Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: "The Shock of Night" by Patrick W. Carr

In The Shock of Night, evil is breaking forth from the Darkwater forest, but only a few are aware of the dangers. In a world where some people are "gifted" with special powers, Willet Dura unexpectedly is passed a rare and forgotten gift -- a gift that allows him to see the thoughts and memories of anyone he touches. As the king's reeve, he sets about using his new gift to investigate a suspicious murder. The Vigil, a group of others with the same gift, warn him of the dangers of the gift, and help him learn to use it. Though they're not certain they can trust him due to an impenetrable vault of memories hidden in his mind, they will need his help if they wish to uncover what is happening to all of the people who visited the Darkwater forest.

The first book of The Darkwater Saga, the novel is trying to accomplish a lot of world building and historical significance, a difficult task even in its more than 450 pages. I had unanswered questions and some plot confusion, but perhaps all will be answered in upcoming books.

Published by a Christian publishing company, I was having a little trouble with the religion of this world. It is clear that many characters have a strong faith in Aer (God), and it even seems as though Aer may be a triune god (two other names are sometimes mentioned), but it really isn't clear. In future books of this series, I would hope to have more details if I'm to believe that this should really be considered Christian fiction instead of secular fiction.

The way author Patrick Carr crafts the "gifts" of the world he has built for this series is unique and was a major highlight of the novel. For Willet's particular gift, we get to see how he learns to store the memories he receives from others as books on a book shelf in his mind. This and other details of the specifics of how the gifts work and how Willet learns to use his is very interesting and sets this book apart.

Willet Dura may be an unreliable narrator, as he is unable to remember parts of his past and incapable of seeing inside the black vault of his mind, but otherwise he is a fun person to read about in first person. He makes friends with the poor and the ignored and uses everyone else's avoidance of these people to his advantage. His skills as an investigator are Sherlock Holmes-like, which I found enjoyable to read. I look forward to seeing him continue on this adventure in future books.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review: "Whatever is Lovely: A Coloring Book for Relection and Worship"

The Whatever is Lovely coloring book contains 45 one-sided illustrations. The pages are large and square, a nice size for full-page drawings. The designs take up the whole page, but there are often large white spaces featuring a Bible verse or a religious quote. The overall effect is that even the most intricate designs aren't too intimidating because it's not just the entire page filled with tiny lines.

On the reverse side of the illustration, there is a short description of the meaning, whether it be a more extended version of the Bible verse, lyrics from a song, or explanation from a blog post. The illustrators did a nice job of representing the meaning or theme in their art work. Here are a few of my favorite texts that appear as part of the coloring page:
  • Serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13)
  • Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. (Corrie Ten Boom)
  • I am with you always (Matthew 28:20)
  • May we be sensitirve to the ways our words land in the hearts of others (Emily P. Freeman)
  • So be truly glad there is wonderful joy ahead (1 Peter 1:6)
  • We can put God first by giving him our first moments of the day (Lysa Terkeurst)
  • He has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiatstes 3:11)
There is a wide variety within the images themselves as well, from flowers and leaves, to an elephant, a deer, an eagle, and more. Coloring the pages is not only soothing, but also provides quiet time to reflect on the verse or quote provided. Whatever is Lovely was a brilliant idea for a relection/worship coloring book and this book really saw the idea through to a beautiful outcome.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Review: A Christmas Celebration Sticker & Activity Book

A Christmas Celebration Sticker & Activity Book is a 16-page paperback that includes more than 50 stickers. With the exception of the coloring pages, the other activity pages are brightly colored, which make for a very attractive book.

Activities include using stickers to finish a picture, finding hidden objects, finding hidden shapes and putting stickers over them, coloring, listing their favorite place to travel, spotting differences between two pictures, counting the number of animals or objects in a picture (2-10), tracing a path, solving a code with pictures representing letters, tracing a word, using stickers to complete a "puzzle", and a color by number.

