Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

I'll admit it right's been a tough reading week.  Between getting my house back to normal after the holiday (and the ten pies I baked last week!) and all the time I've spent Christmas shopping, I haven't had much time to read.  SO...!  I've decided to review one of my favorite books...The Talented Clementine.

From the back of the book:  When it comes to tackling third grade, Clementine is at the top of her game - ok, so maybe not ALL the time.  After her teacher announces that the third and fourth graders will be putting on a talent show, Clementine panics.  She doesn't sing or dance or play an instrument.  She can't even HOP with finesse.  And as if she didn't feel bad enough, her perfect best friend, Margaret, has so many talents, she has to alphabetize them to keep them straight.

As the night of the big "Talent-palooza" draws closer, Clementine is desperate for an act, ANY act.  But the unexpected talent she demonstrates at the show surprises everyone - most of all herself.

From Heather:  I love Clementine books!  They are absolutely adorable.  They are kind of like the Junie B. Jones books, only not so annoying.  She is charming and funny and her books are so fun to read.  Clementine's voice makes me laugh out loud. "Do you need me to spy on the sitter?  Make sure she doesn't smoke cigars? Or order things from the Shopping Channel? Do you think she's making phone calls to Australia?" or  "'I tried on all of the Popsicle sneakers.  The salesman asked me if I really had to test out each color by running across the store, climbing onto a chair, and then jumping off.  I guess he was new." 

As funny as she is, though, some of the things she says are pretty genius.  "My parents think I have a hard time choosing things, but that's not it.  I can choose things just fine.  The problem is, whenever you have to choose something, that means you have to not-choose about a hundred other things.  Which is not so easy."  Genius I say!  (So THAT'S why I have such a hard time choosing!)

The Clementine books also have a wonderful "supporting cast" too.  I love her principal, Mrs Rice.  She knows just the right way to work with Clementine...I wish all kids could be so lucky!  And her parents are not quite as crazy as some book parents.  (a huge pet peeve of mine, now that I'M the parent!)

I LOVE Clementine! Five Stars!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Timeless by Alexandra Monir

Synopsis (from

When tragedy strikes Michele Windsor’s world, she is forced to uproot her life and move across the country to New York City, to live with the wealthy, aristocratic grandparents she’s never met. In their old Fifth Avenue mansion filled with a century’s worth of family secrets, Michele discovers a diary that hurtles her back in time to the year 1910. There, in the midst of the glamorous Gilded Age, Michele meets the young man with striking blue eyes who has haunted her dreams all her life – a man she always wished was real, but never imagined could actually exist. And she finds herself falling for him, into an otherworldly, time-crossed romance.
Michele is soon leading a double life, struggling to balance her contemporary high school world with her escapes into the past. But when she stumbles upon a terrible discovery, she is propelled on a race through history to save the boy she loves – a quest that will determine the fate of both of their lives.

Jillian’s Review:

Though not well written and a bit predictable, this novel had an enthralling storyline that kept me hooked the entire time and haunted my mind long after I finished the last page.

Unfortunately, Monir has a tendency to underestimate her readers' intelligence by constantly telling us the obvious. I'm surprised Monir's original profession is songwriting when the songs written in this novel were uninspiring and listening to them with music (Monir wrote and preformed the original songs available for download in iTunes) didn't help.
That being said, it was an intriguing story with a wonderful, sweet romance to keep me turning the page. Phillip is a great guy and I couldn’t get enough of him. Thankfully there were plenty of scenes with him. I appreciated that Michele is able to help so many people and in doing so she grew, developed and overcame her tragic past.

I can’t wait to read the next in this series, but I doubt I'll be purchasing the music any time soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tall, Dark, and Determined by Kelly Hake

From Amazon:

Welcome to Hope Falls where three enterprising young females are accepting applications for husbands-for-hire. With one woman already snagged, Lacey Lyman is one of only two remaining. No one really catches her eye until a handsome hunter arrives. Will Lacey find a way to bag her prey? Determined to investigate why Hope Falls’s mine collapsed, Chase Dunstan poses as a potential husband and a hunter, giving him the perfect excuse to poke around inside and outside of town. If only he could get the chatterbox Lacey Lyman off his trail. Can he keep his cover while solving the mystery of the mine?

From Misty:

Five chapters into this book, I finally broke down and looked up the reviews on Amazon so I could figure out what the story was actually about.  Not a good sign, people. 

This is the second in Hake's Husbands for Hire series, and I think it has trouble standing alone, at least to start out with.  I'm assuming the first book, Rugged and Relentless, which I have not read, gives a lot of background that is both lacking and needed in this one.  It is not that the information was not there, only that it was not clear.  Five chapters in and I still did not know who the main characters were supposed to be, and when I read on Amazon that Chase Dunstan was the hero of this book, I thought, "Who?"  I had by this time read the name, of course, but Chase had been going by an alias and between that and the SO many other names in those first chapters (names I would have recognized if I had read the first book), I just could not separate him out from the all the others, and after a chapter or two, I didn't want to anymore.  Call me impatient.

