Thursday, May 31, 2018

REVIEW: Gus Was a Real Dumb Ghost

Gus Was a Real Dumb Ghost
Author: Jane Thayer

Gus the Ghost is the main character in a series of 8 children's books written from 1967-1989. Gus Was a Real Dumb Ghost is the 7th book in the series. I have to admit it is my least favorite. The story is cute and I did enjoy it. But.....this book has a different illustrator than the prior six books. And I don't like the artwork.'s just not Gus. I don't like the art at all.

The basics: Gus wants to write his memoirs. He types up his story and sends it to a publisher, who promptly sends it back with a note saying he can't spell. Gus decides to go to school so he can learn to spell (especially the word ghost because that's what he is!). He has a bit of a hard time until he learns the ropes and starts doing his homework. Cute story! (But why the horrible art work? Grumble, grumble)

I think that if the art was going to change that drastically instead of making this another Gus book, they should have made it about another ghost. Then the change in appearance wouldn't be a big deal. But in a Gus book, Gus needs to look like Gus!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

REVIEW: Gus Was a Gorgeous Ghost

Gus Was a Gorgeous Ghost
Author: Jane Thayer

Gus the Ghost is more than a bit picky about how he dresses. He has a homespun and a linen sheet and alternates wearing and washing them so he stays looking his ghostly best. After a few hundred years of haunting, he is getting a bit tired of ironing though. Then he sees an advertisement for drip-dry sheets. No more ironing! He goes to buy a new white sheet....and sees a display of colorful, beautiful sheets! He wants a little color in his life! But he has to get a bit creative!

Gus is by far my favorite character from children's books. His first story, Gus Was a Friendly Ghost, was my favorite book as a child. I discovered just this year that there are 7 more Gus stories! This series is so cute and sweet. The stories are uplifting and the illustrations by Seymour Fleishman are always wonderful.

There are 8 books in the Gus the Ghost series. Gus is friendly and loves his friends, Mouse the Mouse, Cora the Cat and even cranky old Mr. Frizzle. :) I always have a copy of the first book on my keeper shelf....and now I'm hunting down the other 7 so I can read the stories to my grandkids when they visit. I'm happy to share Gus with them! I hope they love him as much as I did!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

REVIEW: Gus and the Baby Ghost

Gus and the Baby Ghost
Author: Jane Thayer

When I was about 5, I received a book in the mail -- Gus Was a Friendly Ghost by Jane Thayer. I loved that book so much! I made my sisters read it to me nearly every night. Even now, I have a copy of the book on my permanent keeper shelf. It's one of my favorite children's books. Imagine my surprise when just this year I learned it was just the first book in a series of 8! I've been slowly reading my way through the series to make the smiles last as long as possible. I still love Gus.  He was my bedtime buddy for a long time!

Gus and the Baby Ghost is the 4th book in the series. Gus lives in a historical museum with the cantankerous curator, Mr. Frizzle. Mr Frizzle wants the museum to be orderly, quiet and perfect for visitors. He runs the museum during the day, and Gus watches over it at night. Imagine Gus' surprise when one night a baby ghost is left, wrapped in a ghostly blanket, at the front door of the museum. How is Gus going to keep things orderly, quiet and perfect for visitors with a ghost baby in the museum??

This story is just as cute as the others I have read. And the illustrations by Seymour Fleishman are delightful, as usual. The story is cute and teaches a great lesson about compromise and kindness.

While I am sorry that I didn't know about these books when I was a little girl (it might have made my sisters less cranky about reading that one Gus book over and over and over again), I am enjoying reading about Gus' further exploits now. :) This is a delightful series and entertaining to read! I'm on  a quest to find copies of all the books so I can have them on the shelf to read when my grandkids come to visit. :) Then they can enjoy Gus, too!

Monday, May 28, 2018

REVIEW: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage

Hanna loves her daddy. And she knows her daddy loves her. But everything would be so much better if mommy would just disappear and die. Dead Mommy. Bye bye Dead Mommy.

Move over, Damien. Hanna is here.

This book is so creatively creepy. The seemingly sweet little girl who hides so much. The mother who wants so badly to love her daughter, even if she's afraid of her. And the father who is trying to make sense of what is happening to his family.

The thought of a truly psychotic and dangerous villain wrapped up in the cute visage of a little girl is truly terrifying. At first I was a bit angry at the father for not noticing what was going on.....but then I thought...wait a second....would I believe that my little girl was capable of that sort of vicious behavior when I never saw it myself? I would be just like the father wanting to protect and make the proper decisions for his child, perhaps even blaming the adults in the situation rather than the child. After all, children aren't really capable of malice, deviousness, and murderous intent. Right? *Shiver*

This book gave me the same shivers that I got from The Little Girl That Lives Down the Lane when I read it years ago. A child hiding dark secrets, dark thoughts, and dark deeds. Baby Teeth is even more psychologically terrifying because the girl involved is only 7. At first, I was thinking a 7-year old couldn't possibly cause much damage. But once the story sucked me in and I couldn't put it down, it dawned on me that this little girl is capable of even more harm than an adult. Because nobody expects it.

Baby Teeth is Zoje Stage's debut novel. I'm definitely going to be reading more by her in the future. This first novel creeped me the hell out.

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

REVIEW: I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79

I Survived the Destruction of  Pompeii, AD 79
Author: Lauren Tarshis

Marcus is a slave in ancient Rome. His father has been sold as a gladiator. As Marcus misses his father and feels afraid of the strange earth tremors that have been shaking Pompeii. he wonders how the other residents of the city can just ignore the shaking, continuing on with Gladiator games and parades, shopping in the marketplace, and other daily activities like nothing is wrong. When the mountain starts spewing ash, rocks and heat, Marcus and his father warn the people of Pompeii and then attempt to escape. Can they get out of the city before the mountain explodes?

This series is historical fiction written for middle-grade kids. Each book is a great mix of historical fact and fictionalized story. The main characters are children who tell eye-witness accounts of how they survived a dangerous event in history. Ranging from modern events like 9/11 to ancient disasters like the destruction of Pompeii, this series tells the tale in an age-appropriate way. This series could definitely be used in a classroom setting as supplemental reading on history, exciting stories to tempt reluctant readers or just as part of a classroom or school library. The books would also be great for reading out loud at home. As an adult, I enjoy reading middle-grade books as a bit of a break between heavier adult fiction. I love history so I enjoy this series just as much as most kids! :)

I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii is the 10th book in this series. There are 16 books, with a 17th coming out in September 2018. Each book is about 100 pages long, so the length is perfect for middle-grade students or adults wanting a quick, entertaining read.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

REVIEW: I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
Author: Lauren Tarshis

George Calder is 10 years old and just spent a fun time in England with his Aunt Daisy. Now George, his little sister, Phoebe, and Aunt Daisy are all steaming towards New York on board the Titanic. George is a bit rambunctious, getting into trouble for things like sliding down the main staircase railing, but he's just enjoying the trip. The Titanic is huge, very ornate and there is just so much to see and do. It's a bit overwhelming. They meet a nice Italian man, Mario, and his 4-year old son Enzo. Then the trip changes from joyful to frightening. The Titanic strikes an iceberg and begins to sink. There aren't enough lifeboats on board for everyone. What will happen to all the people on the doomed ship?

I love this middle-grade series. Each book is set during a historic event or disaster and tells a fictionalized eyewitness account of a child who survived the event. Many historical facts are mixed in with the fictional story. The stories have a lot of action and interesting facts and would be perfect for reluctant readers, supplemental reading for history units or just as part of a classroom or school library. While the stories do contain details about serious events that cause death, injuries and danger, the details are presented in age-appropriate language without giving too many grisly details.

