Friday, November 29, 2019

Freeform Friday - Interview with a Librarian: Resources for Reluctant Readers Part 4

Welcome to Free Form Friday! Today we have an interview with a children's elementary school librarian. Join me for Part 4 of a great discussion with my good friend Olivia on how to get reluctant readers reading, including LOTS of really great recommendations. I promise you'll find some books you hadn't heard of before and some excellent suggestions to get those reluctant readers in your life reading (and loving it!). You'll definitely find something you'll enjoy as well. We've broken this interview up into bite-sized chunks for you, beloved readers, and although they don't need to be watched in order, you can catch Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Part 4 is the conclusion to this interview and promises to have more great recommendations and ideas so please watch and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

War Storm - Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen Series #4)

This is the fourth book in the Red Queen series.  We do not recommend reading this summary or review unless you have read Red Queen (#1), Glass Sword (#2), and King's Cage (#3).  

Summary: Victory comes at a price.  Mare Barrow learned this all too well when Cal's betrayal nearly destroyed her.  Now determined to protect her heart -- and secure freedom for Reds and newbloods like her -- Mare resolves to destroy the kingdom of Norta once and for all...starting with the crown on Maven's head.

But no battle is won alone, and before the Reds may rise as one, Mare must side with the boy who broke her heart in order to destory the boy who almost broke her.  Cal's powerful Silver allies, alongside Mare and the Scarlet Guard, prove a formidably force.  But Maven is driven by an obsession so deep, he will stop at nothing to have Mare as his own again, even if it means destroying everything -- and everyone -- in his path.

War is coming, and all Mare has fought for hangs in the balance. Will victory be enough to topple the Silver kingdoms?  Or will the little lightning girl be forever silenced?

In the epic conclusion to Victoria Aveyard's stunning series, Mare must embrace her fate and summon all her power...for all will be tested, but not all will survive.  (Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review: War Storm marks the fourth and final book in the Red Queen dystopian series that has taken up a good chunk of my time the last few months. Here we are at the end of it all and it's been quite the ride.  The story begins after the rebels' success in the battle at Corvium.  Not long after, Cal is faced with a difficult decision that creates a rift between he and Mare. Both refuse to budge and put the cause above all else, even especially each other.  Honestly, how often do you see that in YA anymore?  Two people who aren't willing to compromise on their convictions and give up anything and everything to be together.  It was kind of refreshing (in a completely frustrating way).  

Where the first two books were told from a single perspective, the fourth book had five different 'narrators': Mare, Evangeline, Iris, Cal, and Maven.  I loved getting into the head space of three strong women, even if they frequently operated at odds with each other.  While Evangeline's romantic inclinations might provoke a more sensitive reader, I really liked her evolution as a character and watching her loyalties shift throughout the series.  There were a few rare occasions where Cal and Maven piped up too, which offered a fascinating peek behind those iron curtains.  In one of those moments it became clear that Maven has deep-seated psychological issues and is broken in a way that likely can't be fixed. It felt wrong to feel sorry for him, but at the same point, I loved that the story could spin me around like that.   

As with the last book, one of my favorite aspects of the story was watching barriers break down between different 'classes' of people.  Many Red, Silver, and Newblood characters began too see each other's value and learn to work together. I also appreciated the complexity of a conflict that couldn't be settled in a day and for which there were no easy answers.  With each new situation, alliances were uncertain which made things deliciously unpredictable. YUM!

For the most part, I was caught up in the absolute whirlwind of characters, locations, and plot twists, but towards the end of this 662-page book I will admit, I was ready for the storm to abate.  Parts of it seemed drawn out for effect and in the slightly altered but still immortal words of one Mrs. Bennett (from Jane Austen's P&P): Have a little compassion on my POOR NERVES, Victoria Aveyard!!!  Sheesh.  The last 80 pages or so are a doozy. Don't worry, I won't be spoiling it for you. All I will say is that even though the ending wasn't all floofy unicorns and rainbows or tied up in a neat little bow, it just felt right.  I recommend this series to anyone who doesn't find any hurdles in the sensitive reader section.  

My Rating:  3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Violence and a handful of swear words (including one F-bomb).  Those sensitive to same-gender relationships should know that there are several characters with same-sex significant others in this book.  Most of these relationships are only mentioned in passing, and those that receive more attention are not portrayed in a sexually graphic way.  

Monday, November 25, 2019

Dragonwatch: Master of the Phantom Isle - Brandon Mull


Summary: Cursed by the Key of Forgetting, Seth has lost all memory of his past—his relationships, his experiences, and who he really is. For now he will align with his new mentor, Ronodin, the dark unicorn, who takes him to the Phantom Isle, the secret gateway to the Under Realm. Though Seth is not formally a prisoner, Ronodin wants to use him and his shadow charmer powers for his own dark ends.

Kendra is frantic to find her missing brother, but the quest will take her and her companions, including Warren, Tanu, and Vanessa, far from Wyrmroost to Crescent Lagoon—a recently fallen dragon sanctuary made up of many islands and underwater domains. Its caretaker has regained a foothold on one of the islands. If Kendra and her friends can save that sanctuary, they might uncover the answers they need to rescue Seth.