Hake's writing is at times clever, but her style can be confusing as it jumps from scene to scene with no background information on the scene until a few scenes later.  So you eventually get the information, but not when your mind wants it. 

I love the title, the cover, the cute premise, even the story and much of the writing and the banter between the characters.  I definitely recommend Tall, Dark, and Determined to other readers.  But I was confused for so long that it took a lot of the enjoyment out of it for me.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nourish & Strengthen by Maria Hoagland

This book was given to me by the author to read and review. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

On the back:
"Chloe Taylor has the perfect life; a model's figure, a husband who adores her, three healthy children. So why does she feel so much less than perfect?
After losing forty pounds, Chloe Taylor is finally happy with her body. What she doesn't realize is that she's not the one in control.
When Chloe is called as the Primary president, she discovers that managing the highs and lows of a chronic illness may be easier than the ups and downs associated with family, friends, and the church callings. Consumed b y her own challenges, Chloe fails to recognize the issues her friends are facing and is in danger of losing their friendship.
As Chloe strives to develop Christ-like love for herself and those around her, she learns that outer appearances are far less important than inner peace and spiritual strength. But is she strong enough to face her most difficult trial yet?"

My review:
This is a fictional book- possibly a self-help- about diabetes. For those just learning they or a loved-one has diabetes this book can help to show that life just got harder but not impossible.

I enjoyed the way the LDS families and women got together, but there was a lot of insecurity portrayed from all of the women the whole book through I didn't like.

Nourish & Strengthen seemed a bit unbelievable. The LDS women were completely stereotyped and said things that I believe I would never hear.

There are editing errors that distracted me and at times made it totally confusing. That is an easy fix for the next edition, though!

I had a hard time getting past the first half of the book. It was such a downer. I felt that this whole story was about a woman, Chloe, who we really never got to know because you could tell she was upset, sad, and most especially angry but these emotions were never completely expressed.

I liked the banter between Chloe and her husband. Shows I'm a romantic...
""Trust me, you are absolutely beautiful just the way your are." He smiled, the boyish dimple dipping in his left cheek."

It was nice for a mom and her children to have good relationships and show each other love. Not something you always find in a book about a family.

This book could be very popular. It is a book that didn't have highs and lows, kind of like the show Seinfeld.

I give Nourish & Strengthen 2 1/2 stars.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Lawmans Christmas by Linda Lael Miller


The sudden death of the town marshal leaves Blue River, Texas, without a lawman…and twenty-five-year-old Dara Rose Nolan without a husband. As winter approaches and her meager seamstress income dwindles, she has three options. Yet she won’t give up her two young daughters, refuses to join the fallen women of the Bitter Gulch Saloon and can’t fathom condemning herself to another loveless marriage. Unfortunately she must decide—soon—because there’s a new marshal in town, and she’s living under his roof.With the heart of a cowboy, Clay McKettrick plans to start a ranch and finally settle down. He isn’t interested in uprooting Dara Rose and her children, but he is interested in giving her protection, friendship—and passion. And when they say “I do” to a marriage of convenience, the temporary lawman’s Christmas wish is to make Dara Rose his permanent wife…

This book is exactly like every other Linda Lael Miller book. It's cute, it's fun, the characters are likeable, and the story is very predictable. =) That said, I really liked it. I would have liked it better if I had read it instead of listened to it (because I very muchly don't like the narrator that does all the Linda Lael Miller books) but I still enjoyed it.
This McKettrick book takes place in 1914 or 1915 with the grandson of Angus McKettrick (which is who the series starts with and every book refers back to him). Clay decides he needs to get away from the Triple M in Arizona and make his own way in life and find a girl who won't run away with one of his cousins. He agrees to be the town marshal in Blue River, Texas, and upon arrival meets the spunkiest little 6-year old girl he's ever met. Turns out, her dad was the marshal before, and she and her mom, Dara Rose, and sister are still living in the house that's promised to Clay as part of his contract from the town council. Clay immediately decided that Dara Rose is the woman for him, but she's going to need a little convincing.
This was a fun book. Mostly a clean read, although it seems like the epilogue might not be. I would recommend to anyone, and give it 4 stars. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin

Summary:  In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.

As I was wandering through the library, my lovely daughter handed me this book and said, "Here Mom, read this.  You might like it!"  I wasn't entirely sure I would, but I took the book know, just to be nice.  I got home and tried reading a couple other books that I got at the same time and just couldn't get into them.  So I started Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and fell in love with it!

Lots of times when I was reading, I remembered watching Sagwa with my oldest daughter years ago.  It was about a family of cats who lived in China and they lived in the Emperor's palace.  Ring any bells?  Anyway, a lot of the stories and even the names of things reminded me of Sagwa!

The story starts out with a little girl named Minli.  She lives in a poor family.  They work hard in the rice fields every day and have little to show for it.  Her father tries to make the best of it and tells Minli stories at night after their meager dinner.  Her mother is sad and discouraged at their circumstances, and Minli picks up on her discontent.  (It makes me wonder how many times my own children pick up on my feelings, even when I think I'm hiding them so well!  Better be more careful!) 

