Friday, March 30, 2018

REVIEW: The Mystery on Walrus Mountain

The Mystery on Walrus Mountain
Author: Dian Curtis Regan

Robbie and Rebekah are twins, but they are a bit different from everyone else. They are ghosts. After accidentally drowning in the 1940s, they still hang around their old house at Kickingbird Lake. The area is a tourist resort now, so lots of different families come and stay in their house. This time, it's winter at Kickingbird Lake and a family of skiers are staying in their house. Well, the parents ski....but the son, Noah, starts limping every time his parents mention skiing. The ghosts are a bit confused....Noah doesn't seem hurt. Why does he limp sometimes? Noah also has a strange box that he types on called a computer. They've never seen a computer before. It turns out that Thatch, the twins' ghost dog can interact with computers in a way the twins never expected! And it leads them into another adventure!

This story is my favorite of this series so far. Very creative and entertaining! The ghost twins get to be a bit more interactive with the living in this story, but in a roundabout way. The book was written in 1995, so the descriptions of computers are a bit outdated, but that doesn't make the story less enjoyable. Nice mix of humor and adventure! Great middle-grade adventure story!

The Mystery on Walrus Mountain is the third book in the Ghost Twins series. There are eight books in total. Dian Curtis Regan has written books for kids ranging from board books up to YA novels. I'm definitely going to read more of her books! I love reading children's books as a break from the adult thriller, murder mystery and horror books I like to read. Sometimes I just need something light hearted and cute to clear my head after reading a "heavy'' story.  Dian Curtis Regan's books do that perfectly for me! I enjoy her writing and humor.













REVIEW: Let Me Lie

Let Me Lie
Author: Clare Mackintosh

Anna's parents committed suicide. They both jumped from Beachy Head a few months apart. Close to the anniversary of her mother's death, Anna receives a cryptic note. 

Suicide? Think again.

She begins to think that maybe her parents were murdered. Maybe they didn't both leap to their deaths from the cliff and take that long plunge into the sea. 

She finds one retired police officer willing to listen to her. But everyone else thinks maybe she is losing her mind. Maybe the grief is just too much for her to bear. 

But Anna knows something is wrong.....and she is determined to find out what. 

Wow.....this book is a twisted, suspenseful mind-bending thriller! As I read, I had a theory about the way I thought the story would end. I was completely wrong....but the ending was magnificent anyway! Loved it! This story has plenty of suspense, moves at a good pace and contains more than enough twists, turns and surprises to keep readers turning the pages until the very end! I even looked up information on Beachy Head so I could picture the area. The cliff is steep....and that's a horrendous drop! And, unfortunately people do commit suicide by jumping from the top. :( 

This is the first book by Clare Mackintosh that I've read. I will definitely be reading more! Great thriller! (And yes...I mean all of those exclamation points. I really enjoyed this book!)

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

REVIEW: Tunnels of Terror

Tunnels of Terror
Author: Patricia Edwards Clyne

Tunnels of Terror is about five kids who decide to go exploring in Pompey's Cave. They want to explore the cave and underground lake, plus look for the treasure that a local legend says a bootlegger hid in the cave. The entrance to the cave is just a hole in the ground, so one of the older boys, Roy, made a wooden ladder so the group can climb the 20 feet down into the cave. The kids know that when it rains the cave fills with water, but rain isn't in the forecast. They all grab their backpacks filled with supplies...flashlights, a rope, food, and an inflatable raft....and climb into the cave. They soon learn they are not as experienced at exploring at they thought, and that they've made some dangerous errors. The group finds themselves trapped in the cave.....and the water is rising. Can they work together to escape Pompey's Cave?

This story is actually based on a real cave in New York state. I don't think that I would climb down into a cave on a wooden ladder -- the kids in the story are much braver than I am! I liked the fact that the kids all worked together to solve their problem, and they all learned some big lessons about safety while caving. Things like always tell someone exactly where you are going, always bring extra clothing, and several sets of extra batteries for flashlights, etc.

This is an enjoyable middle-grade adventure story. At 157 pages, it's a nice length for ages 8-12, or a relaxing, quick read for an adult. Illustrations by Frank Aloise are a nice addition to the story.

Patricia Edwards Clyne is the author of several middle-grade books about history and folk lore, including Hudson Valley Tales and Trails and Hudson Valley Faces and Places.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

REVIEW: The Mystery of One Wish Pond

The Mystery of One Wish Pond
Author: Dian Curtis Regan

I read a lot of middle grade books, especially mysteries. I like mystery stories, plus I have a granddaughter in elementary school. It's nice to find books that she might enjoy reading. And, children's books are wonderful, relaxing stories that I enjoy in between the adult horror, thriller and murder mystery books I like to read. After I finish a chilling, creepy book, I like to relax with a more light-hearted story. Middle-grade books are perfect!

The Mystery of One Wish Pond is the second book in the Ghost Twins series. Robbie and Rebeka accidentally drowned in the 1940's. Since then they haunt their old house and the Kickingbird Lake area, learning how to interact with things around them and the living. Sometimes they find a cool mystery to investigate. Even ghosts can be curious! The lake and their old house are now part of a tourist resort, so there is always something to investigate!

This series is so cute and fun to read. I like the fact that there are rules that the twins had to learn like they can touch things if no living thing is touching it at the same time. The twins had to learn what ghosts can do, and what they can't. Their house always has different families staying in it because it's part of a tourist resort, so the twins always have different people to watch and try to haunt.

This time the twins house is invaded by two boys and their Aunt Jenny. The boys encroach upon the twins' favorite room in the house, and their gazebo out back. They do their best haunting to try and take back their favorite spots. But soon they are on an adventure, following the boys on a camping trip to Mystery Island and investigating the legend of One Wish Pond!

