Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Breezy Weight Loss Boss Offers Realistic Advice From Someone Who's Been There

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With the dawning of each new year, I always make the same resolution:  lose weight.  A frustrating week or so later and I'm scribbling a new goal:  forget dieting and embrace my chubbiness 'cause it's obviously not going anywhere anytime soon!  It's only when I've taken a middle ground approach that I've actually had success working off some of my unwanted pounds.  Willpower and self-motivation not being particular strengths of mine, I've turned to Weight Watchers for help more than once.  It works.  As long as I stick with the program.  Which sounds so easy ...

It was actually at a Weight Watchers meeting that I heard about Weight Loss Boss by David Kirchhoff.  Published in 2013, the book chronicles the (former) Weight Watchers CEO's 9-year journey to his goal weight.  Using the tools taught to all WW members, Kirchoff lost—and kept off—40 pounds.  Although he resigned as CEO in 2013, he continues to use what he learned to keep his weight in check.

As Kirchhoff tells his story, he spills his big secret to success:  do not rely on willpower and determination alone.  He emphasizes the importance of sticking to healthy routines.  By consistently exercising, eating the right foods, and avoiding the wrong ones, we can achieve "medically meaningful" (11) weight loss.  As Kirchhoff describes his daily doings, it's easy to see that he practices what he preaches.

You won't find any revolutionary, miracle advice in Weight Loss Boss, but what you will get is realistic, no-nonsense tips from someone who's been there.  Kirchhoff is funny, compassionate and, above all, authentic.  If you want a quick, inspiring read that will jumpstart your desire to work on your own weight loss goals, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and very vague references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Despite More Generic Vibe, Contaminated 2 Still a Compelling, Can't-Put-It-Down Survival Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Mercy Mode, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from Contaminated.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.) 

It's been several years since the tainted diet drink, ThinPro, started turning normal people into zombie-like freaks.  The Contaminated ("Connies") are less feared now, but still viewed by most with cautious suspicion.  Even when the affected are wearing the shock collars that are supposed to keep them from turning violent.  To contain further outbreaks, the regions of the U.S. hit hardest by the epidemic have been identified as "black zones."  Under strict military rule, healthy citizens fight for basic needs—food, shelter, medicine—while soldiers patrol constantly looking for any sign of Connie trouble.

Ever since Velvet Ellis removed the collar from her mother's neck, she's doubted any official information about Connies.  After all, the older woman didn't die like the government said she would—in fact, she got better.  At least for a little while.  Now, 17-year-old Velvet's even more worried.  Her makeshift family—she, her younger sister, their mother, and Dillon, her on-paper-only husband—are barely surviving as it is.  With her mom ailing and Velvet feeling some effects that can only be related to her own ingestion of ThinPro, she's got plenty to fret about.  Especially when the government institutes mandatory testing for the disease.  Determined to keep her family together at all costs, Velvet must do whatever it takes to survive.

I loved Contaminated, the first book in Em Garner's dystopian "zombie" series because it brought something new to the genre.  It felt fresh and original.  Mercy Mode, the second installment, feels less so.  Still, despite a more generic vibe, the novel features a tense, taut plot line; strong, sympathetic characters; and a powerful, compelling central conflict.  Anyone can relate to Velvet's desperate plight to save the people who mean the most to her.  Because achieving her goal takes the unselfish sacrifice of her own wants, she's a noble heroine—it's impossible not to root for her success.  Like its predecessor, Mercy Mode is a fast-paced, can't-put-it-down read that will stay with you long after you finish it.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Contaminated A Uniquely Compassionate "Zombie" Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"They're not zombies, they're just people" (32).

When ThinPro hit the market, people went crazy for it.  So crazy that the demand for the diet drink outweighed the company's ability to produce a safe, quality product.  The result?  Questionable ingredients.  Which led to not just a public outcry, not just an FDA crackdown, not just an embarrassing public scandal, but the unthinkable:  zombies.  Maybe not the shambling, bloodthirsty nightmares slobbering their way across movie screens, but something like them.  Ordinary citizens turned violent.  Dangerous.  Became something not quite human.  

Two years after the epidemic was unleashed, the Contaminated (known as "Connies") aren't being hunted down, they're being rounded up and rehabilitated.  With shock collars keeping them controlled, the Connies can be safely reintroduced to their homes and communities.  Theoretically.  If, that is, anyone actually wants to claim their Contaminated relatives. 