After hearing one of her father's stories, Minli decides she will try to find the Old Man of the Moon and see if he will change their fortune.  She meets lots of friends along the way, but the friends I loved the most were the stories scattered throughout the narrative.  Minli will hear about a story, and then the story is written into the book.  It's quite clever the way it was done.  I love old Chinese folktales!

I really, really liked this book.  I really, really didn't want to, but my daughter was right...I really did like it!  I'd give the book 5 stars.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood

Synopsis (from

In the right dose, everything is a poison. Even love . . .

Jessamine Luxton has lived all her sixteen years in an isolated cottage near Alnwick Castle, with little company apart from the plants in her garden. Her father, Thomas, a feared and respected apothecary, has taught her much about the incredible powers of plants: that even the most innocent-looking weed can cure -- or kill.

When Jessamine begins to fall in love with a mysterious boy who claims to communicate with plants, she is drawn into the dangerous world of the poison garden in a way she never could have imagined . . .

Jillian’s Review:

I loved most of this book. It was intriguing and captivating. The main character, Jessamine, was a light in her dark world and she was so kind. Unfortunately she was also naive and blind to the truth that could have saved her a lot of grief.

And then enters Weed, the poor boy. I loved him from the start. There was something so mysterious and tragic about him. His connection to plants was fascinating however his background wasn’t as well developed as I would have liked.

But when Jessamine gets sick near the end of the book, the story turns really weird and evil. She has psychedelic visions and conversations with poisonous plants. Weed has to fulfill certain tasks given to him by those poisonous plants which he has to complete in order to save Jessamine from her sickness. These tasks grow in their horror and Weed does something unforgivable, something that goes against anything that could make a true hero, at least in my eyes. It was so upsetting to see him fall.

This story had such potential but it all ended in disappointment. I don’t think I can bring myself to read the next book in this series.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Memory Quilt by T.D. Jakes

On the inside flap:
"A perfect Christmas for Lela Edwards this year would include the presence of her husband, her three daughters, and her favorite granddaughter, Darcie. They would each be happy, healthy, and properly married. But life doesn't always unfold in a perfect way, even for God-loving, churchgoing people like these. Lela's husband of fifty years, Walter, has recently passed, and the daughters now live in towns and states far from the Chicago neighborhood where they were raised.
Darcie is traveling to Missouri City, Texas, to be with her mother, not to Chicago to be with her grandmother, whom she expects to come done hard on her for deciding to divorce her husband and the father of her unborn child. Lela is upset and annoyed with Darcie and herself for breaking her own time-honored tradition of making a quilt to celebrate each family wedding. The quilt is still in separate pieces, and apparently so is the marriage of Doug and Darcie.
The Christmas season is about celebrating the birth and meaning of Christ; about the hope and inspiration that the story we revisit each year offers. So, as the days of the season progress, Lela participates in a Bible study group that focuses on the Virgin Mary. This is the cold season in Chicago and rough weather, literally and figuratively, is ahead for Lela, her family, neighbors, and fellow church members, but in the Scriptures are messages and guidance. If they heed the lessons of the Virgin Mary, they will learn from their mistakes and misjudgments of each other and find favor with God."

I was not excited when this title showed up as our next book group book. I didn't realize that a book with Bible study and quilting could be so appealing. I found myself wanting to be a better person, a better mom. Anytime a book can motivate me to be better then it is worthwhile!

There are twists and turns that show a glimpse of what life can be like for some.
""I called your cell a hundred time, : said Eileen, as soon as Lela picked up. Eileen lived in the house next door on the right with her eighty-two-year-old father, James. "Why didn't you pick up?"
Lela crunched down her irritation. "I don't like using it."
"Why have a cell phone if you don't use it?"
"I'm sure you called for a reason, Eileen."
..."Daddy thinks he heard someone trying to break into your garage while you were away."
Lela listened but though, his imagination, more than likely. Wasn't it only last month that he thought he heard someone breaking into her house and called the police? Turned out to be only the wind.
"When I passed your garage, your door was wide open," Eileen said."

Lela- the mother in this book- has quite different relationships with each daughter she has. So true to real life. It helped me focus on individual personalities and appreciating each child for what they brought to the table.

I give The Memory Quilt 3 1/2 stars.

