Thursday, September 29, 2011

This Just In by Kerry Blair

Publisher's Note: 

“I never thought anybody would hear these words from me, but there are times when fashion doesn’t count.” 

When a presidential candidate’s young son disappears into the Arizona desert, TV fluff reporter Jillanne Caldwell gets her first chance at a real news story. But the former beauty queen will soon be forced to face her worst nightmares—and perhaps realize her biggest dreams—in her own hilarious way. Accompanying Jill on the race to save her favorite Sunbeam is Clay Eskiminzin, a seasoned tracker who dislikes reporters because of a secret of his own. Clay knows he can find Connor, but can only hope to find him alive. Thus the unlikely pair begins a desperate search in a vast, unforgiving desert wilderness where they must battle against the evils of men as well as the unrelenting forces of nature if they hope to save an innocent child. (Published 2004)

My Review: I have to admit I love this book. I laughed and cried and then I laughed some more. Kerry Blair's  unique writing style is sure to thrill and definitely entertain. This Just In is a story of a ditzy beauty queen who works as a reporter for a local television station in Arizona. When word circulates that Conner Teagler, a boy in Jill's primary class is missing, she begs her boss to let her cover the story and help with the search. When all signs point to a kidnapping, Jill is desperate to find the little boy. She joins Clay Eskiminzin, a local tracker and together they enter the unforgiving deserts of Arizona in hopes of locating Conner before it's too late. Jillanne's antics and Clay's stoic attitude clash right from the start and Blair will have you holding your sides and biting your nails as the story progresses. Throughout the book, Jill breaks from her narration to offer nonsensical beauty tips that will leave you grinning, and later, experimenting, to see if they really do work. Clay, handsome and mysterious, is the sort of hero that everyone loves. Filled with loads of suspense, humor and romance, this is definitely a fun book. I give This Just In 4.5 out of 5.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

From the book: Go to The Dancing Men and ask for a saucer of milk for your snake.  
Then all will be revealed.
     That's all the note says - before the ink disappears!  Xena and Xander Holmes think living in London will be boring.  But when they discover they're related to Sherlock Holmes and inherit his unsolved casebook, life becomes much more exciting.
     The siblings set out to solve the cases their famous ancestor couldn't, starting with the mystery of a prized painting that vanished a hundred years ago.  Can two smart twenty-first-century kids succeed where the celebrated Sherlock Holmes could not?

From Heather:  I can't tell you how excited I was to read this book!  I have loved mysteries for my entire life it seems.  When I was younger I would read Hardy Boys mysteries almost non-stop.  Reading three or four of them in a day during the summer wasn't all that unusual for me.  I loved the quick Encyclopedia Brown stories too.  It's fun to watch characters figure things out (and to try to figure it out before they do!)  So I was really excited for this book.

I'll start where I always start - with the cover art!  :)   I love this cover!  The cover that was on my book is different, and I really, really don't like it.  But the new covers are fantastic.  Right now there are 4 books in the series: The 100-Year-Old Secret, The Beast of Blackslope, The Case That Time Forgot, and the Missing Heir.  And all of them have covers in this same new style.  (which I love...have I mentioned that?)  =]

The book is about Xena and Xander (how cool are those names?!?  Seriously, what awesome names for characters!)  They move to London for their Dad's job and learn, after an interesting adventure, that they are direct descendants of Sherlock Holmes.  They are given a book by the SPFD (the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives!) that is a book of Sherlock Holmes unfinished cases.

Xena and Xander then try to figure out what happened to a painting that was lost 100 years ago.  It's fun to watch them work!  As a brother and sister they have their disagreements, but it's fun to see them work together and encourage one another.  They are also teamed up with Andrew, a boy about their age that is a direct descendant of Dr. John Watson.  It's fun to see them interact as well.

I gave this book 5 stars.  I really, really liked it.  The plot, as read by an adult, seems a little simplistic.  But from the perspective of the prospective audience it is perfect!  I love the premise of the book, that descendants of Sherlock Holmes (although it's hard to imagine him married!) are still around and continuing his cases that he couldn't finish.  I've read the first two books and I can't wait to read the rest!

So how about you?  What are your favorite character names that you've read about in a book?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wolfsbane (Nightshade, Book 2) by Andrea Cremer

Synopsis (from

When Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemies, she’s certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer—one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack—and the man—she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

Jillian’s Review:

I was sadly disappointed in this second book of the Nightshade series. Most of it was wood shaving-filler for a story who wants to be a real book. About ¾ of it was background story for a whole new set of characters that could have been cut down to one chapter and left room for a plot and action. I can’t count how many pages there were of people just standing (or sitting) around talking. There was some good action but it was few and far between and that’s pretty sad coming from a book about human/wolf shape-shifters trying to form an alliance with their former enemies.

