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy.  Among them are some Darrow once considered friends.  To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied -- and to glorious to surrender.  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Why is it that every time I finish a book in this series, I feel as if I've been tased, run through an emotional meat grinder, and thrown into a hurricane?  Seriously, people.  I'm coming down off a massive adrenaline high.  It's both amazing and kinda awful, which is pretty much exactly how I would describe this book.**

All the ways this book is amazing:  First, Morning Star begins with a brief but helpful recap of each of the two previous books in the series, Red Rising and Golden Son.  I don't know about you but if I have to wait between books in a series, sometimes I need the refresher and the recaps were helpful in that regard.  It also begins with Darrow, outed as a Red and in the hands of his enemies, weakened and imprisoned in the dark confines of a stone box.  Talk about motivation to read.  There are at least two more books in the series, so you kind suspect he's going to make it to the next one, but oh how I wanted to read him out of that box.  SPOILER:  He does...and in spectacular style.

Morning Star is only part of an epic battle for power set in our solar system.  From Mercury to Pluto and the various moons in between, it feels utterly massive in scope.  Ordinarily, I'd feel lost in the sea of battle and intrigue, the swirl of it all, but the characters are what kept me anchored.  Like the other books in the series, this book is brimming with fascinating characters -- not just Darrow, but the secondary and tertiary ones as well.  The author didn't feel the need to make anyone fit a perfect super-hero mold.  Each comes with their own story and motivations, weaknesses, strengths, and fears. These characters brought dimension and life to the story.  They are what made me care.  I had already become very attached to some of the characters from previous books -- Darrow (obviously), Mustang, Roque, Ragnar, Cassius, Victra, and even Sevro (the most lovably unlovable good-guy you'll probably ever meet) and was completely hooked on their individual stories, whether they played out for good or ill.  I fell hard for some of the new characters as well, though I won't name them just yet.  At this point, I'm so deeply invested in the story, its characters, and the final outcome, I don't think anything (short of Darrow imprinting on a vampire baby named Renesmee) could pry me away from this series.

I loved the themes of loyalty, equality, and sacrifice that have threaded throughout the series, and especially come to light in this book.  Darrow believes that a person is more than their color or the life to which they have been born.  He is unswervingly loyal to those he loves and willing to sacrifice everything he has -- his own life and, if necessary, the lives of others, if it serves a higher purpose. You'd think his willingness to sacrifice others would make him a hard man to love, but it's quite the opposite. I loved this quote from the book, as Darrow recovers from a long captivity:

I've never been a man of joy or a man of war, or an island in a storm...that was what I pretended to be.  I am and always have been a man who is made complete by those around him.  I feel strength growing in myself.  A strength I haven't felt in so long.  It's not only that I'm loved.  It's that they believe in me.  Not the mask like my soldiers at the Institute.  Not the false idol I build in the service of Augustus, but the man beneath."  

Darrow is no ordinary action hero.  He isn't afraid to love, to cry, or to forgive.  Though his actions are sometimes hard to take, Darrow can be trusted to make the impossible call, even if it breaks him to do it.  This devotion to his fellow comrades, his family, and the cause, never fail to inspire others to follow him and in the end (at least the end of this book) he isn't the only one willing to sacrifice all. 

All the ways this book is awful:  Plain and simple, Morning Star will rip your heart out and possibly a few other internal organs as well.  Then, it will cram them back in (hopefully in the right order) before ripping them out again and playing a lovely game of tic-tac-toe with your entrails.  Then back in again they go.  No, I am not exaggerating.  If you're even remotely invested in certain characters you better brace yourself.  Some of them will be ripped away.  No, I am not going to tell you WHO.  But there is so. much. loss. of. life.

Let's be honest, if you've made it to this point in the series, you probably aren't sensitive to violence or language.  At this point I'm rather desensitized to both, but even I noticed the ramped-up body count and increased profanity.  So, whatever you might be imagining, multiply it by three....and then ten.  That should be about right.  I don't read a lot of high violence books on a regular basis, but I just got finished reading Bird Box so I feel like my frame of reference is on point right now. 

A little bit of both: The up-left-down-right-up-down roller coaster of it all is one of the best and worst things about this book.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book and I never had to wait very long for the next big twist; a turn of the page reveals unexpected allies and hidden enemies.  Darrow always seems to have something up his sleeve, in fact, a great many people do.  When the battle seems unwinnable (or in the bag), that's when everything you thought you knew gets thrown out the window.  In Darrow's own words,

"I'm a bl**dyd**n Helldiver with an army of giant, mildly psychotic women behind me and a fleet of state-of-the-art warships crewed by pissed-off pirates, engineers, techs, and former slaves.  And he thinks he knows how to fight me?"