Friday, November 18, 2011

7th Heaven by James Patterson

I've been on a James Patterson kick lately. Not sure why. I'm not sure I even really like his stuff. It's okay and it keeps me entertained, but not really my cup of tea. So why do I feel like I have to finish this series? Not sure, but I do, and I will, and it will keep me entertained for another couple of boring nights at work. "The Women's Murder Club" series is mostly about policewoman Lindsay Boxer and the homicide cases she's currently working on. Occassionally the point of view switches to one of the other 3 members in the "club" or to the killer, but mostly it's about Lindsay. I like Lindsay. She's a good character. She's a good cop with good instincts and doesn't mind breaking the rules every now and then. Here's the synopsis of "7th Heaven" taken from

A VERY PUBLIC DISAPPEARANCET The teenage son of California's ex-governor, Michael Campion has mysteriously vanished. Known as the "Boy with a Broken Heart" because of his incurable heart defect, Michael grew up under the eye of an adoring public. The pressure on Detective Lindsay Boxer to find Michael is overwhelming. When she finally does get a lead, it's devastating...
A DEADLY RASH OF ARSONS While working on the Campion case, Lindsay and her partner, Rich Conklin, also investigate terrifying fires that are destroying some of the most beautiful homes in San Francisco–and killing their owners in the flames. But when Lindsay invites her friends in the Women's Murder Club to help her uncover the arsonist, the blazes suddenly start to rage much too close to home.
A CHANCE AT 7TH HEAVEN Now as these two intense, demanding cases bring Lindsay and Rich closer together than ever, Lindsay will find herself on the brink of an emotional meltdown.

There were a few good twists and turns in this book that kept me guessing, although by the end, it wasn't too surprising. The characters are all well written and easy to like. I'm interested to see where the love interest for Lindsay goes in the next couple of books. There is a lot of swearing so if you don't like that, this is not the series for you, and there are some intimate scenes, however right now I can't recall how in depth they go, so if you also don't like that, don't read these. But if you like a good mystery and some fun detective work, you won't be disappointed in "The Womens Murder Club" series. Overall, I will give "7th Heaven" 4 stars.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Arthurian Omen...G.G. Vandagriff

Publisher's Note: Is the story of King Arthur history or myth? In this spellbinding novel, a Celtic scholar is murdered when she finds a clue to a priceless 13th century manuscript that will provide the true identity of King Arthur. The victim's sister takes up the quest to uncover the relic, but quickly realizes that someone close to her is the murderer. As pursuit of the manuscript winds through the ruined castles and monasteries of Wales, more than one reason emerges for keeping the manuscript and the legend buried in the past.

Mandi's Review: The story of King Arthur has always been one filled with mystery and intrigue. Purported as folklore by some and history by others, King Arthur has developed as a character of international interest and I have to admit, I fall in with the crowd. I love stories that evolve around the mystical King Arthur, so when asked to review The Arthurian Omen by G.G. Vandagriff, I happily jumped on board. The author weaves history, suspense, mystery and romance in a way that will leave readers turning the pages long into the night. Maren Southcott is a character who you can easily relate. She's vivacious, strong-willed, compassionate and makes mistakes like everyone else. Vandagriff does an excellent job capturing the essence and unique culture of the UK and her vivid descriptions will leave you yearning for a trip through Wales. I loved the images of the ancient ruins alongside green rolling hills and miniature streams. I thought the author did an excellent job keeping the suspense high until the very end. Throw in history, drug cartels, ancient manuscripts, and a kidnapping and I'm hooked. I give The Arthurian Omen 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime by Donald J. Sobol

I have always loved Encyclopedia Brown.  Ever since I was young, I've been fascinated by the short 5-page-long stories that tested my wit and powers of observation.  Back then I was always fascinated by the solution to the mystery...I rarely came up with it on my own.  (Even now as an adult I don't always get it!)

I read the latest Encyclopedia Brown book, Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime, this week and I loved it every bit as much as I did when I was nine years old!  I had no idea that Donald J. Sobol had written so many of the Encyclopedia Brown books...nearly thirty!  And they have never been out of print since they were first published in 1963.

I read the first mystery in the book with my nine year old daughter.  She loved trying to figure out who did it and laughed delightedly when she read the answer in the back of the book.  This book was a fun journey back to my childhood and I loved reading about Encyclopedia as much now as I did then!   4 stars!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Synopsis (from
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It's an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle's hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he's there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena's sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom--an impossible union it's up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar's grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can't imagine--tests of trust, strength, and true love.
Jillian’s Review:
I couldn’t put this one down. The main character, Jena, is strong and believable. Though the second to the oldest, Jena assumes responsibility over the household when her father leaves to regain his health in a warmer climate. She’s caught in her cousin, Cezar’s, trap of lies as he tries to usurp her authority and take over their property.
Cezar is a true bad guy who I disliked from the beginning and my animosity towards him grows with each encounter Jena has with him. His beguiling tongue almost makes me believe what he says about only wanting to protect his five cousins, almost. I found myself oddly looking forward to each encounter with him because I couldn’t wait for his time of reckoning.
I loved Jena’s connection to her special friend, frog Gogu. No one truly believes that she can hear his thoughts and that he understands her when she speaks to him, but I did. I had high hopes for Gogu and I was not disappointed.
Every detail in Marillier’s novel emanates magic, even outside of the enchanted Other Kingdom. I can’t wait to lose myself in the sequel to this novel, Cybele’s Secret.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Geek Girl by Cindy Bennett

From Goodreads:

"Think I can turn that boy bad?" 17-year-old Jen turns her life upside down when, out of boredom, she makes a bet that she can turn school geek Trevor into someone like her. Instead, the goth girl finds herself sucked into his world of sci-fi movies, charity work, and even-ugh!-bowling. To truly belong with him-and with her new foster family-she must first come to terms with her violent past.

