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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston – Or the All Seasons Witch…

Pro: A solid read
Con: Pace may drag for some; a few odd thought moments

The Bottom Line: While not *quite* my cup of tea, there are plenty out there who will enjoy it.

This book was displayed on our “If You Liked Outlander” endcap at work. Which made sense I suppose. We’re back in time, we’re in Ireland (yes, I am aware Outlander takes place in Scotland), and we have a man and woman thrown together who will hopefully fall in love with one another.

Morgana is a witch – this much is clear. But in the world she lives in, such a thing is hidden away. In order to help keep her safe and cared for, her mother agrees to a marriage between Morgana and Cai Jenkins, a widower from far away who doesn’t know anything about Morgana. He’s only ever seen her at the marketplace, but from those small encounters he believes the two might come to love each other. But there’s something lurking in the place that Cai lives. It wants something that Cai has. Morgana, with all her power, may be the only thing that can stop it.

The book alternates between Cai’s point of view and Morgana’s. There are a few awkward things with this. Morgana’s point of view is done in first person, so we get everything, “I stirred the pot,” etc. Cai’s, however, is third person, so “he did this,” and so forth. At times Cai took some getting used to because the narrator seemed to start off very distantly – very omniscient – before sinking back into Cai’s thoughts so we’re more in tune with him. It felt odd at times, though ultimately not too much of a big deal.

It can take a bit of getting used to Morgana for some people. Morgana hasn’t spoken since her father left when she was a child. As it’s frequently stated in the book, it’s not that she can’t speak – she just chooses not to. This means when we’re in her point of view, we get almost zero dialogue. The only dialogue around is from other people, but when it’s just her and Cai or her and another character, it’s all one-sided. I personally didn’t have an issue with it, but I know the lack of dialogue can drive some people batty.

As for the story itself, it’s pretty simple. Cai hopes Morgana will eventually fall for him, Morgana does find herself falling for Cai, but the two have a very bumpy relationship throughout. Meanwhile, an evil presence wants a very special well that sits on Cai’s property and does whatever it can to drive Morgana away since her attachment to Cai and her power pose an impediment. When these two things aren’t being brought to light, there’s a lot of introspection and walking about the wilderness. There are a few issues, though.

First is that when one character attacks Morgana, she keeps thinking, “He was so nice – how could he go so bad like that?” And yet even after it’s 110% clear the evil person was behind it, she still doesn’t connect the dots. It’s also very clear early on who the antagonist is, and Morgana knows this – yet does nothing to stop or even slow her. Granted, Morgana doesn’t exactly know how to wield her power with ease, once she knows there’s something nasty trying to get to Cai and the magical well, one would think she ought to do everything she can to at least put up some kind of protection. But I guess without the bad things occurring we wouldn’t have much of a book.

The other issue I have is really more of a plot hole. It’s stated several times that Morgana has to be accepted by the Witches of the Well in order to wield the well’s power. And it really sounds like she has to be cool with them or A.) Bad Things Will Happen, or B.) she gets zero chance at handling the well’s power. So why does the antagonist want it? She won’t be able to use it – right? Doesn’t she need the OK from the Witches of the Well to handle the power? I never understood that. I just kept thinking, “Why are they so worried? If Morgana has to do all this stuff to play with the well, isn’t the other chick just going to get kicked out? Or killed?” Maybe there’s a loophole I don’t know about, which I guess there is because at one point the bad witch absolutely just strolled in an used the well, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

On the whole, though, it’s a fairly good read. You have to be able to handle relatively slow-paced stuff, plenty of description (but it’s good description), and all the aforementioned stuff, but this kind of thing is good for those that like magic realism books. So I feel like if you enjoyed books like Garden Spells or Chocolat, this is up your alley.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bet Me - Cute Shoes

Pros: A book with a woman at a healthy size instead of that 00 crap.
Cons: How many times can the whole guys-betting-on-women stuff be done?

The Bottom Line: Cute. Not phenomenal, but cute.

When I was in a writing program, before each residency we read from one of the chosen genres that time around. At that time, it was Romance’s turn and they chose Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise. Not a bad choice.

Our main girl is Minerva Dobbs (or just Min) who overhears a bet being made between ex-boyfriend/dirtbag David and playboy Calvin. Ten thousand dollars says Cal can’t get Min into bed within a month. Now the hitch – what exactly does Min hear? Does Calvin really take the bet? And why on Earth do they keep bumping into each other for? Is it really fate?

That’s the book in a major nutshell, really. There’s Min’s friends, her sister’s wedding, everyone’s parents, David, and Calvin’s ex-girlfriend to deal with. While it isn’t a layered book, obviously, it does well in keeping from turning boring. I mean, after all, who reading this hasn’t heard of the whole men-betting-on-women plot? It’s one of those books you read for fun, to enjoy yourself while you’re on break at work or just kicking back and drinking a cup of coffee.

Likewise, the characters aren’t horribly 3D either, but I doubt you’ll much care because they’re fleshed out enough to get all the points across. You quickly start to hate David, you think Cal’s ex-girlfriend has major issues, and even if you don’t believe in one of Min’s friends hooking up ridiculously fast with one of Cal’s buddies, it’s no big deal. Hey, nothing wrong with hoping and believing in the fairy tale, right? It’s all about the happily ever after.

There’s plenty of sexual tension in the book, but very little sex (in case you’re curious). Half the time you’re just hanging out with Min and her friends, Min and Cal, or Min elsewhere probably thinking about Cal. Yet it’s still rather entertaining, though I still wish Min would have lost it on her mother the same way she stood up to Cal’s parents. Which, by the way, leads me into the size issue of Min. I’ve read other romance books and remember hearing about flat stomachs, trim waists, blah blah blah. Here, I was delighted to find that Min was a lovely-sized girl, likely a 10 or 12. I wanted her to freak out on her mother because her mom kept telling her she was fat – a ridiculous claim because 10 or 12 is NOT fat by any means. Frankly, I’ve heard that’s the size most women either are, or should be. It was just nice for a change to read about a heroine who wasn’t a size 4 and under (while I, ironically, am a size 4 – metabolism through mom). And anyway, starving oneself is not going to make you lose weight anyway, so that’s a pathetic “diet option.”

Er, right, the book. Sorry about that. I’m just sick of the stereotype crap. Anywho, it’s a fun book. Bright and chipper, with the necessary amount of tension and happy clapping at the end (no, no one actually claps, but you might in a sort of “yay!” fashion). Actually, I think the part I liked the best was the last chapter where you get to hear what happened to everyone once the happily ever after part went through. I always have loved the end tidbits that let you know where everyone went.

So yeah. Go read it. Enjoy. Oh, and about the title - Min has a lot of fun, unique shoes. And yes, there is a reason for them.


Originally published on

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Silence of the Lambs - Hardly Any Lambs, Actually...

Pros: Loved the characters, interesting read, nicely done
Cons: Verb tense switching, can easily be substituted for the more visual movie

The Bottom Line: When you're done, go check out the real Death's Head Moth - it's super cool looking...

A week or so ago I had to leave the house for a few hours so it could be shown to potential buyers. Now, I’ve got a list of books I want to read, so whenever I leave the house for showings, I head to the library and scope out new possibilities. Except half the time I end up ordering books from other libraries anyway. Still, this time I was hoping that Hannibal would be on the shelf for me to read. I'd seen the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to see how its paper counterpart would treat me. That’s right – enough of this Fear Street kid stuff and into bigger and better things.