And then the romance… so, I’m a huge romance fan. I think there should be some in every novel; it keeps me turning the page. But for YA, this one went too far on detail. Seventeen year old Calla was smart enough to know she was too young to get married (you’ll have to read the first one for the scoop on that), then why didn’t she know she wasn’t ready for the reproductions of having sex with a guy who she earlier insisted wasn’t her boyfriend? I hate it when these teenage characters - whether in books, movies, or TV shows – sleep around! I can’t believe how everyone seems to think it’s OK to have teenagers having sex in their materials. I remember being a teen and thinking, “I know I’m not the only one who’s not doing it. Why do they have to make everyone have sex with everyone else?”

ANYway, enough of that rant. Had Cremer cut out most of the filler she would have had room to write an ending instead of leaving it completely unfinished. I do want to know what will happen to these characters, they’re real enough for that, but I don’t want to wait a year just to read another “to be continued” disappointment.

(Because the characters were real-ish and I want to know what will happen to them, and because of the the action bits, which were pretty good.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Torment by Lauren Kate

From Goodreads:

Hell on earth.
That’s what it’s like for Luce to be apart from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel.

It took them an eternity to find one another, but now he has told her he must go away. Just long enough to hunt down the Outcasts—immortals who want to kill Luce. Daniel hides Luce at Shoreline, a school on the rocky California coast with unusually gifted students: Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans.
At Shoreline, Luce learns what the Shadows are, and how she can use them as windows to her previous lives. Yet the more Luce learns, the more she suspects that Daniel hasn’t told her everything. He’s hiding something—something dangerous.

What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t actually true? What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

The second novel in the addictive FALLEN series . . . where love never dies.

From Misty:

Don't be confused by the beautiful cover.  This book reads a lot like an episode of Scooby Doo.  I just listened to this last night, and I am still thinking about it.  I am ambivalent.  I cannot decide whether I like it or not, and I'm not using the term like to indicate whether or not I enjoyed listening to it.  I did.  At least, I didn't turn it off.  What I mean is: is it good?  Is it worthy of me liking it?

This is not a genre I typically just love, and like all people, I tend to discount things that don't interest me.  I have to wonder if that is what is happening here.  And yet...  I just don't know.  IF I was a teenage girl, IF I was totally into the paranormal, IF I was a member of this book's intended audience, would my experience with this book have been different?

Yes.  Absolutely.  I would have loved it.

As it was, I was mildly interested.  I was able to develop enough of an emotional connection with the characters that I mildly cared what happened to them--EXCEPT for the main character, Luce (oh, and the almost completely absent other MC, Daniel).  Realizing this is the second book in the series and that perhaps Luce was fully developed in the first book (which I haven't read), and if that is the case then this book can't stand alone--regardless, I have NO idea why a man/angel would give up eternity (or whatever) for Luce.  She had NO charcteristics, well, unless you count the annoying ones (confused, naive, disobedient, reckless, directionless) and the ones that are reminiscent of Belly from It Wouldn't Be Summer Without You (confused, naive, disobedient, reckless, directionless, liked to swim). 

But isn't that what teenage girls are like?  Doesn't it leave room for the character to grow?

Yes.  So....success?

I think so.  I think it works.  I'd like to read the other books in the series.  They might not be my favorite ever, but the basic premise for the story (fallen angel falls in love with mere mortal) is intriguing (if old...but classic--think Zeus).

BUT, the romance this whole series is based on is absolutely, 100% absent in this book (Luce and Daniel fight as much or more than they make out while Daniel flies them through the air with his sexy angel wings--think Superman and Lois Lane). 
Gah! *tears her hair out*

3 or 5 stars (because I just couldn't decide).

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Deep in the Heart of Trouble" by Deeanne Gist

I love Deeanne Gist's books. I really do.(And Heather, you will love her book covers!) They are fun and a little different from your every day story. "Deep in the Heart of Trouble" did not disappoint. It is the sequel to "Courting Trouble" (which I haven't read) but I wouldn't know there was a story before. Here is the blurb from
Essie Spreckelmeyer is the last woman anyone in Corsicana, Texas, expected to see with a man on her arm. Independant and outspoken, she is known more for riding bicycles in outrageous bloomers than for catching a man's eye. And the last man who seems willing to give her a second glance is Tony Morgan, newly-hired at Spreckelmeyer's oil company. The disinherited son of an oil baron, Tony wants most to restore his name and regain his lost forture - not lose his heart to this headstrong blonde. She confounds, contradicts, and confuses him. Sometimes he doesn't know if she's driving him toward the aisle or to the end of his rope.

I loved Essie. She has a hand in everything and is truly a character. I thought the characters were developed enough to get a sense of personality from them all. The only problems I had with this book were that it seemed like it should have ended about 2 hours before it did. I thought everything was settled and wrapped up - there was love, conflict, reconciliation - but then it was like a whole new story was added on the end of the story, even though it was the same story with more love, conflict and reconciliation . But it was okay. And also for being an inspirational book, the references to anything spiritual were a little off. Maybe that's not the best way to explain it. There was no talk of God or anything spiritual, and I didn't really see the characters as spiritual, and then all of a sudden that's supposed to be her biggest attribute. It was just kinda weird. Not bad, just kinda weird.

