Monday, February 29, 2016

Old Yeller - One Time when Spoilers are ok

My son came home from grade school today with a book his class started reading together. When he pulled it out of his backpack, I shuddered.

Old Yeller.

Oh no.

Of all the books they could have picked to read as a class, it had to be what I consider the most depressing children's book of all time? I read Old Yeller in 3rd grade and cried my eyes out at the ending. I've hated the book ever since.

Just over the weekend,  Josh was saying he had to read a short book to get the rest of his Accelerated Reader points...and I said, "Well, choose anything but Old Yeller. You don't want to read that book.''

And today he comes home with it as a class reading project.

 I jinxed him.

Knowing my son and his love for animals, I spoiled the ending. Immediately.

I told him to be prepared. The dog dies. I don't want him to be surprised. Might as well spoil the end and save him the sadness. I did tell him not to say anything to his classmates. I will only spoil the story for my own child.

I realize the book is considered a classic. And I remember liking it up until the gun shot at the end. I can name a lot of books that are more uplifting and worth 4th graders reading together than Old Yeller. It's just too depressing. Can't they choose happy books? Something uplifting....something about a kid that invented something or made a difference in others' lives.....something with a happy ending....or just about ANYTHING else.

I love books. But, Old Yeller is the one book I have sworn for more than 37 years to never, ever read again.

It's almost funny that I just told Josh not to read the book.....then 2 days later, they send it home with him. Sigh. We take turns reading out loud from his school library books every night. It's part of our bedtime ritual. Which means....I have to read the damn thing again. Slowly. One chapter at a time. Go over discussion questions. Help with review for quizzes. I have to grit my teeth, smile and read the one book I haven't picked up by choice since I was 9 years old.


I love my son so much more than I hate that book. And I respect his teacher, so I will do what's right. Even read....That Book.

But still.....

I HATE THE BOOK!!  Really?? They had to choose the ONE BOOK I can't stand??? Vent, vent, whine, cry......whimper.

I will put on my big girl pants and get through this.

At least my son won't get a surprise at the end. This is one case where spoilers suit me just fine.

Ugh. does mean that the book is a classic. A work of art. Any novel that can illicit emotions in someone so deep that they refuse to even look at that book again for nearly 40 years....well, it must be crafted quite well, right??

(I still hate it..... )  :)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

REVIEW: Sleight of Paw

Sleight of Paw
A Magical Cat Mystery #2
Author: Sofie Kelly
Publisher: Penguin Group
312 pages
Cozy Mystery

I am a sucker for cozy mysteries with cats. I recently read the first book in this series and enjoyed it. I  immediately checked out the 2nd book from the library. I'm not sure if it was my curiosity about the magical powers of the two cats, or my wondering about the main character's love life that made me pick up the 2nd book so quickly. :)

Kathleen Paulson returns in Book 2 with her two cats, Hercules and Owen. The renovations to the Mayville Heights, Minnesota Library continue. As head librarian, Kathleen is overseeing much of the project, while also assisting with the annual Winterfest festivities. Once again, she finds herself at the center of a murder investigation when the body of an elderly woman is found in an alley.  Can Kathleen and her two feline assistants sleuth their way through another mystery? What secret was the dead woman hiding? And who killed her?

I am really enjoying this cozy series. I like Kelly's writing style, and her characters are interesting. Wondering about why the cats are so different keeps me reading the books as well. I'm hoping more information about Wisteria Hill and its feral cats will be included in the story line for book 3, (which I have checked out of the library already...ha ha) Copycat Killing. There are 7 books in the series so far.

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The DNF Conundrum

I very rarely start reading a book and don't finish. But I'm learning that sometimes a book just isn't my style. Rather than waste days trying to struggle through it, I'm discovering that, at times, it's best to just move on to another book.

Recently, I checked out an ebook online that sounded interesting. It's title referenced a famous ghost ship, and I was excited to read a scary tale about the ship's legend. But, after reading more than half of the book, the ship in the title had only been mentioned in passing. The book was more about the old spiritualist movement with only slight references to the ship and its legend.

It became a struggle for me to keep reading. I kept hoping that it would begin making sense and become enjoyable. But as I passed the halfway mark and it was still torture for me...I knew it was time to return the book, and move on to something else.

Not every book that I start reading is going to be appealing to me. Just as I've had to learn how to say no to people as an adult, I need to learn when it's time to say no to books.

There are hundreds of thousands of books out there that I can read. Life is to short to struggle through reading something that is not enjoyable to me. I used to feel bad about DNF (did not finish) books. I thought I wasn't giving the author enough of a chance. That maybe I was quitting just before the story got interesting. But....just like with some people or situations....there are times when something is never, ever going to be appealing to me. It's ok to say NO.

The book in question has been returned to the online library for someone else to try. For me, it was a no. For someone else, it might be awesome.

I'm not going to review the book since I didn't finish it. So I'm not mentioning the title or the author. I can't give an opinion on something that I didn't complete. But it did get me to thinking about those feelings of guilt when I finally give up on a book. Just like I still have a pang or two of guilt when I tell someone no.

I wanted to like this book. I gave it a chance. But, it just didn't work out.

It wasn't you, book. It's me.

Some relationships were just never meant to be. I'm reading another book now. Time for you to move on.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Audio Books....just not feelin' it

I love old time radio and listen to podcasts on my smart phone all the time. I have a huge playlist of podcasts that download to my phone. All different kinds -- old radio, history, classic short stories, ghost stories, cooking, true crime, fitness, legends, etc. I listen while doing housework, soaking in the tub, browsing the internet, cooking dinner, in my car.....just about all the time. So you would think that someone who always has a podcast playing would really enjoy audio books. Right? But no....I'm not really feeling the joy. 

Years ago, when I used to travel for business, I would listen to books on tape for company on long drives. But now I work from home and just don't take long trips by myself anymore. When driving to the beach or Florida with the family, I'd rather talk to them or listen to music. I just can't pay attention to a book when there are other people with me. 

In the last month, I've tried 3 times to listen to audio versions of books I wanted to read. Twice it was books that weren't available at my local library but that I could borrow online in audio format. And once it was an enhanced audio version of an Agatha Christie novel. 

I find myself spacing off while listening, or getting distracted, and I have to back up and listen to portions over again. Or, for one selection, the problem was the narrator's voice. Her voice was nasally and irritating to me. 

Why is it I can listen to podcasts, but audio books drive me nuts? 

Maybe it's the difference in length? Most podcasts or old-time radio re-broadcasts I listen to are between 30 minutes and an hour. The shortest audio book I've tried so far was 5 hours long. The one I'm listening to now is 8 hours long. I have to listen in fits and starts, as I don't have large blocks of time to sit and just pay attention to the book being read. I have to listen while doing other things. While that is easy when listening to a podcast about history or an old radio comedy hour, it's harder when it's details in a book that require my actual attention. 

I did really enjoy the audio book by Carol Burnett that I listened to. But that was like having a conversation with Burnett. She was telling her stories about her career, her show and the friends she made while on television. I could listen to her talking about Harvey Korman and Tim Conway while doing the dishes, cooking dinner and going about my day. But it's harder to do that when listening to a murder mystery or other involved fiction story. 