Well, much to my dismay, Hannibal wasn’t there. But Silence of the Lambs was. I actually hadn’t intended to read all of it…but I figured why not? Might as well read this first anyway and see how the novel by Thomas Harris differs from the movie. Haha…

Clarice Starling, FBI agent in training at Quantico. Pretty student with exceptional skills. Jack Crawford, head of the Bureau’s Behavioral Science section has noted Starling’s dedication and has come up with an assignment for her. No one has successfully interviewed the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, aka Hannibal the Cannibal. Lecter has killed nine (known) people and had a taste of most of them. However, he is also highly intelligent when it comes to psychology, and it may be possible for him to add some insight into the FBI’s latest case.

Buffalo Bill, as the media has dubbed him, has been snatching up women, skinning them in various places, and dumping their bodies in the river. There is no pattern, no understood motive, and no way to find out where he will strike next or where he is located. What began as a simple interview with Dr. Lecter turns into a multi-state hunt by Clarice, seeking out clues to Dr. Lecter’s words that can lead to the capture of Buffalo Bill. There is more to this than just kidnapping and murdering women, and to figure it out, she has to get inside Lecter’s head – after allowing him inside hers – and must overcome her own prejudices, self-criticism, and ignorance of others to save Buffalo Bill’s latest prey.

If you are like me and happen to be curious of how this compares to the movie, let’s just say you can watch the movie and not miss much of anything. At all. The movie actually follows the book as close as I’ve ever seen a movie version do before. There are only minor alterations, and they only add to the movie.

In this way, I am a little disappointed. I was hoping for more details, more interaction between Lecter and Starling, things that weren’t in the movie that would have been great there. No such luck. The description is actually pretty cut and dry. That’s not to say it isn’t good description; some of the ways Starling sees Crawford were good and I enjoyed her little thoughts that popped up from time to time. And I never knew Lecter had six fingers.

Taking the movie out of the equation, it’s a good book. Good story, steady plot, very nice pacing, and dialogue that went right with the characters. One thing I particularly liked is some of the detail Harris put in when it came to guns, the moth, etc. It makes me wonder how much research Harris did before working this novel out. Unless it’s all fake, but somehow I doubt that. Real life detail always adds an extra bit of zing to a book. I’m certain I’d be a lot more excited about this book had I never seen the movie. However, I did like other parts of this book because they explained things to me I don’t believe I ever caught in the movie. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, I don’t know, but I never understood what Starling was doing asking questions near the end in the little town in Ohio when she knew the SWAT teams were moving in on another house near Chicago. Now I do. Hooray.

One thing Harris did that I don’t really get and wasn’t really fond of was switch his tenses. Most of the time a chapter would start out in present tense “The desk faces east and Crawford stands next to it,” and then a few paragraphs later would slip right into past tense, “Starling walked from the room and went down the hall.” I failed to see the purpose of this. Personally, I don’t like tense flopping unless it’s used to emphasize something, but it didn’t seem to do that here and I can’t exactly figure out why Harris did it. To get us back into the moment quicker? To lure us in more somehow? I can only speculate. I got used to it after a while, but it still struck me as odd.

I very much liked Clarice Starling in this book. She was bright, strong, and a much cooler Starling than I ever took Jodie Foster for. I never liked her in that role and was excited when Julianne Moore took it in Hannibal. Starling to me was much younger here, sharp and ready to go. Lecter, admittedly, was creepier in this book because I couldn’t picture him as Anthony Hopkins, haha. Hopkins was simply great and creepy in his own way, but this Lecter and the way he was described, was just…something that could lead to skin crawling. I enjoyed all the character insights Harris gave his readers.

A very good and compelling book. It can be difficult to put down at times – especially when you’re looking forward to the Lecter-Starling chit-chats. Now to read Hannibal and then revert back and check out the newest Thomas Harris installment, Hannibal Rising.


Originally published on

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In The Woods - What's In There?

Pros: Fascinating in a strange way
Cons: Problems with main character, ending leaves a lot to be desired

The Bottom Line: If you like mysteries (or that CSI stuff), give it a try. If not, *shrug*

I know this blog is called "A Bookseller Recommends," but let's face it - it's pretty much turned into a review blog at this point. After all, I'm bound to run out of recommendable goodies at some point. So, time to review one I’m not so happy about.

When I read the blurb for Tana French’s In the Woods I was immediately intrigued. A boy found alone in the woods with his two friends missing? Four scratches cutting through the back of his shirt? His shoes filled with blood? Whoa – what happened?? And now, years later when the same boy, Adam Rob Ryan, has become a detective, a girl is killed in those same woods. Is there a connection? Could he finally remember what happened all those years ago in the woods, and will it help catch the young girl’s killer?


Ok, now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I gave this book four stars because overall, that is what it deserves. French has some impressive description going on, and as a writer who struggles with good description, I give credit where it’s due, certainly.

On the same note, I enjoyed her female character, Cassie, a great deal. She had her secrets, but she was strong, smart, and knew when to pick her battles. Even though she’s dealt with some sticky situations of her own, she’s managed to keep her head on straight.

While some may find the book to be a semi-slow read, and though a few times I did get a little Monty Python “Get on with it!” impatient, as a whole, I was intrigued, stuck in the whole case with everyone else. This isn’t fast, dashing murder mystery adventure. Rather, it’s more realistic in that the detectives got stuck several times with no leads, nothing to do, and were trying to find their way through the mire of all their troubles. There was clue searching, forensic dealings with a normal time frame (none of this CSI crap), interrogations, and legal hang-ups. Murder cases don’t solve themselves overnight (most of the time anyway), and this one spans weeks. You’re not following every single cup of coffee – but you do follow them when it’s important.

Half of the book focuses on the case and its difficulties. The other half focuses on the main character, Ryan, and his problems with the case and its relations with his past, as well as his relations to his partner Cassie. This is where some of my problems begin. I can appreciate Ryan’s issues, his angst, and the ways this new case is sort of screwing with his brain. However, the way French began the book kind of threw me off. In some ways Ryan seemed a little bipolar in that the way I initially got a dark vibe from him and thought of him in that light the remainder of the book. As such, it became really weird when he joked like any other fun guy with Cassie. He joked, laughed, and acted like there were no problems in his life at all. I know, people can do that, but because as a reader I was so immersed into his thoughts all the time (which were never, ever nearly that chipper) it just seemed really weird. And the way he described himself, it didn’t seem like he was the guy that could joke. I was just thrown off a lot of the time.

My second main problem is the red herrings that French threw in there – if they were red herrings at all. At one point there was almost a Stephen King-like creature that could have been stalking the woods. There are at least three very strong incidences that point to this, and yet it is never explained nor debunked, and in the end I really wanted to know what the point of it was. Likewise, the whole previous case involving Ryan when he was a child. I ask – what was the point of it? Just to get him screwed up further? To ruin him? Show his problems? I have major, major issues with the ending because of these things. By page 300 I was getting really impatient and when page 418 rolled around I wanted at least one of three things to happen in order for me to be at least partially satisfied. None of them happened. In some ways, it’s almost like there was no resolution at all.

I’ve read that in order to have a good story, your reader needs to feel satisfied at the end. Like something has been accomplished. Nothing, to me, was accomplished save maybe one important thing, while the rest just floundered and either annoyed me greatly or bored me. I know, not all stories have happy endings and this particular book reflected life as it often tends to pan out. However, while I’m often able to accept an ending where the hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset, successful, stories that are dreary like a clouded day that reflect life at some of its low points without any oomf to the end annoy me greatly (as I’ve said). Heck, if I wanted something like this, I could watch the news.