All in all, this was a great read. There's no swearing, no sex, funny and likeable characters. I give it 4.5 stars. She has a new book coming out October 1st, and I will definitely be checking it out.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September Blog Hop...

Welcome to the September Blog Hop! Celebrate the beginning of fall with me and my blogger friends by hopping around, visiting our sites, and entering our contests! There are no limits - you can enter the contest on every blog. With over 40 blogs participating, that's over 40 prizes you could win. Just click on the links below to move on to the next blog.

On my blog, you can win …

A pre-made memory book (see pictures below)

           And this bag of scrapbook goodies


Would you like to win this prize? You just need to do two things.

1. Become a follower of this blog.

2. Leave me a comment in the trail and tell me why you'd like to win this prize.

That's it! You are now entered. The contest ends on Saturday night, September 24th, at midnight MST, and the winner will be contacted shortly thereafter. Please either leave your e-mail address in the comment trail or make sure it's visible through your profile so I can contact you to tell you that you're the lucky winner.

Now go visit my other friends ...

September Blog Hop Participants

1. Tristi Pinkston, LDS Author
2. Joyce DiPastena
3. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer
4. Mandi Slack
5. Michael D. Young
6. Six Mixed Reviews
7. Pam Williams
8. Laurie Lewis
9. Kristy Tate
10. Marilyn Yarbrough
11. Stacy Coles
12. Kristie Ballard
13. Lynn Parsons
14. Pushing Past the Pounds
15. Sheila Staley
16. cindy Hogan
17. Jamie Thompson
18. Jaclyn Weist
19. Cathy Witbeck
20. Secret Sisters Mysteries
21. Tamera Westhoff
22. Tina Scott
23. Lynnea Mortensen
24. Danyelle Ferguson aka Queen of the Clan
25. Jeanette A. Fratto
26. Bonnie Harris
27. Melissa Lemon
28. Mary Ann Dennis
29. Stephanie Black
30. Jane Still
31. Janice
32. Laura Bastian
33. Tamara Bordon
34. Betsy Love
35. Maria Hoagland
36. Amber Robertson
37. Debbie Davis
39. Christy Monson
40. Carolyn Frank
41. Rebecca Birkin
42. Melissa Cunningham
43. Emily L. Moir
44. Ronda Hinrichsen
45. Lisa Asanuma
46. Joan Sowards
47. Jordan McCollum
48. Diane Stringam Tolley

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Shadows by Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere #1)

Synopsis:  When eleven-year-old Olive moves into the crumbling old mansion on Linden Street, she's right to think there's something weird about the place, especially the walls covered in creepy antique paintings.  But when she finds a pair of old-fashioned glasses in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet -- She can travel inside these paintings to Elsewhere, a world that's strangely quiet...and eerily sinister.

Olive soon finds that Elsewhere has secrets to hide -- and the most annoying of them is Morton, a small boy with a big temper.  As he and Olive form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself caught in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary.  It's up to her to save the house from the shadows, before the lights go out for good.

For fans of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman comes a tale at turns haunting, moving, and darkly funny (and best if read with a flashlight under the bed sheets -- shhh!)

My thoughts:  I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am a cover art snob.  I love beautiful illustrations on the cover of a book.  It does more to draw me into a book than anything else.  I LOVE the cover of this book!  It's almost three-dimensional looking (and the second book in the series is almost even better!)  The illustrations throughout the book are beautifully done as well.  So if you are looking for a pretty book, this one is it!  =]

However, it's not just a pretty book.  It's actually a little creepy at times.  I've read a few other reviews that have said it is too scary.  I didn't find it too scary at all, but it IS a little creepy!  I'm not sure my third grader would appreciate it much, but my sixth grader would love it!

I really loved the idea of traveling inside paintings.  I find myself looking at paintings or pictures and wonder what is happening farther inside them, in the places that you can't see.  What's going on inside the houses?  What's hiding in the forest? Who will you meet if you follow the path over the hill?  It's an interesting idea!

I really liked the main characters.  Olive was fun and her parents were funny, if a bit strange.  Who leaves their 11 year old home alone overnight in a creepy house they just moved into?  It had to happen to further the story, but as a parent of an 11 year old, it freaks me out a little!  =]

Morton was fun too.  In the synopsis it says that he has a really big temper.  I don't know that he has a temper as much as something awful happened to him and he's all alone.  I would be angry too!  =]  But he is a fun character.  And the cats are great as well - Leopold, Horatio and Harvey.  Harvey is my favorite.  He is always acting like a pirate or a knight or something and it's so fun to listen to him!