From Misty:

Filled with intelligent humor, playful banter, and heart-breaking revelations, Geek Girl is a move-to-the-top-of-your-to-read-list read. 

Jen defines herself by and hides behind her prickly black and blood-red exterior--the heavy eye make-up, the tight clothes, the piercings, the attitude.  She bets her friends she can turn Trevor bad and make him like them, but she quickly finds herself changing instead.  Trevor's unconditional acceptance provides the safe environment she needs to face down her abusive past and learn to let people in again.

Bennett's writing style is witty and relatable.  She manages to write snarky teenager without being, well, snarky.  Jen and Trevor are delightful together, and the entire cast of characters is well developed in just a few masterful strokes.  Geek Girl delves into the themes of judging others, being distrustful of the differences that make us unique, and of looking past those differences and loving beyond them.

I highly recommend Geek Girl to anyone, particularly teens.  Now, I'm off to hunt down Bennett's other book (Heart On A Chain).  If you need me, I'll be in my reading chair.

You can read more about author, Cindy Bennet, at, or check out other blogs on her Blog Tour by clicking Here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Shifting by Bethany Wiggins

On the back cover:
"Where in the world did you come from? I thought. Shash turned and looked at me over his shoulder, tail wagging. Waiting for me to follow.
We ran through the town and back into the country. We wound our way through the bushes in a steady direction-home- when I smelled something that made me stop dead. Primitive instinct overtook all human control: Evil-RUN!
Up ahead Shash started barking- ferocious, murderous barking. And that is when I spotted the gleam of wet, mangy bodies through the narrow gaps in the trees.
Fear lent fresh speed to my legs. But whatever chased me was so unnatural, so malicious, it took sheer willpower not to lie on the ground, frozen with terror, and let it have me."

I knew I loved this book when for days after reading it I couldn't stop thinking about it. Maggie Mae is the main character whom I loved reading about. She is a down-to-earth girl that has been from foster home to foster home due to her family being killed. Her case worker has tried over and over to find her a home but when she starts getting picked up for indecent exposure he feels his hands are tied. He tried one more place. Somewhere in the country he feels trouble will be harder to find.

Maggie Mae still finds a way to not fit in, starting off by beating the whole track team her first day of school. Small town sports never like a new comer to be better than they are.
"Mist clung to my face, coating it with a sheen of moisture. My feet pumped, barely touching the ground, and within two seconds I had caught up to the track team. Then I passed them. All of them. I breezed by Coach-and the finish line- and kept following the curve of the track, my feet light as feather. A grin lit my face. Running, when bullies weren't after me, felt like flying. And I liked it.
As the first hurdle solidified out of the mist, I leaped and soared over it. The second hurdle was the same. I glided over, hardly impacting the ground when I landed, took a step, and leaped over the next. And the next, until I'd gone all the way around the track.
I couldn't stop grinning as I skidded to a stop a few yards from the Coach and the team.
"Show-off," someone murmured. "We're doing the fifty-yard dash, not hurdles." My smile faltered."

I breezed through and, even though I was dead tired, couldn't put it down till I was finished. No swearing, no sex. Full of romance and intrigue.

I give Shifting five stars. It is a book I would love to see as a series.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shades of Simon Gray

Written by: Joyce McDonald

Publisher's NoteSimon Gray is the ideal teenager — smart, reliable, hardworking, trustworthy. Or is he? After Simon crashes his car into The Liberty Tree, another portrait starts to emerge. Soon an investigation has begun into computer hacking at Simon’s high school, for it seems tests are being printed out before they are given. Could Simon be involved?

Simon, meanwhile, is in a coma — but is this another appearance that may be deceiving? For inside his own head, Simon can walk around and talk to some people. He even seems to be having a curious conversation with a man who was hung for murder 200 years ago, in the branches of the same tree Simon crashed into. What can a 200-year-old murder have to do with Simon’s accident? And how do we know who is really innocent and who is really guilty?

Mandi's Review:  Stories filled with mystery, intrigue and a bit of the paranormal are right up my alley. The story-line is suspenseful and the author does a wonderful job building a complex plot, but I felt the story moved too slow. The characters weren't flesh-out enough for my liking and I thought the conflict resolution should have wrapped up better. There were a lot of loose ends. However, the author is a wonderful writer. Her use of omniscient third person kept me turning the pages long into the night. I enjoy getting other character's perspectives. I think this book is great for advance middle-school or early high school readers and I would read more by this author in the future.  I give Shades of Simon Gray 3 out of 5 stars!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Funny Little Dog by Kyle Mewburn

It's not midnight yet.  Yay!  =]

This week (ok, this's been a loooong week!) I read an adorable book called Funny Little Dog by Kyle Mewburn.  It's part of the Pop Hooper's Perfect Pets series and it was a wonderfully fun, quick read.

