Saturday, June 23, 2018

REVIEW: Danger Rising

Danger Rising
Author: E. D. Richards

Climate change has devastated the world by 2100, but mankind is working to repair the damage. There are stiff penalties for breaking environmental laws, science has developed cleaner power, transportation, medicine and product packaging, and great strides have been made to clean up the planet. But, it might be too late. Dr. Abbey Bertrand has been called in to investigate a strong earthquake in Antarctica and the emergency system that failed to operate when needed. It turns out the situation is much more complex than just a failing earthquake defense system. A group of ecoterrorists want to destroy the planet. Can Abbey and her fellow scientists stop the evil plan in time?

I enjoy disaster suspense stories. I'm always up for a good earthquake, global warming, asteroid, plague, out of control tech or other scientists-come-running-to-save-the-planet action tales. For the most part, this was an interesting and entertaining read. But, there were many places where the plot, pseudo-science and thinly veiled political commentary got to be just too much. While I believe our current president has some real issues, the constant hints of Trump bashing/blaming really made me roll my eyes while reading this book. California became a wasteland that was passed off to Russia for awhile and now is home to a huge bank of solar panels. Climate change got out of hand during the worst presidency in the history of the United States. On and on. Ok....we get it. The author is not a Trump fan. The political jabs really pulled me out of the story. Not to mention impossible science.....like injecting lubricating gel between tectonic plates to lessen the severity of earthquakes and freezing large expanses of ocean to lower the planet's temperature....kept me from really getting into this story like I wanted to.  The writing is a bit hit and miss as well. In places, the story flowed perfectly. And in others I found the style choppy and in need of editing. That all being said.....I still enjoyed the story and the characters. Could it have been better? Yes. Is it all bad? No, not at all.

I like Abbey Bertrand as a main character, but my favorite character, by far, was her grandmother. Both are strong female characters. The other characters, especially the "bad guys'' tend a bit to the melodramatic side, but that's really a given in any disaster story. The evil doers construct grandiose plans to bring about destruction and fight to protect their wicked plans to the bitter end. I think it's that melodrama and over-the-top villainy that draws me to stories like this. The heroes always emerge victorious in the end....or do they?? Read the book to find out. :)

This book has some flaws that kept me from getting completely lost in the story. It might have benefitted from another round of editing. The science involved really gets to be a bit much, but this is a futuristic, environmental disaster story......I think I can let a bit of cheesy science go by without analyzing it to death.

All in all, an entertaining read. Some weak spots, but still a good story. There are some exciting action scenes involving much butt-kicking and narrow escapes.

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




Friday, June 22, 2018

REVIEW: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman
Author: Sayaka Murata

Keiko has always felt different. She reacts to emotions, social situations and just life in general a little bit differently than anyone else. Since her early childhood, her family has tried to "fix'' her, lamenting Keiko's odd behaviors and habits. Keiko feels her job is one of the best things that ever happened to her. One day 18 years ago she found the convenience store and applied for a job there, and she's been letting what she learns there form her life and reactions to people ever since. She uses convenience store greetings, eats convenience store foods and lives a convenience store life. However, being past 30 and working what others see as a deadend, low job has her family once again looking down on her. Poor Keiko....no marriage, no children, no future. What are they going to do about Keiko? And what is Keiko going to do to appease them?

This book is different and an absolutely enjoyable read. I love stories that are creative, different and not like anything I've read before. This story definitely surprised me, and kept me reading. Keiko is odd, but she learns how to deal with life, people and her family. She likes her job....but others keep telling her that her life isn't enough. She ponders how to solve the problem, and makes mistakes. It's very hard to pretend to be like everyone else when you aren't like them at all. I was afraid what the ending of this story might bring, but the ending was perfect.

Convenience Store Woman is a lovely and bizarre story. Just like Keiko. Loved it! I'm glad this got translated from Japanese to English so I could enjoy the story! :) I hope they translate more of her books!

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




Thursday, June 21, 2018

REVIEW: Bear Witness to Murder

Bear Witness to Murder
Author: Meg Macy

Sasha Silverman enjoys her job at the family business, the Silver Bear Shop & Factory. But she's a bit frazzled. Autumn is the start of their busy season...the Cranbeary Tea Party and the Oktobear Fest get the holiday season started. This year there's a bit more stress because an old high school rival has returned to town and opened a gift and book shop, directly competing with the Silver Bear Shop and the local bookstore. Holly Parker seems to want to cause as much drama as possible, at least where Sasha is concerned. Old high school rivalries never die? When Holly's shop assistant is found dead with a knife in her back, Sasha tries to resist doing any sleuthing. It only gets her into trouble. But as other incidents start happening around town, she realizes this is more than old high school problems or jealous business owners. Sasha wants to solve the case before anyone else is killed and Oktobear Fest is ruined.

I love this series. I'm not sure if it's the teddy bear theme (I have collected teddy bears since I was 6 years old), or the mix of humor and mystery...or maybe both? Bear Witness to Murder is the second book in the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery series. This book was just as enjoyable as the first book in the series. I like Sasha as a main character. She's getting her life back together following a divorce and works hard at the family business. She has a good relationship with her sister Maddie who also works for the teddy bear factory. However, I don't really care for her relationship with her parents. Her mother is always trying to push her into going back to her ex-husband, who was a womanizing jerk. Why would any mother do that? And her father never sticks up for her. Just seems like a weird family dynamic.