Ever since her parents were taken in the first wave of Connie round-ups, Velvet Ellis has been searching for them.  When she finally finds her mother imprisoned in a kennel, the 17-year-old vows to bring her home.  She doesn't care what complications might arise, she just wants her mother back.  Even if the woman is about as interactive as a goldfish.  

Velvet's weary enough from two years of trying to keep herself and her little sister alive, but having a Connie around makes everything more complicated.  With fear of Connies still rampant, Velvet gets little support from anyone.  Still, she'll do anything to protect her mother.  Especially when the military comes sniffing around.  How far will she be forced to go in order to keep her mom safe?  Velvet has risked everything to prove that Connies aren't monsters—does she believe it enough to remove the shock collar from around her mother's neck?  Is she willing to risk all their lives by trusting a Connie?  

I've read a lot of zombie novels, enough to know just how different Contaminated by Em Garner is from its shelf-mates.  First off, it's sympathetic toward the afflicted.  Compassionate, even.  That's rare in a genre that generally glorifies violent, bloody zombie hunts.  Second, it's not really about the zombies/Connies.  At its heart, Contaminated is a gritty survival story about one girl's desperate plight to keep her family together.  That passionate struggle is what kept me reading, kept me cheering for Velvet's success, kept me thinking about the novel long after I'd finished it.  With a tense, taut plotline, sympathetic characters and a unique premise, Contaminated brings something new to the zombie genre.  It's a compelling, can't-look-away read that will appeal to anyone who digs a good survival story, zombie lover or not.  

(Readalikes:  its sequel, Mercy Mode by Em Garner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Doll Bones: A Little Bit Creepy, A Lot Unique and Heartwarming

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Zach, Poppy and Alice are long-time friends who've been playing one continuous game of make believe almost since they met.  Using action figures and dolls, they've created an elaborate world full of pirates, mermaids, warriors and non-stop adventure.  Ruling it all is the Great Queen, represented by a creepy bone-china doll Poppy's mom keeps in a locked cabinet.  

The game has always been great fun for the trio of friends, even if it is kind of a baby thing to do.  Now that he's 12, Zach's embarrassed by his enthusiasm for the game.  He knows he should give it up, but it still makes him angry when his dad throws out all his action figures.  Confused and hurt by Zach's sudden refusal to play the game, the girls fear this may be the end of the threesome's close friendship.  

Then Poppy announces that she's been having dreams about the ghost of the girl whose crushed bones were used to make the Queen.  She says the spirit can't rest until the china doll is laid to rest in her empty grave.  Caught up in the game once more, the threesome heads out for one last adventure together.  But, as one thing after another goes wrong, the kids begin to question the real purpose behind Poppy's insistence on finishing the quest—are her dreams even real?  Or is this a last-ditch effort to get her friends to play the game?  Is Poppy even the one in control?  Or is it her mom's freaky doll who's really running the show?

It's difficult to categorize Doll Bones, Holly Black's Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel.  To say that it's unique hardly seems sufficient.  It's much more than that.  Considering its author, I figured the book would be scary.  And it is.  A little.  But while Doll Bones has elements of both a horror novel and an adventure tale, it's more of a coming-of-age story than anything else.  The former will be what keeps readers intrigued by the tale, but it's the latter that will make it meaningful.  Anyone who's ever tottered on the edge of childhood and felt a little bit frightened by what comes next can relate to this odd, but ultimately touching story.  

(Readalikes:  I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scary images/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Second Helping of Gallagher Girls Charm? Yes, Please!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, it may inadvertently give away plot surprises from I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

With the less-than-desirable results of her last mission fresh on her mind, all Cammie "The Chameleon" Morgan wants is a drama-free sophomore year at her elite boarding school.  Apparently, that's a little too much to ask for when you're a 15-year-old super spy (in training).  From the minute Cammie overhears chatter about a mysterious mission called Blackthorne, she's intrigued.  When she learns that it involves a group of teenage male spies-to-be moving onto the campus of the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, she's flummoxed.  She can take down a target using a shoelace and a ping pong ball without breaking a sweat, but dealing with boys—on a daily basis—is another matter entirely.  