With each sanctuary the dragons overthrow, Celebrant, the Dragon King, comes closer to the dawn of a new Age of Dragons. With the forces of darkness on the march, can Kendra and her allies gather enough power to win the epic dragon war? 
(Summary and image from goodreads.com. I was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.)

My Review: Sometimes when you’re a few books into a series (or a group of series), you start to notice the formula of the author. It’s always a bit tricky when that happens - if the author is good, it’s inconsequential. But, more often than not, those formulas can start to dampen a reader’s enjoyment for a series.  The older I get, the easier it is to spot the formulas, and the more discerning I get with what I want to read.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been in a massive reading rut the last few months. This book arrived, and I was reticent to pick it up. I don’t want to burn out of this series, I miss reading for fun, the excuses started to pile up, but I forced myself to try. It didn’t disappoint.

The formula is there. There’s a world-ending problem on the horizon, there’s a temple they need to descend into to stop it temporarily, there’s some confusion, and things don’t resolve because there are still a few books left in the series. But. BUT. Instead of formulaic mumbo-jumbo, we’re treated to some serious philosophical questions. Is anyone inherently good? Inherently evil? Is redemption possible for even the most fallen people?And once decisions are made, mistakes and triumphs are there, are they there to stay?

See?! Are these the kinds of questions you’d expect from a kids’ book!?

If there’s a formula for winning me over, it’s assuming the intelligence of the audience. Brandon Mull has always been good about that, but this book highlights his ability. His character development is uncanny here - and having a completely blank slate with a character that we already know and love introduces all new ways to push his audience. Finally, he executes it well. There’s enough in this book to make a casual reader happy, but also enough substance to engage your more critical reader. Win-Win.

My Rating: Four stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Pretty clean. There’s some death, and the questions Mull asks are difficult, but they’re well-handled.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Freeform Friday: Spreading the Book Love

Time to let you guys in on a book site I discovered recently...

But first -- the set up....

We've all been there.  You've been waiting and waiting and WAITING for the next book in a series to come out.  It finally does, and you snap it up and run home, ready to dive in with great anticipation, only to find yourself a little lost, not quite remembering everything that happened in the last book.

What's a girl (or guy) to do?

I ended up in this exact situation several months ago when reading in the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown-- desperately in need of a refresher.  That's when I found out about Book Series Recaps & Reviews.  


Honestly, I'm a little worried I'll never see any of you again because this site is pretty darn cool, but still, we book geeks gotta stick together. 

 

Book Series Recaps & Reviews is a great place to look for rapid reviews and recaps of that book you read last year and can't quite remember.  It even has a list of YA "clean reads" (which feel like a rare commodity these days). Thankfully, the site's recap helped jog my memory of the previous book I had read so that I could move on in the series.  It was great!  I highly recommend you check them out!


Have a fabulous Freeform Friday and feel free to comment with any of your favorite book sites (you know, besides this one)!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I'm Sorry....Love, Your Husband: Honest, Hilarious Stories From a Father of Three Who Made All the Mistakes (And Made Up For Them) - Clint Edwards

This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: He may not win Father of the Year, but Clint Edwards has won the hearts of thousands -- including the New York Times, Scarry Mommy and Good Morning America-- thanks to his candor and irreverence when it comes to raising kids, being married and learning from his mistakes.

Clint has three children: Tristan (the know it all), Norah (the snarky princess), and Aspen (the worst roommate ever). He describes parenting as "a million different gears turning in a million different directions, all of them covered in sour milk."  In this inspiring and unconventional book of essays, he sheds light on the darker yet hilarious side of domestic life.

Owning up to all his mishaps and dumbassery, Edwards shares essays on just about every topic fellow spouses and parents can appreciate, including: stupid things he's said to his pregnant wife, the trauma of taking a toddler shopping, revelations on buying a minivan and the struggle to not fight the nosy neighbor (who is five years old).

Clint's funny, heartwarming account of the terrifying yet  completely rewarding life of a parent is a breath of fresh air.  Each essay in I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband will have you thinking finally, someone gets it.  (Summary from back of book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I first heard about Clint Edwards through a viral blog post on Facebook.  I can't remember what he had written, but I remember laughing my butt off and binge reading a bunch of his other posts on No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog.  When I discovered he'd written a book (three, actually), I knew I needed to get my hands on at least one of them and thankfully the author was kind enough to send me a copy of I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband: Honest, Hilarious Stories From a Father of Three Who Made All the Mistakes (And Made Up for Them).

Clint Edwards calls parenting "the most difficult thing in the history of ever" (AMEN!) and lends his own brand of wry, often self-deprecating, humor to an insightful collection of essays on life, marriage, and fatherhood.  Whether he is writing about the rigors of trying to shop with a nearly-feral toddler, his unsuccessful adventures in poop avoidance, how to successfully navigate advanced sleep deprivation, or the critical difference between venting and complaining, his essays are a deft mixture of snort-inducing humor and sage advice -- and they are unbelievably spot-on.   Each essay is only a few pages long and can be read by itself or as part of a greater treatise on how to be a better husband and father.  If you're a parent and (like me) and struggle to find the time or energy to read an entire book in one sitting, this book is perfect for you.

