Thursday, March 31, 2016

REVIEW: Starflight

Author: Melissa Landers
YA Science fiction

Orphan Solara Brooks wants a fresh start. She would do nearly anything to go somewhere that nobody will care about her past or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She's desperate enough to sign on as a servant to Doran Spaulding, the rich kid who made her miserable in school, in exchange for her passage to the outer realm on the SS Zenith. In the outer realm, she will be able to work as a mechanic and not be judged for her past crimes.

But plans go awry, and she ends up on board another ship, the Banshee, with a crew of fugitives. As they battle space pirates, Enforcers, bounty hunters and solve a slew of other challenges, they come together to form a rag-tag family.

This was just a great YA space adventure! For me it was reminiscent of Firefly. The tale was filled with action, romance, and a bit of intrigue. Not really big on surprises.....the plot was a bit predictable. But, the characters are likable and the storyline exciting.

This is the first book in the Starflight series. The 2nd book is scheduled for publication in February 2017. Landers also penned the Alienated series, that has 2 books so far. Alienated and Invaded will be followed up by a 3rd book, United, in August 2016. There is also a short holiday story, Until Midnight, that is available to read in Kindle format for free on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

REVIEW: Death of a Gossip

Death of a Gossip
Author: M.C. Beaton

A few years ago, I watched a British television show called Hamish MacBeth. It was the first time I saw the actor Robert Carlisle.  His portrayal of the low-key Scottish police constable made Carlisle, and the show, instant personal favorites.

I have always wanted to read the book series by M.C. Beaton. Finally, I got around to it, and got the first book from my local library. I'm so glad I did. Death of a Gossip was a delightful read!

A group of 8 tourists signs up for a week of fly fishing instruction at the Lochdubh School of Casting. The group seems directly from an Agatha Christie novel almost -- the required upper class twits, a secretary who wishes she was someone more important, a womanizing playboy, a rebellious young lad, a trouble-making woman, the beautiful vamp and the American couple who like to brag about themselves. They all try valiantly to learn the art of fly fishing, while being annoyed by the horrendous manners and behavior of Lady Jane Winters. Before long, after being zinged by her personal comments and veiled threats, the entire group hates Lady Jane. It isn't long before she is found dead floating in the lake. Detective Chief Inspector Blair is soon on the scene to investigate, but Hamish MacBeth is also looking for clues and looking for the murderer right under the Inspector's nose. Who killed the hideous Lady Jane? What was her secret? And is Hamish MacBeth more than the small village bumbling constable that Blair assumes he is?

Death of a Gossip is a quick read, but delightfully written. MacBeth reminded me of the Scottish version of Columbo. He seems to be lazy, a bit slow and like he isn't doing his job, when actually he knows and notices much more than anyone realizes. The story unfolded with the perfect mix of humor, quaint village life, personalities and investigation. Overall, just a fun read!

The Hamish MacBeth Mysteries series has 31 books. I'm not sure that I will be reading all 31 of them, but I certainly enjoyed this first book! And I already have book 2 and several others on my TBR shelf. I bought several at a used book sale a couple years ago and put them on the shelf, but never had time to read them. Finally taking the time -- and I'm so glad I did! I hope every book is as humorous and fun as this first book!

If you want to see Robert Carlisle in the television version, you can watch on Youtube here. The television version is different from the books, but still very very good!

M.C. Beaton also wrote the Agatha Raisin series & the Edwardian Murder series.

My rating: 9/10
Ages: 16+
Some language and adult situations

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

REVIEW: Cat on the Edge

Cat on the Edge
Author: Shirley Rousseau Murphy

I read a lot of books that involve cats helping solve crimes. I love cats. I love reading mysteries. Why not combine the two? Out of all the books I've read that combine cats and murder, I have to say that this one is the most imaginative and original.

Joe Grey is a typical tom cat. He roams the streets looking for lady-cats, hunting for food and investigating his neighborhood. He naps in the sun and has a pretty great life, as cat's lives go, thanks to his owner, Clyde. One day, Joe's life is turned upside down when he suddenly has the power to understand human speech. Not only that, he can read, too. And, as if that wasn't enough, he can also talk. Before the shock of his new talents can even begin to wear off, Joe Grey witnesses a murder in an alleyway, and the murderer follows him home. Joe needs to investigate the case to protect his owner from the killer.

Readers definitely need to be able to suspend reality for this book. The concept was cute enough for me to be able to temporarily believe that a cat could suddenly have the power to speak and read. Why not? :) It made for a fun read. The plot was a bit predictable....but I'm willing to let that go because...well....talking cats. :)

There are 17 books in the Joe Grey Mystery Series. I don't know if I will read them all, but I will definitely be reading more in this series! Readers who enjoy mysteries, and who also love cats, should definitely try this series.

My rating: 7/10
Ages: 10+

Monday, March 28, 2016

REVIEW: The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge
Author: Charlie Lovett

It has been 20 years since the ghosts of Christmas appeared to help Scrooge reform his life and saved him from an eternity in hell, bound by chains like the ones still worn by the ghost of his poor partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge has kept his promise to keep Christmas every day, not just on December 25th, much to the consternation of many around him. Every day, Scrooge goes around London wishing people a Merry Christmas, wearing a scarf, and being jolly, even during the hottest days of summer. It is on one such hot summer night that Scrooge is once again visited by the ghost of Marley. Scrooge promises to assist Marley in shedding the spiritual chains he formed link by link and yard by yard by his poor treatment of his fellow human beings. Scrooge takes on the challenge with all of his charitable zest for life and helping others, and the ghosts return to work their magic, and help Marley find peace.

A Christmas Carol has been my favorite book since I was a little girl. And this month I am reading a few re-tellings and continuations of the story. So far, this one is my favorite. Lovett's tale is well-written, in keeping with the style of Dickens' classic, and just fun to read. It's a nice mix of humor, and morality tale.

The copy that I own is a beautiful hardback book published by Penguin/Random House. It looks great on my shelf next to my Penguin Christmas Classics set. All were a gift from my #otspsecretsister this past Christmas. Thank you, Lili!

I have several more Christmas Carol related books I'm going to read and review. I hope some or all of them are as enjoyable as this book!

My rating: 8/10
Ages: 10+

Sunday, March 27, 2016

REVIEW: Black Rabbit Hall

Black Rabbit Hall
Author: Eve Chase

Lorna wants to get married at Pencraw Hall, an old, sprawling country house in Cornwall. Despite her fiance Jon's misgivings about the house, Lorna feels drawn to the old estate, despite its peeling wallpaper and general lack of repair. She becomes almost obsessed with discovering the history of Pencraw Hall, called Black Rabbit Hall, by the locals. While walking through the woods near the estate, Lorna discovers a tree carved with the names of children who used to live at the Hall. Why does she feel drawn to this house, its past and the lives of these four children? Who are Amber, Toby, Kitty and Barney, and what happened to them at Black Rabbit Hall?

This book has a haunting, gothic feel. While the plot was predictable, the book is extremely well-written. Ms. Chase intertwines the lives of her characters across decades in haunting, dramatic story-telling with the backdrop being an old, dilapidated country manor. Choices come full circle. Secrets are revealed. The consequences of one event blossom out into ripples through time, effecting an entire family over generations. Black Rabbit Hall is a beautiful story that draws a reader into sharing the joy, tragedy and loss experienced by a family.

This book drew me in and kept me reading to the very last sentence. I figured out the secret before it was revealed, but that didn't matter. I felt the emotions of the characters and wanted to know what happened to them. Just an enjoyable read, with a slightly dark feel.

Black Rabbit Hall is Eve Chase's first book. I look forward to her next published novel!

My rating: 8/10
Ages: 16+
Some sexual situations, not graphic

Saturday, March 26, 2016

REVIEW: The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries

The Inspector and Mrs. Jeffries
Author: Emily Brightwell

There are a whopping 34 books in the Mrs. Jeffries Mystery series. 34!! But, I can say with no reservations, that book #1 was delightful! If all of the stories in this series are such fun reads, then I can see how the stack of published Mrs. Jeffries novels has grown to 34 books!

