Thursday, April 28, 2016

REVIEW: Are You Hungry, Dear? by Doris Roberts

Are You Hungry, Dear?
Author: Doris Roberts with Danelle Morton

When Doris Roberts passed away recently, my son and I talked about how much we enjoyed her acting and comedy talents. My 11-year old loves Everybody Loves Raymond. We have the entire series on DVD and he's watched every episode many, many times. He was surprised to hear that Doris Roberts starred in many more shows, movies and plays in her career. I pulled up some videos online so he could see her in other shows, like Remington Steele in the 80's.

I realized that I had enjoyed her work for years, but didn't know much about her.  I checked her book out at the library and enjoyed learning more about one of my favorite actresses.

Are You Hungry, Dear? shares Roberts' thoughts about acting, motherhood, holidays and her personal life. She had a very rough childhood, and experienced loss and setbacks at various points in her life, as we all do. What clearly showed through, even when she was talking about difficult parts of her life, was her determination and positive outlook about life. No matter what happened to her, Roberts kept going and persevered. She wasn't just an actress, but a very strong, loving and wonderful woman. Her personality just jumps off the page. My favorite part was the chapter where she talked about hosting  a Greed Party for Christmas each year, where a chosen set of friends came to her house to spend an evening swiping presents from each other. I had to family has played the same game (we call it Dirty Santa) every Christmas for about the last 12 years.  All the adults sit in a circle, numbers are picked from a hat. Then one at a time, each person picks a gift...either from the stack in the middle (each person brought a wrapped gift), or they can steal a present that someone else has already opened. I was happy to find out that even millionaire actors, directors and producers enjoy that game....and its tendency to be hilarious and almost vicious at times. :)

She talks a little bit about Everybody Loves Raymond -- the show and the cast. When the book was written, the show was still on the air. The majority of the book is about other topics -- her life, her acting career, and her thoughts on life. After each chapter, there is a recipe related to the topic in some way. I thought that was a cute touch. :) There's a pasta recipe in the book that I copied so I can try it!

I very much enjoyed this book! I had no idea that Roberts had such a wonderful career on the stage before she was in movies or on television. After reading her stories, I think she would have been a delightful person to share dinner with. Just a truly nice, wise and very talented woman!

Thank you so much for sharing your awesome talent with us, Doris! Rest in Peace.

And, here's one of my favorite scenes from Everybody Loves Raymond:

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book art is powerful!

Before my oldest son relocated to California, he gave me a box of his books. Some he collected as an adult, and others were from his college years. Three older paperbacks in the bottom of the box caught my eye. I remembered them from when he was in grade school, and asked him why he kept those particular books all this time.

His response?

The artwork was so cool and made such an impression on him that they became his favorite books. The books are not mainstream classics, but a collection of scary stories for kids: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3 from Scholastic.  The illustrations, by Stephen Gammell, are just black and white sketches, but they are so dark, bizarre and creepy-cool that they made the books awesome.  My son kept them on his keeper shelf for nearly 15 years, and then could only part with them because he was giving them to me.

We shared a good laugh and a nostalgic smile as I put the 3 books on my keeper shelf. I told him that I also remembered the books and had often wished that I had them still to read with his little brother, who is a 4th grader. My son told me that his wife had also owned the same books as a kid, and had remarked that she had loved them too.  We all agreed:  the stories were creepy, but what made the books great was the illustrations. Then we started naming off books we read as children where the illustrations or the cover art was fantastic.

I knew then that I just had to blog about book art!!

Great art, combined with a story, can be so magical. Just watch kids during story time. Sitting on the floor in a semi-circle, they listen as the teacher or librarian reads the words. But, just watch their eyes light up when the book is turned around for them to see the pictures. I love watching their facial expressions change! The art totally immerses those young minds in the story!

I'm 47 years old but I can still close my eyes and see the pictures in the books that were my favorites as a child. I remember the pictures of the Laughing Dragon who lit everything on fire because he blew flames out his nose when he laughed. I remember the picture of Toad planting a garden and then yelling at the seeds to grow because he was tired of waiting. And Gus the Friendly Ghost lecturing his mouse friend about making a mess in the house. I remember the stories because wonderful art brought the words to life. Those memories are still in my head 40 years later. And those children's books are still on my shelf.

I have to smile every time I'm at a school or the local library and see children's faces just light up when they get swept up in a story. It's beautiful and magical. Kids have such a strong imagination. If you can get their senses warmed up....they hear the story and they see the story.....they are IN the story. It's beautiful to watch. The entire world around them just stops, and they are hanging on every word. I love to see the magic of storytelling!

That's the power of art in books. It ignites the imagination and brings the story to life. It is the power to make us want to take that journey, to make children (and adults) want to dive into the world of the story. And it carries through into adult hood. We have all gone gaga over cover art that catches our eye, and basked in the new book smell and glossy, gorgeous cover art before reading a new release.  Ever bought a book just because the cover was gorgeous?? Admit it....we all have!! Art and storytelling go hand in hand, each one giving more power to the other.

So that's why 3 middle-grade scary story books are now on my keeper shelf. They were prized possessions of my oldest son....and he gave them back to me to share with his little brother.
Art gives life to the words of a story. Fantastic illustrations can make vivid memories that last for decades. It gives the words transcendence, pulling us into the tale and engaging the imagination.

Total magic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

REVIEW: The Doll in the Garden

The Doll in the Garden
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Ashley and her mom  move to Monkton Mills to start a new life following the death of her father. Ashley misses her father, and is worried about her mother. She hopes the move will help her mom become less sad, and that they can have a happy life again. They rent the upper floor of a house owned by Miss Cooper, a cranky, unfriendly old lady. Miss Cooper lets Ashley know from the beginning that she dislikes children, cats and just about everything else.

The first day at the house, Ashley sees a white cat in the hedges in the backyard, and follows it into an overgrown, old rose garden. While investigating the garden, she also meets Kristi, a little girl who lives next door. While playing in the garden, they discover an old secret buried for many years. Ghostly crying in the night and weird occurrences pull the girls into the past where they have a chance to help right old wrongs.

This story is beautifully told, and well written. The landlady is a cantankerous old biddy. Kristi and Ashley have squabbles as neighbor kids will. Add a ghostly secret to the mix and it's just a fun spooky read!

I have read several books by Mary Downing Hahn, and all of them are well-written and awesome stories.

This tale is a ghost story, but there is nothing inappropriate for middle grade kids. As an adult, I even enjoyed the story. It would be a perfect beach or summer afternoon read.

Just a lovely book!