In this book anything can happen, and frequently does.  If you decide to read it, buckle up.

UPDATE:  I have read the two books that have been released following this one (Iron Gold and Dark Age).  I have decided that, for me, the end of Morning Star is the end of the series.  At least in my head.  The violence, swearing, and gut-wrenching loss only get worse from here on out.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars.  (I should probably give it a 4 because of the increase in violence and language.  But...well, I don't want to.)

For the sensitive reader:  A staggering amount of profanity and violence, with some sexual innuendo.  Sensitive readers should look elsewhere.  I mean it.  Don't read this and then come complain to me about the swearing and kill-count.   You've been warned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Before She Sleeps - Bina Shah

Summary: In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.

Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.

This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable, The Handmaid’s Tale about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Unless you have been hiding under a rock (and it would have to be a literal rock at this point) you are probably aware that dystopian fiction is a big thing these days. Is it because things are going really well in our society and therefore we have doomsday scenarios to spice up our lives? Or are things going poorly and stressful so people see dystopian fiction as a warning sign of things to come, whether it is inevitable or just a warning? I would argue that there are both. There are books like the Hunger Games trilogy that maybe were just for entertainment and good old-fashioned fun and drama, and then there are books of warning like The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’d say this book fits easily in the latter category.

Whether or not you agreed with the outcome of the past presidential election, it is obvious that some women felt threatened by the turn politics have taken. Again, you may or may not agree with this, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many women who feel like their status in society has slipped. This book is a reflection of that, and a dystopian fiction where women are no longer half of the population, and therefore their status has been seriously upgraded, but in a definitely skewed dystopian fashion wherein they have very little freedom of choice or opportunity. Indeed the whole society has suffered; both men and women have been oppressed and are under intense struggles and strife due to the epic disaster that caused the dystopian world.

This book was creepy and unsettling, just as all good dystopian fiction should be. Although there are those books that focus a lot of their story on the event/s that caused the collapse of the society, this book was more about what came about because of it. As with other good dystopian fiction books, this one created unique sub-cultures within the society of people who were forced to survive and what they did. I actually think this book could have other novels that occurred in the dystopian world, where the author could shift her focus to another part of society that was just touched on, whereas this focused mainly on a group of women who were basically comfort objects for sleep (actual sleep, not sex).

I enjoyed the writing in this book. Each chapter would switch to a different narrator, which definitely worked in this book, although I don’t think the voices were really very different from each other. If there weren’t titles for each chapter I wouldn’t have known who was who. However, that doesn’t matter so much because there were titles for each chapter and therefore I was definitely aware who was who.

The story in this book was compelling, and I think that it could have been even more in-depth. As mentioned above, I think there could have been even more to it, and maybe there could be more in a series or even a trilogy. The ending definitely left an opportunity for a sequel. I would have also liked to learn more about the culture. I think knowing more about the culture makes it scarier because you know how far they’ve come from normal once the dystopian world takes place.

Overall, I’d say this is a solid dystopian novel that offers a unique perspective on what it would be like if women became a limited commodity.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This novel is pretty clean. There are disturbing situations, as in any dystopian novel.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Lackadaisy: Volume #1 - Tracy Butler

Summary: St. Louis 1927.

Times change. Laws change. People still want booze.

For the better part of a decade, hidden beneath the inconspicuous Little Daisy Cafe, the city's best-kept secret has slaked the thirst of a prohibition-wearied populace.

Lackadaisy.

Unfortunately, the once raucous and roaring speakeasy now rests at a crossroads, its golden age seemingly at an end. Lackadaisy's remaining loyalists are left with few options.

But with all the cunning, tenacity, and sly ingenuity they can muster, they might just have a chance.

And if that doesn't work, fire does. (image and summary from goodreads.com)


My Review: I have been following Lackadaisy since it first began posting as a webcomic many years ago.  I fell in love with the world, the art, the anthropomorphic cat people in 20s era garb, and the delightful characters.  

Lackadaisy is such a clever and witty comic, filled with cunning dialogue, quick thinking, and funny situations.  Each character is rounded in their own way, and together make for some fun dialogue and situations.  It's actually really quite difficult to pick a favorite character, to be honest, because they're just that well written.  Tracy has also done her research into this era (and in the back of this book is a list of references that add depth to this world). Cats though the characters may be, they feel real.

The art is also stunning. Tracy has a remarkable grip on facial expressions (in particular, the character Rocky gets some stellar faces).  She fully illustrates backgrounds with buildings and interiors, giving this world a very authentic feel.  I love the different cats she uses for her characters, and how their styles fit their personalities.  This comic, in my opinion, is a perfect marriage of writing and art. 