That’s why the last star isn’t there. A not-so-great hero and a scant ending. Still, I can’t deny the meat of the rest of the book. I give this a tentative recommendation. It’s good – you just can’t expect a filling end. Just keep that in mind if you decide to read the book. That way you can’t say I didn’t warn you.


Originally published on

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Witches - What You Need to Know About Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker

Pros: Crazy take on witches; great story; mice are awesome!
Cons: Never.

The Bottom Line: Need to know the real story about creatures that are called witches? Then this is the story for you!

I’ve had this book…oh, forever. Actually the one I have now used to be my sister’s. Of course, if you look at the picture above, that’s what is coming out now (and the one I’m sending to a child in need of a good book – not my 20-year old copy). I’ve always loved the story (and honestly, the movie adaptation is pretty good too) and I figured it could be something a kid would enjoy as much as I did.

Witches do not ride around on brooms. They don’t wear black cloaks and wear pointy hats. REAL witches look like ordinary women, out and about just like anyone else. There are a few things you can look for, and if you notice them, be sure to steer clear – especially if you’re a child! One little boy knows all about these things through his grandmother. When the two take a trip and stay in a luxurious hotel, he notices a few things about the group of ladies staying there. They seem to all be witches! But what can one boy do against so many witches, especially once he gets caught! You’ll have to read to find out.

I loved Roald Dahl’s wacky, completely different take on witches. Instead of the typical Wizard of Oz, Halloween style witch we have all come to known, Dahl’s witches are ghastly creatures that seek only to rid the earth of children. Ambitious yes, but they have a lot of scary and strange methods of doing it. The stories the grandmother tells the boy are very imaginative, as is the rest of the story. It’s so much fun and it leaves you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Read this to your kids and just watch their little eyes go wide as they hang on the words. His description is great; everything is so vivid, some of it might make you all cringy and other times you'll smile and giggle. It's written in first person, so you get the whole story from the boy who lived it, which makes for a neat take - especially when you find out what happened to him!

I particularly loved the ingredients that go into Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker (loved the name of the potion as well). I thought it was all very ingenious, really. The end of a telescope to make the child grow smaller? An alarm clock set to a specific time to make sure the change happens right as scheduled? I want to also mention the dialect put on the Grand High Witch’s dialogue. I always thought it was great and I never had a problem reading it. Her whole manner is perfect for the character. She’s mean – even to her own fellow witches, the way a really nasty character should be.

You get illustrations by Quentin Blake as well. He’s got a weird little style to his drawings, but it gives them character. They’re a bit Shel Silverstein-ish if you’ve ever seen his work. If you find a book that doesn’t have these illustrations, I suggest looking for a book that does because they’re a lot of fun. ….And his mice are so cute.

As a child, this was a great book. As an adult, this is a great book. I recommend it to anyone of any age. It could give your kids a bit of a thrill, but if they can handle Harry Potter then heck, this is just kid’s play.



This review was a part of the September 2007 Fight Illiteracy Write-Off hosted by hadassahchana of Epinions. This book was sent to a child in need of a bit of literary magic.

Originally published on

Saturday, January 24, 2015

1984 - It's Sex Gone Sour

Pros: Makes you think, for sure.
Cons: Slow pace; an obvious outlet for exposition by Orwell; discouraging ending.

The Bottom Line: If society ever bans or rations chocolate, I'm going to riot. Who's with me?

I’d first heard about Nineteen Eighty-Four in college. People commented on how good it was, how close our society was coming to the one in the book, how impressive it was for Orwell to create something that resonates so soundly, even today.

When I had to choose five novels to read for my graduate term, I made a point to put this one on the list. I wanted to see what was so great about it. In fact, I was excited to finally read it. I was expecting something along the lines of Fahrenheit 451 or even The Giver. Not quite.

The year is 1984. Or at least, that’s what the Party says it is. Winston lives in a world where Big Brother is always watching you; telescreens put up in rooms can observe and listen to just about everything that goes on in your home. Winston’s job is to falsify information of the past, so that the Party is always right. Sex should be joyless. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. But Winston doesn’t believe in these things. He’s staring to think down with Big Brother, and when a girl hands him a piece of paper that says “I love you” he finally makes some decisions he knows will ultimately lead to his death.

You’ve been plopped into a futuristic setting almost similar to that of V for Vendetta (if you’ve seen that movie). Nothing is truly illegal, but if you do something the Party doesn’t like, you’re vaporized. You never existed. I went into this book thinking something was going to change, even on a small scale. I was disappointed. No, I’m not saying Winston was killed or something, but while in other dystopian novels I’ve read at least the hero has some semblance of a decent ending to his story, there is none here.

As you read, you may find yourself bored at times. Much of this novel is Winston thinking, considering, and going over memories that in some ways have nothing to do with everything else that is going on (at least not that I could see – if someone wants to enlighten me, please do). The rest of the action is Winston at work, moving from place A to place B, and hanging out with the girl, Julia. At one point you even end up reading a part of a book that Winston is reading, which is nothing more than expository writing that, while it does have some interesting information, can begin to drag. Even when something finally does happen near the end, you get a lot of dialogue that is essentially rhetoric.

Now I know what Orwell was trying to do when he wrote this. I’m sure pretty much everyone does. He was already ticked at his present with the class divisions and control certain levels had over others. This book amplifies that to a frightening degree, and the scary part is that some countries freaked out and banned this book because of its political implications, among other reasons. Well, I got mine at a library not too long ago so I think the U.S. is still okay.

Despite the way the book is constructed, as well as the fact that the ending is a huge letdown and quite depressing (though you can look at what some critics have said about the appendix that deals with a language called Newspeak in the book, and get some lighter feelings about things that way), it is good ad evokes plenty of emotions in you. You automatically rebel against the things presented, such as constant monitoring, the robotic manner in which people live, the suppression of sex and the use of all that pent up frustration to be transformed into hatred (and holy crap does that remind me of Jim Breuer and his reason why terrorists are so angry! Haha!), and so forth.

This is a book I think you should read on your own time as opposed to being assigned to, mostly in cases like kids in high school. It’s not for everyone and I can easily see high school kids throwing their books and yelling “Down with Big Brother!” I mean, it would be rather ironic for this book to become canon, you know? Either way, it’s bound to get your juices flowing and you’ll want to start up a conversation with a friend about government/class control. And that’s a good thing.


Originally published on

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Metro Girl - It Ain't Stephanie Plum

Pros: A fun read on a nice day, interesting plot
Cons: You can easily see the Stephanie Plum in it.

The Bottom Line: I still maintain that Josh Holloway would be the best candidate for the part of Sam Hooker.

At the time, I was still waiting on Plum Lovin’, the midway novel between books #12 and #13 in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I spotted Metro Girl, which is outside of the series, and stood there for a moment before having one of those “Eh, why not?” moments and plucking it off the shelf.

Ok, it’s not Stephanie Plum…but it is. Here’s the rundown.

Alexandra “Barney” Barnaby is a regular gal. Average, works for an insurance company, lives in Baltimore, has a rather unexciting life just like most people. Then her brother Bill calls from Miami around 2am one night, not making much sense, then there’s a scream and he disconnects. Not exactly something a sister ever wants to hear from a sibling. She flies down only to find Bill is missing and he’s “borrowed” popular NASCAR driver Sam Hooker’s boat. Hooker figures his best chance at finding Bill and his boat is to stick with Alex – but that might be a bad choice considering now there are many unsavory characters after them because of what Bill has done. Everyone is getting a bit more than they bargained for when it comes to Bill’s actions, leading to something about Cuban gold and an extremely dangerous item that cannot fall into the wrong hands.