Maybe I need to listen for 30 minutes or an hour right before bed when I'm not trying to get other work done and the house is relatively quiet. I will keep trying. There are many high-production, enhanced audio books I'd love to try! I'm not going to stop listening, but I'm going to work on finding a way to listen that works for me. Not giving up yet!

But, I will have to replace my headphones first. If you look closely at the dog chewed the plug off my headphones. sigh. :) 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fostering kittens: a labor of love

For the first time in 2 years, there are no foster animals at my house. It seems....strange.

Two years ago, I was asked to help foster orphan kittens for our local humane society.  I agreed, of course. Then began the steady stream of little babies who needed bottle feeding, cleaning and lots of love.

The most memorable fosters I've had is the litter of seven very tiny kittens who were found in a box of garbage at the county landfill. Someone had dumped them there, covered in trash, then piled garbage bags on top the box. A county employee found them, just as he was getting ready to push the garbage into a pit for burning. He heard them crying and discovered them. The babies were rushed to the local animal control...which was right next to the landfill. Yep....the asshat who abandoned them outside in February, covered in garbage, to freeze and die drove right past animal control to do it. The bad karma bus has a permanent stop at their house, I'm sure. Who the hell does that???

I was at breakfast at Waffle House with my family when I received the emergency phone call. "This is Helen from the Humane Society. They've found a litter of kittens that are half frozen to death. Can you go get them now? They might not make it. We have no idea when they last ate or how long they were outside.''

My husband -- bless him -- understood, and we left immediately. The AC officers had put them in a
box with blankets in front of a heater. The poor things were so tiny, eyes still closed, and not moving much. I rushed them home. They stank like garbage, and were cold to the touch. I was really afraid they might all die. My husband got kitten formula ready while I took each kitten one at a time and massaged their bodies and warmed them. Belle, my chihuahua, went into mother mode immediately. She laid down, licking and warming them after I had massaged them and wiped their little bottoms to help them potty (small kittens cannot eliminate by themselves....their mamas lick them so they can potty. Without help, they will die because they can't go to the bathroom). Then I bottle fed the 7 little babies. Soon, with full bellies, they were all piled up on a fuzzy blanket with a heating pad underneath. It became a waiting game at that point.  They would either begin to recover, or they would die. But at least they wouldn't die covered in garbage in the freezing cold.

Amazingly, all 7 kittens survived...and all were adopted to furever homes several weeks later.

Two are now my older son and his wife adopted two from this litter. Spot and Grace are pictured at the left. And below as they are today. The funniest part is that Spot started out with 3 large spots on his head. As a grown kitty, his spots have disappeared. So he is a totally white cat....named Spot. Makes me smile every time I think about it. :) They are wonderful kitties and have a happy, loving home.

Knowing that 7 beautiful kitties who were thrown out in the garbage fought to survive and all went to loving homes made all the hours spent bottle feeding, cleaning and training 7 little fur faces totally worth it. I remember all those early mornings setting my phone alarm to wake me to feed kittens. With 7, as soon as I finished feeding the last one, it was nearly time to start over at the beginning and feed them again. :)

I have fostered many kittens over the past 2 years. I loved them all, and then sent them to their furever homes. Usually they come to my house sick and abandoned, and leave 8 to 12 weeks later fully trained, happy, healthy kittens ready to grow up with a family somewhere else. My babies have been transported all over the east coast, and occasionally I hear from their new families about how much they love them. Warms my heart!

Kitten season is just around the bend. My home will not be empty of fosters for long. Belle is ready to love on babies that come in the door. As far as I know she has never had puppies, but she truly loves and protects the kittens that I foster. She frantically worries when they start peeping from hunger, or each time they protest when I'm cleaning their bottoms or faces after a feeding. She isn't that fond of our adult, pet cats, so my husband and I have a running joke that someone really ought to tell her that kittens become cats. :)

It's a labor of love. I wouldn't give up fostering for anything! If you are an animal lover, please consider volunteering or donating to your local Humane Society. HS volunteers work hard, but they save a lot of lives and provide healthy, well trained pets for many families! :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It Ain't Your Mama's Library Anymore!

In my on-going quest to gain control over my over-crowded bookshelves, I faced a conundrum. I have placed a rule in effect that I have to read & purge more books from my shelves than I buy this year. In fact, I set a minimum 4 to 1 ratio. And even then, I want to limit purchases to very special books that have a chance to remain on a "keeper'' shelf.

So how can I read new-releases that I've been waiting for? Gifts are, of course, a way around the rules (but the purge rules still remain in effect. I have to read books I already own and get them off my shelves to make room for sparkly, new awesome books I receive from friends, family and OTSPSecretSister). But...there is another great way to read books and not have them end up on my shelves. I recently re-discovered the joys of the Library!!

Local libraries are no longer just shelves of books and magazines, organized by the Dewey Decimal System. The area library consortium (a group of several libraries over 4 counties) where I live all share their collections via a website. I can borrow books, audio books and DVDs from any of the consortium libraries, and place holds or renew items I have checked out from my laptop at home. That is so convenient! Not only that, but they belong to the NC state Digital library as well. So I can check out ebooks and audio books online from the NCDL. I can read them on my laptop, or transfer to the kindle app on my phone. Add in OpenLibrary that offers even more ebooks online, and I've got a huge library at my fingertips at any time. Sweet!

But that's not all....  In the past month, I have attended a couponing class at my local library and enjoyed an adult coloring session. My husband and son have discovered the joys of 3D printing at the library. We now have awesome custom-made Settlers of Catan pieces! And, they offer a monthly book club meeting! Our county has been without a book store for several years now (the shop moved to another, larger town about 30 minutes away), and I was really missing book group discussions. Now, once a month, I can bring what I'm reading and talk about it to a group of bookish, awesome people! Yay!

My writer's group is now meeting at the library once a week. It's the perfect place for us to meet! Each Monday they have a "maker night'' for people to come work on crafts in their maker-space room. Thursdays is teen night to come to the library and work on crafts or hobbies together, or use the 3D printer. They recently had a 3D printer design contest for teens....the projects were all amazing!! This summer they are planning a "summer camp'' for all ages of kids, not to mention the usual story-hour events and other classic library offerings.

So, I can still read books that I don't own but know are just one-time reads, and enjoy all sorts of bookish activities as well! I'm saving money, keeping to my "book diet'', having some fun, and staying on track to re-organize and gain control over my personal library!

The Library has come a long way, baby! :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Shelves are full! Paring down my book collection

I love books. But over the years, I have just collected too many that I haven't read yet. So this year, I am dedicating my reading time to paring down my towering TBR pile.

When we bought our house 13 years ago, my husband built me huge floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves. Every shelf is full. So full, in fact, that I have had to turn books sideways to have more room to stack them. My shelves are no longer sorted by genre or author, but are instead a hodge podge of this and that stuffed wherever there was room. And it's all double stacked. Each stack of books hides another stack behind.

Makes it hard to find anything. Not only that, my books are my most prized possessions. When they are languishing in tight quarters, unread and unseen, I feel like I am somehow not worthy to have them.