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Monday, April 25, 2016

REVIEW: Mistletoe Murder

Mistletoe Murder
Author: Leslie Meier

As Christmas approaches, Lucy Stone is very busy at her job taking phone orders for Country Cousins, a mail-order company. Add in Christmas shopping, a visit from her mother, and the kids...well, Lucy really doesn't have time to get embroiled in a murder investigation. But, that's exactly what happens when she discovers the body of the founder of Country Cousins inside his car parked in the company parking lot. As she uncovers clues about who may have killed Sam Miller, little does she know that the killer is watching and waiting to kill those who get to close to the truth.

This book was just ok for me. The main character, Lucy, whines for the entire book about how busy she is. There is very little mystery, and a lot of complaining from her. After the first couple of chapters, I was really tired of hearing about how much she had to do.  There was more discussion of her to-do list for the holidays or complaints about her job than there was about the murder mystery. It really got a bit tedious for me.

There are also some plot twists that make no sense, or add nothing to the plot. At one point, Lucy's cat is strangled. But after burying the cat, there is no more mention of who might have killed their family pet, or why the pet was strangled by someone.  If someone strangled my cat and left it outside my home in the street, I would be calling the police and be very upset. But, as soon as the cat was buried, it was like nothing had happened.  Then Lucy believes that someone may have hired a hitman from an advertisement in a gun magazine to kill her boss. Her idea to test that idea is to contact several of these possible professional killers to pretend that she is interested in hiring someone to kill her husband. But for the most part, they are men looking to provide sexual services rather than murders. One refuses to come to Maine in winter to kill someone. And one is a real hitman who asks for too much money. This weird tangent did nothing to further the plot. It just seemed.....stupid. I won't give any more examples as I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone.....but the mystery portion of this book really made very little sense.

I did like the bits of humor and real life that Meier added to her story, but I would have liked a bit more mystery and less discussion of how tiring it is to prepare for Christmas.

I will read another book from this series to see if this first book was just a warm-up. It might be the other books are better than this one.

My rating: 6 of 10
Ages 13+

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Song at the Scaffold

The Song at the Scaffold
Author: Gertrud von le Fort

The Song at the Scaffold is a novella written in 1931 fictionalizing the martyrdom of Carmelite nuns during the Reign of Terror. The faith displayed by long-time Nuns is portrayed alongside the fear and confusion of a new initiate to the order. The French Revolution is playing out all around them. Decrees come down that no new initiates should be added to any religious order, and even that all such orders should be disbanded. This era of extreme violence brought about swift changes and those who refused to conform, or those in the nobility or ruling class, were often put to death by guillotine in a bloody public spectacle. Priests, nuns and other religious leaders were not safe from execution. This book tells the story of 16 Carmelite nuns who were condemned to die.

The story is told in the form of a fictionalized letter from a witness who was at the execution on July 17, 1794 to a friend who has fled France for safety.  It is a short book - only 122 pages - but it clearly tells the story of the 16 Nuns who died for their faith.

I don't normally read religious books, but when I read a description of this novella, I really wanted to read it. It was a quick read, and I became much more engrossed in the tale than I thought I would. The title of the book comes from the fact that the Nuns sang religious hymns as they rode in a cart through the screaming crowds to their place of execution. The narrator tells the haunting story, adding that the song got quieter and quieter, until there was only one person left singing, a former initiate who had been brought to witness the executions. While the story based on real events, the initiate is a fictional character added to embody the fear and uncertainty felt by so many during the revolution.

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't really what I expected. It was more of a narrative blending fact and fiction than a true account of the executions. I did enjoy how they contrasted the solid faith of the Nuns against the unsure fears of the initiates. The initiates would have to join the order in secret, as the revolutionaries had declared that no new members could be added to any religious order. As it became apparent that staying true to their order and Catholicism could result in their martyrdom, it became a true test of faith that not all the new members would be able to handle. The mental anguish and fear really played out in the simple narrative.

When I finished the book, I had to sit for a few minutes and just think. Would I pass such a test of my own personal convictions? I'm not Catholic, but I'm not sure my personal beliefs are strong enough for me to face public execution with the grace and bravery of those Nuns. I'm a spiritual person not religious, so it was hard for me to wrap my mind around that strong dedication to their religion and why they were willing to lay down their lives. I can't even imagine what it would be like to be publicly humiliated like be driven through the streets in an open cart through crowds of people that are there just for the pleasure of seeing an execution. And for them to sing out songs of praise to God while going to their death. What powerful women. Even after centuries, their faith and strength still have power whether I ascribe to their beliefs or not.

A magnificent novella. Even if you don't ascribe to any religious beliefs, it is still worth a read. A very powerful, well-written, interesting peek into the Reign of Terror.

My rating: 7/10

Saturday, April 23, 2016


At the start of this year, I decided that I was finally going to do something about my overstuffed bookshelves. My books are my most prized possessions. But when I have so many that they are just stuffed onto shelves in a jumbled mess, it makes it difficult to find anything. Plus, that's not really a way to show off your most prized possessions, right?

So......I decided that 2016 is going to be a year of actually reading a lot of my collection. Then those books will be traded or donated. I also went on a new book "diet". If I'm purging the shelves, but buying more than I'm purging, the problem will never get solved.  I can have new books, but I have to purge at least 4 off my shelves for every new book.

I'm glad to report that I'm making great progress!

I have been using the library more this year. I check there first before buying a book.  44 of the 69 books I've read so far this year have been borrowed from the library. Read, review, return. :)

The Great Purge has begun in earnest! I went through my son's books & asked him which ones he still wanted. The large stack of books he didn't want are now listed on a trading website, Paperbackswap.  I will trade those for book credits.  Anything that doesn't get requested by PBS members after six months will be donated to the library for their book sale. I went through all of my books as well and discovered quite a few repeats! Why keep individual Narnia books when I have a large compilation book that has the whole series? Same with Mary Poppins & Little House on the Prairie. I also have many classics in ebook format, so I'm donating my physical copies.

I joined a challenge at the beginning of the year to "Read my own damn books.'' I started thinking about how long I have had some of these books.....there are stacks of paperbacks I bought 7-10 years ago because I wanted to read them. I never had time....we ran a retail business and I had kids at home. The poor books sat there waiting for me to actually read them for YEARS.  I only work part-time now, so I have time to read!  I'm voraciously reading every chance I get! Once I'm done with them, the books either get listed for trade, or go into the library donation box.

This process is teaching me a lot about myself. Why do I need so many books? I looked at my shelves and estimated.....I probably have more than 1,000 books. My floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves (it's grand to have a handy hubby - he built them for me when we bought our house!)  are completely full.  I seem to surround myself with too much of the things that make me happy -- we have too many cats...too many chihuahuas....too many books....too many board games....I buy too much food....    See a trend here?? Too much!   I'm not sure why I do it. I'm not overboard like a hoarder. Our house isn't a junk heap. I just don't stop at enough on some things.  Might be a comfort thing or it might be that I'm impulsive and a bit over-indulgent?  Or maybe all of the above. Whatever the cause, I recognize it now.  I'm buying less....and keeping less.  Down-sizing. :) In the end it will be a good thing. My shelves will be organized and nice to look at, rather than just a jumble of books stacked wherever they will fit. I will have a relaxing, comfortable room to sit in during the evening for my reading time.