Let’s say for a moment you’ve never read any of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. In that case, you’re pretty well off. Sure, the characters don’t have too much depth, surprisingly especially Alexandra even though she’s narrating the story in first person. We only get the surface info on everyone, even though Alex throws out tidbits of her life here and there, we just never seem to truly get into anyone. And, by the way, it is way too easy for some things to happen; Alex has never been to Miami before and yet it’s like she has connections everywhere. She meets two women for maybe 10 minutes and already they’re digging up information for her like they work for the CIA. Yeah, you can find anything on a computer these days, but it still bugged me a little. And then Hooker had some ridiculously impressive connections as well. Sorry, it’s just a little too easy. Not sure how you would do it otherwise, but still.

Along those same lines, some people react in ways you’ll probably think, “No one would do that.” Or if they did, it wouldn’t be in the same manner. For example, the two get threatened that if they don’t stop looking for Bill, they’ll be killed, and yet they continue like it’s no big deal. Maybe you would continue, but you’d be a whole hell of a lot more careful and paranoid, at least I’d think so. In the end it’s all about the fun of the plot and multiple characters. They’re fun as well, don’t get me wrong, the whole book is amusing to read and will entertain you until you finish it. I do like the plot though, it’s nice and different. And as usual Evanovich has the sort of dialogue that will make you chuckle out loud.

Now say you’ve read the Stephanie Plum series. You can easily see a lot of the characters translated over to this book. They’re not exactly the same, but you can see elements of them, as well as some of the similarities in the way people act and things they say. Alex sort of bumbles around like Stephanie, she hates guns like her, and uses some of the same vocab. Hooker is his own man, though he has plenty of Morelli-like elements. Rosa is Lula, Maria is Connie, Judey is Sally Sweet, and you have a semi-psychotic bad guy who does the whole reveal-my-entire-plan thing, and two guys that Alex and Hooker keep bumping into and manage to escape each time. It’s different enough that you can enjoy it for what it is, but I’m sure Stephanie Plum elements are going to pop into your brain now and then as you read along.

Despite all that, it was a pretty decent book. It isn’t going to win any awards and it’s not going to become a classic, but if you’re impatient for some Stephanie Plum-like stuff or just want something fun to read, this is your book.


Originally posted on

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I'm Back....Again.

Apologies to those out there who may read this blog. I went on a bit of a hiatus again, didn't I? Sorry. Life is hectic and I am often forgetful and - I won't lie - lazy. Though to be fair (to myself), I've barely been reading these days. Combined with the fact that I thought I'd had more than just November's book posts ready to go. It wasn't until not too long ago that I realized that they'd stopped on the 22nd.

I suppose perhaps I'll update you a little bit on what I have happening in my life. I work 40 hours at a bookstore. I work uneven additional hours freelance writing at other times. I've continued to write, and as it happens have published a second Figments Fable for those of you who may have enjoyed the first, or for anyone who likes fractured fairytales. There aren't any werewolves or (typical) supernatural creatures in the new one, but it's a take on one of my favorite Grimm's tales that I think doesn't get a much love as so many others. Likewise, it's also available in paperback this time around, if you fancy yourself an actual book rather than the electronic version.

I've also started another blog. Yes. I know. Kind of stupid of me to begin another when half the time I can't even maintain this one. But ever since shut down I've had nowhere to post my reviews. While that's fine for books since I can do that here, it pains me that I no longer have any reason to review soundtracks, which is something I really enjoyed doing. So now I have this - The Soundtrack Junkie blog, where I'll be reviewing all my soundtracks. To be honest, 90% of those reviews were previously on, but as I buy new ones on a fairly regular basis, and there are several I own but never got the chance to review, there will be some newly written material posted. Maintaining it won't be a problem since I have so many pre-written reviews, I already have the entire year planned out to where each month will be themed in some fashion and will typically feature 6 reviews per month.

Having done that, I'm also no longer going to post little musical suggestions at the bottom of my book reviews. Much of the time those are soundtracks anyway, and often the tracks I point out in my reviews. (Unless, gentle readers, you guys really liked that tidbit in which case I'll keep it, but I doubt anyone cared either way).

So now I'm going to try and get back into the swing of things, so expect a review tomorrow and then I'll get everything back on the regularly scheduled time of every Saturday per month.

We green?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What's Your Poo Telling You? by Josh Richman and Anish Seth - For the Curious or Serious


Pros: Funny and surprisingly informative
Cons: Only if you don't like poo
The Bottom Line: Come on, you know you've always wanted to know about poo.
For some reason my soon to be brother-in-law has a strange fascination with poo. I surmise there’s a long story there, though I’m not even sure where that story starts. Anywho, while doing some book shelving one day, I stumbled upon a tiny hardcover book entitled What’s Your Poo Telling You?. How could I not look at it? Book stores have so many wacky books in them, you might never truly realize it until you spend a day in there, seriously perusing the stacks. Try it sometime.
After informing my sister and telling her I was thinking of getting it for her fiancee for Christmas (to which she replied with an emphatic “Yes!”), I realized there was absolutely no way I could have this book sitting in my room for several weeks without giving it a read through. It’s a very small book, only about 6 x 4.5 inches or so and only 96 pages. It’s a slim little book, one that can be totally innocuous if you weren’t looking too closely at the shelf.
So what is your poo telling you? Depends on what type of poo you happen to have at the time. This book is, in a word, awesome. Hahaha. Really, it goes through all sorts of different poo types, from the perfectly pinched log (or The Clean Sweep as they call it) to Pebble Poo to Performance-enhancing Poo (or as I always called it, Nervous Poo), to numerous others. If there’s a poo type, it’s in here, trust me, complete with some synonyms as well as what Dr. Stool has to say about that particular poo. For example, why some types of poo sink and others float. What causes some poo to come out all snake-like. Why you may have that sense of accomplishment, or Poo-phoria after going. It’s like the pocket encyclopedia to poo!
What’s more, you also get little nuggets of information, random trivia, and tidbits of history that all relate to poo in some way or another. Not to mention some rather amusing illustrations. Reading this review you might think, “Gross” or “Weird” or something along those lines, but this book isn’t necessarily all for laughs. It really does have valuable information and after all, since we all do it, there really isn’t anything wrong with wondering about poo and why oh why a few kernels of corn made it all the way through your digestive tract.
Honestly, this book gets my full support and I see no reason why someone should get offended by this book (unless that person just really, really does not like poo). I’m not saying you should go out and buy this for grandma (as she might give you a weird look that says, “Why on earth did you buy me this?”), but for yourself or someone you know would have a riot with this book, by all means. Even if you’re uptight about poo, try giving it a read. You may feel yourself loosen up a bit. ;)

Notes from the playlist: "Bananaphone" by Raffi

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Breathing In Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher - My Notebook Breathes, Does Yours?

Pros: Very well-written and has plenty of good ideas.
Cons: Nothin'

The Bottom Line: Good ideas worthy of checking out, but see if your library has it first - especially if you already keep a notebook.

