Saturday, November 30, 2013

What I Want, by L.N. Cronk

His whole life, Marco knew he was different.  Born with a sever cleft palate and a birth defect affecting his hands, Marco has always felt damaged; even after years of corrective surgeries, he is still self conscious.  His parents never let him use his disabilities as an excuse, and he is quite capable at almost anything.  He falls in love with a blind girl named Bizzy, and for years they maintain a long distance relationship, until they are both able to realize what it is they really want.

While this book is tied into the Chop, Chop series, this book functions perfectly well as a stand alone novel, probably more so than any other book in the series.  I really loved hearing the story from Marco's point of view.  While he talks about the things that make him different, and how they make him feel, he rarely focuses on those differences.  Instead, he focuses on the relationships in his life (some of which are trying and difficult), and the goals that he sets for himself.  I was happy when he allowed himself to find love with Bizzy, though I felt she was a bit cold to him.

I found the characters to be well developed, a particular strength of this author.  These are realistic characters, dealing with real problems, ones we are all familiar with.  Even if we were not born with same the specific issues as Marco, we all have felt different, ugly, self conscious.  We have all longed for love, struggled in our faith journey, and dealt with loss.  Books like this help us process our own issues.

I am a long time fan of this author, and she never fails to deliver.  I continue to await the next book by L.N. Cronk.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Elizabeth Keckley was a free black woman who sought to make a living in Washington D.C. working as a seamstress.  She quickly became known as one of the best dressmakers in the city, and through her other clients, was introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln, the new First Lady.  She begins working as a dressmaker for Mrs. Lincoln, but ends up becoming one of her dearest friends.

I so wanted to love this book.  I really adore historical fiction, and I am fascinated by the Civil War, so I thought this would be right up my alley.  Sadly, the book failed to hold my interest.  I found the writing to be very dry, more along the lines of a history text as opposed to a historical novel.  I never felt like we really learned much about Elizabeth, or the Lincolns.  It was if the entire story were being relayed by a disinterested third party.  

I have heard that the book is very similar to Elizabeth Keckley's memoir.  As in, shockingly similar.  As in word for word.  I cannot attest to the validity of this, as I have not read Keckley's book.  However, this book seemed to lack a certain creative spark for me.  I am not even sure I would classify this as a historical novel, as it seems more like non-fiction.  There was clearly a lot of research done for the book, but the presentation of the facts seems too straightforward.  There just is not enough story here, and it is not due to lack of material.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

35 Slow Cooker Christmas Recipes, by Jean Pardue

Maybe cooking Thanksgiving dinner makes you want to never cook again.  Maybe you got a slow cooker last Christmas and still have not taken it out of the box.  Maybe you will be too busy with last minute Christmas shopping to worry about cooking dinner.  Whatever your situation, this cookbook offer many simple slow cooker recipes to help with your holiday feast.

I am a major fan of the slow cooker.  Last week, I used my slow cooker at least 5 times.  I used to just do a few standards in the slow cooker, but lately I have been branching out and trying more things.  I am always surprised how versatile the slow cooker can be, when used correctly.  This cookbook is a great sampling of slow cooker recipes.  Most of them use very standard ingredients, nothing usual or difficult to find in your local grocery store.  The instructions are clearly written and very easy to follow.

I actually have tried several recipes from this book.  In my first ever attempt at making a ham, using one of the "Bonus" recipes at the end of the book.  Many of the recipes are old standards, given cute and festive names, so not only are they appropriate for a holiday meal, they can be used all year round.  To me, that makes this book a great value.

This book is from my personal library and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Valentine's Day Curse, by Elena DeRosa

For 25 years, Lisa has been carrying around the pain dealt to her by her first husband.  While she has moved on with her life, a part of her still hurts.  As a result, she hates Valentine's Day, and has a ritual that she performs every year.  But a surprise phone call may change all of that.

I thought this was a really cute little story.  As with any short story, there is not a whole lot of deep character development.  We do not learn a whole lot about Lisa's motivations, and why she married Joey in the first place.  And I am not really sure we needed to.  All we needed to know is he broke her heart, and that is what we learn the most about.

