Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher

Review based on ARC (Advanced Reader Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

This is a book with a fascinating subject: The existence and experience of spirits and seances and whether or not they are real (or were proven to be real and/or false). Houdini, named in the title, himself experimented with so-called psychic experiences, but as he never really did them but happened to be particularly talented at convincing people he was "the real deal," he was particularly skeptical about all others who claimed to in fact be in contact with spirits and/or the dead.

In addition to Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heavily involved in the whole spirit world - he was an ardent believer of contact with the dead, largely driven by various deaths in his own life and others and the loss of so many people in the recent war and epidemic.

And then there is the famed Witch of Lime Street, the wife of a Boston surgeon. She is young and smart and appears to be genuine.

In addition, Scientific American created a contest to determine whether any psychic could prove his or her merits. And of course Conan wants Margery (the Witch of Lime Street) to enter the contest, and Houdini is on the committee to determine whether she (among others) are legitimate.

So, fascinating, right?! Right up my alley. Interesting historical topic about very interesting people.... and Jaher doesn't do a bad job. He just doesn't do a particularly good job either. I found the book often dragged and spent too much time re-explaining the same inclinations of the various peoples, rather than moving more quickly through the events and analyses. Nonetheless, I enjoyed learning more about the topic and found myself repeating the information I'd learned to others in (somehow) every day topic.

Overall, a good historical account of a fascinating group of people and series of events. I would recommend to people interested in the subject, with the obvious caveat to simply "bear with" the parts that seem to drag.

Overall, THREE of five stars.

Slade House by David Mitchell

Review based on ARC (Advanced Reader Copy received for free in exchange for an honest review).

I have talked about and written about this book so many times since reading it, I didn't realize I hadn't yet officially reviewed it!

In short, I loved this book. It's a mini little ghost story with a lovely repeating but not really repetitious pattern.

It is almost a series of short stories, taking place every 9 years. It starts with a small black iron door. It starts with the Slade House. You may not find it, but if you do, you will be invited, expected, needed.

You're not quite sure who lives there, but you are sure that the brother and sister who crop up every 9 years play a significant role.

No more explanation. It's all spoiler other than that. But it's a quick read, an interesting read, and a thought-provoking read. It's creepy and atmospheric.. the perfect read for a dark and stormy night...

I love how it starts. I love how it middles. And I love how it ends. An easy 5 stars from me.

Note: I've only read 1 other David Mitchell book, so far. Cloud Atlas was a very good book, but a completely different type of book. I am impressed with Mitchell's ability to write different types, different characters, different perspectives. I look forward to more!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Death Before Decaf: A Java Jive Mystery by Caroline Fardig

Free copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Overall, I felt that this was an "okay" cozy mystery. While I did not particularly enjoy the romantic aspect because I felt that it was a little cliched and clunky, the mystery itself was interesting and novel.

In the book, Juliet Langley has returned to her college town to work for her old crush and former co-worker, the now-owner of local coffee shop Java Jive. Juliet has returned because her life and career have crashed and spectacularly burned after a horrible relationship with an apparently horrible person has ended.

Given Juliet's experience both at Java Jive and in the food industry, her old crush and one of her best friends Pete makes her manager. Juliet, however, does not appear to remotely be a people-person and immediately pisses off pretty much everyone in her employ. This is only made worse when the chef turns up dead.

Juliet is, of course, a prime suspect. In order to try to clear her name, she delves into amateur sleuthing. With the help of a local college professor who seems perhaps much more sinister than at first glance and, of course, Pete, Juliet slowly works through a list of culprits as more people end up dead and Juliet begins to get death threats herself.

So that's the set up and it's a good one. I generally liked the characters and I especially liked Seth (the professor). I did not particularly like that, rather than tale responsibility for her anger issues, Juliet simply called her temper the Red Headed She Devil (Juliet is a red-head)... it was too cutesy and lame as an excuse for her poor people skills. And I did not particularly like the cliched and, somehow, also clunky romantic triangle between Juliet, Pete, and Seth that is rather unsatisfying in the end (though this is a series, so surely there is more to come).