Anyway, this was a perfect book to read right before Halloween.  A little creepy, a little scary, a lot fun and imaginative.  I gave it four stars!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Power of Six (Lorien Legacies, Book 2) by Pittacus Lore

Synopsis (from

I've seen him on the news. Followed the stories about what happened in Ohio. John Smith, out there, on the run. To the world, he's a mystery. But to me . . . he's one of us.
Nine of us came here, but sometimes I
wonder if time has changed us—if we all still believe in our mission. How can I know? There are six of us left. We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another . . . but our Legacies are developing, and soon we'll be equipped to fight. Is John Number Four, and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for?

And what about Number Five and Six? Could one of them be the raven-haired girl with the stormy eyes from my dreams? The girl with powers that are beyond anything I could ever imagine? The girl who may be strong enough to bring the six of us together?
They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.

And Number Three in Kenya.
They tried to catch Number Four in Ohio—and failed.
I am Number Seven. One of si
x still alive.
And I'm ready to fight.

Jillian’s Review:

I'm not a big fan of the first book of this series, I Am Number Four, mostly because it wasn’t written well, I can’t stand reading present-tense, and because I watched the movie which I thought was better than the book. I didn’t plan to read the next book in the series but then there was a sneak-peak in the back of I Am Number Four for The Power of Six, and I was hooked. It’s written from the POV of Number Seven (a.k.a. Marina) and I LOVED her. I was so excited to start reading.

And then I got the book and discovered that it’s also written from the POV of Number Four (a.k.a. John Smith) and I was sorely disappointed. I guess I just don’t like this guy, especially when he starts to crush on Number Six when his “one true love” is supposed to be Sarah, waiting faithfully back in Paradise. Oh, but Lore takes care of that, he just makes Sarah a snitch and the one true love thing isn’t even real—which was one of the first book’s redeeming qualities—then it’s OK for Four to forget all about Sarah and move onto Six! Ugh. I understand the need for romance, believe me, I thrive on it in the novels I read, but to throw out the relationship so carefully built up in the first book just because Sarah can’t physically be there with Four is lame. But I guess it’s kind of a teenager thing, right?

Also, a pet-peeve of mine (one that I’ve recently discovered thanks to this series) is that the author isn’t just using a pen name, he’s using the name of a character in his novels. I guess he wants it to feel more realistic, but it’s just weird.

All that being said, I did liked this one better then I Am Number Four. It was much better written (Lore discovered contractions!). I still can't stand reading in present-tense, but there was enough action that I was able to get wrapped up in the story instead of tripped up over the writing. There were a few parts where I found myself skimming just because it took forever to get through the battle scenes and I'm not a big fan of those—and there are A LOT.

I really liked Seven and I loved how badbutt (my clean word for bad@$$—I know it doesn’t sound cool, but I’m so sick of the swearing in YA. Yet another one of my pet-peeves) Six was. If it had been written from their POVs I would have loved this book. The ending was an obvious “to be continued” and I’m pretty sure I’ll read the next one. I’m just not sure I’ll like it.

(Because the girls were cool!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart by Donna Alward

Confession: this is my favorite kind of book.  The entire story revolves around the romance.  Each page asks: Will they or won't they?   And of course they will because that's what makes it a romance.  Plus, this title has the added bonus of being a Western Romance, and call me a sap, but that is my absolute favorite thing to read.

How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart is published (or rather, WILL be published in October) by Harlequin, and I requested the galley from

From Goodreads:
From best friends…to bride and groom?

Clay Gregory’s known Megan Briggs her whole life, and he’s been plenty worried about her while she’s been getting medical treatment. Now she’s back home and hiding away on the family ranch.

Knowing the stubborn cowgirl won’t accept his help willingly, he invites her to a family wedding to help him
avoid his aunt’s matchmaking!

He plans to remind Meg she’s still the girl who can beat him in a horse race! But as she steps out in her curve-hugging red dress, her skills on a horse are suddenly the furthest thing from his mind.

From Misty:

When you go into a Harlequin romance, you can't expect it to be anything but what it's going to be.  Harlequin is almost a genre unto itself.  This was a cute, quick, feel-good read.  Generally, a romance like this takes two people who are completely incompatible (a pet peave of mine), makes them fight for 200 pages, and then lets them have a hasty hook-up at the end.  This book is no different, except I think Clay and Meg might actually be compatible.

Because Alward focused on the romance (though that could be argued because it seemed little more than attraction and long-time acquaintance) and the fallout of a devastating disease (recovering emotionally from cancer), I felt the characters were underdeveloped and single-dimensional.  They each had one or two main qualities (the ones that usually make characters completely wrong for each other).  Not having read the first books in this series, I didn't already know the characters and didn't have the advantage of knowing any character development and background that might have taken place in those books.  Still, they were likable and I cared enough about them to see the book to the end.

And like I said, there is a secret formula to a Harlequin, and this book follows it perfectly.

