Monday, June 30, 2014

To Review: "The Panopticon" by Jenni Fagan

Next on my list to read and review is The Panoptican, the first novel by Jenni Fagan, which arrived earlier this week from Blogging for Books.

I'm an experiment. I always have been. It's a given, a liberty, a fact. They watch me. Not just in school or social-work reviews, court or police cells-they watch everywhere.
                                      - Preface

Intrigued? Look for my review in the coming weeks!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: "Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab" by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's first mystery, High-Voltage Danger Lab, had the most interesting, spooky (but not too scary) plot line of all of the Nick and Tesla books. From wild dogs, ghostly sightings, warning messages, and kidnappings, Nick and Tesla are in for a wild summer at their Uncle Newt's after their parents suddenly left them to go do work in Uzbekistan.

Though most 11-year-old kids would be out of place living with a "mad scientist" type uncle, Nick and Tesla are (nearly) right at home. They use his lab to create their own inventions, and there are instructions so that the reader can build the projects right along with them in the story! High-Voltage Danger Lab includes step by step directions for making bottle rockets, intruder alarms, and even an inventive way to follow a vehicle using highlighters!

My only complaint for this book is actually about the illustrations by Scott Garrett, not about the story itself. I was not too happy with the way he chose to depict one of the characters.  Though she is described as having "pale skin and long black hair and circles under dark, sunken eyes," I thought the illustration took it a too far and she actually looks deathly ill, an image I wouldn't want to get stuck in children's minds (82).  The other illustrations in the book are just as well done as previous books, and I really enjoyed them, especially especially in displaying Nick and Tesla's inventions.


This book is a great way to get kids excited about science experiments and mystery books. It's an adventurous, exciting book for elementary aged children and parents to read together and invent along with the protagonists. Due to the experiments along the way, it's a good thing to read when there's time to build along with the story. It would also help to stock up on supplies before you get to that part in the story, so you may have to peek ahead!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

To Review: "101 Secrets for Your Twenties" by Paul Angone

101 Secrets for Your Twenties by Paul Angone arrived in the mail last week from Moody Publishers!

As a sneak peek, I'll let you in on a few of the secrets:
#11: Lousy Jobs are The Twentysomething Rite of Passage.
#48: The biggest surprise about becoming an adult that no one ever talks about...Adulthood. Never. Stops. 
#70: Making and keeping friends in your 20s take intentionality.
#72: The most dangerous phrase you can say in your 20s is "if only..." 
Look for my review of this book coming soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: "Countdown City" by Ben H. Winters

Book two of The Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters brings the pre-apocalyptic world steadily closer to the impending doom of the asteroid destined for Earth. There are a few nods to the previous book, but it is not vital to have read it before this one.

Detective Hank Palace, though no longer technically an employed detective, has found himself another case.  He attacks this case with the same ardor and unfortunately, with the same questionable motivations.  Palace is propelled through impossible and dangerous situations simply to keep his word.  It seems to be a way for him to maintain order in a world gone mad.

The mystery of this book was in essence a missing person search, though more developed as the story progressed. The case is based upon a web of lies and many secondary characters that make the story line hard to keep up with.  The amount of randomness in the book is also hard to ignore.  It seems that even in the most dire situations, someone will just happen to show up to save Palace, even if there is no apparent reason for them to show up at all.

I still love the premise of the book: police mystery meets end of the world drama.  I enjoyed the parts of the book that showed how other people were handling the end of the world by hoarding up supplies or going to fulfill bucket list dreams.  I'm excited to read the final book in the trilogy, I just hope it has more definitive character motivations and that the asteroid actually hits during the book.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review: "On the Shoulders of Hobbits" by Louis Markos

Walk the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis in On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos. In this concise, but powerful book English professor Markos makes a passionate argument about the value of a story and how it has the ability to transform and inspire.

On the Shoulders of Hobbits is broken into four parts: The Road, The Classical Virtues, The Theological Virtues, and Evil. Each part has four chapters and each chapter has a section that introduces the topic, usually with a Biblical reference, a section of Tolkien, and a smaller section of Lewis.

Focusing mainly on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the book walks through the authors' work thematically, paralleling them with the Bible, with each other, and with other famous literature like Dante's Inferno and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The connections don't stop there though either; Markos also connects the stories to history and philosophy as well.

The book reminded me of the Hero's Journey, or monomyth, as it lined up common elements between different literary works.

In the chapter "Responding to the Call", both the Hero's Journey connection and the Biblical implications are quite clear. In the Hero's Journey, the protagonist displays some hesitancy, but ultimately responds to the call by crossing the threshold and taking to the Road in the "extraordianry world." Markos begins the chapter by explaining that God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things by fulfilling with faith that which they have been called to do.

The next section is the Tolkien connection where "Sam sees that his individual call (and that of Frodo) is part of a larger tapestry in which each individual call works together to bring about the destiny and hoped for end, what Tolkien liked to call the eucatastrophe: the good end that rises up, miraculously, our of what seemed, at first, to be defeat and death" (36). It's later explained that Tolkien said the greatest example of the eucatastrophe is the resurrection of Jesus.  The final section explains how Lewis's mouse Reepicheep may be small, but he has a great destiny to fulfill and he is dedicated to his high calling.

This is a phenomenal book for people who have read Tolkein and Lewis and want to learn more about the messages of their writing.  It was easy to read and interesting, though it does jump around with all of its references to different books.  I actually enjoyed the semi-chaos of having multiple allusions in the same paragraph and was thankful for all of the reading I had in my English classes that allowed me to keep up with Markos's explanations.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Moody Publishers for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: "Silenced" by Dani Pettrey

The fourth book of the Alaskan Courage series, Silenced by Dani Pettrey, is a suspenseful, romantic, Christian book that combines the beauty of Alaska, love, and faith with a murder mystery investigation, making for a book like nothing I've ever read before.

Kayden, an avid rock climbing adventurer, discovers a body while out on a tough mountain pass. Jake, a former detective, comes out of early retirement to work the case for what they realize was actually a murder.  Overcoming a history of distrust, Kayden and Jake work the case together, and as they do, they realize there's something brewing between them.

The first half of the book involves a lot of running back and forth between different suspects and witnesses, garnering what seemed like one fact from each person, only to return the next day for another single question to be answered.  Though perhaps true to how a detective works, it was repetitive and slow paced to move between about four different people, each "questioned" upwards of three separate times.

The second half was a whole different story, literally. By the time I finished reading, I couldn't remember what happened in the first half, since the first story line completely stopped and was never mentioned again.  That being said, the story really picks up in the second half and moves quickly - impossible to set down.  In the midst of a suspenseful and sickening kidnapping, family bands together to show the impossible strength of love and faith.

Silenced did a beautiful job of describing the scenery and explaining Alaskan life. It got cheesy at times, due to the romantic side of the book, but the adventure/investigation side was all business.  Though it was hard for me to stay interested during the bouncing between interviews part of the investigation, the rest of the novel made up for its shortcomings with exciting detective work and chases through the woods.

This book has it all: adventure, love, faith, murder, investigations, kidnapping, heartbreak, Alaskan wilderness, and family values.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.