But as I say, the mystery itself was fun and it was a good, quick read for a cold night. I would recommend to "cozy mystery" fans, especially if someone were looking for a softly-steamy romantic one with a fiery protagonist. Overall, THREE of five stars.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Witches Protection Program by Michael Phillip Cash

Book received for free from publisher in exchange for honest review; thanks to NetGalley!

This was a decent supernatural action-adventure book with some interesting characters and a creative plot.

Wes has spent his life being second to all in his family, struggling to prove that he deserves the Rockville family name as a police officer under his father's directorship. Unfortunately, on his first assignment, he makes his first huge mistake, resulting in an escaped prisoner and embarrassment to the Rockville family name. Without giving Wes a second chance, his father transfers him to a different department for his last chance in the force.

With all the pouting, grunting, and moaning to make a 13-year-old teenage girl proud, Wes goes to his new boss. There, Wes discovers that not only are there witches in the world, but they are separated into two factions (the wicked willas and the good davinas) and infiltrate every aspect of every-day-living (including hollywood and the tabloids). Grumbling every step along the way, Wes accompanies his new boss Alastair to meet an old davina Junie, who expresses her concern over what appears to be a huge willa plot.

Enter Morgan Pendragon - heir to a multi-billion dollar cosmetics corporation currently run by her aunt - and the story is on its way. Morgan is an apparent davina who is doing nothing more than just trying to stay under the radar; unfortunately, her aunt wants her to hand over the rights to run the company and Morgan does everything in her... power... to avoid doing just that. However, because of what Junie knows and Alastair/Wes suspect, Morgan will soon have to confront her aunt and her wishes, face to face.

The plot is fast, the pace is well done, and the story is fun. I liked Alastair and Scarlett (the aunt's #1 protege) in particular - they were very well written and not quite as... predictable as the others. I also thought some of the minor characters were nice additions -- Jasmine and Wu to name a couple -- and I liked some of the less conventional mini-sub-plots that Cash (author) threw in there.

What I didn't love as much were the often-stilted conversations, the over-stereotypical behaviors of many of the characters (Morgan and her aunt, in particular), and the incredibly immature, unbelievably whiney and snarky Wes who was, unfortunately, the main character of the story.

Fortunately, Wes does show some growth throughout the book and ends up much more mature and respectful by the end of the book -- which I do think was the point.

Overall, a fun, fast read that I'd recommend to anyone who felt that the plot was right up their alley. I expect this to be a series based on how it was set up, and I would definitely be curious to see how it continues!
THREE of five stars

65 new books! (used)

I .... found 65 new books this weekend. Mostly "cozy mysteries" (a new definer to me) and kids books... Darn that library book sale!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Review based on advanced review copy received for free in exchange for an honest review.

I am no stranger to Gregory Maguire. I started with Wicked, as everyone should. I was wow'd. After Alice did not completely move me, as Wicked did. However, it w
as a wonderful little novel with a lot of the magic that Maguire showed in Wicked coming through.

As the title and cover imply, After Alice is somehow a take on Alice in Wonderland. However, this story does not really track Alice, per se; rather, it tracks her awkward, chunky, physically disabled friend Ada. Ada is mentioned in Carroll's own Alice only in passing (passage at the beginning of After Alice shows only mention of Ada's long ringlets).

In Maguire's version, Ada is a difficult, perhaps abrasive, curious, but sweet-hearted child, with a near-full body back-brace and an inclination to get in trouble. Ada perhaps intentionally misunderstands the instruction to bring Alice some marmalade and uses the opportunity to escape not only the vicarage, where she lives with her noisy baby brother, but also her governess who is always attempting to correct Ada into ... well, into someone perhaps more like Alice.

Ada sees the famous white rabbit with a timeclock and, as we know Alice has done, follows the rabbit and falls down the hole to wonderland. Everything from the fall itself to Ada's experiences in Wonderland and the various "people" she meets down there are described with a very strong nod to the images and stories we know from the traditional Alice. Unsurprisingly, Maguire's take is dark. There is an ominous presence hanging over everything and even careless death occurs without the batting of an eye.

