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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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry - Learn About Method's Seven Obsessions

Pros: Excellent introspection, great advice, good motivation
Cons: Not that I can think of.

The Bottom Line: Recommended for entrepreneurs just starting out, big business CEOs that need to re-educate themselves, and people who just love Method (like me!)

When I got the email that Method was putting out a book, I thought, “Cool.”  It wasn’t until I was on a serious Method kick that I saw it on the bookshelf at work and grabbed it.  Mainly I was curious.  How do two random guys just suddenly start making earth-friendly soap?

Well, turns out Eric Ryan worked seven years in advertising and Adam Lowry worked as a climate scientist that included projects like the Kyoto Protocol.  So maybe not so random after all.  But after their initial How We Got Started story, the two discuss the seven obsessions that they have within and surrounding their business.  Their beginning wasn’t easy and they had to learn several of these along the way, but their goal with this book is to help other entrepreneurs looking to make a difference in the world with whatever it is they may want to create.  Frankly, I think a lot of current CEOs and their underlings could benefit from this book as well.

Here’s a really quick rundown of the main chapters (which I normally don’t do but for some reason want to today).

Method’s Seven Obsessions:

Obsession 1 – Create a Culture Club  It’s all about having an amazing work environment without having to work at it – or at least, work too hard.

Obsession 2 – Inspire Advocates  That would be me.  Don’t just get customers – get people who love your products and tell everyone and their grandma about them.

Obsession 3 – Be a Green Giant  Be earth-friendly, be human-friendly, and rock at it.

Obsession 4 – Kick Ass at Fast  It’s not about being the fastest to market, but knowing how and when to be the fastest.

Obsession 5 – Relationship Retail  Make your retailers a part of the process and they’ll be more enthusiastic about selling your goods.

Obsession 6 – Win on Product Experience  If people have used it before, it’s not special.  Give your product an edge by turning it into an entirely new experience.

Obsession 7 – Design Forget about the same old, same old.  Be new, and be stunning in more ways that one.

Those are the obsessions that the Method team lives by in a nutshell.  There are a lot of great things in this book that entrepreneurs will find motivating, engaging, and downright useful.  I just work in a bookstore and I wanted to go out and try something new!  It’s almost as though the enthusiasm of Eric and Adam is put right into the pages.  With the way it’s written, perhaps it is.

As a Method Advocate (yes, I call myself this), I found this book to be highly interesting because I learned so much about the company.  It’s not facts and figures, but instead how they function within their walls, how they learn, how they grow, how they work with their suppliers and retail outlets.  About some of their values, known collectively as their Methodology; “What would MacGyver do?” and “Keep Method weird.”  You see how hard they work to find just the right people to fill positions, keeping a spot empty for months on end until they have someone who is close to perfect for the job.  Discovering all these things made me want to work for Method.  Did you know it took them 8 years to finally be satisfied with their toilet bowl cleaner?  That’s how long they worked on it because they wanted to get it right – not just put out some mediocre product.

Entrepreneurs are likely to be inspired by this book.  The information offered is useful and practical.  Eric and Adam don’t lecture and regurgitate facts about their business.  They point out people who have inspired them, ideas they’ve borrowed from other companies because of their usefulness (like Google and, and things they’ve discovered over the years as their company grew.  They also make sure to point out areas where they have made mistakes, such as expanding too quickly or realizing the faults in one of their Methodology values.  They show how they grew from those mistakes, how they’ve learned from them so they don’t make any repeats in the future.

Other established companies should really take a look at this book too.  Method does many things that most of us regular folk would absolutely love for other companies to do.  Things, in fact, that these other companies truly should do for many very good reasons.  Excellent customer service.  Hiring quality people instead of just anyone off the street to fill the position and provide awful results.  Handling marketing and advertising in smarter, more efficient ways.  Changes that could be made in current, sadly lacking companies would be beneficial to everyone.