The plot in a nutshell: Mrs. Jeffries is the housekeeper for Inspector Gerald Witherspoon. Witherspoon received a promotion after helping solve a rash of horrible murders. He used to be a records clerk for Scotland Yard, but now is an inspector who investigates and solves major crimes. Behind the scenes, Witherspoon is assisted by his staff of servants, headed by Mrs. Jeffries. The assistance with his cases is done in secret, of course, because they don't want to hurt Witherspoon's feelings. But, he can be absent minded at times and most of the time his investigations just need a nudge in the right direction. While he isn't the best investigator, Witherspoon is a very kind and generous employer. So his servants don't mind sneaking about to help him solve complicated cases. In the end, he believes he solved the cases himself, and his staff knows that they helped him maintain his reputation as one of the greatest investigators at Scotland Yard.

This book was a short, fun, read. A real Victorian cozy mystery romp. It had humor, suspense and just the right peppering of villainy. It didn't get bogged down in explaining past history of the characters, but gave enough information during progression of the plot to bring readers up to speed. That kept the pacing of the mystery going, without slowing down to explain minutiae that had nothing to do with the present story.  The book is not complex, but a quick, simple afternoon read. As a cozy mystery lover, this book really hit the spot for me.

I don't know if I will be able to find the other 33 books in the series, but I'm certainly going to read a great number of them! This book was well-written and witty. Mrs. Jeffries and the other servants in the house are likable characters, and readers will find themselves loving the bumbling Witherspoon just as much as they do.

My rating: 8/10
Ages: 10+

Friday, March 25, 2016

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol 2

A Christmas Carol 2
Author: Robert J. Elisburg

Ebenezer Scrooge has been dead for 5 years. There must be no doubt whatever about that, or the tale Robert Elisburg relates will have no purpose. Scrooge was dead as a doornail. And, in that time, the abundant benevolence of Bob Cratchit has nearly bankrupt the exchange house, Scrooge and Marley, which he inherited upon the death of his long-time employer. The business is nearly bankrupt, and the situation appears dire. What's the answer? Scrooge returns, and sends 3 spirits to confront Cratchit with his poor business habits, hoping to reform him to more prudent outpourings of love to his fellow men.

Once again, readers are taken on a whirlwind tour of Christmas past, present and future, with an over abundance of character name dropping from other works by Charles Dickens. This book is a continuance of the tale, told with cheeky humor and a leaning towards ascerbic wit and sarcasm. Cratchit means well, but he is bungling and doesn't understand that his easy way with the company's assets might be doing more harm than good. And his lack of understanding sometimes makes him the mark for people who are less than honest in their dealings with him.

The ghosts have but a short time to set him back on the right path and teach him the ways of prudent business and finance.

This book was ok. It was well-written and witty. I did get a bit tired of the constant references to characters from other works by Dickens. Everyone had at least a bit-part in this melodrama -- characters ranging from Fagin to Little Dorrit made their appearances to help Cratchit learn the error of his ways. I understand that this piece was meant to be dark humor, and it managed that very well. For me, it missed the mark. Only because it wasn't what I would have chosen to read. A Christmas Carol is my favorite book, and has been for 40 years. I don't want it reduced to a farce of dim-witted, ill managment....what I wanted was a real continuation of Dickens work. That disappointment stems from my expectations, and not the actual quality of the work.

I liked it. It was ok. Just not my cup of tea. Others who enjoy quick wit and don't mind the re-working of the tale in this manner, might love this book.

Give it a whirl. Made me re-think some of my spending habits. And I did enjoy reading the footnotes about the various Dickens characters. (For those who haven't read a lot of Dickens, the character references are labeled with footnotes, where you can read the background. So don't worry....the references won't pass you by unnoticed.)

My rating: 6/10
Ages: 16+, just because of all the references that children might not understand or care about.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

REVIEW: Scrooge and Marley

Scrooge and Marley
Author: Kurt F. Hollenbech

A Christmas Carol has been my favorite book ever since I first read it as a child. There's just something magical in the redemption of the unkind curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge.

When I learned that there were several re-tellings and continuations of Scrooge's story by various authors, I had to start reading some of them. There have always been several unanswered questions for me -- how was the rest of Scrooge's life? What happened to Fred & his wife, or the Cratchit family? But most of all -- what happened to Jacob Marley? He made such an effort to bring about the redemption of his former business partner...was he really still damned to hell for all eternity?

Scrooge and Marley is the first continuation of  A Christmas Carol that I have read so far. Written by Karl Hollenbach, the book brings Marley and Scrooge together again to finish out some loose ends. It is exactly a year since the 3 ghosts visited Scrooge in the night to help him turn from his wicked ways. Marley returns to ask Scrooge to do him 4 favors so that he can be freed from his chains as well. As Scrooge completes each task, he learns more about true redemption and what it means to be human. Forgiveness, kindness and understanding are powerful forces for good. There are choices to be made in each person's life that can effect others, and those choices need to be made with care and love.

This book was a delightful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed Hollenbech's take on what might have happened after the ghosts departed and Scrooge's life was reformed. I was glad to see Marley earn more than wailing, gnashing of teeth and a spooky farewell of  "look to see me no more.''

The book is short....only 85 pages or so. But it really is a delightful read for fans of A Christmas Carol.

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

REVIEW: The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor

The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor
Author: Amy M. Reade

Carleigh Warner is hired to restore an old Southern Plantation house near Charleston, SC.  In college, she was friends with the Peppernell's daughter, Evie, so it feels like coming home to be in the house again and to meet all the family members once more. As soon as she starts restoring the home though, Peppernell family members begin dying. Two unexplained deaths, threatening phone calls and vandalism soon have Carleigh thinking something sinister is going on at Peppernell Manor.

This story had great potential, and almost acheived it. I say "almost'' for several reasons.

First of all, the title of the book and summary made it sound like this would be a mystery or ghost story. The ghost of Sarah, a former slave and direct relative of the current house manager, was even mentioned....but never appeared. Sarah's backstory is told at the beginning of the book and the house manager, Phyllis, talks about what the ghost wants and thinks all through the book, but the ghost never materializes. Also, the deaths of two family members warrant almost no investigation or serious questioning by family members. The police are called in, some questions are asked, and then the investigations are seemingly dropped and renovations of the house continue like nothing happened. I think a household with two members dying mysteriously within days of each other would be more disrupted than just a little crying for a day or two. And the police would have been actively investigating for more than a few hours. What at first seemed to be a mystery/ghost story turned into more chick-lit/light fiction, in reality. The spooky angle was never really there. And the murder mystery was never developed. It was like "Oh he's dead in the garage? Someone killed him?  Ok.....let's refinish the floor in the ballroom. It has to be done before Christmas.''

The portrayal of Carleigh's ex-husband as a jealous, controlling, questionable person was weak at best. Carleigh seemed angry that her husband wanted to maintain a relationship with his daughter, and at one point, she even said "Do you promise to stay away from me? And from Lucy as well?''  What? The child is his daughter, after all. Why would he have to stay away from his own daughter? Surely, these characters could have been portrayed as being supportive of their young daughter by getting along for her sake and acting as adults rather than vindictive, jealous, self-centered, immature idiots. The constant negative portrayal of the ex-husband and father in this story really got to be annoying for me. Bad dialog and situations between the parents and melodramatic behavior just verged on the ridiculous.

That said....I did enjoy reading the story. The characters, although not deeply developed, were mostly likable and the plot was engaging enough to keep me reading. I just wish it had actually developed into something more than a weak romance novel. It was interesting to read about how Carleigh was refinishing the different rooms in the house, although very few specifics on renovations of old, historic homes were ever discussed.  And, it did seem ridiculous that she appeared to be doing the work without a crew or assistance of any kind in a very short amount of time. Surely she would have hired at least a worker or two to help her, in addition to the experts mentioned in the story line that assisted with some plaster repair and the woodwork.

This book was just "ok'' for me. The plot is poorly developed, and the characters are undeveloped stereotypes for the most part. Rather disappointing.