Additionally, amidst Ada's adventures, Maguire takes us back and forth between her nanny's awful day (she has lost one of her charges!), Alice's sister's day (her very teenage confusing feelings about her mother's recent passing and the attentions of an American visitor and his black adoptee), and Siam, the black child who has escaped slavery and worse under the care of Mr. Winter (the American). And there are, I believe, a few other perspectives as well. Yet Maguire is certainly a talented writer, and the varying perspectives work well together, moving together toward a climax in Wonderland and in the real world around the same time.

I enjoyed the story and the magic that Maguire weaves into the everyday, and the everyday that Maguire weaves into the magical... and I was particularly impressed with the ending.... something about it (no spoilers!) just... I don't know, it almost made me feel as if the world were unsteady for a few moments.

What I didn't love... all I really didn't love about the book might be the pacing. I say "might be" because I had so much going on in my own life while I was reading this, it is hard to tell if the book or real life was the cause of my relatively slow read. Regardless, I thought it was a pretty, enjoyable read.

I would recommend to fans of Maguire, to fans of Alice in Wonderland, and to fans of magical realism and fantasy. FOUR of five stars.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

7 Minis! From romance to sci-fi, from 1 star to 4.5!

Cloud Atlas

I particularly enjoyed the New Seoul section (LOVE the way Mitchell wrote the concept of a corpocracy!). And I wasn't as thrilled w/ the Hawaii after-the-fall section. But, overall, a very satisfying and enjoyable read! Mitchell is clearly a master at enveloping his reader in the setting in which he's writing ... in a book that covers 6 completely different eras and perspectives, this challenge was nevertheless met with apparent ease. I can't wait to see the movie now! It's waiting for me at the library :) And I can't wait to read more Mitchell!
FOUR of five stars

The Golem and the Jinni

Just a beautiful written tale. It's about a golem (generally, a mass of clay made into human'ish form for the purpose of serving its master, usually for a brief, intense, and muscle'y task) who finds herself master'less almost immediately after being brought to life, while on her way to New York at the turn of the century. This is one "half" of the book -- what and how Chava (the golem) do in a small Jewish community in Manhattan. Around the same time, a jinni (genie), named Ahmad, is brought back to existence by a clueless Syrian in a small community, also in Manhattan. And of course they 2 meet. Amid their stories and challenges, including the one that may challenge their very existence, we get a little mythology and a little history of the 2 and the others who impact their lives. It is not fast-paced, but it is well-paced. It never seems to slow really, just keeps on going. It was a very complete and satisfying read and I'm glad I finally got to it!
FOUR of five stars

The Phantasmagorical Astrarium Compendium

which I received from NetGalley (for free in exchange for an honest review)... Ugh. Almost immediately, I began reading sentences to my husband, who begged me to stop because it was so bad. I got to about 5% and he asked why I was still going, and I said I thought I owed it at least 10% (it's ~400 pages.. I had it in Kindle format, so I'm not sure how many pages, exactly). It just... it's one of those books where every 3rd sentence (on average) ends in an exclamation point. Seriously. It was almost impossible to take it seriously. It also had .... I really didn't see the originality in it. It purported to be original, and it sounded interesting, but it pulled (way) too much from other classics and... well, at 10% I just couldn't anymore.
ONE of five stars

Paper Magician

Another great disappointment. I did finish this one (and it read quickly enough)... it just was... blah. It was incredibly predictable and cliched, even while attempting to do something different (a paper magician -- one who uses magic via paper).  So.... yeah. Ready to move on...
TWO of five stars

From Notting Hill with Love Actually

I know some people really enjoyed this (including a good friend of mine!), but I couldn't do it. I understand the concept was that the main character is obsessed w/ movies, but McNamara took it too far and made too little story up herself. The characters are flatter than 2-dimensional, and if the ooooooobvious love interest grins one more time.......... argh. So Yeah. Couldn't.
ONE of five stars