In, I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband the author offers himself up as a case study in what not to do or say in essays like: All the Things I Never Should Have Said to My Pregnant Wife, Pregnancy Pro Tips I Learned Through Trial and Error, All the Things I Never Should Have Said After Our First Child, etc. He seems to favor learning life's lessons (like most of us) by making mistakes and immediately recognizing the error of his ways OR by getting his crapped called by his loving, but exasperated, spouse.  He isn't too proud to admit these mistakes either. In fact, he waves them like a giant red flag in an effort to keep others from falling into the same trap.

In an increasingly Instagram-filtered world, Clint Edwards provides an unflinchingly honest, thoroughly amusing, and relatable view of parenthood, filled with hilarious stories and cautionary tales.  I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband is a proverbial fist raised in solidarity for all the parents out there just trying to keep their heads above water and their adorable monsters alive. While reading, there were countless moments where I felt emotionally validated and understood. Take, for example, the chapter on why Clint's wife, Mel, stays up so late.  In it Clint was frustrated with Mel for intentionally staying up late instead of getting some much-needed sleep.  My husband and I have gone the rounds on this same topic, so I could probably have written this chapter myself. Mel explained that after putting the kids to bed and spending quality time with Clint, she craved a little time by herself -- time to not being needed, called, or crawled on, and that she would happily sacrifice sleep if it meant being able to tend to her own needs.  I felt unbelievably relieved when I read the chapter -- like I wasn't crazy or selfish for wanting the same thing for myself from time to time. I imagine other parents out there might feel the same.

Though I laughed a great deal throughout, the experience wasn't entirely composed of snorts and giggles.  The author touches on serious topics too, like how reliance on out-dated gender roles (e.g., the wife being responsible for the entirety of the cleaning or childcare) can negatively affect a marriage.  There are also solemn moments where he talks about his relationship with his own father (who abandoned the family when he was little), surprisingly tender moments where he talks about the singular experience of raising daughters, and even a few regretful ones about missed opportunities to spend time with his son when he was little, because he was so focused on providing for the family financially.  These moments enhanced the overall feel of the book, and proved that the author was not only skilled in comedic writing but equally capable of  sincere reflection and depth.

Overall, I'm Sorry....Love, Your Husband contains the often-entertaining reflections of a well-meaning husband and father, as he looks back on what he has done right, what he could have done better, and shares that insight with the world.  It would make a great gift for new (and perhaps not-so-new) husbands and fathers and I would also recommend it to any mothers or wives who might feel a little overwhelmed or just need to laugh their butts off.   Afterwards, they can passive-aggressively leave it in the bathroom for their significant other to curiously flip through.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Some language, generally (but not always) self-deprecating in nature, used by the author to reference himself or his choices.

On a more slightly more personal note: I'd just like to give Clint and Mel mad props -- Mel, for being willing to clearly communicate her feelings and needs and Clint for listening to her concerns and giving them (even more) weight.  They didn't try to pretend that their marriage or family is perfect and I appreciate their willingness to lay things bare so that others might learn from their mistakes and successes.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Wilder Girls - Rory Power

Summary: It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: Whew! It’s been awhile since I’ve read a YA dystopian fic. It feels like for awhile there it was all doom and gloom and zombies and the end of the world because of various things, ya know, like nuclear war or the sun blowing up or oppressive governments…you know. The gamut of All the Dystopian Things. Man. Those were the good ol’ days.

You’ll be happy to know that the good ol’ days are back in Wilder Girls! If you’ve been missing some good YA dystopian fic of the changing planet and therefore morphing bodies-type, this is your book! If you haven’t read The Forest of Hands and Teeth books, this kind of reminded me of that even though this isn’t the traditional zombie book. It’s more like zombies with a twist. It had all the good things that I think makes a good zombie-esque dystopia YA book. Let’s make a list, shall we?

·         Survivors. Not the normal “we made it type.” More like the tough and fighting type who are working through it. Sure, they’re young and things are out of their control, but they’re smart and know how to manipulate the system to their needs. They may look weak (and some are, of course) but there are plenty who do what it takes to survive and thrive.
·         Adults. Not the good kind. The kind that keep secrets and lie and take advantage of the situation in ways that the teens can see through, even if they’re not completely sure what it is they’re seeing. They’re always underestimating the teens, and although they may have the upper hand in many situations, that doesn’t mean the teens are going to let that fly. The adults are sketch, and everybody knows it. It’s weird being on that side of the age things, by the way. I guess I’m sketch in the YA world. Oh well. I get it.
·         Weird, horrific disease symptoms that are just unique and interesting. I don’t want to spoil them, but I love that they’re connected to the island. It makes for a seriously creepy atmosphere, and one that is always bringing new and interesting surprises to the weird, horrific disease table.
·         A doomsday ending. Complete with all the drama and mayhem. I’m stopping there.
·         Impending dread. It’s not a good YA dystopian fic if you don’t have an impending dread. That’s part of the fun, right? It needs to feel real enough that it seems like it could happen, and although this didn’t feel as real as some I’ve read (simply because it was an isolated incident) I thought it was really cool. Also, although the author tried to do an environmental global-warming tie-in, I didn’t feel like it really worked. It felt put in at the last minute, and it felt unnecessary. Global environmental disasters of all varieties could have caused this (including global warming), but naming it without giving justification to why it happened or how it was related or even connected just made it feel like the author had gone back and plugged in a hot button topic of the time, which is a weak sauce way to address important issues, IMHO.