Not everyone loves Valentine's Day, so this story is a funny little reminder of that.  There was a time in my own life, after getting burned one too many times, that I too hated that day.  But, things can be transformed by the power of true love.  So, this story can appeal to either people who love or hate the holiday.  All in all it was just a cute little story.

This book is from my personal library and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Graveyard Games, by Sheri Leigh

Dusty has come back to her home town, to bury her twin brother, Nick.  The circumstances surrounding Nick's death are suspicious; authorities are claiming it was a bobcat attack, but Dusty, along with several other town members, is not buying it.  She tries to infiltrate his group of friends to learn the truth, and along the way she faces monsters- both her family's and the town's.

I thought this book had a great premise.  It started off strong, I mean, the book opens at a funeral, so it is pretty obvious there is going to be a mystery.  The shadowy nature of the storyline indicates there are some supernatural elements at work, and for the majority of the book, the storyline develops in a logical, solid manner.  The last quarter of the book or so, however, seems a bit out of place.  It becomes very sexually focused, with scenes that seem out of place and forced.  

The character development was fair, but I felt like characters did things that did not make sense, or just disappeared out of the story for no reason.  For example, in the beginning there was a big emphasis on Dusty and Nick's stepmother, Julia.  But suddenly, she is no longer mentioned.  So what was the point of that early focus.  Similarly, I felt like the decisions Dusty makes in the last part of the book are not copacetic with how she is for the majority of the story.  It is almost like two versions of this book were written, and portions were mixed and matched.

It is not a bad book.  On the contrary, the premise of the story is really good.  And most of the execution is pretty good as well.  But the last part just seems off, and as a result the ending is not satisfying.

This book is from my personal library, and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.


Monday, November 25, 2013

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

Sometimes marriages fail.  Sometimes books succeed.  Sometimes friends die too young.  Sometimes dogs live longer than you expected (though never long enough).  In this collection of essays, the author explores all these issues, and more.  She discusses things from all stages in her life, and what it is like to write about them.

Oh Ann Patchett.  Can we please be best friends?  I am so wholeheartedly in love with this book; it is, by far, the best book I have read this year (and I have read about 160 or so).  I love the fact that Ann spends so much time talking about her writing, and how it has and continues to effect her life.  In one particular essay, she talks so honestly about what it means to be a writer, and how the writing process is different for everyone; the key is simply to write.  It was so damn inspiring that I stopped in the middle, and started writing.  I am not kidding.  

I love that Ann is so honest about her relationships in her life, even when other people do not "get" them.  One of the most touching essays is one concerning her grandmother, and how, as an adult, Ann helped take care of her.  She also openly discusses her long term dating relationship with her future husband, Karl, and the ups and downs throughout the years.  

The structure of this book is autobiographical; it is simply conducted through a series of essays.  But it honestly felt more like I was sitting down, talking to an old friend.  I found this book so relatable, so moving, so inspiring.  There is no way my review can ever do this book justice, so instead, you should probably just read the book.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

She Looks Pale, by Kate Rigby

Hannah had meningitis early in her childhood.  Her mother noticed her pale, sickly complexion, but by the time she took Hannah to see a doctor, the meningitis was so sever, Hannah nearly died.  As a result, her parents have become increasingly protective of her with every passing year.  At some point, the fear of Hannah's sickness becomes a sickness in an of itself for her mother.

I thought this story was haunting, and in many ways it reminded my of The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Hannah is portrayed as this wounded, fragile creature that must be protected at all costs due to a legitimate health problem.  But the fear of illness, the need to protect, and the need to isolate Hannah becomes an obsession for her mother.  We see Hannah forced into a much sicker, weaker state as a result of this smothering need to protect.

Written in Hannah's first person narrative voice, the tale, though brief, is heartbreaking.  We feel intimately connected to Hannah, and it hurts that we can see better than she what is happening to her.  The writing, though simple, is evocative of fairly sophisticated emotions.  Do not let the brevity of the story fool you; there is a lot going on here.

This book is from my personal library and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Morgan Kane: Without Mercy, by Louis Masterson

Kane is a Texas Ranger who never seems to stay down for long.  He gets shot and thrown off of a train, seemingly left for dead, but Kane would not let something like that hold him back.  He is found by a rancher, and nursed back to health, but he does have some lasting scars.  It is because of these scars that he decides to seek revenge.