Queen of the Tearling (audio version)

great book! (though I did listen to it on audio, as mentioned, and I think the reader deserves a lot of the credit... I don't know if I would have enjoyed it as much as a self-read book?) I found myself often moved by the story, and the characters have been richly drawn and compelling. I'm very much looking forward to reading the 2nd - Invasion of the Tearling! (and I also can't wait to see the movie, starring Emma Watson!)
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars

Bellman and Black

I also really enjoyed this. Glad that I had read the reviews criticizing it for not being just like Thirteenth Tale (which I loved)... it isn't just like it. It's a completely different book and, in most ways, a completely different kind of book. But Setterfield is still an excellent writer and I really enjoyed it. EsPECially once the whole "Bellman & Black" bit takes off (about halfway through). Probably surprisingly, I was somehow newly inspired in my own ... erm, desires that resemble B&B (no spoilers -- but, for those who've read it, not the macabre aspect of it all ;))
FOUR of five stars

Armada by Ernest Cline (audio version)

Loved it. So, I don't know if I would have loved it as much had I not been listening to Wil Wheaton (at 1.5 speed)... he's a great audio reader! But since I don't know until I do read it myself, I can only base my opinion on the audio version. And it was just wonderful. It's true sci-fi with aliens and spaceships and moon bases, but it's also a very accessible book about a kid who's lost his dad when he was a baby and grew up obsessed with video games, only to discover there's a LOT more to his obsession than it would appear. Yes, there are a lot of references to games and classic sci-fi movies and famous persons in the science and sci-fi genre (Carl Sagan being at the top of that list), but for me, it did not interrupt the story at all and, rather, gave it depth and humor and personality that I think the story, without the nostalgia, might have lacked. Overall, I just really loved this book. I have NO complaints about the book (at least, the audio version), and I will definitely get the actual book as well to read it "on my own" ;)

FIVE of five stars. 

The Boy Genius Detective Agency by Robert Grey

I had a hard time really deciding what to rate this one... On the one had, it was a really quick read and it was really unique, interesting, silly, and kind of fun. On the other hand, there was such a lack of information presented, that I'm not sure is really necessary?

It's about a boy genius... whose age is never revealed, but based on context clues could be anywhere from .... 12 to 17? He's sort of girl-crazy, but doesn't care at all about his appearance; he's obviously super intelligent, but also kind of arrogant-a** about it; and he seems to be appealing to the opposite gender of various ages... ranging from, I don't know, 8 to 50? And his detective agency cohorts, Lollipop, who I think might be younger and less intelligent, and Bubble Gum, who is I think the same age as Boy Genius (aka Phidias) and perhaps just as smart. And they have started a "kid" detective agency and Boy Genius is concerned about not being taken seriously... when Wham! Boom! Bam! they're suddenly in the middle of some crazy sci-fi, super-villain, time-traveling, time-looping, telepathy whirlwind adventure. And the wham-boom-bam... it's a literal description. The book reads like a comic book, but without the actual pictures.

And it somehow works! Although there's virtually no set up of the overall book or each scene, somehow you have just enough information to mostly glean what is going on and keep turning the pages (quickly) to find out how it all resolves. And you mostly know at the end of it all. Or maybe not. Despite the plethora of unanswered questions (including, notably, how old Boy Genius and Bubble Gum are and... I don't believe we know when it takes place? (though it's definitely in the future)), it's a fun middle-grade book with bad guys, super-hero abilities, intrigue, hot women (perhaps a little too much focus on this?), and a clear ongoing plot-base (i.e., it's the beginning of a series). I think the younger generation will appreciate a book that seems much more catered to their way of thinking (maybe? at least insofar as the ADD plot & pace were concerned), though I am a little hesitant to suggest it to my friend's 12-year-old son because, really, Boy Genius has a serious wandering-eye, and it does not seem to matter how old the girl/woman is.

So. Enjoyable? yes. Quick fun read? yes. Amazing? well, no. But still recommended for something completely different.. and pretty well accomplished. So overall, THREE AND A HALF of five stars .