In 2010 I owned over 12 notebooks, practically all of them chock full of stuff. Some are random notebooks, other have specific purposes, and a few that were still empty. I don't know how many I have now. But at the time, to my utter delight, I got two free ones while buying my college books my last semester (still don’t know why, but I wasn't going to argue over glorious sheets of white, college-ruled paper). So I decided one of them should be my notebook for my Writing Seminar class.

Breathing In, Breathing Out by Ralph Fletcher was the book of choice for the class. It’s 94 pages (the last 5 pages just the bibliography and such). There are 16 short chapters discussing various topics of writing in a notebook. Some of these ideas include:
  • Making lists
  • Writing about the past
  • Your notebook is a place for pieces to sit and “compost” (they hang out until you find ways to use them later if you’re so inclined to)
  • It’s okay to write like crap in your notebook
  • Go ahead and reread stuff
  • Write down little facts, quotes from others, little things that act as triggers
Each of these ideas is unique, contains examples, and explained in a very clear-cut way that anyone can understand, but it’s done well so that it doesn’t sound at all like the author is talking down to the reader; his language use is very pleasant and you want to keep reading. I'm a fan of his metaphors.

Fletcher does a good job putting across exactly what he wants readers to get. He doesn’t push the writer to do anything; he just puts it out there for you to try in your own notebook. Anything to get you writing. If you don’t keep a notebook, or are thinking about getting one, I highly encourage you to do so, it’s really handy and fun, and I do recommend taking a peek at this book because it’s full of nifty tidbits you might never have thought of before.

That was my problem though. It says on the back, “This book is for new writers as well as those who may once have loved to write but have lost the spark along the way.” Um, well, I’m neither one of those. I’ve always had at least one notebook going. That and I do everything he suggests in the book. Ha! So in the end, though it was fun to read and think, “Cool, I already do that,” it wasn’t really of any help to me. But that’s a good thing for people who aren’t like me, haha. It really is a source of goodies for new and lost writers.

Ralph Fletcher also has a kid's version available (as this version is now out of print. Aww.)


Notes from the playlist: "Like a Prayer" by Madonna

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip and Erin Stead - I Wonder What It Was...

Pros: Cozy illustrations and a simple, sweet story.
Cons: None

The Bottom Line: Bear is about to go to sleep, but will anyone hear his story first?

I love being the Lead in the kids’ section of the bookstore.  As adults we don’t ever have a reason to wander in there and look at all the cool stuff kids get to look at and read these days.  Like this picture book.

This book is soft, simple, and perfect for putting little ones to bed.  If you have ever read A Sick Day for Amos McGee (a Caldecott winner, by the way), then this book is right up your alley.  That is because it's written and illustrated by the same team.

Bear is about to go to sleep for a long time during winter.  But first he has a story he wants to tell.  He goes to the different animals of the forest to see if they want to hear his story.  Sadly, most of them are too busy getting ready for winter themselves, so Bear does what he can to help and moves on.  Will Bear find someone to listen or will he have to wait until spring to tell his story?

Bear is very sweet and helps out each little animal when necessary, from making a hole for Frog to sleep in to helping Mouse find seeds.  When Bear wakes up readers will wonder what his story is and whether or not everyone will be awake and ready to listen. But I won't spoil that for you.

The illustrations were done by Erin Stead and they are soft and very adorable.  Duck and Mouse and all the other creatures are so little compared to Bear. I love how such simple children's illustrations can convey different things so well.  How gentle bear is when helping mouse.  The colors are perfect for fall and they evoke a sense of slow quietness – especially in the picture when the first snow begins to fall and Bear stands alone under the sky, sleepy and still looking to tell his story.  It takes up both pages and fills you with that unique feeling you get when it’s you standing outside in a wide open space just as snow begins to fall.  It actually made me a bit sad for Bear because no one was able to listen to him. Awwww!

Erin Stead’s illustrations are a skillful combination of watercolor and pencil, and as usual I’m infinitely impressed by anyone who knows how to wield watercolors.  They’re perfect for the overall tone of the story.

If you enjoyed A Sick Day for Amos McGee, have a little one who loves bears, or are in need of a sleepytime or seasonal book, then this is the ideal choice. The ending is an interesting little surprise, but some (like myself) will always wonder just what story it was that bear intended to tell...


Notes from the playlist: "Coventry Carol" by Lifescapes

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs - Freaky Photos Included

Pros: Unique use of bizarre pictures, interesting storyline, loved particular ideas
Cons: Awwww - cliffhanger ending!

The Bottom Line: It's an odd story with odd photos, but well worth your time. Even if you are in a loop.
I'd seen this book on the shelves at work.  I'd even thumbed through it a few times to take a look at some of the, well, peculiar photos in the book.  I knew that the photos were real and the story was built around them.  Nifty idea, I thought.  I didn't expect it to be November pick of the Calico Reaction's book club.  But it was, so I jumped on in.  Besides, it seems like teen books are more fun than adult books these days for some odd (peculiar?) reason.
Jacob loved his grandfather.  He loved his stories too.  Of course all those stories are nonsense.  But when his grandfather is brutally murdered and only Jacob saw the nightmarish creature responsible, he realizes he needs answers.  He has to go to the island where his grandfather grew up away from the monsters.  Where he enjoyed the company of children with peculiar talents.  When Jacob arrives, it looks like there's nothing that will shed any light on his questions.  But appearances can be deceiving...
The author, Ransom Riggs (a peculiar name, if I may say so), has created a very intriguing story surrounding all these bizarre photographs.  I'm such an idiot - I didn't even realize the girl on the front cover wasn't actually standing on the ground until it was mentioned in the story.  There are a small handful of photographs we would consider "normal," like a guy and girl together, or a figure who just happens to be in silhouette.  But there are plenty of "What the...?" pictures in there too.  I'm not sure if Riggs formulated the story around the pictures because they inspired them (most likely), or already had a story ready and spotted the pictures and really wanted to include them.
Whatever the case may be, you'll quickly learn to enjoy the characters.  Though it can seem as times as though the story is taking a bit too long to get anywhere, those moments are few and far between.  And even then they were only when Jacob was trying to find out about the house his grandfather lived in.  But once he meets a few special people, things roll along rather nicely.  I had a good time and I thought all the things Riggs came up with, from time looping to the word "ymbryne" (I love that word, I really do, and without reason), to using all those strange photographs.  There's such a rich history here of events and people that we only get the tip of, it will make you eager to know more.
And quite likely you will.  Why?  Because this book basically ends on a cliffhanger.  In fact, I read this back in 2011, but it wasn't until January 2014 that the sequel, Hollow City came out. So it may be good that you haven't read Miss Peregrine until now...then again, I'm sure Hollow City ends on a cliffhanger, too.

Notes from the playlist: "I Am Here" by System Syn

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien - Before the One Ring There Was the Silmaril

Pros: Wow.
Cons: Whoa, confusing...

The Bottom Line: It's going to take more than one reading to get everything in this book - but it's worth it!

As usual, Tolkien's past work comes alive.

If you ever wanted to know how Middle Earth came to be (as well as it's inhabitants) then The Silmarillion will tell you. In a way, it is almost like the Bible of Middle Earth and Beleriand.

The book is broken down into several different sections. These sections are Ainulindale (The Music of the Ainur), Valaquenta (Account of the Valar), Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) with the appendix of Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) and one final piece, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.