My love of Method aside, I really do think this book is an excellent resource.  I hope it does help some people, and I hope those people create some amazing things that change the world for the better.  I know that would make Adam and Eric pleased as punch.

**Fun fact: These two have such faith in their products that when at a UK presentation, a reporter asked Eric that if their toilet bowl cleaner was so nontoxic, why didn’t he drink some?  Eric promptly pour a shot and downed it.  Two others followed his example.  (Not that they or I am saying drink Lil’ Bowl Blu, but geez, tell me that’s not trust in your product or commitment to it?)

Notes from the playlist: "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville - My First Adventure with Unicorns

Pros: A really good unicorn book
Cons: There is the occasional cliché, but can be easily overlooked (most probably won't notice anything)

The Bottom Line: Bruce Coville knows his unicorns, so you won't be disappointed.

For some reason I’ve always been the one to read my little sister’s books before she does. Like all the Harry Potter books – the first one was meant for her, but now it’s mine and I’ve bought all the rest on my own. Heck, I just bought the second book of The Unicorn Chronicles for Christmas and read it in two days – time enough to be done with it so she can have plenty of time to read it and I’ll be off to college.

Ok, enough about how I’m a fan of good fantasy and still read books that are meant for those much younger than me. Into the Land of the Unicorns is (obviously) a book about unicorns with 21 chapters and is 159 pages long. The author is Bruce Coville – a name I’ve come to know quite well upon my travels to every bookstore in search of the second book. Don’t know Bruce Coville? My Teacher Is An Alien? No? He has a dog named Booger you know. Anyway, that’s Bruce Coville.

This is Into the Land of the Unicorns, book one of The Unicorn Chronicles. Meet Cara, a young girl who lives with her grandmother on Earth. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? However, right off the bat Cara and her grandmother find themselves being followed by a strange man, and in the midst of their escape, Cara’s grandmother gives her a strange amulet and tells her to A.) say “Luster, bring me home.” and then B.) jump from the top of a bell tower upon the twelfth chime.

Cara does just that and a moment later finds herself in a strange and beautiful land called Luster. Here she meets Lightfoot, a young (only about a hundred years old) unicorn, the Dimblethum (a man-bear), and the Squijum (a sort of monkey creature that is always rambunctious and hungry). It is with these three that Cara begins her journey to a place called Summerhaven where the Queen of the unicorns dwells so she can return home to her grandmother. On their way they meet Thomas the Tinker (who has a rather remarkable cart he takes with him) and must avoid nasty creatures called delvers, the arch-enemies (aside from the hunters) of the unicorns. They even have a run in with a dragon and someone Cara has not seen for a long, long time.

But why do these hunters seek to kill the unicorns so badly? What is so important about the amulet? What secrets will Cara unveil that will shed some light on her cloudy past? And if Cara is able to return home – will she find her grandmother? These are things that I cannot tell you – you must read The Unicorn Chronicles.

As for me, I enjoyed it. This was the first book I’ve read where unicorns have a big part. …Actually this was the first book I’ve read with unicorns in it (aside from Harry Potter – but that poor unicorn was dead). It definitely gave me a new perspective on unicorns aside from the perfect and proper way we always think of them. How is that? Well one never thinks of unicorns talking in a, well, casual manner. Or being gruff and possibly unpleasant to be around. Everyone (character wise) develops quite fast but Coville manages it without much problem (trust me, if there was a problem I would have shot it down by now). The story behind the hunters is also quite an interesting tale, something I never would have thought up, and there is a lot of richness in this book despite its size, in the ways of detail that is. And there are tons of great ideas, I might add (such as Cara's run in with the dragon and Thomas's cart), but then I’m a fan of fantasy writing myself so I have a little log in my brain of what creatures are made by what authors to do certain things etc. etc.