My rating: 4/10
Ages 10+

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

REVIEW: Simon's Cat: Beyond the Fence by Simon Tofield

Simon's Cat: Beyond the Fence
Author: Simon Tofield

Anyone who is owned by a cat should read this book of wonderful cat cartoons. This book is a follow up to Tofield's first book: Simon's Cat.  The cat is back....and hilarious. Simon's cat fights with other cats, stalks birds, eats bugs, spills the litter box, battles tape and other situations that will make cat owners chuckle and nod their heads.

The artwork is cute, and arranged in the book to be like a story. Not every page is a rip-snorter, but every page is cute, with some being uproariously funny.

As the resident housekeeper for 4 lovely felines, and a constant stream of foster kittens, I really identified with this book. Several times I had to laugh out loud as one of my cats had done the very thing depicted in the cartoon. For example, my cat Chester loves to eat stink bugs, but every time he throws up. One cartoon page shows Simon's Cat gleefully eating a bug, then making disgusted nauseated faces until the last frame where he joyfully eats the same sort of bug again. Completely Chester. All day long.

Delightful book. :) Tofield is servant to 4 cats of his own and has published 9 books of cat cartoons. This was the first one I checked out at the library. I'm definitely going to read more. Loved this one! There is also a YouTube channel with animated shorts here: Simon's Cat

My rating: 8/10
All Ages

Monday, March 21, 2016

REVIEW: Haunted by Lynn Carthage

Author: Lynn Carthage
YA mystery

Phoebe moves to England with her mother, step-father and little sister, Tabby. Lately Phoebe feels a bit jealous of her little sister. Her parents are ignoring her because of something she did, but she feels she might be losing her mind because she can't remember exactly what she did. Is she mentally ill? Is she hallucinating? Is she sick? Maybe moving to her step-father Steven's ancestral home in England will help her family re-unite and make things like they used to be. Phoebe likes exploring the old mansion, until she learns of its horrifying past. Will she be able to protect her parents and her little sister from the evil that lurks in the old house? And will she be able to handle what she discovers about herself?

Haunted is the first book in the Arnaud Legacy Trilogy. Lynn Carthage is a pseudonym used by author Erika Mailman (The Witch's Trinity, Woman of Ill Fame). She decided to write her YA novels under a pen name to keep them separate from her adult fiction.

I enjoyed this book. I'm always up for a good, spooky ghost story. The plot was a bit predictable, but the spookily awesome Madame Arnaud more than made up for the lack of surprise. (For Middle Grade kids [after all it is a YA novel], the plot might have more of a shock value than it does for me, after reading thousands of horror stories in my lifetime). And some aspects of the storyline were a bit unrealistic -- whose step-father just happens to have a family ancestral home sitting on 30,000 acres? When Phoebe's family moves to England they certainly do it in style. 30,000 acres? That's almost 47 square miles. It pulled me out of the story just a bit because I had this hilarious mental picture of Phoebe's mom sending her out to mow the lawn......all 47 square miles of it. :) Now that would be some teen angst causing labor right there.

All in all, the backdrop of a dilapidated, English manor house, an evil ancestor with a disturbing legend, and Phoebe trying to reunite her family & discover what's wrong with her made this a nicely paced, spooky, fun read. I enjoyed it enough to return to check in on Phoebe in book 2 to see what happens next. I liked the writing style enough to also check out the Witch's Trinity.

The book had some scary scenes, but all was definintely age appropriate.

The second book, Betrayed, was published in February of this year. The third and last installment will be published in 2017.

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Sunday, March 20, 2016

REVIEW Cookie Dough or Die by Virginia Lowell

Cookie Dough or Die
Author: Virginia Lowell
Cozy Mystery

Olivia Greyson runs The Gingerbread House with her friend Maddie. They sell cookie cutters and lovely decorated cookies.  Most days,their only concerns are running the business and developing new cookie designs, but when local businesswoman Clarisse Chamberlain is found dead, they find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. Olivia inheirits a large sum of money and a prized collectible cookie cutter collection from Clarisse's estate, and the local gossip mill starts rumors that Olivia may have killed the woman for money. Maddie & Olivia need to work together to find the real killer, before Olivia is charged with a murder she didn't commit.

The mystery portion of this book was well written and nicely paced. I just had a couple problems with the plot. In a small town, the chances are slim that a specialty shop that sells only cookie cutters or decorated cookies for parties would make enough money to stay in business. And I found it a bit implausible that a woman who bakes wonderful cookies for a living can't cook anything else and must resort to constantly ordering pizza because she can't cook.

Other than those two rough spots, the characters were likable and engaging. I enjoyed the added kitsch of the cookie business and cookie cutter collecting. I was a bit amazed that a collection of antique and collectible cookie cutters could be worth $30,000 but after some curious reading online, I found that it's actually a very popular item to collect with older limited edition cutters or antiques being very valuable.

I wish the book would have included a recipe or two. By the time I finished the story, I was in the mood to bake after reading about the characters making cookies all through the story. :)

All in all, an entertaining cozy mystery, despite my questioning the plot a couple of times. I'd like to read more in this series to see how Lowell progressed in her writing after this first book, and to see how her characters develop. The series has six books so far.

My rating: 6/10
Ages 10+

Saturday, March 19, 2016

REVIEW: Tales of Terror from the Black Ship

Tales of Terror From the Black Ship
Author: Chris Priestley
Middle Grade Horror Stories

Ethan and Cathy live in an old Inn at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea. They live with their father, who in grief over the loss of his wife, often drinks too much and easily flies into rages at the children. One night, when the children are ill, their father leaves to fetch a doctor. As he leaves, he tells them not to leave the house or allow anyone to enter while he is gone. As children have a habit of doing, they don't obey.

While waiting for their father to return, the children amuse themselves by telling scary stories. A storm rages outside, giving great atmosphere to their macabre tales. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. A sailor stands on the stoop, asking for shelter until the storm breaks. He regales them with several terrifying tales of the sea.

This is the second book in the 4-part Tales of Terror series by Chris Priestley. I love how Priestley weaves these creepy seafaring stories in and around the tale of two ill children left alone in an old inn during a bad storm.  The stories are all related to the sea, but they are all completely different. Pirates, ghost ships, cursed artifacts, sea monsters, storms....just a lovely collection of scary stories. The book is written for middle grade children, so the stories are spooky but age appropriate. Even adults can enjoy this creepy voyage! I really enjoyed the book! The stories (and a creepy twist at the end) are well written and fun to read. :)

The book covers & stories are illustrated by wonderfully creepy black and white drawings by David Roberts.

This is a great follow-up to the first book in the series: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror.

My rating: 9/10
Ages 10+
Mild horror, age appropriate for Middle Grade childen

Friday, March 18, 2016

REVIEW: Killer Librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin

Killer Librarian
Author: Mary Lou Kirwin
308 pages
Cozy Mystery

Karen Nash has been preparing for a trip abroad with her boyfriend for months. But just hours before their scheduled flight, her boyfriend breaks up with her. Nash decides to go on the trip anyway. She solaces herself with thoughts of killing the assholic, trip-cancelling Dave when he shows up at the airport with a cute bimbo on his arm. Nash's murderous thoughts come back to haunt her later when she discovers a drunken joke may have set a murderer after Dave, and a guest at the B&B where she is staying dies of poisoning.

Killer Librarian is an enjoyable, quick read. I did have a couple issues with the plot. Nash seems to spend a lot of money (last minute round-trip airline ticket to England, dropping a week's salary on a shawl, spending $350 on a book, etc). And it's a bit doubtful that a boyfriend-stealing bimbo could just drop everything and jet off to England on the spur of the moment with an aging, mid-life crisis plumber. At one point, Nash believes that a drunken comment about Dave has caused a hit-man to target her former boyfriend. Hit-men require payment to bump off people. They don't just go about targeting balding plumbers who dump their girlfriends out of a sense of justice. Some of the time Nash just came off as a ninny. A 40-something librarian with one prior failed marriage would understand men better, and certainly wouldn't think she had inadvertently hired a hit-man while flirting in a pub. Dave, The Bimbo & the other guests at the Bed & Breakfast are all pretty much stereotypical characters. There really was very little character development.