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic is the 1st book in the I Survived series. There are 16 books currently with a new book coming out in September 2018. The series features a variety of events from modern times (9/11, the Joplin, MO tornado, Hurricane Katrina) to long-ago events (the destruction of Pompeii, the shark attacks of 1916). At just over 100 pages, the books are a good length for middle-grade students or a quick read for adults.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

REVIEW: 21 Days

Twenty-One Days
Author: Anne Perry

Over the years I have enjoyed several of the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series by Anne Perry. The author has now started a new series, featuring Charlotte & Thomas' son, Daniel Pitt. Daniel has just finished his education to be an attorney and he's glad his father is proud of him. One of his first cases involves assisting a senior attorney with a murder case. Russell Graves is accused of murdering his wife. Graves is to be executed in 21 days for the killing. Daniel has to pull out all the stops and use the investigation techniques he picked up from his father to try and find the real killer before time is up. Can he discover the truth before Graves is executed?

I enjoyed this book. At times things moved a little too slowly, but once action kicked in again it saved the plot from becoming boring. Daniel is a bit naive, but I imagine his character will develop nicely as the series moves along. I like the fact that she is aging her characters and starting Daniel out in a series of his own. Gives the books a dose of realism.

The ending had some sweet surprises that I did not expect. I like Daniel as a main character. He's just coming into his own and using the skills his parents taught him as well as his education. He is a bit too naive at times though. I'm sure he will mature as more books are written in this new series. I did find some places where the plot got a bit confusing because it referred back to events in Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels that I haven't read. But it wasn't important enough facts to lessen my enjoyment of the story.

Can't wait for the next book in this series! I loved the first few Charlotte & Thomas books when I was a teenager. Reading this book makes me want to go back and re-read them and enjoy the books that I missed in the series over the years.

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

REVIEW: A Passion for Haunted Fashion

A Passion for Haunted Fashion
Author: Rose Pressey

Cookie Chanel loves vintage clothing. She owns a vintage clothing shop, It's Vintage Y'all, in Sugar Creek, GA. There is only one problem with her enjoyment of past fashion. Sometimes those who owned the outfits don't move on after death. Cookie sees dead people....and most of the time, they want her to investigate how they died. In fact, her friend Charlotte Meadows is dead. Cookie is the only one who can see and hear her. She helped Charlotte discover who murdered her. Now the ghost hangs around to give fashion advice and help Cookie on cases.

A Passion for Haunted Fashion is the sixth book in the Haunted Vintage Mystery series. This time around, Cookie is helping out with costumes for a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the local Sugar Creek Theater. Rumor has it the theater is haunted. It doesn't take Cookie long to see the resident ghost. Peggy Page died in the 1950s, but doesn't remember anything. She wants help to remember why she is stuck in the theater as a ghost. Just as Cookie agrees to help the ghost, there is a commotion in the theater. Her best friend, Heather, is found standing above an actor who is crumpled on the floor. The blood on her hands must be from the huge, gaping stab wound in Morris Palmer's chest. He's dead. So not only is she going to have to help a ghost, but she needs to keep her best friend out of jail on murder charges.

I enjoy this series. The vintage clothing theme is cute and entertaining, but doesn't overpower the mystery in each book. I like Cookie as a main character. She is exasperated by the ghosts she sees, but always willing to help them in the end. I like the fact she can communicate with her deceased grandmother via her white cat, Wind Song. I have two white cats so I'm a bit biased in any white cat's favor. This book is a great addition to the series. There is a nice balance of silliness and real investigation. I liked the fact that there were two mysteries going at once. It definitely kept Cookie busy! The mystery moved along at a nice pace with plenty of suspects and surprises. The backdrop of a theater worked perfectly because, as everyone knows, all theaters are haunted. :) The cover for this latest book is incredi-cute as usual.

Rose Pressey is also the author of the Halloween LaVeau and the Mystic Cafe series.

**I voluntarily read an advance reader copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. No ghosts were harmed in the writing of this review.**

Friday, May 25, 2018

REVIEW: The Crooked Staircase

The Crooked Staircase
Author: Dean Koontz

Former FBI agent Jane Hawk has gone rogue, fighting the mind-control conspiracy that caused the death of her husband and countless others. She has become very skilled at hiding in plain sight as she continues to fight the powerful people behind the plot. She's being hunted, not only by the FBI but by the devious powers-that-be who are behind the increase in murders and suicides. Jane has a very powerful man in her sights....and she is determined to get him. But the closer she gets, the more she learns that the truth is more horrific than she could have ever imagined.

I love this series! There is plenty of action and Jane Hawk kicks ass as a main character. She is intelligent, scrappy and determined. The Crooked Staircase is the 3rd book in the Jane Hawk series. The facts behind the conspiracy have been revealed slowly as this series progresses. They really messed with the wrong person when they caused Jane's husband to die. She's not going to stop until she gets her revenge and stops their plans.

This series has a bit of a different vibe from other Dean Koontz books I've read in the past. I like his horror novels, but he definitely writes a great action/thriller too! I am definitely going to keep reading each book in this series. The next book, The Forbidden Door, comes out in October 2018, followed by #5, The Night Window in 2019.

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

REVIEW: Fowl of the House of Usher

Fowl of the House of Usher
Author: J.R. Ripley

Amy Simms is in a bad mood. Not only is her cheater, jerky ex-boyfriend back in Ruby Lake, MN but she gets talked into taking her best friend Kim out to his creepy rental house for a dinner party. The Usher House has a lot of bad history associated with it and it's out in the middle of nowhere. Add in the fact that Amy does not want to pal around with Craig's too-perfect girlfriend, Cindy. She agrees to go to Usher House only because Craig says he is concerned for the health of the flock of ducks at the nearby lake. When a blizzard hits and the group is stuck at the rural house with no phone or cell signal, it seems a killer is intent on picking them off one by one. As dead bodies pile up, Amy and Kim try to discover which one of them is a murderer. Can they survive until the roads are cleared and they can escape the Usher House?

I absolutely love this series! I've been faithfully reading each book since the first one came out. Amy runs a shop that sells supplies for bird and bee lovers. Her ex and his business partner own the beer garden next door to her shop. Adding to Amy's angst is that her boyfriend's ex-wife (also named Amy) has opened an upscale bridal boutique in town. And her curmudgeonly renter, Esther Pilaster, is now an investor in the business. Seems Amy is up to her nose in weird vibes. Kinda seems fitting that she's also a dead body magnet. If someone in town gets murdered, it's pretty likely that Amy Simms will be dragged into the middle of it.

The setting for this particular book in the Bird Lover's Mystery series had me thinking of Vincent Price movies. A huge, dark, creepy house in the middle of BFE....a blizzard.....dead bodies everywhere. Definitely has that Price feelin' to it. Loved it! The mystery moves at a nice pace. The bird watching background theme is cute but doesn't get in the way of the mystery. The characters are fun (even Esther the Pester). And the plot had plenty of suspense and surprises. I love it when I'm not quite sure how the story is going to end clear up until the last chapter of the book. Well done!

Fowl of the House of Usher is the 7th book in the Bird Lover's Mystery series. The cover art is just awesome! Very eye catching!

J.R. Ripley is a penname for author Glenn Meganck. In addition to the Bird Lover's Mystery series he also writes the Maggie Miller Mysteries and the Tony Kozol series.