I liked the Oktobear Fest theme. The teddy bear theme didn't over power the mystery, but just added some flavor to the story. The mystery kept my attention and had some interesting twists and clues. There is a little bit of romance sprinkled in amongst the sleuthing and fall festival-ing...just enough to round out the characters. All in all, a "beary'' enjoyable cozy mystery! I'm definitely going to keep reading this series. :)

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

REVIEW: Along Came a Spider

Along Came a Spider
Author: James Patterson

James Patterson started his best-selling Alex Cross series in 1993 with Along Came a Spider. There are now 25 books in the series. PBS included the Alex Cross mysteries on its list of 100 books and series for The Great American Read. This prompted me to check out an audiobook of the first Alex Cross book and take a listen. Wow....I'm sorry it took me 25 years to try this series. I loved the character and the book!

Alex Cross is a metro detective in Washington, D.C. He's raising his two kids with the help of his grandmother who he affectionately calls Nana Mama. She raised him after he lost both his parents as a child. Things are dicey in D.C.  A poor black family is murdered in their home. Two children from an expensive day school are kidnapped. A teacher from the school is murdered. The crazed murderer and kidnapper keeps adding more crimes to his list, including shooting up a McDonalds restaurant. Cross wants to find the kids and capture the suspect. As he investigates he finds that this case involves a lot of politics and a plot that goes much further than a psycho math teacher.

Alex Cross is such a strong main character. He has his flaws, but he is dedicated to his job. He loves his Nana Mama and his kids. I enjoyed seeing the character develop throughout this thriller. He deals with prejudice, Washington politics and bureaucracy. I like the fact that he is a psychiatrist on top of being a detective. He's able to get into the heads of his suspects, and his background aided in the investigation of the kidnapping.

I'm definitely going to read more of this series! Once I started listening to this book, I couldn't stop. We are in the middle of painting our house, and Alex Cross kept me company while I worked a lot of hours outdoors. It made the time pass so quickly! Totally mesmerizing story! I did not see several twists coming. I love it when a thriller novel surprises me!

Along Came a Spider is the 10th book I have read from the 100 books listed for The Great American Read. I'm glad this series was included. I can see why it's been a best-selling series for decades. Very gritty and suspenseful!

This is the first book by James Patterson that I've read. I'm a bit late on the scene....but I'm definitely going to read more of this series, and other books by Patterson. Along Came a Spider was exciting, realisitic and quite enjoyable.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

REVIEW: Jurassic Florida

Jurassic Florida
Author: Hunter Shea

I love B-movies...especially monster flicks. Godzilla, The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Sharknado......any cheesy movie with a deadly beastie in it, and I'm willing to watch. I think this applies to books as well because the minute I saw the title and cover art for this book, I put in a review request immediately. Giant lizards. Awesome!

The basics: Green iguanas begin popping up out of holes in Polo Springs, FL. The lizard problem is really starting to annoy the residents of the little town. But little do they know, those lizards are just babies......the big lizards are the ones they have to worry about. Well, that and the hurricane that's coming. Just as the storm hits, the town is attacked by giant, angry lizards. Will anyone survive?

This book is a short, easy read. It's definitely the book version of a B-movie....not long on plot and some cheesy action scenes, along with plenty of gratuitous gore. This book is brain candy -- something you read just for the entertainment value. I enjoyed it. It's nothing fancy, but it did entertain me. Fun, quick read....nice way to spend part of afternoon. The cover art is awesome! Reminds me of classic monster movie posters! :)

Hunter Shea has written other similar books including The Montauk Monster and The Jersey Devil. I enjoyed this lizard-filled adventure. I'm definitely going to check out more of Hunter Shea's books!

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

REVIEW: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll

I read this book many times as a child and loved it. I enjoyed how the book used artwork, word art and font changes to make the story so much fun. And the characters....I was in love with the Cheshire cat immediately. And so many memorable lines to quote. :)

I decided to revisit this childhood favorite as part of The Great American Read (PBS). Because this is a re-read of a book I have read many, many times before, I decided to try an audio format. I was curious to see if some of the magic would be lost without the art and wonky words. And, I have to say I did miss that a little bit. But the magic spark is still there, even without a physical book in my hands. I enjoyed the Audible original version, narrated by Scarlett Johansson. She did a great job with the voices and silliness. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to understand every ridiculous, funny second of this audio book. :)

The basics: Alice is bored one summer afternoon, until she sees a white rabbit fretting about being late. A white rabbit isn't unusual...but one that talks, has a pocket watch and a waistcoat is pretty strange. She follows him down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, a very mixed up, silly place. There is plenty of allegory under it all if you want to think about it.....if not, just enjoy the silly story and forget about the hints at adult concerns. :) Sometimes I read this book like a children's story....and sometimes I read this book like a children's story with darker underpinnings. I think I enjoy it better as a silly children's story where white rabbits, red queens and mad hatters are only what they seem to be and not something else entirely.

This story has inspired so many movies, plays, books, songs, poetry, art, video games......it's so original and so strange, but endearing and magical. It's one of those books that a person either loves, or hates. I love this book. Disappearing cats who leave their grins, crazy tea parties, vials of strange potions and all the topsy turvy nonsense.....   I loved it 40+ years ago and I love it now. :) Maybe it's because I'm just a bit mad. But then again, aren't we all just a bit mad?