The book really isn't a cozy mystery. It's a light romance. The story breaks free from cozy formula. There are no cops, no investigation, no real sleuthing. But, the novel pretty much follows romance novel formula instead: [Girl loses boyfriend to bimbo, girl meets other man, girl starts to get over former lover, girl confronts bimbo, girl has choice between old lover and new guy. Will she choose new guy? Or go back to old lover? All loose ends tied up by the end of the book.]. Because the story follows the romance formula, the mystery portion of the plot was not the main focus of the characters and was solved almost as an after-thought so that the romance angle could reach it's conclusion without that being in the way. I think the book may have developed a bit deeper plotline if the story had followed one genre or the other. The mystery was light because of the romance. And the romance was light because of the mystery. Neither angle really developed much detail or depth. But.....this is a cozy mystery/"light'' romance, not a tome of heavy fiction. Great beach read or afternoon diversion, not a timeless classic.

That being said, I enjoyed the book. Nash's musings about bumping off Dave were cute, and the characters were likable despite not being developed past stereotype. I enjoyed the book references and descriptions of the bookshops, pubs and museums that Nash visited on her trip. All in all, it was a cute, simple, enjoyable,  afternoon read.

I liked the story enough to try the second book in this series. I hope it's a bit heavier on the mystery angle next time.

And, yeah, the karma bus visits Assholic Dave at the end of the book. Full stop. No spoilers....just letting readers know he doesn't get away with being an asshat for very long. Total comeuppance.

My rating: 6/10
Ages 10+
No sex. No cussing. No violence. Light read.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

REVIEW: A Darkness Strange & Lovely

A Darkness Strange and Lovely
Author: Susan Dennard
YA Fantasy

Eleanor Fitt. Miss Fitt. Misfit.

Eleanor returns in book 2 of the Something Strange and Deadly series. Her brother is dead. Her mother, who has gone insane, disowns her. The Spirit-Hunters are in Paris. So when Hell Hounds begin pursuing her, Eleanor is alone. Thinking the Necromancer Marcus is after her, she flees to Paris to join the Spirit-Hunters there. On the ship to France, she meets up with a friend of her brother's who has a secret that will completely change Eleanor's life.

I enjoyed this second book. There was a slight change in Eleanor from book 1 that I didn't expect. In book 2, Eleanor seems weak at times. In the first book, she was strong, independent and courageous in the face of danger. In book 2, she seemed weaker and more prone to be overly emotional in situations where quick action was required. I would have liked to have seen more of the strength Eleanor displayed in the first story. But, with Hell Hounds, an insane mother, losing nearly everything she owns, and seeing so much death, I can understand why Eleanor might be weaker. Maybe she had just seen or experienced too much.  I hope her strength and determination returns to the forefront in Book 3!

I was a bit surprised that the main villain, Marcus, is mentioned frequently in this book, but never actually shows up. I guess the big show-down is being saved for the final book. I look forward to it! My local library didn't have book 3, so I bought it. I couldn't wait until they have it to find out what happens to Miss Fitt. After I read the book, I'm going to donate it to the library. I'm sure there are other library patrons who want to find out how the story ends as well!

I love the cover art for this series! The model is pretty and the dresses she wears are gorgeous! :)

My Rating: 8/10
Ages 13+

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

REVIEW: Break No Bones

Break No Bones
Author: Kathy Reichs
334 pages

Break No Bones is the 9th novel in the Temperance Brennan series. This series is the inspiration behind the Bones television series. Technically, the television character really only shares her name with the book Brennan. The two characters are completely different. Reichs says that Brennan is merely at a different stage in her career in the television series. TV Brennan is at the beginning stages of her career, while the book Brennan is more mature. But from my point of view, the two characters are too dis-similar to be the same person. The television Brennan is socially inept and blunt, causing her relationships with co-workers and others to be strained at times. The book Brennan is socially more normal and has good working relationships with those around her. They are just too different to be the same woman.  I prefer to use the terms "loosely based on'' and enjoy both versions as separate entities. I enjoy both characters...and just keep them separate in my mind.

So if you are a TV watcher, don't expect the book Brennan to be like Bones. And if you are a book reader, don't turn the channel when you see how antisocial the TV Brennan can be. Both versions of the character will grow on you if you give them a chance.

In Break No Bones, Tempe is called to Charleston to teach an archaeology field course. Her students are digging in an ancient Native American burial ground. When they unearth a more modern skeleton, the local coroner asks Tempe to help with the investigation. The body count starts climbing, and Tempe realizes this isn't just about a recent burial in an ancient burial ground.

This book left me feeling a bit meh rather than excited. The plot blows up into an international crime situation that left me a bit incredulous. I'm hoping the next book has Temperance Brennan investigating a murder or two that doesn't have to be blown up to epic proportions that push my ability to suspend reality. Amid the attempt to conjure up a case that was large scale and important, the actual mystery portion of the plot was too predictable. I had significant portions figured out early in the book. I want less intrigue and overblown plot, and more investigation, I guess.

My one other problem with this book series: I find Brennan's love affair with Andrew Ryan to be annoying. Brennan is still married to her husband, but they have been separated for years. She is in a relationship with Ryan. In Break No Bones, Brennan and her husband are sharing a beach house in Charleston because both are working there at the same time. Then Ryan comes to stay at the house, too. Most of the two men's interaction within the story was immature personal comments and jealousy over Brennan. It got old really fast. Brennan and Ryan constantly fight over silly things. The outcome is usually Ryan driving off and not answering his phone for days. Really guys? How old are you?  This has been dragging on for multiple books now. This isn't an edge of the seat "will they or won't they'' romantic tension sort of thing. They already do and have...   But Brennan doesn't get divorced from her husband or even seem to think about it. Their daughter is grown and on her own. If they have lived apart for years, why remain married? And Ryan still runs off every time they have a spat. And it always ends with Brennan upset because Ryan won't answer his phone. The dialogue between them is ridiculous at times.  The couple either needs to get it in gear......or move on.  I'm tired of this plot angle.

Now that I have gotten the negatives off my chest......I want to add that I really enjoy the investigative aspects of these books. Reichs lets loose with her actual real-life expertise when it comes to explaining forensics. For me, the forensics portion of the story is what keeps me reading this series. I find it fascinating, and I enjoy the science involved in gleaning clues from skeletal remains. I roll my eyes at Brennan's private life. And the silly overblown plots at times can really get old. But the investigation and procedure involved pep the story back up and keep me coming back for the next book.

My rating: 7/10
Ages 16+
Some sexual situations and violence, but not graphic

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

REVIEW: Cat Trick

Cat Trick
Author: Sofie Kelly
Cozy Mystery
326 pages

Cat Trick is the 4th book in Sofie Kelly's Magical Cats Mystery series. Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of Darlene Ryan, a Young Adult author and artist. There are 7 books in this series so far. The 8th book is coming out in October 2016.

In Cat Trick, Librarian Kathleen Paulson returns with her two cats, Owen and Hercules. Some Mayville Heights business people want to put the little town on the map with a tourist vacation package. A representative of Laurel Tours comes to town. Mike Glazer grew up in Mayville Heights, but he just isn't the bright young man people remember. Glazer has become a loud-mouthed, over opinionated jerk. He manages to offend nearly everyone in town within days of his arrival. Residents try to remain calm and treat him with patience because they want the vacation package to promote the town. Plans fall aside though, when Glazer is found dead. Was he murdered? Kathleen and her two magical felines are embroiled in mystery once again.