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

REVIEW: I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937

I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937
Author: Lauren Tarshis

There are 17 books in the I Survived series. Each book tells a fictionalized eye-witness account of a historical disaster or event. The books are for kids, so the protagonist of each book is a child, usually about 10-11 years old. This series is excellent! The stories are a mix of historical fact and fictionalized story, bringing the events alive for middle-grade age students. The books range from modern events like 9/11 to more ancient disasters like the destruction of Pompeii.

I Survived the Hingenburg Disaster, 1937 is the 13th book in the series. Hugo is 11 and travelling on the Hindenburg with his parents and little sister, Gertie. Hugo's mother is a little bit afraid to fly on an airship, but Hugo tells her it's the safest mode of travel with the fewest accidents. Little does he know that when they arrive in New Jersey on May 6th, 1937 that the ship is going to explode while landing. A family adventure turns into a dangerous, life threatening disaster. 35 people died in the disaster, and was the beginning of the end for airship travel.

This book is excellent and could easily be used in a classroom situation. It could be used to encourage kids to read, as supplemental reading for a history lesson or to read out loud to a class of students. Kids interested in history would love this series. The topics are varied and the event is related in realistic terms but not too graphic. Just enough detail....but not too much. The contents are age appropriate for middle-grade age children. As an adult, I enjoy this series as well. I like to read children's books in between heavier adult fiction to give my brain a bit of a break. I love history, so this series is perfect for me.

The cover art for this series is always colorful and eye-catching. The stories are interesting with lots of action. This series might be a good choice for kids who are reluctant readers.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

REVIEW: Obscura

Author: Joe Hart

Dr, Gillian Ryan lost her husband to the disease, and now her daughter is battling it too. A strange disease that takes away a person's memories, leaving them in a confused, fugue state. Losian's is a lot like Alzheimer's, but it can strike anyone, young or old. Ryan is working hard to study the disease and hopes to find a cure. But the powers-that-be don't believe it's a concern and feel her research is taking too long, producing too few results. Ryan is notified that her funding has been cut. Just as she is reeling from the loss of her support funds, NASA approaches her, offering full permanent funding if she commits to a six-month mission to investigate some problems on the international space station. When it's too late to back out, she discovers that it's an entirely different, and much more dangerous mission. Someone has a secret. Someone doesn't want this investigation. And some secrets are worth killing for.

I loved this book! The plot and suspense kept my attention the entire time! There are many stories about mysterious diseases and dangerous missions in space, but this book didn't fall into old tropes. The story is creative, thrilling and suspenseful! It would be so difficult to be on a dangerous mission in space and to not know who, if anyone, you can trust. Gillian Ryan is a flawed, but very intelligent and driven main character. Several times I was so mad about how she was being manipulated, but it just made the suspense and creepiness of the plot that much stronger. The story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Every time I thought I knew what was going on and what would happen next, the story zinged off in a direction I didn't anticipate. Awesome!! Just brilliant!

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. The audio is just over 10.5 hours long. Christina Traister narrates. She reads at a nice even pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book.

Joe Hart is the author of several suspense/thriller novels including Singularity and Cruel World. I'm definitely going to be reading more by Hart!

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

REVIEW: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah, Plain and Tall
Author: Patricia MacLachlan

I  have loved this sweet story since I saw the Hallmark movie starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken back in the early 90's. At that time, I didn't know the film is based on a book. I now have a rule that before I can watch a film adaptation, I have to read the book first. I'm a few decades late on this one....but decided to make it right and enjoy this book.

OMG.....this book is just so sweet and beautiful. I don't often read sentimental stories like this, but I'm glad I took the time to enjoy this one.

Sarah Wheaton lives in Maine. Her brother is getting married soon so she answers an advertisement placed by a man named Jacob in Kansas who is looking for a wife and mother for his two children. Anna and Caleb lost their mother six years before. She died soon after giving birth to Caleb. The story relates the family's meeting Sarah and the month that she stays with them to see if a relationship with Jacob will work. Just a beautiful story!

There are actually 5 books in the Sarah, Plain and Tall series. I knew that there was a second book, Skylark, because I watched the movie version when it first came out. But I have never read the other books. I'm definitely going to read them now! Some stories just make you happy in your heart and soul, and this one does that for me. A entertaining, feel-good, just totally enjoyable book! I can't wait to read the rest of the series!

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. At just over an hour long, it's a quick listen. Perfect for enjoying with kids. Glenn Close narrates, which is perfect! Loved it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

REVIEW: I Survived The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941

I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941
Author: Lauren Tarshis

There are 17 books in the I Survived series. Each book tells a fictional account of a historical event through the eyes of a child eyewitness. The series is well researched and age appropriate for middle grade students. From modern events like 9/11 and the Joplin, MO tornado to more ancient disasters like the destruction of Pompeii, the series gives historical facts and tells great fictional accounts for kids.

I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor is the 4th book in the series. Danny Crane and his mother just moved from New York to Hawaii. His mother works as a nurse at the military base hospital. Danny misses his best friend Finn, who was severely injured in an accident just before they moved from NYC. He's feeling a bit lonely when he meets a young Japanese boy, Aki. Aki introduces Danny to his mother. The next day Aki comes to Danny's house early, saying he hears airplanes. The Japanese are bombing the Harbor. Can Danny survive and find his mother at the hospital?

I like this series. The books would definitely be useful in a classroom situation for reluctant readers or to teach/supplement history lessons. The stories are action-packed and interesting. The cover art is definitely eye-catching.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. Narrated by Michael Goldstrom, the audio is just over an hour long. Goldstrom reads at a nice pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the audio.

I will definitely be reading more of this series. I like to read children's books as a break from adult literature. Sometimes I just like to read for enjoyment and want a short book for a relaxing reading break. This series fit that need perfectly. The books are well-written and interesting but short enough to be a quick, easy read. 

REVIEW: A Nation Without Borders

A Nation Without Borders
The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil Wars 1830-1910
Author: Steven Hahn

A Nation Without Borders is the 3rd book in the Penguin History of the United States. There are five volumes in the series, which offer a comprehensive history of the United States from the colonial period to the 20th century. The series seeks to bring American History in a coherent and accessible form to the public.

I love history. But I cannot tackle a book with so much information in its pages like I would a story or a work of fiction. I worked my way through this book from cover to cover over time, learning a little bit and then doing further reading on the people, events and places mentioned in the chapters. For me, it was a bit like a self study college course. I like how the 80 years covered by this book are presented with a more global and diverse attitude, rather than the limited manner American history was taught to be in school. This book goes much more in depth about the contributions to American history of Mexico, native tribes, slaves, women...and incorporates that information into the history as a whole rather than skimming over it only as a means to an end.

The information is presented in a very readable way. While it is still possible to get bogged down in a 500-page comprehensive history of 8 decades, Steven Hahn did an excellent job of presenting the facts in a way that anyone can read and understand. It doesn't come off like a high-brow, stuffy scholarly regurgitation of facts, but an interesting overview of a very important time in the development of America.

Now that I've read my way through the 3rd volume in the Penguin series on American History, I'd love to read the other four books! It will take me awhile to work my way through all of the information, but it will be time well spent.

Steven Hahn is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author of A Nation Under Our Feet.