As for the 
cliché thing I mentioned, well, most people won't notice anything in the least. For people who read a lot of fantasy however, I don't know about you, but I get kind of tired of some of the names people come up with. You know, the joining of two everyday words to make a name that occasionally makes me think of Native American names. "Lightfoot." "Skydancer." "Firethroat." The name of the unicorn world is "Luster." And why not? Shiny, beautiful, magical - it's only natural the place should be called Luster I guess. But then that's what everything translates into English I suppose, so I guess it's all right. Except then there are random other names like "Squijum" so it's not exactly consistent. I dunno, that's just me.

Either way, I think this is a great book and I’d let my kids read it if they were into fun fantasy type things. Except I don't have kids. But maybe you do. Oh well, even if you don't you can still read it. Who cares if it's supposed to be for the younger generation? But then, of course, you have to get the second book…

But that is another story.

Notes from the playlist: "My True Love's Eyes/The Cottage" by Jerry Goldsmith

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott – The Shortest Space Between Life and Death
Pro: The kind of book that isn’t afraid to tear deep into grief
Con: A lot of repetition in places; takes some time to get rolling

Bottom Line:  If you’re not looking for something bright and perky, here you go – it’s like a really simplified Jodi Picoult book. 

The cover of this book caught my eye (which is what all authors hope their covers do), and then the inside flap summary pulled me in. It’s certainly not a very long story, and though the concept the story is based on has been proven not to really work, we’ll skip all that and just go with suspension of disbelief.
Emma’s mom is dead. The baby her mother was carrying is not. So for the sake of the baby, her mother’s body is kept functioning until the baby can be born. This isn’t something Emma wanted or asked for – to see her dead mother every day. After all, how can she let go when even her mother isn’t allowed to? She blames a lot of things – especially Dan, her stepfather who made the decision without even asking what Emma thought. But things seem to change a little when the local druggie/badboy Caleb somehow gets into her life. Loss is something he understands more than anyone else around her, and perhaps with his help Emma will learn how to live again.
This is a book that is absolutely full of grief and isn’t afraid to pull any punches about it. It’s kind of like a teen Jodi Picoult or even Kristen Hannah in some ways, where everyone is so sad all the time and so angry about the things that are happening to them. To be honest, I didn’t expect that much depression and grief to be crammed into one teen book – and not even a long one at that.
At the same time, I think because of this book’s length and subject matter, that’s probably why after the first 30-50 pages or so I started to get irritated and a little bored because all we get is Emma being mad about her mom being dead. At one point I actually started to wonder that if I were to use the Ctrl+F function on the book, just how many times would the words “mom’s dead” show up. I kind of feel like a jerk saying this, but it got to the point for a bit there when I wanted Emma to get over it, grow up, communicate with her stepfather Dan, and stop being such a, well, a whiny teen about it. Emma kept assuming throughout the entire book that Dan just wanted the baby and didn’t care one whit about her mother, although through memories Emma brings up it’s very, very clear that Dan cared and still does. But she’s so stuck in her beliefs that she refuses to see it. Frankly, I wanted Dan to finally lose his cool at Emma, but he never does and instead always remains soft and attempts to be helpful to absolutely no avail.
Things did finally start to pick up, though, so the book became interesting again since we weren’t constantly hearing about how much it sucked that mom was dead and Dan only wanted the baby. Caleb coming into play wasn’t as intricate as I thought it might be – you quickly realize what his deal is, why he isn’t so bad, and why he’s the only one that “gets it.” He’s got his own scarred past and his parents certainly don’t help – although I find their actions a bit unrealistic, and what Emma finds in Caleb’s house only adds to the never-ending theme of sadness and anger so dark it’s like a black pit without a bottom.
Characters do sort out most of their issues, grow, and move forward, which was good to see. You also do finally realize Emma has other issues besides just hating on Dan for wanting the baby (although she never does seem to fully acknowledge that Dan is in just as much pain as her, if not more). And I did cry near the end because saying goodbye sucks no matter what. While Emma isn’t back to fully normal, at least she – and maybe Caleb too – are on their way as long as they stick together.
Not a bad book, overall, but it’s not going to become a favorite any time soon. I expected a little less anger and hate (at one point I did think of Yoda and how anger leads to hate and giggled a bit) throughout the book, thinking perhaps it might have more of a focus on Emma and Caleb, but no dice. Still, if this sounds like your kind of book then it’s worth the read. I’m off to go read something with a bit more pep in its step.

