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My Progress:

11 / 30 books. 37% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (3)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (1)
- Indiana
- Iowa
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- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
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- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (2)
- North Carolina (4)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (3)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.* (1)

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (8)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (2)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

My Progress:

23 / 51 states. 45% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

16 / 50 books. 32% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

43 / 50 books. 86% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 52 books. 73% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

25 / 40 books. 63% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 25 books. 36% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

6 / 26.2 miles (second lap). 23% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

23 / 100 books. 23% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

58 / 104 books. 56% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

61 / 165 books. 37% done!
Sunday, January 31, 2016

Poignant, Heartbreaking Inside Out and Back Again Based on Author's Unique Immigrant Experience

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Kim Há loves Saigon, where she's lived for all of her ten years.  She adores the bustling marketplace, all of the city's familiar sights and tantalizing scents.  Most of all, she loves her mama and her papaya tree.  But as the violence of war tears Saigon apart, it becomes necessary for the family to flee.  As Kim sails across the sea, bounces from refugee camp to refugee camp, finally landing in a strange land called Alabama, she experiences every emotion—anxiety, fear, wonder, and excitement.

Life in America is vastly different from Kim's experience in Vietnam.  There, she felt smart.  Here, people think she's dumb just because she can't speak English.  There, she had lots of family nearby.  Here, she's lonely.  There, she ate familiar food, chatted in her native tongue, understood her world.  Here, everything is different, everything is new.  Does she have any hope of fitting in?  Will America—a place so foreign—ever feel like home?

Based on the author's own experience as a child, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai offers a uniquely authentic perspective on immigration.  Written in verse, it's a spare narrative, but one that's nevertheless vivid, poignant, and heartbreaking.  It's a story that will resound with anyone who's ever felt out of place, while teaching all of us a valuable lesson about acceptance.  Inside Out and Back Again proves that everyone has a story worth knowing—if only we'll take the time to listen.  A beautiful, award-winning book, this poignant novel-in-verse should not be missed.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow and other stories about immigrant children)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, January 29, 2016

Middle Grade Historical Perfectly Captures the Immigrant Experience

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As violence against Jewish people grows increasingly worse in her European village, 12-year-old Sarah holds fast to her one beacon of hope—a postcard from America showing the grand Statue of Liberty.  The edifice symbolizes everything for which her family yearns: freedom, peace, the chance for a new life.  But it's only Sarah and her mother who cross the great ocean to see the face of the Lady.  And Sarah, alone, who survives Ellis Island.  Unable to stay in the country by herself, Sarah is on a boat back home when she makes the daring decision to jump off.  Dragging herself to the shores of the Lady's island, the young girl takes refuge inside the magnificent statue.  

Although the Lady offers her relative safety, Sarah still has to figure out a way to eat, to dodge the nighttime security guard, and to find a way into Manhattan.  Even when she receives help from some surprising sources, she still has to struggle in order to survive.  Life in America is difficult and strange—will it ever feel like home to a lost, lonely foreigner?  Will the land that promised so much make good on its lofty vows?  Or will Sarah find America just as unwelcoming as the country she left behind?

Like Sarah, I dream of someday seeing the Statue of Liberty in person.  Maybe that's why stories about immigrants flocking to her feet intrigue me so much.  The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow is no exception.  Not only does the book tell an exciting adventure tale, but it also captures perfectly the wonder and fear immigrants must have felt upon arriving in a new land.  With plenty of vivid historical detail, Sharenow brings turn-of-the-century New York alive.  As Sarah navigates her way through that forbidding landscape, readers get a glimpse of the kind of pluck and courage it took for an immigrant to survive the experience.  Atmospheric and engrossing, The Girl in the Torch kept me completely engaged.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), brief nudity, and vague references to alcoholism and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ever Wonder What It Would Be Like to Be a Wolf? So Did Jala ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

As part of the festivities for Multicultural Children's Book Day, I was matched with author Marti Dumas.  Yesturday, I featured the first two books in her upbeat Jaden Toussaint series, which stars a genius kindergartner who uses scientific reasoning (and ninja dance parties) to solve everyday problems.  