Alice: Have I gone mad?
Mad Hatter: I'm afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are. 

Alice in Wonderland is the 9th book I've read/re-read from the list of 100 books chosen for The Great American Read. Check out the list here: http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/  The list contains a wide variety of books that got people reading and talking about books! There really is something for everyone from much loved children's books to sci-fi, horror, fantasy and even erotica. Check it out!

On to the next!!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

REVIEW: Mockingjay

Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is the exciting end of the Hunger Games Trilogy. The series made the list of 100 novels for The Great American Read. This is the 8th book I have read/re-read in my quest to make my way through the entire list.

I read the Hunger Games when it originally came out and loved it. I'm so glad I took the time to enjoy the books again.

In Mockingjay, the 12 Districts of Panem are in open revolt against the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen finds herself acting as The Mockingjay, a symbol of the uprising. But, starting a revolution has dire costs and the Capitol is going to fight hard to keep it's grip on Panem. There is a lot of action in this final book. It's my favorite of the series!

The Hunger Games is a YA series. There is no cursing or graphic sex. But the plot is dark and violent. The violence is not graphic, but there are descriptions of war, torture and death. I don't recommend this series for kids under 13. Hunger Games is one of my favorite YA series. It's well-written with plenty of important concepts to discuss with teens and adults reading the series -- war, life and death, the difficulty with being faced with choices that may cause others to die, totalitarian government and responsibilities of friendship and love.

I'm so glad this series is a part of the list for The Great American Read. The books got millions of teens and adults reading and talking about books! That's the whole purpose of GAR! I enjoyed re-reading this trilogy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

REVIEW: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is one of my favorite YA series. The story is action-packed, exciting and suspenseful. I'm re-reading this series as part of The Great American Read. The series is the 8th book or series on the GAR list of 100 books that I'm reading. It will take me awhile to work my way through all 100, but I'm enjoying the experience so far.

Catching Fire is the middle novel in the Hunger Games Trilogy. Every 25 years, the Capitol hosts a special Hunger Games called the Quarter Quell. Following the exciting ending of the previous year's Hunger Games, the capitol wants revenge for what happened. So, for the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, a special reaping is announced and all of Panem is in shock. Who will survive the 75th Anniversary Quarter Quell? Maybe nobody.....     Tick, Tock.

Catching Fire is a great middle novel for this series. It contains a lot of character development and important plot points. The games are worse than usual because the Capitol is angry....and afraid. There are rumblings of revolution in the Districts. President Snow and the leaders in the Capitol want to keep control over the districts, and they are willing to do anything. The gamemakers
really work hard to make the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games particularly horrifying. The game is a whole new level of demented for the Quarter Quell.

This series is Young Adult Fiction. There is no cursing or sex, but the theme is particularly dark and violent. The violence is not graphic, but the books might be a bit much for kids under 13. The series is well-written and action-packed. It's a good one to give to a teen who is a reluctant reader. But it's also enjoyable for adults too.

I'm glad this book made it onto the list for The Great American Read. It definitely got millions of teens and adults reading, and that's the whole point of GAR! I have read some comments online that some feel that YA books did not belong on the list. Why?? There are also popular horror novels and even an erotic fiction novel series on the list. Why not YA? The GAR is about books that got people reading and talking about books....not an attempt to name the top 100 classic books. The Hunger Games is an enjoyable action series with interesting topics to discuss.....totalitarian governments, war, love, the pain of being forced to make difficult choices, life and death...great topics to discuss with teens. The list is diverse and meant to represent a large majority of readers. All readers. Not just those who enjoy classics. I'm glad it made the list!  And I'm thoroughly enjoying re-reading this series! On to the final book -- Mockingjay!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins

This is a re-read for me. I enjoyed this series when it first came out, and I'm enjoying revisiting Panem as part of The Great American Read.

The Basics: Katniss Everdeen is 16 and lives in Panem's District 12 with her mother and younger sister, Primrose. District 12 is a coal mining district, so work there is hard and dangerous. Her own father was killed in a mining accident when Katniss was 12. Since then, she has taken over as head of the family. She hunts for food and makes sure her sister Prim has what she needs. This year, Prim's name will be entered into the drawing for the reaping for the first time. It worries Katniss. One girl and one boy from each district is chosen each year to fight in The Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death with only one left alive at the end. Katniss' name is in the drawing multiple times, as are all older children in the district. The Hunger Games are a reminder, and punishment, for an uprising of the districts against the government in the Capitol. Who will be chosen from District 12 this time? And will they survive?

The Hunger Games is the first book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Followed up by Catching Fire and Mockingjay, this series is my favorite YA series. I even enjoyed the movies. I can see why the series made the list of 100 books for The Great American Read. The tale of violent totalitarian government and an uprising of the people after decades of fear, starvation and violence is thought-provoking, scary and awesome to read. The books are well-written and I always find myself rooting for the districts and despising the President and residents of the Capitol. Great story!

This is a YA series, but I would definitely recommend it for more mature teens over the age of 13. Given the plot, there is a lot of violence, danger and death. There is no cussing, no graphic sex or anything inappropriate, just themes better suited to teens who can handle reading about violence, injury and death.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Hunger Games. Narrated by Carolyn McCormick, the audio is just over 11 hours long. McCormick reads at a steady, even pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss but was easily able to hear and understand her reading.