So, the answer is to spend 2016 reading my own books. I joined the "Read My Own Damn Books'' group, and made an action plan for gaining control of my book collection. I'm holding purchases of new books to a minimum, and not purchasing anything from my wishlist of books on Amazon. I went one step further. Before I can buy any new books at all, I have to have read and purged at least 4 books from my shelf for every one I want to buy. The only exception is books given to me as gifts. OTSPSecretSister is my one of my allowable cheats. :)

What am I doing with the books I'm purging from my out of control library?  Many of them I am donating to the local Hospice thriftshop. The proceeds from sales there go to help fund the local hospice program in the county. Helping terminally ill people die with dignity is a very important service and I'm happy that I can help in any way. And some I will trade for other books using #booksfortrade or

In the end, I'm getting the joy of finally being able to read some of the awesome books that I have on my shelves, keeping only a select few that will stay on my "keeper'' shelf and setting others free to be enjoyed by others. And, my shelves will go back to being well-organized and not just thrown together for convenience.

My husband has promised to make me a special chair for the living room that is a combination comfy chair and bookshelves. It will look like this. My own little reading spot! I am so excited!

Tomorrow's blog -- What am I doing about new releases that I want to read once, so I can't justify my 4 purged for one buy allowance for them?  The library! Dah Dahhhhh dah!  Tune in tomorrow for my ramblings about the magic of libraries!

Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: A Dickens of a Murder

A Dickens of a Murder (A Canterville Book Shop Mystery)
Authors: Joyce & Jim Lavene
Kindle Version

Lisa Wellman has just gone into business with Simon Canterville. They are opening a book shop in Simon's old, Victorian home. Their plans take a detour when Ebeneezer Hart, a man who had filed a petition against the shop opening in a residential area, is found dead, hanging from the roof. The evidence against her business partner mounts up quickly. Things are further complicated when the police officer who shows up first to the crime scene is Lisa's ex-husband, Daniel.

Can Lisa resist the charms of her hunky cop ex, while proving that her business partner didn't commit murder? Will the surprise late night intruder (that only Lisa can see) help or hinder her investigation?

This was a cute, fun read, despite some obvious plot holes and contrived situations. For example, a 911-operator would not accuse a caller of crank calls and hang up on them, multiple times. People seeing a body hanging in a strange position from the roof of a house would not be standing around wondering if it was the cable guy -- they would call the police, knowing full well the man was dead. And a librarian would not tell a experienced detective that she knows as much about murder investigations as he does because she has attended mystery writer conventions. There were several eye-roll, facepalm moments for me while reading this book. Situations and dialogue that just wouldn't happen. I can suspend reality pretty easily while reading....I just can't kill it and bury it under a rock.

But....this is a cozy mystery, and they are meant to be cute, fun reads, not police procedurals or well-plotted masterpieces. The fun elements in the story got me past the facepalm moments for the most part. There were times when I wished I could tell the main character to shut up and stop acting so stupid. Attending mystery writer conventions does not make anyone an expert in murder investigation!

All in all, a cute, fun read. The writing and plot could have been better, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book.

My rating: 6/10
Ages 10+

Sunday, February 21, 2016

REVIEW: Aunt Dimity's Death

Aunt Dimity's Death
Author: Nancy Atherton
Kindle Version

I have always wanted to read this series, but never started. Basically, I am a completist. Once I start a series, I have to finish it. The Aunt Dimity series has 21 books, and I just didn't want to start that monumental of a project. The other day I logged onto my local library's website, and book one: Aunt Dimity's Death, was at the top of my recommended reading list. I finally decided what the heck and downloaded the ebook. Why not?? Reading book 1 doesn't obligate me to read the other 20 books!

Unless I like it.

Uh oh.

I liked it. :)

The plot is basic and sweet. Lori Shepherd grows up hearing bedtime stories about the adventures of Aunt Dimity. The stories are charming and fantastical and Aunt Dimity always comes out on top at the end. Soon after her mother dies, Lori finds out that Aunt Dimity was actually a real person and a close friend of her mother's for decades.

Suddenly Lori is mixed up in a mystery of sorts. She must solve a puzzle left behind by Dimity after her death. She is whisked away to England to stay in Dimity's cottage, sorting through old letters and photographs. She has only a few weeks to solve a mystery and discover the truth about Dimity and her mother. Along the way she learns a lot about life and herself as well.

This is the first cozy mystery novel I have read that didn't involve a murder. It was a nice change of pace. It has a bit of everything....fairy tale, ghosts, love interest, mystery. It's definitely a feel-good read. The story is simple but incredibly charming. The book was a pleasant afternoon read. Nothing heavy, and enough of a mystery to keep me interested for a few hours while it snowed outside.

Only 20 novels to go! :)

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Saturday, February 20, 2016

REVIEW: The Tissue Trail

The Tissue Trail
Author: Garth Gunston
*PDF copy of this book provided in exchange for honest review*

Several western female backpackers are arrested for smuggling heroin into Singapore. All of the women were unaware that drugs had been placed inside souveniers purchased in Nepal. It doesn't matter. Trafficking drugs into Singapore is a capital offense, even if the person is not aware they are carrying drugs. There is no defense.

A plot is uncovered, however, that might prove the women are innocent. Can evidence of a global conspiracy be found in time to save their lives?

This book was well-written and interesting. The plot held my interest until the end,even if at times it seemed a bit contrived. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Himalayan mountains, the trails and the difficulties faced by backpackers, climbers and visitors to the region.  Gunston obviously knows much about the region he is writing about, and the story provides constant tension until the end.

My Rating: 7/10

Friday, February 19, 2016

REVIEW: Gone Girl.

Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Random House
Kindle Version

When I read the last word of this book, I returned to the library home page on my Kindle and sat speechless for a few moments. Usually I have a pretty straightforward opinion when I finish a book, but not this time.

Utterly disturbing. Yet, mesmerizing.

For me, this book was like driving by a car accident on the freeway. I know I shouldn't look. I should drive right by and not look. I shouldn't be curious about blood, gore and death.  But I can't look away and find myself slowing down to gawk. As I read this story, I felt like I was a voyeur into the suffering of someone else's life. It was emotionally draining. I wanted to put the book was just too much. But, I couldn't stop reading. I couldn't look away from the wreck of Amy & Nick Dunne's lives.

It took me awhile to get into the story. I disliked the main characters. Completely self-absorbed upper class twits. Miss Trust Fund meets Mr. Gorgeous and they get married, only to find out that marriage isn't wonderful rainbows and dancing unicorns. In five years, they have slid into a passive-aggressive, destructive relationship. Neither one is happy. Then Amy disappears and their whole facade comes crashing down. At first, I figured he killed his wife (the whole Scott Pederson kinda thing) and hid her body, but then the story grabbed hold of me and I couldn't stop reading. There was more to it. So much more.

I don't think I was swept into the story so completely because the book was well written, or because the plot was anything exceptionally new. I think it was because the little voice in the back of my mind kept whispering...."This could really happen.''

This could happen. And it's F'd up beyond belief.

I offer no real spoilers. I came into this book without knowing anything except the basic plot, and without seeing anything but a 30 second movie trailer for the film version. If I had peeked to the end or had too much prior knowledge, it would have ruined the experience.

I have to get the feelings this book invoked out of my head. I'm going to watch a funny movie or read something completely ridiculous to get Gone Girl out of my mind. The ending was maddening and gut-wrenching. Sickening, really.

This. Could. Happen.


My rating: 8/10
Adult & sexual situations, some language
Ages 16+

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bookmarks: Marking the Spot

I lose bookmarks.