As the book progresses, it tells the sorry of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and baby Jesus being born. On a few of the pages there is a full paragraph of description and then a small activity to follow. It would work best with a child already familiar with the Christmas story, reliving it through the activities, rather than hearing it for the first time since there is not too much detail.

My two and half year old niece was a little young to fully appreciate this book, but she did enjoy placing the stickers that matched the corresponding grayed out areas in the book. The recommended ages for this book are 4-8, and I think that the younger side of that range would have no problems with any of the activities.

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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: "The Grownup" by Gillian Flynn

Even in short story form, Gillian Flynn presents the high suspense, twisting reality that fans began to expect following Gone Girl's success. The Grownup is under 65 pages and has a small trim size, so the story is indeed very, very short. Plan to spend less than an hour devouring this read. I'd say it's about the length of two chapters of a novel, which is actually a helpful way of understanding this book. The first half is basically a character sketch - going deep into the history and motivations of our unnamed narrator. From learning to be a con-artist from her mother, to delving into prostitution, to pretending to be psychic, her past is captivating in how she shows her ability to read, understand, and therefore manipulate, people.

 For the second half, she explores her next entrepreneurial enterprise - home visits. A worried client, Susan, visits the psychic shop repeatedly before fully explaining that she fears her house is haunted and has been negatively affecting her stepson, making him  as evil as the darkness the house seems to exhale. The psychic agrees to help, thinking this a quick scam to make some good money, but she soon realizes that something strange is going on, and that her fake psychic cleansing remedy won't save the family, or herself.

Originally published as "What Do You Do?" in George R.R. Martin's Rogues anthology, this ghostly tale of deception is suspenseful even in its brevity. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the short story, the plot twists are so sharp, with one following immediately after another, that the ending feels rushed and compressed. You don't have time to process one change before something new happens.  It's still a great read for a quick thriller as long as you're ready for just how quick it will be.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: "The Time Chamber" by Daria Song

"Whatever the fairy touched, no matter how mundane, turned into something beautiful and mysterious."
The Time Chamber Coloring Book by Daria Song

The Time Chamber by Daria Song is an intricate coloring book for adults and young adults. Unlike other popular coloring books, this one has a story line with a sentence or two on a few pages throughout the book. It tells the tale of a young fairy who lives inside a cuckoo clock and decides to venture outside to experience the wonders of the human world. The story didn't add much to the experience for me, but I could appreciate its uniqueness and imagine a pre-teen really enjoying it.

The illustrations are full of tiny details to explore and color, though it's also not too overwhelming. Many coloring pages have the fairy on them. Some of my favorites included a vanishing library and a chandelier room. There are also two visual lists of hidden objects that you can identify throughout the book, with a key at the end.

I used color pencils, which worked well even in the small details. The pages are double-sided, so I did try out a marker and pen to check for bleed-through, which wasn't too bad, but some of the images have a lot of open white space where it would be painfully obvious. Many of the illustrations run the spread, which creates a large two-page design, but also unfortunately means that there are illustrations running right through the gutter making them near impossible to color.

All things considered, there's a good variety in detail level and design of the images, so as long as you're on board with the fairy theme, this coloring book is definitely worth checking out. You can even color in the both sides of the removable dust jacket. There's also a to/from page at the beginning - good to remember when you're looking for that last minute gift.

The colorable inside of the removable dust jacket.

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: "5-Minute Bedtime Treasury" by Precious Moments

"Let there be furry bunnies and fast cheetahs!" God said with delight. "Fill the land with wrinkly elephants and tall giraffes. Let the animals play on my earth!"
The 5-Minute Bedtime Treasury is a 192-page padded hardcover book. There is a ribbon bookmark bound into the spine for an easy way to keep track of your place each night. It contains 46 Bible stories separated into three themed sections: God is trustworthy, God is good, and God is love. Each story ends with a "bedtime Bible promise," a short Bible verse that somehow ties in to what the story was about. For example, after describing the flood from Genesis 6-9, the verse that follows is Psalm 91:1: "Those who go to God Most High for safety will be protected by God All-Powerful." The illustrations are standard Precious Moments drawings, in pastel coloring, with many animals.