Westerns are not typically my thing, so you will need to keep this in mind throughout my review.  I thought the character of Kane was well developed, and we got a fairly decent sense of who he was and what motivated him.  It did get a little tiresome, all his run ins with the ladies.  This is a relatively short book, and during the course of it, 3 different women are wooed by him.  While Kane is a multi-dimensional character, I did not find him particularly likable.

I think my biggest problem with the book is that it seems like a lot of the nuances were lost in translation.  Originally published in Norway, I get the distinct impression that a bit of the beauty of the writing was lost in translation.  The transitions between scenes are abrupt and at times non-existent.  That made for a very choppy reading experience.

All in all, I think this is a pretty typical Western, and therefore fans of Westerns will probably love it.  For non-fans, I do not think this is the book that will win you over to the genre.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Simple Gluten Free & Paleo Bread, by Donatella Giordano

The words gluten free and paleo are often heard when talking about nutrition.  But what do they really mean?  What is a gluten free or paleo diet, why would anyone chose it, and how do you deal with craving your favorite comfort foods?  This book gives a very thorough explanation of the gluten free and paleo dietary lifestyles, and provides numerous recipes for delicious bread that fit into either or both of those lifestyles.

I am not even going to lie, I miss bread.  A lot.  I removed gluten from my diet in January, and have kept it out, due to Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.  In short, gluten makes me icky, but does not do permanent life threatening damage.  Gluten is a main component in bread.  I love bread.  I miss bread.  Sure, there are gluten free breads available at local stores, but they are just not the same.  Bread always struck me as tough to make at home, unless you have a bread maker.  So I was very happy that this book has a good deal of easy, straightforward recipes that have fairly standard ingredients.  As you get further in the book, the recipes do get more complicated, but the book will appeal to a range of skill levels because of this.

I also like that there is a very thorough introduction to the book, regarding gluten free and paleo dietary plans, and the reasoning behind them.  A lot of people think my choice to eat gluten free is a fad, so it helps when books like this recognize that there are people with gluten sensitivity that really do need to maintain a gluten free lifestyle.  All in all, I think the book presents very thorough information, and a wide variety of recipes; it is well worth the money.  

This book is from my own library and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not a Drop to Drink, by Mindy McGinnis

Lynn has grown up in a world where water is scarce.  She and her mother spend their days defending their home, and their water source.  Outsiders are never to be trusted.  A freak accident changes Lynn's life, and she realizes that there is more than just water to worry about, and that threats come in all shapes and sizes.

This book really caught be off guard, because I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy it.  The setting is sort of a dystopian future, where water is nearly nonexistent, and cholera is killing many people.  That is a pretty grim setting, and is frightening because it could so easily happen.  That is what troubled me the whole time I read the book; it is all so plausible.  With the water shortage, it is almost like the world is reverting to pioneer justice.

I was so intrigued by Lynn as a character.  When we first meet her, she is so hard, and that is the only way of life she knows.  It is kill or be killed.  Slowly we see her soften, and grow, allowing other people into her life, her home, and her heart.  With that vulnerability, there is risk, and she certainly pays the price, but by the end of the book, I truly believe she is glad she did.

The book will appeal to young adult readers.  I especially love that there is a strong, unconventional female protagonist.  All of the female characters in the book are strong, and depicted as being equal to the men.  In fact, the characters are written in a very gender neutral manner, which I found striking; it really enhanced the story, because all the characters were equal in my mind.  

All in all, a solid young adult read.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Simple Living- 30 Days to Less Stuff and More Life, by Lorilee Lippincott

Have you ever wanted to de-clutter your home, your mind, and your life, but just did not know where to start?  Do you start to make progress on something, only to see a million other projects that need attention?  Do you ever feel like instead of owning your stuff, your stuff owns you?  This book lays out simple, daily instructions on how to slowly minimize the clutter in all areas of your life.

I have been going through a phase for a while now where I just want to get rid of all the stuff I do not need or use.  Unfortunately, I end up acquiring more stuff I do not need or use, and it becomes a vicious cycle.  The solutions seems so easy, common sense really, yet so many of us struggle with physical, mental, and emotional clutter.  This book does a great job of breaking down, step by step, strategies for embracing a simple, minimalist lifestyle.