I liked the way this book was organized. It was divided into different sections with the name of a girl as the section marker, and that made for some intense reading as the girls were always in danger and when the story divides, it was nerve-wracking to see who would be telling the story next and what they were experiencing and surviving.

I enjoyed the writing of this book. The characters were great, and I really enjoyed an all-female cast. I think this brought to light many issues that were able to be addressed organically, and I love it when that happens. One of the things that I really enjoyed was the way that Power would not give all the facts at the beginning. So often authors are tempted to tell all about the disease and The Incident (because this is a dystopian book) and the characters right at the beginning. However, Power felt free to just drag us along and drop hints and information now and then. I really liked it, and felt like it moved the story along at a pace that was uncommon. So many times we just get info in a matter-of-fact manner. Not this time. We had to learn facts when we learned them. Yes, we wanted to know and of course we wanted answers, but that made it much sweeter when we did get them.

If you enjoy YA dystopian fic, I highly recommend this book. I feel like it was a hearken back to the OG’s of dystopian YA fic, and I liked that a lot.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and violence, as well as same-gender attraction, but no sex.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Freeform Friday - Interview with a Librarian: Resources for Reluctant Readers Part 3

Welcome to Free Form Friday! Today we have an interview with a children's elementary school librarian. Join me for Part 3 of a great discussion with my good friend Olivia on how to get reluctant readers reading, including LOTS of really great recommendations. I promise you'll find some books you hadn't heard of before and some excellent suggestions to get those reluctant readers in your life reading (and loving it!). You'll definitely find something you'll enjoy as well. We've broken this interview up into bite-sized chunks for you, beloved readers, and although they don't need to be watched in order, you can catch Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.  Part 3 promises to have more great recommendations and ideas about books for older kids--verse and some graphic novels, so please watch and enjoy! Part 4 will be the conclusion of this series and will come out in two weeks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

King's Cage - Victoria Aveyard

This is the third book in the Red Queen series.  We do not recommend reading the summary or review below unless you have read Red Queen (#1) and Glass Sword (#2).   

Summary: I stare at the boy on the throne.  He maintains his mask well.  Brow furrowed, still fingers, straight back.  But his gaze wavers.  Something in his eyes has gone far away.  He's terrified.  For a second it makes me happy.  Then I remember -- monsters are most dangerous when they're afraid.

WHEN THE LIGHTNING GIRL'S SPARK IS GONE, WHO WILL LIGHT THE WAY FOR THE REBELLION?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved,a boy made of lies and betrayal.  Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country -- and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continues organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiles prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

In this breathless third installment in Victoria Aveyard's bestselling series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire -- leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Hey all!  If you're reading this I'm going to assume you've read the two previous books and speak/type accordingly.  King's Cage picks up abruptly where Glass Sword leaves off, with Mare held captive by an obsessed king, having sacrificed her freedom to save the lives of her friends.  Mare is kept in near isolation, powers quelled by Silent Stone, and occasionally forced to play a part in Maven's political machinations.  Meanwhile, the rebellion lives on and lines between Red and Silver continue to blur.

In my reviews of the last two books, I have speculated that this series was set in a post-apocalyptic North America and when I opened the third book, lo and behold, there was a map that confirmed my suspicions. The history of the area wasn't at all pivotal in the story, but the map became invaluable as the unrest reached beyond the borders of Norta and into neighboring kingdoms.  I didn't have to constantly refer to the map, but it was useful to flip to when characters start slinging unfamiliar city names around. 

The last two books were told solely from Mare's perspective, but in King's Cage the author introduces additional perspectives from already familiar characters - Cameron and Evangeline.  These three combined perspectives allowed the author to show what was happening on all sides of the fight.  Certain parts of the book had very little interpersonal dialogue and I was amazed at the author's ability to narrate a specific character's thoughts, emotions, and observations in a way that was thoroughly evocative, engaging, and vividly detailed.  I could have easily been bored in the hands of another author, but I wasn't.  Not for a second.

Let's talk about Maven, shall we?  For much of this series and a good chunk of this book, I have felt secretly sorry for Maven -- the unfortunate puppet of a decidedly wicked queen.  I thought that once the queen was gone, perhaps he'd behave differently or even reveal that he was only acting a part and was working on the 'good' side all along.  There were moments in the book that I was certain this was the case, but sitting here, another book finished, I'm not so sure...and I'm not too happy.  I'll leave it at that.

King's Cage has a lot going on -- action-packed escapes, new characters with fascinating abilities, surprising alliances, devious mind games, unexpected betrayals -- and I was pretty riveted throughout.  It's all very twisty and delicious. That having been said, it also has very little resolution, as everything hung in the balance at the beginning and still more hangs in the balance at the close. Occasionally, I felt like the story was intentionally spinning its wheels a bit to keep the action going and the page count up in preparation for the final book.  I like it when books do that....so long as I don't notice they are doing it.  Does that make sense?

Overall, I enjoyed the book and plan to read the next one, War Storm, in the coming weeks.  I believe it's the final one and I have high hopes it will bring everything together.

A note on the audiobook:  I alternated between listening to the audiobook while running and reading a hard copy in spare moments.  There were three different narrators for the three different perspectives.  I didn't like all of them (one sounded far too old for a teenage character), but I did like the predominate one and felt she did a spectacular job of reading with emotion and nuance.