Dumas' standalone novel, Jala and the Wolves, focuses on another child who uses knowledge to overcome challenges.  Jala is a 6-year-old who lives in New Orleans.  She hates getting her hair combed, but she loves to eat, read, and learn facts about animals, especially wolves.  One day while she's waiting (very hungrily) for her mom to make her breakfast, Jala notices something strange in her room—a magic mirror.  Just as she's settling down to read a favorite book, her room starts to change.  Then, Jala begins to transform.  Suddenly, she can leap and smell and hear like a wolf because somehow, she is a wolf.  
When Jala meets Milo, a nervous cub who needs her help to save his pack, she has to use all her skills to figure out what to do.  With the pack, which is made up of very young pups, counting on her, she needs to come up with a plan—or else the cubs will die just like their parents did.  Can she teach the babies what they need to know to survive?  They're looking to her for
help, but what about her family back in Louisiana?  Which is her real pack?  How can Jala choose?  She can't think her way out of this one—this time, it's her heart that must decide.

Like Jaden, Jala is an admirable character.  Not only is she kind and loving, but she's also smart, logical, and brave.  Throughout her adventures in the wolf world, she has to use all these traits to bring a struggling pack together.  Her plight shows young readers the power of compassion, putting another's needs before your own, and using teamwork to solve problems.  Not only does Jala and the Wolves teach some valuable lessons, but it's also a fast, exciting story that will appeal to anyone who's ever wondered what it would be like to be their favorite animal.  And, really, who hasn't done that?  Personally, I very much enjoyed this quick, engaging read.  

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for a little bit of blood/gore related to hunting

To the FTC, with love:  I received a copy of Jala and the Wolves from the generous Marti Dumas as part of the festivities for Multicultural Children's Book Day.  Thank you!
Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Multicultural Children's Book Day 2016: Because "She Looks Like Me!" Is Music to My Ears

I've been reading children's literature since I was a young'un (so, for a loooonnnggg time) and I honestly never noticed how little cultural diversity existed in kids' books.  Not when I inhaled them myself, not when I shared them with my three oldest children.  It wasn't until my beautiful, bi-racial daughter came into my life via adoption that my eyes started opening.  At 7, she doesn't necessarily notice that most of the characters in the t.v. shows, movies, and books she enjoys are white, but her reaction to seeing little girls onscreen or in books who "look like me" are always so surprised and euphoric that it's apparent how few of these depictions she actually views each day.  Despite my best intentions as a parent, it's obvious she just isn't seeing enough little girls with brown skin and curly black hair represented in the media she consumes.

While the situation has definitely improved over the years, there's still much that can be done.  That's why I'm so thrilled to be taking part in the festivities for Multicultural Children's Book Day 2016.  Started in 2014 by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, the annual (January 27) event not only celebrates and promotes diversity in children's literature but also pushes to get more such books into classrooms and libraries.  In the founders' words:  "Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, and multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media." 

MCCBD is made possible by generous support from the event's sponsors:

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh*China*  


As part of the MCCBD festivities, bloggers are matched up with authors of culturally diverse books.  I was thrilled to be paired with Marti Dumas, a teacher from New Orleans.  She's written three chapter books, two of which I will chat about today.  The other will be reviewed tomorrow.  

Featuring a kindergartner with a brain that's even bigger than his afro, Dumas' Jaden Toussaint series is upbeat, funny, and empowering.  Using his smarts to solve his own problems, our hero shows kids what they can do when they use their heads.  As he perseveres through failed experiments, brain blocks, and other challenges, Jaden teaches kids to keep trying until they find a workable solution to whatever problem they may be facing.  

In the first "episode," The Quest for Screen Time, Jaden longs to spend more time playing on the computer.  His parents regulate his online hours to avoid the brain frying that comes from Internet overindulgence.  Jaden isn't convinced his noggin's in any trouble.  In fact, he'll be using all the knowledge stored in his mighty mind to show his folks he means business.  When begging doesn't work, he calls in the big guns: science,
experimentation, his kindergarten buddies and, of course, a 3-minute ninja dance party.  If that doesn't sway his parents, nothing will ...