There are 8 books in the Ghost Twins series. The books are all about 100 pages long or so. Nice length for a middle-grade student or a quick read for an adult. I enjoy this series as a bit of light-hearted relaxing reading in between the adult horror, murder mystery and thriller books I like to read. Refreshes my mind a bit before I jump back into scary stuff. :)

Dian Curtis Regan is the author of many books for kids including Jilly's Ghost and Liver Cookies.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

REVIEW: My Days: Happy and Otherwise

My Days: Happy and Otherwise
Author: Marion Ross

I grew up in a very strict Catholic household in the 70s & 80s. Many great shows were on television then, but I was restricted from watching most of the ones that my classmates at school watched. But, as kids will do, I had a way around this. My best friend lived next door...and when good shows were on, I would suddenly have to go study for a test, or whatever excuse I could come up with, go across the street and watch television with them. Through the years I happily sat on my neighbor's living room rug watching One Day At a Time, Alice. Laverne & Shirley. Dukes of Hazard. Welcome Back Kotter. And...one of my favorites....Happy Days. I really enjoyed the nerdy Ralph Malph, good ol Richie Cunningham, Snarky little sister Joanie, the lovable Potsie Weber, and of course...The Fonz. We all went around saying "Ayyyyy'' with our thumbs up and saying "Sit on it!'' And my parents always thought I was getting help with math. :)

When I think of Marion Ross, I will always think of Mrs. C., the lovable mom from Happy Days. I wanted to know more about the actress though, so I read her new book. I'm glad I did! Turns out Marion Ross (as with all actors) is so much more than her iconic character Mrs. C. From her roles on Broadway, film and television, to her personal life, her story is so interesting and enjoyable! Reading her book was like sitting down to lunch with her and just listening to her talk. I enjoyed every word!

Marion shares stories about her childhood, early career, her "big break,'' her castmates, children.....it's just a nicely well rounded book about her life. Her co-author is David Laurell. The book is well-written and just shines with Ross' lovely, down-to-earth personality.

I'm definitely going to purchase a copy of this book for my husband, who is a huge Happy Days fan. Anyone who grew up in the 70s, or who loves the show, will enjoy learning more about Marion Ross. Her stories about the show, her castmates,and her life are wonderful! After I finished the book, I went online and found the Love, American Style episode that introduced the Cunningham family.


Great show! Great book! And, a great actress and person!

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


Monday, March 26, 2018

REVIEW: The Dark Stairs

The Dark Stairs
Author: Betsy Cromer Byars

The Dark Stairs is the first book in a cute middle-grade kid detective series, The Herculeah Jones Mysteries. I came across this series by accident, but I'm glad I did. I needed a lighthearted read to clear my mind between adult thriller novels, and The Dark Stairs was a fun, enjoyable read.

The basics: Herculeah (named after Hercules because her mom was watching a cheesy Hercules movie when she was in labor) Jones is curious, inquisitive and an amateur sleuth. She comes by it naturally -- her mom is a private detective and her dad is a cop. She always knows when something strange is going on because her hair frizzles (starts to stand on end). Her neighbor and friend is a boy called Meat. He's a bit of a chicken, but occasionally does help Herculeah out of a jam. In her first mystery, Herculeah is drawn to an old abandoned mansion in town. It's called Twin Oaks, but everyone calls it Dead Oaks. The old man who owned the house disappeared years before and nobody ever found him. Now someone is in town asking about the house and the old man. Despite her parents telling her to stay out of it, Herculeah's hair is frizzling and she just can't stand it til she investigates the old house. What happened to old man Crewell? And who is the creepy guy asking about him?

Meat reminds me a bit of Chunk from Goonies. He's the comic relief, but a good friend to Herculeah. They make a good team, even if he is a bit of a chicken. Herculeah is smart, curious and daring. At times, her curious nature gets her into big trouble.

There are seven books in this series. It is middle-grade appropriate. There is nothing too scary or graphic. Just a cute, light-hearted kid sleuth story. I thought her hair frizzling every time she felt a mystery coming on was cute. The books were written from 1994-2006. Betsy Byars is the author of many middle-grade books including the Bingo Brown series and the Blossom Family series.

Cute book! I'm glad I came across this series. I'm going to read the rest of the books in between adult mystery stories. Perfect quick reads to relax with and enjoy.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

REVIEW: Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die
Author: Ian Fleming

I have always been a big fan of the James Bond movies and I read a couple of the books years ago. I actually got in trouble in high school for bringing one of the books to school with me. I can't even remember which one. The principal said it was a "dirty'' book. Some of my other classmates had Steven King novels that had much more graphic things in them, but I had no choice but to leave James at home from then on. I never read the entire series. In 2018 I have made a personal promise to read more books that I've always wanted to read, but never seemed to make the time. And James Bond has been on that list for a very long time.

The Fleming family has re-issued the Bond series with the text restored to how it was originally published. I am not sure what changes this required, but after listening to the audiobook version of this particular book, I think I can guess. Holy cow -- this book uses a lot of antiquated racist and sexist terminology! I'm guessing it was toned down in later editions. Live and Let Die was originally printed in 1954, but I have a hard time believing that in the 1950s they still used horrible terms like "negress.'' At one point, James Bond is thinking to himself that he is surprised to see a "negress'' driving a car, let alone the limousine she is driving. What?? Wow. There are multiple references to white teeth, popping eye balls and just other really disturbing descriptions of black people as well. While I could see a few references to past stereotypes given the era the book was written, the repeated nonsense really made it hard for me to get through the first half of this book. After that, the racist crapola tamed down and it got into the spy adventure portion of the story.

Also, Fleming seems to go out of his way to over explain things at times. The narrator even points out in a short interview at the end of the book that Fleming seems to like to flaunt his knowledge of obscure things, often including descriptions or tangents in the book that aren't really necessary. I felt better about thinking that way myself after hearing the narrator agree with me. I'm not sure what Fleming was like as a person, but I have the sneaking suspicion he might have been a bit of a difficult snob. I might be wrong....but it's the impression that I get.

The basics: James Bond comes over to the United States to work a case with Felix Leiter. They are after Mr. Big, a big time criminal who has ties to voodoo and a Russian spy ring. Turns out Mr. Big is involved in smuggling valuable gold coins out of the Caribbean to fund Russian spy activities. Bond ends up in Jamaica, has run ins with sharks, poisonous fish and lots of bad guys. Plus there is a beautiful girl (of course). Typical James Bond fare. The action is great. The blatant racism is not.

The audiobook is under 7 hours long and narrated by Rory Kinnear. He reads at a nice even pace and has a nice voice. I have hearing loss but was able to easily understand and enjoy this audiobook.

The spy action portions of this novel would get  4 or 5 star rating from me. But with my total shock at some of the horrible garbage in this novel, I would give it a 2. So I'm going to average it at a 3.

James Bond fans will love this book....it has some great underwater action scenes, a really baddd bad guy and some great daring-do. But I do caution readers to be aware that there is some questionable content. It really put a damper on my enjoyment of this book.