**I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. While I appreciate the free book, the giveaway had no effect on the honesty of my review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

REVIEW: More Short & Shivery

More Short & Shivery: 30 Terrifying Tales
Stories retold by: Robert D. San Souci

More Short & Shivery features 30 spooky tales from folklore and literature, retold by Author Robert D. San Souci. There are five Short & Shivery books. They are all great collections of scary folklore for kids. All stories are age appropriate and entertaining for middle-grade students. The illustrations by Katherine Coville and Jacqueline Rogers add a nice extra shiver to the tales.

More Short & Shivery offers up tales of terror from all around the world. Some of the tales are familar (like The Devil and Tom Walker) and retold for kids. In the back of the book is a list of sources for those who want to read the originals or discover more information about the stories and authors. I love the fact the book includes information on the origins of the stories! The source notes give a bit of background about the tale, the country it came from, and for some, the author that wrote the original story.

I love scary story collections like this. I read a lot of really, really heavy adult fiction and non-fiction and sometimes I just want some entertaining stories that allow me a night of peaceful, enjoyable reading. My favorite palate cleansers between more heavy reading are story collections like this one. Little shivery tales that always have a spooky surprise or creepy-cool ending. I loved these books when I was young....loved them when I read them out loud to my kids....and I still love them now. :) A story doesn't have to be gory, soul shockingly terrifying or violent in order to be creepy or scary. These tales chill to the bone without being too much. Great entertainment for camping, Halloween festivities or during sleepovers. I could also see these stories being used in the classroom for reading aloud, as an introduction to get students started on a creative writing project to compose their own spooky tale, or just as an entertaining book to enjoy during reading time.

This story collection includes:

Hold Him, Tabb!
The Witches' Eyes
The Duppy
Two Snakes
The Draug
The Vampire Cat
Windigo Island
The Haunted Inn
The Rolling Head
The Croglin Grange Vampire
The Yara
Me, Myself
Island of Fear
Three Who Sought Death
Sister Death and the Healer
The Mouse Tower
The Devil and Tom Walker
The Greedy Daughter
The Pirate
The Golden Arm
The Serpent Woman
Loft the Enchanter
The Accursed House
Escape Up the Tree
The Headrest
The Thing in the Woods
King of the Cats
The Dead Mother
Twice Surprised

A great collection! Perfect for kids (and adults) who like entertaining, creepy stories. :)

REVIEW: The Retreat

The Retreat
Author: Mark Edwards

Lucas is a novelist. One of his books actually hit the bestseller list, but now he's struggling to write his next story. An advance has already been paid to him, but he can't seem to find his muse. Knowing he needs to get with it and present a finished manuscript to his agent, he travels to a writer's retreat in Wales where he lived as a child. He believes some peace, quiet and seclusion will help him put words on the page. He discovers that the widow who runs the retreat, Julia, lost a child and her husband in a freak accident three years ago. Julia is convinced her daughter didn't drown in the river like her husband because they never found the body. The longer Lucas stays at the retreat, the more strange things start happening...and the stronger his sense of dread becomes. Lily is not the first child to go missing. And perhaps local folklore and rumors have more truth to them than he would like to believe.

I loved this story! Its spooky and suspenseful vibe definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. The suspense builds slowly, weaving through the tale like morning fog through a forest. Every time I thought I knew what was going on, more details would be revealed making me doubt my theory. Great story!

I listened to the audio book version of this novel. Narrated by Simon Mattacks, the audio is just shy of 9 1/2 hours long. Mattacks reads at a steady pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book.

Mark Edwards is the author of several thrillers including Follow You Home and Magpies. The Retreat is the first book by Edwards that I have read. I enjoyed it so much that I will definitely be reading more of his writing!

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

REVIEW: I Survived the Nazi Invasion 1944

I Survived the Nazi Invasion 1944
Author: Lauren Tarshis

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 is the 9th book in the I Survived series. This series is a great educational tool for kids (and adults, too!). Each book tells a fictional account of children at the scene of a historical event or disaster. Facts about the event are included in the fictional eyewitness account. After the story, the author has an afterward where she gives more facts, her thoughts on the event and information on how she researches her books. I can see how these books would be an awesome classroom resource for reading, learning history and discussion.

In this book, Max and Zena are Jewish children living in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland. Nazi guards patrol, shooting anyone who goes past the walls. Max tries to get some fruit from beyond the wall and gets caught. He and Zena flee into the forest, joining partisan rebels who are fighting the Nazis. The children survive all sorts of harrowing events and eventually end up immigrating to America. The author is Jewish so her afterward is very heart-felt.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. The book is quick listen at just short of 1.5 hours. Jonathan McClain narrates. His voice is clear and easily understood. He reads at a nice steady pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand the entire book.

This series is informative and enjoyable. I'm definitely going to read more of this series! There are 17 books in all. Topics range from more modern events like the Joplin, MO tornado to long-past history such as the destruction of Pompeii. While thinking about children in a disaster situation is scary and sad, I think this series can bring historical events alive for kids because the stories talk about the events from the view point of other children. Great educational tool!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

REVIEW: The Gallstone Diet - Foods for your Gallbladder

The Gallstone Diet
Author: Anna Keating

Before I review any book that gives medical advice, I have to include a disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not a dietitian. I am not an expert of any kind. I am a former reporter, editor and journalist. That does not give me the expertise needed to say if the information in this book is factual or healthy. PLEASE consult a doctor before you take any supplements or attempt to treat any sort of medical condition with home remedies. There is no medical evidence that diet or herbal supplements can break up or "flush'' gallstones. Through research I have found that diet changes can have an effect on inflammation and the formation of new gallstones or worsening of an already present condition. Never go with hype to treat your only get issued one. Consult a physician before taking medical, diet, or supplement advice from an author. :) that's done.

Anna Keating says at the beginning of her book that she had serious health issues that caused her to go into organ failure 20 years ago. She started to research and learn about her body, nutrition and health. Now she shares what she learned to help others prevent serious health complications through a balanced diet.

Gallstones can hurt. As the victim of a gallstone attack, I can attest to that. I was doubled over in an emergency room waiting area for 6 hours. The feeling was worse than labor pains because it never let up. Keating states in her book that once the stones are present, there is nothing short of surgery to do to remove them. The best bet is to eat a more balanced diet and learn to live with the condition.

Keating gives information about what the gallbladder is, where it is and what it does. And what happens when gallstones are present. She also gives facts about what gallstones are, why they form and the complications gallstones can cause. The book also outlines different treatment options and the fact that some people have gallstones but no symptoms. Others have gut wrenching pain.

Keating states that the key to living with, or preventing the formation of more gallstones, is to cut down on processed foods, sugar, fatty meats, fried food, whole fat dairy, refined foods, and cut down on eggs. And increase healthy oils, fiber, whole grains, raw fruits and veggies and lean protein.  Sound familiar? That's the basis of most healthy, balanced eating plans in every diet book everywhere. Seems pretty common sense for any healthy eating plan.

Keating's book does include a chapter on gallstone cleansing and flushing. She says pretty clearly that there is no medical evidence that herbal supplements or other home treatments that say they can break up and flush gallstones actually work. She does provide information on those treatments, stating that if they help with inflammation they might have some sort of a positive effect.  **Always consult a physician before taking herbal supplements or home rememdies. Some herbs -- like turmeric for example -- can effect absorption of other medications or cause body changes like thinning blood, etc.**

Keating includes a six-week sample meal plan for a gallstone diet. The meal plans, to my non-expert eye, seem balanced, low fat and healthy. Information is also included for those who have had their gallbladder removed -- post surgery care should be done with the aid of a physician, however. I keep slipping that in there, don't I. ha ha. It is important I said before, we are each only issued one body. Take good care of it, and consult a doctor about health issues before self-treating.