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

It's about: Hannah, a teenager who decides to commit suicide. But, before she does, she makes recordings on tape cassettes explaining why and pointing to 13 very specific reasons (people). She tells her story from where she sees the beginning, and explains how each of the 13 people who get copies of the recordings either contributed to her decision or could have helped her and didn't.

The thing is, it's uncomfortable, and the main character is at times very off-putting and unrelatable - in many ways a typical selfish self-obsessed teenager... and yet, I think the book should be REQUIRED reading for all 8th graders. Maybe even younger, I'm not sure.

Asher did an amazing job of going through the actual psyche and impact that various words and actions have had on Hannah that led her to kill herself. And although these words and actions will not always have the same impact on all teenagers, it is certainly not unusual for this type of reaction -- the isolation and fear and depression that results. At the same time, Asher did an amazing job with Clay (the other narrator) and hope and awareness.

Such an impressive feat.
An easy FOUR of five stars (based on audio version, listened to at 1.5 speed)

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

I don't know why this one was so hard for me to review. Rushdie has written a lyrical and poetic tale that is supposed to be a spin on 1001 nights. It is about a storm in the approximate-now (a little in the future) that resulted in 1001 nights of "strangenesses," a near-millennium long debate between two philosophers that began in the far past and continued into the time of the strangenesses, and a historical account of the narrators' ancestors, who began with one of the philosophers and continued into the 1001 nights of strangenesses. So right, that doesn't clear it up.

It's about a jinni who falls in love with a philosopher in the past, who allows him to mistreat her and refuse to marry her and give all of her children (with him) his legitimate name, and who passes back into her own world for nearly a thousand years, while their children have children and so on until there are many descendants all over the world and we are in the approximate-now. It is then about a re-awakening of the philosopher and his philosophical nemesis and their continued intellectual debate which turns into a physical war, apparently between the jinn and the humans but, at its heart, between the two philosophies. It then becomes about the war and the strangenesses that are indicative of that time when the jinn sought to take control and the humans, many descendants of the jinni-who-fell-in-love and her philosopher, who fo
ught back. And it is all told as a history, from the perspective of the future (near-1000 years in the future) descendants of the descendants.

Maybe that's why it's been so hard to review... it's much to wrap your head around. It is interesting and it is pretty and it is thought-provoking. It is romantic and harsh and philosophical. It is historical and analytical and distant. It is so many things (in not that many pages!), and it is a dense, thoughtful read. And it is enjoyable, but not fun. It is fulfilling in many ways, but not complete. Its focus is broad - covering millennia - and yet it is almost only about 1 person (the jinni who fell in love with a human). And it is even funny. Rushdie throws in a lot of repetition about the obsession of the jinn (sex) that, in lesser hands would have been infuriating but was, instead, point-making and amusing. I really appreciated a lot about the book. I liked Rushdie's story and imagination and his take on the 1001 nights.

What weren't so great to me were the pace and the fact that it seemed a bit unfocused. I would have liked the book to be a little more intentional about being 1 thing or another. I would have loved Rushdie's take on the fantastical or Rushdie's romance and philosophy or Rushdie's political waxing as a historical tome... but attempting all 3 at once ended up feeling a bit slow and cumbersome. It also felt a bit unfocused... I'm not sure why - it's not simply the time-period or the variety of characters that are covered - I think it was the constant shift in perspective, perhaps without enough of a shift in perspective. Maybe there was too much sameness with all the differences. I'm not sure, but it felt, to me, a little unfocused and a little belabored.

Nevertheless, I am very glad to have read this. I am looking forward to more Rushdie. I would definitely recommend to Rushdie fans. I would also recommend to those interested in a philosophical evaluation of our time with some fantasy thrown in for good measure. But I'm not sure I would recommend to someone looking for a quick fun magic-realism tale - this one takes on a more serious tone and pace.
All in all, THREE AND A HALF of five stars 

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

Review based on advanced reader copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What I think I enjoyed most about this book is the imagination that went into it. This is something I would like to recommend to my friends' children (only because I don't yet have my own!) because it's smart and thoughtful and ultimately has a good message without feeling preachy.