The full comic (up to the most current page, that is, it's still a work in progress) is online at lackadaisycats.com, and I highly recommend it, and seeing how her art has progressed even further, each page a small masterpiece. 

This first volume book includes several pages at the end filled with original character designs, test comics, silly side comics that delve a little bit more into back and side stories of the characters, and some art tutorials as well as some full color pages.

Comic though it is, I would suggest it for an older audience.  The art and characters are fun, but a younger child might not be interested in the subject matter (as well as some of the items in the sensitive reader area below)

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: this story takes place in the 20s during prohibition, so there is lots of alcohol bootlegging, alcohol consumption, rival bootleggers shooting each other down, and language.  

Friday, February 1, 2019

The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide For The World's Most Adventurous Kid - Dylan Thuras & Rosemary Mosco (Illus. Joy Ang)

Summary:  Embark on the journey of a lifetime!  Join Atlas Obscura on a thrilling, beautifully illustrated expedition to 100 of the most astonishing places around the globe.  Hopscotch from country to country in a chain of connecting attractions:  Explore Mexico's glittering cave of crystals, then visit the world's larest cave in Vietnam.  Or peer over a 355 foot-waterfall in Zambia, then learn how Antarctica's Blood Falls got its mysterious color. As you climb mountains, zip-line over forests, and dive into oceans, use this book as your passport to a world of hidden possibilities.  Time to pack your bags!  (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

Note: There are two versions of Atlas Obscura - one for adults and another edition written especially for children that has a formidably long name (The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid). I refuse to type it more than is necessary and I just hit my daily limit, so for the purpose of this review, I will call this book simply Atlas Obscura.  

My ReviewAtlas Obscura is an absolute treasure. I found it sitting on the new arrival shelf of the library and snapped it up in a hot millisecond, fairly certain that at least one of my kid's would be all over it.  I wasn't wrong.  In fact, three of my children (ages 6, 8, and 13) have been fairly consumed with it since I brought it home.  (My 15-year-old is currently being not-so-quietly crushed by a mountain of homework, so her disinterest shouldn't really be held against the book).  While my thirteen-year-old has taken to reading it on her own, Atlas Obscura has put some extra adventure in our bedtime routine as I read a few pages of it every night to my two youngest.  Why only a few pages each night?  Well, the reason we read it in bits was because with each adventurous location my children clamored for a virtual tour, be it with pictures or video.  Now if I were being forced to look up Dora the Explorer factoids, this might be something akin to torture, but the fact of the matter is that most of the places I was reading to the kids about I had no idea existed I was just as fascinated and eager to find out more as my children.  Here's a long but not-entirely-comprehensive list:

  • Antarctica's Blood Waterfall 
  • Etheopia's lava lakes 
  • The giant crystal caves of Niaca, Mexico
  • The Hanging Temple of Hengshan, China
  • A 10,000-year clock being built deep in the Texas mountains
  • Norway's Forests of the Future library (this one was particularly cool)
  • The Waitomo glowworm caves of New Zealand 
  • A 97-foot tall, 80-room tree house in Tennessee
  • The living bridges of Cherrapunji, India
  • A secret apartment in the Eiffel Tower 
  • The mysterious geoglyphs in Peru and Australia, 
  • Columbia's rainbow-colored river
  • The micronation of Ladonia located on a beach in Sweden
  • Namibia's fairy circles, 
  • The mobile library of Mongolia
  • Moroccan tree goats
  • The musical stones of Gobustan, Azerbaijan
And honestly, so so so much more. The girls and I traveled to sunken cities, white deserts, and spaceship graveyards.  We met self-mummifying munks (okay, I didn't look that one up), toured incredible libraries and underwater art museums, stayed in salt-made hotels, hit up some hot dinosaur dance parties, and even uncovered a 2,000 year old computer.  The adventures just kept coming.

Of course, we didn't actually go to all these places.  Each page was easy to read, offering up a few facts and a new, bizarre place to visit.  We'd read about each location and then look it up. Read about another one.  Look it up.  And so on.  My only criticism is more of a heartfelt wish -- I wish it came with QR codes on each page that led me to a site where I could learn more about each location.  That would have just made my life a little easier (and you know I'm all about that), but honestly, it was well worth our time.  Like many families, we aren't really financially able to visit many of these places right now (though Bike Tree in WA, here we come!), but I love that my children were able to uncover a little bit of the ahhhhh-inspiring and awe-inspiring world they live in.  Hopefully, they learned that there is a whole wide world of amazing waiting for them to explore.   I know I sure did.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  There were occasional crypts, mummies, and graveyards.  The illustrations themselves weren't scary, but those who might decide to look them up on the internet might find some fairly graphic images. I may or may not know this from personal experience. 

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