I'm moving on to book 3 in the series -- Moonraker. There are 14 books in total.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

REVIEW: The Mystery at Kickingbird Lake

The Mystery at Kickingbird Lake
Author: Dian Curtis Regan

Robbie and Rebeka aren't like other kids. Sure, they run and play, and love their dog, Thatch. But, all three of them are ghosts. In 1942, they went canoeing on Kickingbird Lake and had an accident. They drowned. Since then, they've been hanging out at their old house on the lake. The lake has been turned into a tourist resort and their old home has been renovated to rent to tourists. The two kids get to work on their haunting skills as their house is invaded by a vacationing family of four, the Shook family. Soon, they are following the two kids, Kimmie and Scott, as they investigate the story of the twins drowning and find some lost treasures by the lake shore. Robbie and Rebeka still have a lot to learn about ways they can interact with the living, so it's a real adventure for them!

What a cute middle-grade ghost story! This was a fun and sweet quick read. The Mystery at Kickingbird Lake is actually the first book in a series of 8 in the Ghost Twins series. The book is age appropriate for 7-10 year olds and isn't scary. It's just a cute story about two kids who have been ghosts for 50 years!

Dian Curtis Regan is also the author of many middle-grade level books including the Princess Nevermore series and Monsters in the Attic.

This was a cute, fun book! I'm definitely going to read more of her books! I enjoy reading cute kids books in between serious adult reading. Very relaxing and enjoyable. It also lets me recommend good books to my grand-daughter! :) Scholastic publishes some of the best books for grade school age kids. I loved them when I was young. All my kids loved them. And now the grandkids are reading them. :) This particular series was published in the early 1990s, but used inexpensive copies are easily available online. Or check with the local public or school library. :)

Friday, March 23, 2018

REVIEW: Close to Home

Close to Home
Author: Cara Hunter

During a costume party at her home, 8-year old Daisy Mason disappears. The entire family acts strange. The mother is obsessed with appearances. The father is coldly distant. And the 10-year old boy seems a bit too withdrawn and quiet. DI Adam Fawley knows something is amiss and he is determined to find out what happened to the bubbly, beautiful little girl. Did someone in her family do her harm? Has she been abducted? Did a stranger do this, or someone else at the party? Little does he know just how horrible and vile things really are......

OMG! This book is amazing! The story grabbed my total interest from the beginning, and the suspense kept going strong until the very last word. The story moves along at a good pace, and there are plenty of suspects. I like DI Fawley as a main character. He's had a lot of pain in his life including the death of his own child, and that makes him go after this case with determination. The author does a great job of portraying these totally crappy parents. I wanted to jump into the book and punch both of them. The mother is completely narcissistic. And the father is a total Wanker (yes, with a capital w). There are some magnificent twists and turns of plot in this crime story....I didn't know exactly what had happened until the very end. I LOVE suspense novels that always have that one last surprise in store. Just lovely!

This is book 1 in a series featuring DI Adam Fawley. I will definitely be reading more of this series!! (and yes, that gets two exclamation points) This is Cara Hunter's debut novel. Awesome job! The second DI Fawley book, In The Dark, will be coming out in July 2018. Can't wait to read it!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Penguin Books via First To Read. All opinions expressed -- including capital letters and extra exclamation points -- are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: News from the Fringe

News From the Fringe
Author: John Kohut, Roland Sweet

The Fringe. Not part of the normal, mainstream, socially acceptable, daily, expected behaviors. Weird. Different. Extreme. Awesome!

This book collects little snippets of news from around the world that definitely come from the fringe. A bank customer who quacks like a duck when his loan paperwork is rejected. A man who killed his wife for putting vegetables in front of the milk in the refrigerator. A boy who saved his brothers life thanks to an episode of The Simpsons. Just interestingly weird happenings from around the world.

I had so much fun reading this book! While there are some disturbing entries (like Japan returning remains of 20,000 noses cut from Koreans in 1597 during an invasion), most of the snippets are light hearted and amusing. There are mentions of more adult subjects like sex, drugs, violence, murder, etc so I would say the book is PG-13, but nothing is too graphic.

My favorite bit from the book is this one:

In Missouri, Larry Lands was showing off a turkey he had shot and put in his trunk when the not-yet dead bird started thrashing around and pulled the trigger of Land's gun, also in the trunk. Lands was shot in the leg. "The turkeys are fighting back,'' said County Sheriff Ron Skiles. 

This book was published in 1993 by two of the authors who compiled the News of the Weird series. The stories don't seem dated though, mostly because weirdness is pretty much weird no matter how much time passes. Fun read!


Thursday, March 22, 2018

REVIEW: More News of the Weird

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

Gordon and Jasmine Geisbrecht opened a restaurant in a suburb of Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1986 called The Outhouse, built on the theme of toilets. Toilet bowls were placed among the tables, and a toilet seat logo appeared on the menu. Health inspectors then forced the restaurant to suspend operations because it lacked adequate rest rooms. (from pg 15)

More News of the Weird is filled with many such delightful snippets of strange news stories gleaned from media around the world. From padded bathtubs in the United States to toilets that check pulse rates and perfume bottoms in Japan, the book is a treasure trove of weirdness. Some of the stories are disturbing, some funny and others just puzzling....but all are entertaining. Some details are a bit adult -- people naked in the wrong places, sexual situations, druggies/drunks so I would say the book is PG-13 rated and not for smaller kids. But teenagers would find it funny. I read my son several items and we giggled. Cute book!

Published in 1990, the stories date from the 60's through the late 80s, but they aren't really that dated. Weird pretty much stays weird no matter how old the story. This book is out of print, but after checking online I found used copies aren't that difficult to come by. It would make a perfect bathroom book or light hearted tome to keep handy when a smile is needed. I use books like this as palate cleansers between books or just for a bit of light reading when I don't feel like reading a novel.

Fun read! Nice to know that there are people in the world more strange than myself. ha ha! :)




REVIEW: The Mystery at Bob-White Cave

The Mystery at Bob-White Cave (Trixie Belden)
Author: Kathryn Kenny

I grew up reading the Trixie Belden series. Trixie, her brothers and their friends solve mysteries, have adventures and help others around their home in Sleepyside, NY. I remember doing yard work and babysitting my nephew to earn money to buy new Trixie books. And I was really happy when some new books came out in the 80s. This was by far my favorite book series when I was 12 or so....I ended up with the entire series in matching covers (the beige 1980s versions). Before I left for college, I sold them all to a neighbor girl at a garage sale. I hope she enjoyed them as much as I did!