I will always have a large library, but I want a beautifully organized and attractive one. I don't see a downside to this process. I'm finally getting to enjoy my books. When I finish, other people get to enjoy them, too. I've made some great friends at the library. And I have all sorts of review material for my blog. All that, and I can still buy a book or two when I want. Not 20....just 2. :)

I can love books without owning quite so many. Balance in life is beautiful. :)

Peace out!

Friday, April 22, 2016

REVIEW: An Average Curse

An Average Curse
Author: Rue
Publication Date: 6/20/16
**Disclaimer: A copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Flynn has lived on an island, magically hidden from the rest of the world, for her entire life. As the ninth daughter of a ninth daughter, she fulfills a prophesy for her people. She is to be the one who restores the Book of Shadow and Light, which has been torn in half by a curse. The two portions of the book need to be reunited to bring balance back to the world.  There is only one problem:  Flynn lives in a world of Magick, but has yet to manifest any powers. She might be a Watcher, one who is born into the world of Magick but has no powers. She fears she may disappoint her people and be unable to lift the curse. Her friend, Hazel, does have abilities and is willing to do anything to help her friend get through her induction ceremony and fulfill her destiny. But, helping Flynn defeat the evil Shadow Coven might just kill them both.

For me, this book started out slow and confusing. There is little background given for the world and culture. The world-building is just too sparse, in my opinion, for readers to understand and really become immersed in the story-telling. I could understand that the sacred book was important, but I wasn't engaged enough in the world to really know why I should care. The main character, Flynn, seemed very weak and wishy-washy at the beginning of the book. She was more worried about her possible lack of Magick than she was actively working to try and solve the problem. But, as with all young people, they become stronger through did Flynn! And friends are sometimes the best help, as the book shows with the characters Hazel, and their fellow classmate, Po.

After a few chapters, the plot picked up steam and I found myself liking the major characters more and enjoying the story. The ceremonies and stories of Flynn's people reminded me of Native American lore and traditions. An author's note at the beginning of the book states that the Maori language and mythology was used as a basis for some of the story.

My honest response to this book would be:  a bit weak in the beginning with a major rally in the middle, but a rushed ending.  Because of the very enjoyable middle section of the book when the plot really got cookin', I'm going to give this book 6.5/10 stars. I definitely enjoyed the book enough to read the second installment in the series. I do think that rather than being directed toward YA/teens, this book might be a better middle-grade book for ages 10-13.  Most middle grade kids, especially if they like Harry Potter or other tales that involve Magic, would enjoy this book. I'm a kid at heart -- I liked it too.  After a bit of world-confusion at the beginning, I was on Team Flynn-Hazel-Po and cheering them on wholeheartedly.

Rue is also the author of the 3-book series, The Lake Effect.

My rating: 6.5/10
Ages 10+

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Nostalgia Read: House of Thirty Cats

House of Thirty Cats
Author: Mary Calhoun

It's Thursday again!! Time for another Nostalgia Read!

House of Thirty Cats was one of the first Chapter books I read in elementary school. I recently bought a used copy online because I wanted to read the book again. It was one of my favorite books as a child, probably because I love cats.

I first read this book in 3rd grade, just after adopting my first pet cat. The kitty was wandering around the grade school, homeless and getting thinner every day. I heard a teacher say that they were calling animal control to come pick her up. I couldn't let that happen. So I told a fib. I went inside and told my teacher that my kitty had followed me to school, asking if I could walk home (I only lived a couple blocks from the school) and take her back home before she got lost.  My teacher gave me permission and I took this homeless kitty home with me. I rang the doorbell to my own house, because I knew better than to bring the cat in without asking permission first. I had practiced a good sob story during my walk from school. I had to talk my mother into letting me keep the cat. My mom opened the door and said no before I even got a word out. Then I begged.....I pulled the sad face and the "But mom, they are going to call animal control and she will be put to sleep if we don't give her a home.''  That worked. The kitty got to stay!!

 I named her Tiger, which made no sense at all because she was a mostly white calico.  I remember ordering this book from a school book order form soon after I got Tiger.  I had a kitty of my own....and wanted to read a book about cats!

Mary Calhoun wrote many children's books, including the Henry Cat books and the Katie John series. The book was illustrated by Mary Chalmers. The pictures are simple black and white sketches, but I loved the drawings when I read the book as a child.

The plot is pretty basic. Sarah wants a kitten. She knows where she can get one, but she's afraid to ask. Miss Tabitha Henshaw has a lot of cats at her house. Sarah has even nicknamed the small old lady's home as The House of Thirty Cats. Miss Henshaw is a bit eccentric, so Sarah is afraid to ask if she might have a kitten. She finally works up the courage, and ends up making friends with Miss Henshaw and her cats. But then, a
neighbor starts complaining about there being too many cats. Miss Henshaw only has two weeks to get rid of most of her cats, or animal control will come in and remove them. Sarah agrees to help. Can she find homes for enough of the cats before time runs out?

I have loved cats since I was a little girl, so this story really tugged at my heartstrings back in the 70s when I read it the first time. As an adult, I still love the story, but found myself looking at the situation with grown-up concern. I foster for the local humane society. Mostly I foster orphan kittens who require bottle feeding. They take a lot of work and make a big mess. The most I've ever had was 7 fosters plus my 4 pets ...and the fosters only stayed til they were adopted. I can't imagine having 30 cats!! I sympathize with Miss Tabitha and with Sarah as a catlover.....but, as an adult, I also understand the neighbor's point. 30 cats is too many! Luckily Miss Tabitha had Sarah to help her find homes for most of  her cats!

The cover shown above is the artwork I remember from my first copy of this book. The book has been reprinted several times since it was first published in 1965. The last time it was re-released was in 2002, so copies shouldn't be too hard to find.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

REVIEW: Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

Jacob T. Marley
Author: R. William Bennett

Everyone knows the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas that helped him mend his ways. But, ever wondered what happened to his partner, Jacob Marley, who started the whole thing? I mean, really, the person behind Scrooge getting another chance was his partner who appeared in ghostly form first to tell him that the spirits were coming whether he wanted them to or not.  I always thought poor Marley really got the shaft because he helped Scrooge, but still flew off into the night dragging that long chain with money boxes and ledgers tied onto it.  He did a kindly deed in helping his curmudgeonly partner -- surely he wouldn't be damned to a whole eternity dragging rusty bank boxes through hell.