With the highly-skilled Blackthorne boys on their turf, the Gallagher girls have to step up their game.  Which isn't easy with cute guys watching their every move.  Determined to ignore the unwanted attention of the aggravating (and totally hot) Zach Goode, Cammie vows to use every tool in her (not inconsiderable) arsenal to beat the boys at their own game.  But with confounding security breaches threatening the top-secret status of her beloved Gallagher Academy, Cammie realizes that working with the boys may be the only way to save her school.  Can she trust Zach and his comrades?  Or will the girls have to go it alone?

If you're looking for a fun, fluffy series to take your mind off life's stresses, you can't go wrong with Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls books.  They're cute, clever and just all-around entertaining.  Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy is no exception.  Sure, the ending's predictable but, really, who cares?  The novel remains an easy, exciting read that will keep you reading, laughing and cheering for the always irresistible Gallagher girls.


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence and lots of references to bras/cleavage

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Giver Companion Novel As Powerful, Thought-Provoking As Its Predecessor

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With the club foot she's had since birth, Kira should have been kicked out of her community long ago.  If it hadn't been for the protection of her mother—a skilled weaver, highly valued in the village—she would have been sent to the Field of Leaving, where the dead and useless are buried.  When her mother dies, Kira fears the worst.  To her great shock, not only is she spared death, but she's given a home inside the luxurious Council Edifice.  Because of her magical talent with a needle, Kira's been given a special job.  An important job.  One that she must perform to perfection, no matter how much it drains her.  

At first, Kira's honored by the appointment.  But, the more time she spends in the Edifice and the better she gets to know the other "gifted" people in residence there, the more uneasy she becomes.   With the Council controlling these unique talents for their own purposes, Kira and her comrades are little more than slaves trapped in gilded cages.  This fate is better than death, surely, but what will become of them when they've outlived their usefulness?  As Kira tries to make sense of her new place in her old world, she makes many incredible discoveries—revelations that will, ultimately, make her question where she really belongs.

Considering The Giver's ambiguous ending, it's natural to assume that Gathering Blue continues Jonas' story.  Not so.  Although it's set in the same general world Lois Lowry introduces in The Giver, Gathering Blue is a completely different story with a whole new set of characters (although the people from both books do intersect in Messenger and Son).  It is similar to its predecessor, however, in tone, theme, and the deceptively simple nature of its presentation.  The novel's bleak landscape provides the perfect background for a tale that's both imaginative and colorful.  Harsh but hopeful, Gathering Blue is a must-read for anyone who loved The Giver.   

(Readalikes:  The Giver; Messenger; and Son; by Lois Lowry)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Gathering Blue from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Historical Nothing Special (And I Want Special, Dang It!) [With a Giveaway]

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Julia Barrett's been in love with handsome, wealthy Adam Wolcott since the two were kids.  Once they marry, she'll be living her dream come true.  Even though he's been absent from Niagara, New York, with nary a word to his fiancé, Julia's ready to trust him with the rest of her life.  The time away has changed Adam—everyone can see that, even if he refuses to talk about it—but Julia trusts him implicitly.  Doesn't she?

While Adam keeps his secrets, Julia's got a few of her own.  One is her conversion to Mormonism.  Her family intends to stay for Julia's wedding, then head West.  She wouldn't mind going with them.  The other is the 7-year-old girl who's hiding in Julia's house.  As the sole witness to the murders of her parents and brother, Penny is wanted by the notorious Murphy Gang.  Long-time conductors for the Underground Railroad, the Barretts are used to hiding fugitive slaves, but this situation is especially precarious.

Julia longs to share these complications with the man she loves, so why is she hesitating?  Is it because she fears he might be caught up with the Murphy Gang?  Or does it have something to do with the sudden appearance of Tom Harrison, a charismatic Mormon magician?  With Adam pressuring her to marry him, Julia must decide where her loyalties lie.  Can she follow her heart, even if it's leading her away from everything she's always wanted?