My Rating: 3.75

For the sensitive reader:  Some more adult themes did make it into this book, which is part of the reason I've rated it a little lower.  The violence was on par with the rest of the books in the series, but there were some swear words (including one F-bomb), a few scenes where heterosexual sex is implied but not described, and a homosexual relationship between secondary characters (with a 'morning-after' type scene).

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ask Again, Yes - Mary Beth Keane

Summary: A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the bond between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, two rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne—sets the stage for the explosive events to come.

Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Francis and Lena’s daughter, Kate, and Brian and Anne’s son, Peter. Luminous, heartbreaking, and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes reveals the way childhood memories change when viewed from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story, while tested by echoes from the past, is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: There are moments in every life where you are completely aware—even right when it is happening—that this will change things forever. Sometimes that’s true right before something happens as well. Those situations are so interesting—because of the very nature of what they are, it gives them a level of gravitas that is both appropriate but also sometimes unpredictable. Even when a life-changing situation is happening (for example, something obvious like marriage or death or childbirth), sometimes it is hard to see how it will alter things, both for the good and for ill. This is true with both good and bad events. Sometimes a bad event will lead to something good in the end. Sometimes a good event will lead to something bad in the end. I think that’s part of the apprehension when one of those Moments happens. Maybe we just don’t know how it will actually change things.

If you think I’m waxing more philosophical than usual, I’d have to say that this book gave me the opportunity to do so. This book starts out with two families, both husbands are cops, and they are neighbors in the suburbs. When tragedy strikes, it changes everything, and that change extends through generations of both families.

Let’s stop there for now. This book has some seriously tragic situations. There are always innocent victims, and this book had plenty of them. There were lots of victims who weren’t necessarily innocent, either, and yet they paid a steep price for mistakes they had made or actions they were witness to. I think one of the things I really enjoyed about this book is how real and raw it felt. There was serious difficulty encountered by all of the characters, albeit to different levels. No one was immune. I felt like this was a very realistic-feeling set-up. Too often in books it seems like just the main character suffers while everyone else is excluded from the drama. This just isn’t so. Even when a person isn’t necessarily personally involved in the drama, they are affected, especially if they were witness to it or related to those who were primarily involved. It’s so hard. Obviously this doesn’t mean that all people face the same level of trials and difficulties. No. Some people really have a hard time and it is disproportionate to what others have to face. However, I think it’s important to remember that each person is fighting their own fight.

This book had a lot of redemption in it, which I appreciated, and I really appreciated that the redemption was not all-encompassing. Some things just cannot be undone. However, how long does someone have to pay for a past mistake, no matter how grievous? That was certainly a question this book addressed, and as the reader you could feel yourself understanding and also making your own judgments about people and the comeuppance they received (or didn’t receive).

I enjoyed the writing in this book. The narrative style was quiet and moving in that it kept the story going without being overly flowery or excessive. I like books that just sweep you up into the world and take you with them. Slice of life books, like this one, are particularly well-done when you don’t feel like the writing is getting in the way of the story.

I really enjoyed this book, and I think it would be a good book club book because there is certainly a lot of discussion to be had. It walks that thin but delicious line of making it seem like the answers should be obvious, and yet they’re not. Keane does a great job of making us question our pre-conceived notions about punishment and blame and forgiveness. I love that. It’s one of the things that I love about reading—help me challenge what I think. Help me understand how another person thinks. Let me walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Yes.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and an incident of violence. There are also some mild discussions of sex. Overall I would say the content  is pretty standard for the genre.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Freeform Friday: The Big Book of Paleo Pressure Cooking + 6 FABULOUS RECIPES + A GIVEAWAY

Today's post is about two of my favorite things.  Books & food.  Hold on to your aprons, people!

We couldn't be prouder of former RFS cookbook reviewer 
and current Rock-Star-Goddess Food Blogger, Natalie Perry of Perry's Plate.  
Her most recent baby -- and by 'baby' we mean her latest cookbook -- just turned ONE year old!

That makes now the perfect time to spotlight her cookbook and talk about several of the recipes inside, which have become instant family favorites.  And if that isn't enough, 
Natalie has graciously given us the link to enter her awesome GIVEAWAY!
(keep reading....)

There's a lot to get through, so without further adieu I give you....

Voila!  Look at that cover!  Don't you just want to lick it?!
I'll save you the painful papercuts. It's crisp, with notes of paper, and has a dry, printer-ink finish.
Trust me, the real thing is muuuuch better.


I wanted to give this cookbook a really good go (the last one was BOMB),
so these are the recipes I made for my family of six:
(Psssst. See those links down below. 
Those are to actual recipes. Give them a try!)