I read a lot. So I carry books with me wherever I go. I have one in the car. I carry one in my bag. More in my bedroom. A couple in the bathroom.

For whatever reason, for years, no matter which of these stashed books I pick up, my bookmark always disappears. I look around frantically.....could it have fallen on the floor? Anywhere nearby?  Never. Always just gone. Or if I do happen to find it, the poor thing is predictably dirty, torn, ruined. Dead. RIP dear bookmark. No time to grieve. I forge ahead, wasting precious time fumbling around trying to figure out where to start reading.

This fact of my life is why I stopped buying nice, shiny, tasseled, fandom bookmarks. I would find one I loved, only to have it disappear or commit suicide on the floorboard of my car. Oh nooooooo.....Harry Potter has gum stuck on his face! Sadness.....despair....angst....waste of $7.99.

So I abandoned my love for fancy, nice bookmarks, and started picking up the cute freebie paper ones at the library. The characters from Where the Sidewalk Ends urging everyone to read...Peanuts characters lauding the wonder of having a library card...dancing mice.....frogs reminding readers to return their library books on time....still cute, but expendable if they met the usual fate. And I could pick up a new one each time I visited the library. If my bookmark disappeared,  I just had to walk across the room to my stash and get another one.

But then, my hubby gave me a set of the most wonderful bookmarks! I have yet to lose one. It's a miracle!

These little things are Juli-Proof. Whoever invented magnetic bookmarks was a genius! :) Yes, I know these have been around for a long time, but I never thought to try them. My husband gave me a pack of 8 as a present.....and I was astonished. Suddenly, when I picked up one of my reading-in-progress books, it still had a bookmark in it! No more shuffling through pages trying to remember where I had stopped reading. No more reading a page or two only to remember I'd read that part before. No more squirreling away stacks of bookmarks to replace the darn things all the time.

Best. Present. Ever.

I bought another 2 sets of these so that everyone in the house can use them. My son uses them in all his school books now. Not just his reading books, but he uses them in his workbooks, too.

I still pick up a cute bookmark at the library sometimes, but these little magnets are now my favorite reading accessory!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

REVIEW: Paper Hearts Vol 1: Some Writing Advice

Paper Hearts Volume 1: Some Writing Advice
Author: Beth Revis
Publisher: Scripturient Books
327 Pages

I had the privilege to attend a short writer's workshop recently headed by bestselling author Beth Revis. She talked about her early career, and shared the difficulties she faced getting her first novel published. Revis said she wanted to help other aspiring authors through the process, so she wrote her 3-volume Paper Hearts series. Paper Hearts gives advice on writing & editing, the publication process and marketing for authors.

Paper Hearts Volume 1: Some Writing Advice, covers characterization, plot, writing, editing and the critique process. The last chaper "what ifs'' covers all those pitfalls writers fall into....writer's block, bad dialogue, shaky descriptions, how to handle rejection, etc.

This book gives common sense writing advice that has already given me help in resurrecting a manuscript that has been languishing on my hard-drive for months. I'm closing up some plot holes, reforming some characters that just weren't working and editing. I think any aspiring writer would benefit from the common sense advice in this book!

Revis also has some great advice on writing query letters, and other writers topics on her website and blog. There is also more information for writers on her site.

One thing she said at the workshop that really stuck with me is that she wrote 10 novels before she had one accepted for publication. She received 1000 rejection letters before getting a positive response to a query letter. Writing requires a thick skin and perseverance. Keep writing, keep sending queries, keep perfecting the craft!

Write on!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

REVIEW: Curiosity Thrilled the Cat

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat
Author: Sofie Kelly
Publisher: Penguin Group
324 pages
Cozy Mystery

I found this book at the library. The front cover caught my eye first, and then I saw it was part of the Magical Cats Mystery series. Yep....had to read it. Magical cats? The book definitely had to come home with me. :)

Kathleen Paulson left Boston to take a librarian position in Mayville Heights, Minnesota. The renovation of the old library building isn't going well. The contractor is surly and slow and seems to be purposefully botching the job. To make things go from bad to worse, the city's annual Wild Rose Music Festival may be in jeopardy when a dead body is found in the library. Kathleen is a suspect in the murder, so she teams up with her friends and her two cats to solve the case.

This book was a fun read. There is more than meets the eye when it comes to Kathleen's two rescue cats, Owen and Hercules.

As a book and cat lover, this cozy mystery really appealed to me. Although I found the plot a bit formula, I liked Sofie Kelly's writing style. The characters were likeable and the mystery kept me interested til the end. Just a nice, enjoyable read. I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.

My Rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Monday, February 15, 2016

REVIEW: This Time Together: Laughter & Reflection

This Time Together: Laughter & Reflection
Author: Carol Burnett
Audio Book
5.5 hours
Read by Carol Burnett

I usually don't listen to many audio books unless I'm going on a long drive by myself and need something for company. But when I saw this book on my local library's website, I knew this was one I needed to listen to instead of read. Carol Burnett telling her own stories....I knew it was going to be great!

I was not disappointed! Listening to this book was a joy! Burnett tells stories about her days as a struggling actress before she was discovered, then reminisces about her career. I think my favorite parts were the stories about performing The Carol Burnett Show before live audiences. It brought back so many memories of sitting in my parents' livingroom watching Burnett, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway performing their comedic magic. In my opinion, there has never been a funnier show on television. Their antics often had the live audience laughing uproariously, along with the cast members themselves.

Burnett also talks about her friendships with various celebrities including Lucille Ball, Julie Andrews, Cary Grant, and many more.

The anecdotes and stories she tells in this book are just delightful. If you are a Carol Burnett fan, I highly recommend the audio book version. Hearing her tell her stories just made the experience that much better.

My rating: 9/10
All ages

Sunday, February 14, 2016

REVIEW: If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) by Betty White

If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't)
Author: Betty White
Publisher: GP Putnam's Sons
260 pages

I have been enjoying Betty White's comedy on television and in movies since she starred as Sue Ann Niven in the Mary Tyler Moore show in the '70s.  I recently discovered her sitcom from the 1950s, Life with Elizabeth, on DVD. Such witty humor! She has been a stellar comedy talent from the beginning of her career, which spans almost 70 years. When I saw If You Ask Me on the shelf at my local library, I had to check it out! I was surprised to learn that she has written 7 books. I enjoyed this one so much, I know I need to read the others!

Betty writes in an easy-to-read conversational style. She "chats" mostly about the last 15 years. She quips about the resurgence of her career, hosting SNL, starring in Hot in Cleveland, what it's like to win a Hollywood award, and her work in animal advocacy.

I had such a good time reading what she had to say that I read the entire book in one sitting. I couldn't put it down. It was like sitting down to lunch with Betty and just listening to her talk. I enjoyed her anecdotes about her 3 best known television series: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls and Hot in Cleveland. She talked about several movies she has been in recently as well, and how acting in television and movies are vastly different.

If you like Betty White, this book is a must-read. I had such a good time that I was sorry when I reached the last page! Her other books are definitely going on my to-read list!