I'm re-reading the entire trilogy. The Hunger Games will be the 8th book or series I have read/re-read from the list of 100 for The Great American Read.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

REVIEW: The Wall

The Wall
Author: Marlen Haushofer

A woman visits an alpine hunting lodge with two relatives for a weekend getaway. She stays behind when her cousin accompanies her husband to the nearby village to buy supplies. The next morning the two still have not returned. The woman decides to walk to the village with her cousin's dog. She loses sight of the dog but when she finds him again, the dog is acting confused and will not start walking again. The woman knows the dog will follow so she continues....only to walk into an impenetrable barrier. It's like a glass box has come down over the area surrounding the hunting lodge. She can see through the barrier to the world outside, but there is no way through the wall. She sees no birds, small animals or even live insects on the other side. The people she can see are inanimate like they are sleeping or died where they stood. She knows in an instant that everyone she knew is dead. Everything on the other side of the barrier is dead. Soon she has gathered up the dog, a cat, and a cow. She spends years caring for the animals, learning to grow food and care for herself, and writing a diary about her experiences.

This is a psychological and thoughtful story, rather than an tale with a recognizable plot or even a real ending. But given the situation the woman must endure, the sharing of everyday thoughts, concerns and horrors is perfect. She has no other people for company, only her animals. It has a profound effect on her to the extent that she is never given a name. Why do you need a name if you are the only person left? She comes to see her animals as her family and does her best to survive. The ending is abrupt with no real resolution, but realistically the resolution will come when the woman dies and there is nobody left at all.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel. Narrated by Kathe Mazur, the audio is just over 9 hours long. I'm glad I chose the audio version of this book. The story moves slowly (which is appropriate given the subject of a woman being totally alone for years with just animals for companions). I don't think I would have finished the print version....her daily diary and inner monologue about her animals, growing food, etc would have bored me quickly if I was reading it for myself. The audio brought the woman's situation to life.....it was like hearing her thoughts, so I was more interested in the story despite its tendency to plod along without any real developments.

I think it is a distinct possibility that Stephen King got the basic idea for his Under the Dome story from this book. He just added more people, a real plot and some horror -- he "Kinged'' it up and made it his own. The Wall is a totally different sort of story. It shows what happens to a person's mind when they are utterly cut off from all human contact and how it comes down to a person's will to survive. I'm glad that the main character found animals she could befriend and love, otherwise I think she would have weakened and died, or might have killed herself.

Interesting and very thought provoking book. I'm glad I listened to it. I really want to re-read King's Under the Dome now!

Friday, June 8, 2018

REVIEW: Bono

Bono
Author: Helen Brown

The front cover is the first thing that made me want to read this book. A fluffy, obviously cattitude-filled, black cat is featured behind the title. Bono. A cat named Bono? Extremely awesome. Then I read that the book is based on a true experience the author had with a foster cat in New York City. Ok. Sucked in. Immediate must read.

I'm a sucker for foster cats. I've been a foster for orphaned kittens in North Carolina for several years now. Babies that nobody wants...abandoned....orphans....dropped at the animal shelter...sometimes just thrown out with the garbage or on the side of the road. They come to my house. I bottle feed them, keep them warm, clean them, and pet them for hours, telling them what good cats they are going to be and how a family somewhere needs them. Sometimes, unfortunately, I pet them and love them as they take their last breaths and bury them with much respect and sadness. Those who survive and thrive are adopted to great furever homes, often in other states. Goodbye sweet babies -- go make a family very, very happy. Live a good and beautiful life.

I had to read this book about Bono. :)

The basics: The author was having a bit of a midlife crisis and decided it was a good time to travel to New York City from Australia to promote her latest book. Her publisher told her that it would be perfect if she would foster a homeless cat from a local shelter while in NYC. She agreed, figuring she either wouldn't be able to find an apartment that would allow a cat or she would get a fat, middle aged cat that just wanted to sleep all day. Wrong. AirBnb had a studio that would allow a cat....and she was matched with Bono. Bono suffered from kidney failure and was basically unadoptable. His medical needs were expensive and nobody wanted to adopt him. The author basically was giving Bono a vacation from the shelter for awhile. Little did either realize that the cat needed Helen Brown. And Helen Brown needed the little cat. Their relationship started out shaky with much hissing, hiding under beds, and cat temper fits....but with a little bit of patience from both, the outcome is quite heartwarming.

I loved this story. I'm definitely going to be reading more by this author. The story of how she bonded with Bono is heart-warming and real. Cats can be great therapy at low spots in our lives. She rescued Bono, and in return he rescued her. Beautiful! :)

There is always time for kindness. I find that I receive much more from the tiny little kittens I foster than I give to them. There is just something joyful in saving a tiny life and sending it out into the world to bring happiness to someone I will never even meet. I get messages, emails and photos from those who adopt the babies I raise. It's totally worth the feedings every two hours, the frantic trips to the vet in an emergency and all the time, effort and mess.

As I warm the formula to go and feed the latest little one (her name is Annie after Little Orphan Annie...the only one in her litter to survive after her mother was run over and killed), I'm thinking kind thoughts about Helen Brown and Bono. It's amazing how much animals bring to our lives in exchange for just a little love and affection.

Lovely book! I highly recommend it!