What I liked best about this book is that it is designed to cover a 30 day span.  Each day, there is a new lesson, one that takes just a few minutes to read over, and usually 30-60 minutes to put into action.  Some of the lessons require a bit more work and planning, but when that is the only lesson you are focusing on per day, it is doable.  This structure allows you to tackle small chunks of your life and rid them of anything unnecessary.  All aspects are covered- physical environment, eating habits, spending habits, relationships.  It really does seem like a holistic approach.

Some people may find the book overly simplistic, but I found it to be a great starting place.  Each lesson is adaptable to the needs of the individual reader, so everyone's experience of this book will be unique.  All in all, I found it really helpful.  This would be the perfect book to use for New Year's resolutions!

This book is from my personal library and I am reviewing it of my own volition.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rattleman, by George D. Shuman

Up and down the Appalachian Mountains, women have been disappearing.  Maybe some of them ran away, maybe some were wilderness enthusiasts who had accidents, but it quickly becomes apparent that some of them have been the victims of a serial killer.  Add in the drama of small town life, combined with federal agents, and you have the makings of a great story.

As someone who grew up in the foothills of Appalachia, books like this simultaneously thrill and frighten me. I know there is still a thriving community of people, particularly in West Virginia, who live by the old mountain ways.  No way would I want to be venturing into the wilderness, because I think things like this really can, and do, happen.  The plot of the story is, for the most part, pretty solid.  Some of the subplots felt a little contrived for me, and I was not sure how much they pushed the story along.

The characters who needed to be well developed were, but there were plenty of other who were really not all that important to the story, so I did not care about them.  I did not care about the someone being jilted by his fiance, or the fact that he was now being sexually harassed by a woman from the forensic team.  I just could have done without all that.  But the portions of the book focusing on the killer and his victims were spectacular.  I did feel a slight lack of resolution, regarding some of the actions of the killer, but the way the story ended was spot on perfect. 

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Since they were little girls, Lia and Cassie were the best of friends, as close as sisters.  They went through everything together.  It became apparent that the girls has an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, as both girls struggle with severe eating disorders and body image issues.  For months now, the girls have not spoken.  But Cassie has turned up dead, after having called Lia several times.  Lia things Cassie is haunting her, and it causes her to spiral back into the depths of anorexia.

Nothing about this book was easy or simple.  It was beyond difficult to read.  Lia as a character is so wounded and seemingly helpless.  And the worst part is, she does not even realize it.  She things she is strong, and in control.  I just wanted to reach out and wrap my arms around her frail body.  The majority of the story is about Lia, but Cassie has such a tremendous impact on Lia, I would have expected she would be a little more developed as a character.  I would have expected more of an emphasis on their bond in life, which would then make their bond in death much more believable.  Similarly, I felt like we never saw the full picture of Lia's relationship with her mother.  It was like we skirted the issue.  

The writing is powerful and intense, something I have come to expect from this author.  I think she does a great job showing the frantic thoughts of someone in the grips of mental illness.  The book is pretty graphic in terms of the anorexic and self harming behaviors, and it could possibly serve as a trigger for anyone else dealing with those issues.  I think it is important for young adult readers to read this book; I think it is equally important that their parents read it and discuss it with them.

This book is from my personal library, and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crossing the Moon, by Paulette Alden

Paulette recounts her struggle to find herself, and her identity within a world full of mothers.  As a young woman, Paulette found herself rebelling against the stereotype that women go from being virgins, to wives, to mothers.  Instead, Paulette pursued her dreams and her education.  As she approaches middle age, however, she determines that she does indeed want to have a child, and spends months going to extreme lengths to conceive.

I really related to a large portion of this book, namely the messaging that women get regarding maternity.  When a woman is not actively pursuing maternity, or, heaven forbid, goes to great lengths to avoid it, people assume there must be something wrong with her.  Either she is physically "defective" and unable to conceive, or she is simply too selfish to desire motherhood.  I think this is really damaging messaging, and I think the book shows why.  For years, it seems as if Paulette was ambivalent about motherhood, but as soon as her own mother calls her selfish for choosing childlessness, she is filled with a burning desire to conceive.