In The Ladek Invasion, Jaden Toussaint is faced with a new problem—an alien attack at his school.  Ms. Bates tells his class the creatures on the playground are moth buck caterpillars, but Jaden's not so sure.  The little monsters bear an uncanny resemblance to the space invaders he saw in his sister's super-scary comic book.  Whatever they are, the bugs need to be exterminated or the kids will never enjoy outside recess again.  What's a genius kindergartner to do?  Use his mad smarts to find a solution, of course.  Space aliens or stinging caterpillars, Jaden's got to find a way to stop the invasion ...

Not only are the Jaden Toussaint books cleverly worded, but they're brilliantly illustrated by Marie Muravski, whose unique artistry really brings these entertaining stories to life.  Middle graders will enjoy both the prose and the pictures, which work together to make the books fast, fun reads.  Besides a few distracting typos in the text of the second installment, I have no complaints about this engaging series—except that there aren't more "episodes" for me and my daughter to enjoy.


Be sure to come back tomorrow to read my review of Jala and the Wolves by Marti Dumas.  In the meantime, check out her website for fun activities and lots of great recommendations on multicultural books to enjoy.  Also, visit the Multicultural Children's Book Day website for more information on MCCBD, additional multicultural book recommendations, and sponsor details.  You can also follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Terrible Typhoid Mary Tells Fascinating, True Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Most of us have probably heard of Typhoid Mary, but what do we really know about the woman behind the headline?  Not much, probably.  In Terrible Typhoid Mary, Susan Campbell Bartoletti seeks to remedy that by telling the true story of Mary Mallon, a healthy woman with a nasty habit of passing typhoid to those she served.  Using newspaper accounts, historical photographs, and personal letters, Bartoletti shares the relatively little that is known about Mallon, weaving a fascinating tale of disease, fear, and paranoia in turn-of-the-century America.  

Born in Ireland in 1869, Mallon immigrated to The United States as a young teenager.  She became a cook, who worked for wealthy families in New York.  Hardworking and dependable, she was a trusted member of those households.  It was only when members of all the families for whom she worked became sick with typhoid (at least one of whom died) that Mallon came under suspicion.  George Soper, a 36-year-old sanitation engineer who investigated the cook, accused her of carrying the deadly disease.  He urged her to stop cooking for others and to give herself over for scientific study.  Rarely ill, Mallon found the suggestion that she was making others sick utterly ludicrous; that anyone could be a "healthy" carrier of typhoid seemed beyond ridiculous.  And yet, that's exactly what she was.  Soper's aggressive quest to stop Mallon eventually led to her arrest, quarantine, and many years of exile on isolated North Brother Island.   

The story of Mary Mallon is as sad as it is compelling.  Bartoletti's sympathetic but balanced telling brings the time period to life, showing the ignorance and fear that prevailed when it came to deadly, communicable diseases.  How Mallon got caught up in the murky ethics of it all is also brought to light.  Right or wrong, what happened to the cook makes for engrossing reading.  Although the biography is written for children, Terrible Typhoid Mary is not for the squeamish.  It's got plenty of blood and guts type detail that will turn delicate stomachs.  Nevertheless, it's an engrossing account, one that will definitely keep the curious riveted to its pages.  

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for vague references to sex, and blood-and-guts descriptions

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Quiet Middle Grade Novel An Affecting Little Gem

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everyone knows Trent Zimmerman didn't kill Jared Richards on purpose.  Although Trent hit the puck that struck Jared in the chest, resulting in a fatal response due to the boy's heart condition, Trent certainly didn't intend to cause Jared's death.  It was a heartbreaking accident, a rotten streak of bad luck, a cruel twist of fate.  And yet, Trent can't stop blaming himself.  Guilt and grief eat him up inside, manifesting themselves in an uncontrollable rage that boils just below the surface.  Sketching out his feelings helps Trent a tiny bit, but he knows if he's not careful, his anger will explode and destroy what little peace he still has in his life.

Enter Fallon Little.  The eccentric sixth grader already stands out enough with the big, mysterious scar that mars his face.  So, why does she insist on drawing even more attention to herself by wearing crazy clothes and just being ... weird?  And why can't she leave Trent alone?  Everyone else has learned to steer clear of him, so why won't Fallon?  Instead, she chats him up, tries to sneak peeks at his sketchbook, and invites him to her house to watch boring old movies.  The screwy thing is, after a while, he doesn't really mind.  In fact, he kind of likes being with bright, funny Fallon.  Even if she won't tell him what really happened to her face.