My rating: 9/10
All ages

Saturday, February 13, 2016

REVIEW: Cross Bones

Cross Bones
Author: Kathy Reichs
Publisher: Scribner
351 Pages

An Orthodox Jewish man is shot to death, and the killing may have something to do with bones discovered at Masada in the 1960s. Temperance Brennan and her boyfriend Andrew Ryan team up with an archaeologist in Israel to solve the case. The bones in question may be the remains of Jesus Christ. Brennan delves into the history of Masada, Jesus Christ, Christianity and Judaism in this 8th book of the Temperance Brennan series.

Well, I have to admit I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this book. While I found the history and the premise that Jesus perhaps didn't die on the cross interesting, I felt that maybe this book was written to cash in on the DaVinci Code craze a few years ago. As the theory behind the plot was explained, I just became very incredulous. There is an afterword by the author citing a book that outlines the Jesus/Mary Magdalene concept. The more in-depth the book went into the idea that they had discovered a tomb containing the holy family, and that people were being killed to cover it up, it just fell flat for me. The ending seemed rushed and more than a little like a cop-out written to not ruffle any feathers. As I read the final chapters, I found myself wondering less about the actual outcome of the story, and more about how Reichs was going to end it without her characters formulating any opinion or finding any factual proof to support or refute the theory.

The book was well-written in general, and for the most part I did enjoy reading it. I just found the ending to be really...well, meh. The story line built up tension and wonder about whether Brennan would prove or disprove the possibility that Christ lived to old age.....only in the end to have no answers.

It is obvious that Reichs researched the topic well, and she gives information so that her readers can research it more themselves. It's just a bit obvious that she backed off from the topic at the end so that some would not be offended by the book.

I would have given the book a higher rating, if not for the fizzle at the end.

My rating: 5/10
Some violence, not graphic.
Ages 16+

Friday, February 12, 2016

REVIEW: Murder, She Barked

Murder, She Barked
Author: Krista Davis
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
276 pages

I have to admit I picked this book up at Barnes & Noble because the title reminded me of Murder, She Wrote. :) There were even a couple Jessica Fletcher allusions in the book. That made me happy.

Holly Miller has lost her job, so she takes a road trip to see her grandmother. On the way, she rescues a dog and witnesses a car explode. Things aren't all peaceful at her grandmother's Inn either -- an employee was run over by a car and a local man is found murdered outside his house. Holly teams up with locals to discover the murderer before her grandmother becomes the next victim.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery. The characters were a bit stereotypical and the plot wasn't deep, but a cozy mystery is meant to be a fun read not intellectual. Holly Miller is a likable main character, and the story line kept me interested til the end. I do have to say there were times where Holly's reactions were slight facepalm moments, especially when it came to her fiance, Ben. She just seemed unable to comprehend the situation or to stand up for herself. I don't know a single woman who would have reacted that way, given the situation. Just sayin'. It didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book though. :) There were also two minor characters that I wanted to punch in the mouth. If you read the book, you will know which ones.  Davis obviously meant her readers to want to punch these people. It worked. I did.

The book includes several recipes at the end, including four for dogs. :) I will cook the pumpkin cookies for my chihuahuas and see how many stars they give them. :)

All in all, a fun read.

My Rating: 7/10
Ages 12+

Thursday, February 11, 2016

REVIEW: Pebble in the Sky

Pebble in the Sky
Author: Isaac Asimov
Publisher: Tor Books
256 pages
Science Fiction

Joseph Schwartz, retired tailor, is walking in Chicago in 1949. Suddenly, mid-stride, he finds himself thousands of years in the future. The Universe is much different. Earth, and its inhabitants, are despised. The Galactic Empire views Earth as a radioactive wasteland, populated with a sub-species of human. The Empire wants to stop any belief that the human race began on Earth, and they want Earthlings controlled and limited to their own planet. Some Earthlings, however, are plotting to take their revenge for years of discrimination and abuse at the hands of the Empire, with a plan that could potentially wipe out most of humanity across the universe. Can an Archeologist from Sirius, an Earthling scientist and his daughter, and a man from 1949 foil the plot before it's too late?

I enjoyed this story immensely! This was Asimov's first published book. He wrote it in 1947 for publication in a magazine. When that fell through, he added to the story and it was published as a book in 1950. It was easy to pinpoint this story as coming from that post World War II era because Asimov's story discusses nuclear weapons, radioactivity and its effect on the planet and humanity. Through his writing, Asimov was questioning the use of nuclear weaponry, not only because of the devastation and loss of life, but because its full, lasting effect on the environment was not fully known.

The story is more than just a diatribe about nuclear ethics. It is a statement about human nature. Even when human kind has evolved fundamentally and spread throughout the universe, humanity is still held back by its basic nature -- racism, violence, and greed.

I found this story a bit more simplistic than other Asimov works that I have read. This being his first book, I think his writing gained complexity through the years.

Pebble in the Sky is actually book #3 of the Galactic Empire Series. Asimov wrote it first, but later wrote two other books giving more of the history and background of the Empire. I definitely want to read the other two books now!

My Rating: 9/10
Ages 16+

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

REVIEW: Angelfall

Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Skyscape
288 pages
Genre: YA fiction

Angels of the Apocalypse have attacked Earth. For six weeks, humanity has endured horror and death. Penryn fears and hates the angels, as she struggles to help her family survive in war torn California. Despite her fear, she comes to the aid of an angel, Raffe, attacked in the street by his own kind. Her actions are the right thing to do even if the victim is an angel, but she can only watch in horror as the attacking angels grab her wheelchair-bound little sister and fly away with her.

She warily joins forces with the injured angel to rescue her sister.

Susan Ee tells a haunting, brutal at times, story of war and the apocalypse. Angels aren't from fairy stories. They are supernatural killing machines sent to Earth to end humanity. Penryn is a strong heroine. She fights to keep her family alive, even while her mother descends into madness.  This is one of the best YA supernatural, action stories I have ever read. Ee's writing is action-packed and emotional. She describes war, the apocalypse, cannibalism, brutality while still keeping the story age appropriate for YA readers. There is violence and death -- you can't have a story about war without it. But Ee's descriptions are vivid, but never grotesque.

Due to the subject matter, I do think that this book really should be for ages 13+. Children who are susceptible to nightmares or other fears maybe should pass this one by until they are old enough to handle the subject matter.

This is the first book in a trilogy.  I highly recommend it. Great action. Vivid descriptions. Great read!

My rathing: 8/10
Recommend ages 13+ due to violence, descriptions of injury, death

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

REVIEW: Divergent

Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Harper Collins
487 pages
YA Dystopian fiction

In the distant future, society is regimented and controlled. Chicago is a walled-in city. Nobody ventures outside the walls. People are divided into 5 factions based on personality: Candor, Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless and Amity. At 16, children choose a faction and that sets the path for the rest of their lives. There is no deviation. Those who don't conform die.

There are only two groups who don't fit into the norm.

The factionless are left homeless and abandoned, surviving off charity on the fringes of society. They are those who left their factions or were thrown out. The dregs of society.

And then there are the Divergent. Divergents show aptitude for more than one faction. If discovered, Divergents are killed.

Tris tests as Divergent. Her life will never be the same again....

I enjoyed this book. There were times I had to work hard to suspend reality because I couldn't believe in a society that worked that way. But the story was interesting enough to keep my attention.

I think this series is a victim of hype. Maybe "victim'' isn't quite the right term. Hype can be both good and bad.