 Notes from the playlist: "A Father's Wish" by Randy Edelman

Saturday, April 5, 2014

One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak – If You See God's Finger, RUN
Pros: Probably one of the weirdest ghost stories I’ve read
Cons: Mm, not really.
The Bottom Line: It's a story about a ghost, but it's not a murder mystery. It's a story about dying, but it’s actually about living. It's weird, but in a good way.
While participating in a book club, our host also threw out the occasional "dare" book - a little something extra to read between book club sessions. Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost was one of them. Another month it was Libyrinth by Pearl North. But last month it was this book, One for Sorrow. It sounded quite interesting to me, so I resolved to read it, even if I didn't get to it within the dare time frame.
Adam McCormick is fifteen, his home life isn't that great, and overall things are just "meh." When a boy from school, Jamie Marks, is found murdered, Adam realizes he can see Jamie's ghost. All Jamie needs is a friend. Adam knows what it's like to be unwanted and on your own, so he does what he can for Jamie. But that may mean dying, something Adam isn't at all concerned about. But will that really help Jamie? And is Adam dying for Jamie or for himself?
It's a hard book to summarize, really, though I think the back of the book does a better job than myself. Ha. It's a good story, one that keeps you engaged and one that is really weird in a lot of ways, though all of them good. I didn't want to put the book down, and even when I did, I was always surprised at how far in the book I wasn't. Like I was chugging right along and somehow not making progress. That's not a bad thing, it was just odd. Chalk it up to the subject matter of the book I guess.
Even though Jamie is murdered and his ghost is still lingering around, don't think that this is a murder mystery. This story is about Adam and the things he does. The things he feels, the things he thinks, and what he decides. He's a very interesting character and I was hooked on following him around as he made his way toward dying. There are some questions in this book that you may not have answered (or were they? You might not even be sure about that), such as why it was Adam decided to die or my question, what was it that made him decide to stay? Don't worry, I'm not ruining anything, it's pretty hard to ruin this book in any fashion because it's just so off the wall. It's nothing you'd expect.
And that's another thing that gives this book high marks. The author, Christopher Barzak, comes up with some cool ideas like closets leading into Dead Space, the strange things that linger in that space, and things that they want, and all the little things that Adam's grandmother used to say and do that turn out to be pretty much on the button. A lot of the things that frustrate Adam will frustrate you as well, so you'll be able to sympathize with him in a lot of the things that he does, whereas others you'll just wonder about some of his thought processes and decisions.
There are some odd moments in here where you might wonder, "Is Adam gay?" Indeed, I had that question a few times as well, but I almost want to say no, feeling more like he saw Jamie as a kind of extension of himself which is why certain things were okay. That's not to imply that there's a bunch of homosexuality in this book. Certainly not. Rather, whatever Adam and Jamie experience feels normal, natural. It's just another weird thing about this book that really works. And then of course, there's Grace, the girl that Adam really connects with in more ways than one.
It's strange, almost surreal, but at the same time it all makes perfect sense. It's a great book to read if you're in the mood for a ghost story in spring. At the same time, it's also good for being thankful. It's an odd duck, but I say give it a shot and see where it takes you.

Notes from the playlist: "Waiting Game" by Banks

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley - Aww!

Pro: An adorable no-text picture book.
Con: None.

Bottom Line: Looking for a different sort of picture book for your kids? This is an excellent choice.

Normally when we get picture books sent in to the store, we end up with four or five of a title each time. But one day when putting books out, I saw this one all by itself. Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley featuring a little sewn together bear character looking curiously at an egg in a world that wasn’t illustrated, but built.