As the kids—each scarred in their own way—grow closer, they both find surprising chances to start over, to mend fences, and to heal.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff is a quiet book.  It moves slowly, without melodrama, without pretense.  It simply tells a story about two wounded kids who find strength in friendship.  Through Trent and Fallon, the reader learns some important, but not heavy-handed, lessons about forgiving oneself and healing through helping others.  Although Lost in the Sun doesn't offer a lot of action or suspense, it's a perfect novel to hand to reluctant readers, especially sports-minded boys who can identify with a good-kid-consumed-by-overwhelming-emotions character like Trent.  Personally, I found it to be an affecting gem of a book.

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Monday, January 18, 2016

Affecting Never Said Still Missing Something

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Except for a shared birthday, fraternal twins Sarah and Annie have little in common.  Where Annie is friendly and popular, Sarah is crippled by social anxiety.  Annie craves attention, while Sarah shies away from it.  Annie lives for beauty pageants, Sarah prefers reading and playing her violin.  Annie is the one who shines; it's her around which the family—and the world—has always seemed to revolve.  Sarah accepted her second-tier status long ago.

Then, for no apparent reason, Annie changes.  She gorges herself, resulting in massive weight gain; cuts her hair; and starts acting differently.  Frustrated, the girls' mother harangues Annie constantly, begging her to lose the extra pounds.  And that's not the only flak she's getting because of her strange transformation.  As Annie's brightness fades, Sarah suddenly finds herself in the spotlight—somewhere she doesn't belong and doesn't want to be.  Besides, she's got her own problems.  Her boyfriend has just broken up with her.  She's devastated by the break, concerned about her sister, and worried that her whole life is crumbling to pieces around her.  How can she reach Annie, the girl who should be her BFF but isn't?  Will helping her twin bring things back to normal? Is that what Sarah wants?  Or is it time to get real, no matter what the cost?

Although Carol Lynch Williams is a must-read author for me, I don't adore every one of her books.  Some (The Chosen One; Signed, Skye Harper) I do, some I don't.  Never Said belongs in the latter category.  Although I enjoyed its format (Annie's sections are in verse; Sarah's are in prose), I just didn't connect all that well with this story.  It's affecting, yes, but it also comes off as heavy-handed and depressing.  Plus, the characters just lack something, especially the girls' parents, who seem unrealistically cold and over-the-top.  In the end, I found Never Said compelling enough to finish (it's a quick, well-written read), but not to earn my undying adoration.  

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for references to disturbing subjects (sexual abuse, rape, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Saturday, January 16, 2016

Delightful Victorian Mystery a Charming Start to an Intriguing New Series

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Veronica Speedwell is far from a typical Victorian woman.  Raised by two spinster "aunts," she has lived all over, never lingering in one place for long.  Caring little about convention, she pursues her interest in lepidoptery with passion.  By selling rare species to collectors, she's able to finance her own exploratory trips to far-off locales, where she captures as many hearts as butterflies.  At 25, she's happy to be a spinster who's free to pursue her scientific studies and brief love affairs in exotic lands. 

After the recent death of her last living guardian, Veronica is preparing to embark on her most intriguing journey of all.  Then fate intervenes in the form of a villain intent on harming Veronica.  Having foiled his dastardly plan, the intrepid young lady finds herself whisked away by Baron von Stauffenbach, a kindly older man who claims to have all the answers she's seeking—not just about the person who's chasing her and his reasons for doing so, but also about the mother she never knew.  Wary but knowing her life could be in danger if she stays, Veronica agrees to accompany the man to London.  Once there, she's left in the protective custody of another stranger, a mysterious brute of a man named Stoker.  Considering his "appalling manners and questionable hygiene" (31), she's shocked to discover he's none other than Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a once-revered, now-disgraced natural historian.

When the Baron is murdered, Stoker becomes the prime suspect.  With both of their necks on the line, Veronica and the surly naturalist team up to find the real killer.  On the run from an unknown—but dangerous—enemy, the duo searches for answers to their puzzling, perilous situation.  As the unwitting partners match wits, they make startling discoveries, revelations that will change the way they see the world—and each other.  Will these epiphanies help them apprehend their friend's killer?  Or will they become the next victims?