Sometimes hype helps boost a genre, getting more people reading similar books. When I finished reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, I have to admit that I jumped in line with many readers who were looking for another dystopian series to fill the void. The result is that YA dystopian fiction has become more mainstream. Goodreads has a listing of 498 books considered to be the top of the YA dystopian genre.  The attention that Hunger Games, Divergent and other dystopian YA books are getting shows the effect that good marketing, movies and hype can have on readers. They get a taste, and want more.

There are good and bad results when hype grabs a hold of a genre or subgenre. On the one hand, it gets more people reading and discussing books. I LOVE seeing teenagers and adults alike reading books and talking about them. Hype often gets books in the hands of people who don't normally take the time to read. The Harry Potter phenomena is a huge success story when it comes to mainstream YA fiction taking on a life of its own. The books, the movies, theme parks. It has a positive vibe and has brought so many people around to the joy of reading.

On the other hand, the downside.....A good book can be damaged by constant comparisons to another similar book or series, or by a lukewarm movie or television adaptation.

I think the Divergent series has taken a hit on all counts.

After Hunger Games, readers looking for another high action dystopian romp, were eager to get invested in another series. But many were disappointed in Tris. Divergent is more psychological than Hunger Games. Tris is not another Katniss. Her motivation and emotions are different. The books have a different feel, a different vibe. And that's ok. In fact, it's more than ok. But many reviews I have read come right out and say "Divergent is no new Hunger Games''   Does it need to be? I think the Divergent series can stand on its own merit.

The movies were received with mixed reviews. Some enjoyed them, while others panned them both. Many who didn't like the movies are now hesitant to read the books. Some liked the movies better than the books. And there will always be some that dislike both. It's hard to tell whether the big screen helps or hurts a book series sometimes. In my opinion, the movie Divergent introduced a lot of people to the series. But the 2nd movie, Insurgent, was a bad follow up. But that's just my opinion. I'm torn on it, really.

Then there are the readers who just plain disliked Divergent. A book can never please everyone. Sometimes a story or a writer's style just doesn't click. But, I see similar complaints for many dystopian YA books. Unrealistic, silly premise, impossible technology, trite plotline, slow story development, boring, not enough action, etc. Mostly those comments come from adult reviewers. I have to remind people that these books, although they have become mainstream and are read by all ages, were written for younger readers. Both HG and Divergent are YA series and were not written for adults. The plot lines gravitate towards the concerns of younger readers -- loss of parents or siblings, individualism, their place in society, choices, finding love, growing up, fitting in, change, friendship, learning who they are, fear of failure. If you are looking for something more mature, move on to adult fiction.

My  rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Monday, February 8, 2016

REVIEW: Monday Mourning

Monday Mourning
Author: Kathy Reichs
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
303 pages

Forensic Anthropologist Temperance Brennan is back in this 7th novel of  Kathy Reichs' popular series.

Three skeletons are discovered buried in the basement of a pizzeria in Montreal. Brennan believes the remains to be recent. The police disagree. Brennan brings all of her expertise to bear to discover what happened to the three women who were discarded like garbage in a rat-infested basement. What she discovers might just get her killed.

This story had great suspense and lots of interesting twists and turns. I enjoyed this book much better than the previous one, Bare Bones.

I did, however, have a couple of problems with this book.

First of all, I find the romance between Andrew Ryan and Brennan to be a bit annoying. Brennan is a strong woman and a renowned anthropologist. Yet, when she thinks Ryan could possibly be seeing someone else, she gives him the silent treatment, or has temper tantrums. Never once did she just come out and honestly ask him about the situation. I found that less mature than I would hope an educated, strong woman would be in that circumstance. Her behavior towards him was rude and frankly, childish. I know Reichs is trying to build some romantic tension, but for me, it just came off as immature behavior.

And, at one point, Brennan decides to put herself in a dangerous situation. Not only does she endanger herself, but she takes a friend along with her. Two women. Going alone to investigate something they have no business handling alone. They tell no one where they are going or why. Inevitably, Brennan almost gets herself and her friend killed. Is that really a decision a smart woman would make? Surely a better decision would have been to inform her police colleagues, her cop boyfriend or ANYBODY at all where they were going. At the very least, they should have told another friend to call the police if they didn't check in after a certain amount of time.

It seems to be a habit of Reichs to put Brennan in situations where she is delving into criminal investigations she has no business handling herself. Then, the bad guys try to kill her and she miraculously is saved at the last minute. I can see an educated person doing that once....but all the time?? I believe in real life she would be professionally reprimanded for being irresponsible, possibly putting criminal prosecutions at risk, or hindering police investigations. I hope in the later novels in this series that Reichs finds another way to build suspense, rather than Brennan making the same stupid decisions.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. It had enough suspense to keep me reading, despite what I see as horrible decisions on Brennan's part in her professional and personal life.

My rating: 7/10
Some violence, scary situations. Not graphic.
Ages 16+

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My first author signing event

I have been an avid reader all my life. But I was never one to wait in line to buy a book, or to have one signed. I did wait in line at midnight for one Harry Potter book, until I discovered the joy of pre-ordering and having books delivered to my doorstep on their release date.

As I started writing and reading more in hopes of honing my talent and perhaps being published at some point, I found interest building in listening to what authors I enjoy & respect have to say about the craft. I added a few to my Twitter feed. Then it dawned on me (I can be a bit slow sometimes) that authors do public appearances, and Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville hosts many of these events. Derp-a-doo on my part. I could have been gleaning some advice and meeting other bookish folks in the area all this time. *facepalm*

Last night I attended my first author event. Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, was in town. It's a series I very much enjoy, and I figured would be a good choice for my first signing event. We got there an hour early, and got almost the last seats in the house. The store was jammed full of Atticus fans. Or Oberon fans. Or both. The event was well worth the drive! Turns out, Kevin Hearne is a funny, likeable, really cool person. And pretty normal. He once waited in line for 7 hours to have Neil Geiman sign a book for him. Now his experience was a bit different than it would be for me....he related the tale of a girl recognizing him from the Iron Druid poster on the wall at the Geiman event, and he autographed something for her. All in all, rather cool anecdotes from Hearne. He gave a bit of information on where the series is going next, talked about the new book that just came out, annnounced a collection of short stories that he will be working on, and the fact that the Iron Druid series will stop at 9 books.

After speaking for about 30 minutes, he opened it up to Q&A, and answered many, many questions
from the audience. Then it was time for the fun part. The very long line. Very. Long. Line.

I didn't  mind the line. We were standing with other bookish folks, winding in among the shelves of we all discussed...books. Met a very nice man standing behind us, and talked about Jim Butcher's steam punk series, among other bookish topics. That made the time go by faster. Pretty soon I was at the front of the line and it was signing and photo time.

I had a great time! But I did learn a few things: for large events, buy the new book ahead of time (they ran out); get there early or you get crappy seats (lol), and just enjoy the experience, even the long line. :)

Already planning to go up the mountain again in February to hear Beth Revis talk about her new writing advice book, Paper Hearts. If you are ever in Asheville, NC...I highly recommend Malaprops. Not only is it in a very nice, ecclectic shopping area of Asheville, but it's a great indie bookshop!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

REVIEW: The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher: Random House
270 pages
YA, middle-grade fantasy

The City of Ember is surrounded by darkness. For 12 hours a day the darkness is pushed back from the city by lights, kept shining by a generator installed by the Builders. But supplies, including light bulbs, are beginning to run out. The city might soon be engulfed by total darkness.