I've probably said before what I think about cancer in literature.  I think it's a tired, predictable, and cliche theme.  (But don't confuse that with my feelings about cancer and those it affects in real life.  Completely different).  It's like so ten years ago.  It's like reading about AIDS or something: twenty-five years too late.  So I was a little surprised to see it here.  I always say I like to read stories that could actually happen (one reason fantasy is so beyond my grasp), and cancer definitely happens to people, but in this book it almost seemed to overshadow the romance.  And yeah, in real life it can do that.  But are we trying to have a romance or are we trying to have a rally against cancer?  So you can't have it both ways, Misty, but I learned that I don't like cancer in my romance.

One other small thing about the writing style.  Alward tells the reader EXACTLY what to think and conclude and wastes a lot of her word count on it.  I felt like halfway through every paragraph she would begin speaking loudly and slowly just in case I was too dumb to see what was happening.  And after every paragraph I felt like she had patted me on the head.

But, overall, despite those few things, I enjoyed reading this book.  My To-read list is long, and if I don't like something, I can't always put the time into it.  I did like this, and I did finish it, and I will probably look for more of Alward's books.

Content: Unless swearing is excessive, it usually goes right over my head.  Short of going back and looking, I don't think there was any in this book.  There is no sex in this book, just a little bit of, as my 8 year old terms it when speaking of the reasons he hates teenagers, "making out, blah."  It's not squeaky clean.  I wouldn't recommend it to my sixteen year old neighbor, but I wouldn't think twice about recommending it to anyone over the age of twenty-three and a half.

3 1/2 of 5 festive pumpkins

Friday, September 16, 2011

"Sign of Seven" trilogy by Nora Roberts

I don't quite know what to review tonight. I'm not sure I listened to anything uplifting or inspirational this week. I finished "The Lost Symbol" by Dan Brown, but since I reviewed "The Da Vinci Code" last week, I am thinking to not review this one. They're basically the same anyway. Good, but about the same review. The only other thing I've finished this week is the first two books in the Sign of Seven trilogy by Nora Roberts. I guess that will have to do. To start off with, I am not a huge Nora Roberts fan, but this trilogy looked a little different from previous things of hers I've read, and the first one was available to check out, so I decided to give it a try. It is definitely different.
The story is about 3 best friends, Caleb, Fox and Gage, who were all born the same day, July 7th. For their tenth birthday they decide they're going to have a campout in the woods at the Pagan Stone, which, of course, is forbidden. Being ten year old boys, they decide they want to become blood brothers and perform a ritual at the stone, but it doesn't go quite how they expect it to. They've unleashed evil that brings mayhem and havoc for seven days then goes away, only to come back every seven years and do it all again for another seven days starting on their birthday. 21 years later they're gearing up for another round with help from three women who end up in town, and vow it will be the last time evil reigns in their little town.
I liked the characters, especially the girls. I loved the "lifestyle change" because I could totally relate to that. If only I had Quinn's will power. *sigh* The boys were funny and believable. The story, however, was not very believable. If I'm going to read about supernatural powers, I want to think that it could really happen. This just didn't give me that feeling.
Did I like these books? Yeah. I want to see how it ends in the third one, so I'm hooked enough for at least that. Were they great? Not particularly, but a TON better than anything else I've read by Nora Roberts. Would I recommend them to everyone? Probably not everyone, but maybe to someone that likes off the wall kind of stories and doesn't mind a little swearing and romance mixed in. All in all, I would give it a 3 of 5 rating. Not great, but not bad, either.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Oldie, but a Goodie….Return to Red Castle by Dorothy Keddington

Publisher’s note: Red Castle ... an ancient citadel of wine-red stone in the heart of Utah's primitive High Uinta Mountains. Hidden away near its rocky base, a small plane lies twisted and broken.
The four men ... desperate, ruthless, will stop at nothing to retrieve the plane's valuable cargo,
but their only clue to its location are the words ... Red Castle.
Jesse Chisholm ... rugged, lonely, one of the new breed of modern Mountain Men. As a geologist for the Forest Service, he calls the wilderness his home and only the mountains know the secrets of his heart.
Melissa Heydon ... spirited, young, in love with life, the mountains, and Jesse Chisholm.

