Wednesday, March 21, 2018

REVIEW: Murder, She Knit

Murder, She Knit
Author: Peggy Ehrhart

Murder, She Knit is the first book in the new Knit & Nibble Mystery series. It's definitely a cozy mystery -- cute cat, a knitting group, dead woman in the bushes with a knitting needle embedded in her chest, and an amateur sleuth determined to solve the case. And, this one is romance free, which I found to be a nice change. No main characters falling in love with a detective on the case, no love triangles, no kissy-face moments with suspects....just a middle-aged woman that doesn't appreciate someone stabbing a person to death in her bushes. Understandable, right? Knitting needles are meant to knit, not murder (especially when it's just outside the home where the Knit & Nibble knitters group is meeting!).

I enjoyed Pamela Paterson as a main character. She is a widow and her daughter has left home to attend college. She keeps herself busy by editing articles for a fiber crafts magazine, and she enjoys meeting with her knitting group. Her fellow knitters are great side characters...all different and quirky in their own ways. The characters all worked well together.

The mystery moves along at a nice pace. There were plenty of suspects and a few twists along the way. I felt the reveal was a bit abrupt, but it made sense. The plot is not complex, but that's ok since this is a light, cozy mystery. All in all, an entertaining story and a nice start to a new cozy series. The cover art is SO cute! The cover definitely drew me in and made me want to read this book!

 I will definitely be reading more of this series! The next book, Died in the Wool, will be released in August.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: A Guide for Murdered Children

A Guide for Murdered Children
Author: Sarah Sparrow

The plot for this book is incredibly creative! I love it when I come across a book that takes genre-normal and blows it all to pieces! With that said, there are some dark events in this book that some might not want to delve into -- murder, rape, etc of children. Now given the title of the book, that's not a surprise, but just be aware before you read this story.

The basics: The spirits of murdered children get to return to the Earth for a limited time to exact revenge on their killers. The spirits inhabit the bodies of certain adults while on Earth. These landlords are dead people who are reanimated for the sole purpose of assisting the murdered children. The murdered kids attend secret meetings disguised as AA meetings at churches to discuss their journeys. In the course of an investigation, former NYPD detective Willow Wylde discovers these meetings. When he realizes those attending are actually slain children, Willow learns a whole new understanding of life and death.

This story is incredibly creative, inventive and mind-blowing. But in places, the execution was a bit rambling and confusing. There are just too many side characters and subplots going on all at once. It muddied the waters a bit too much, making the plot a bit confusing at times. That being said, the story itself was so interesting and bizarre that it kept my attention the entire book, no matter how rambling things got. I love the character of Willow. He's middle aged, feels tired and washed up. Alcoholism has robbed him of a lot, but he's trying to pull it together to do something with the rest of his life. Very realistic character.

All in all, an interesting book. I enjoyed reading it, and I loved the creative plot. But it could have been a bit more focused. The completely cool concept kept me reading. I enjoyed this book despite the plot chasing rabbits a bit.

The front cover is totally perfect!

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Penguin via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Beyond News of the Weird

Beyond News of the Weird
Author: Chuck Shepherd, Roland Sweet & John Kohut

There are always strange stories in the news. Human beings just have a talent for doing ridiculous and weird things. This book collects some funny and strange goings-on from around the world. Separated into categories like ridiculous lawsuits, weird science, stupid criminals, baffling incidents, etc., there is a little bit of everything in this book.

Each chapter has several short tales of the strange. Some are funny, some disturbing and some just plain weird....but all are interesting. There is some sexual weirdness discussed but nothing outrageously I'd give this book a PG-13 rating.

This book was printed in 1991 so most of the stories cited date from the late 80s and early 90s. That makes some things a bit dated....but funny headlines and weird news are still weird no matter how many years go by. These stories don't have to be current to make a reader laugh or roll their eyes. Just proves dumb criminals and silly people have been doing weird things for a long time.

With the short paragraphs and organization of this book, it would make a great bathroom book, or a smile generating collection of snippets when a person is in the mood for a cute joke. I used it for a palate cleanser between books. When I finish reading a thriller or suspense novel, sometimes I just need something light and funny to clear my head before I jump into another one. This book was perfect for that! One of my favorites was the story about a skinny prisoner in Stockholm who escaped from the prison by saving all the margarine from his meals, which he then used to oil himself and squeeze between the bars of his cell. Now that's a slick escape! :)

Fun book! There are several books in this "news of the weird' series. I'm definitely going to read more! The book is out of print after so many years but used copies appear to be easy to come by.

REVIEW: Chernobyl

Chernobyl (World Disasters)
Author: Don Nardo

This book contains information about the 1986 nuclear disaster near the city of Pripyat in Ukraine. The book is part of a series on disasters, their causes, aftermath and historical value. The information is presented for middle-grade students, but is an informative read for ages 10-adult. Background for the disaster includes the history of the USSR from the revolution to the communist era, the history of nuclear physics and nuclear power, and information on both fission and fusion. It makes for a very well rounded historical account of the disaster.