That’s one of the things that makes this book so different and so great. While other picture books are all illustrated with colored pencils, paints, and other mediums (including crayons sometimes!), Rebecca Dudley built the entire forest. From each little leaf to the glowing campfire Hank makes when night falls, it’s a unique world that any reader would want to step into.

The little hero of the story, Hank, discovers an egg on the ground one day. When he finally figures out where it came from, he does what he can to return it. But it’s not an easy task. Will Hank be able to get the egg back home safe and sound?

Children will have to figure out this story without words. That’s the other thing that makes this book special. While there have been wordless picture books before (such as Tuesday and Flotsam by David Wiesner), they aren’t very common. Most parents aim for picture books because they’re fun and help kids learn to read. But a wordless picture book does something else – it allows the child a chance to use his or her imagination and build a story themselves. What is Hank thinking? When other characters come into the picture, what might they say? How does Hank feel? What will Hank do next? What should he do next?

I thought this book was adorable. If I had kids, nephews, or nieces, I would have bought it right then and there. Hank isn’t the only creature that lives in the forest either, so it’s well worth taking the time to look closely at every page and see what you can discover. I look forward to more books like this from Rebecca Dudley.

Notes from the playlist: "Cozy Digs" by Brian D'oliveira

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku – Making the Impossible Possible (Almost)

Pros: Utterly fascinating and mind-boggling (i.e. wow!)
Cons: Occasionally mind-boggling (i.e. huh?) and subject matter is probably not for everyone

The Bottom Line: Centuries ago, the world was flat. Decades ago, the atom was the smallest bit of matter. Currently, concepts like time travel aren't possible...or are they?

I fist found this book while walking past a display at work where I spotted a book with the Doctor Who Police Box on the cover. The TARDIS was in the process of zipping through a wormhole with lines and equations around it. The title read Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. Oh really? I read the inside cover, which described a book full of exactly what the title promised. I made a note to read it in the future.

Well the future is now or, I suppose, was. And I'll tell you, it really was a fascinating read. That's the best word I can come up with to describe it because it was fascinating. Engrossing, though sometimes mind-boggling beyond the point of "Oh wow" into the realm of "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Michio Kaku is no stranger to the beast that is physics. He was entranced by the science fiction adventures he saw on television as a child, a good thing because in high school he constructed a massive machine to create dark matter. He currently writes books on the subject of physics while working on the string theory--or a theory of everything. (and no, apparently the answer isn't 42).

The idea behind the book is extremely simple. We've all heard about the possibilities of time travel, faster than light travel, cloaks of invisibility, telepathy, and other science fiction-like phenomenons, but most of the time we chuckle and think none of those (among others) are possible. Sure, our scientists are smart, but they have yet to make the imaginations of science fiction writers a reality. Kaku seeks to show readers how some of these ideas may actually be possible. He uses the laws of physics and brings up possibilities for the seemingly impossible. As long as the concepts do not break any laws of physics, then hey, they may very well be in our future, be that future decades, centuries, or even millennia and beyond.

Kaku divides all the "impossibilities" into different classes based upon how possible they actually are, as well as how likely and soon we might develop such technologies in the future. The table of contents gives you perfect insight into the subjects Kaku discusses:

Class I Impossibilities
1. Force Fields
2. Invisibility
3. Phasers and Death Stars
4. Teleportation
5. Telepathy
6. Psychokinesis
7. Robots
8. Extraterrestrials and UFOs
9. Starships
10. Antimatter and Anti-universes

Class II Impossibilities
11. Faster Than Light
12. Time Travel
13. Parallel Universes

Class III Impossibilities
14. Perpetual Motion Machines
15. Precognition

Yeah, I know, you would have thought something like Time Travel would be stuck in a Class III impossibility, but using the laws of physics, Kaku manages to explain how it really could be possible, some of which have been utilized in television shows and science fiction books. In fact, all of these ideas have been involved in science fiction, and the ironic part is that many of these creative thoughts used to be thought ridiculous by tried and true scientists. As Agent K said in Men in Black, "Just imagine what we'll 'know' next."