It's impossible to explain just how charming is A Curious Beginning, the first book in a new historical mystery series by Deanna Raybourn.  With appealing characters, witty dialogue, a twisty mystery, and plenty of heart-pounding action, the novel is can't-put-it-down compelling.  Veronica Speedwell makes for an especially delightful heroine, one about whom I'm anxious to read more.  Seriously, I adored every word (especially "Excelsior!") of this entertaining tale.  I'm anxiously awaiting a sequel.  

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


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, and sensuality

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Curious Beginning from the generous folks at Berkley/NAL (an imprint of Penguin).  Thank you!
Monday, January 11, 2016

Gilded Age Murdered Mystery Atmospheric, Appealing

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With her first coming out in New York City behind her, 18-year-old Deanna Rudolph is spending the summer season in Newport, Rhode Island.  She expects to participate in the usual activities—glittering balls, rousing tennis matches, beach-side barbecues, and flirting with eligible bachelors in order to find a suitable husband.  Although Deanna finds the frippery of her class exhausting, she has little choice but to engage.  She longs to have grand adventures like the kind she secretly reads about in lurid detective novels; knowing that will never happen, she's resigned to her fate.  Marriage, it shall be.  But first she must spend a whole season avoiding Joe Ballard, her pseudo big brother and ex-fianceé.  At least Lord David Manchester, a charming sugar baron with a large plantation in Barbados, should provide her with an appealing summer diversion. 

Deanna thinks she knows exactly what to expect from of her months in Rhode Island.  What she and her wealthy friends never considered, never saw coming, is murder.    

The dead body of Daisy Payne, a maid who works for one of Newport's poshest families, is discovered during a party at the place of her employment.  Suspicion falls almost immediately on Joe Ballard.  Deanna's on the outs with her childhood friend, but she knows Joe couldn't have done such a dastardly deed.  The question is, who did?  Was it Daisy's boyfriend, Orrin?  Or some murderous stranger?  

Though horrified by Daisy's death, Deanna is nonetheless intrigued by the mystery.  Like the detectives in her novels, she is determined to solve the case, to discover what really happened to the young maid.  Involving herself in the scandalous affairs of the working class will earn Deanna a one-way ticket back to New York if she's found out, so she'll have to poke around quietly.  The discoveries she makes during her inquiries shock her to her core—and put her right in the killer's path.  Can Deanna expose the villain?  Or will hers be the next dead body found on the beach?  

With an atmospheric Gilded Age setting, authentic characters, and a steady plot, A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont offers a promising beginning to a new mystery series.  Sure, the murderer's identity and motives become fairly obvious.  Yes, the story could have used more subtlety and surprise.  And yet, A Gilded Grave never got boring for me.  I enjoyed it.  I'm not sure when a sequel will be appearing, but I'm definitely looking out for—and looking forward to—the next installment.  

(Readalikes:  Nothing is really coming to mind.  Suggestions?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of A Gilded Grave from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.
Saturday, January 09, 2016

"Real" Lost Dutchman's Mine Legend Comes to Colorful Life in YA Western

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 18-year-old Kate Thompson returns to her Prescott homestead one day to find her father's dead body swinging from a tree, she's horrified.  And outraged.  Clearly, this is the work of The Rose Riders, a notorious gang of outlaws.  Kate knows exactly what they were after, too.  Her father possessed a mysterious diary that supposedly contained directions to The Lost Dutchman, a mine full of treasure hidden at the base of the Superstition Springs Mountains.  Kate's Pa always said gold made monsters of men.  As she sets off in pursuit of The Rose Riders, it's not greed propelling her, but an unquenchable thirst for revenge.

Disguising herself as a boy, Kate does exactly what Pa told her to do in case of emergency—she heads to the ranch of his friends, the Coltons.  There, she receives a letter in which her father strongly cautions her against taking any kind of action against the Roses.  Ignoring the advice, she sets off in pursuit.  Only now she has brothers Jesse and Will Colton riding in her wake.  Try as she might, she can't shake the boys, not in their perceived duty toward her or in their lust for gold.  Reluctant companions, the trio rides on.