The Mystery at Bob-White Cave is the 11th book in the series. Trixie and the gang travel to the Ozarks to visit her Uncle Andrew. The kids' club, The Bob-Whites, want to do some cave exploration during the trip. A magazine has offered a $500 reward for anyone who can locate several different types of cave fish -- ones that have no eyes and are all white in color. Trixie is really determined to find the fish because the club wants to donate the $500 to help buy a station wagon to transport handicapped kids to school in Sleepyside. As usual the kids find themselves in the middle of mysterious goings on -- stolen fish, arson and a strange ghost man in the woods. Will the kids find the fish and get the money? And who is the strange man in the woods?

While this isn't one of the best books in the series, it is an enjoyable story. Trixie is a bit high-strung in this adventure. Let's chalk it up to teenage angst and give her a break. :) There were some exciting moments in this book involving wildcats, flash floods and a strange man lurking in the woods.

There are 39 books in the Trixie Belden series, written from 1948 to 1986. The stories are a bit dated, but still very enjoyable and readable. Since I absolutely adored this book series as a kid, I decided to reread all the books. I'm glad I did! I'm really enjoying revisiting my favorite group of fictional teens from NY state! I smile every time Trixie exclaims "Gleeps!'' ha ha

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

REVIEW: Murder, She Knit

Murder, She Knit
Author: Peggy Ehrhart

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW: A Guide for Murdered Children

A Guide for Murdered Children
Author: Sarah Sparrow

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

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

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

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

The front cover is totally perfect!

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

REVIEW: Beyond News of the Weird

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Chernobyl

Chernobyl (World Disasters)
Author: Don Nardo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

REVIEW: Green Lantern: Earth One Volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

And....you know what?

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

Things I like:

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

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



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

What I didn't like:

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

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

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

A thumbs up from me!

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

Monday, March 19, 2018

REVIEW: The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell

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

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

This book would make an awesome horror movie!

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

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


REVIEW: Ghosts and Specters

Ghosts and Specters
Author: Nancy & Bruce Roberts

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

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

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

REVIEW: The Jekyll Revelation

The Jekyll Revelation
Author: Robert Masello

Working in Topanga Canyon in California, Environmental Scientist Rafael Salazar spies an antique steamer trunk. It's definitely out of place, revealed only because of the bad drought conditions in the canyon. Little does he realize the items inside the trunk will not only reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper but also bring to light circumstances that changed the life of the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson. As he reads a journal written by Stevenson, the whole story unfolds. A flask containing remnants of a dangerous elixir used by Stevenson to hold his tuberculosis at bay will bring a long dormant violence to Topanga Canyon.

This story is fantastic! Alternating in time from London in the late 1880s to present day California, this story unfolds a suspenseful and creepy tale, akin to Stevenson's own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story is well-written and the plot moves along at perfect speed. Usually I don't like stories that switch back and forth in time, but Masello pulls it off masterfully. I also enjoyed the creative mix of history and fiction. Very creative!

I listened to the audiobook version and it was perfect. One narrator read the present day portions of the story, and another read Robert Louis Stevenson's portions. Very well done! I have hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand everything. At about 12 hours in length, the audio performance took me several days to finish, but I enjoyed every moment!

This is the first book I have read by Robert Masello. He has written several other similar suspense books including The Einstein Prophesy and The Medusa Amulet. I enjoyed this one so much I am definitely going to read more of his work!


Saturday, March 17, 2018

REVIEW: Tales For a Dark & Stormy Night

Spooky Stories For a Dark & Stormy Night
Author: Alice Low

This book made me smile. :) The stories in this book remind me of childhood days spent sitting in the cornfield on the edge of our neighborhood (yes, a cornfield in town -- the farmer refused to sell. When he passed away, the family sold his two fields to a developer who put apartments and an assisted living facility on them. I pity the kids in that neighborhood now. It's nice small-town living still...but no scary stories or games of hide and seek amid the stalks anymore. Sing with me: They paved paradise and put up a parkinggggg lot!   You have me to thank for that song being in your head all day now. But.....back to my book review.....)   Ahem.... ok we were all sitting in the cornfield at the edge of our neighborhood.....telling scary stories. Usually we had our sleeping bags to sit on, some snacks we ferreted from the cupboards at home and flashlights. Flashlights were necessary because when it was your turn to tell the story you had to shine the light up into your face so you looked scary. When it hit 10 pm, or we got a good case of the shivers,(whichever came first) it was time to go home. Because, our dads were all scarier than any stories we had to tell if we dared stay out past 10 pm. The stories in this book remind me of the tales we told each other as kids....ghosts, curses, haunted houses, giant cats, monsters, curses, etc. I smiled the entire time I was reading. What a fun book!

The illustrations by Gahan Wilson are colorful and just awesome!



The stories vary from folk tales from around the world, short stories by famous authors like Dickens and Washington Irving (shortened and retold for this story collection for kids), and old classics that all kids seem to love. Perfect stories for telling at camp, during sleepovers, on stormy nights to scare your little brother, and also for adults who love this sort of light, creepy fun just as much as kids!

I had so much fun reading these stories! I told my 13-year old that they put a picture of him in the book I was reading.....and then showed him the picture I included above. ha ha. :) He just gave me that angst-y look all parents of teenagers know very well, and then finally cracked a smile and walked out laughing. Just getting my own back for all the "you're old'' comments. :)

Alice Low is the author of several books for kids including story collections about myths and legends, holidays, sports and other great topics. I will definitely be reading more of her books! This was such a fun story collection! I'm sure to enjoy her other ones as well!

Gahan Wilson's artwork can be seen in many books....and I'm definitely reading more that contain his art because they have fantastic titles like: The Big Book of Freaks, The Weird World of Gahan Wilson, Still Weird, Even Weirder and Everybody's Favorite Duck. He also provided the illustrations for A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. Who can resist a big book of freaks?? I certainly can't!