Lina, and her friend Doon, have just come of age and have been assigned jobs. As they go about their daily routine, they begin to notice that things are going wrong. People are hoarding and stealing supplies. Power outages are becoming longer and more commonplace. City officials are corrupt. Then Lina finds a box containing a message that might be the key to saving the populace of Ember. They just have to figure out how to decipher it and get an entire city to listen to them....

City of Ember is book 1 of a series for middle-grade children. It was recommended to me by a 5th grader, and I'm glad she did! I have yet to come across a child who read this series and didn't love it. I have read some reviews that called the plot too simplistic and faulted DuPrau's writing. Adult readers must keep in mind that this book is NOT adult fiction. It is written for young readers.  DuPrau's story telling keeps the plot age appropriate, while depicting the city's dire predicament. She portrays the start of a slow destruction of society and safety without going too far. Readers who don't want to read a story that is appropriate to middle-grade children should probably stick to adult fiction. The intended audience for YA fiction is children, not adults.

My one complaint -- City of Ember ends on an extreme cliffhanger. And I don't have book 2 yet!!! :)

There is a movie version as well. I have not seen it yet, but have read good reviews. I will request it from Netflix and add to this review once I've seen it. I hope it follows the book closely and doesn't make any sweeping changes. The story is wonderful as it is.

I look forward to reading book 2. I'm headed to the bookshop tonight for an author signing event (Kevin Hearne - Iron Druid Series!) I'm definitely picking up The People of Sparks while I'm there!

My Rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Friday, February 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Press
374 Pages
Genre: YA, dystopian fantasy

I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book at first. Very rarely will I say this -- seeing the movie before reading the book helped me get through this story.

As I read the beginning of this novel, I was picturing what I saw in the movie. Thomas arriving on an elevator to a glade surrounded by walls, not knowing where he was, or who he was. I had the plot playing in my mind like another movie while reading Dashner's words. I like to immerse myself in a book as I read it, but there was something about this one that made that escape difficult. I think part of it was the constant use of slang. I understand that the Glade boys had somewhat made up their own language, but it was a bit overused. Maybe it was just the overall writing style. I had trouble getting to know these characters and forming that reader/character connection. The characters were thinly developed stereotypes....the newcomer, the experienced leader, the mysterious female, the crazy was like Lord of the Flies with a maze added.

But....I have to add that the story was a good enough adventure to keep me reading to the end, even if Dashner's writing style was a bit difficult for me to read.

The plot doesn't involve a lot of side twists. It's a lot of pure description and the author telling the reader what they are seeing, feeling, and simple plot devices to move the story along. But, this is a middle-grade or YA novel. I don't have a problem with the plot advancing in a way that a 5th grader could relate to or understand. The book was written for that age! Read this book for what it is .... a dystopian fantasy adventure written for 5th-8th graders, but enjoyable for adult readers as well. The plot moves the story along more so than the characters. The characters seem to be types rather than individuals that readers will get to know, or personally like. As a reader, I ended up rooting for the group as a whole, rather than any one character. Good vs evil. Or the group vs the unknown.

The basic premise, without spoilers, is this: A boy, Thomas, awakens in an elevator surrounded by other boys. None of them have any memories from before they arrived in the glade. The glade is surrounded by high walls. Every morning, a door opens into a large maze. And each night it shuts. Inside the maze are monsters that kill. Every day, the boys work. Every boy has a job. The fastest, smartest boys become Maze Runners. Runners investigate the maze, trying to find a way out or to discover something about why they are in the glade. But something is changing. Soon after Thomas appears in the elevator, a girl arrives. She shouldn't be there. New people only appear at certain times and it wasn't time. Plus, Thomas thinks he knows her. They can communicate telepatically with only each other. What does this mean? Will they solve the maze? Where did they come from? And why can't any of them remember?

It is the strength of the story premise that provides the magic for this series, not Dashner's writing. I am going to continue reading the series because the first book ends on a definite cliff hanger. I'm continuing on to the 2nd book because I want answers. This time, I'm reading the book before I watch the movie. I'm used to the slang now and will do my best to immerse into the story.

It isn't the characters that keep me's the story. The characters are just plot points that get me closer to the final answer -- what is going on here?

Rating: 6/10
Some violence, not overly graphic
Ages 10+

Thursday, February 4, 2016

REVIEW: Tell the Wind and Fire

Tell the Wind and Fire
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
368 Pages
Publication date: 4/05/2016
*This review based on Advanced Readers Copy provided by publisher in exchange for a fair review.*

In the future, New York is a city divided. Those living in the Light side of the city enjoy wealth and opulence, while those in the Dark struggle to survive. Armed guards and a wall keep Light divided from Dark. A revolutionary group, sans-merci, wants to bring down the Light, to free the Dark from oppression, and they are willing to use any means to accomplish their goals. The penalty for aiding the sans-merci is steep. Treason is punishable by instant death at the hands of the Light Guard.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark city, but her father was from the Light. She gained celebrity when she was allowed to move from Dark New York to the Light. One night while travelling home, her boyfriend is pulled off the train by the Light Guard and accused of treason. Lucie must think fast to save her boyfriend's life. Help comes from an unexpected stranger, and her life will never be the same.

Tell the Wind and Fire is a modern re-telling of A Tale of Two Cities. Sarah Rees Brennan does an excellent job of giving the story a new, magical twist. Her book is just as emotional as Dickens' classic. I was left with tears in my eyes as the story came to a close. Enjoyable read!!

This book will be released on April 5th, 2016.

My rating: 8/10
Middle-Grade Fiction
Ages 12+

REVIEW: Einstein's Beach House

Einstein's Beach House
Author: Jacob M. Appel
Publisher: Pressgang
179 pages
*This review based on .pdf version provided free in exchange for honest review*

I'm not often left without words (as my husband would attest with a grin on his face). I've read, discussed, and reviewed a lot of books in my time. It's not often I read one, especially a collection of short stories, that leaves me grasping for the right words. I've been pondering what to say in this review for days after finishing this book of 8 short stories by Jacob Appel. The best I can come up with is this:

Ecclectic. Witty. Brilliant.

I don't give praise lightly. Although I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, the free book doesn't have any effect on my opinion. I receive many free books to review. But this one is special. I thoroughly enjoyed each and every story. Nothing about these stories is old hat, or reworked dusty plotlines. I found myself finishing a story and wondering what interesting adventure the next one held in store for me. A childless couple who adopts a depressed hedgehog, a real estate lie that takes on a life of its own, a custody battle over a tortoise. Each story was something new and different, providing an interesting, unusual peek into the lives of the characters. The stories deal with the dark life struggles we all share -- divorce, mental illness, death, growing old, forgiveness, disillusion, lost love, revenge -- but in an ecclectic, magical blend of tragedy, comedy and the absurd.

Appel has a true gift for story telling. I'm not going to give a synopsis of each story. other than the small snippets I've given above. To me, telling more is akin to spoilers. For this collection, a reader should experience each story cold, without any knowledge of what is to come, until they read it for themselves. Not knowing makes it more fresh and surprising. These stories are amazing! Enjoy!