When I heard about this book -- Jacob T. Marley -- I knew I had to read it! I wanted to know more about Marley, and what happened to him! The tale starts with Marley's childhood and how he grew into a man just as stingy and unfriendly as Scrooge. The story doesn't end with Marley's exiting the mortal coil, of course, because his ghost is an integral part of Scrooge's story. So, of course, Marley tags along with the spirits and Scrooge, and discovers a lot about his life, and what being a caring and kindly person means. Kindness and true charity not only help those on the receiving end, but bless those on the giving side too.

This book was a delightful read! Not just because A Christmas Carol is my favorite book of all time, but because I finally got to read a story about Marley and his fate. It blended Scrooge's travels on that fateful Christmas Eve, with the life, and afterlife, of Jacob Marley. Marley was dead as a coffin nail, but still had a lot of things to learn! Those who don't learn lessons during their life are fated to do so after death. That's not always a bad thing. Marley didn't appear to make Scrooge wonder about underdone potatoes and bits of undigested cheese.....he came back to save Scrooge from an eternity of torment and to make amends for his own empty life.

This book was a real joy to read. Even the cover art made me happy. :) Bennett kept the general feel of Dickens' original tale with a light dose of humor and a generous amount of morality tale.  Definitely a good read!  I've read a couple poorly done continuations of the Scrooge saga, but this one more than made up for those that lacked the right stuff.  I heartily recommend it! No Bah Humbugs from me!

And.....Lord bless us every one!

My rating: 8/10
All ages.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

REVIEW: The Pumpkin Seed Massacre

The Pumpkin Seed Massacre
Author:  Susan Slater

Psychologist Ben Pecos has just returned to his birthplace, the Tewa Pueblo in New Mexico, to intern with the Indian Health Service. He was adopted as a young child, growing up outside the Pueblo. Unfortunately, just as he returns, Tribal elders begin dying from a mysterious illness that kills quickly. Ten tribal members, including Pecos' grandmother, die from the virus. The IHS and an investigative reporter from Albuquerque work together to discover the source of the upper respiratory illness and how to stop it. During their investigation, they discover that the outbreak might not be accidental and that land fraud, murder and greed are behind the deaths.

I enjoyed the descriptions of life in the Pueblo and Tewa traditions. But, the mystery portion of the plot just seemed a bit too contrived.  The virus is spread with tainted pumpkin seeds by men who want to build a casino in the Pueblo. The whole time I was reading I kept thinking to myself that in real life if a tribal elder stood in the way of major criminals there would be an easier way to murder him than to give him a packet of pumpkin seeds tainted with manufactured hantavirus.  The plot wound around and became unnecessarily convoluted because the murder plot itself was ridiculously melodramatic. People with greedy, evil intent don't cook up devious plans to kill people with a virus....they just kill the person outright, or make it look like a simple accident. An over-done murder plan with too many people involved just increases the chances of something going wrong.....and in this case, that's the very thing that happens. Instead of killing only the one tribal elder they wanted dead....they killed 10 people. Then they had to kill more people to cover up the fact that they had killed people. That does help an author round out a 250 page book, but it's obviously fiction and not something that would realistically happen.  I almost stopped reading the book when someone with the IHS called Ben Pecos to tell him that she had found micro-punctures at the base of the pumpkin seeds where something had been injected. It was like bad CSI-style pseudo-science.

The romance angle between Ben Pecos and Julie Conlin, a reporter from Albuquerque, seemed a bit forced to me. It was a bit like the author knew she needed to have some romance in the book so just conveniently dropped in a cute, anglo female reporter and *poof*.... insta-romance! Bit meh on the lovey-dovey portion of the plot, too.

There are two more Ben Pecos mystery novels by Susan Slater. I like the tribal lore and descriptions enough to read the next book. I hope the mystery element is better in the remaining books. That portion of the plot really fell flat for me in this first book. If the second book, Yellow Lies, is as overly melodramatic as this one, I won't read the third and final book of the series.

All in all, this book was ok. I much prefer Tony Hillerman.

My rating: 5/10
Ages: 13+

Monday, April 18, 2016

REVIEW: Alienated

Author:  Melissa Landers

After aliens from distant planet L'eihr contact Earth, leaders from the two planets start negotiating an alliance. The L'eihr have advanced medical knowledge, including a cure for cancer.  Cara, a high school senior, and her family have been chosen to host one of the first L'eihr exchange students. Aelyx will stay in the United States with Cara'a family. Two other exhange students are coming with him. Eron will stay with a family in China, and Syrine will stay in France.  Cara's family welcomes Aelyx and stands by him, even when anti-L'eihr protests begin. The protests start to escalate into threats and violence, and there is even a proposed L'eihr Expulsion Act. Nobody suspects that the three L'eihr exchange students sent to Earth are on a mission to sabotage the pending L'eihr alliance with Earth. Aelyx begins to have second thoughts about destroying the chances for an alliance when he begins to have feelings for Cara. He is torn between his mission to prevent any humans from ever settling on L'eihr and  protecting the human girl that he loves.

I enjoyed this book. The plot is relatively predictable, but I enjoyed the developing relationship between Aelyx and Cara. But, I think L'eihr people were just a little bit too similar to humans for the story to really be believable. At one point, Aelyx even tells a story about a myth on his world that some  L'eihr  people actually came to  Earth and stayed, bringing the trait for blue eyes into the  gene pool by reproducing with humans. I rolled my eyes a bit at that. If alien life ever did contact Earth, what are the chances that their DNA (if they even have DNA) would be compatible enough for reproduction with humans? Or that they would look like humans? Pretty slim chance there.....    But, if Aelyx had been an 8-foot tall green tentacle slime monster, the romance angle of the plot would have been off-putting.  So I suspended my momentary skeptical reaction to his human-like appearance and behavior, and just enjoyed the story.

The anti-L'ehir group  (HALO - Humans Against L'eihr Occupation) and several mean-spirited high school classmates of Cara's were really annoying characters. They reminded me of old news coverage from the 60's when black students were first allowed to attend high schools in the south that had been white-only schools. Protestors screaming nasty, racist crapola over bullhorns. Violence. Bigoted idiocy.   I kept thinking about that as I read about protests and threats of violence because L'eihr students were on Earth. That part of the story line was totally believable. Human beings can really be bigoted douche bags sometimes. If we can treat other human beings like crap, just imagine what we would do if aliens really did make contact with us?  If they survived idiots trying to kill them out of fear, then I could see similar protests of "aliens go home'' exactly like portrayed in this book.

All in all, a good read....a few plot issues here and there....but I stopped myself from being too hyper-critical. The story kept me entertained, so I didn't feel it was necessary to wonder about alien DNA. :) The cover art is really well done! I don't usually read books about high school, or romances with aliens, but the cover art pulled me in and I made an exception. Glad I did....I enjoyed the book!