Written in 1990, just four years after the disaster, the book is obviously well-researched and written, but outdated. At first, the cause of the accident (which killed many and caused the permanent evacuation of more than 130,000 people from the region) was blamed on operator error. The book even states that the USSR "disciplined'' several managers from the plant who were making decisions during a testing situation that caused the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl plant to explode. In this case, disciplined meant prison sentences. Later on, in 1994 another study of the incident put the blame on the design of the nuclear plant. The safety measures and the plant itself were designed in ways that made the test they were running at the time of the incident very dangerous. When things went wrong, decisions the crew made to avert the disaster only made the problem worse. That updated information is, of course, not in this book.

What doesn't change, however, is the bravery of local firefighters, doctors and laborers who went into the disaster area to work, knowing the radiation would most likely kill them. Radiation poisoning sometimes kills quickly, but sometimes it is an agonizing death with bone marrow damage, intestinal and other organ damage and painful burns that get steadily worse over time. The passage of time also does not change the fact that Pripyat, Chernobyl and other area towns were evacuated. The residents were given no warning and no time to prepare....they were just forced to leave their homes. With nothing. Never to return. The land is poisoned. Their belongings were irradiated to dangerous levels. Can you even imagine that? Just are sitting at home one day and hear an explosion, then shortly after, the government rounds up everyone onto thousands of buses and you are forced to leave everything behind. Everything. I can't imagine how scary, stressful and damaging it was for all of those people. I can't imagine the level of pain for families of workers left behind to try and stop the fire and explosions at the damaged plant. They were evacuated knowing their loved one(s) were working in the middle of an extremely dangerous disaster, and that they would most likely die.

I remember the news casts the day following the accident when information began to trickle out of the USSR and Europe regarding the accident. The USSR attempted to cover up the accident, but increased levels of radiation were detected over nearby countries in Europe. I remember the first news casts just said something along the lines of there being increased radiation pinpointed to an unknown nuclear incident most likely in Ukraine. Then later the USSR did announce bare bones information and accepted help from doctors and other experts from other countries.

There are still questions about the disaster, its causes and aftermath. More information has been released about the site through the decades since the accident and scientific teams have studied the effects of the radiation on the environment and animals in the region. The entire region is still very dangerous and a restricted zone, but that isn't mentioned in the book because it was written 28 years ago.

I would love to see an updated version of this book with all of the new information about the disaster and its effects, plus photos taken in the abandoned cities. I watched a documentary that followed a group of scientists gathering information from the water, soil and structures in pripyat. Radiation levels were still high enough that they could only remain in the area for a short amount of time and had to wear protective gear at all times.

Even though it is outdated after nearly 30 years, the book is an interesting account of the disaster. Many things have changed in the years since its publication, but the basics of the disaster and its effect on the people in the region remains the same. It gives concise information for kids curious about the incident and what might have caused it. With a little internet research that only took me a couple minutes, they would be able to find out the updated information. I think this book could still have classroom relevance in a science unit about nuclear power and radiation. As an adult, I found it interesting and well-researched.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

REVIEW: Green Lantern: Earth One Volume 1

Green Lantern: Earth One Volume 1
Gabriel Hardman, Corinna Sara Bechko

I am a relative new comer to the realm of comics. I really only started reading them in the last 10 years. So I am not the hard-core font of knowledge about characters, worlds and past story arcs like my husband is. He's been collecting comics for almost 40 years. I do know what I like though...but in story line and artwork. I am usually not a big fan of sweeping re-boots and new origin stories. But I'm always willing to keep an open mind. And I think that is a point where I am maybe more forgiving of new reboot story arcs than my husband is most of the time. I am willing to read first, judge after.

Green Lanter: Earth One Volume 1 is a re-boot of the Hal Jordan origin story. When I first read the blurb for this new release, my immediate response was an eye-roll and a "Another fricking origin re-boot'' huffy under-my-breath snark moment. But....then I took a deep breath, and let my gray matter catch up with my knee-jerk decision.....wait a minute....maybe Hal Jordan needs a re-boot. He's a bit of a douche, and let's be frank.....the Green Lantern storyline could use a refreshing.  Then the kicker:  IF IT'S DONE RIGHT.

And you can't decide if it's done right if you don't soak in the art and the plot from start to finish.

So I sat down with my handy-dandy advanced readers copy of this book.....and really kept my mind clear of pre-conceived notions and here-we-go-again-prepare-to-be-underwhelmed auto-response. know what?

I like this reboot! With a couple minor concerns, I really enjoyed this book. I recant my eyerolls and snarky remarks.