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. Adopt -- don't shop! Donate to your local humane society.**

REVIEW: Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild
Author: Jack London

I love adventure stories. When I was a child, I greedily devoured any book that involved wilderness, danger and action. Jack London's stories were some of my favorites. My dad bought me his books on the downlow, as my mother had in her mind that such stories were not "ladylike.''  My dad supported me in my love of adventure and supplied me with all sorts of unladylike tales -- Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Jack London, and all sorts of wonderful stories that carried me away to far off places. Very unladylike places.

Out of all of those wonderful stories, Call of the Wild was one of my favorites. It was the first story I read where an animal is a realistic main character, not a talking caricature in a children's story. Buck is a dog who gets stolen from his owner and sold as a sled dog. The changes he goes through....the transformation from pet to a wild animal is fascinating. Back then (and still today) I wanted to hop into the story and kick the butts of the abusive men who train the dog to be a working dog by whipping and clubbing him. The abuse of the animals in this story is realistic, but the horrible humans who mistreat their dogs seem to meet grisly fates in the Alaskan wilderness. Karma. I celebrated with Buck finally had a master he loved....and supported how he blended into the wilderness at the end. I always felt that ending was totally appropriate. He had morphed into a wild animal, not a pet, so he deserved his freedom in the end.

Jack London was definitely a man's man. He lived hard, worked hard, and died hard.  He was the highest paid author of his day before he died at 40 in 1916 of an accidental morphine overdose. It has been suggested that the overdose might not have been accidental. He was very ill and dying from a mix of self abuse (alcoholism) and disease (several afflictions caught in the tropics that never went away), and might have decided to go the way of several of the characters in his story....OD on morphine and quietly slip away. I can see him wanting to leave on his own terms, in peace, at the house in California that he loved. But that's all just conjecture....we can never know if it was accidental or on purpose. I think it's wonderful that his stories are more than 100 years old now and still catch the attention of readers today.

I listened to an audiobook version of this classic novella. Narrated by Patrick Lawlor, the audio is almost 3.5 hours long. Lawlor reads at a steady, even pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss, but was able to easily hear and understand his narration.

Call of the Wild is one of 100 books chosen as part of The Great American Read. I can totally see how this classic about life in the Alaskan wilderness deserves a spot on the list. This is the 7th book on the list that I have read/re-read on my quest to read through the entire list.

Jack London wrote many short stories and novels and even some plays and poetry. His most famous novels are Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf and Martin Eden.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

REVIEW: Gus Loved His Happy Home

Gus Loved His Happy Home
Author: Jane Thayer

Gus the Ghost is a much beloved character in an 8-book series by Jane Thayer (a pen name for Catherine Woolley) written between 1967 and 1989. I read the first book in this series, Gus Was a Friendly Ghost, in 1971. I made my siblings read it to me over and over and over again. They got so tired of reading about Gus that they taught me to read so I could read the book (and my other favorites) to myself. :) So, technically, Jane Thayer and Gus are partially responsible for my love of books.  I had to laugh earlier this year when I discovered (much to my shock!) that there wasn't just one Gus book but 8 of them! I am now on the last book....Gus Loved His Happy Home. I'm happy and sad at the same time. Yay! Gus has 8 books!! But Wah! I've read all of them now.

There is only one of the books that I didn't enjoy as much as the others. Book #7, Gus Was a Real Dumb Ghost (or also published with a better title, Gus Goes to School) wasn't illustrated by Seymour Fleishman. The artwork just didn't fit in with the rest of the series. That, added to the rather negative original title, just turned me off. Gus didn't look like Gus! The story was great, but the artwork in the original books really made the stories pop off the page. The new illustrator just didn't have that magic. Not that her art wouldn't be great elsewhere.....you just can't totally change what a beloved character looks like in mid-stream....and then call him "really dumb'' on top of it. Ok....off my soapbox.....I was sooooo happy when I saw the cover of the 8th and final book and saw that it is illustrated by Seymour Fleishman. Gus is Gus again! It really does make me incredibly curious why one book in the series was illustrated by someone else. I would guess that readers reactions to that 7th book were just like mine.....yuck!

I loved this book! Gus Loved His Happy Home returns to the vibe of the original books in the series. Gus is at home in the attic of the historical museum. He lives with cranky Mr. Frizzle, Mouse the Mouse, and Cora the Cat. He's still wearing the colorful sheets he picked out in Gus Was a Gorgeous Ghost. He looks quite dapper for a spirit! Winter is coming, so Mr. Frizzle packs up and heads to Florida. He says he will be back in the spring and tells Gus to keep the museum dusted and in order. But, Gus has so much fun trying new things and playing while Mr. Frizzle is gone that he forgets to dust! Oh no! Can he clean up before Mr. Frizzle comes back?

This is such a cute story! The Gus series ends on a happy note. Perfect! Gus does so many fun things and has some interesting experiences before Mr. Frizzle comes back home. And the illustrations are definitely back to the style I love from the earlier books! I definitely want to read more stories by Jane Thayer and more books that feature Seymour Fleishman's artwork!

Jane Thayer (Catherine Woolley) wrote almost 90 children's books during her career.