It's a very cool book. Kaku does what he can to bring examples and concepts down to the level of an every day person to understand. He uses visual examples to help the reader visualize, and of course, brings in examples from popular science fiction films and books to demonstrate points and concepts. For the most part, I knew what was going on and understood how something could potentially work using atoms and computer chips and matter in space. Kaku explains things very well and even gives the reader a healthy tidbit of history and those associated with bits of highly important physics theories and equations, which are rather essential to understanding how we can go from point A (say, Newton's theory of gravity) to point B (opening up wormholes and skipping through them). Of course there were times when even I (who found all variable equations in math more fun than actual numbers) sat there on pause, trying to wrap my head around a paragraph or sentence. There were moments when I thought, "I don't know what he's saying, but it sounds like it could make sense," amid particles inside atoms and how complex equations can work (or fail in some cases). However, those times were few and overall I read each chapter with relish, wondering at the possibilities that Kaku posited and just how cool it would be if we figured out something like starships or force fields.

As a science fiction writer myself, this made the book just that much cooler. I ate this stuff up, wondering how I might incorporate some of Kaku's ideas into my work, if only by a vague mention. The difficulty in creating something like a wormhole made me laugh and wonder how one critiquer of my work could question a completely possible concept and not another, nearly impossible one. If you're a science fiction writer, read this and love it. If you're a science fiction reader, read this and love it. If you like physics and the "impossible," go for it. Even if you're none of the above, I honestly don't see why you couldn't at least get something interesting out of this book.

I even read the Preface, something I don't do often (if ever), but Kaku tells you a bit of his past and lets you know the kind of person he is and how he's able to write about such things (plenty of research involved, to be sure). Kaku's writing style is rather informal, very accessible, and makes you feel like you're talking to someone genuinely interested in both his work and getting others to understand it and be interested in it as well. He might mention something and I would pause, zooming off into my own little world in my head and wondering about the future, the mystery it holds, how small we really are, or the awesome power a Type III Civilization would command. All this, as opposed to the stiff professor who doles out hard facts and ignores whether or not you understand or care about them. He even makes a clever little quip here and there that had me smiling or chuckling.
There's nothing negative to say about this all. I can only recommend it to you and hope that by chapter 1 you'll be as interested as I was and continue reading. I often stick it on the B&N Employee Recommendation display and one I made sure to add to my own collection.

Notes from the playlist: "Angels" by Within Temptation

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rebel Spirits by Lois Ruby - More Like Union Spirits, But Okay

Pros: Cute concept, easy read
Cons: A lot of little things that add up.

The Bottom Line: The premise of this book is very promising, but it doesn’t quite deliver.

I’m a sucker for ghostly love stories, but they’re tricky because it means that somebody is already dead – so how can there be a happily ever after in that case? Either way, I wanted to see how this one ended because hey, the summary made it sound like love might just find a way.

Lorelei Chase has just moved into a big old house in Gettysburg where her parents look forward to running a bed and breakfast. Great timing too because the big reenactment of the battle at Gettysburg is about to take place – which is precisely why Nathaniel Pierce has started appearing in her room. Except Nathaniel is dead. Lori has encountered a few ghosts before, but this takes the cake. Nathaniel made it through the battle – only to be murdered. And he wants Lori to solve the case. But if she doesn’t do it in time, Nathaniel will disappear from existence and that’s something neither of them wants to happen.
Sounds promising, right? I was excited because I like a good ghost mystery and when a ghost and living soul fall in love, I always like to hope that somehow things will turn out so that the ghost can be a live person again. However, this book had a lot of weird things going for it.