Saki (middle-grade) is forced to spend several days during her precious summer vacation in the village where her grandmother lives, preparing for the annual Obon ceremony (honoring the dead), rather than with her friends in her big-city Tokyo. She is, as expected, sullen about the retreat, spending the time with her family, and being without good signal on her cell phone. Looking for any way to have some real fun during this antiquated ritual time, Saki agrees to go with several local kids (typical troublemakers) to her family's property and dishonors it in an attempt to prove both her bravery and her coolness. Saki unknowingly invokes a death curse and opens the door to the spiritual world.

In the nights that follow -- the nights of the Night Parade -- Saki is guided by various spirits, meets good and evil spirits, and learns a lot about the village, the importance of the rituals and honor, and herself.

I thought Saki was written beautifully. She is a complex character, accurately depicting that pre-teen/teen angst, apathy, anger, care, and innocence all at once. She is frustrating and endearing and ultimately tries to do the right thing. I like that the path was not easy, that things were not always what they seemed, and that little efforts made big differences, both good and bad.

The book is pretty and soft and gentle, while addressing big and hard and deep issues. It is not fast paced, but it is steady and consistent throughout. And, as I said, ultimately, I think the things that Saki learns throughout her experiences in the book are great things. And I think the book pulls off an impressive feat by merging Japanese legends, universal truths, and difficult physical and emotion lessons with a beautiful, creative, and imaginative background, populated by a unique array of friends and foes.

I would definitely recommend (and give!) to smart middle and high schoolers open to something beautiful and thought provoking, and to anyone looking for the same!
(and a beautiful cover to boot!)
FOUR of five stars.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio

Review based on free copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was just what it purported to be: a quick, fun, quirky story about Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye. It is populated with classic fairy-tale characters, including a quirky, sweet, smart (though not terribly smart), and relatable main character; the imaginary or non-imaginary but definitely weird and quirky side-kick and/or best friend; the missing or dead parents; the oblivious relative caring for the protagonist; the evil pointy villain who only shows her true evil'ness to the hero; and a mystery with supernatural implications.

Immediately, I liked Warren - the 12-year-old sole bellhop to the Warren, the hotel that has been owned and run by every prior Warren up to him. Because his father died when Warren was 7, he has to wait many years before he can officially take over. Meanwhile, his lazy uncle has taken over and the place has fallen into complete disrepair. Warren is completely likable. Even though he may have yellow ringlets and a toad-like face with weird spaced out teeth... he's charismatic, hard-working, and optimistic. I immediately trusted him and his perspective, and I immediately wanted for him to overcome the nasty step-mother and the eventual evil villain.

Overall, I thought del Rio did an excellent job of juxtaposing the characters one from another -- perhaps the characters were a little stock and two-dimensional, but for a middle grade modern "fairy tale," it was just right.  I love the sheer oblivion and laziness of the uncle, the questionable character of his new best friend, and the creep-factor of Paleface.

The plot moved quickly with a lot of fun, crazy things happening. The heros were in just enough fixes with just enough uncertainty to keep the plot moving. I enjoyed the variety in location, and I appreciated the type and amount of outside factors used throughout. The only thing I didn't *love* was every part of the resolution.  Parts of it were great and fit in well, but I though that just 1 or 2 bits were perhaps a bit too... convenient. (no spoilers!) I also LOVED the illustrations.

Overall, a great middle grade book that I will DEFinitely purchase for my friend's 12-year-old male son (or his 7-year-old sister!).
FOUR of five stars.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trespassers by Todd Wynn and Tim Wynn

Book received for free from authors; honest review written in exchange.

I really enjoyed this! Reading this book was, for me, like watching Men In Black. It was sci-fi with a serious enough topic/goal, but also flippant and fun and light.