Despite its exotic setting, there's not a lot about Betrayed, a new historical novel by Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen, that's truly original.  With cookie cutter characters, humdrum dialogue, and a plot that winds here and there without really coming together, it gets tedious.  I did appreciate the setting—which came alive for me more than anything else in the book—as well as the clean, uplifting (but not preachy) nature of the story.  Still, I didn't love it.  Betrayed isn't a horrible book, not at all, it's just kind of ... average.  Nothing special.  And, doggone it, I wanted special!  Ah, well.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing's coming to mind.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Betrayed from the generous folks at Covenant in exchange for my participation in the book's blog tour.  Thank you! 

For more opinions about Betrayed, please visit these other fine blogs:

 If you'd like a chance to win your own copy of the book, enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Is Found, What Is Lost: Good Bones, Clumsy Construction

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When her husband dies after a battle with cancer, 62-year-old Fredrika "Freddie" Chase isn't sure where to turn for solace.  Her mother, a fanatic whose devotion to God has always eclipsed her attention to her daughters, has put Freddie off religion, probably for good.  She's already feeling at odds with the world when her combative daughter—an exotic dancer in Vegas—decides to move back home.  With Beth and her 5-year-old son in residence, Freddie's house feels less empty, but more fraught with tension.  Especially when men start showing up to see Beth.

While trying to mend her broken relationship with Beth, Freddie examines the tumultuous one she had with her own mother.  Exploring the life of her maternal grandmother lends some understanding.  Also more questions.  

When a crisis brings Freddie to her sister's door, it's a chance for the two of them to make peace with their shared past.  As they try to wrestle some sense out of the actions of the women in their maternal line, they seek answers that will help them all move on.  Finally.

The plot of What Is Found, What Is Lost, a debut novel by Anne Leigh Parrish, is impossible to describe.  Why?  Because it really doesn't have one.  Told in the voices of four generations of women, the story's a family saga.  However, it's more like back story than actual story.  While the characters were both empathetic and interesting, I found the lot of them sad and depressing.  Without a central plotline to tie all of their stories together, the novel just felt clumsy.  It has good bones, that's for sure, but the execution left a lot to be desired.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Nothing really comes to mind.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder invectives), sexual content, and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of What Is Found, What Is Lost from the generous folks at BookSparks PR.  Thank you!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Novella Collection a Quick, Swoony Read (With a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, it's the perfect time for a little romance.  Fictional ones are particularly nice since they always end with a swoony HEA (Happily Ever After).  This is especially true in Love Unexpected: A Storybook Romance.  The new collection includes three sigh-worthy novellas by favorite LDS authors Melanie Jacobson, Jennifer K. Clark and Julie Daines.

Since I'm a big Jacobson fan, it's no surprise that her contribution, Storybook Romance, was my favorite of the three.  The story stars Ellie Hanover, a 20-something New York City book editor who loves championing quality novels.  Her old boss trusted her instincts; with his passing, the publishing house where she works is being run by a shrewd woman whom Ellie has never liked.  Apparently, the feeling is mutual.  When Ellie plucks a promising novel out of the slush pile, she hopes she can convince her boss to take on the project.  Especially since the more Ellie chats online with its author, the harder she's falling for him.

The second novella, He Loves Me Not by Jennifer K. Clark, revolves around Kenedee Roberts, a young woman who manages the office of a river rafting company in Utah.  She's in love with her handsome boss who, despite having a girlfriend, leaves fresh flowers on Kenedee's desk every morning.  As soon as the timing is right, she knows he'll make his move.  Can she stand to wait around for him?  Or will Kenedee have to take matters into her own hands?  

Fools of Us All by Julie Daines rounds out the collection.  It features Jane Ricks, a 26-year-old who's always lived in the shadow of her dynamic twin sister.  While Jennica is off trying to become a star, Jane's home taking care of their mother, who's been physically and mentally disabled since the car accident that killed the girls' abusive father.  When Mason McIntyre, the guy Jane has pined for since high school, asks her out, she can't say no.  Even though Mason thinks she's Jennica.  Will the case of mistaken identity end in disaster or a destiny more delightful than Jane ever could have imagined?

While the first and last stories appealed to me more than the middle one (which just seemed silly and far-fetched), all of them are light, clean, and romantic.  Predictable, of course, but fun, too.  At 162 pages, the whole book can be enjoyed in an hour or so.  If you're in the mood for a quick, heart-happy read, look no further.  