All in all, this is a common sense approach to eating a more balanced, healthy diet to cut down on digestion issues. Gallstones won't magically go away, but there are things you can change about your diet that might lessen chances of having a painful gallbladder attack. The meal plans seem common sense, healthy and nutritious. I would have to show the plan to a dietician to get an expert opinion on that, but at first glance, I didn't see anything that gave me concern.

Anna Keating has published several books on health including The Low Thyroid Diet and The High Triglycerides Diet.  This book is well organized, to the point and common sense. It's a good read for anyone who has had, or is having, gallbladder issues.

REVIEW: I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg

I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg
Author: Lauren Tarshis

I have always been curious about this series. There are 17 books in the I Survived series, each relating a fictional story about characters involved in all sorts of historical events and disasters. The books cover many different events ranging from the more modern (9/11) to events way back in history (The Destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD). I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg is the 7th book in the series. Each book is a stand alone story, so it isn't necessary to read the series in order.

The basics: Thomas and his little sister are slaves on a southern plantation. In order to avoid being sold like his older brother, Thomas and the little girl run away from the plantation. They are scared that slave hunters will find them and that they will be severely punished for running away. But, they run into Union Army soldiers and go with them. But, they aren't safe. The soldiers are preparing for a big battle at Gettysburg, PA. The story relates what Thomas and his sister saw and experienced during the big battle that killed more than 20,000 men.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. It's a quick listen at just under 1.5 hours in length. Mia Barron narrates. She reads at a nice pace and has an easily understood voice with good inflection. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand her. After the story about Thomas and his sister, there is an afterward from the author, Lauren Tashis. She talks about how she researched the battle for this book and she shares some information about the civil war and the battle. Also included is a reading of the Gettysburg address. I am impressed. Much research and thought went into this book, and it's a great educational tool for use with students or kids at home. The language and explanations are age appropriate, and the story relates the battle in terms that children will understand. The cover art is wonderful!

I can't wait to read more of this series! This was an interesting and very well-written fictional account of the battle.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

REVIEW: Mr. Flood's Last Resort

Mr. Flood's Last Resort
Author: Jess Kidd

I love it when I come across a book that is brilliantly bizarre and incredibly creative. It only took a few paragraphs for me to get completely engrossed in this story. I couldn't stop reading.

Cathal Flood is 80+ years old and lives in a large, horrific house, Bridlemere. He's a the ones you see on reality television shows where people come in wearing protective clothing and face masks to shovel out years of junk, animal poop, and moldy horrors straight from hell. Maud Drennan is his latest caregiver. The last one ran out of the house, driven half mad by the place. Maud just does her job clearing a bit of the mess at a time, never caring about things like why there is a mug tree in the toilet or what brings someone to collect a 12-foot wall of National Geographic magazines.  She tries hard to ignore Mr. Flood's curmudgeonly fits and rants. He's mean, but Maud and her assistance is his last chance. If she fails to clean up his house and help him live independently, his son Gabriel is going to put him in a care home. But there's something more going on. Maud isn't quite sure what it is....or if she cares. She starts finding strange things while cleaning....a photos with faces burnt off with a cigar that just seem to appear in random places, an abandoned caravan with the windows boarded up amid the junk in the yard, information in the old man's care plan about his dead wife. Weird, unusual things. But she really can't speak to the old man's madness....she sees saints. They appear everywhere, speak to her, follow her, and are a strange comfort for her. Her agoraphobic transsexual neighbor urges her to investigate, but Maud just wants to mind her own business. A crazy old man living among cat turds and piles of garbage is not something she wants to dig into too deeply. Or is she afraid she might learn something horrible? About him? About herself?

This book was SO good! I absolutely love a great story that's totally something new. I have never read a book that was in any way like this one. So weird.....and so mesmerizing at the same time. I loved Mr. Flood's stories, and the little bits of Maud's life revealed here and there. The suspense was wicked cool. Just an entertaining, strange little book....I was sorry when I reached the end and it was over! The characters are quirky and unusual. The pace was perfect. The suspense and wondering WTF was going on kept building until the end.

No spoilers from me -- read the book! :)

Just lovely! This book is my favorite of 2018 so far.

This book was also published under the title The Hoarder.  Jess Kidd is the author of one other book, Himself. After enjoying this book so much, I will definitely be reading her other book and any future ones!

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

REVIEW: Whispers of the Dead

Whispers of the Dead
Author: Spencer Kope

A federal judge in Texas comes home to a strange cooler left in his house. The cooler contains a pair of severed feet. Magnus "Steps'' Craig and Jimmy Donovan are sent to investigate. They are members of a special FBI group, the Special Tracking Unit. Steps has an unusual gift. He sees people in varying colors, which allows him to see if victims have been killed by the same person because of traces of color left on the bodies. His gift has to be kept secret. And, although his gift helps them in investigations, it can't be used as evidence at a trial, so the tracking unit has to find concrete proof usable in court. More severed feet are found, so Steps and Jimmy are racing against time to identify the killer.

I have to admit the plot of this book is really strange. Severed feet in ice coolers. Creative and disturbing. If it had been in the least overdone, it would have come off as ridiculous....but this book is well-written and it was just dead on creepy and suspenseful. I liked how the two FBI agents work so well together. I also enjoyed how Steps' power comes with a cost -- blinding headaches and the need to keep it completely secret. Interesting concept for a crime series....I like it!

Whispers of the Dead is the 2nd book in the Special Tracking Unit series. I'm definitely going back to read book one! I jumped in at book 2 easily and was still able to understand the characters and the plot, but book one obviously contains more background on the unit and the main characters. It isn't necessary to read book one though. I still totally loved this story without reading the first book in the series.

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

REVIEW: Why Kill the Innocent

Why Kill the Innocent
Author: C.S. Harris

I discovered this series a bit late in the game, but I'm sure glad I did! Why Kill the Innocent is the 13th book in the Sebastian St Cyr series. I love the mix of historical fiction and mystery. This book kept my attention from beginning to end. Interesting mystery. Great suspense and fantastic characters. I will definitely be backtracking to read the rest of this series! I hope all the books are as interesting and enjoyable to read as this one!

The basics: It's winter in London in 1814. Jane Ambrose is Princess Charlotte's music teacher.  Jane is young, beautiful, a talented pianist...and dead.  Sebastian St. Cyr's wife, Hero,  finds her bloody, frozen body buried in snow. St. Cyr knows they need to investigate the murder fast before the Royals attempt to hush it up due to the tie with Princess Charlotte. Sebastian and Hero work together to discover the identity of the murderer.

I absolutely loved the blend of historical fact and fiction in this book. I'm not sure if it differs from other books in this series, as this is the first one that I've read. But I was definitely sucked right into this story from the start. The plot proceeds at a perfect pace and there were plenty of surprises and suspects.

So happy to have found this series! I'm going to start at the beginning and read every book!

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

REVIEW: A Known Evil

A Known Evil
Author: Aidan Conway

After a woman is found brutally murdered with a note hammered into her chest with a nail, Detective Inspectors Michael Rossi and Luigi Carrera are noticing a pattern in recent deaths. There is a serial killer stalking the streets of Rome. Soon the killer is nicknamed The Carpenter, and the entire city is afraid. Rossi and Carrera race to find clues to discover the identity of the killer before more deaths and greater panic envelops the public. Soon the case will touch much closer to home for Detective Rossi as the killer becomes obsessed with the man hunting him. As the bodies pile up, the case becomes more and more dangerous until the detectives are willing to risk all to catch The Carpenter.