My Review:  When I was a young woman, about fourteen or fifteen years old, I spent hours wandering the aisles of my local library. I loved to read anything that hinted at the notion of romance and I was simply enamored by the thought of being in LOVE. One rainy afternoon, I stumbled across a section of more mature romance reads. Being young, I was intrigued, but when I stepped to the counter to check out my stack of books the local librarian kindly shook her head, pointed to the return cart, and replied, “Why don’t I help you find something a bit more appropriate, hmm?”  Crestfallen and a little embarrassed, I placed my books on the metal shelf and scowled as she came around the counter. She placed her hand on my shoulder and led the way toward the back of the library. She paused and scanned the shelves that sagged with hundreds of titles then thoughtfully, she pulled a worn book from the self.  The protective, cellophane cover looked less than appealing and I stared at the dog-eared book enthusiastically. Her “trust me, you’ll love it” fell on hardened ears. Needless-to-say, I checked out the book and left the library in a huff. When I returned home that evening I tossed the book on my dresser and it sat there for days, buried under a stack of over-due homework and silly notes I’d collected from friends at school. Then one boring Saturday afternoon, I finally grabbed the book and opened to the first page. I read the forward and was immediately hooked. I finished Return to Red Castle by Dorothy Keddington in one afternoon and I closed the book with a sigh. It quickly became one of my favorite books and I read this book at least once a year. In fact, I just finished it again last week. Keddington spins an amazing story of intrigue and suspense set among the majestic background of the High Uintas in Utah. The story opens with Melissa Heydon, a young woman, who travels with her brother and his buddy to visit old family friends in Utah-- the Chisloms. Missy recounts her first visit when she was just a small girl of eight. Jesse Chislom, nineteen and recently widowed, is home for the summer. When the eight- year- old Missy and the nineteen- year- old Jesse meet they become fast friends. Over the years they spend many summers together, but as Melissa grows and changes into a young woman so does her relationship change with Jesse. Years pass and their friendship fades. Jesse remarries (or so she thinks) and life moves on.  Now, in her twenties, Missy returns to the Chislom’s mountain home, hoping to bury the memories of Jesse and the bond they once shared. However, things never go as planned and when Jesse and Melissa meet once again, her life is forever changed. She soon discovers that Jesse holds a secret that could tear them apart. Then to make matters worse, a hike in the mountains turns into a deadly race against dangerous drug runners. Keddington’s ability to describe the setting and emotions leaves the reader fully engaged. Her stories are full of suspense, intrigue, action and just the right amount of “appropriate” (clean) romance. I give Return to Red Castle 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: The Monsters of Morley Manor

How do you mix together werewolves, vampires, mad scientists, wizards, aliens, ghosts, ancient curses, giant frogs, evil clones, fallen angels, zombie warriors...and two clever kids in whose hands rests the fate of the Earth?  Just add water.

The Monsters of Morley Manor was such a fun read!  My 8 year old picked it up for her summer reading prize at the library.  She doesn't enjoy reading quite as much as my oldest, so it's fun when she finds a book that captures her interest!  And she is really loving this one.  I read it before she got a chance (lucky that Mom reads fast!)  She was concerned that it was the werewolves, vampires, mad scientists, wizards, etc that try and take over the world.  Turns out they are the good guys!

The story begins: If Sarah hadn't put the monkey in the bathtub, we might never have had to help the monsters get big.  But she did, so we did, which, given the way things worked out, was probably just as well for everyone on the planet - especially the dead people.

The story is told by Anthony, who is in 6th grade.  He and his little sister Sarah buy a box of figurines from the Morley Manor, a creepy haunted house in their town.  They bring them home and one of them accidentally gets wet (Sarah was trying to give Mr. Perkins, her mom's pet monkey, a bath.  The book explains that her mom decided she could either have a mid-life crisis or a mid-life monkey.  She chose the monkey.)  When the figurine gets wet, it starts coming to life.  So they eventually dunk all the figurines: Gaspar, the lizard-headed guy; Melisande, the medusa with snakes for hair; Ludmilla, the vampire; Albert, the hunchbacked mad-scientist assistant; and Bob, the were-human (meaning he's normally a dog that turns into a human during the full moon!)

I've got to be honest, I had kind of a hard time remembering which monster was which.  The action was fast and fun.  The subtitle of the book is A Madcap Adventure, which seems to fit.  As they go through the book, trying to save mankind from the aliens trying to take over the ghosts of Earth's dead, they get into all sorts of trouble and meet all sorts of strange creatures!  This is a perfect Halloween read!

I enjoyed Anthony's voice, as he is the one telling the story.  His sense of humor is adorable and it makes the book fresh and fun.  Sarah is the perfect little sister side-kick.  This story had tons of twists and turns, but it was such a fun read.  I may have to go read some more Bruce Coville!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

Synopsis (from Amazon product description):

Blessed—or cursed—with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an isbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servants. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess.

Jillian's review:

I’ve really enjoyed all the novels I’ve read so far by George. She has a gift for bringing cherished fairytales to life. It helps that not only is the story great, but so is her writing which is sadly hard to come by in YA Fantasy.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow was the first of hers I read and I loved it—from page one to the end and that doesn’t happen often enough for me. Lass was easy to love and to wish the best for. I hated her mother and loved her oldest brother, just as I was supposed to. I didn’t really feel like I got to know the prince well though, which was pretty sad since Lass faces serious dangers just for him. But I still wanted Lass to go after him and I was glad she was so faithful to him. The adventure towards the end where she faces the trolls seemed almost out of place and rushed, but it thankfully didn’t detract from the story as a whole.