From the back of the book:  Flyn's idea of a perfect pet is a fierce guard dog.  He would call the dog Chomper, and use him to scare off the bullies.  But all Pop Hopper has to offer is a silly, round lapdog called Pumpkin.  There's no way Pumpkin could protect there?

From Kyle Mewburn's website  When I was growing up, my favourite pet was a dragon. Nobody would annoy me if I had a dragon! It could toast my bread in the morning, and roast marshmallows, too. Unfortunately, I never got a dragon. But in my new series - Pop Hooper's Perfect Pets, kids always get their perfect pet ... in the end. I haven't written a story with a dragon yet, but so far there's a cat, a dog, a turtle and a pony. 

From Heather  I've gotta say this was a charming book!  Flyn is getting bullied by Toby Downer and his gang.  He wishes he had a big, mean dog named Chomper to scare the bullies away and make him feel brave.  As he is running away from Toby, he meets Pop Hooper, who guarantees a Perfect Pet.  He doesn't have a dog like Flyn imagines, but suggests Flyn take Pumpkin home for the night to see if he can be responsible and take care of a dog.

It's one adventure after another all night, each reinforcing that Flyn is brave enough on his own.  As he takes care of Pumpkin, he does things that are hard for him, but he is so focused on helping Pumpkin that he forgets that it's hard.

I love stories like this.  I can tell my kids over and over and over that they are good and brave and that they can do hard things.  But it's different when they read about other kids doing hard things and surviving.  It was a wonderful, easy read, a little younger than middle grade.  

Heath McKenzie's illustrations are absolutely adorable, and liberally scattered throughout the book.  I think I will try to find some of Kyle Mewburn's other books...this one was great!

I give it 4 1/2 stars.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Synopsis (from

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.
Most of the chosen do.

Jillian’s Review:

I’m so excited to review this novel because I LOVED it and I’m a picky reader so it’s difficult for me to really love a book. I loved everything about this book: the warm setting, the beautifully detailed descriptions, and the wonderfully realistic people. It was beautiful.

I LOVED that poor Elisa feels like a fat, dumpy, disappointment of a princess, not to mention a failure as the bearer of the Godstone. Elisa is amazingly strong but she doesn’t know it until she travels through a scorching desert and heads a band of war-ravaged people. She has so much growth in this story, more so than the average YA novel, but even from the beginning she’s lovable and endearing.

This was a rich story with just a hint of fantasy, which made the ending a bit over-the-top. That being said, it was still a phenomenal read. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Kissing Tree by Prudence Bice

From Goodreads:
After five long years, Georgiana McLaughlin returns to the only place she’s ever considered home—the same place she stole a kiss from Ridge Carson under the community “kissing tree.” But this time he’s a man, and reconciling their past is just the beginning. You’ll find yourself applauding each new chapter filled with fun, romance, and adventure in this captivating, heartfelt tale of love, friendship, and finding your way back.

From Misty:
Hinting suspiciously of Gilbert and Anne with an "e" and full of delightful colloquialisms, The Kissing Tree is a fun read with endearing characters that will make you smile.  Ridge and Georgie think they're all grown up now, but they both still act childish around each other--because they haven't yet learned to accept each other as adults.  As they reaquaint themselves with each other and come to terms with their lingering feelings, Ridge and Georgie also have to learn how to communicate now as adults, a process that plays out in a way that, well, just made me smile.

This is one of those books I think I would enjoy even more as an audiobook, partly because of its narrative style of storytelling, and partly because I love to hear the Irish brogue spoken much more than I like to read it.  But as could easily happen, the dialect doesn't get in the way of the fluid narration, and only enhances the setting and the difficulty of the choices Georgie has to make.

The Kissing Tree is both squeaky clean and well-developed, a sometimes difficult feat.  It is a character-driven but delightfully told story.  I recommend The Kissing Tree to anyone who enjoys a lighthearted and uplifting read. 

For more information about The Kissing Tree, Prudence Bice, or Cedar Fort Books, visit the links below.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

On the back cover:
"Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard- their secret hiding place- and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty years later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future."

First of all, I thought the story was well written, aside from the poor choice for language throughout. I have read much worse but still prefer to not have cussing in the books I read.

With that said; I love that Sarah's Key is written about a subject that most would like to bury under a rug. Either they lived through it and want to forget or they know nothing about it at all. We all need to be reminded of the past...good or bad.

Sarah's adventures are exciting and heartbreaking. Here is an excerpt to show what I think is exciting: "With Rachel, she had made up her mind. They were going to escape...The grass tickled her nose. It smelled delicious. She wanted to bury her face in it and breathe in the green, tangy scent. She saw that Rachel had already reached the gap and was gingerly pushing her head through it.
Suddenly the girl heard heavy thuds on the grass. Her heart stopped. She looked up to a huge shape looming over her. A policeman. He dragged her up by the frayed collar of her blouse, shook her. She felt herself go limp with terror."