I very much enjoy this series. I like cozy mysteries as a quick read break from heavier fiction. And, as a foster parent to orphaned kittens, I love the fact that the two felines are rescue cats from a feral colony that is also featured in the book. Most of the main characters take turns feeding and checking on the feral colony at Wisteria Hill. As a Humane Society volunteer, I enjoy that aspect of the storyline as much as the mystery. :)

Sofie Kelly also has another cozy series written under the name Sofie Ryan: Second Chance Cat Mysteries.  And those two pen-names are both in reality the author Darlene Ryan. Confused yet? lol. Whatever name she goes by, I enjoy Ryan-Kelly-whatever-her-name's style. I have book 1 of the Second Chance Cat series on my TBR shelf. I think I might just soak up some sun this afternoon after the gym and give it a whirl. :)

Cats and mysteries. Mysteries and cats. I like that combo. :) And after finishing a rather emotionally heavy book this morning, I need a cozy to brighten my mind back up.  Cats in my book, and a real kitty on my lap. :) Great way to spend a warm, almost-spring afternoon.

My rating: 7/10
Ages: 10+

Monday, March 14, 2016

REVIEW: Love Letters to the Dead

Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Young Adult Fiction
327 pages

After the death of her older sister, Laurel changes schools. Her entire life has been turned upside down by death, divorce, estrangement from one parent, having to make new friends and figure out life all over again. A simple school assignment: Write a letter to a dead person as if the letter could actually reach them. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain. She writes the letter, but she never turns in the assignment. She keeps writing. Judy Garland. Janis Joplin. E.E. Cummings, River Phoenix. Amelia Earhart. Out pours the emotions of growing up, learning about love and sex, the pain of divorce, and the feelings of loss. She talks about her sister May and what actually happened the night she died.

This book was amazing. It brought back memories of my teenage years. The first time I snuck out of the house. The first time I drank alcohol. The need to figure out life....and myself. The emotions that Laurel was pouring out onto the page to her dead heroes were so real, and so painful. Her school assignment became her therapy.

Be ready for the range of feelings this book will bring, but it's a roller coaster ride that can't be missed. It truly shows the range of emotions we all go through when we grieve for a dead loved one, or when our lives fundamentally change and there's no returning to the way things used to be.

Have you ever wished you could have reached out to a tragically dead celebrity? I know I have. This book also reminded me of all the times I have wished that I could have told Janis Joplin to lay off the drugs and that she was very talented and an awesome person, no matter what asshats told her early in life. I have always been haunted by a recorded interview she gave before she died about going back to her hometown after becoming famous and what it was going to be like to see all the people that made her miserable as an awkward teenager. They called her a pig and threw pennies at her in school. She came back in August 1970 dressed in purple, wearing oversize sunglasses and bright orange nail polish. She came as herself...and they still gawked at her and made catty remarks behind her back. Then she was dead....never making peace with her past. Never letting it go. Some people just aren't meant to fit in. She was meant to break molds and sing her soul. That's not an easy road to travel. I'm so sorry she died alone, naked, on a hotel floor, never knowing that THEY were wrong. That she was ok as she was. It isn't necessary to be like everyone else. But, it isn't easy to be The Different One. I wish I could have told her. Could have been her friend. Could have showed her that asshats are just asshats...not important. Be the one in purple. Wear the feathers. Sing your Soul. Be. Don't destruct. Don't use heroin to escape the demons. Push the demons out.  But, I was only 2 when Janis died alone on the floor of her hotel room. And, I thought about that the entire time I read this book. If I could write a letter to Janis, I would say all of that to her, what my heart and soul have always screamed every time I hear her sing, or hear an old interview. She was going back to her old high school to "shove it up their asses,'' but the victory was bittersweet. She wanted acceptance, and they had none to give. Ever since I heard her story as a teenager, I've wanted to say all that to her. This book brought all those feelings back, and the memories of my sadness when I heard of others: Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Chris Farley. I watch them perform as ghosts, wishing there was something that could have been done to save them. But they wouldn't have taken my warning. Perhaps their destiny was set. They had to run their course and like so many talented, beautiful people, fizzle out early. No old age years. No retirement. Just...gone. We all have flaws, even the beautiful people. And our fates are the sum of our choices.

Laurel learns this about her sister.

Beautiful book. Excellent first book. I wonder what Ava Dellaira will write next?? I will definitely be one of the first in line to read it!!

My rating: 9/10
Ages: 16+, some sexual, drug and alcohol themes but not graphic

Sunday, March 13, 2016

REVIEW: Murder Past Due

Murder Past Due
Author: Miranda James
294 pages
Cozy mystery

Librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon, Diesel, live in Athena, Mississippi. Everyone in town knows the widower who walks his cat on a leash. When a local author is murdered, Harris discovers that a lot of people in town had a motive to kill the arrogant, underhanded man. With so many people having a score to settle with the murdered man, Charlie and Diesel have to reveal the murderer before an innocent person is arrested.

I enjoyed this book. The characters are likeable, and the plot is engaging and well-written. I really enjoyed reading a cozy mystery where the main character is male. It was also nice that the mystery plot wasn't watered down with a romantic angle. Romance is great...don't get me wrong. But, many times, it becomes a trite, formula story element in cozy mysteries -- main character finds body, police come to investigate,main character becomes romantically involved with cop investigating murder case...    This book does not follow that formula. It was so nice to read a cozy that was different! Still has cat....a librarian....and a few formula characters in it. But, overall, it was a fun read and a nice change!

The mystery plot was well done and interesting. I will definitely be reading more books by Miranda James in the future! Murder Past Due is book #1 in the Cat in the Stacks Mystery series. There are six books in the series so far.

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Saturday, March 12, 2016

REVIEW: Books Can Be Deceiving

Books Can Be Deceiving
Author: Jenn McKinley
290 pages
Cozy Mystery

Lindsey has just taken the job as head librarian at the Briar Creek Public Library.  When a local award-winning author is found murdered at his private island getaway cottage, his girlfriend, Beth, is accused of the murder. Lindsey comes to the aid of her friend to clear her in the murder case.

I enjoyed this book, but the plot and characters are very formula. The incompetant small town police chief. The asshat local celebrity. The helpless, innocent woman accused of murder.

But, this is a cozy mystery series. Formula is pretty common in the genre. I didn't mind it in this case. Despite a little bit of awkward dialogue, the story was well written, the characters interesting, and the plot well-done. As a cozy, the book is meant to be an easy afternoon read, and not a police procedural with complex characters and plot twists. As a simple mystery, the plot and kitsch were engaging enough to keep me reading.

I will definitely be reading more books in this series. It might be formula, but it wasn't trite, poorly written or annoying as some cozy mysteries can be. Kudos to Jenn McKinley for a great first book in a series!  Can't wait to read the second book!

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Friday, March 11, 2016

REVIEW: Copycat Killing

Copycat Killing
Author: Sofie Kelly
Publisher: Penguin
321 pages
Cozy Mystery

Yes, I have read yet another cozy mystery with cats! :) What can I say? I offer no excuse. I'm addicted.

Kathleen Paulson and her two magical cats, Owen and Hercules, return in Copycat Killing, the 3rd book in the Magical Cats Mystery series by Sofie Kelly.

It has been raining non-stop in Mayville Heights for days. The ground is soggy, and spirits are dampened by the constant deluge. Not only that, but the local artists Co-op has a basement full of water. Kathleen and her friends work diligently to move local artists' work from the building to prevent water damage. The art is saved, but not all the artists -- a cantankerous mask-maker is found floating in the co-op's flooded basement. Then, after a mudslide, skeletal remains are discovered on a nearby abandoned estate. Kathleen has found not only one dead body this time, but two. Who killed the artist? And why did someone bury a body at Wisteria Hill? Kathleen and her kitty wonder duo are back on the case!

I'm enjoying this cozy mystery series. The characters are likeable, and the mystery plots are well done. I also enjoy the fact that the cats have a supernatural, magical aspect to them. Owen can disappear at will. And Hercules can walk through closed doors or walls. Anyone who has pet cats can attest that at times it seems like all cats have those powers. Owen and Hercules put their kitty cat powers to work to help their owner solve murders.

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Keepers vs one-read stands. What makes a book special??

Some books are one-read stands. Once I've read them, it's done and I move on. No phone calls. No flowers. Just wham, bam, thank you book.

But others go on "keeper'' shelves, and get read multiple times.