As they cross over 100 miles of Arizona Territory desert, the group faces dangers of every kind, not just from the relentless heat and ever present dust, but from snorting javelina and wildlife of the most dangerous sort—the human sort.  Unwilling to trust anyone, Kate does what she has to do, even when she has to use her gun to do it.  As she comes ever closer to a face-off with the men who killed her father, she will have to make a choice between justice and mercy, revenge at any cost or the safety of those she's come to love.  With family mysteries unfolding before her, Kate's seeing more clearly than ever before.  But will that stop her from avenging her father or will it push her even harder toward her goal?  

I've read a few YA westerns lately and, let me tell you, I'm digging this trend toward exciting, old-fashioned yarns.  It's refreshing.  I appreciate the break from the usual vampires, demon hunters, high school love triangles, etc.  Especially enjoyable is Vengeance Road, the newest from Erin Bowman.  Featuring a tough, sharp-shooting heroine, it's a gritty tale of survival set against a punishing desert background.  The characters are sympathetic while remaining authentic in their actions and desires.  Plot-wise, the story gallops along at a steady pace, offering surprising twists around every cactus.  It's an engrossing, well-told tale that delivers a compelling, action-packed story as well as an important message about the too-high price of greed. 

A fun sidenote:  Bowman didn't make up the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Mine.  It's one with which most Arizonans are familiar.  The hidden mine has never been found and treasure seekers are still drawn to the Superstitions and the gold that may—or may not—be hidden somewhere in the 160,000 acres of desert that surround the mountain range.  So, guess who may—or may not—have sparkling caches of gold sitting practically in her backyard?  Yours Truly!  If you're ever in my 'hood, be sure to visit the Superstition Mountain Museum, which is dedicated to collecting and preserving artifacts related to the colorful history of this area.  It's only a few miles from my house, but I've never taken the time to visit.  Reading Vengeance Road definitely fired up my imagination and piqued my interest in learning more about the fact, folklore and plain ole fiction surrounding the desert where I live.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and the movie True Grit  [which is based on the book by Charles Portis, which I have yet to read])


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, sexual innuendo, and mild (not graphic) sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Warm Family Saga Quiet, But Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although 17 years have passed since Eustacia "Taisy" Cleary's father cruelly expelled her, her twin brother, and their mother from his life, the betrayal still stings.  Not that Wilson Cleary would have won any Dad of the Year awards.  The arrogant genetics professor really only cared about one person—himself.  After almost two decades, not much has changed.  Although Wilson has—uncharacteristically—lavished affection on Willow, the prized only child of his second marriage, he still cares little for his disappointing "first family."  Now 35, Taisy knows she should be over her daddy issues.  And yet, she's not.  Not by a long shot.  

So, when 71-year-old Wilson summons Taisy to his bedside after a major health scare, she can't help herself.  She goes.  Hoping for reconciliation or at least an apology, she's disappointed to find that Wilson isn't interested in resolving differences.  Instead, he wants to hire Taisy—a burgeoning ghost writer—to draft a book about his illustrious professional career.  To get the project off the ground as quickly as possible, Wilson will pay her expenses, even allowing her to bunk in his pool house.  Taisy knows she should refuse, but she can't.  There are things she needs to know about Wilson's past, things she's determined to find out—even if he has no intention of telling her.

Living with her estranged father is awkward enough, but Taisy also has to deal with Caro, her spacey stepmother, and Willow, the much fawned over golden child.  Then there's Ben Ransom.  Taisy's childhood sweetheart has never forgiven her for breaking his heart.  She's never loved anyone more than she loved kind, gentle Ben—now that they're living in the same town, she longs for a second chance with him.  As Taisy's life intersects with those of Caro, Willow, and Ben, she makes some startling discovers about each of them.  It's only while uncovering her father's secrets, though, that she finds the truths she needs to move forward, revelations that have less to do with Wilson and much, much more to do with herself.   

As far as family sagas go, The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos, is on the quieter side.  And yet, the novel is no less compelling than its more dramatic counterparts.  Because of the story's slower pacing, the reader gets to know Taisy and the other characters intimately, which makes each of their sorrows more heartbreaking, their setbacks more painful, their triumphs more sweet.  While each member of the book's cast has their flaws, most are sympathetic, making it easy to root for their success.  Although I wanted a cleaner ending to this family's strained tale, I think The Precious One comes to a realistically messy conclusion.  It manages to be both uplifting and true-to-life.  For all these reasons, I enjoyed this slow-building, but engrossing tale about family, forgiveness, and finding oneself in the most surprising of places.   