Creamy Hot Chocolate for a Crowd
Gingered Apple Cider
Cabbage Roll Soup
40-Minute Steak Pho
Zuppa Toscana
Vegetarian Paleo Chili
Hearty Steak & Potato Chili
Basic Shredded Beef
Sloppy Joe-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Soft or Hard Cooked Eggs
BLT Egg Salad
Gyro-Inspired Shredded Beef and Tzatziki Sauce
Pot Roast w/ Balsamic Gravy
Veggie-Packed Taco Meat
BBQ Bacon Meatloaf and Potatoes
Home-Brined Corned Beef and Cabbage
Ancho Flank Steak with Shishito Cabbage Slaw
Mongolian Beef
Indian 'Butter' Chicken
BBQ Ranch Chicken Bites w/ Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Shredded Red Curry Chicken and Sweet Thai Slaw
Lemon-Garlic Chicken Thighs and Artichokes
Coconut-Lime Chicken Thighs
Chicken Drumsticks with Tangy Bacon and Mustard Sauce
Roasted Ratatouille Turkey Meatloaf & Marinara
Caribbean Pineapple Pulled Pork
Teriyaki-Glazed Pork Roast
Pork and Cabbage Egg Roll Bowls
Pork and Apple Stew
Whole Steamed Potatoes

That's THIRTY mouth-watering recipes tried (many multiple times), and
my family loved 96% of them.  Yes.  I did the math.
Alas, Cabbage Roll Soup was not well-received by the my kiddos,
even though Nat's kids loved it.  Ah, well.  You can't win 'em all.

Since it would be fairly ridiculous (not to mention time-consuming) to try to give you my thoughts on all thirty recipes, I've tortuously narrowed it down to my family's top five favorites, in no particular order:

Top 5 Family Faves
40-Minute Steak Pho
BBQ Bacon Meatloaf and Potatoes
Indian 'Butter' Chicken
Lemon-Garlic Chicken Thighs and Artichokes
Pork and Cabbage Egg Roll Bowls

(I have made these each at least three times, with no sign of meal fatigue)

(Note: Please forgive my pictures.  It's late as I write this and there is no-way-in-hades I'm going to hassle Nat for pictures at this hour.  So I took lame pictures of her awesome ones.  Note all the post-its of stuff I still want to try!)

Natalie's 40-Minute Steak Pho is the reason I bought a small hand-held zoodler.  It's also the reason I quickly purchased a better one so that I could make this meal more often.  Her pho is the perfect combination of savory, blow-your-mind broth, tender meat and zoodles, crunchy sprouts, and fresh herbs.  I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and I have -- with not a single regret.

I like to write my family's feedback on the recipe right into the cookbook, so that I can remember what we liked about them or what I might tweak the next go round.  My notes on this one said:

  • Best dinner ever!
  • Perfect Chopstick Meal
  • Great Zoodles
  • Raved over broth -- loved with all the toppings
  • Next time cut the zoodles (or you will get one big zoodle mass) 
Okay, so that last one was kind of a rookie move.  I was a newbie zoodler.

The BBQ Bacon Meatloaf and Potatoes is this cookbook's ultimate comfort food.  I have never in my life been able to make a meatloaf that gets the kind of familial approval this one gets without even trying.  It is ridiculously easy to make and fan-freaking-tastic.  You don't have to even worry about clean up because it will be COMPLETELY GONE (maybe you'll have enough for a meatloaf sandwich the next day). 

My notes on this recipes said: 

-  Simple sauce
-  Perfect pairing with potatoes.
-  SO flavorful & moist!
-  SIX thumbs up!
-  People had thirds! Had to cut off at 4ths!

Mom confession:  This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I intentionally cut my kids smaller slices of this one so that I can have a bigger one.  Sorry, not sorry. Don't worry.  They still get plenty.


I knew I had to try Indian 'Butter' Chicken when I read how much Natalie's kids loved it.  I have never had any other kind of Butter Chicken, so I don't have much to compare it to, but my family devoured this one.  It's got some great spices, but isn't particularly spicy,which is just about perfect if you have to feed people with a sensitive palate.

My notes on this one:

  • 6 thumps UP!
  • [Child #2] actually LICKED her plate clean!
  • Mild and flavorful
  • Miraculously 'buttery' 
  • Just the right amount of everything.  
  • Try over rice* 
*Because while Nat is Paleo and avoids rice...I am not and do not.  

Sadly, I do not have a picture of the Lemon-Garlic Chicken Thighs and Artichokes (it wasn't pictured in the book), but I do have a picture of my messy hand-written notes.  And what is it they say about pictures?  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Enough said!  This was my husband's fave.  Not sure why my family thinks lemon, artichokes, and chicken taste like "Thanksgiving", but whatevs.

I don't have a picture of the Pork & Cabbage Egg Roll Bowls either, but they are truly divine.  I made them just the other day and, can I just say, it's so nice to have my kids literally cheer (rather than groan) when I tell them what I'm making for dinner.  It feels something like -----> This meal comes together in a snap, can be served over cauliflower rice or regular (my preference), and has a comforting, savory flavor.  It's my go-to meal if I am lucky enough to have ground pork in the freezer, though I do have to make a little extra so I can scarf some for lunch the next day.

Runners Up
Literally everything else we tried -- except Cabbage Roll Soup.

I am not finished exploring this book; there are still so many recipes I want to try!  I haven't even gotten to to the appetizers or desserts yet, and oh, man, do they look scrumptious!
Based on what I've tried so far, this book has definitely earned all 5 stars!

If you would like to try some of Natalie's recipes 
follow these links give them a try!