I was a bit leery to suggest this one to my 13 year old niece only because some strange guy crawls into Lass’s bed each night when she’s in the ice palace, but it’s part of the curse and NOTHING happens. That said niece love this story, too.

An enchanting read.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Matched by Ally Condie

From Goodreads:
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

From Misty:
How long has it been since I read a book where the author actually employed the literary elements of metaphor, symbolism, and motif? Uh...quite a while, at least in comtemporary fiction. I see it in small instances to help tell a story, but seldom to increase meaning like Condie has used it in Matched. One of the things that bugged me about The Hunger Games, just for comparison (and I loved that book), was that the symbolism seemed to be all over the place. I could never tell exactly what it was supposed to be making me conclude. Condie's symbolism is much better done.

Theme: girl vs. society. Not a new theme, not really a unique storyline. Cassia lives in a world where The Society makes all her decisions for her: what she will eat, what she will wear, where she will work, who she will marry, where she will live, when she will die. Cassia accepts this because every decision Society makes for her will lead to a better world with benefits such as increased life span for citizens and optimal quality of life for all.

But is it true and can it be, no, should it be changed? These are the questions Cassia must ask (and answer) when she finds herself falling in love with a boy who is not her Match.

Despite the common dystopian theme, Condie's characters ring true and make you care about them. They are consistent and don't act out of character. Her imagery is vivid though not over-descriptive. Her narration is lyrical and sometimes pretty.  Just all out done well. Everyone on earth should read this. Loved this book and absolutely cannot wait for Crossed which comes out this fall.

Friday, September 9, 2011

"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown

Yes, I realize I'm about 10 years behind on this book, but better late than never, right? I tried to listen to this book about 7 years ago. Our landlord asked if I liked to read, and when I admitted that indeed I do, she gave me this book to listen to. I had a hard time getting into it, however, and four years later I found tape 2 still in the cassette player. Yes, I did say cassette. I did not make it very far into the book. This time, however, sitting at work listening to this, I could not get enough! The narration was a little hard for me at first, but after a couple hours, and I was hooked on the story, I didn't mind it so much. For those of you who are like me and did not read the book when it came out and did not see the movie and know nothing or very little of the story, this is the plot, as written on Dan Brown's official web site.

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of da Vinci…clues visible for all to see…and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.
Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and da Vinci, among others. The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory's most sacred trust: the location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.
In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei—a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory's secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.
In an exhilarating blend of relentless adventure, scholarly intrigue, and cutting wit, symbologist Robert Langdon (first introduced in Dan Brown's bestselling Angels & Demons ) is the most original character to appear in years. The Da Vinci Code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightening-paced, intelligent thriller…surprising at every twist, absorbing at every turn, and in the end, utterly unpredictable…right up to its astonishing conclusion.

I thought I had the bad guy all figured out about half-way through. It turns out I was really wrong! I love it when that happens. =) I loved the ending and how everything came together and Sophie gets some answers. I loved the characters, too. I didn't have a hard time relating to any of them, although I will admit I had some difficulty remembering which foreign name went with which character at the beginning, but that could just be me. By the end I had a picture of everyone with their own name. I can see how this book would stir up controversy because it uses very real things - the art and the landmarks - so it made me feel like all the information is true, and if I were to go to these places and study symbology, then I would come to the same conclusion the author did. But it is a work of fiction. Brown's interpretations may not be my interpretations of the same thing. Overall, it was fun, the characters likeable, a bad guy that's not the one you think it should be, and an eye opener to how the world could be. I would recommend the book to anyone, I think, even if you did already read it. =)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Oh, what to review today?!?  I've enjoyed having a little extra time to read now that my girls are all in school.  (Yay!)  But I'm having a hard time deciding what to read.  I was going to review The Monsters of Morley Manor by Bruce Coville today, but I had about 20 pages left and my daughter took it to school today.  The little stinker!  So I will probably do that one next week.  =]

So I decided on Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Before I thought about reviewing the series, I checked out Goodreads ('cause ya know they have lots of good book review information!) and it was interesting to see what other people had to say about the books.  Seems like they were very polarizing - either you liked them or you hated them, but there wasn't a lot of middle ground.  It seems like most of the criticism came from the fact that they were a lot like Harry Potter in a way.  Which is good - I really LIKE the Harry Potter books!  And yes, now that I read that, I can see how they are similar.  (A "chosen one" spoken of in prophecy, someone with special gifts and abilities that doesn't realize it yet, a special school (in this case a camp) for special children, a smart female sidekick and a dorky male one...a lot of similarities.)  But I didn't pick up on them as I read or think, "Hey, I'm reading a Harry Potter clone!"

The books were written for children ages 8-12, and for that they were wonderful!  (I happen to be considerably older than 12 and I really liked them!)  It was a fun introduction to Greek mythology.  My only complaint is I wish there had been a pronunciation guide at the back of the book...some of those Greek names were AWFUL to sound out, and would have been even harder for young kids!  A picture of a family tree may have been good to stick in the back too...I had a hard time remembering who everyone was and how they were related.  Guess I'll have to go look them up online - which may have been the intent all along!)