My rating: 9/10
Adult themes. Minor profanity. Ages16 & up.
Excellent short story collection!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I'm going to read my own damn books! The 2016 TBR project!

I have a seriously backed up TBR shelf. I have so many books that my built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves are crammed full. Just eyeballing my shelves, I'm guessing I have about 600 books? Maybe more. My books are no longer sorted by genre because I have too many. Often books fall off the shelves because they are stacked and too crowded. I have no room for new books, so every trip to the bookstore just compounds the problem.

I can't stand it! My books are my most prized possessions, and my shelves are a mess! Not only that, I write in the same room. The chaotic shelves distract me. I spend more time trying to straighten my books than I do working on my book. I can't stand it anymore!!!

So, I am taking steps to remedy the situation. 2016 is the year I tame my wild TBR shelves! I saw a challenge online and decided to join.

Read My Own Damn Books.

Yes!! A challenge with no rules, other than reading books languishing on my TBR and dumping out DNF and unwanted books that are taking up space. When I finish books, I'm going to trade or donate them, limiting "keeper'' shelf space to a minimum. Then my shelves can be organized and display my books properly! And, I can write in that room without bugging out about my books being disorganized.

My goal:

1. I am going to limit myself to 4 new books per month. This only includes books I buy for myself. Gifts given to me do not count.

2. I have to read then trade/donate more books per month than I bring into the house. This count DOES include any books gifted to me. My ultimate goal is to read & clear at least 100 books from my shelves by the end of 2016, and to trade/donate any books I am not actually going to read or use.

3. As I clear shelf space, I will begin to re-organize my books by genre and author.

4. I will use the library more. Books that I'm only going to read once, I will check out from the library, read them and return. I will also use our local library's digital services where I can borrow ebooks and audio books online, rather than buying them. That saves me $ to buy the new releases and others I really want as a physical book, rather than books I'm going to quick read and forget about.

This will allow me to display my books the way I want them! I will be so happy!! I'm going to READ MY OWN DAMN BOOKS!! :)) Yay!! I've needed to do this for SO long!

Interested in paring down your TBR pile as well??  You can find this challenge, and join up with others who are also reading their own books here at Estella's Revenge

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

REVIEW: A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc
228 pages
Published September 2015
Review based on Advance Uncorrected Proof

Just as the title states, this is a very curious tale that deals with some pretty heavy topics -- death, suicide, mental illness, grief -- but in a magical way. Pram speaks to ghosts. From birth, she has been able to see them and talk to them. But, for whatever reason, she can't speak with the ghost of her dead mother. She lives with her aunts, who shield her from the truth about her mother's suicide. And she has her best friend, Felix, a ghost.

She meets a boy at school who has also lost his mother. She bonds with Clarence over their shared loss. The kids plan to find Pram's father, a sailor who might not know she exists, and also enlist the help of a spiritualist to allow Clarence to speak with his dead mother. But, their plan is in jeopardy because Lady Savant is not what she seems.

This is Lauren DeStefano's first middle-grade book. This eerie story teaches a lesson about love, loss and the power of friendship. Despite dealing with dark emotions and topics, the story is not scary. It is totally appropriate for middle-grades 4-7.

I very much enjoyed this book. DeStefano tells a beautiful tale that can't help but have an emotional impact on young readers and adults alike. It delves into serious subjects that affect kids - parental death, loneliness, and betrayal - without going too far. The end result is a lyrical, hauntingly beautiful story about a girl caught between the land of the living and the spiritual world.

My Rating: 8/10
Dark topics, but age appropriate.
Grades 4-7

Monday, February 1, 2016

A lesson in patience: children who hate reading

I have loved books since before I could read. I remember begging my parents and siblings to read to me all the time when I was very small. Finally, my older brother taught me to read so that I would stop asking. Since then, I have read everything I can get my hands on!

My oldest son loves books. My step-children all love to read. And my husband too. youngest son....getting him to read anything was a constant battle. Now there were reasons...he is dyslexic. Learning to read for him was a constant struggle. It really affected how he felt about books. Reading was a punishment for him, not something he enjoyed. Finally, I homeschooled him for 2 years to give him the one-on-one attention he needed. With lots of phonics work, he learned to work around the problem. But, he still hated reading. The only thing he was willing to read were instuctions for video games and webpages about games, software, or Minecraft how-to manuals. I tried every sort of book I could think of....ones I liked as a child such as Harry Cat's Pet Puppy, The Cricket in Times Square, The Mouse and the Motorcycle. He would read them because he had to, but there was no enjoyment.

I found that part of the problem was me. As a bookish person, I had a hard time understanding how he could dislike reading. I had to step back and realize that each person is different. His experience with books was not a good one because of his learning disability. My pushing books on him was just like someone fixing liver 27 different ways, telling me that I would come to like it if I ate it every day. No way. For Josh, reading was something he had to grow into. He had to discover what he liked and ease into it. He just needed time to stop associating reading with his struggle with dyslexia and start seeing books as outlets for his imagination. So I backed off. I kept offering books, but I let him start deciding what he read.

When he discovered the fact that some movies he enjoyed such as Harry Potter, Maze Runner, and Divergent were actually based on books, he started showing more interest in trying to read those books. I told him that a lot of content from the books was left out or changed in the movie versions. To illustrate my point, I showed him an old after-school special of The Mouse and the Motorcycle. Whole plot points were changed, and big sections of the story were left out. I also told him that some characters and situations in the Harry Potter novels were left out or significantly changed in the movies. The only way for him to learn about Nearly Headless Nick wanting to join the Headless Hunt would be to read the books!  It was like a light came on inside him. Suddenly, he wanted to read!! Josh returned to public school this year. He loves it. He has made lots of friends and is thriving. And he reads his assignments and library books for Accelerated Reader points without much complaining.

He loves science fiction. I started showing him YA book series that seemed to fit him. Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series caught his eye. He asked for the first book, Lost Hero. Every night he sits and reads for at least 15 minutes, telling me how much he is enjoying the story. My son. The book hater. Reading a 600+ page book by CHOICE. He loves Harry Potter. He whipped straight through book 1, and is now reading book 2. When we went to the bookstore last week, he asked for a copy of Throne of Glass. Then this month a fan fiction book based on Five Nights at Freddy's (a video game), The Silver Eyes, was published. It was the first time he begged me to order him a book from Amazon. His bookshelf is quickly filling up. My lovely secret sisters from OTSPSecretSister sent him some great books to try as well. HE HAS A TBR SHELF!!

Not every child who dislikes reading is going to turn a corner and become a bookworm. But with patience, they can find books that they like and want to read. Joshua still hates books that he is forced to read for school. Right now, his class is reading The Black Stallion and he doesn't like it. Every night I have to listen to him complain about "the stupid horse book.'' He is not interested in the slightest. But, like it or not, it is a fact of life that at times everyone has to do what they have to do. It's a life lesson. So each night he reads the required chapter for school, then he gets to switch to something he does want to read. We are taking turns reading chapters of The Silver Eyes out loud to each other. He's learning to use inflection (and character voices) when he reads out just makes me smile!

So, if you have a child who hates to read....just give them space to discover books that they enjoy. Reading might never become their favorite pastime but over time they can learn to find some enjoyment in the written word.