There are many ways in which this book is focused on the young children it is written for. In the illustrations, many prominent people are drawn to look very young (as is the Precious Moments style), but I thought it made the book more relateable for children. The illustrations are full of detail to captivate the attention of young ones as they are being read the story. The stories themselves are written with short sentences and in a playful manner. It made them engaging and kept them moving at the pace a toddler needs. The "5-minute" estimation of reading time seemed accurate to me, leaving plenty of time for slowly reading and looking at pictures.

There's also a few pages to fill in: a family tree, an "all about me," a space to trace your child's hand, a church record, and a write your own prayer page for an adult and for the child. These pages will make the book a keepsake that I could see children saving and then reading to their own kids someday.

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: "The Bronte Plot" by Katherine Reay

In The Bronte Plot, Lucy Alling works at a reputable antique shop for with the owner, her mentor, Sid. She loves her job, but her favorite part is what she loving refers to as Book Day, where she takes care of all of the special edition, rare books. It's through these rare books that she takes an interest in a young attorney, James, who comes in to buy a few books as gifts. They begin dating, but it ends abruptly when James catches her using unscrupulous business tactics.

However, James' grandmother, Helen, takes a special interest in Lucy, and after the break up she hires Lucy as an antique consultant for a trip to England. With Helen's health condition precarious, her family is outraged by her decision, and simply don't understand. But for Helen, it's a trip of going back to go forward, and Lucy plays an important role in Helen's personal mission. 

Though Lucy is slow to admit it, the trip holds similar trials for her as well. She is reluctant, but anxious, in seeking her estranged father, whose only contact for more than a decade has been to send Lucy a book on her birthday.  The most recent was postmarked England. But she knows that a love of fabricating stories runs in the family, and she's not quite ready to face the reality of how much her father's lies have hurt her, and shaped her.

Lucy, her father, Helen, and James all share a love a literature that runs common through the novel, uniting the characters. Author Katherine Reay, as with her other two novels (Dear Mr. Knightley and Lizzy & Jane), includes many quotes and references to classical literature, especially the Bronte sisters. A novel for book lovers, whether or not your exact tastes line up with the characters, The Bronte Plot is another delightful escape into a the lives of characters you'll love from the beginning despite their flaws.

I especially enjoyed the pacing of the book, which though there was downtime in Helen and Lucy's England journey, every moment was vital to the characters' growth and it was captivating to watch it play out. Every piece lead toward the forgiveness, redemption, and honesty that came with the characters facing their pasts to ultimately move forward.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Review: "The Gap of Time" by Jeanette Winterson

The Gap of Time begins with a brief synopsis of the play it's based on, Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. Since I haven't read the play, it was helpful as an introduction so that I could later appreciate aspects of the cover that specifically related, or deviated, from the original.

The Gap of Time is set in modern day, where Leo becomes obsessed with the delusion that his wife, MiMi, is having an affair with his friend (and former lover) Xeno. He's exponential paranoia leads him the belief that the child MiMi is pregnant with is not his own. Refusing to believe their protests or the wisdom of a paternity test, after the child's birth Leo hires a friend to take his baby daughter to Xeno. The baby, Perdita, never makes it to Xeno, and instead adopted by a single father and his son. Perdita has a few possessions from her past, but otherwise is unaware of what led to her adoption. After meeting and befriending Xeno's son Zel, slowly the truth comes out and all parties are taken back through the years to uncover what really happened.

From the description of The Winter's Tale at the beginning, it seems as though the plot line stayed pretty much the same. The names are all similar, or the same, which would make it easy for someone familiar with the Shakespeare version to pick up.