My rating 7/10
Ages 16+ , a few curse words and sexual situations, but nothing graphic

Sunday, April 17, 2016

REVIEW - Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Author - Marissa Meyer

Dark days have come upon the kingdom of New Beijing. An epidemic of an incurable plague has killed many people, rich and poor. The emperor himself is ill and dying.  A doctor is trying desperately to find a cure, using cyborgs as test subjects. The testing has killed many cyborgs, and still no cure has been found. With the kingdom in turmoil, Lunar Queen Levana sees an opportunity to force Earth into an alliance by a marriage between herself and Prince Kai. One citizen of  the realm is the key: Cinder, a cyborg mechanic.  Her stepmother thinks Cinder is just property and a nuisance. Cinder just wants to be free and a normal person, not a cyborg treated like a second class citizen. Cinder meets the Prince and he seems to really like her, but she knows he could never love a cyborg. He can never know her secret....but little does she know that even she doesn't know all of her secrets!

This book is an awesome sci-fi retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale! Cinderella is a Cyborg. Add in a plague, a conniving, mind-controlling Lunar queen, and a dash of political intrigue, and you get a enormously fun read! This was the most original re-telling of a classic story that I have read so far! I will definitely be reading the rest of the Lunar Chronicles! There are several books in the series, plus short stories based in the Lunar universe.

This first book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Thank God I have the second book, Scarlet, on my tbr shelf already, or I would be trolling Amazon for the kindle edition or putting an online hold on the book at my local library right this second. I think I'd better arrange for the 3rd book to be waiting in the wings if I go through the second book as quickly as I did the first! :)

Definitely a must-read for fans of sci-fi, or re-tellings. Cinder is a very well-written, and new slant on a classic tale. It brings new life to the fairy tale!

I love the cover art as well!

My rating: 9/10
Ages 14+

Saturday, April 16, 2016

REVIEW: Tarzan, My Father

Tarzan, My Father
Author: Johnny Weissmuller, JR (with William Reed and W. Craig Reed)

When I was a kid, every Sunday afternoon the local independent television station played old Tarzan movies. I loved watching Johnny Weissmuller wrestle lions, crocodiles and whatever other beasties or evildoers were after Jane or Boy. I knew Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer before he became an actor, but other than that, I didn't know much about his personal life before I read this book.

Johnny Weissmuller, Jr wrote this book to honor his father and to clear up a lot of incorrect information reported about his dad over the years.  Apparently, Weissmuller's last wife was bankrupt towards the end of her life, and according to the author would make up dramatic stories to get tabloids and writers to pay her money. Those incorrect tales have caused many biographies of Weissmuller to be filled with inaccurate information.

His son tells a lot of anecdotes he remembers from conversations with his father, and his own personal experiences with his dad. He talks about Weissmuller's Hollywood friends, and what his life was like before and after the Olympics and his film career.

As with many classic era Hollywood actors, Weissmuller made bad decisions and married the wrong women for much of his life. Sadly enough, as he aged, his health deteriorated, leading to several strokes in the early 80's. In the book, his son relates the days leading up to his father's death in Acapulco, and his unceremonious burial there. So many Hollywood icons have self-destructed due to bad people in their lives....and so many of their life stories end similarly.  It made me sad. But I would rather remember Weissmuller as one of the best male swimmers who ever competed at the Olympic level, and as one of the most reconizable actors of the 1930's and 40's. Who hasn't heard Weissmuller's Tarzan call?? I think everyone has.

Overall the book was a great read. I learned a lot about Weissmuller that I never knew. For example, he was friends with the chimp who first played Cheeta. He saved the chimp from drowning once when it fell out of a boat and sank in the water. After that, the chimp was fast friends with the actor. After that chimp retired from playing Cheeta, he was sent to the Los Angeles Zoo to live out the rest of his life. Weissmuller mourned when the chimp died, saying that the loss was like losing a son.  Johnny Weissmuller was also one of the first athletes to be featured on a Wheaties cereal box.

There are many more interesting anecdotes about Weissmuller in the pages of his son's book. It's a great read for any Olympic fan, or Tarzan fan!

Here is a scene from Weissmuller's first Tarzan film:  Tarzan the Ape Man, filmed in 1932.

Friday, April 15, 2016

REVIEW: Deep and Dark and Dangerous

Deep and Dark and Dangerous
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

13-year old Ali finds an old photograph in the attic. The photo is of her mom and Aunt Dulcie when they were little girls.  Obviously, at one time, there was a third girl in the photo, but her part of the picture has been torn off. The back of the photo just lists the girl as "T.'' Her mom says she doesn't remember the other girl, but Ali has a feeling there is more to the story.

Ali travels to Maine with her Aunt Dulcie and cousin Emma for the summer. They are staying at the lake-side cottage where the mysterious photo was taken. Emma and Ali meet another girl, Sissy, who seems angry at everyone and everything. Sissy tells the story of a little girl who drowned at the lake many years ago, and whose body was never found. As the summer progresses, Ali begins to discover clues to the mystery and soon finds out why Sissy is so angry.

This is the third middle grade book by Hahn that I have read for review. She is definitely very talented at writing creepy stories for kids! I enjoyed this book! The spooky mystery was fun and interesting to read. I read the story through in one sitting because  I really wanted to know exactly what was going on! The story sucked me right in, and I read excitedly until the answers to the mystery were revealed.

There are some scary moments, but nothing was age inappropriate for middle grade students. I loved the cover art -- very pretty & creepy-cool!

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nostalgia Read - NightFrights: 13 Scary Stories

Night Frights: 13 Scary Stories
Author: JB Stamper

I've decided that each Thursday I will review a book that is an oldie-but-goodie. I call them Nostalgia Reads. Each one will be a book that I, or my children, family, friends, etc., remember from the past.

This week, the featured Nostalgia Read is:  Night Frights: 13 Scary Stories. This book by JP Stamper was published by Scholastic in 1993. It was the first collection of scary stories my oldest son ever read. When I asked him for a list of books that I could review for Throw-Back Thursdays, this one was in his top 10. He said he remembered us reading these stories out loud, and that they were creepy-scary-cool to him when he was in grade school.

The stories are all short -- perfect length for younger readers. They range in subject from old classics like Bloody Mary and a headless specter looking for its missing body part to more original scary tales. The stories are scary, but nothing is age inappropriate for middle grade age children. The stories are short enough to make them great to read outloud, or for grade school students to read by themselves.

I can see why my son remembers this book. I enjoyed re-reading the stories. They are truly creepy and fun to read, even for an adult. My favorite is the sixth story, The Corpse's Revenge, a tale about grave robbers who get a big surprise.