I really struggled to like the main characters.  The action was good and the story line was fine.  I just really struggled to get into the characters.  And maybe that is just me speaking from an adult perspective - maybe the intended audience doesn't really care of the characters are well-defined and deep!  But as a grown up I wanted to care a little bit more about them.  The first book starts out with the three main characters, (Percy, Annabeth and Grover) and then other characters are added as the series progresses.  Some of them are great (Percy's cyclops brother was my favorite!) and others kind of get lost (I had two of the new girls confused with each other for the longest time!)  

I can't wait for my girls to read these books (although I think if I had boys, they would like them better!  Especially boys that didn't like to read!  These are great books to get young boys interested in reading!).  I'm not sure they are up to the Harry Potter standard (although maybe if they were longer like Harry Potter there would be room for more character development) but they are a fun, imaginative adventure series and well worth the read!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Butterfly's Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe

From Goodreads:

Four very different women embark on a transformational journey that follows the migrating monarchs across the United States to Mexico. The story begins when Luz Avila's grandmother, the local butterfly lady, purchases an old, orange VW bug for a road trip home to Mexico. When she unexpectedly dies, Luz is inspired to take her grandmother's ashes home. In the manner of the Aztec myth of the goddess who brings light to the world, Luz attracts a collection of lost women, each seeking change in their lives. The Mexican people believe the monarchs are the spirits of the recently departed and Luz taps into ancient rituals and myths as she follows the spectacular, glittering river of orange monarchs in the sky to home.

From Misty:
I think the story begins not when Grandma buys the VDub but when she gets a call from one of her daughters who tells her that her other daughter, Luz's mother, is not dead these many years but is instead alive.  I think the story is about one girl's journey to Mexico, not four different girls' journey, unless I was reading a completely different novel than the book summary claimed.  But yes, Luz, did take the ashes to Mexico.

This is the second of Monroe's books that I've reviewed, and I enjoyed the book, BUT...I found the same things lacking that I did with the first one.  I had difficulty identifying with the characters.  By the end of the book, they were still strangers to me.  In fact, I kind of hated Luz's mom, Mariposa, as much as I hated Olivia in the turtle book.  Her one redeeming quality, that she was striving to overcome addiction, did little to make up for her selfishness and immaturity.  Luz, the main character, had NO characteristics.  There was nothing about her to like or dislike.  Luz didn't grow or change; nobody did, except for maybe vagabond number two, but she, see below, had nothing to do with the main storyline.  And again, I kept expecting it to be something it was not, which made it hard for me to like it for what it was.

But that said, it had its good qualities.  The storyline was okay and moved along well.  I liked that Luz picked up the other girls on her journey and took them to the next step in their own journeys, but their journeys, the things they sought for themselves, had little, no nothing, to do with theme of the book (...something about mothers I think).  I liked the girls, but they detracted from the main story; they didn't add to it.  And they made for a lot of unnecessary scenes, and also made me wonder why Luz thought it would be fitting for those girls, compete strangers to her dead grandmother, to write on and glue to and basically deface the box of ashes, which, let's face it, was a weird and kind of macabre character.

This was a nice clean read.  In terms of content, it does mention that Luz sleeps with her boyfriend, but I would recommend it to anyone that has a mother.  I've read several good reviews from people who think this book is fabulous, but for me it left more questions unanswered than it even knew it asked.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"In Every Heartbeat" by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Alright .. brief synopsis: three friends, Libby, Pete and Bennett, all grow up together at an orphanage school in Missouri in the early 1900's. Pete's parents kicked him out when he was seven, Libby's parents died when she was young, and Bennett never knew his parents. They all get scholarships to the University of Southern Missouri and go away to college. This is where the story begins. Libby dreams of becoming a journalist at a time in history when apparently women writers were not accepted in the news world, Pete wants to become a preacher and feels it's his calling from God, and Bennett goes in to the engineering program, though I am not really sure if that would be his first choice. The story switches between the three characters so we as the reader get to see each viewpoint. This book takes us from September 1914 until about Christmas of the same year, and details the struggles the three young people have in learning who they are and where they fit in the world.

I really quite enjoyed this book. It was well written, I loved being able to look through each characters eyes, and it had a happy ending. =) Libby was feisty, Pete honorable, and Bennett the resident "bad boy" (every book needs one!). There was enough romance to keep me interested, but it wasn't over-done, and it was done modestly (except for Libby's writing, but it works for that and gets resolved at the end). This book is apparently the sequel to "My Heart Remembers" which I haven't read, but I didn't feel like I was missing any back story and wouldn't have known there was a story before the story if I hadn't read other reviews. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an uplifting story with good characters. I liked it enough to find more of Kim Vogel Sawyer's books for next week. =) Definite read.