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REVIEW: To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee

The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird was in high school in the 1980s. I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the literature we were required to read I never would have read on my own for enjoyment. The Great Gatsby. Moby Dick. The Old Man and the Sea. Red Badge of Courage. All great books...but I didn't identify with any of the characters. I read each one because I had to....not because I cared about the story in any way. To Kill a Mockingbird was different. I felt a connection with the characters and enjoyed the book so much I have re-read it many, many times since then.

Scout and Jem Finch live with their father, Atticus, in the south. Atticus is an attorney and state congressman. When Atticus defends a black man accused of raping a white woman, the court case causes division in the small town where they live. Scout, Jem and their friend Dill learn hard lessons about racism. There are also lighter coming-of-age moments -- like trying to make the recluse next door come out of his house. The kids are totally obsessed with Boo Radley.....a man who hasn't been seen outside his family's home in years and years.

I felt a connection with the kids in this story because I had many of the same questions that they express in the book. I never understood racism. I wasn't raised that way. My father would have worn me out with a paddle if I had ever used a racial slur or behaved less than kind to anyone for ignorant reasons like the color of their skin, religion, etc. And in the small midwest town where I grew up, racism was never out in the open, but an undercurrent that was hidden and not mentioned, but always there. Like the local men's civic club that didn't accept black members. Like the phone calls my father got when I went out in a group of friends that included black classmates. The teacher who handed a racist note to a white female student who was attending prom with a black classmate. I never understood all the hypocrisy. Especially when the racist nonsense was coming from people who were in church every Sunday. I didn't understand it then.....and I don't understand it now.  I think that's why I love this book. It all comes down to one thing....one important life lesson that Atticus Finch's children learn:  Do what is right.  In life, some things are beyond our control. Things will not always go the way they should. And people will not always behave as they should. In all things, the only thing we can do, is make sure that we do what is right. It might not change the outcome in every situation, but at least at the end of the day, we have the knowledge that we faced the situation and did what was right. A person deserving of respect is someone who goes into a situation knowing that they have already lost the fight, but they endeavor to do right anyway. Atticus Finch was that sort of person and he raised his children that way as well. It makes for a powerful coming-of-age story.

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel. Narrated by Sissy Spacek, the audio is just over 12 hours long. Spacek reads at a nice pace and is easily understandable. I have partial hearing loss, but was easily able to hear and understand this entire book. I enjoyed Spacek's performance. She did a great job with Scout's voice and the various other characters.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the first book I've read/re-read from the 100 books featured in The Great American Read. Check out the list here: http://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/



Tuesday, June 5, 2018

REVIEW: Antique Blues

Antique Blues
Author: Jane Cleland

Antique Blues is the 12th book in the Josie Prescott Antique Mysteries series. This is the first book in the series that I've read. I will definitely be going back and reading the rest of this series!

Josie Prescott is an antiques expert and amateur sleuth. A friend asks Josie to appraise a Japanese woodblock print that she just acquired. Mo Shannon bought the print from her sister's less than stellar boyfriend, Cal. The situation seems a bit off from the beginning, but even more so when Mo turns up dead and Cal disappears. Josie finds herself investigating not only her friend's murder but also some underhanded antique purchases.

The plot in this book is much more complex than the usual cozy mystery. There's a lot going on.....suspects, plot twists, investigation. The background theme of antiques and appraisals is an integral part of the plot instead of just background cuteness. I like the characters. Josie Prescott is one smart cookie. She knows the antique business and utilizes her resources and contacts to make progress in business and during investigations. The side characters are all interesting and come together to help solve the crime. I look forward to reading more books in this series. I really enjoyed this story!

I was easily able to jump in at book 12 and enjoy this story. There were no real spoilers of earlier books. Character backgrounds carry over from book to book, of course, but I was easily able to pick up enough info to get the general idea of who was who and what relationships between characters were. So, readers could jump in anywhere in this series and still enjoy the story. I'm going to backtrack and start at book 1 because this is a very well written cozy and I want to see how these characters have developed over time.

The cover art is great! :)

I don't often give 5-star ratings to cozy mysteries, but this one is well-written, interesting and entertaining. Full marks from me!

**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: Bleeding Tarts

Bleeding Tarts
Author: Kirsten Weiss

Valentine Harris is a baker who does a bit of amateur sleuthing on the side. She's a bit stressed lately because she recently expanded her pie shop and it's been a bit difficult juggling finances. To bring in a bit of money, she's providing the pies for an eating contest at an area tourist attraction. Bar X is a fake ghost town and Valentine wants a contract with them. Supplying pies for the tourists would bring in some much needed steady income for Pie Town. As she is delivering the pies for the event, things get a bit dicey. Sharp Shooters are practicing for an event at the ghost town, and a stray bullet slings through one of the pie boxes she's carrying. Valentine is hardly recovered from the explosion of cherry filling and pie crust when she sees a dead man on the ground. The Bar X bartender has been shot dead. Calling the police covered in bright red cherry pie filling makes her a suspect at first, but soon Valentine is on the case, doing whatever she can to identify the killer. Baiting a killer is dangerous though. If she's not careful, it won't be just the pie and the bartender that have a couple extra holes in them.

Bleeding Tarts is the second book in the Pie Town cozy mystery series. It isn't necessary to have read the first book, The Quiche and the Dead, to enjoy this mystery. A bit of the character background is continued from the first book, but there is enough background info included in the second book to make it easy to just jump in and read.