Ainulindale is the very beginning. It begins with Eru, or Iluvatar (to be blunt, he is like God) who makes the Ainur (the Holy Ones), each one being a part of him. They are like lesser gods. Ainulindale deals with the Ainur and Iluvatar and the creation of Ea (the Universe) and Arda (Earth). This is done through the music the Ainur sings, and also visible are the beginnings of conflict between the Ainur and Melkor, one of the Ainur who desires to be like Iluvatar (and resembles Satan further in the future).

Note: Though I refer to Iluvatar here as God and Melkor to Satan, I am in not trying to suggest Tolkien meant this or anything else. I am simply giving you a something familiar to compare these characters to.

Valaquenta is a short section with small subheadings of "Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar, Of the Valar, Of the Maiar" and "Of the Enemies." The first piece is a brief summary of what has just been read, Ainulindale. "Of the Valar" describes the Ainur who entered the Earth, thus their name becoming the Valar. It discusses each of the Valar by name, what they do on Earth, and other tidbits of information. Though Melkor descended onto Earth with them, he is no longer counted among the Valar, and no one speaks of him. "Of the Maiar" deals with gods even lesser than the Valar. The Maiar are the Valar’s servants and helpers. Here brief pieces are written on them. "Of the Enemies" discusses Melkor, who is forever after known as Morgoth through the words of the Elves. He was given great power and knowledge by Iluvatar, but because of his desires to rule and gain power, they were taken for granted. Here is written about his frightening greatness and how Maiar were drawn to him from it, and this is what Sauron is – a Maiar. Blarogs, demons of terror and fire served him also.

Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) is broken up into 24 chapters, each dealing with a specific topic. The events go in chronological order, but sometimes there are so many names of places and people (sometimes multiple names of one person or place) to remember, it can feel as though you’re going in circles. This is the meat of The Silmarillion. Here you will learn about The Beginning of Days, The Coming of the Elves (Elves are also known as the Firstborn because they came before Men), how Dwarves were made, the doings of Morgoth (Melkor), and a long story on the Elf Feanor and how his creations, the Silmarils, jewels that held the beauty and light of the two trees of the Valar, became a curse. These Silmarils are the reason for Elven kinslaying, wars between Elves, Men, and Morgoth, and the reason Dwarves and Elves hate each other. Also included are many other wars dealing with Morgoth and his servants against Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and occasionally the Valar who step in to put down Morgoth. Afterward, you will read how things came to an end…and yet not so.

Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) is a long, detailed explanation on just what the title says – the downfall of the kingdom of Numenor. From its beginning to its end, you will find out why Numenor was created and why it was destroyed.

Finally there is Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This is simply a shortened version (a very shortened version!) of The Lord of the Rings with a little bit of prehistory to explain the reasons for the aforesaid book to have occurred.

After this are various tables and pieces of information. These include Genealogies (four of them), a table of the different forms of Elves (that’s right, they’re not all exactly the same!), Pronunciation lists, an Index of Names, and an appendix of Quenya and Sindarin names (Elvish names). In this book are also two maps for you to look at and perhaps use as you read.

This book contains stories of death, life, rebirth, betrayal, and true love. Most notably (as the title denotes) is the love between Beren and Luthien, found in the Quenta Silmarillion. Their love is many times referred to when it comes to Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. A Human and an Elf coming together against seemingly impossible odds to eventually live happily ever after - whether that be in death or life.

The Silmarillion is so rich in detail and information it is hard to even begin describing how amazing it is to see such worlds and people come to life through Tolkien's hand. It is without much dialogue, and the dialogue that does exist is within the paragraphs and not as a usual story. Though it make take some time to read, and maybe even a few times through, it's worth it. And besides, if you want to know even more information when reading The Lord of the Rings, then this is the only way to get it.

If you want to know a lot more about the third age, to take a gander at my review of The Lord of the Rings, where it all began.


Notes from the playlist: "Feast of Starlight" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates - So Cute!

Pros: Excellent illustrations, wonderful inspiration for imagination
Cons: None!
The Bottom Line: If you loved Dog Loves Books, wait until you see this one!
We have a lot of picture books at my store.  Oodles and oodles of them. And today was project day, which meant putting away a truckload of picture books.  While at the bottom shelf dealing with some pigeons, ducklings, and cookies, I spotted Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates.  Her first book, Dog Loves Books, was so adorable I immediately picked up this book and read it.  Sure, I had stuff to do, but how could I wait to find out what Dog does next?
The story begins almost where the last one left off – so to speak.  We learn that Dog loves books and opened up a successful bookstore.  One day his Aunt sent him a book – but it’s blank! His Aunt tells him to use his imagination.  Why, it’s a drawing book!  From there Dog gets out his pencils and brushes and after drawing a door to step through, discovers all the places and friends that he can discover through his imagination.
This book is delightful.  In fact, I made a point to put it on the Storytime list for January.  Louise Yates seems to be all about imagination, which is fantastic because she does such a great job both telling a simple yet fun story as well as illustrating it.  In fact, her illustrations are the best part!  Dog is adorable as usual, but as he draws things they are like what a child might draw so kids can relate to them (and let’s face it adults, most of us can’t draw either so Dog is probably better than us!).  All his drawings come alive and they go on fun adventures.  Think Harold and the Purple Crayon.  The things that Dog draws are bright and colorful and are done in all sorts of mediums, from crayons to colored pencil.
I highly recommend taking a peek at this book.  If it doesn’t make you smile then I don’t know what will.  With sneaky ducks, silly crabs, a stick man, and a cute little Dog, there’s all sorts of fun to be had.  It’s a great way to remind anyone about the power of imagination and maybe even inspire a future artist or two.
Notes from the playlist: "My Dear Frodo" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Illustrated Dream Dictionary by Russell Grant - What Does Naked at a Party Mean?


Pros: Kind of cute.
Cons: Some words are hard to find. I'll explain.
The Bottom Line: It's coloful, fun, not very accurate, but amusing to have on hand from time to time.
Ok the very first thing I would like to do is WARN YOU. You see, there is an introduction to this book, which is a very good one by the way, but I read it and then that night had a dream about practically everything the introduction talked about. It was ridiculous. So I’m warning you now – reading the interesting introduction might cause you to have dreams about it that night.
Moving on. In 2004 I got this book as a present on my birthday and thought, “Hey, cool, I needed one of these.”
I hate to seem rude or ungrateful (after all, it is just a dream dictionary), but there are definitely better dream dictionaries out there. Sure it’s illustrated, but man, it’s definitely not organized like a dictionary and it’s really hard to find what you want half the time.
Let’s start with the pictures. They’re very cute and colorful and just fun to look at. Actually the first thing I did with this was look through it and check out all the pictures. Each one depicts a possible dream, and will have the title beneath it in case you can’t figure it out. They look like they could be watercolor or something…
But to the actual dictionary part. I can’t say I know how accurate it is because, well, I don’t – I’m not a dream expert, that’s why I wanted a dictionary (doy). But I will say this. The words you want are hard to find in the first place. Sure the main words are in all capital letters, but everything behind them is in a block paragraph (not indented underneath if it’s long enough) format, which allows the main words to just fade in. That’s okay though, because you can still see them.
The second problem is the grouping of the words, which leads into the third problem of having a fun time trying to find the word you want. If you want to find “snake” you can’t just look up “snake.” You have to go to “Animals” and then look under there somewhere amongst the monkeys and dogs and find it. This poses a problem for other things. If I have something I want to look up and I can’t find it, I then have to either A.) think of a synonym for that word (i.e. I wanted “cup” but now I’ll try “glass”) or B.) try and think of what it could be under and look that up and possibly even find a synonym for that because I can’t remember which words will have more under them. The one I always seem to have problems with is the “Anger/Confrontation” heading because I always forget it’s called that because I just wanna look up what it means when I punch someone in the face – not that it happens all the time or anything…
But in all truth, they are just dreams and it can be just for fun. I’m not going to recommend it because I don’t think it’s impressive or important enough to really bother with. I think it's main problem is that it makes it seem as though your dreams are telling you the future instead of showing you how you feel right now. But hey, at least if you ever get it for a present, now you’ll know what to expect!
P.S. NAKEDNESS - Nakedness in a dream is quite common. If you see yourself naked then things are about to improve. You may even have a stroke of money luck.