I mostly enjoyed The Gap of Time, but there were some areas where it felt like the theme was forced. For example, Xeno is clearly stuck in the past as he creates a video game to play out a mix of memories and dreams. Every time it was mentioned it seemed to be trying to remind us that the book is set in modern time (video game) and that there was more to the Leo and Xeno, Xeno and MiMi relationship but all of it was in the past and therefore untouchable, but also unforgettable.

The theme was also a little overdone in the more lyric passages, such as "the early separation of earth-moon, hundreds of millions of years before life of any kind happened on earth, had no reason to be the grand motif of our imagination. But it is" (122). For someone looking for a philosophical take on time in novel form, perhaps it would go over smoother, but to me it just got in the way of the narrative and took me out of the moment.

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about the fearsome out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. (4)

After returning to the United States after 20 years of living in the UK, author Bill Bryson decided to reconnect with his homelands by hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100 trek that spans from Georgia to Maine. His unlikely companion is Katz, an old college friend, who knows even less about hiking than Bryson. A Walk in the Woods begins with the pair buying gear they know nothing about and set out into the Georgia wilderness on a snowy March day.

Their limited experience makes for an exciting travelogue that feels like it could be you or me out there in the wilds. Though Bryson describes the harshness of the hike, there's still a certain appeal of the trail that he conveys. Bryson's skill at weaving in trail and local history at the beginning of chapters take the memoir outside of his experience to make larger statements about the environmental, political, and social problems that affect the trail. The way he relates the history of the trail is just as captivating as the prose about his personal experiences.

The people they encounter on and around the trail are just as unique as the trail itself. Bryson's characterization reads like a caricature, focusing on a characteristic, but in a way that somehow still makes them makes them distinct, relatable, and, above all, entertaining. Often, the main feature of a person they meet is the particular way in which they annoy Bryson and Katz, whether its by being over enthusiastic while discussing hiking gear, being inconsiderate when sharing a shelter, or taking incessantly.

For the first half of the book, these factual interludes flow nicely with the day-to-day experiences of hiking on the trail, from Katz hilariously throwing gear over a cliff to make his pack lighter to the abundant excitement they express at coming to a town where they can sleep in a real bed and eat something other than noodles. 

The book is very enjoyable, until part two begins. Part one ends with Bryson and Katz getting off the trail and agreeing to meet up later in the summer to hike another part of it. In part two, Bryson details day hikes he does in between and then finishes with his second week-long hike with Katz. the second half of the book the ratio of personal to factual  is quite different, leaving the story line of Bryson's hiking muddled and disjointed. 

As a non-hiker with interest in, but limited knowledge of, hiking trails and wilderness adventures, I enjoyed the book overall. For the first half, I couldn't put the book down without reading one more day of their trek. The second half was nowhere near as compelling, but a suspenseful ending makes it all worthwhile anyway. 

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

About the Author:

Bill Bryson’s bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, Notes from a Small Island, I’m a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, A Short History of Nearly Everything (which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize), The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, At Home, and One Summer. He lives in England with his wife.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: "Choose Your Own Autobiography" by Neil Patrick Harris

The unique "choose your own adventure"-style autobiography could only be pulled off by someone with a great sense of humor or a magician, and it so happens that Neil Patrick Harris is both of these things. The entire autobiography is written in second person, so it tries to put you in Neil's shoes, as though you are getting to experience his life. Most chapters are on the shorter side, ending with choices that either continue the story along the same theme or timeline, or could take you someplace completely different. You can choose to read through all of his acting experiences (Doogie Howser, How I Met Your Mother, Broadway shows), his interest in magic and performing as a magician, his personal life from growing up to raising two kids of his own, or skip around and get a little of each.

I found the experience of skipping around NPH's life non-chronologically both rewarding and frustrating. I really enjoyed it the first two times I went through because I really wanted to hear about how he got in to magic so I read those first, and went back for his acting and family life afterwards. After "finishing" the adventure a second time, there were still a lot of passages I had missed. I suppose if you were able to put it aside and read it again a year later or so, you might get different pieces of his life, but I wanted to finish it all in one go. I ended up flipping through and reading the passages I had missed, which were quite a few! That part wasn't as much fun.