I enjoy this series. It has a nice mix of humor, background theme and mystery. There are recipes included at the end of the mystery as well. Pie recipes of course! Not all are dessert pies though. One is savory and involves cheese...definite yum there. :)

The mystery in this newest addition to the series moves along at a nice pace. The murder happens pretty quickly in chapter one, so there isn't a lot of waiting for the dirty deed to be done. The setting of a fake ghost town with every sort of tourist trap trick is very entertaining and fun. I thought it was hilarious when Valentine gets shot right in the pie....and then the police think she's covered in blood when it's actually cherry pie filling. :) The rest of the book was just as cute and fun. Definitely a great cozy!

A 3rd book in the series, Pie Hard, is coming out in February 2019.

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

REVIEW: Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad

Charlie Marlow is a sailor. He's looking for some adventure, so he signs up to be a steamboat captain in Africa. He struggles to understand the native culture, and is annoyed at the difficulties they face to get supplies for boat repair and other items essential to his job. Marlow is hired by a Belgian ivory exporter to travel down the Congo river to check on one of their traders whose name is Kurtz. There are rumors about Kurtz. Some say he is a very powerful man and others whisper that he might have gone native, keeping some of the company's ivory for himself. It's a job, however...and Marlow heads off down the Congo with his native crew and some company officials. As they near Kurtz's camp they are warned of danger, survive a native attack and Marlow is given an eyewitness account about Kurtz from an associate. The man almost worships Kurtz even though his life has been threatened on a regular basis. So is the man a hero....or evil? Or can a man be both? Marlow learns some dark lessons on this voyage down the Congo. And in the end has to decide to keep secrets or reveal the truth about Kurtz.

It is amazing that Conrad managed such an interesting and deeply philsophical story in less than 100 pages. He touches on the problems with imperialism, racism against indigenous people, the clash of cultures, the wildness of the jungle and how power and greed can corrupt. Then he has some life-altering decisions to make....should he do what is right, or go down the same road as Kurtz did, taking wealth and power to benefit himself. At some point, I think we are all faced with similar decisions. Can a person be good...but do evil things? Can a good person really be corrupted....or was the person really corrupt inside all along?

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel. Narrated by Scott Brick, the audio is a bit over 4.5 hours. Brick reads the story at a steady pace with emotion in all the proper places. I think I enjoyed this particular book much more on audio than I would have just reading it myself. The entire story is really the main character's inner monologue and a re-telling of events. I got sucked into the story because with the audio it really sounded like a sailor telling his story.  Joseph Conrad wrote several other books including Under Western Eyes and Lord Jim.

A very dark tale, but I'm glad I finally read this book! Somehow in all my studies this is one classic I never read. Heart of Darkness is part of the 100 book list for The Great American Read. The list can be found here: https://www.pbs.org/the-great-american-read/books/#/  This is the sixth book from the list that I have read or re-read in my quest to work my way through the whole list.




REVIEW: I Survived the American Revolution 1776

I Survived the American Revolution, 1776
Author: Lauren Tarshis

This series is historical fiction for kids. Each book features a child's fictionalized eye-witness account of a disaster or major historical event. From ancient history like the destruction of Pompeii to more recent events like the Joplin, MO tornado, the series mixes fact with fiction to bring history alive for middle-grade kids. There are 17 books in the series so far.

I Survived the American Revolution, 1776 is told from the perspective of 11-year old Nathaniel Knox from New York. Nathaniel runs away from the home of his Uncle, taking the blame for an injury to his uncle that a slave's child caused by accident. Nathaniel intends to join the crew of a ship and go to sea. He ends up in the middle of a Revolutionary War battle instead. His struggle for survival amid the cannons and gunfire brings the Battle of Brooklyn alive!

I really like this series. The mix of historical fact and a fictionalized story involving a child eye-witness really bring the events to life. The stories have a lot of action, so even reluctant readers will enjoy this series.

I listened to the audio version of this story. Narrated by Holter Graham the book is about 2 hours long. Graham reads at a nice pace with good inflection. I have hearing loss, but was easily able to understand his narration.

I Survived the American Revolution is the 15th book in this series. A new addition to the series, I Survived the Attack of the Grizzlies, will be published in September 2018.




Sunday, June 3, 2018

REVIEW: I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916

I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916
Author: Lauren Tarshis

I love this series of fictionalized eye-witness accounts of historical events written for kids. They focus on a wide variety of events from the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79 to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The stories mix facts with a fictionalized story told by a child who was there for the event.
Each book is around 100 pages long and the audio books range from 1 to 1.5 hours, so the series is perfect length for use in a classroom situation or for at-home reading.

I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 is about shark attacks in the creeks along the Jersey Shore that summer. The attacks didn't just happen on the sea shore, but in Matawan Creek nearby as well. Swimmers in a creek did not expect to see a shark....and back then it was even believed that sharks would not attack humans.

Chet Roscow is staying in New Jersey with his uncle, helping him at his diner. His parents are in California trying to make his father's latest business venture work. Chet makes friends with some boys, and life seems to be settling down for him. Then, the newspaper headlines start talking about swimmers being killed by sharks at the beach. Chet sees a shark in Matawan Creek and tries to tell everyone about it, but most think he imagined it or the newspaper stories scared him. He walks down to the creek, and even his own friends refuse to get out of the water. Until they also see the shark. Can they escape with their lives?