I love it when I discover a series -- and a new author -- at the very beginning. A Known Evil is the first book in the Detective Michael Rossi series....and also the debut novel for Aidan Conway. I liked the setting too. I don't think I've ever read a murder suspense/thriller story set in Rome before -- loved it!

I like the two detectives...they work well together and are willing to bend the rules to solve the case. The killer is diabolical and quite crafty. The pace of the story builds the suspense to the final reveal. The plot definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. A promising start to a new series! Book two, A Cold Flame, is coming out in July!

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

REVIEW: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z
Author: David Grann

Percy Fawcett, a famous British explorer in the 20th century, disappeared into the Amazon jungle with his son and his son's best friend in 1925. Fawcett was searching for an ancient lost city that he called Z. The 3 men were never seen again. Over the decades after their disappearance, several teams and even individuals ventured into the dense jungle to find the famed explorer. Some of them reappeared weeks or months later sick and emaciated, and some were never seen again. No real trace of Fawcett was ever found. Plenty of rumors and lies......but no bodies or real evidence as to their fate. Fawcett's wife was never the same again. Flash forward to modern times, and New Yorker writer David Grann also goes to the Amazon jungle in search of evidence of Fawcett's fate.

I love history and tales of the old style explorers....the men who trekked off into the unknown just because it was unknown. Not the sort of people who explored to make money, or to gain renown. But real explorers....the ones who mapped the world, discovered indigenous peoples and didn't plot to murder them all or evangelize them, the ones who climbed, trekked and discovered new places just because they were there. Fawcett was one of these men. Unfortunately, as with many explorers, his belief in himself, his obsession with his quest and his feelings of invincibility eventually caught up with him -- and he took two young men with him. He escaped fate multiple times.....but it catches up with everyone eventually. In 1925, he walked into the jungle in a valiant attempt to search for the Lost City of Z that he knew to his soul was there, and disappeared forever into the mysteries and tall tales that grow from such stories.

Just a head's up for readers -- this is not a fictionalized story. This is a non-fiction account of the history of exploration in the Amazon jungle, the story of Fawcett's life and treks around the world, the fate of other explorers of the time, facts about his son and friend that went along on the 1925 trip, and the aftermath of the disappearance. There is also an accounting of David Grann's trip to the Amazon to glean facts about the fate of Fawcett, the local indigenous peoples and how the area has changed since the 1920s.  Readers who don't like historical accounts of facts and information might want to pass this book by.  But, for those who enjoy history....this story is awesome!!  I loved this book! Anyone who enjoyed Douglas Preston's recent book, The Lost City of the Monkey God, will also enjoy this book.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. Read by Mark Deakins, the audio is just over 10 hours long. Deakins reads at a nice pace with an even, pleasant tone. I have hearing loss but was easily able to understand this entire book.

It is obvious that Grann did a lot of detailed research into Amazon exploration, Fawcett and many other treks around the world at the time. He gives details of Fawcett's journals and news stories from the time, and information gleaned from Amazon natives and others. Such an interesting and intriguing story!!

Because the book includes information gleaned from writings, journals and other sources from the time, there are some racist overtones in portions of this story. Many scientists, explorers, politicians, journalists -- hell, even the general white populus -- viewed indigenous peoples (or people of color in general) as lesser human beings, stating that there is no possible way they ever created a large society because it would be impossible for them to do so. At times as I listened, I found myself making snarky remarks to these long-dead idiots. Some of those old views were what started horrible and asinine beliefs/movements like eugenics, or cultural destruction by evangelization. Oh, we are white and must go to these countries and whitesplain to the natives that they are inferior, and must mold to our moral ideals or perish.  Blah, blah, blah. What a load of racist crap. My take on the entire matter is this:  how could anyone believe themselves superior to people who can survive and thrive in the most hazardous and inhospitable parts of the world when the whites who ventured there died in droves?? But as they were venturing into the jungle and dying of disease, starvation, accidents, predation, and native attacks,  they wholeheartedly believed themselves freaking superior because of the color of their skin and their fat, sheltered lives in the modern world. Really??  Seems to me the people that can survive and feed themselves in that place are the superior ones.

Amazon has released an original movie based on this book. I wanted to watch it, but had to follow my rule of always reading the book first. Now that I've read the book, I can enjoy the film! :) I hope it keeps the integrity of Grann's research and doesn't fall into over-grandizing fiction, rather than the interesting true facts of the case.

David Grann is the author of several books including The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness & Obsession. I'm definitely going to be reading more of his books!

Friday, May 18, 2018

REVIEW: The Music of the Deep

The Music of the Deep
Author: Elizabeth Hall

Alexandra Turner is running from an abusive marriage. She secures a job assisting a biologist with her notes on Orcas in Puget Sound and runs from her violent husband. 1200 miles ought to be enough distance for her to be safe. The locals notice the bruises on her face and wonder what she is running from, but Alex doesn't trust anyone enough to share her past. She makes some good friends in the small coastal town, learning to spin yarn with a local group called The Spinsters. She enjoys the stories they share about the whales, and life in the small town. She tries to relax and start a new life, but Alex is still deeply haunted by her fear, pain and the recent death of her mother. She prays her husband doesn't find her. She wants peace and to finally have a place where she feels safe. But she knows a person can't ever really outrun their matter where she goes she brings the pain with her.

I enjoyed this book. I love how the story of Alex, her friends and the Orcas all intertwine together, creating a magical story. Some portions dealing with abuse are rough, but realistic. Alex has spent years in a horrific relationship, and there's deep portions of her that are wounded. I normally don't like stories that switch back and forth from past to present as it can become confusing and cumbersome. But, in this story, it worked. Past and present meld together into a strong story of love, loss and healing.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. The audio is nearly 9 hours in length and narrated by Emily Sutton Smith. She reads at a good pace and has a nice voice. I suffer from hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand.

This is the first book by Elizabeth Hall that I have read. The story is well-written, complex and enjoyable. I will definitely be reading more by this author!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

REVIEW: Haunted Kids

Haunted Kids
Authors: Bruce Nash & Allan Zullo

I love ghost stories. I'm always game for any collection of spooky tales. I often turn to middle-grade lightly scary stories as palate cleansers between heavier adult fiction that I enjoy reading. This book is a collection of 11 allegedly true strange occurrences that happened to kids. From cats who return from the dead to mysterious glowing orbs, these stories are eerie and entertaining.

This book is age appropriate. The stories are lightly creepy but nothing over-the-top. Most middle-grade age kids would enjoy this book. It might be a bit too much for kids younger than 8 just because it talks about death, scary things at night, dangerous situations, etc.

Stories included are:

The Devil's Garden
Grave Consequences
The Headless Trainman
The Secret of Room 333
The Home Wrecker
The Ghost of Slow Sam
The Baby-Sitting Ghost
The Scardey Cats
The Thing in the Attic
The Warning
The Glowing Ball of Death

At 91 pages, this is an entertaining quick read. The stories would be fun to read out loud as well. Might be great ghost story entertainment for a stormy night, or during a sleepover or camping trip. This might be a great book to use in a classroom setting as a writing prompt for students to write their own spooky tale.

Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo have written other similar books including Totally Haunted Kids and Spooky Kids: Strange But True Tales. I enjoyed this book. I will definitely be looking at more of their work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

REVIEW: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen

Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen
Author: Alison Weir

Jane Seymour (1508-1537) was the wife of Henry VIII and Queen of England for a very short time, 1536-1537. She succeeded Anne Boleyn as Henry's wife and bore him a son...and died a few days later from birth-related complications.