(Readalikes:  The Precious One reminds me of other novels about returning home and coming to terms with difficult family situations, although no specific titles are coming to mind.  Help?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo/references

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Precious One from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!
Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Despite Intriguing Setting, Bayou Mystery Fizzles Pretty Fast For Me

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Everyone in little Cooper's Bayou, Florida, knows the story of Raylene Atchinson.  Twenty-five years ago, the young mother was raped and strangled, her dead body left on the banks of the bayou.  Raylene's 4-year-old daughter Aurora was found safe, but alone, at the local mini-mart.  Suspected of the murder, Aurora's father, disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Now a 29-year-old nurse working in New York City, Aurora returns to Cooper's Bayou to settle the estate of her recently deceased grandfather.  Having been raised away from Florida, she's disconcerted by her new surroundings.  Bordered by gator-inhabited swampland, the house she inherits spooks her even more, especially since it seems so incongruous with the grandfather she knew.  Nevertheless, Aurora stays in town, using her time to find out what really happened to her mother.

Aurora's joined by Josh Hudson, a 30-year-old police detective whose punishment for a poor decision made on the job is helping out in a dusty warehouse full of old evidence.  Haunted by his younger brother's mysterious death, Josh has his own demons to battle.  Helping Aurora on her quest helps keep them at bay.  At least temporarily.  

Combing the Evidence Room for clues about Raylene's murder, the pair stumble across some surprising finds.  The closer they get to finding out what really happened, the more dangerous their lives become.  Can they solve the mystery before they become murder victims themselves?  In a terrifying race for their lives, Aurora and Josh will do anything to stay alive long enough to find the answers they seek.

All it takes is a glance at the plot summary for The Evidence Room, a debut novel by Cameron Harvey, to see that it doesn't offer much in the way of an original premise.  The setting, however, drew me to the book.  Although the bayou backdrop could have been more vividly painted, I did enjoy it.  It wasn't enough, however, to distract me from The Evidence Room's flaws—flat characters, a predictable plot, and a disjointed mystery.  I'm not sure why I bothered finishing the novel, as it fizzled pretty quickly for me.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of lots of other novels about people going home to solve family mysteries)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Monday, January 04, 2016

Gentle 1963 Children's Novel Expansive, Eye-Opening

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For 12 years—his whole life—David has lived in captivity.  When he gets the chance to escape the concentration camp, he takes it.  Although the prospect of leaving everything he's ever known terrifies him, David would rather die quickly from a guard's bullet than slowly waste away in the wilderness.  Much to the boy's surprise, he makes it out of the camp alive.  What now?  He's been told to seek safety in Denmark, but that's miles and miles away from his home in eastern Europe.  How will he travel that far?  For how long can a young fugitive really hope to stay alive?  Wouldn't dying prove an easier path to freedom?

It's only when David arrives in Italy, soaking in the vibrant colors and beauty of that land, that he decides he desperately wants to live.  After seeing such a sight, he "could no longer think of nothing as he had trained himself to do in the concentration camp" (191).  In order to live, however, the guileless David will have to learn some important lessons about trust, friendship, and making his way in the great, wild world with all its charms and dangers.

I Am David, Anne Holm's 1963 novel for young readers, is a quiet, but expansive coming-of-age tale. Like many tales of imprisonment, this gentle story celebrates the beauty of life, even in the midst of great ugliness.  David's remarkable journey opens not just his eyes, but those of the reader as well.  Although the story starts slowly and ends in a most convenient, contrived manner, it's still a memorable, inspiring tale.  Overall, I enjoyed it.

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


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

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Eerie Psychological Thriller a Riveting Roller Coaster Ride

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Still reeling after the recent death of their 7-year-old daughter, Kirstie, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft struggle to pick up the pieces of their broken marriage and family.  Their remaining daughter—Kirstie's identical twin sister, Lydia—hasn't been the same since the tragedy that stole her only sibling.  Neither has Angus, whose grief has turned into a hot anger made worse by heavy drinking. Sarah longs for something, anything, positive to bring her family out of the impenetrable darkness into which they're all sinking.  So, when Angus inherits a remote Scottish island, Sarah embraces the chance to start over in a place where everything she sees doesn't remind her of her dead daughter.  The fact that the place is barely habitable seems irrelevant.