J.B. Stamper has written several books for middle grade readers, including five Magic School Bus stories and three Tales for the Midnight Hour story collections.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

REVIEW: Final Catcall

Final Catcall
Author: Sofie Kelly

Kathleen Paulson's job as head librarian in Mayville Heights keeps her busy. But when the director of the local theater festival is found shot to death, murder investigation is added to her job description once again. Her magical cats, Owen and Hercules, plus a few of Kathleen's human friends, pitch in to help find out who killed Hugh Davis. Not only is a murder making her life a bit stressful, but Kathleen's ex-fiance Andrew comes to town as well to try and get her to return to Boston. Will she return to her old life in Boston, or stay in Mayville Heights with her new love interest, Marcus? And who killed Hugh?

I really enjoy the Magical Cats Mysteries series. Maybe it's because I have joked before that my cats sometimes seem to appear magically in places, or have other supernatural powers. :) Owen and Hercules are delightful characters. I am surprised that nobody in town has noticed that they seem to be more than just normal cats. The budding relationship between Kathleen and Detective Marcus Gordon has enough tension and humor to keep it interesting, even though it's dragged through 5 books without much progress. The two argue a lot over Kathleen investigating murders. She jumps in without considering her safety in order to help friends. But, Marcus worries about her because murderers are dangerous and she puts herself in harm's way trying to investigate on her own as an untrained civilian. I'm not going to share any spoilers, but in this book, they both come to understand each other a lot better.

There are 7 books in the Magical Cats Mystery series so far. Another book is scheduled for release in October 2016. Sofie Kelly is a pseudonym for YA author Darlene Ryan. She also writes under the name Sofie Ryan (Second Chance Cat Mystery series).

I recommend this series for any cat and cozy mystery fan. My library only had the first 5 books, so I bought the rest of the series to read and then donate to the library. Can't wait to find out what happens next in Mayville Heights and in Kathleen's love life. :)

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

REVIEW: Fiercombe Manor

Fiercombe Manor
Author:  Kate Riordan

In 1933, 22-year old Alice finds herself unmarried, pregnant and disgraced. Her mother concocts a story about Alice's husband being killed in an accident and asks her old friend, Mrs. Jelphs, to give the girl a place to stay until the birth of her child. Mrs. Jelphs is the housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor. Alice arrives at the country manor, playing the part of a young widow. The Stanton Family no longer lives at the Manor, so Alice discovers that she will be sharing the house with only Mrs. Jelphs and a few servants. In the beginning, she is glad to have a place to stay, but soon she realizes that all is not as it seems at Fiercombe Manor. Thirty years before, Lady Elizabeth Stanton, nervously awaited the birth of her second child, hoping for the son her husband wanted. But something dreadful happened, and years later, Alice is not prepared for what she discovers about the Manor and its history.

I enjoyed this book. The story line builds tension slowly, and switches from Alice to Elizabeth's story. The tone and mystery in the book reminded me a lot of the classic book, Rebecca. The story does not move fast, but it doesn't become boring either. The tension and mystery build slowly, until the full realization of what happened in the house becomes clear.

Fiercombe Manor was published as The Girl in the Photograph in the UK. Her other books are The Shadow Hour and Birdcage Walk.

Monday, April 11, 2016

REVIEW: Due or Die

Due or Die
Author: Jenn McKinlay

Lindsey Norris is the head librarian at the Briar Creek library.  Her friend, Carrie Rushton, is elected president of The Friends of the Library. But the library's crafternoon club barely has time to congratulate Carrie on her election before she is accused of murdering her husband. Who killed annoying, whiny Marcus Rushton? The Crafternoon ladies know it wasn't Carrie. Lindsay realizes that she needs to do some sleuthing to clear her friend, but then a Nor'easter buries the town under a thick blanket of snow. With the help of her Crafternoon friends, Lindsey shovels through evidence (and lots of snow) to prove her friend's innocence.

Due or Die is the 2nd book in the Library Lover's Mystery series. There are six books in this cozy mystery series so far. I enjoy this series! The books are pretty much formula cozy novels, but I like McKinlay's characters. Plus, in this book she makes a new friend that really added some smiles to the story line. No will have to read it to find out. Or take a close look at the book cover art. :)

The book also includes some tips on starting a crafternoon group, a Reader's Guide for Wuthering Heights, a crochet pattern, and cookie recipe.

Jenn McKinlay is also the author of the Hat Shop Mystery Series (4 books so far) and the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries (8 books)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix

Vandals are causing problems at the local Orsk furniture superstore. Broken goblets. Destroyed wardrobes. Foul smelling goop spread on sofas. With corporate bigwigs coming to inspect the store, gung-ho manager, Basil, asks two trustworthy employees to stay overnight with him for a secret 9-hour shift to catch whoever is lurking in the store after hours to damage merchandise. When the lights dim and the sales stop, they discover much more is going on than vandalism.

This book  gives the term "Retail Hell'' a whole new meaning.  What a fun, original addition to the horror genre. I saw one website had this book listed as a "quirk read.''  This story is definitely quirky! Horrostör definitely adds a new dimension to the horror experience! Every chapter starts with a diagram of a piece of Orsk furniture that will be featured or mentioned in that chapter. Sometimes pages from the employee training manual, coupons or sales brochures are also featured. The story is littered with bad training phrases and retail cliches that anyone who has ever held a retail job will recognize and probably still loathe. Employees at Orsk are called "partners'' and those who want to move into managment positions have to be tested to prove they are "Store Responsible.''  Basil, the manager, quotes a book written by the founder of Orsk at every opportunity.  The characters are types that everyone has worked with before: the manager who is a bit too obsessed with his job, the lonely woman whose only social interaction happens at work, the pretty girl who has all the male employees ga-ga over her, and the lazy, apathetic bad worker. This mis-matched crew discovers there is more happening at the Orsk store overnight when the lights dim than they could possibly have imagined.

I loved the artwork and illustrations! The first few pages of the book and those starting each chapter look like they come straight from an Orsk catalog. Don't skip these pages -- actually read them! The product descriptions get more demented and entertaining as the story progresses.

A great mix of horror and humor, this is a must read if you have ever worked in retail. will never look at Ikea quite the same way again!!

My rating: 9/10
Ages 16+

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Nostalgia Read: Haunted House by Peggy Parish

Haunted House (Liza, Bill & Jed Mysteries)
Author: Peggy Parish

Amelia Bedelia author, Peggy Parish, also wrote the 6-book Liza, Bill & Jed Mysteries series. Haunted House is the 3rd book in the series. This book was a nostalgia read for me because I remember my 2nd grade teacher reading it out loud to us in class in the 70's. 1976 to be exact. I remember the year because our classroom was all decorated in red, white and blue for the bicentennial. I can remember Mrs. Schultz sitting on a stool at the front of the class reading us this book. It's funny what school memories stick with us, isn't it?