Heartbreaking: "The policemen fell upon them like a swarm of large, dark birds. They dragged the women to one side of the camp, the children to the other. Even the tiniest children were separated from their mothers. The girl watched it all, as if she was in another world. She heard the screams, the yells, she saw the women hurling themselves to the ground, their hands pulling at their children's clothes, Their children's hair. She watched the policemen raise their truncheons and bludgeon the women's heads, their faces."

Every other chapter speaks of Sarah and Julia throughout the book. That makes it an easy read. Julia, to me, was not endearing. Not absolutely believable. I got to know tid bits of her life but didn't completely get to know her. Sarah, on the other hand, was both endearing and believable.

I teared up a couple of times but they didn't spill over until the very last page.

I give Sarah's key three stars.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Called Home by Gloria Schumann


Emma Benson's view of life was crafted as a child by the death of her brother, the abandonment by her father and later, the man she trusted she would marry. A teacher by training, she forgoes her chosen path to save the Wisconsin farm she calls home from financial ruin.
A tornado threatens damage, but David Schlosser—back in town after years in New York writing best-selling novels—could ruin her neatly tended life. He's looking for the charms of the small town he once rejected and finds more than he bargained for. He risks everything to get what he wants.
The storms of life throw Emma and David together and into the world of a criminal determined to ruin their plans by any means necessary. Robbery and near death connect Emma and David to their nemesis and during the throes of securing life and limb they make every effort to resist falling for one another.

*Some mild spoilers included! Don't read on if you want to read this book!*

I'm sorry, folks - I'm gonna hafta say it - I really did not enjoy this book. =( I had a hard time with the writing itself. There was about 1 sentence on every page that I had to go back and read again to catch the meaning of it. That doesn't mean that it wasn't written correctly or that it was bad, it just didn't click in my mind, and that made it very frustrating to get through the story. I felt like the whole book was very disjointed. For instance, after the threats start coming David decides he's going to move in with the Benson's to protect them. It's portrayed in the book that he just thinks of this as he's picking her up from work to drive her home, but once he's there he's magically got pajamas and a toothbrush. Not a big thing, but I kept trying to figure out where it all came from. Then with the land sale, I hated the whole deal. We know from the beginning that David is looking for land so he can move back to town. And after he finally finds the right piece of land and tells Emma it's the land she just barely put up for sale, I wanted to scream "what land?" Emma never decides in the book to sell land and I felt like I missed half the story. And the same thing happens over and over where it just feels like we only get half the story, and it left me very frustrated.

I felt there was little character development. By the time I was in to the book 200 pages, I still had no idea who Emma was or why she was really back in town, or how old she even is. All I know is she speaks using big words (that sound totally fake - not that they aren't the right words, just not ones people use in every day conversation) and she's living at home with her mom. David was developed a little bit better and I got to "know" him a little better, but not much. Overall, I would have liked to have seen a lot more detail about some of the little things (like packing a bag to live with someone or a description of the spot on the river she wants to take him to) and not so much of the "I don't want to like you and I can't trust you so I'm going to deny all feelings I have for you until out of the blue I feel like flirting because I just can't deny that I have feelings for you" stuff, which happens on just about every page. It got very tedious. Very.

I am going to be kind and give this a 2 star rating. The mystery was at least good. Not very well written at times, and the climax was totally rushed, but the mystery was good. That's what gives it 2 stars. But if I rated it on the story overall, it would only get 1. I did read some reviews on and there were some favorable ones. A lot of people liked this book, and you may, too. I just am very definitely not one of them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011 told by Robert Specht

Publisher's NoteThe author tells the story as told to him of Anne Hobbs, a woman who went to Alaska in the 1920's to teach, but who had trouble due to her kindness to the Indians there. Alaska was as remote as the moon, as roistering and lawless as the Gold Rush. And a pretty young schoolteacher from Colorado like Anne Hobbs was even rarer than nuggets.

Mandi's Review: I'm veering a bit off course today, but one of my favorite things to do when the weather turns chilly and snow touches the ground is curl up with a  cup of hot cocoa and read about the bitter cold of the Alaskan Wilderness. I love feeling immersed in the fierce, snowy outdoors while still warm and snuggly in my own comfy chair. Tisha, the true story of nineteen-year-old Anne Hobbs, is a tale that will  warm your heart long after you've turned the last page. In 1927, not many women had the courage to brave the Alaskan Wilderness as a teacher in a tiny gold-mining community. But when Anne ventures to Chicken, a town set deep in the heart of the North, her world is forever changed. Not only must she battle the cruel elements, but she must also face down a community that strongly disproves of her kind actions and feelings toward the local Indians. This is a story filled with thrilling action, and you will rejoice and mourn with Anne as she faces the struggles and joy that fills her new life. This is a true story of love and adventure and I strongly give this book 5 stars! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman

It's still Wednesday, right?  :)  For a few more minutes!

Ah, this week I read The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable by Dan Gutman.  I love Dan Gutman's books as a rule.  My Weird School books make me laugh out loud.  (I love AJ!)  They are kind of like the Junie B. Jones books, only better and not so whiney!  My girls, even now, will call people "Neil, the nude kid" when there is a new kid in their class.  Hysterical!