Let's see... it's about a super secret branch of the government who is charged with keeping, you guessed it, aliens a secret from the rest of the world. And there are a plethora of aliens from which to choose. The problem is, of course, many aliens enjoy visiting Earth -- as a tourist destination in particular. Along w/ these tourists comes the requirement that these aliens be vaccinated and out crops entrepreneurs, striving to provide their customers with jen-you-wine (genuine) vaccinations from live humans. These entrepreneurs are, of course, breaking the law by doing so. Our world has provided the aliens with all the vaccinations they should need -- the richer more demanding visitors, however, prefer the fresher variety.

Thus, we have the trespassers -- aliens entering Earth, generally for a brief amount of time, for the purpose of securing a human, briefly, from which to draw a sample to make a vaccination. The whole story begins with one such trespasser making his attempt, the super secret federal government agency setting a trap, and the not-as-secret agency charged with *finding* aliens (which the super-secret agency ensures they will never do) all converging on one bright and sunny picnic'y spot.

And all kinds of wackyness ensues. Add to the general plot a few alien stowaways who are causing their own trouble on earth, a couple of brand new and eager-to-please members of the (super secret) team, an increasingly more depressed alien-hunter frustrated with his ever close-but-no-cigar hunt, and a couple of love-struck teenagers, one of whom is definitely not what she appears, and you have Trespassers.

A quick read, a fun read, a story that draws you in and holds you until it is good and ready to spit you back out.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars. Very entertaining sci fi!

2 babies (smaller than minis ;))

Very cute and, from what other reviewers are saying, a cute Wodehouse parody-tribute. I haven't read any Wodehouse myself yet, but I intend to!

FOUR of five stars.

Some of the stories were great, some were ok, and a couple were pretty bad. But overall, a fine way to pass the day (stayed at home sick yesterday). This is definitely Chick-Lit or Rom-Com-in-Writing.

TWO AND A HALF of five stars.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

SUCH a cool idea. This book is set in the not-too-distant future.

Half of the book (every other chapter) is about "the City," where people who have died congregate. The city is big enough to accommodate everyone who needs to be there. But people are only there for a limited amount of time.... the citizens of the city posit that they are there as long as someone alive still remembers them, though of course they have no way of knowing for sure what the "rules" are of this apparent in-between place. They live out a sort of second life in the city, where they neither age nor procreate, but otherwise seem to live just as on earth, with loves, hatreds, anger, frustration, etc. However, there appears to suddenly be a rapid influx and then a complete falling away of the population of the city, and the remaining residents are trying to figure out what is happening.

The other half of the book is about Laura Byrd, a "wildlife specialist" who has been sent to Antarctica on an exploration expedition to determine how Coca Cola (her employer) will impact the environment if it takes from the melting ice in Antarctica to use in a new formula it is considering. She is there with 2 others, when they lose communication with their employer and the other 2 set off to find supplies and information. Thus, Laura is left alone and as time passes, her supplies run low, she continues to have no communication, and she has no idea when her 2 cohorts will return, if ever.

And.... I don't want to say more because how this all plays out is very interesting! Brockmeier has a lyrical writing style, with the ability to notice (have his readers notice) the interesting things happening around the characters, without losing sight of the characters and their development. The pace is not ... hasty. Rather, it is steady and almost calm. Yet, as the story progresses, the events become more urgent, and you continue turning the pages (well into bedtime) because you must know, as all the characters desire, what in the world(s) is happening!

It's a though-provoking piece, published nearly a decade ago, that brings up concerns of what is happening to the world around us and/or what COULD happen to the world around us if we're not more careful, without being preachy.  I would definitely recommend this to a patient reader looking for something a little strange, a little sci-fi, a little thoughtful.

FOUR of five stars

Friday, May 29, 2015

3 more minis: Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Ivy & Bean, The Green Turtle Mystery

Dreams of Gods and Monsters (library audio book)

A great conclusion to the trilogy! Taylor didn't dwell too much in teen-romance, and instead focused on the other very interesting aspects of her created mythology and the future of all the races. Though, of course, some of the romance is still in there, I felt it was well-handled and balanced.