Which books are keepers? What makes a book a prized possession that gets read and re-read multiple times with the same joy as the first read? I guess that depends on the book, and on the individual reader. Sometimes it's nostalgia if the book was a gift, or something special shared with a loved-one. Other times, it might be that the story was just very engaging. Or maybe it's a signed copy or special edition. Every Bibliophile has favorite books, and for every favorite there is a story about why.

I have several children's books on my keeper shelf that will never leave my possession, just because they were my favorites when I was a little girl.  Harry the Dirty Dog. The Laughing Dragon. Gus, the Friendly Ghost. I felt such joy having them read to me as a child, and then reading them to my kids when they were small. They sit in places of honor on my bookshelf and always will.

There are some books that I just love. Re-reading them is like a visit from an old friend. The magic is still there no matter how many times I've read the story before.

I have a large collection of Agatha Christie novels that take up two shelves in my livingroom. I have been collecting her books since I was 9 years old. I fell in love with her murder mysteries at a young age, and have been re-reading them for decades. Even though I know "whodunit," I love being whisked back to the 20's and 30's for a wicked poisoning or shooting. For me, every single one of them is a delightful romp back in time. Her books make me happy. They will always be on a keeper shelf for me.

Some classics elicit that same joy for me. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. A Christmas Carol. Treasure Island. Anything by Jane Austen and the Brontes. The Chronicles of Narnia. Edgar Allan Poe's stories. Sherlock Holmes. The Little House on the Prairie books. And the newcomer to my classics shelf: The Harry Potter Series.

Other books I keep handy because they are funny or feel-good reads. Calvin & Hobbes collections. Garfield. Dilbert. When I've had a bad day, I pull down a cartoon collection and get in a good laugh or two. Best way to end a bad day on a happy note. Who can be in a bad mood after watching Garfield face plant in lasagna and nap away the rest of the day in a carb coma?

And then there are the few special books I own. Ones I waited in line to have signed. Limited editions that are special for me. And ones inscribed as gifts from special people I have known. Yeah, I do have a sappy side. :)

What makes a book a keeper for you?? I'd love to hear your stories! :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Agatha Christie: My favorite Author

Agatha Christie has been my favorite author since I was 9.

I remember the day I started reading my first Christie novel. My 3rd grade teacher lived just across the neighborhood from my parents' house.  It was a nice spring Saturday afternoon.  Riding my bike down the road to the park, I saw my teacher was having a garage sale. I thought I would go say hello.

I don't remember anything else she had for sale that day. What caught my eye was a box set of 5 Agatha Christie novels. I pulled one out of the box. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. World War I. Wealthy British Manor House. Strychnine poisoning. Murder.

I loved to read, and suddenly I knew I had to read these books! The price tag was $4.

To a 9 year old in the 1970's, $4 was a lot of money.

I asked my teacher if she could hold them for me so I could go get some money. She did....and I raced home on my bike to ask Mom for $4.

I still remember the conversation. "$4?? What on Earth costs $4 at a garage sale?''  My Mom had that parent-look on her face that told me I might as well be asking for a million in cash. "Books, Mom. She has a set of Agatha Christie novels that I would love to read.''

Books. That's all I had to say. I got my $4. If it had been something frivolous like a toy or clothes, the answer would have been no. But the minute my mother realized I wanted the money to buy books, she got me the cash immediately. Expanding the mind is definitely worth $4.

I jumped on my bike and rushed back. The books were mine! I can still remember putting the box down in my bike basket very carefully and riding slowly home. I didn't' want to wreck and damage the books. These were the first "real'' books that belonged to ME. Not children's picture books. No hand-me-downs from my sisters or books from the school library. Mr Popper's Penguins and Mouse and the Motorcycle or Ramona were great books....but these were real, adult books. No talking animals or grade school children. No pictures. Just text. Murder mysteries. Detectives. Poison. Dead bodies discovered in libraries. Britain. Waxed moustaches. Heaven!

I got home and went straight to my room. Laying across my bed and squinting hard to read the very small print, I imagined myself into the world of Hercule Poirot.

I still have all 5 of those paperbacks. They have been read many, many times since 1977.

Starting with that spring day, I devoured every Christie novel I got my hands on. I have read all 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections written by Christie. I have copies of nearly all of them on my bookshelf today.

Those books led me to love and study literature, and to dream of being a writer. My real love for books and the written word started that sunny spring day in Kansas 38 years ago.

Learn more about Agatha Christie, her life and her books here.

Who is your favorite author?? Leave a comment & let me know! :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

REVIEW: Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Publisher: Disney/Hyperion
293 pages
Middle Grade Fantasy

This book is set at Biltmore House in Asheville,NC. I live about 40 minutes from Asheville and drive up the mountain to shop and visit often. When I first learned this book was being published, I knew I had to read it! There was no way I was going to miss out on a story set at Biltmore in the 1800s!

The book has a great video trailer:

The trailer was filmed on the grounds of the estate. The house is amazing, especially at Christmastime. The entire estate is decorated at holiday time and you can have high tea there. It's a fabulously posh experience.

The house was built by the Vanderbilt family and was the largest single family home in the United States. You can learn more about Biltmore Estate by clicking this link. Asheville is a very ecclectic, artistic town. Many artists and authors live there, including Robert Beatty who wrote this book.

The basic plot: Serafina lives in the basement of Biltmore Estate with her father, who is a maintenance worker. She loves to explore the house, and spends her nights catching rats. Suddenly the peaceful life of the grand estate takes a terrible turn when children start disappearing.  One night Serafina sees a strange man in a black cloak attack a little girl. The child disappears, and even after several searches of the Estate, no trace of the girl is found. Can Serafina and the Vanderbilt's nephew solve the mystery before more children disappear? Will the missing children be found alive? Who is the man in the black cloak?

This book is written for middle grade children, but I also enjoyed the story! The kids from my son's school often take field trips to Biltmore, so I'm going to donate my book to the school. My son's teacher wants to read it out loud to the class since they visited the estate in December.  The mysterious story is age-appropriate. It achieves tension and an interesting creepy mystery without being too graphic or scary for children. The cover art is beautiful!

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Monday, March 7, 2016

How to maintain a book habit, but not break the bank

I am addicted to books. I love to read, and I love books....the smell of the paper, the pretty cover art, the wonderful stories.

I want all the books. All.the.books.

Unfortuntely, I can't have all the books. Not only do I not have space to shelve them, but I can't afford to buy every book that catches my fancy.

However, I can read pretty much read any book I want to, within reason (no 700 year old tomes stored in controlled environments in Italy, although that would be cool), without bankrupting myself.

I'm learning how to feed my book addiction while still controlling how much I spend.

Here are my tips for bibliophiles on a budget:

1. Use your local library. If they don't have the book you want on the shelf, they can borrow from another library using inter-library loan, or there are digital access sites where you can check out ebooks or audio books using your library card number. OverDrive is an app and website you can use to access digital ebooks and audio books using your phone, tablet or computer. Also, OpenLibrary has many books scanned for borrowing as well. I can use my phone to put a hold on library books I want, renew books, or make lists of books I want to check out later. Bibliophile nirvana! Your local library will have a list of digital sites they offer access to -- browse and enjoy!

Most libraries also have book sales at least once a year. The sales are a great place to get used books on the cheap! Sometimes also DVDs, CDs and audio books as well! (And, for those of us who have bookshelves overfull from too many books....most libraries will also take book donations for these sales. If you have unwanted books hanging around, donate them to your local library and let them use the proceeds to buy new books!)

2. Utilize free and discounted ebooks from online booksellers. Barnes and Noble online has many free or low cost books available for Nook. I have a Kindle, so I use Amazon a lot. There are many free books and thousands more available at low cost. Some are just 99 cents! I purchased a subscription to KindleUnlimited as well, allowing me to borrow books for free and return them when I'm done for $9.95 a month. While that might seem like a high price, I use it all the time, which justifies the cost for me. Let's say I read 5 books through Amazon a month. The average cost for buying a paperback book is $10, so I'm saving $40 by reading them online and giving them back. There are more online booksellers that offer cheap or free ebooks. Google it and see what awesome links you find!