There are 16 books in the I Survived series, with a new book scheduled to come out in September 2018.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

REVIEW: Mrs. Mike

Mrs. Mike
Author: Benedict and Nancy Freedman

I remember vividly the first time I read this story about the Canadian wilderness. I was 12 and it was visiting day. Visiting day meant we traveled to spend the day with my bachelor uncle. He lived by himself in a huge old house and firmly believed children in his home should be seen and not heard. There were no kids living nearby. I was not allowed to watch television or listen to music in his home. And the town was so small there was nothing to do. There wasn't even a park. So visiting days were horrible for me. And my parents would not allow me to stay home. It made for a bleak and awful Sunday. But this time, I ventured upstairs in the old creaky house. Uncle had suffered from polio when he was a young boy, and he wore a brace on one leg. He never ventured upstairs. The steps were too steep. With the excuse of going up to dust and refresh the two upstairs bedrooms and bathroom, I escaped up the stairs so there was no way I could accidentally peeve my curmudgeon uncle. In one of the rooms, there was a bookcase. Books! Something to do! I found a couple books by James Herriot I had read before....those would work in a pinch. But then I spied a paperback that looked interesting. Mrs. Mike. It had a picture of a sled dog team on the front. I loved adventure stories with animals, so I grabbed the book and lay down across the old four poster bed. I spent the entire afternoon reading about the life of Mary Katherine O'Fallon Flannigan. Lovely book! Over the years, I have read this story again and again.....and I enjoy it just as much as I did that first time.

The Basics: Mary Katherine O'Fallon is sent to Alberta to live with an uncle at 16. She suffers from pleurisy and doctors say the cold, dry air will be good for her. She meets Mike Flannigan, a mountie,  and marries him. They travel North and build a life together, serving natives at Brouard, Lesser Slave Lake and other remote areas in Alberta and British Columbia. Their life is hard at times, but Katherine learns to love Mike, the native people they serve, and the wilderness with all her heart.

 The story is told with humor, emotion and realism, and is based on the real life story of Katherine. (The Freedmans did admit that Katherine might have embellished her story somewhat as some of the details could never be corroborated, but it's a delightful story even if portions of it didn't really happen). I have tried several times to look up information about Mary Katherine O'Fallon (Flannigan) or to find photos/information about Mike or Katherine online. But, information is sparse. All I found out is that Mike died in 1944 from a ruptured appendix. Following his death, Katherine came back to the states, remarried and ventured out to California to try to sell her life story as a movie idea. She was directed to the Freedmans for a possible book instead. The book was written and sold quite well. Then the Freedmans sold the movie rights to the book and a film version starring Dick Powell was released in 1949. Katherine attempted to sue the movie studio and the Freedmans for $25,000, but was unsuccessful. She was told she had a contract regarding the book with the Freedmans,but had no rights to money from the film. I would love to see the movie! But I have yet to find a copy or any streaming service that has it. At some point it will pop up online, and I will finally get to see Dick Powell as Mike Flannigan!

A sweet mix of adventure and romance, this is a lovely book! A copy is always on my keeper shelf.  The Freedmans wrote two fictional sequels, The Search for Joyful and Kathy Little Bird. I haven't read the sequels yet. I loved the original book because it was based on a true story. The two sequels are fiction. Sequels can be so disappointing, so I have never worked up the courage to read either book. I am striving this year to read more books I have always wanted to read but never found the time.....maybe this year I will take a chance and read the two sequels to Mrs. Mike.

This time, I listened to the audiobook version of Mrs. Mike. Narrated by Kirsten Potter, the audio is just over 11.5 hours. Potter read an even pace, with good inflection. She was wonderful at all the different accents....Irish, French, native and Boston. :) A very enjoyable listen!

Friday, June 1, 2018

REVIEW: Burning Meredith

Burning Meredith
Author: Elizabeth Gunn

The fire starts on Labor Day. Live embers left by Careless campers catch the wind and burn brush and trees. Soon all of Meredith Mountain is ablaze. Below the mountain in Clark's Fort, a rookie newspaper employee gets a lucky break. Stuart Campbell is sent to cover the fire. He spends days on the mountain with the fire crews sending back photos and notes on the emergency. His Aunt Alice edits his notes into stories. The local weekly paper, the Guardian, runs with the story, gathering national accolades for its coverage of the huge forest fire. When the last of the fire is out and the mountain is just smoking, firemen make a gruesome discovery - an expensive athletic shoe hanging halfway up a tree. Below it under some burned logs, a charred body. When the autopsy report points to murder, Alice and Stuart find themselves investigating a mystery. Who is the dead man? And who killed him?

At 182 pages, this book is a quick read, but a really enjoyable suspense story! I spent 10 years as a small town reporter, so I totally identified with the two main characters. It's hard to keep up with front page news when you are also selling ads, editing copy, taking the photos, and getting the paper printed on time. Alice is feisty, standing up to her boss, interviewing people for info on the murder and editing the stories for the Guardian. I really like her character. Stuart is tenacious and has that new reporter wild excitement to him....he loves taking photos and covering the fire and murder case. His Aunt is his strong support, editing his notes into strong stories and helping him with interviews and ideas. Great characters! This story definitely kept my attention from beginning to end. It moved at a perfect pace with plenty of interesting clues and investigation.

This is the first book by Elizabeth Gunn that I've read. I enjoyed this story so much that I will definitely be reading more of her books!

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