Friday, March 16, 2018

REVIEW: Zero Limit

Zero Limit
Author: Jeremy K. Brown

Caitlin Taggert is stuck on the moon. She might be a war hero, but when all moon-born people are restricted from Earth, she is forced to stay there. Mining on the moon is dangerous, difficult and low-paying work. Caitlin's biggest wish is to get back to Earth so she can be with her young daughter. Then she gets an offer she can't refuse.....mine an asteroid and earn a fortune. Not only is the assignment illegal, but very dangerous. She has strong belief in her crew and, above all, she wants to be with her daughter. But the mission goes very wrong. Caitlin and the crew find themselves facing a much bigger problem....one that could effect everyone on Earth.

Wow! This is an enjoyable, action-packed space adventure! It definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. I like Caitlin as a main character. She's strong, independent and a good leader. Her crew are great supporting characters. The action moves quickly, and the story is engaging. I got emotionally invested in the characters...and was truly sad when some of them died. The ending is definitely white-knuckle exciting. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out until the very end. Great action. Some nice plot twists and turns. Overall, a great SF space adventure!

The cover art is wonderful! It's what originally drew me to read the book. Nicely done!

This is the first book by Jeremy Brown that I've read. I'm definitely going to check out his other books!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from 47North via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**




REVIEW: Wave of Terror

Wave of Terror
Author: Jon Jefferson

I like disaster and save-the planet action stories. Any sort. Movies -- Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Volcano, Sharknado, Deep Impact. Love 'em all. Disaster books -- One Second After, The Alliance, The Virus, EMP. Big Scale S hitting the fan or large scale sinister plots averted at the last moment...it's my secret genre obsession. :) When I saw a book called Wave of Terror....oh hell yeah....I had to read it! I expected to get more than my daily reading allowance of cheese. But, this book really surprised me. While there is still cheese, this is a totally kick ass story! Entertaining, not overly melodramatic, just enjoyable to read. Very cinematic. I could easily see this being made into a movie.

Is this classic brilliant fiction? Nope. It's an action suspense story, not Ivanhoe. I read this book purely for entertainment. Sort of like watching a Stallone film. I'm not looking for brilliant film-making...I want to see shit explode and ass kicking. Same with this book....I wanted the action and entertainment. And it delivered. Pure mind candy.

The basics: Astronomer Megan O'Malley travels to La Palma in the Canary Islands to use the large observatory there for 3 days. She paid a lot of money for her time there, and she's hopeful that she will find Planet 9. But, it seems small earthquakes will be her nemesis. Every time she gets lined up for some top notch photos of the night sky, the shots are all fuzzy from vibrations. Strangely enough, she discovers after her trip that the seismic records from her time at the observatory don't show any earthquakes anywhere near La Palma. The discrepancy annoys her enough to start doing research into what happened. What she discovers is so much more than just minor tremors. Potentially millions of people could die. Nobody will listen to her except Chip Dawtry, an FBI agent specializing in terrorist threats. Can they prevent a mega-tsunami that could destroy the entire eastern seaboard of the United States?

Between the movie references and the Monty Python quotes, Agent Dawtry had me hooked immediately. The character is intelligent, more than slightly nerdy, and doesn't know how to take no for an answer. Megan is the same way. When she discovered the danger, nobody would listen to her. She had to stick with her evidence and convince people...not many listened. In fact....only two.

I would have been less surprised by this book had I looked closer at the author's name before I started reading. Jon Jefferson. Co-author of the Body Farm series and Death's Acre (with William Bass). Of course he can also write a entertaining action story! Wave of Terror is well-written. The suspense builds at a nice even pace and the action keeps the plot moving. A generous sprinkling of humor and characters that work well together strengthened the story.

Now, I do have to say that I am not a scientist. What I know about astronomy I learned from the Science Channel and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Geology -- I know an earthquake makes the ground shake and a bit that I learned in high school earth science. That's about it.   So I have no clue if the scenario in this book is actually possible. I do know that it makes for an action plot entertaining enough to keep me reading. Sort of like the grandiose plots of Bond villains. Go big or go home, right? I guess what I'm really trying to say is that I really don't care if it could actually happen or not. I can suspend reality and believe for awhile that it is possible....and let these characters save the planet. Why not? I'm not reading a fictional account about a terrorist attack causing a 150 foot tidal wave because I love realistic fiction. Just have fun....and go with it. :) Like they say on Mystery Science Theater 3000.....it's just a story, you should really just relax.

As for what happens....not saying a word. No spoilers from me. Read the book! :)

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




REVIEW: The Tightwad's Curse and Other Pleasantly Chilling Stories

The Tightwad's Curse and Other Pleasantly Chilling Stories
Author: Margret Rettich

I love strange stories...ghosts, strange history, weird occurrences, aliens, witches....whatever weirdness is out there, I'm willing to give it a read. This collection of 20 stories is a little bit different.....at first each tale seems supernatural, but then a natural explanation is found. Human quirks, misunderstandings, animals, wind.....no ghosts at fault, just normal life seeming strange.

While it is obvious this story collection is aimed at middle-grade readers, I still enjoyed the tales. The fact that none of them were actually "scary'' in the end was a bit disappointing, but I quickly got over it and started to think ahead as to what the normal outcome would be. My favorite story was one about an Aunt and two kids who get lost during a self guided tour of a castle and find themselves locked inside.

This book would be perfect for a younger student who finds actual ghost stories a bit too scary....these stories are more interesting than scary. It might be a good Halloween season read for someone who doesn't like being scared but still wants to feel like they joined in the spooky stuff at least a little bit.

Enjoyable read, even though I prefer my chilling stories to actually be scary. :) I found myself enjoying these little tales, mostly because they all end on a positive note. A bit of chill....and then calm. It made for a nice reading break on a windy, spring evening. The original book was published in German and translated into English by Elizabeth D. Crawford. Crawford also translated a book of Christmas stories by Rettich, The Silver Touch and Other Family Christmas Stories.




Thursday, March 15, 2018

REVIEW: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
Author: Ian Fleming

Casino Royale is the first book in the James Bond series. I've seen the movie -- the new and the old version -- many times, but this is the first time I've actually read the book. James Bond is a much more complex character than the way he is portrayed in the movies. Yes, he travels to exotic places to kill people and he has more than his share of liaisons with beautiful women....but the books include his thoughts on his job, his fear and apprehension during missions, and his considerations of retirement, settling down, forming a more lasting relationship with a woman, etc. The complexity of the character just doesn't come through in the movies. The movies are pretty much just action-packed fight scenes separated by drinking martinis and having sex.