Notes from the playlist: "Summertime Sadness" by Within Temptation

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay - Serial Killer Who Kills Killers. Works for Me.

Pros: Who doesn't want to see the bad guys get it?
Cons: Abrupt shift in ending left a few odd questions unanswered.
The Bottom Line: Proof that karma isn't a b*tch - it's a killer
I’d been meaning to pick this one up for quite some time. I’d seen a few episodes of the show and knew it was based off Jeff Lindsey’s novels.  And the books are always better, right?  And what’s not to like about a guy who offs sickos and murderers?
As we open, Dexter has already been doing this for quite some time.  He has a semi-moral code: only kill the bad guys.  He sticks to it and he’s good at what he does.  It helps that he works with the police department – gives him a lead on potential victims.  Except there’s a new guy in town and it’s almost like he could be Dexter’s clone.  In fact, he’s so good at what he does Dexter is in awe of his work.  But of course Dexter shouldn’t be looking to make friends, he’s supposed to be helping his sister the cop find this guy, right?
It’s interesting because it’s hard not to like Dexter yet at the same time it’s obvious he’s so far outside the “norm” of human behavior and thought processes that at some points you start thinking, “Whoa. Not cool.” Remember, this book is written from Dexter’s point of view, so you get some rather special insights into what is going on in his mind.  It’s interesting to see how Dexter ended up the way he is, although you don’t get the full picture until the very end of the story.  Still, it’s amazing what the right influences can do.  There’s an interesting, albeit creepy cat-and-mouse game going on between him and the killer and you’ll never know what exactly is going on until the end.  It is possible to guess although you may be like me and dismiss the thought when it comes into your head with a, “That’s silly.” Apparently it’s not and you’ll quickly learn why.  Some may argue that the end reveal is a bit cliché, but I think Lindsay pulls it off well enough that even if it does at first, it doesn’t stay that way.
My only issues were Dexter’s sister Deborah and the way the end was handled.  Deb seems as though she’s supposed to come off as this hardcore cop when to me she actually looks rather stupid in many cases.  At others when she speaks up in front of superiors, rather than looking confident and acting like she does the rest of the time, she’s meek and stumbles over what she’s wants to say.  Are you a tough cop or aren’t you?  Please pick a side and be consistent.
The other thing was the very abrupt shift in the end.  I know what Lindsey was trying to do, but I ended up with a lot of questions that didn’t get answered – some of which were rather important.  From the fate of the bad guy (er, so to speak), to what Deb’s reaction was to what went down (seems rather important to me), there’s no addressing of these things.  Maybe they get addressed in the second book though, so I’m willing to let that slide for now.
The question now is, will I read the second book?  Perhaps in the future, but I admit – as much as I enjoy seeing Dexter wipe icky people off the map, he’s going to face some equally icky people that the police force will have to catch.  And honestly, I can only read so many books about creepers killing women (because let’s face it, we women are always the targets of these sickos), you know?

Notes from the playlist: "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – Except the Green One

Pro: A funny and unexpected story – some of which many of us can relate to.
Con: None

The Bottom Line:  What happens when your box of crayons decides to quit? At least they let you know first...
Every crayon has a purpose. Green is used for things like grass. Black makes for great outlines and stormy clouds. Blue is used for oceans – lots and lots of water! Okay, maybe too much water. Yellow is perfect for the sun – or maybe that would be orange? Hmm...
That is the dilemma that Duncan suddenly realizes – while he’s been using his crayons the way he sees fit, his crayons have a different perspective. So one day he opens up his box of crayons all he finds are letters. Each one from a different crayon giving him a reason why it has quit. Blue is exhausted. Yellow and Orange are mad at each other. Green is happy with his position, but he’s tired of listening to Yellow and Orange argue about being the sun. Beige is tired of trying to compete with Brown. The letters go on for each crayon – will Duncan be able to figure out a way to make all of his crayons happy?
It’s a simple storybook that will have kids giggling the whole way through. Illustrated in – what else? – crayon, Oliver Jeffers gives each of them expressions befitting their complaint. Impressive considering they’re crayons. Each page features a letter that is written in the crayons’ respective colors and handwriting, including a few pictures that the crayons are usually used to draw, which just makes it all work even better. Drew Daywalt is the craftsman of this story, and it’s an entertaining one to be sure.
This is the kind of story that kids will want to read over and over – and perhaps even give them some inspiration of their own the next time they open up their box of crayons. If anything, it’s quite likely to make them want to go color something once the story is over. Don’t be surprised if you find a few interesting color choices on their next masterpiece. From beige oceans to pink trees, why not be a little different so all your crayons get a chance to be happy?
Notes from the playlist: "Waiting for the Lights" by Alan Menken

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland - The Perfect Shade of Blue

Pro: The perfect summer read and exactly what I needed (and hoped it would be!)
Con: Nothing, really.
The Bottom Line:  I needed a fun, perky summer book and this one was just what the doctor ordered.
The second I saw this book at work and read the summary, I wanted to read it. I finally managed to crack it open when I had a few days off, the sun was out, and I could sit poolside and enjoy it. And enjoy it I did.
Cricket Thompson is thrilled that she can finally see the beautiful island that is Nantucket when her friend Jules invites her to stay with her family. But when tragedy strikes, the plans go awry, and Cricket ends up on Nantucket alone. Luckily she manages to get a job – it’s not exactly a dream come true, but at least she’s still on the island. Where white sandy beaches stretch out, some surprises await, and she might just fall in love with a boy she never expected to grow close to – and one that she’s really supposed to stay away from.
I liked this book from the start. Cricket is a character that you can really get into. She’s lively on the page, and you get a great feel for the friendship she and Jules have, which is excellent considering that the big tragedy that one usually finds near the middle or in this case maybe even at the end of the book happens right away. I have to say, it’s been a while since I’ve read a book where something that big happens at that juncture, and that alone made this book worth reading.
I loved Leila Howland’s writing. I loved her descriptions of Nantucket, from the houses to the scenery. Heck, after reading this book I really wanted to go to Nantucket – or at least the beach. There was plenty going on to keep everything interesting; a few little side stories to run alongside the main conflict kept me reading even when I got to a point where I thought I should stop and save some book for later. Nope. I gobbled this book up in one day. It’s also why I opted for a teen summer read rather than an adult one. While there is some sadness and necessary issues, they don’t overflow off of the pages. Main characters aren’t depressed and love isn’t all that complicated (I tried Kristin Hannah’s On Mystic Lake next – I still haven’t finished it because everyone is always soooo sad or torn about something).
I think my only qualm was I didn’t quite get how old Jules’s brother was from the get-go, so it was hard for me to picture some scenes later on. He was labeled as Jules’s younger brother so I automatically bumped him down to about 14. But that might also be because I’m 29 and not 17 anymore.
I really do recommend this book for one last summer fling. Buy it for a beach read, an escape into summer (during winter), or just for a good story. I know I’m happy to have it on my shelf.