She then spends endless money, time, and energy trying to follow the path laid out for her by society.  It is incredibly emotionally taxing, on her and her husband.  She details her medical procedures, and discusses how her fertility difficulties impact her overall identity.  It is honest, and raw, view of the unpleasant side of fertility treatments, a view of how failure feels.

I was deeply impacted by this book.  For so many women, maternity and identity are so intertwined, and no one talks about what happens to the female identity when maternity is not an option.  This book will really connect with readers who have suffered from fertility struggles, or even maternity ambivalence.

This book is from my personal library and I wrote an honest review of my own volition.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Paleo Aficionado Lunch Recipe Cookbook, by Amanda Matthews

Who says lunch has to be chemical laden fast food, or a measly salad?  There is so much more to lunch, without it necessarily being complicated.  Real food, with simple preparation, can be delicious and nourishing.  So, instead of getting a burger or pizza, try some of these recipes on for size.

I must admit, I do not know a lot about the paleo diet.  I know a lot of people swear by it, and I say, if it works for you, then go for it.  I am not at a place right now where I would be able, or willing, to abide by the guidelines of the paleo diet.  However, because I have been eating gluten free for a year now, I am always looking for new recipes that do not contain gluten, and this cookbook delivers in spades.

The thing I liked best about this cookbook is that it is simple simple simple.  Half of the recipes contain staples that I have on hand at all times.  Hardly any of them require any exotic, pricey spices, so that makes me happy.  I am pretty sure I could find every single ingredient in the book at our local grocer, something that is rare.  And the preparations are also simple.  Most recipes are no fuss, and very little mess.  Because they are intended as lunch, the portions are small or the recipes yield a small number of portions.  That could be easily adjusted to cook batches for dinner, or pair with other dishes to make a more rounded, filling dinner meal.  

I think this book is especially helpful for people just considering the paleo lifestyle, wanting to dabble, or are very new to eating paleo.  This book will give readers and cooks the confidence in their paleo cooking abilities to build simple, healthy meals.  I, for one, cannot wait to try several of these recipes.

This book is from my personal library, and I have created this honest review of my own volition.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Holding On, by Jessica Degarmo

After a rough childhood, Caitlin is finally happy as an adult.  She is married to the love of her life, and gets to be a step mother to his son.  Just when Caitlyn has settled into her happy life, she is connected with her birth mother. Suddenly, Caitlin finds herself opening up, allowing herself to be vulnerable, and knowing she may be setting herself up for a fall.

This book is the sequel to Hooking Up, so many of the characters were familiar to me.  I still adore Caitlin as a character, and find myself relating to her very easily.  She tries to see the best in everyone, and hope for the best, which sometimes opens herself up to being badly hurt.  But the moments where she is open and makes a deep loving connection are worth the possibility of pain.  I feel like Caitln really matures as a character through this sequel.

There is a distinct shift away from romance to drama in terms of the storyline, and I, for one, really liked the shift.  Caitlin has her romance, and is still very much in love, but now she is exploring love within her family in a bigger sense.  I liked this, and felt like it made the book appealing to a wider audience than its predecessor.   The story kept me engaged, and I read it clear through in one sitting.  I, personally, would like to see what life has in store for Caitlin in the next phase of her life.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, by Jen Kirkman

When people find out Jen does not want kids, they insist that she will change her mind, or they try to change it for her.  Being childless by choice is baffling to some people, and greatly misunderstood.  Jen uses her humor to power through most situations, explaining that she has a hard enough time keeping herself on track without being responsible for another, smaller, human.

As a person who is also living a childless life, I cannot fully express the extent to which I identified with this book.  And there are parts that are really really fun.  But there are also parts that broke my heart, and made me mad, because they were situations I have also faced.  I am not sure at which point it became culturally acceptable to not only ask personal questions about one's reproductive plans, but also to pass judgement on someone because of their choice to not have children.  But apparently it now IS culturally acceptable, because it happens all the time.

I will admit, I did expect the book to be a little bit funnier.  And maybe if I were not dealing with the same situations myself, it would have translated into sidesplitting laughter to me.  But really, nothing is funny about being judged, belittled, or patronized over one's reproductive choices.  However, what the book lacked in hilarity it made up for in relatability.  So, I still think, overall, the book is great.