I found this book at a garage sale. I stopped by because I noticed they had boxes of books. I'm always a sucker for looking through boxes of old books. You never know what you might find! Down in a box of old paperbacks, there was a worse-for-wear copy of Haunted House. The back cover is missing, but front cover and the entire story is still intact. It came home with me.  If my brain decided to keep a 2nd grade memory of this book being read to me....then it's only fair that it have a spot on my nostalgia shelf. I think I paid a nickel for it.  
Even damaged, it was a bargain to bring my 2nd grade memory home with me.

The series has been reprinted several times since it was first published in the early 70s.  From information on Amazon, it appears the series was last re-printed in 2005. While it is out of print at the moment, the newer editions of the books might make it easier to find used copies. Definitely check your local library as well. My local small town library still has the whole series on its shelves.

The top photo is the cover I remember. The bottom is the updated 2005 cover art. The clothing definitely needed an update after 40+ years. lol. Gotta love those 70s fashions! I actually had a pair of the yellow and blue Nikes that the boy is wearing on the old cover. :) The picture doesn't show the swoop, but sure looks like my old Nikes to me! :) get to the review now that I've reminisced about 2nd grade and the 70's....

Liza, Bill and Jed are a bit upset when they learn their parents have bought the Old Blake Place. Mostly because it's supposedly haunted. They have just a few days to pack their things, then it's off to their new home. The kids have fun investigating the house, building a treehouse, and solving mysterious puzzles that begin to appear each morning.

This book was so much fun to have read to me when I was a kid. I remember the teacher handing us out copies of the puzzles that the kids have to solve in the story.. We worked to solve them as a class, then she would continue reading once we had the answer. I think the puzzles are what made this book such a long-lasting memory for me.  All in all, a fun book for kids ages 7-10 to read by themselves, or have read to them. Younger kids will enjoy the story, but might have a hard time with the puzzles.

My rating: 7/10
Ages: 7 & up

Friday, April 8, 2016

REVIEW: Scrooge - The Year After

Scrooge - The Year After
Author - Judty LaSalle

It's been a year since the Ghost of Jacob Marley and his 3 spirit accomplices turned Ebenezer Scrooge away from his evil, curmudgeonly ways. Scrooge has spent the past 12 months making up lost time. He has been kind, generous and dedicated to blessing all those around him. He is in business with his nephew Fred now, and the Cratchit family is much better off as well.

Then disaster strikes......

An enemy begins trying to discredit Scrooge, and information surfaces that his sister, Fan, may have been murdered. The ghost of Marley and the rest of this classic band of characters come together again to sift through clues to discover who is responsible.

I love a good mystery, and A Christmas Carol has been my favorite book for almost 40 years. So, this continuation of the classic story was perfect for me! Although the writing style differed greatly from Dickens, I thought the characterizations kept fairly true to the original. I think that difference is actually a good thing as too many continuations of classics get bogged down in trying to copy the original antiquated style.  I enjoyed the addition of a mystery element.  The story kept my attention clear through to the twist at the end.

If you are a fan of Ebenezer Scrooge, then definitely read this book!

My rating: 8/10

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Nostalgia Read: Strange But True by Donald J. Sobol

Strange But True
Author: Donald Sobol

Recently, I've had a couple lucky finds at thriftshops. I'm always on the lookout for books I remember that I enjoyed but no longer own a copy. Sometimes these books can be hard to find because they are long out of print. But, in the past two months, I've found 3 of them. Total nostalgia reads....and ones that will stay on my keeper list. I'm going to blog about each one over the next few days.

The first one is a book written by Donald J. Sobol (he also wrote the Encyclopedia Brown books) in 1974. I ordered a copy from the Scholastic Book order forms we got at school in the 70's. Strange But True: 22 Amazing Stories tells short tales about supposedly true occurrences. As an adult, I now know that truth can be stretched and that urban legends are often just stories that have been told so many times that people start to think they must be true. But, as a grade school student, I remember reading this book with wonder and excitement. I was thrilled that they might be true and enjoyed the tales just like I did other mysteries that are true like the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, or the vanishing of Flight 19. Many mysteries lose their magic with adulthood (when I finally visited Roanoke a couple years ago, I found it all surrounded by yachts of vacationing rich eastcoasters and built up with condos and beach rentals.....totally ruined the wonder for me), but these stories are still just as weird and wonderful for me as they were when I was a child. Maybe that's because I will never be entirely sure whether they are true or not? Who knows. 

I have no clue what happened to my original copy. I might have given it away to a friend years ago, or it might be at my mother's house on a dusty shelf, or just lost to time. But I was ecstatic when I found a copy for 50 cents at the thriftshop. It now sits on my bookshelf next to the Little House books, Narnia and Mary Poppins. :) I'm a sucker for nostalgia.

This book is still a fun read for kids and adults alike, if you can find a copy. From the Loch Ness Monster and Abominable Snowman to ghost ships and Jack the Ripper, this book's tales are varied and fun to read. True? That's debatable (most of these would decidedly NOT survive an internet fact check, but I still love them anyway). Amazing? Definitely!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

REVIEW: All the Lovely Bad Ones

All The Lovely Bad Ones
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Travis and his sister Corey are happy to be spending the summer with their grandmother at her Inn in Vermont rather than being sent to summer camp. They love pranks and having fun (which got them asked not to return to said summer camp). When they discover that the Inn has a reputation for being haunted, they decide to fake some ghostly activity. Their antics might scare up some extra business for their grandmother's Inn and also provide some fun for them. Little do they know that their foolishness will awaken real ghosts at the Inn and cause more fright than fun....

This book was a fun read!! The story line isn't that original. It's been done before many, many times, but I still enjoyed it. The kids thought they were going to have a great time scaring their grandmother's guests, but they ended up scared themselves. As a mom, that made me smile. :) The grandmother was a bit annoying at times. Even when faced with clear evidence her grandkids weren't behind the occurrences, she still pretty much refused to believe what she was seeing and hearing with her own eyes.  But then again, if I experienced the same thing, I don't know that I would believe it either.

The book is written for middle grade children, but it's an enjoyable, afternoon read for adults, too. There are some scary events, but nothing age inappropriate. This would be a great story for kids to read on their own, or to have read out loud to them.

The cover art is deliciously spooky!! Love it!