So I had really high hopes when I saw the Genius Files.  He didn't disappoint!

From www.dangutman.comCoke and Pepsi McDonald are a perfectly ordinary twin brother and sister on a cross-country RV trip with their parents. Except for one thing--they are also being chased by a bunch of psychos who are trying to kill them as they stop along the way at The National Yo Yo Museum, The Spam Museum, and various other offbeat tourist attractions. Who is trying to kill the McDonald twins, and why? You'll have to read The Genius Files to find out. This will be way more exciting than any summer vacation you've ever taken.

From Heather:  This book was great!  Really, who names their kids Coke and Pepsi?  Really?  But it worked for them (although I kind of had a hard time remembering if the boy or the girl was Coke or Pepsi?  Or Pep for short)  Dan Gutman uses the same kind of sarcastic humor that he does in his My Weird School books, which makes this a fun read (and if you haven't read those, they are fantastic!  Especially if you have a second or third grade boy that hates to read!).  But The Genius Files is geared more towards older children.  (My first grader loves My Weird School, but I don't think she would appreciate this one as much!)

Coke and Pepsi have some really odd parents (my biggest gripe with juvenile literature, now that I'M the parent!)  The neatest thing about this book was that you can follow their cross-country journey online.  Each time they stop in a town, you can put the town name in Google Maps and it will show you where they are on their journey.  And they focus on out-of-the-way tourist attractions that you have never EVER heard of.  (Except I HAD heard of the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota...only because I can't read that phrase without singing the song!)  

As an adult, I wish things had been fleshed out a little bit more.  The story seemed rushed and didn't flow as well as I would have liked.  As a kid I would have loved it!  Especially the part where Coke uses the RV potty tank as a weapon.  Who doesn't like good potty humor, no?  The end of the book leaves open the possibility of another book (they were headed to the East Coast, and they aren't there yet!)  So it will be fun to see what happens next! 

Overall, I'd give it three and a half stars.  It was funny and a good read, but I would have liked it a little less choppy.  The tourist destination information was awesome though!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Perception (The Tigers' Eye Trilogy, Book 1) By Heather Cashman

Synopsis (from jacket flap description):

Your perception will sharpen once you see through a tiger’s eyes.

More than five hundred years after the apocalypse, the survivors of off-grid genetic experimentation have refined their mixed DNA to the point that humans and their animal counterparts share physical and mental links. Varying species have divided into districts, living in a tenuous peace under the President of Calem.

Ardana and her tiger ingenium Rijan leave their life of exile and abuse in the Outskirts, setting out with their twin brothers to redeem themselves and become citizens of the Center. But shedding their past isn’t as easy as they had hoped. When the system that shunned them becomes embroiled in political conflict and treachery, their unique abilities and experiences from the Outskirts make them invaluable to every faction. The runaways become pawns to friends as well as enemies, and with every step it becomes more difficult to tell which is which.

Jillian’s Review:

The plot of this novel was intriguing. I was almost intently caught up with what was happening and the characters were extremely realistic. I didn’t like that Ana seemed to be the weak link but was glad she was able to grow and develop throughout the novel.

The strange, long names of everyone were confusing and difficult to keep track of. I even found myself forgetting who was the tiger and who was the Ana’s twin brother. And it didn’t help that Ana called people in her mind by made-up names; it only made it that much harder to remember what their real names were.

Cashman's writing style is very descriptive and I could easily see what she was describing, yet the majority of her similes were long and unnecessary. Such as: The false bottom was like the lid of a coffin that concealed the life that had died with my father, and If it was closed, it was a wall so thick that my thoughts felt like thousands of tiny balls that bounced off the inside of my skull with no hope of release. The flow of the writing would have been much smoother had these been shortened or eliminated all together. That being said, I could clearly see what Ana looked like, including her cool vine “tattoos”. I could see and love Kliax’ awesome eyes and fun Robert Pattinson-like hair.

There was a wonderful amount of (clean) romance that kept me turning the page and I really liked Kliax. And I loved that Ana had to overcome her abusive past to be able to love Kliax, though I would have liked to know more of how Ana felt when they finally kissed and she actually enjoyed it.

The relationship between Ana, her twin brother and their ingenium tigers was wonderful. I loved that they could read each others' thoughts and feeling because of their relationship to their mother’s ingenium. The very idea of people having a connection that close with an animal or plant was intriguing and very well displayed, though I would have been lost from the beginning had I not read the synopsis of the novel before hand.

The last part of the novel included a whole bunch of twists and turns as the hidden agendas of some of the characters were revealed, but it was done in such a confusing way that I was lost half the time. And the Campaign felt like a copy of scenes from The Hunger Games, which felt out of place from the rest of the story. It would have been much better had this part had not been as detailed.

I’m not a fan of novels concluding with obvious “to be continued” endings but I’m willing to read the next in the Tiger’s Eye series as long as those similes are dealt with and the steady stream of romance continues. ;)