Notes from the playlist: "A Strange New World" by Brian D'oliveira

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Easy Green Living by Reneé Loux - Live Green, Be Happy

Pros: Chock-a-block full of useful information
Cons: None
The Bottom Line: Need a quality book on how to live green? This is it. And yes; it's printed on recycled paper.
I'd considered looking into a few green-related books here and there, but never took the next step and bought any.  So when I got to pick this one up for free, my first thought was, "Sweet."
At the time I'd never been into the whole "live green" thing.  Yes, I recycle.  Yes, I try not to drive too much if I can help it.  Yes, I turn off everything I own when I'm not using it to conserve energy.  I do plenty of things that are considered green, and wanted to do more but didn't because either I didn't know how to where to start, or because it just costs more (let's face it, organic food is more expensive than non-organic food).  Renée Loux's Easy Green Living is a great place to start on gathering information on ways you might make changes, even if they are just baby steps.  Every little bit helps.
It's a nice thick book, and at almost 400 pages it can seem a bit daunting to any first timer, but trust me, it's easy as pie to handle.  This is because Loux doesn't get into technobabble or long-winded lectures or complicated text.  Instead, her writing is very conversational, upbeat, and almost like chatting with a good friend.  She'll end a sentence about a particularly nasty chemical with "Yucky!" or throw in a "Yay!" for good products.  It's fun writing is what it is, and though most of the pages have text in two columns, reading it is nice and speedy.  You'll be surprised at how fast you zing through this book.
Renée Loux has all the right credentials to be writing this book.  Flip to the back and you'll see a huge list of all her references, which range from tidbits from reputable websites to scientific research papers.  She's the host of Fine Living's It's Easy Being Green, and has been living green herself for many years.
Here's a quick contents list and rundown so you know what you'll be getting in this book:
Chapter 1: Green Living Is Easy ~ A short semi-introduction featuring green living tidbits, benefits, and tips.
Chapter 2: Green Cleaning Basics ~ All about cleaning using green methods; no harsh chemicals necessary.
Chapter 3: 5 Steps to a Green Kitchen ~ From appliances to a few extra kitchen cleaning tips, this covers the entire kitchen.
Chapter 4: 4 Steps to a Spic-and-Span Green Bathroom ~ A few more bathroom specific cleaning tips as well as how to save water, find green bathroom-related paper, and eco-friendly towels and such.
Chapter 5: Natural Beauty: The Simple 7 ~ Everything beauty related; makeup, shampoo, and yes ladies, even feminine products can be green.
Chapter 6: 6 Steps to Eco-Fresh Laundry ~ Products that are greener than what you're using now and methods to save energy, whether it means washing less or buying new machines.
Chapter 7: 4 Corners of a Green Bedroom ~ Ways to green your bedroom, mostly dealing with products such as mattresses, linens, and all the materials bedding is and can be made of.
Chapter 8: Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs: Save Energy and Money ~ A brief chapter about lightbulbs and how much switching to those wacky twisty ones can save you.
Chapter 9: Sustainable Ecological Home Furnishings and Materials ~ From floors to paint, there are green alternatives and this chapter has those in spades.
While this book doesn't tell you how about the benefits of installing solar panels or the evils of eating meat (which, by the way, I do, so I'm not knocking non-vegetarians), that's perfectly fine.  This book is more of an inside-the-home green guide.  Similar to the way you could take a feng-shui book and go room by room making changes to better the chi flow, you could take this book and go room by room, making changes to make it greener.
Each chapter is just full of useful information.  I mean oodles of it.  In each one, you'll find lists of chemicals to avoid, such as in makeup, cleaners, or even paint.  It'll make you look a lot closer at these products in the future and their labels and warnings.  For example, I was reading this book while at my sister's house helping her paint.  By that time I was in the paint-related area of the book and went to look at the paint cans, which most of us avoid doing or just don't bother to do.  And sure enough (and disturbingly enough), there were all those gross chemicals Loux discussed, as well as a warning that "This product contains a chemical known in the state of California to cause cancer."  Now I know that most of us think of California as a bit more overzealous in the green living thing than the rest of the states, but that still made me less than excited.  What's more, it makes you wonder if California claims such a thing, why no one is doing anything to prove or disprove that statement - or why that paint company apparently has no issues listing that warning on their cans.  Ew.
While it is a bit disturbing to read about all these potentially nasty chemicals in so many things (and many of these chemicals, though used, are actually still under scrutiny by plenty of scientists) and how they're able to get through because there's just no regulation on makeup or cleaning supplies or mattresses, Loux does make sure to offer readers plenty of healthy green alternatives.  Each section has multiple "Green Thumb Guide" spots that recommend a number of companies that produce eco-friendly items.  And I don't just mean a general overview of stuff - I mean specifics.  Deodorants, pillows, paint thinners, toilet cleaners, dish soap, facial moisturizer, trash bags, and a whole list of other goodies.
The Green Thumb Guides are all really handy because Loux mentions what the company makes, where you can buy their stuff, and how their products are made (organic, natural - yes there's a difference - some preservatives, a few chemicals, recycled packaging, etc.).  I've used her lists several times in my quest to find quality products to replace things I've been using.  So far it includes shampoo, hand soap, drain cleaner, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener, and dish soap.  Thus far I've only purchased a handful of small things such as a shampoo by Avalon Organics, and because of this book, I ended up getting some samples of Method's Sea Mineral Hand Wash as well as come coupons I intend to use soon.
This book really does get you excited to go green because it shows you the options you never knew existed.  The idea of buying a kapok pillow is almost like a small dream of mine now, after so many lame polyester/cotton-filled pillows that smoosh and go bleh after a year or two (or less).  I'd love to own a natural latex mattress because it would be so much softer and not be on a mattress made with materials that firefighters dub "solid gasoline" and then treated with a ton of fire retardant chemicals.  I've already discovered the benefits and differences of my shampoo and the hand wash and have been very surprised.  Not that they clean well, but because of the difference in the clean feeling.
Loux also offers up plenty of home recipes, mostly for cleaning, though there are a few beauty treatments thrown in, and the ingredients are all probably already in your kitchen cabinets (vinegar, baking soda, and so forth).  You'll discover that oxygen bleach is, in fact, awesome (yep, that OxyClean stuff actually is for real).  And you'll glean all sorts of tidbits like how much energy we would save if just 100 people switched to "this" green product, or how much money you would save if you turned down your water heater temperature or used less water when washing clothes.
I intend to keep this book around for a long time and take a peek in it every time I want to get something green or how I might wash my windows without using stupid streaky glass cleaner (vinegar + castile soap + water and wipe with a newspaper!  Essential oils optional!).  I'm glad to have this book because not only am I significantly wiser on the whole green living thing, but now I know how to find out how old a toilet is, what plastics I can actually recycle, how much mercury really is in those twisty bulbs (NOT a lot, by the way), and all sorts of other things.
If you're thinking of greening your home, this book is a great place to start. You can chip away at the little things and work your way up from there.  It's easy, affordable, and this book will tell you everything you need to know about how to do it.
**I'd like to add that a few weeks after posting this review on, I purchased a latex pillow (thanks to this book, as I never knew they existed) and it is awesome. I have since replaced my old mattress with a latex one as well and it is equally fabulous.

Notes from the playlist: "All Souls Night" by Loreena McKennitt

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