Giving the mystery case a time limit makes for a good ticking clock, but Lori only had about three days. Three! First of all, that’s not enough for a Civil War cold case. It isn’t nearly enough time for them to fall for each other to the point that they’re taking up time because they’re making out (during the battle’s anniversary he gets to become physical for a while, hence the ability to make out). Likewise, I’m pretty sure Nathaniel would feel making out with a girl without properly courting her is inappropriate, even if he has been lingering around in this plain of existence long enough to comprehend many of the changes.
The short time limit also drove me nuts because Lori knows for a fact that Nathaniel is going to go poof! in a few days, and yet she’s like, “Oh sorry, I have to go wash some dishes first.” I’m sorry, but a ghost asks for your help and you have that big of a case to solve, you don’t waste time.
There was also a weird red herring which eventually turned out to be oddly convenient. It’s hard to elaborate on without giving things away, but it was just a bit too deus ex machina for me. Along those same lines, I’d like to add that Lori doesn’t figure anything out. A friend does, her dog somehow does, and then the whole whodunit is handed to her on a silver platter. I was very disappointed with that because there are plenty of ways Ms. Lois Ruby could have written things for a more interesting discovery.
Then of course, there were the random bad guys. This made for a semi-interesting sub-plot, but I didn’t find it very believable. Lori gets no points for failing to report an intruder in the house (especially when she finds out who it is). Her parents get no points for failing to ask the realtor about certain people when they should have (and any business owner would have). And a mish-mash of other little details that had me saying, “….Seriously?”

While I do nag on this book a lot, like I said it’s a lot of little things that just added up that I wish the author’s critique buddies, agent, or even editor had pointed out. It was still a very fast and easy read, and I really liked Nathaniel (he’s a union soldier by the way, but I guess that wouldn’t have sounded as good for the title), and it was neat having a setting in Gettysburg with a Civil War mystery going on. Maybe nab it from the library and give it a whirl – maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

Notes from the Playlist: "The Mystic's Dream" by Loreena McKennitt

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray - Puppies, Pies, and ABCs!

Pros: A cute board book for learning ABCs
Cons: None
The Bottom Line: If you never thought that there could be an ABC book that told a story about a dog looking to eat some pie - you were wrong.

What first caught my eye was the little dog on the cover.  He reminded me of Snoopy although slightly perkier and a bit simplified.  Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray can be found wherever the children’s board books are.  The thicker cardboard-like pages are great for kids that are ages 0-3.  Easy to hold, and able to last much longer than a typical picture book since there’s no worry about page tearing.

The story is about the dog looking to snack on some apple pie.  The difference is that it’s not a typical story, but rather each short sentence starts with a letter of the alphabet.  As with most ABC books, the alphabet letter is made larger and more noticeable so kids understand the importance of the letter.  The text is easy to read with each sentence comprised of only a few words.  You can read this book to younger children, and then as they start to sound out words on their own, they can try themselves.

The artwork is bright, simple, and totally cute.  The little dog really wants some pie, although the little girl in the house knows perfectly well that pie isn’t for dogs.  Illustrations are fun and expressive and even though the rest of us know dogs shouldn’t eat pie, we’re still going to hope that maybe he can at least get a little lick.  But will he?  You’ll have to read to find out!

I love books like these because of their whimsical illustrations, bright colors, and fun text.  And who doesn’t love puppies and pie?  This is a great anytime book for kids to enjoy with parents or try on their own.  Perhaps after everyone enjoys a slice of pie?

  Notes from the playlist: "Merida's Home" by Patrick Doyle

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O'Brien – Apparently God Wanted to See Our Junk
Pro: Myths presented like you were being told a crazy story in a bar.
Con: Only if you can’t handle crude humor

The Bottom Line: It’s absolutely hilarious. We had three copies in the store; they sold in about a week.