In Casino Royale, Bond infiltrates a high stakes baccarat game in order to bankrupt and ultimately ruin a Russian operative, Le Chiffre. With some help from an American CIA agent, Felix Leiter, and another British Agent, the beautiful Vesper Lynd, Bond manages to win a record amount of money at  the baccarat table. But Le Chiffre is determined not to be ruined. He kidnaps Bond and Vesper Lynd, setting in motion events that might be the end of Bond.

This book contains one of the most gruesome torture scenes I have ever experienced in a book. The movie starring Daniel Craig depicted the basics of the torture, but left out much of the psychological  brutality of the entire scene. I thought the movie version was traumatic....but the book's description is so much more gruesome. It's an important scene that's integral to the plot of the book. It's not overdone and there is absolutely no detailed description of the event or in the injuries to Bond. The horror comes in the matter of fact manner in which Le Chiffre explains what he is doing and why, and the description of how he goes about it. The coldness, the violence, the unfeeling nature of a very evil man.....and the brutality yet simplistic nature of his attack on Bond. In the movie, a knotted rope is used for the attack. But in the book it's a simple household tool, a carpet beater. Le Chiffre comments that it is easy to cause extreme pain and suffering to a man with the simplest of tools if one knows just how to do it. The entire scene sent chills down my spine. It is definitely not for the feint of heart.

The book has 3 distinct sections -- the baccarat game at the casino, the kidnapping and torture, and the aftermath. I didn't much care for the first section of the book. I have absolutely no interest in gambling and there is a lot of explanation about the game, the odds, what cards they are playing, etc. Plus Fleming uses a lot of French, German and Russian words and phrases sprinkled throughout. While that does help create atmosphere, after awhile it just gets old, especially when it's gourmet food, wines, liquors and other details I felt weren't all that important. For me, it was just a bit overdone. After the baccarat game, the action revved up considerably and the story became much more interesting for me. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it makes sense that it ends the way it does.

After reading this first Bond book, I have a better understanding of the character and why he is the way he is. I want to read through the entire Bond series this year as part of my goal to read more books that I've always wanted to read, but never actually took the time. I'm glad I finally read Casino Royale. The book is so much more detailed than the movie.

I listened to the audiobook version of Casino Royale from Audible. I'm glad I chose to listen to the audiobook as as I don't speak French, German or Russian and would have completely flubbed my way through a lot of wine, food, character and place names throughout the entire novel. At just over 5 hours long, it was a relatively quick listen. Dan Stevens narrates. Stevens reads at a nice even pace, and did an excellent job with all different accents and voices of characters. I have hearing loss but was easily able to understand and enjoy this audiobook.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

REVIEW: Furthermore

Furthermore
Author: Tahereh Mafi

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow is 12. And that's a very important age in Ferenwood. Soon she will be called to share her magical gift with everyone in her community. Along with all the others her age, she will be rated on her magical skill and given an important task to complete. She hopes she will be tasked to find her father, who disappeared 3 years before taking only a ruler with him. Imagine her surprise when an older boy, Oliver, asks her for help with his task. She dislikes Oliver because he once made fun of her -- pointed out her different appearance in front of everyone at school. Things never seem to go easily, or as planned, for Alice -- and she finds herself forced to travel through the strange and dangerous land of Furthermore to find her father ..... with Oliver.

I listened to the audiobook version of this middle-grade book narrated by Bronson Pinchot. He has a nice voice and reads at an even pace. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to understand and enjoy this audiobook. At just over 8 hours long, it took me a couple days to finish listening. The humor, colorful fantasy and creativity of this story made it very entertaining!

Alice is a delightful main character. She feels different, separated....like she doesn't belong with her family or with anyone. It was sweet seeing her learn that differences can be strengths, and that what she sees as her biggest flaw might just be her greatest asset. Oliver is both a scoundrel and a caring person. His magical gift is both a blessing and a curse it seems. Both Alice and Oliver learn to work together and discover how to forgive, trust and form a friendship.

All in all, a nice, fantastically creative middle-grade story! It touches on some subjects that all children have to learn to deal with -- failure, loss, betrayal, trust, friendship, embarrassment and learning from mistakes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

REVIEW: Playing With Bonbon Fire

Playing With Bonbon Fire
Author: Dorothy St James

Charity Penn is settling into her new life in Camellia Beach, SC running the chocolate shop she inherited. While still trying to solve some mysteries about her mother, she's making new friends, learning to trust people again, and getting involved in local events. Camellia Beach is gearing up for its beach festival and Penn has agreed to help organize the event. Famous singer Bixby Lewis, who used to date Penn's half-sister Tina, is in town to perform. Two other groups featuring local musicians are also going to perform, despite bad blood between two of the musicians. When one of the performers is found dead by a beach bonfire and strange attacks on Penn's chocolate shop start happening, Penn knows she needs to investigate before more people are killed.

I like the quirky, unusual characters in this series. Penn has some serious issues with trust and personal space, but given her background that's understandable. I like her as a main character because she's different....not a tropey formula MC. I like the fact that residents of Camellia Beach are finally treating Penn as one of their own, not as an outsider. There is some excellent character development for Penn and a couple of the other characters in the series in this second book. I can't wait to find out what happens in the next book! Penn's on-going struggle to solve her issues with her biological family adds an interesting secondary storyline to this series. At times, I really want to jump into the story and knock her relatives around a bit for being jerks. This secondary plot line doesn't get in the way of the mystery, but enhances it. The mystery moves along at a nice pace with plenty of suspects and some unexpected twists. The story held my attention from beginning to end. All in all, a very enjoyable cozy mystery.

The cover is colorful and cute, as usual. And, there are some yummy recipes in the back of the book! :)

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

Monday, March 12, 2018

REVIEW: Gods of Howl Mountain

Gods of Howl Mountain
Author: Taylor Brown

Rory Docherty returns home to North Carolina following the Korean War. He comes home haunted by the war and the loss of a leg. This story has a little bit of everything -- faith healing, bootleg liquor, dark family secrets, greed and violence. The characters are gritty and authentic, creating the long-gone atmosphere of 1950's mountain backwoods NC.

It took me a few chapters to really get into this story. It isn't the sort of book I usually read, but since I live in western NC I really wanted to get a taste of what it was like in the moonshine days. Once I got a bit into the story, I couldn't put the book down. There are portions that made me uncomfortable, but the plot was so mesmerizing I just kept reading. Sort of like an accident on the highway....you don't want to look, but something makes you look anyway.