Things I like:

Hal Jordan is decidedly less douche-y. In this re-boot, he isn't superior, and the ring didn't choose him. He found it...pure and simple. No reason to grow an oversized, cocky ego. He found it, and didn't even know what to do with the ring. Puts him on a totally different playing field....and I like how the story, and Jordan, develops in this reboot.

I love the artwork! Lots of action. Lots of Kabooms and Kapows with classic comic book flare. Alien worlds. Alien species. But, also some classic manhunter action, and classic GL style artwork. Much of the action is in space and on alien planets, so the art does have a tendency to be dark, but let's be real here -- space is dark, the story line is dark -- dark is kinda a necessity here. All in all, nicely done! The front cover art is awesome!

I like this story as an introduction to a new Green Lantern story arc. It flows well and introduces the new info, rebooted Jordan and new characters quite well. I did not roll my eyes and exclaim negatively about much of anything while reading this. And that doesn't usually happen when I'm reading an origin reboot. The authors did it right. Kudos!

What I didn't like:

The ring does not choose the wearer. Jordan finds the ring and puts it on. End of effort. This means ANYONE can find and wield a GL ring -- even evil people. While that is an interesting way to bring about some action-packed story lines in the's a change I'm not sure I'm comfortable with. There are several really evil entities in the GL universe that I would not like to see wielding a ring. *Shivers*

Manhunters. Or just large, pissed off robots in general. While they are formidable opponents and I enjoyed the action scenes in this book......this concept has been done to death. Trope, trope, trope through the alien tulips. Oh no! Large robots coming to attack the GLs. How did I not see that coming? Irk. Harumph. Meh. In a new origin story I was hoping just a little bit.....well, more than a little bit....that it wouldn't be just another big battle with Manhunters. They are intrinsic to the story....but I wanted something new. New action, right?  Nope. Same action. But....while I did find it a familiar was enjoyable and had some great fights. I guess this point shouldn't be labeled that I "didn't like'' it....more like I felt mild disappointment.

All in all, I was impressed and surprised by this origin reboot.  As usual, this reboot is aimed at bringing in new readers. I hope many read this and enjoy the story and art like I did, and take a fresh look at Green Lantern. I'm going to let my husband read this ARC next and see what he thinks. Oftentimes as a more classic fan of comics, his opinions are sometimes harsher than mine. But this reboot keeps the feel of the original quite well.....I think he might also like this one.

A thumbs up from me!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from DC Comics via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Monday, March 19, 2018

REVIEW: The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell

This book is an incredible, creepy-cool story! Two women living 200 years apart experience evil in the Bainbridge ancestral home. In the 1860's, Elsie comes to the house. She is a widow. Her husband recently died, and she feels lost. In the 1660's, Anne Bainbridge lives in the house. Her daughter Hetta is unable to speak and Anne feels incredibly guilty for using her herbal knowledge to bring about the girl's birth. She firmly believes her actions caused the girl to be born with a malformed tongue. Both women come under the spell of the Silent Companions.....wooden effigies painted like people. At first they seem beautiful, more lifelike than mere paintings....but then, they move. The horror of what lurks in the Bainbridge home is truly chilling.

What an awesomely dark Victorian horror novel! The suspense and horror build steadily until the very end. Descriptions of the Silent Companions are detailed and unnerving. Just the idea of fumbling around in an attic by candlelight with those things in the house.....supremely scary! The ending smacked me right in the face....I didn't see it coming. Twisted, demented, and frightening. The intro to the book tells readers not to read this story at night....I should have listened. There were a couple times it really creeped me out. I loved it!

This book would make an awesome horror movie!

I definitely recommend this book to any reader who likes gothic horror, ghost stories or darkly creepy tales.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Penguin Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Ghosts and Specters

Ghosts and Specters
Author: Nancy & Bruce Roberts

In the South there are many legends and ghostly tales that get told over and over again. Spirits of Civil War soldiers. Ghost lights. Haunted houses. Pirates. Old abandoned mines. Strange forest creatures. Southern lore is rich and ingrained in the culture. Ghosts and Specters gathers up 10 Southern supernatural tales. The stories are varied and more spooky than scary. The collection is middle-grade appropriate, but would also be an enjoyable easy read for adults who like folk lore.

Most of the stories I have heard before, like the legend of the Gray Man seen on Pawley's Island in SC since the 1800s and the Cherokee legend of the Little People. I liked the variety of the stories. The photographs added a nice flair, even though the authors admit to adding in the ghostly apparitions themselves. :) I don't believe that ghosts are real, but I do enjoy a good spooky story. This book is quite similar to others I have seen at tourist shops in the Outer Banks. Nice collection of area folk lore!

Nancy and Bruce Roberts have written several collection of stories, mostly about hauntings and lighthouses including Ghosts of the Carolinas and America's Most Haunted Places. I enjoy reading similar books while vacationing at Nag's Head or other areas in the Outer Banks. There are a lot of great ghost stories in Southern folk lore! This collection would definitely be a good beach read for kids and adults alike.