Sarah's new abode—a dilapidated, rat-infested lighthouse keeper's cottage miles away from anything and reachable only by boat is disconcerting enough.  Then, there's Lydia's sudden, strange insistence that she is, in fact, Kirstie.  Considering how much Lydia's been acting like her dead twin, the declaration sends a horrified shudder down Sarah's spine.  What Lydia's saying can't possibly be true, can it?  Sure that establishing a normal, comfortable routine will bring normalcy back to her family's life, Sarah sends Lydia off to school and tries not to worry.  That plan doesn't last long.  With Angus becoming increasingly unpredictable, Lydia withdrawing even more, and Sarah suffering from loneliness and unease, the Moorcrafts have plenty to worry about.  

Obsessing about what really happened the day her daughter died, Sarah's anxiety and fear peak.  As a vicious storm brews around her, she finds herself stranded on an island where terrifying, inexplicable things keep happening with a daughter who seems as alien as the moon.  Is Sarah, in her profound grief, experiencing a break with reality?  Are the things she's seeing real?  Is the island somehow haunted?  Possessed?  Is Kirstie truly dead?  Or has Sarah made a grave, possibly deadly, mistake?

I love me a psychological thriller where I never quite know what is real and what is not.  The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne (a "non-man" pseudonym for British journalist Sean Thomas—read why he chose it here) is just such a book.  From its eerie setting to its mind-bending plot to its unsettling premise, the novel is a twisty, chilling, roller coaster ride.  I couldn't look away from this gorgeously gothic spook story—and I mean that (almost) literally.  The Ice Twins kept me completely riveted.  If you like creepy, atmospheric mind-twisters, you will not want to miss this one.

(Readalikes:  The book's tone/style reminded me of novels by Jennifer McMahon, while the twists are reminiscent of bestsellers like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, sexual content, violence, and references to illegal drug use and child abuse

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find         
Friday, January 01, 2016

So What If I Haven't Actually Completed a Reading Challenge In Years? I'm In!

Even though it's been many moons since I actually completed a reading challenge, I still get excited about joining them.  There are two that caught my eye this year:

Hosted by, the Aussie Author Challenge celebrates writers from The Land Down Under.  I've recently discovered several fabulous Aussie authors, so I thought this would be a fun way to find more.  I'm going for the Wallaroo level, which requires that I read 6 books by Australian writers—at least two must be female, at least two must be male, at least two must be new-to-me authors, and the books must be in at least two different genres.  Okey dokey!

1.  The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty (women's fiction)
2.  The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (historical fiction)
3.  The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion (contemporary romance)
4.  The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (historical fiction)
5.  I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (mystery/thriller)
6.  Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (fantasy)

The 2016 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge is hosted by Escape With Dollycas Into a Good Book.  It's probably self-explanatory—you read 26 books, each title of which starts with a different letter of the alphabet (you can drop A and The to make it easier).  Here's what I plan to read:

A - After You by Jojo Moyes
B - Banished by Kimberley Griffiths Little
C - Christy by Catherine Marshall
D - Discovery of Witches, A by Deborah Harkness
E - Everfound by Neal Shusterman
F - Fairest by Marissa Meyer
G - Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
H - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I - I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
J - Japanese Lover, The by Isabel Allende
K - Kept, The by James Scott
L - Last Anniversary, The by Liane Moriarty
M - Murder Complex, The by Lindsay Cummings
N - Narrow Road to the Deep North, The by Richard Flanagan
O - Oregon Trail, The by Rinker Buck
P - Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
Q - Quiet Game, The by Greg Iles
R - Rosie Effect, The by Graeme Simsion
S - Ship of Brides, The by Jojo Moyes
T - These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
U - Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
V - Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
W - Winter by Marissa Meyer
X - X'ed Out X-Ray, The by Ron Roy
Y - Yours Truly by Kirsty Greenwood
Z - Zeroes by Scott Westerfield
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Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson


The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

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