This is definitely Southern fiction. The characters are authentic and it definitely pulled me into a bygone era. I am glad I live in NC now, and not back then.

Taylor Brown is the author of several books including River of Kings and Fallen Land.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Searcher of the Dead

Searcher of the Dead
Author: Nancy Herriman

Bess Ellyot flees London after the death of her husband. Martin's cause of death was recorded as the bloody flux, but Bess knows he was murdered. After arriving at the home of her brother, she hopes that she has escaped from whatever evil killed her husband. But when her brother-in-law is found hanged in the woods, she knows that she has not escaped. Who killed the prosperous merchant and made it look like suicide? As she investigates with the help of a local constable, Bess discovers that the plot is much more complex and horrifying than the murders of her two family members. It may even threaten Queen Elizabeth I herself!

What an interesting and entertaining Tudor era mystery story! The descriptions of life and people of the era and the characters themselves really made this book impossible to put down! Bess is an herbalist and an intelligent, strong and determined woman. All of the side characters -- her family, Constable Harwood, etc -- made the plot richer and nicely complex. The mystery moved along at a fast pace, with several twists and suspects. This book is a great start for a new series, and a nice mix of historical fiction and mystery.

Nancy Herriman is the author of several mystery books including the Mystery of Old San Francisco series. I will definitely be eagerly awaiting the next book in this series!

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

REVIEW: Zero Day

Zero Day
Author: Ezekiel Boone

What would happen if the world came under attack....sudden, unexpected and fierce attack. A large percentage of the world's population is dead. Others missing. And still others are unwitting carriers of death. And, the worst part.....there is no way to contain the attack.  What would happen?

Ezekiel Boone's The Hatching trilogy plays out this scenario in a particularly creepy crawly way. Spiders. Flesh-eating spiders. The arachnids have lain dormant for thousands of years, just waiting underground for the right time to hatch. Book One, The Hatching, details the gruesome first few weeks after the spiders hatch. The spiders decimate whole cities before dying off, leaving egg sacks in any hidden space. In the middle book, Skitter, the second wave of spiders comes.....new spiders with bright red stripes on their backs. And larger egg sacks -- the size of a truck -- appear around the world. These spiders are different.....they act different, seem to have a different purpose. Something is coming.....something horrible.....but what is it?  Can scientists and the military find a way to save what remains of human civilization? Or will the situation fall into mass chaos, violence and....the end?

Zero Day is the final book in this chilling series. I waited months for this book! I'm extremely afraid of spiders after a bad experience with a spider bite as a child. I don't even like lint balls that vaguely resemble spiders...let alone the real thing. For me to love a book series that is all about spiders hatching and destroying the world.....and for me to be incredibly impatient waiting for the ending of the story....well, it has to be well-written and incredible. The Hatching trilogy fits that description. The tale is well-written, suspenseful and truly scary! I really enjoyed this entire series!

Zero Day starts right where Skitter left off.....the world is waiting for what is going to come next. And different factions with disparate ideas on how to stop the spiders are vying for control. Whatever horrors lurk in the large egg sacks are awaking....and they are hungry. In the United States, the military is at odds with the President over what action should be taken to save at least a small part of the country, adding to the danger. Can what is left of the human race survive what's coming?

Great ending to the series! Lots of action, and some surprising twists. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Total binge read! I still hate spiders....but I thoroughly enjoyed this book series.

Ezekiel Boone has a new book, The Mansion, coming out in December 2018. This time it's not spiders but a super computer that poses the problem. I'm definitely going to read it!

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Atria via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Killman Creek

Killman Creek
Author: Rachel Caine

Gwen Proctor is a new person ever since she was acquitted of helping her husband, Melvin Royal, murder women. She changed her name and went on the run from internet weirdos trying to locate and do harm to her and her children. Some people believe she did help her serial killer husband, so she feels unsafe everywhere they go...like some wacko could appear out of nowhere at any time.  Then her husband escapes from prison, and she discovers that her new identity was never secure. She leaves her two children with two people she can trust and goes hunting Melvin. But Melvin isn't the only danger. Someone is playing a very intricate game designed to destroy her entire life and make those closest to her believe she is guilty.

Killman Creek is the second book in the Stillhouse Lake series. The first book is excellent and ends in a cliff hanger, so I jumped into this second book almost immediately. This one has a bit of a different feel to it. This time the story line changes point of view, switching from the kids, to Gwen, to her friend Sam, and others. Gwen is the point of view used for a majority of the story, but you get a taste of how the people closest to her feel about the situation. I didn't really like the switch ups, but given some of the major plot points with people wondering if she's a murderer and liar, it did help further the plot. I think most of my problem with it was the sections involving the kids. Some of their dialogue and actions almost turned this book into more of a melodramatic, YA-like emotional rant. I have to admit that as I listened to the audiobook, I fast forwarded past some of the teenage angst. It interfered with the suspense and went on too long. I get it -- their dad is a killer, they are tired of moving, and they think their mom may have helped him. But 20 minutes of childish rants and stupid decisions just pulled me out of the story for too long and some of their decisions were just over-the-top ridiculous. BUT....I will add that once the action turned to moving towards the final conclusion of this story, every point of view was necessary, and the switchups redeemed themselves, adding to the suspense at that point rather than making me roll my eyes. Don't get me wrong -- this is a great book and I enjoyed it. I just felt some of the sections using the kids' POV just went on too long and were just a bit too cheesy melodramatic.

The pace (except in a couple spots where it got bogged down in the kiddos stuff) moves along at a good speed, the suspense builds nicely, and the ending was satisfying for the most part. I did hope for a bit more Melvin -- but I was happy enough at how the story ends. I think there were some actions by other characters that Gwen accepted and forgave a bit too easily, especially a couple choices by Sam and her kids. The ending seemed a bit too smooth with Gwen never really confronting some things done by those closest to her.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. At just under 12 hours long, the audio version had voice actors for the different main characters and was very well done. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire production. It took me a bit to get used to a couple of the voices, but I was able to immerse myself in the story.