Those who are fans of humor memoirs, or those who are also childless by choice, will appreciate the book.

This book is from my personal library; I wrote an honest review by choice.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Somewhere to Dream, by Genevieve Graham

When Adelaide and her sister Maggie are kidnapped by white men, then rescued by a group of Cherokee Indians, they have no idea the impact the ordeal will have on their lives.  Both girls are welcomed into the tribe, and both learn to cultivate their powers of prophecy through dreams.  Maggie leaves the tribe and begins her life as a wife and mother, while Adelaide stays with the tribe.  When a white man is brought into the fold by one of the Indians, claiming the man holds the spirit of his slain tribesman and brother, Adelaide realizes she must face her past, in order to have a real future.

Once again, Graham weaves magic in the form of a beautiful historical romance.  I absolutely loved the setting of early America, where the balance of peace between the Native Americans and the white men is always tenuous and dangerous.  I am simply fascinated with the customs and spirituality of native people, and I really enjoyed how that was woven into this story.

The idea of white people being accepted into an Indian tribe seems unusual to me, but when you read about it with these characters, it all seems to make sense.  The characters are deftly written, and one cannot help but love them.  I really loved seeing Jesse develop and grow throughout the course of the story.  There is a strong theme overcoming one's past and healing from wounds both physical and emotional.

The book will appeal to fans of historical romance, particularly those with interests in Native American spirituality.  Fans of Grahams past work will be happy to see her triumphant return with this novel.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We Are Water, by Wally Lamb

Every family has its secrets.  When Anna Oh falls in love with a woman, and decides to marry her, a slew of controversy is created, and those secrets surface.  We meet various members of the Oh family, we learn their history, their joys, and their traumas.

Despite his bestseller status, this is my first foray into Wally Lamb.  I have not yet decided if there will be a second.  I found aspects of the book incredible.  I thought that the characters were really well  developed.  Even if you do not always like them (and some are certainly unlikable), you at least understand them, and feel like you know them.  That is a true art form.

However, getting to the point where you do know the characters and care about them was a bit of a struggle for me.  I really plodded through the beginning of the book (and the book is longer than most contemporary novels), and honestly, there were times I thought about giving up.  It was all just a little too verbose for me.  Detail is great, too much detail is grating.

There are a lot of unpleasant topics covered in the story; racism, trauma in various forms (emotional, physical, sexual), homophobia.  Some of these issues are described in a manner that is fairly graphic, and may serve as a trigger for readers with a similar history, so be forewarned.  

I think the story and characters were solid, it was just a bit of a difficult journey to get to the end of the book.  I am not completely giving up on Wally Lamb, but someone will have to do a good job of selling me on him in the future, because this was not a fantastic first impression.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See the rest of the tour here.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

The Small Hand and Dolly, by Susan Hill

A pair of ghostly stories.  In the first, a rare book dealer stumbled upon a deserted house in the country.  He feels a small hand grab his, despite the fact that he is alone.  From that point on, he continues to be visited by the small hand, and a compulsion to hurl himself into water.  In the second story, a spoiled young girl is sent to spend time with her aunt.  When her aunt buys her a doll, the girl shows contempt for it, because it does not meet her exact specifications.  Her bad behavior has lifelong consequences.

I found this pair of spooky stories to be delightful, and chillingly effective.  In the first story, I felt that the setting was beautifully developed.  I could see the house and the gardens in my mind.  In fact, it was almost as if a short movie were playing in my head as I read, something I always take as the sign of a strong story.  The ambiance of the story was very good.  The characters had a decidedly British feel to them.  The were a little distant, I never felt as if I got to know them that well, but it was not really necessary.

The second story was a little creepier than the first.  Once again, we had a decidedly creepy setting, an estate in the fens.  However, the characters are much more important to the story than the setting.  As a result the characters were much more developed than the first story.  However, I did not really find any of the characters all that likeable, so I was not as drawn into the story.  The action and plot was still spooky, and I was able to enjoy the story even if I disliked the characters.

The book is a quick read, and likely to appeal to fans of thrillers or paranormal stories.  