Zuppa Toscana
Vegetarian Paleo Chili
Home-Brined Corned Beef and Cabbage
Shredded Red Curry Chicken with Slaw
Mustard-Herb Pork Loin with Maple Butter Mash
Cauliflower Puree with Rosemary and Garlic

If you'd like a chance to win this wonderful cookbook, Natalie is giving away THREE signed copies on her Instagram.
(ends 11/10/19 at 10pm Mountain Time)

In the meantime, you can visit Natalie's food blog anytime over at Perry's Plate.
And for those of you who don't yet have a pressure cooker, be sure to read our review of her first cookbook, The Big Book of Paleo Slow Cooking.  Spoiler:  We loved it!

**********************************
Full disclosure: This book was gifted to me because Natalie is an awesome friend who knows
how much I loved her last cookbook. We didn't make any arrangements for me to review it.  I'm doing that of my own free-will because it's awesome and I want to share it with the world.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Thousand Pieces of You - Claudia Gray (narrated by Tavia Gilbert)

Summary:  My hand shakes as I brace myself against the brick wall.  It's hard to catch my breath, to get any sense of where I am.  All I know is that the Firebird worked.  There's no time.  I don't know whether I have minutes, or seconds, or even less.  There's a small bag dangling from my shoulder.  When I fish inside, I can't find a pen, but there's a lipstick.  Fingers trembling, I unscrew it and scrawl on a tattered poster on the wall of the alley.  This is the message I must pass on, the one goal I have to remember after everything else I am is gone.  KILL PAUL MARKOV.

Marguerite Caine grew up surrounded by cutting-edge scientific theories, thanks to her brilliant physicist parents.  Yet nothing is more astounding than her mother's latest invention -- a device called the Firebird, which allows people to leap into alternate dimensions.

When Marguerite's father is murdered, all the evidence points to one person -- Paul,her parents' enigmatic star student. Before the law can touch him, Paul escapes into another dimension, having committed what seems like the perfect crime. But he didn't count on Marguerite. She doesn't know if she can kill a man, but she's going to find out.

With the help of another physics sutdent, Theo, Marguerite chases Paul through various dimensions. In each new world Marguerite leaps to, she meets another version of Paul that has her doubting his guilt and questioning her heart. Is she doomed to repeat that same betrayal?

As Marguerite races through these wildly different lives -- a grand duchess in a Tsarist Russia, a club-hopping orphan in a futuristic London, a refugee from worldwide flooding on a station in the heart of the ocean-- she is swept into an epic love affair as dangerous as it is irresistible. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  I don't normally read more than one book at a time -- it's just not how I roll -- but lately I haven't been able to help it.  I guess that's what happens when you cancel your Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, eh? I am in the middle of a great book series (Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard), am reading an insightful non-fiction book with a friend (The Anatomy of Peace by Arbinger Institute), and until I finished it today I was listening to the audio book version of A Thousand Pieces of You while I slogged (see: slow jogged) my way around our local high school track.  I needed something that would both keep my attention and help distract me from the hellish misery that is running.  At first, I only listened to it while I was at the track as both motivation and a reward for my efforts.  Then it just sorta started to bleed into my drive home and before long I had my headphones glued on while I was cooking and doing the dishes.  I made it about 3/4 of the way through the audio book before I got my hands on a hard copy and then straight up planted my butt on the couch until I finished it.  Good times.

A Thousand Pieces of You has a fantastic premise.  Marguerite is a young girl jumping through multiple dimensions, living in multiple versions of herself, trying to kill the man she thinks is responsible for her father's death.  I loved watching Marguerite jump to new dimensions and get to know different incarnations of herself and other characters.  I also enjoyed the romantic aspects of the story.  You know those heart-pounding moments where the character finally realizes their true feelings for someone?  Or those little zings of romantic tension between the characters as they get acquainted?  In this book, you get to experience those romantic vibes repeatedly in different settings.  You remember that need I had to be distracted while running?  Well, it totally worked.  I only hope the next book (which I already have on audio book) keeps up the pace.

This is most definitely an easy YA read. You don't have to deep dive unless you want to, but this book does offer some opportunities to mull over the universe if the reader is so inclined.  The author explored the concept of fate and also touched on the (admittedly hypothetical) ethics of inter-dimensional travel -- whether it is right for travelers to, in essence, steal people from themselves, experiencing memories or moments that belong to another person in another dimension.  It was also interesting to see how a choice here or an altered historical outcome there could potentially tweak (or dramatically alter) the character's lives, or even snuff them out entirely.  It was a light read that provided some fun food for thought.

Now, was the story line predictable?  Mmmmm....yes and no.  I never knew where Marguerite was going to jump next nor did I know every turn the story would make.  However, there were some things that felt really obvious from the get-go (Hmmm...look at all these feeling she has for the alleged bad guy.  Gee, I wonder if something else could be going on?)  Was the 'bad' guy really bad?  Are they ever in this kind of book?  I'll let you figure it out.  I also thought I knew how the book might end, and I wasn't wrong, but it all came at me sort of sideways in a way that I wasn't expecting (which I love).  Ultimately, I was pretty happy with how things unfolded and I'm excited to see what happens next in the story.  Thankfully, Ten Thousand Skies Above You is already waiting for me at the library. *squeee*