Project Gutenberg offers 51,000+ free ebooks on their website. Most are free domain classics that are no longer under copyright. PG also lists links to about 100,000 more ebooks from affiliates on their website. Dickens, Poe, Alcott, Lewis, etc.....many, many fabulous authors' works are available from these websites. Free. Absolutely no cost. You can volunteer to help proofread or record audio books for Project Gutenberg. Links to volunteer are on the homepage of their website.

3. Trade used books online. Many people trade books on Twitter using hashtags. I've been trading books online for 9 years using PaperBackSwap. You list your books that you have available by ISBN # and other members can request them. Once requested you mail the book out. When the book is received, you get a credit to order a book through the site. Then you can search for a particular book that you want and order it from another member's online bookshelf. You can also buy credits to use on the site if you choose. The site is easy to use. I've gotten hundreds of used books using this site over the years and had very few problems. When I finish books, I list them at paperbackswap and trade them for other books I want to read. Easy peasy. Postage costs to send out a book by media mail range from $1-3, so it's a cheap way to get books I'm looking for.

4. Used book shops, thriftstores, yard sales, etc.  There are many places to find all sorts of used books. Garage sales, junk shops, thriftstores, flea markets, consignment stores....there are used books everywhere! Right now I am avoiding looking at too many of these places, as I'm a "Read My Own Damn Books'' warrior this year. My shelves are crammed full and I have to read what I already own!! No room for more! But, my shelves got overfull because I used this very avenue for finding inexpensive books. Find cheap them.....then donate them back, or give them to friends. Feed others' book addictions! An intellectual pass-it-forward! :)

5. Wholesale/closeout/salvage/discount shops. These stores buy stock from damaged freight, bankruptcies, unsold merchandise, etc. They are great places to find books at discount prices. We have a shop called Ollie's in our little town. They have a huge section of books in almost every genre. Great prices!

I'm sure there are other great ways to feed a book addiction and still be able to pay your bills. :) If you have a suggestion to share, please comment! :)

And, while cheap and inexpensive used books are awesome and keep us Bibliophiles very happy....please also support your local indy bookshop! I make sure to buy a couple books or bookish items from the closest one each month, just to make sure I support the people who bring author events to this area and writer's meetings, etc.

With smart choices, we book addicts can keep well stocked bookshelves, support local area business and keep a healthy budget for other things all at the same time!

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My 2016 Book Diet

I am on a new book diet. There are so many unread books on my shelves that I am severely limiting the number of new books I can have. Gifts are ok...those don't count as cheating. And, I can have up to 4 books a month as long as I have weeded out more than that number from my shelves during the month. That's a book diet, without it being a crash, starvation, bookishly unhealthy one.

I showed great restraint tonight. I am proud of myself.

I spent an hour in Barnes & Noble browsing. And I bought.....a large coffee.

Thousands of books. And my purchase was a large skinny mocha with 2 shots of espresso.

I saw several books I want to read...but I added them to my check-out list on my library app. I will borrow them instead of buying them. I can connect to my local library, look up available books & put them on hold right on my phone. If they don't have the book, I have two other websites that allow me to check out ebooks using my library card #. That really cuts down on my impulse buys. Those impulses have turned to adding titles to a list on my library account instead.

I'm learning!

I have bought one book so far this month.  I loaned out my favorite sci-fi book a few months ago to someone....I remember loaning it, but not who I gave it to. If the person was going to return it, I would have had it back already. I wanted to read it again. So, I bought a new copy. "Lucifer's Hammer" is back on my sci-fi shelf. As soon as I finish what I'm currently reading, I am going to read it and "The Hammer of God" again. Both great books! Lucifer's Hammer was not available from my local library, and not available for borrowing from either of the online options. I couldn't find a used copy. So, at that point, I felt justified in buying one. I loved my 20 year old paperback, but a new copy is great too. The old copy was about to fall apart anyway.

I didn't buy any new books in February for myself at all. I was gifted a copy of Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by my lovely otspsecretsister. The rest of my bookish endeavors for the month were library and TBR books.

It's working! My goal is to read and trade/donate/give away books this year to free up enough shelf space for my library to be better organized. Right now, I have so many that my floor to ceiling shelves are stacked to the brim, with books squeezed in wherever they will fit. I can't find anything. It is a disorganized mess, rather than a beautiful display of my most prized possessions.

In the past two months I have purchased one book, and I was gifted one. I have listed 4 books for trade online, and given away 3 more. So, 2 have come in.....and 7 are going out. :) I have checked out 23 books from the library instead of buying them.

I'm making progress! Yay!!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

REVIEW: Something Strange and Deadly

The dead are rising from their graves in Philadelphia. When a zombie delivers a letter from her missing brother, Eleanor Fitt knows she has more to worry about than her family's declining finances. The dead are attacking, and life will never be the same. Miss Fitt will have to become a misfit and join the Spirit-Hunters to battle the walking dead.

Yeah, I said it. Walking dead. ;)

This book was amazing! I love zombie tales! And this one had enough steampunk-y goodness mixed in to make it quite an action packed romp, spiced with a few stolen kisses and funny parts too. Well-written, interesting and dark. Great read! There were a couple rough patches....I had the twist figured out by chapter 3. And some of the dialogue between characters was strange. For example at one point, the Chinese character tells Eleanor that girls in China have their heads shaved until they are old enough to bind their feet. Not true. The line was enough to make me pause reading and do some fact checking....but it didn't ruin the story for me. I did get the shock of accidentally loading some weird head shaving erotica....ah, the magic of the internet. lol.

This book totally makes up for the fact I hated Truthwitch and didn't finish reading it. I'm going to stick with this series, and leave the threads and truthwitches to their own devices.

There are two more books in this series: A Darkness Strange and Lovely and Strange and Ever After. Definitely going to keep reading!

My Rating: 8/10
Ages 14+

Friday, March 4, 2016

Review: Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror
Author: Chris Priestley
Ebook version, 240 pages
Middle Grade, horror short stories

Edgar's Uncle Montague lives in a big, dark house all alone. The boy likes to walk through the woods to his uncle's house to hear his stories, even if the tales are a bit unsettling. During this visit, Edgar's uncle tells him 10 stories, with the best and most frightening saved for last, of course. Each story is dark and creepily told, and woven in and around descriptions of Uncle Montague's house and its secrets. From trees that should never be climbed to evil picture frames, each story is intriguing and unique.

I loved this book! The stories are well written, and creepy-cool. Written for middle-grade age children, the content was age-appropriate but still interesting and enjoyable for adults, too. Priestley is an excellent storyteller, weaving his crafty, creepy tales with precision. I loved how he wove the stories in between snippets of conversation between Uncle Montague and Edgar or descriptions of the Uncle's weird creepy house.

All in all, a fun read. I would recommend it for any middle-grade child who likes ghost stories or scary tales.

My Rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Has the world become utterly chaotic or did I just never notice?

This morning, I sat down at my desk with my coffee and logged on to read the day's news.

Immediately I wished I hadn't.

The main headlines were horrific. Russian woman beheads child in her care. Babysitter kills infant. Father indicted in death of children. Mother throws autistic child off bridge. Young mother arrested for killing of 6-month old infant. And those are only a few of the horrible deaths of children reported.

What the hell???

Has the world always been such a violent, dangerous, horrible place?? Or have I led such a sheltered life that I never knew that children are murdered every day by those they should be able to trust?

Are divorcing parents so unable to be adults and SHARE their children with their ex-spouse, that killing them in revenge seems a good idea??

Is help for some exhausted parents so unavailable that one woman thought the best solution was to throw her disabled child off a bridge? The woman even did internet searches to find out how high the bridge had to be to kill the child.

Oh. My. God.

If you are a single parent, divorced parent, or the parent of a special needs child and you find yourself overwhelmed...PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ask for help. You don't have to contact social services. Call a church or synagogue, contact a school counselor and ask about area services, contact your local health department or hospital and ask about mental health services or support groups. Don't let things get so far out of control that you kill or harm your children!!! There is help out there!