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Affiliate Marketing for Newbies, by Rebecca Thomson

Many people are interested in ways to use the internet to make money.  Some deals sound to good to be true (and probably are), but if you are willing to put in real effort, affiliate marketing can help you make extra money online.

When I first started blogging, everyone was talking about using ads to make money.  In the years since then, monetizing your blog has become big business, usually through various types of affiliate marketing.  I never really cared all that much about using my blog to make money, but if I had, I would not have known where to start.  That is where this book steps in.

This book is a basic introduction to what affiliate marketing is, how it can be profitable, and a realistic view of the amount of work necessary to be successful at it.  Keep in mind, this is only an introduction.  It starts from having no knowledge base.  So, do not expect in depth marketing plans, or detailed blueprints for success as a marketer.  I think it would be advisable for the author to write a follow up book for people ready to take the next step.  

All in all, I think, for the price, this is a good, informative introductory booklet that compiles a lot of the basics in one place for people who are considering this type of marketing.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Will in Scarlet, by Matthew Cody

As heir to Shackley house and family legacy, young Will leads a fairly calm life while his father is off fighting in the crusades with the King.  But when the King is away, the kingdom is targeted by traitors who want to take over control.  Will is driven out of his home, and joins a band of merry bandits in the middle of Sherwood Forest.

I am always a fan of writers taking something familiar and re-imagining it, particularly when it is done well.  I love how this book takes the traditional Robin Hood mythos and adds a new twist to it.  I felt like this book actually made the Robin Hood characters seem more real.  Over the years, the tale has gotten sanitized and Disneyfied.  Now this author spins a story that, while fiction, may just be a more accurate version than anyone realizes.

I really liked the character development.  My favorite character was Much, the miller's daughter, and Will of course.  I also liked that although Robin does play a part in this story, he is not the heroic figure that we imagine, and he is not the focus of the story.Will really drives the story, and everyone else is a supporting actor.

The book is aimed toward middle grades/young adult readers, and I think equally appealing to male and female readers.  Kids interested in history and classic literature will be most interested in this book.  

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The House in Wales, by Richard Rhys Jones

During World War II, often children were sent to live in the countryside, away from the bombing.  This was especially common if they were orphans, like Danny.  Sent to live with a vicar in Wales, Danny has no idea what he has gotten himself into.  He has had run ins with the woman who acts as the live in maid, as well as her beastly dog.  Danny tries running away, and is branded as a delinquent.  When he senses there is evil in the house, no one wants to believe him, thinking he is just another troubled youth.

This book is certainly not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who is squeamish when it comes to reading about the occult.  The characters are deliciously deceptive, and concentrated evil.  I personally loved the back story of the Vicar.  It was my favorite aspect of the book.  While he is far from a good man, he was actually a victim in the whole situation.

The story moves along at a fast pace, which I enjoyed.  At times, I was not sure I understood how all the pieces fit together, but they eventually all came together for me.  Some of the minor characters were actually really enjoyable, like the other children in the village.

The book pulls heavily on paranormal and occult themes.  There is also moderate sexuality in the story.  When you combine those things together, you get a book that is probably most appropriate for adult readers who like a good scare (think a sexed up version of Stephen King).  All in all I enjoyed the book.  It left me feeling unsettled in the exact way a horror story should.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mystery at Blackbeard's Cove, by Audrey Penn

A group of the children who live in Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, love to hear the tales of Mrs. McNemmish, especially those about Blackbeard.  When Mrs. McNemmish dies, the children try to respect her final wishes, while uncovering her secrets.

I really thought this was an excellent children's book, one that was still able to hold my attention.  The characters are developed well enough for the targeted age group, and I like that there is a mix of male and female characters, making it appealing to a wide reading audience.  The book is full of action and mystery that really drives the story.  Were the characters just a tad more developed and a tinge more likable, the book could possibly appeal to some older readers.  As it stands now, it is probably most appropriate for middle grades readers.

The thing I loved best was the setting.  Having visited Ocracoke Island just last summer, I felt like the book did a good job setting the scene from a factual standpoint, while still allowing for fictionalization of certain key locations in the story.  There was a lot of great historical research behind the book, and the fact and fiction blend seamlessly. 

I thought this was a solid book, a little room for improvement, but widely appealing to young readers.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.