Grade: 


(for the whole collection)

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for nothing offensive -- the stories are just geared toward adult readers (although they're perfectly appropriate for teens)



To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Love Unexpected: A Storybook Romance from Covenant in exchange for taking part in the book's blog tour.  Follow along on the tour here:


You can also enter to win a copy of the book as well as a $25 Amazon gift card:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten 2014 I-Really-Really-Meant-To Books


My hands-down favorite thing about a new reading year is how hopeful I always feel at the beginning of it.  I psych myself up to *finally* reach that goal of reading 200 books.  My body hums with excitement as I add titles to my list of books I'm definitely going to get to before December 31st.  Then comes December and all I can do is laugh at how little the reality of what I accomplished during the year matches the fantasy of what I thought I could get done!  Ah, well.  It just means I still have lots of great books to look forward to in the next year.

This week's question for Top Ten Tuesday (which is hosted by the lovelies over at The Broke and the Bookish) asks which 2014 releases we really, really, really meant to get to and didn't.  I could list hundreds, but here are the first ten that came to mind:


1.  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart—This twisty mystery got all kinds of great buzz last year.  I'm definitely planning to read it soon!


2.  Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge—Rave reviews have put this Beauty and the Beast retelling high on my priority list for 2015.  I'm going to read it as part of the Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge.


3.  Panic by Lauren Oliver—This novel, about teens playing a high-stakes Fear Factor type of game, looks intriguing.


4.  Landline by Rainbow Rowell—I enjoyed both Fangirl and Attachments, so I'm very interested in Rowell's newest.


5.  After the End by Amy Plum—I'm not sure exactly what this one is—Post-apocalyptic?  Psychological thriller?  Action/adventure?—but it looks good.


6.  Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White—I've enjoyed the books I've read by Kiersten White.  As this one also promises to be a big contender for the 2014 LDS literary awards (Whitney Awards; AML Awards), I'm going to be reading it soon.


7.  Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis—Another fairy tale retelling that I'm planning to read for the Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge.


8.  Landry Park by Bethany Hagen—I bought a copy of this post-apocalyptic caste system romance thriller/romance (thromance?) as soon as it came out and, yeah, there it sits on my bookshelf just waiting to be noticed ...


9.  Compulsion by Martina Boone—I adore books set in mysterious Southern plantation homes, so this one looks like something I'd enjoy.


10.  Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer—This teenage con artist mystery/thriller just looks fun.

Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  And what great 2014 releases are you planning to get to in 2015?

*All book images from Barnes & Noble

Monday, January 12, 2015

Chilling Needful Things Is King at His Twisted, Depraved Best

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

There was a time—not so many moons ago—when reading in public was the fastest way to get your teenage self labeled a nerd.  And, unlike today, nerdy definitely did not equal cool.  Nobody bragged about being a nerd, nobody tried to be a nerd, nobody wanted to be a nerd.  Including me.  Thus, even though I was as voracious a reader in high school as I am now, I never committed the unpardonable sin of reading a book where I might be seen by one of my peers.  Unless, of course, it was authored by Stephen King.  He was cool.  Reading his horror-filled stories was cool.  Therefore, back in the day, I read a lot of King.  These days, I have trouble stomaching his particular brand of storytelling, although I admit I still find his books compelling.  Still, I can only digest him at the rate of one book every few years.  

At Halloween-time (I did mention that I'm a *little* behind on reviews, right?), I got a hankering for some old-school King.  So, I picked up Needful Things, a story that had stuck in my head more from watching the 1993 film version than from reading the book.  The premise of the novel is brilliant in its eerie simplicity:  A mysterious new shop opens in small-town Maine.  Its inventory—incredibly enough—includes the very trinkets most desired by the good folk of Castle Rock.  Normally, such treasures would not be attainable on the townspeople's modest salaries, but Leland Gaunt, the shop's inscrutable owner, is always willing to negotiate.  All he requires of eager shoppers is a small, "harmless" trick played on a neighbor.  It's nothing serious, Mr. Gaunt assures them, just good, clean fun.  A trifle, a bargain, a small price to pay to possess your heart's desire.  

Of course, as the townspeople soon discover, Mr. Gaunt's prices might be irresistible, but they're never small.  He takes your charity, your dignity, your sanity—and then, he takes your soul ...