In The Haunted Queen, Allison Weir continues her Six Tudor Queens saga with Jane's story. The book is a mix of historical fact and fictional story, recounting what might have happened from the time Jane was about 10 years old until her death.

I am a sucker for all things Tudor. And Jane's story, while being less exciting or morbid than the divorces, two beheadings and a survivor, her tale is still fascinating to me. The struggles between the catholic church and the monarchy, the King's long fight for divorce from his first wife, Katherine, the short reign of Anne Boleyn.....and her own marriage to Henry.....   Jane lived in very exciting time of change, violence and political rivalries. While I'm glad that I don't live in a similar situation, it is interesting to read about those who did. I can only imagine how scared Anne Boleyn was when she realized her triumph at being named queen was going to end in disaster. And Jane's short-lived joy at birthing a son.

I loved this book! I've read a couple other books by Allison Weir and always enjoy her mix of fact and fiction. It brings Court and all the intrigue to life. I'm not sure why I enjoy reading about Henry VIII's reign so much. He really was a bad king and a narcissistic man bent on having a male successor no matter what the cost. Let alone the irony that  most likely it was his sperm and health that caused the problems in the first place.

Fabulous book for those who enjoy historical fiction. This is NOT a romance novel disguised as historical fiction, but a fictionalized account of historical events. Don't expect steamy sex's not that sort of book.  If you want to read about political intrigue, the jealousies of court, and Jane's short lived marriage to one of the most famous rulers of England....then this book is perfect!

I will definitely be reading more by Allison Weir. I haven't read the first two books in this series yet -- Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen and Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession. There are also several Novellas in the series, including one about Arthur, Henry's older brother and Katherine's first husband. I will definitely be reading this entire series! I can't wait for the next book! Anna of Kleve is up next -- another divorce. (At least she kept her head!!)

**I voluntarily read an advance reader's copy of this book from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood

I have a personal rule that I follow: If a movie or television show is based on book and I haven't yet read it, I have to read the story before I can watch it on film. With very few exceptions, I have always found the book version to far surpass any attempts at movie/television adaptations. The film versions either cut out major plot points, characters and events or veer so far from the original story as to make it almost unrecognizable. The Handmaid's Tale is one of those books that have been on my "I really want to read this'' list for a long time, but I avoided it because I knew the story would be dark and distressing. This year I challenged myself to read more of these books that have been lurking on my tbr for one reason or another and with Hulu making a Handmaid's Tale series.....I finally took a deep breath and dived in.

I was right -- this story is dark and distressing. But it's also interesting and well-written. I'm glad I finally took the time to read it.

Offred has lost everything from Before -- her husband, her daughter, her old life, her mother, her friends, her freedom, even her name.....everything from Before is gone. The United States is now the Republic of Gilead. They waged a terrorist attack, killing the president, Congress, anyone who got in their way....and they took over. The Republic says it has freed women by removing immodesty, overt sexuality, vanity, any activities that prevent them from fulfilling their natural purpose. Those who rebel or break the rules are severely punished. Life is now orderly, controlled and proper. Offred is forced to wear red robes and live within the household of a Commander. She is a vessel....her purpose is to conceive a child that will be given over to the Commander's wife. She recounts her memories of Before, her thoughts about her child, her husband, her life that are now gone, and her present circumstances. She just wants to matter what horrors are in her life now.

I don't usually enjoy stories that flip around in time...jumping forward, jumping back, flip, flip, flop. But, Atwood does it well. In The Handmaid's Tale, it works. Offred recounts memories of her life with her husband Luke and her love for her daughter. She also talks about things that happened when her life first changed. She remembers friends and talks about seeing them again after everything happened. I felt concern and sympathy for her....and for the other women. And it also made me feel sympathy for women who live under similar circumstances in areas of the world now. No power. No voice. I wouldn't survive it.

The ending of the book is a bit abrupt and strange...but it works. I'm not going to include any spoilers. Read or listen to the book. :)

All in all, I enjoyed the story. It is heavy....and dark....and scary. There were points where it was difficult for me to continue, but that just means the tale was well told. I'm definitely going to read more by Margaret Atwood. She has mad skills!

Now I really need to go read something much lighter......  :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

REVIEW: Cockroaches

Author: Jo Nesbo

I want to watch the movie The Snowman based on one of the books in the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo. The book the film is based on is the seventh book in this series. I am a bit OCD about reading a series in chronological order...and always reading the book before I watch a movie adaptation. So, I have a lot of reading to do before I can watch the film! :) In Book one, The Bat, Norwegian Police Inspector Harry Hole was sent to Sydney, Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman. In this second book in the series, once again Harry is sent to look into a suspicious death in a foreign country. This time, the Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand has been found dead in a Bangkok brothel. Harry discovers that there is much more going on than just a murder. But it's all hidden. The book compares it to cockroaches....for every one you see, there are many that you don't see. In a country where all kinds of sex, drugs and vice are available for a price, Harry finds that it's very dangerous to shine a light on dark secrets.

Although this book is the second in the series, it was translated into English only after other later books in the series were translated. The first book, The Bat, was also translated later. From what I could glean from a bit of online research, this delay was mostly because the later books that take place in Oslo are considered to be better than the first two books. I liked this story for the most part, even though some of the subject matter (child pornography and sexual exploitation for example) are tough to read about. Harry Hole is a very flawed character, but an excellent investigator. He is an alcoholic who has fallen off the wagon following the case in Australia. He has committed illegal acts and made huge mistakes. I had a hard time liking him in the first book. Now that I've read the second book in the series, Harry is beginning to grow on me. He's hellaciously flawed....but he is also driven, has a very strong moral compass when it comes to the importance of justice, and he's a damn good investigator. Harry would never compromise an investigation to appease the powers-that-be. Does he get drunk and do stupid crap? Yep. Has he made HUGE whopping mistakes? Yep. Is he sometimes a sarcastic ass? Yep again. But, when he's handed a case he never stops until it's solved. He is gaining my respect as a main character. By the time I get to book 7, I'm going to have a much better opinion of the flawed cop.

I'm enjoying this series. It's different in that it shows how a seriously damaged man can redeem himself, and how he can be a seriously gifted investigator and still have a screwed up personal life. He has a very bad relationship with alcohol.....but as so many struggle with the same demon, I can understand his botched efforts to remain sober. It's hard to stay sober in the face of senseless murders and the stress of an investigation that uncovers absolutely horrifying truths.

Great story! I'm really enjoying this series! Already in the queue for the next book in the series on my local library's digital site. I can't wait to see how Harry operates when he's at home in Oslo. On to book 3 -- The Redbreast! I'm one step closer to being able to watch the movie!! Yay!

Monday, May 14, 2018

REVIEW: Dark Waters

Dark Waters
Author: Mary-Jane Riley

Dark Waters is the third book in the Alex Devlin series. This is the first book in the series that I've read...and I'm glad I did. This is an enjoyable mystery with an interesting plot and some dark surprises. Well-written and nicely paced, it made for a very enjoyable evening of reading. I got to bed quite past my usual time because I couldn't put this book down. Worth it!

Two men are found dead on a rented boat in the Norfolk Broads. Local investigators say the men were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. The deaths appear to be suicide. Alex is a reporter and jumps at the chance to cover the case for The Post. Why would a wealthy businessman and a former priest commit suicide together? The case goes down a dark path involving internet suicide forums, dark secrets and revenge. It turns out that 40-year old secrets might be closer to home than Alex realizes.