This book was brought to my attention by one of my co-workers. He deserves a medal for doing so, I might add.  Though the book features Zeus’s name, it actually includes myths of all belief systems. Greek, Christian, Native American, Hindu – basically anything that the author, Cory O’Brien, decided would make for a hilarious story. And the truth is that most mythological stories are pretty ridiculous to begin with. When you hear them in their normal state, as just a regular story, you don’t really think much of it. It’s a myth story, no big deal. Never mind that the Norse god Loki had sex with a horse and gave birth (yes, Loki gave birth) to the eight-legged horse Slepnir.

But then you take time enough to step back and look at a lot of these myths and you can start to reflect on just how freaking weird they are and how they have no reason for existing – they don’t explain why the sun rises or what makes it rain. Never mind that Athena just jumped out of Zeus’s head one day – in full armor no less (and there’s an even weirder version of that story, by the way).

But I digress. The hilarity in this book lies in the way it’s written. It’s almost jotted down in prose poetry style, which is actually amusingly fitting considering the style of so many old myths, so it may have been intentional. Either way, O’Brien writes them in a way that you might hear these stories in a bar – very casually, very crudely, with a bit of elaboration, but the base of the myth is still very correct. He uses all caps in a few places for some really brash emphasis, and it works very well. After reading a few stories and laughing until I was on the brink of tears, I finally had to put it down and not read any more of it because A.) I was at work and B.) customers were starting to look at me funny.

You don’t have to know the myths beforehand in order to enjoy this – I read a Norse one I wasn’t familiar with and it was still absolutely hilarious. Knowing some myths, however, almost makes them funnier because O’Brien makes sure to point out the ridiculous bits like how God cursed the serpent to crawl on its belly forever for it’s part in the whole Adam-Eve-fruit fiasco – never mind the fact that serpents crawl like that anyway.

There is swearing and crude remarks (although many of the old myths were pretty crude – lotsa sex, mind you), so brace yourself. But if you don’t mind that and want a good laugh, I highly recommend at least taking a look at this. Read a story or two and see if you aren’t thinking of buying it.

Mind you – if you do, you will never think of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus the same way again.

Notes from the playlist: "Skyfall" by Adele

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recommended for Shameless Self Promotion

 Blood for Wolves by Me!

Yep. I have finally done it. I self published my book. I went the ebook route for now just to test the waters. I love it, naturally, so I guess the question will boil down to - will you?

As a wolf biologist, Caroline McKenna hates those old fairytales where the wolf is always the bad guy.

Except when she tries to keep a lost little girl from drowning in a pond, she ends up in the Kingdom of Red—where wolves are the bad guys.

And the girl she tried to save? Nowhere to be found.

Now, Caroline has no idea how to get home, and the Kingdom—once ruled by Little Red Riding Hood herself—is in trouble. Her only guide is a man named Wolf, whose golden eyes and oh-my-what-big-teeth-you-have are as startling as they are enticing. Caroline isn’t willing to leave without knowing the young girl is safe, but that means sticking with Wolf. Especially since her only other option is to wander around a fairytale forest alone.

But that means facing dangerous creatures and evil enchantments. There is more happening in the Kingdom than anyone realizes, and if Caroline wants to stay alive she has to figure out her role in this story—and she knows Wolf isn’t telling her everything.

 Notes from the playlits: "Half Acre" by Hem

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Recommended for Moose Owners

This Moose Belongs to Me
by Oliver Jeffers

Sometimes when a moose comes along, it just means he wants to be your moose. Right? Well why not! He does what he's told (not all of the time), knows his name (sort of), and isn't anybody else's moose (maybe). Kids will have fun seeing a young boy attempt to claim a moose in the wild woods and what happens when he discovers that maybe he isn't the only one to try this. Funny story aside, I love how the moose is illustrated as well as some of the wonderful backgrounds that truly capture the beauty of where real moose live. Full of life and giggles, it's a fun little reminder to kids that wild animals are always wild no matter what.

 Notes from the playlist: "Becoming a Legend" by John Dreamer

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