A NOTE on the AUDIO BOOK:  First, I don't always love audio books, but I really enjoyed listening to this one.  The characters jump into different versions of themselves (from different locales), which meant that the narrator, Tavia Gilbert, had to switch back and forth between a variety of accents (specifically British, American, French, and Russian).  I'm not an expert linguist, but I thought she did rather well and it helped me differentiate between when the main character was thinking (which she read in an American accent) and talking aloud (in another accent).  The only drawback to the audio book was that I discovered it is infinitely more awkward to listen to a sex scene than read one, however brief.  In written form, the word "oh" can be fairly innocuous.  In an audio book...well, let's just say the narrator strove for authenticity.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: I would have rated this book higher except for the one sex scene in the book.  It's brief and rather vague, but you know what's going on and where.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Olga's Egg - Sophie Law

Summary: When Fabergé specialist Assia Wynfield learns of the discovery of a long-lost Fabergé egg made for the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, she appears to be the only person with misgivings. On travelling to St. Petersburg to see the egg, Assia moves among Russia’s new rich but finds herself pulled back into a family past she would rather forget. With news that a friend is missing, Assia starts to dig deeper. But does she really want the answers to the questions she is asking? Set in today’s glamorous world of Russian art with glimpses into the lives of the last Romanovs as their empire crumbled in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Olga’s Egg is an enthralling tale of love, family secrets and the artistic treasures that conceal them. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

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

My Review: When I read a book like this, all I can think about is delight. I am so delighted that there are so many cool things in the world to read about. One lifetime could not cover all the cool things there are to know about and read about. I love immersing myself in a world that I don’t know, or even better, a world I think I do know but then am given so many details and minutiae that that world seems fresh and new. Seriously, it’s the best!  No matter how many things a person studies, no matter how much time they live, no matter how much time they have, there is no way that one person can know all the things. You, my readers, are fully aware of how we compensate for that—we read! We read to learn new things, we read to be enlightened, and we read to live so many lifetimes in just this one. Those that don’t read are missing out on so much, am I right?


This is one of those books that just brought me into the world of something I knew little about. Sure, I’d heard of Faberge eggs. I haven’t seen a real one, of course, although I’ve seen them mentioned here and there and was aware that they were special and beautiful and rare. This book, however, really brought them to light. I learned so many things! One thing that I really enjoyed learning in particular was that there are still missing eggs. They’re still waiting for some from the original collection to be found! Someone must have them! (Is it you? If so—they’re looking for you). I love that there is still missing art out there and that there are discoveries to be made. We live in such a connected world now that it seems like everything has been found and explored and there are no final frontiers. This is not the case, of course, and I love it when something like a beautiful Faberge egg can bring that to light. I really appreciated the author’s expertise in this area, and loved reading the language associated with and descriptions of the Faberge eggs. This made the story feel authentic and rich.

So let’s talk story. I did enjoy the story in this book. It was slow, at times, which was odd because there was actually quite a bit of excitement going on, and it’s a fairly short book, but I think it was an execution issue. However, once the story kicks in and gets going, it is interesting and there is a lot going on. I enjoyed reading about the different characters and their connections to Faberge and to Russia. There were some characters that could have been more fleshed out, and I think that would have added to the richness of the story. There were also a few story lines that were left hanging (particularly one at the end, but maybe that’s for a second book?), but I found the ending to be very satisfying and enjoyable. The book itself would sometimes skip over the minutiae of how things were resolved and just go to the point at which it was resolved, which was okay, actually, Sometimes it’s nice not to have to wade through something. It was an interesting style technique.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that these Faberge eggs were for the Romanovs, and I know that so many people love the Romanovs and find them so interesting and read a lot about them. There is a lot of fiction and non-fiction that deal with the Romanovs, and so if you’ve partaken of that, you can’t miss this for sure!

Overall I enjoyed this book. If you are into art, and especially Russian art and Faberge eggs (and Romanovs!), this is totally a book you should check out. It is well-researched and the author is knowledgeable, which makes it not only interesting, but legit.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some light language.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Freeform Friday - Trip to Evermore, an Immersive Experience

One of the best things about reading is being transported--another time, another place, another life, another opportunity...It's truly the only way to live a thousand lives in just this one life we've been given. I love reading about different places and different times, and sometimes those places are so awesome that I wish I could go there. I'm obviously not alone in this, and one need not to look further than the Harry Potter amusement parks to know that there are worlds we just HAVE to experience for real; simply reading about them isn't enough.

There is a place in Pleasant Grove, Utah, called Evermore, that is just this--an opportunity to immerse yourself in a fantasy realm with real European-themed buildings, interesting characters and story lines, fun entertainment, and delicious food. The description on their website states, "An Experience Park Where Guests of All Ages Can Escape to a New Realm. Our Park Is Themed Like a European Village with Its Own Buildings, Citizens & Epic Story." It's our world but it's not. There are normal historical citizens, but there are a good deal of fantastical citizens as well, and there are different "seasons" throughout the year including Lore (a fall/Halloween theme that is dark and deliciously scary), Aurora (a beautiful Christmas theme with fantastic elements), and Mythos (a late summer Dragon Festival theme). They're all epic and seriously worth the trip. If you haven't been and you live close enough for a reasonable jaunt to the park, you should do it! If not--plan one! In the meantime, enjoy this three minute snapshot of the World of Lore at Evermore, where dressing up is not required but certainly makes it more fun and immersive.

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