Another book in this series, Wolfhunter River, is coming out in October 2018. Not sure what the plot might be for this next book, but I will definitely be reading it! Excellent series!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

REVIEW: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars
Author: Stephen King

Stephen King has been scaring me for almost 40 years. Cars that want to kill. Vengeful underdogs. Crazy fans. Curses. Vampires. Possessed toys. Clowns. You name it -- he's scared me with it. There is just some incredibly demented stuff that pops out of that man's brain. It's his superpower. The last 20 years or so I missed some of his books. I was raising kids, working....you know, adulting. And I missed a lot of great writing by my favorite authors. King included. Now that my kids are older (and, alas I am also older) I have more time to enjoy books, so I'm backtracking and reading things that I missed, or didn't have time to read. I think I skipped a lot of King's newer books because he does have a habit of writing 1000+ page 10 lb books. While I had teenagers and a toddler, I just didn't have time to commit to longggggggg books. But, I'm almost 50 now.....only one kid still at home. I have the time.  So, Stephen......this grandma is ready for all the stuff you've churned out while I wasn't looking.

I decided to start with a book of short stories. Mostly because one of the stories, 1922,  has a film version on Netflix. I always read the book before I watch the film. I'm glad I picked Full Dark, No Stars as my first jump back in to Stephen King. Four stories, medium length, all different. All strange. And definitely, Stephen King. The last novel I read that King wrote was Dreamcatcher. I hated it. I tried at least 4 times to get through it because my oldest son bought it for me as a present with his own money, and I really really wanted to love it. But, aliens popping out of people's butts while they are on the toilet really was too ridiculous for me. Sorry, Stephen -- I DNFd your book. Ugh. And I pretty much missed everything he wrote after that...til now.  I opened this book of short stories carefully, telling myself with a laugh that if any aliens popped out of someone's ass I could shut the book and go read Dean Koontz. At least he would have a nice yellow dog to pat. And no butt aliens. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stories have that sneaky, strange creepiness that I remember from King's earlier writing. The sort that makes you leave a light on when you go to bed, but you aren't quite sure why.

Stories in this collection are:

1922:  Wilfred and Arlette's life and marriage on the farm in Nebraska goes horribly, horribly wrong. And there are consequences. Wilfred pulls his son into a violent decision....and they both slide the slippery slope to damnation. Definitely classic demented and disturbing King.

Big Driver: Tess writes cozy mysteries and puts money away for retirement with public appearances and book signings. She loves to drive to these events, and has never had a problem.....until she takes a short cut off the main highway. A talking cat and sentient GPS mark Tess' descent into madness, as she gets revenge on a serial killer and rapist, and everyone else involved in the situation. This tale is dark, brutal and demented. Classic King.

Fair Extension: Dave Streeter is living on borrowed time. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he's on chemo and feels life slipping away slowly and painfully. Then he meets a strange man who offers extensions. Any kind of extension. He offers to help Dave....for a price. This story reminded me a bit of Needful Things. A dark, strange man offering what someone desires most, but it's going to cost. This time it costs someone, but not necessarily Dave. Great story. My favorite in this collection!

A Good Marriage: Darcy and Bob have been married for 27 years. They are comfortable and happy with their life, their children, their relationship. Darcy knows Bob. His jokes. His mannerisms. The way he is concerned about going bald. But one night she accidentally discovers something about Bob. Something she didn't know. Something she wishes she had never discovered.  For me, this was the most chilling story in the book. Maybe because this could happen -- and has happened. Does anybody ever really know anyone? Really KNOW them? Scary!

I enjoyed all the stories in this book! Glad I read it. And while I know that a multi-millionaire ridiculously famous author does not really care about the opinion of one long-time reader.....I will say that this story collection has reawakened my love for his writing. I lost the desire to read his books after Dreamcatcher....and I jumped on the bandwagon with King fans who remarked that his books following his accident in 1999 were different and not as good as his previous writing. But I'm going to publicly apologize for that.....I made assumptions about books that I didn't bother to read. And that is never fair or just. I'm going to delve into the writings that I missed. I might love some of it, and dislike some....but at least I'm going to read before forming opinions.

Great story collection!!




Saturday, March 10, 2018

REVIEW: Skitter

Skitter
Author: Ezekiel Boone

I am afraid of spiders....or anything that even looks like it might be an 8-legged creepy crawly. When I was little, I was bitten by a poisonous spider. The bite required a trip to the ER and a nice chunk of tissue removed from my leg. Needless to say, arachnids moved to the top of my Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! list.

So, for me to read and absolutely love a book series about flesh-eating spiders....the books have to be good! Skitter is the second book in The Hatching trilogy by Ezekiel Boone. In the first book, ancient spiders that have been dormant for a very long time suddenly begin decimating the world. With the ease of worldwide transportation in the modern world, the spiders soon spread to every continent. They can also lay eggs inside the bodies of living humans who spread them without knowing they are carriers.

In this second book, the original wave of spiders has died, but egg sacs are everywhere. In the United States, the military is trying to contain a possible second wave. The president is faced with some very tough decisions. Her advisors recommend using nuclear weapons as China did to destroy areas with heavy infestations of egg sacs, but others come up with other ideas, such as a weapon using sound waves to kill the spiders. With the discovery of mysterious giant egg sacs in scattered places around the world and changes in behavior of the living spiders, scientists aren't sure what is going to happen next....but they know it won't be good. The spider infestation is far from over as some thought when the first wave died off....it's changing. Can the human race fight back and survive?

This book is definitely the middle novel in a trilogy. It has some great action in it, and shows the responses to the catastrophe around the world. Plus there is some great character and plot development. But, it's definitely a bridge between the exciting first book in this series, The Hatching, to the final book, Zero Day. Skitter brings into focus the aftermath of the first wave of spiders and the decisions that were made to protect people and destroy the spiders. It's quite apparent that those efforts failed....I mean how do you effectively stop the movement of millions of flesh-eating spiders who lay millions of eggs in any hidden dark space they crawl through? There is no way to kill every spider or destroy every egg. An unwinnable scenario creates desperation....a situation that requires making horrific choices.

I enjoyed this book. It has lots of action, suspense and creepy crawly spiders! I'm definitely ready to find out what happens in the final book. Luckily, Zero Day awaits on my e-reader!

Ezekiel Boone has a new book coming out in December 2018, The Mansion, about a family who moves into a house equipped with the most intuitive and advanced computer ever designed. Bad things happen, of course.  I already have the book on my wishlist. I enjoyed the first two books in The Hatching series so much that I'm definitely on-board for Boone's new book.

On to Zero Day! I can't wait to find out how this series ends! Do your worst, Boone! I'm ready!