My rating: 8/10
Ages 10+

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

REVIEW: Wait Til Helen Comes

Wait Til Helen Comes
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Molly and Michael are trying their best to like their new step-sister, Heather. Since their mother married Heather's father, Dave, it seems all the 7-year old girl has done is try to cause trouble. When they move to live in an old church in rural Maryland, Heather is drawn to the nearby old cemetery and a dilapidated, burnt-out old house. Molly tries to tell everyone that Heather is in danger when she overhears her step-sister talking to someone in the cemetery. But, instead, Molly gets in trouble for scaring Heather with ghost stories. When Heather starts threatening that the ghost is going to come and make them all pay, Molly realizes she has to protect her step-sister. Will anybody listen to Molly about the ghost before it's too late?

After a lackluster experience with Hahn's The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, I decided to try another of her stories. This time I was pleasantly surprised. Wait Til Helen Comes is a fabulously spooky middle grade ghost story. It was the perfect combination of ghost story and mystery. Just an enjoyable, eerie, afternoon read.

The ghost story is creepy, but not overly scary. The pacing of the story was great. The mystery unraveled just at the right speed to keep me reading, and wondering up until the very end. The story was spooky, but totally age appropriate for middle grade children.

If you like ghost stories, give this one a try! You won't be sorry!

My rating: 8/10
Some scary situations, but age appropriate
Ages 10+

Monday, April 4, 2016

REVIEW: The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall
Author: Mary Downing Hahn

12-year old Florence has lived 7 long years at Miss Medleycoate's Home for Orphan Girls, following the accidental death of her parents. When her great uncle contacts the orphanage saying he wants Florence to come live with him at Crutchfield Hall, she is excited to be starting a new life. She even has a cousin James that she longs to meet. When she arrives at Crutchfield Hall, she learns that her Aunt doesn't want her there, James is ill and never leaves his room, and the Hall is haunted by a vengeful ghost.

For me, this book was very reminiscent of The Secret Garden (or even Jane Eyre to an extent). Poor girl is whisked away to live in a large, gloomy house. She is forbidden to see her invalid relative, but does so anyway. Spooky plot line with a ghost or other secret that she and the invalid relative solve together.  I did enjoy this book....but the plot seemed very cliche. However, the book was written for middle grade children. The plot might not be so cliche for a young reader.

I found the Aunt character to be a bit too much of a stereotype. The melodramatic, harsh cruelty she showed the little girl was a bit over the top. Sort of like an evil stepmother sort of character. Very one dimensional. Although in such a short book, I wasn't really expecting much in the way of detailed character development. But a little more dimension in the characterizations would have made the story seem a bit more fleshed out.

Just as the story got to the exciting part, it ended. No fanfare or just was done. There was never a climactic moment when the aunt was confronted with her inappropriate behavior. In the end she just sort of went away out of annoyance. The mystery plot line came to a lackluster end as well. Just when you thought there might be a last battle between good and evil, it pretty much fizzled and just ended.

This one was just ok for me. The idea wasn't original, and the presentation was a bit lacking.

My rating: 6/10
Spooky situations, but age appropriate for middle grade children.
Ages 10+

Sunday, April 3, 2016

REVIEW: Christmas Tales of Terror

Christmas Tales of Terror
Author: Chris Priestley
Middle Grade short stories/horror

Christmas Tales of Terror features 7 spooky Christmas-themed tales. From a cursed drummer boy to demented snowmen, this book puts the ho ho ho in horror. This is the 3rd book by Priestley that I have read. His witty and clever horror stories never fail to deliver chilling, spooky joy.

The stories are written for middle grade age children, but are complex enough to be enjoyed by adults, too. The stories have scary moments and horrific twists, but there is nothing inappropriate for kids ages 10+.

Why should the Christmas season be all warm & fuzzy? Add a touch of horror to the might not be Father Christmas who is coming down the chimney, after all. *inject music stab here dah...dahhhhhhhhhh....dah*

I've been on a Christmas reading frenzy lately for some strange reason, and thought I would take a break from Scrooge re-tellings to enjoy some Christmas horror. Glad I did. I haven't yet come across a story by Chris Priestley that wasn't well done. If your kids enjoy scary stories, or if you want an easy spook-filled afternoon read, check out this book, or any of Priestley's short story collections.

This book differs from the other Tales of Terror books I've read so far (Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, Tales of Terror from the Black Ship) in the way the stories are presented.  In Uncle Montague and Black Ship, the stories were woven inside another story about a central main character. Christmas Tales just presents the 7 short stories. I enjoyed both formats.

The cover art for this book is just amazing! Very holiday horrific!

My rating: 8/10
Scary situations, but age appropriate
Ages 10+

Saturday, April 2, 2016

REVIEW: The Old Willis Place

The Old Willis Place
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Middle Grade fiction

Diana and her little brother Georgie have been playing and living in the woods around Oak Hill Manor for a very long time. They have the run of the Manor property as long as they follow the rules: they need to be sure nobody sees them, they can't leave the property, and they have to leave the owner, old Miss Lillian, alone. The rules are simple enough to follow until a new caretaker comes, bringing his 12-year old daughter, Lissa, with him. Diana wants to have a friend, so she breaks the rules. Her decision to befriend Lissa has consequences that will reveal long hidden secrets.

This book was a very enjoyable spooky story. The characters are believable, and the story is very well paced. The story is scary, but age appropriate. The plot is a bit predictable for adults, but still a good read even if the reader guesses the situation. I loved the cover art! The cover is what enticed me to read the book. I'm glad I did! I love ghost stories and even though this book was written for children, I found myself pulled into the tale, eagerly reading to find out what was going to happen next!

Mary Downing Hahn has written 9 other ghostly tales for middle grade kids. I'm definitely going to read more by her. It was definitely an entertaining afternoon read!

My rating: 7/10
Ages 10+
A few spooky situations, but nothing inappropriate for middle grade kids

Friday, April 1, 2016

REVIEW: Kiss Me Like a Stranger

Kiss Me Like a Stranger: My Search for Love & Art
Author: Gene Wilder

When I first started reading this book, I felt uncomfortable -- maybe even a little embarrassed. It was almost like eavesdropping on a therapy session. But then, after a few chapters, I realized something -- Gene Wilder was being totally honest. He was sharing what he really thought, giving his real opinion, and telling about things he did or said, regardless of whether they would be judged as good or bad by his readers.

Don't read this book expecting Gene to be funny. Watch his movies for that. This book is about his career, his life, his friends, relationships, the ups and downs of his career, his marriages....his real feelings, his real struggles with mental illness and life in general. Creative people often have the hardest time with "real'' life. It makes sense -- if you spend more time pretending to be other people than being do you remember who you really are?

He shares about his self doubt, talks about his failed marriages, loving and losing Gilda Radner, his own struggle with cancer and finally finding love again with his present wife.

It was nice to have a peek at the real man behind the acting skills. I was a fan of Gene Wilder before I read this book -- I am an even bigger fan now.

Thank you for being candid and real, Gene. Your story was amazing.

My rating: 8/10
Ages: 18+
Candid discussions of sex and adult situations