I like Alex Devlin as a main character. She is intelligent, self-reliant and feisty. She's totally dedicated to getting the story and investigating, even when the situation gets dangerous. Her family and work relationships are complex and complicated, but that just makes the character seem more realistic.

I definitely enjoyed this book! This is the first book by Mary-Jane Riley that I've read. I will definitely be back-tracking to read the first two books in this series!

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

REVIEW: The Woman Before You

The Woman Before You
Author: Carrie Blake

The blurb for this book is misleading. This is not a suspense thriller but thinly veiled erotica. And not even enjoyable erotica. This book is disturbing and not my cup of tea at all.

Isobel is a failing actress and bored with her life. She works at a mattress store and has a creepy boss. She starts to use Tinder and other dating apps as a way to fight boredom. She goes out with man after man, using her acting skills to pretend to be his perfect woman then deleting the contact after one date. It makes her feel powerful. Until she meets Matthew.   Matthew is a man with bad past. He's done some things that he isn't proud of, and spent years pretty much failing at life. Then he met actor and rich man who likes to play games. Matthew works for him and has been instructed to find a woman....a woman he can make do anything he asks. He finds Isobel. And the games begin.

I didn't like either of the main characters in this book. Isobel  wants to feel powerful and like she has control over her life. But she falls for a man she knows is using her without any show of strength at all. He tells her to do things....and she does. She makes no attempt to sever the relationship or say no. Seems pretty weak and stupid to me.   And Matthew.....he's completely lying and using this woman at the bidding of his sick, manipulative employer.  For me, they both came off as vile, weak human beings. Ugh.

The plot for this story seems to be cheesy set ups for these two messed up people to almost have sex. Almost. Lots of weird foreplay and's all a giant mind-F.

The blurb used to describe this book has nothing to do with this story. There is no sinister plot....other than manipulation and sick mind games. There is no love story here. And this book is nowhere close to Dangerous Liaisons or a story that should be touted as "the most shocking thriller you'll read this year.''

This book disappointed me. The cover looked promising. The plot blurb sounded interesting. But, neither actually goes with the book. This was a waste of my time. I feel misled. Very disappointed.

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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

REVIEW: The Uninvited Corpse

The Uninvited Corpse
Author: Debra Sennefelder

Hope Early has had a rough time lately. Her career as a magazine editor ended. Then she flopped on a reality baking show in NYC and got a divorce. Now she's back home in Jefferson, CT, trying to put her life back together. Her food blog, Hope at Home, is becoming popular and she's starting to feel a bit better about her life. The Jefferson Garden Club is having a spring garden tour at Audrey Bloom's home. Audrey writes books about gardening and has a new 5-book series coming out on the different growing seasons. The spring tour is a big deal for Audrey, and Hope wants to help her friend make it special. Relationships between some of the garden club members is strained after the town lost its listing in the Top 25 Community Gardens in Connecticut. And local real estate agent Peaches McCoy shows up uninvited. Peaches is unpopular because she's been buying up area farmland and properties for development into subdivisions. She and Audrey are at odds over many local issues including the development projects. But, Peaches' drive and personality have caused many people to dislike her. In fact, someone at the garden tour disliked her enough to kill her. Hope discovers the real estate agent dead in the study after the tour. Who hated the woman enough to bash her head in with a rock? Unfortunately, Hope's sister Claire is the number one suspect. When a second killing casts more suspicion on her sister, Hope jumps in to do some amateur sleuthing. She knows her sister didn't kill anyone, and Hope is determined to discover who did.

This book is a great start to a new cozy mystery series! I enjoyed the story from beginning to end. The ending caught me a bit by surprise. I love it when a cozy doesn't end the way I think it will. The mystery is nicely paced, and had some twists and surprises. I like Hope as a main character. Her friendship with the cute Chief of Police has some hints at upcoming romance. The background theme of blogging is interesting and current. Throw in some quirky, fun side characters and a dog and you've got a great cozy mystery! Plus, there are some yummy recipes included at the back of the book.

The Uninvited Corpse is Debra Sennefelder's debut novel. She will have another book, Murder Wears a Little Black Dress, coming out in January 2019. It's the first novel in the Resale Boutique Mystery series.

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

REVIEW: If You Go Down to the Woods

If You Go Down to the Woods
Author: Seth C. Adams

Joe moves to Payne, Arizona at 13. It ends up being a summer he will remember for the rest of his life. His new friends, forming The Outsiders Club, the car they find abandoned in the woods, a serial killer....  Definitely an eventful summer.

There is some language in this book that might be very offensive to most people. But....let's be truthful here...there is no middle school or group of tweens/teens where at least some (or even all) of those words don't get used during a fight or disagreement. At times, those words are used in normal conversation even. In fact, I've heard those terms (and worse) used in the lyrics of songs that kids listen to. Wanting a more diverse and kind world is a great thing to strive for....but there is no magic wand you can wave and take hurtful words kids hurl at each other out of the mix. Fat kids are going to be called fat and be subjected to hurtful things. Kids are mean. Wanting them to not be that way doesn't take that magically away and leave middle school and those final years before adulthood a kind, nurturing, happy place and time. It has never been a perfect, happy place for anybody.....but it's a learning time, a place of lessons and memories that last a life time. Good and bad. And the strongest, best friendships, too. To rate down a book because it uses terms that kids actually use saying "It's 2018'' and a book shouldn't use those words.....that's akin to censorship and it's asking authors to make books based on a fake, cleansed picture of the world.  Now....did the story get just a bit over-the-top and trope-y with a few of the characters like the racist, corrupt, disgusting sheriff ? Yes. But, do teen boys hear and say words like retarded, fat, gay, n*****, b*tch, and the like on a daily basis?  Yes, they do. Do nerdy kids or those branded as "losers'' or fringe get picked on and targeted? Yes, they do.  Wanting a kinder planet is unfortunately never going to take those words out of the English language and out of the arsenal that kids use against each other. Does it make those words the right thing to say? NEVER. But authors can't create stories based on a cleansed world that doesn't exist. Nothing good will come from that. Does that mean we have to accept and like words and actions like that? Of course not. But in writing a story about bullies and a group of kids outside the normal social circles, those words are realistic. If I sat in the center of my son's middle school at lunch time, I guarantee I would hear every single one of those words coming from kids in reference to other kids. It's unfortunate......but realistic. That being said....I think calling a character N***** Jim is going over the line. Really? I can tolerate that in Tom Sawyer because it's from another time.  But in this book it was a cringe-worthy moment that pulled me out of the story. One step too far.

In fact, I felt this book went just that step too far several times. Events occurred that went just a step past reality towards melodramatic and bad trope. Actions and characters went just a step past believable towards ridiculous. The sheriff. The Collector. The bullies. Mobsters. Some portions of the story felt like a bad 1980's movie script.

I don't like it when books are marketed as "like Stephen King'' or "for lovers of" some bestseller or popular author. Nobody can pull off Stephen King plots but Stephen King. It was nothing like It or The Chalk Man. This book is just not up to that level of writing or story-telling. Is the story enjoyable?  Most of it is. But at certain places, it failed....and failed hard.

All in all, this story was okay. I would read another book by this author. I think he needs to find his own voice and not strive to emulate his favorite authors. I'm giving it 3 stars based on the portions of the story I liked. The first half of the book was stronger than the last half.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Harper Impulse/Killer Reads via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**