As chilling and depraved as Stephen King's novels always are, they're also undeniably engrossing.  The horror master creates full, rounded characters, then shoves them into tense, high-risk situations that beg the question, "What's going to happen?"  Good luck bailing before you find out!  Needful Things, one of King's best in my opinion, is no exception.  Although the story starts quietly, things get awfully intense awfully quick.  I cared about the cast, so I stuck around to see what happened to them.  Even though I wanted to stop reading at certain points, I never did.  I couldn't.  Such is the seductive charm of Mr. King and his warped (but very imaginative) mind!  Needful Things showcases his talent for characterization, plot intensity, and revealing evil in all its various forms.  If you're a King fan, you don't want to miss this one.  

(Readalikes:  King's other Castle Rock stories [The Dead Zone; Cujo; The Dark Half; etc.] have related characters and a similar writing style, though different subject matter)

Grade:


If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I bought Needful Things with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Newbery Medal Winner Full of History and Heart

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tree-Ear, an orphan living in 12th Century Korea, has one desire:  to create beautiful celadon pottery like the skilled artisans for which his village is known.  He has little opportunity to do so, however, since his time is occupied by eking out a meager living for himself and his guardian.  Crippled and elderly, Crane-man has always insisted they do so honestly, without stealing or begging.  Tree-Ear may be poor, but he's a good boy who's enjoyed a relatively happy life.  Even if his greatest desire has remained unfulfilled.

While spying on a local potter in the hopes of learning some of his secrets, Tree-Ear accidentally breaks some of the man's wares.  Tree-Ear promises to work off the debt and more, if the artist will only take him on as an apprentice.  Overjoyed by the prospect of finally learning to create beautiful pottery, Tree-Ear does not realize what he has gotten himself into.  The cranky potter will not make the apprenticeship easy, especially when he receives a royal commission that will, ultimately, require every ounce of skill and courage young Tree-Ear possesses. 

Filled with history and heart, A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park tells a unique, inspiring story about one boy's quest to live his dream.  Winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal, this quiet tale is a testament to the power of hard work, determination, and bravely soldiering on against insurmountable odds.  Even though it's not my absolute favorite Newbery winner, A Single Shard is absolutely worth the read.  It's a simple, but affecting story that teaches some great lessons.  

If you're interested in seeing real Korean potters at work, check out this video that I discovered via Linda Sue Park's website.  It's pretty amazing!



(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Forget Stepping Through a Wardrobe, How About Stepping Into A Famous Painting?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

People have been fascinated by the work of Fausto Corvo, a 16th Century painter, for hundreds of years.  Sunni Forrest is just one of his legions of fans.  She admires the artist so much that she's chosen him to be the focus of her school art project.  It just figures that Blaise Doran, her way-too-good-looking American classmate, chose Corvo as well.  His project will, no doubt, outshine hers by a mile.

While Sunni and Blaise are at Blackhope Tower comparing notes on one of Corvo's most famous paintings, The Mariner's Return to Arcadia, 1582, the strangest thing happens—Sunni's annoying stepbrother disappears.  Not that that's something to complain about.  It's just the manner in which it took place.  Sunni can't quite believe it, but she's pretty sure Dean vanished into the painting.  Impossible.  The weirdest thing is, Sunni can see him on the ancient canvas.  Determined to find out what in the world is happening, Sunni and Blaise walk the same mysterious labyrinth that Dean did.  To their astonishment, they find themselves in the same predicament as the younger boy.  

As the kids move through the painting, discovering layers upon layers of worlds, they meet intriguing people, dazzling creatures, and dangers beyond their worst imaginings.  Getting sucked into the Blackhope enigma may mean leaving their own world behind.  Forever. 

In her debut novel, The Blackhope Enigma, Teresa Flavin introduces an intriguing premise that opens up all kinds of fascinating possibilities.  It's an exciting story full of adventure, mystery, and suspense.  Although Sunni and Blaise are teens, the book has more of a middle grade feel to it.  As in many MGs, the main characters don't develop much throughout the story.  Overall, though, The Blackhope Enigma is a fun, fast-paced read that should appeal to anyone who digs a fantastical adventure/mystery tale.    

(Readalikes:  Sequels The Crimson Shard and The Shadow Lantern by Teresa Flavin)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for intense situations/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Blackhope Enigma from the generous folks at Candlewick Press.  Thank you!
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