Ivy & Bean (another kid's book for that project) (library book)

Really a great little kid's book -- the main characters are 7 and Bean's older sister is a horrible 11 ;)  I honestly wasn't expecting to be impressed at all, but I think this is a wonderful first book for a new reader. There are great pictures throughout to bring some life to the story, and the story actually moves and surprises a little. Happy that these books are available for young readers!

The Green Turtle Mystery

This is a 1940's children's mystery .. I believe it is the third in a "series" that definitely does not need to be read in order (I have read only this one). 12-year-old Djuna and his new friend Ben (also ~12), along with their new adult-friend, lazy but brilliant news reporter Socker Furlong, set out to figure out what's really going on in the haunted mansion on Carpenter street. This story has plucky, smart, but realistically scared and amazed 12-year old boys, a Lassie-resembling smart dog to help them with their mystery solving, a green turtle (of course), and a few extra characters to make it all quite interesting. Although I figured out the "mystery" rather early on, I think kids will find this just confusing enough, just mysterious enough, just scary enough to keep them interested until the end.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A bunch of minis

Soul Tracker

Here's Amazon's synopsis (it's better than what I would write at this point :)):
What if you could visit heaven and hell, traveling when and wherever you wish . . . without ever dying? What if your teenage daughter, the joy of your life, had died a tragic death and you discovered a way to visit her? What if there were people and beings, on both sides of the grave, who want to stop your return? These are the questions facing novelist David Kauffman. As a single parent he is devastated when his young daughter meets an untimely death. Desperate to contact her, he meets Gita Patekar, a beautiful and committed Christian with a scarred and shame-ridden past. She works for “Life After Life”―an organization dedicated to tracking and recording the experiences of the soul once it leaves the body. Despite Gita’s warnings that God is opposed to contacting the dead, David uses the organization’s computer to try to find his daughter. In the process they discover Gita’s organization has some very deep and dark secrets. A suspense-filled game of cat and mouse begins―both on earth and beyond the grave―as the couple work together, fall in love, and struggle to expose the truth . . . until they come face to face with the ultimate Love and Truth.

my brief thoughts: I really enjoyed this! The writing is not spectacular (it's not bad, it's just a little simple), but the pacing is good, the plot is interesting, and the characters are relatable and engaging. I read this book quickly, and I am definitely looking forward to the 2nd and 3rd in the series!
FOUR out of five stars. 


I thought the first half was very interesting, but the second half felt more like the author's blog/autobiography/expose on race. It had potential, certainly, but, IMHO, could have used a stronger editor.
THREE out of five stars.

The Island of Dr. Libris

I liked the end a lot, but the bulk of the book was unoriginal and lazy - relying on already written characters and literary tropes to move along a slow plot.
THREE out of five stars.

Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs

I was just altogether unimpressed with this. It felt like the author thought s/he was really clever, but s/he really was not. So, instead of 7 dwarves, there are 77, so her chores are neverending. So, after 1 day, she seeks out the evil queen for some sleep. ?! But the illustrations were nicely done! :)
TWO out of five stars.

Betsy's Story, 1934
It was cute and I thought it picked up the pace and ended well. I "saw it coming" pretty early, though I am definitely an adult reading a kid's book in this case ;) It's about a rich little girl in England and her cousin in America who's lost her fortune and is struggling. And the rich little girl in England (Betsy) knows that there are additional secrets, some good and some bad, that are being kept from her by her mother and, seemingly, her relatives and/or house-servants. So she sets out trying to discover the secrets before the adults deem it time for her to know them.

The little girl was headstrong (she is 11 going on 12) and entitled and unaware of real life, it seemed. But she was sincere in her desire to help those less fortunate than herself when presented with the opportunity. Her intentions were often misguided and, well, childish of course, but she seemed eager to do right and understand more so she could do more. I thought there were interesting morals at play here, but the overall story seemed to be ... I don't know, too black and white, too simple, too abrupt, even for the appropriate age.

But like I said, cute and sweet and an ok way to pass a little time. :)

THREE and a half of five stars.