My first marriage ended in divorce. And it was rough. I was stressed and lonely most of the time. I remember feeling overwhelmed, but it never got so far out of hand that I even thought of harming my son. But, I can see how some people lose control. We are all human. As parents, we make mistakes. And every human being has limits to what they can handle. A person who is past their stress limit can make bad decisions they wouldn't normally even consider. There are local services to help those who reach that limit. If you find yourself having violent thoughts because you are angry with your ex-spouse, please ask for help. Grief, pain of loss and upheaval in life can cause normally stable people to have a mental break. If you find yourself having thoughts that might put them in danger, ask for help before you harm your children.

I do sympathize with those who have children who require 24/7 attention and care. I can comprehend how stressful, tiring and emotionally exhausting that must be. ASK FOR HELP. Find a respite care program and get a break once in awhile. Find a parent support group, or even an online forum, to talk to other parents of children with similar issues. There are grief and loss groups to help people get through a divorce and the aftermath. Don't let your feelings and emotions get out of control. There are others out there dealing with the same issues. Use the internet to get help -- not to research how to throw your child off a bridge.

Be very, very cautious who you hire to watch your children. Online hiring services for nannies and babysitting care can be attractive because it's simple and easier than going through the hiring process yourself. But, it's not necessarily safe. I knew a woman who was completely unbalanced. We met her through mutual friends, and she would come to our house to join in game nights, holiday parties, etc. We watched her son while she worked sometimes. After a few months, her behavior became so completely mental that I had to tell her she was no longer welcome in my home.  Months later, I happened to see an ad online....she had placed a resume with a care service to provide elder care and babysitting services. All of the facts and background she listed on her online resume were made up -- she listed medical experience and certifications I knew she didn't have. I called the agency immediately and asked if they realized everything on this woman's online resume was a lie.   Don't hire babysitting care for your children (or your elderly parents) online without doing an extensive background and reference check YOURSELF on ANYONE you bring into your home for babysitting or daycare!!!  Online services might say they check on their staff, but obviously sometimes they don't.

I'm 47 years old and I have just now realized how sheltered a life I have lived. I can't say I don't live in a world where babysitters behead children, or women throw their kids off bridges, because I do. I feel ashamed that I never noticed how often parents lose control and harm their kids. I have to do something. I can't just sit here and pass judgement, or say this won't happen in my neighborhood. I have a responsibility to do something, even if this never happens to anybody I know. I'm going to do some checking in my local area and find out what services there are to help local parents. I'm going to be sure that the groups I'm involved with have that information on hand to help parents that reach the end of their rope. And I'm going to research and write up a brochure with information on how to investigate child or elder care providers.

It's a small drop in the bucket, but at least I don't have my head buried in the sand anymore.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

School Fundraisers -- hate 'em!

Several times a year my son's school sends home information on fundraisers either for the school or various charities.

I don't like it.

I remember those horrid door-to-door fundraisers I had to do for school back in the day. Sponsorships for Readathons. Walk-A-Thon donations. Huge cardboard suitcases filled with cheapo gift items. Wrapping paper. Overpriced candy and popcorn. Greeting cards. Magazines. All through school I was always being forced to sell something, or raise money for some organization.  I hated it. And my parents hated it.

I only allow my son to do one fundraiser during the year. For the rest, I send a polite note saying my son will not be participating.

For his one fundraiser this year,  my son is selling candy bars for the local PTO. I don't like it, but I know it helps him overcome his shyness. It helps him learn to talk to people and use good manners. Plus he has the responsibility to collect the money and turn it in. But....he is only doing it ONCE. Not ten times during the school year. One time. Period.

My son and I will spend the next two weeks walking around town in the evening selling candy bars. I don't allow him to go by himself, not even in our own quiet neighborhood. It's not safe. That's the main reason I don't like kids doing door-to-door fundraising. I know not every parent accompanies their child....and it just isn't safe for a grade school kid to walk around by themselves with a box full of candy or whatever and an envelope full of cash.  I follow my kid around like a pit bull...and I carry the money. Let's see somebody try to do anything to my son. I would fold them into a pretzel and kick them into outer space off the end of my boot. But, not every kid has a guard-mom walking with them. It just isn't safe to send kids out door-to-door.

I also don't like raising money for non-local charities. National organization have so many other ways to raise funds. They don't need to be sending school children out begging for donations. If they spent less money on printing full color fundraising catalogs for schools, buying merchandise for kids to sell, and providing the prizes they use to bribe the kids into going door-to-door selling & collecting, these charities would have a lot more cash to use for actual charity work, right? Seems to me they are spending millions of dollars to send school kids across the nation out fundraising that should actually be used to fund their charity work. And, who knows what percentage of donations are going to administration and what part actually goes into research or charity work?

I would much rather my son collect canned food for the local food bank, or donations for the county hospice program or local homeless shelters. That money would directly benefit people right here, instead of covering overhead for some huge national charity.

I don't like fundraising events that benefit the school either. How much of this money does the school actually get to keep? When you factor in the cost of the items they are selling, or the overhead for color catalogs, order forms, prizes and the percentage the fundraising company much is left? Wouldn't it be better to just ask for donations? Are cash donations to schools tax deductible? I'd donate a bit each year and add it to my charitable contributions for the year, if I could. I'd rather do that than have my son out selling wrapping paper for $12, with the school only getting a percentage of the profit.

Just a bit of a vent. I am not joyful about walking around town in February hocking candy.

I'm not even sure why the PTO is raising money. Sigh.

I can't have sugar, so I can't even drown my sorrows with chocolate by buying a candy bar from my son. I can't eat the damn things.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

REVIEW: Lending a Paw

Lending a Paw (A Bookmobile Cat Mystery)
Author: Laurie Cass
Publisher: Penguin/Random House
344 pages
Cozy Mystery

Yes, another cat cozy mystery!  I'm seriously addicted! This time, I was pulled in by the mix of books and a cat. What's not to love?

Minerva Hamilton, known as Minnie, is a librarian in Chilson, Michigan. She lives on a houseboat with her rescue cat, Eddie. Minnie is excited about driving the library's new Bookmobile, but on the first day, she finds the body of a local businessman and philanthropist behind a rural farmhouse. In fact, the dead man gave the library the funds to purchase the Bookmobile. Minnie Eddie are on the case! Who killed the library's main benefactor? And, will they decide to take out Minnie too because she's asking questions?

I enjoyed this book! The main character is likeable, and the story wasn't the same old formula where the girl is smitten with a local cop investigating the murder. In fact, Minnie spent more time annoyed at the local police.

The one problem I had was this:  Eddie went with Minnie inside the Bookmobile every Saturday. The author mentioned a list of items she took on the bookmobile for Eddie: food, water, blankets, toys....but never was it mentioned that Minnie brought a LITTERBOX.  Now, Eddie can't have gone along on Bookmobile days and never had to relieve himself.  The main character kept saying how concerned she was that her boss would find out that Eddie had been on the Bookmobile truck.....and she described bringing his supplies and cleaning up the cat hair afterwards.  But where was Eddie going potty on these all day trips?? As a cat owner and booklover, the fact that she never mentioned stowing a cat box inside a cupboard or something when everything other cat supply brought for Eddie was outlined in detail.....well, it bugged me a bit.  Either Eddie was wee-weeing in a corner somewhere.....or a little detail was left out. :) Not a huge glaring error.....but it did pull me out of the story several times when I had to wonder why the author listed all this Eddie gear, but never mentioned having to bring along cat litter, or a cat box, or having to clean up spilled litter etc after Bookmobile days. If she hadn't gone into detail about vacuuming up cat hair, or the other Eddie-related stuff she had to bring on the truck, I wouldn't have noticed the lack of kitty commode.

But, the question of Eddie's bathroom habits didn't ruin the story for me. This was a great, easy cozy read. I love reading these kitschy cozy mysteries in the wintertime when it's too cold to be outdoors most of the time. Quick, light reads. :)

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+