There are a few chapters that are completely made up, such as if you were to make the choice to have a horrible childhood. There's also a running gag where several outcomes bring you to a tragic end in a similar way where only the small details have changed, and though you are almost saved, ultimately "Your body is never found." These probably only make up about 15 pages of the 300-page book and are funny, though it was my least favorite part of the book.

All things considered, I really enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris' Choose Your Own Autobiography. The stories he included were all interesting, whether I was familiar with the show he talked about acting in or not. There's not a lot of information on any one thing, but there's a little information on everything it seems. If you're looking to read 30+ pages just about his time on How I Met Your Mother, you'll be disappointed. But if you want to know a bit about that and appreciate some Barney jokes throughout, this book is for you. This autobiography has it all - even recipes, a crossword puzzle, and a hidden signature page (shh).

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: "Wild About Creation Sticker & Activity Book"

The Beginner's Bible Wild About Creation Sticker & Activity Book is a short, staple bound 16-page full-color book containing over 50 stickers.

The activities include: tracing, drawing, connecting the dots, spotting differences between two images, coloring, matching male & female animals, maze, word search, counting, puzzle solving, putting images in sequence of the story, and placing stickers as directed. I particularly liked that this book specifically said where to use which stickers, but also gave the freedom to place anywhere on the page.

This book tells the story of creation from "let there be light!" to banishment from the garden, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It would be hard for a child to understand why Eve eating the fruit was bad from just this book. I would use this book in combination with others, or with a child already familiar with the ideas presented.

The activities are great though and I think preschool/kindergarten aged children would really enjoy the variety in activities this book presents. I know I would've loved all of the adorable animal stickers as a child (especially the blue raccoon!).

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: "Doctor Who: The Drosten's Curse" by A.L. Kennedy

For anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the Doctor Who series, this book will be a comfortable, easy read.

Featuring the Fourth Doctor, this novel takes place in Arbroath where a large number of guests have been mysteriously disappearing from the golf spa hotel. Junior Day Receptionist Byrony finds it odd that so many people leave their luggage in their rooms, but don't return for it. When an odd man in a hat and scarf appears, Byrony's dream of seeing a real-life spaceship becomes a reality as she teams up with the Doctor and Putta, another alien drawn to the golf spa hotel to figure out why a sand trap is eating people. There is also a massive conscious field that all of them can feel -- sometimes through a splitting headache, sometimes through hearing each other's thoughts, and sometimes hearing the thoughts of the very creature they sought -- the legendary Bah-Sokhar.

It is a whirlwind adventure full of dangerous situations and a problem that reached well beyond the perimeter of the hotel. In true Doctor Who fashion, it is up to these three unlikely companions to band together to save the world. With a romance brewing between Byrony and Putta, an angsty teenager who wants to take over the world, two not-so-human children and their grandmother who has been owned the hotel for far longer than should be possible, there is plenty going on in this 360-page novel.

It is a quick, easy read, filled with mostly very short chapters (that are oddly unnumbered). It doesn't explain a whole lot for someone trying to interact with the Doctor Who series for the first time and most of the things that would make a Doctor Who fan smile would be completely missed by a first-timer. For that reason, I'd recommend it only for someone who has already been introduced, whether through the tv show or other books.

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review: "Prayers for New Brides" by Jennifer O. White

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
Prayers for New Brides: Putting on God's Armor After the Wedding Dress is a 40 chapter devotional for newly married, soon to be married, or even long-time married brides. It focuses on praying for your husband and God's will for your marriage. It also spends quite a bit of time talking about spiritual battle and truths about marriage.

Each chapter has a discussion, prayer, and "call to action"/journal suggestion. Example chapters include "God Is Fighting for You," "See Your Spouse through God's Eyes," "Praise: Your Love Song to God and First Line of Defense," "Cement the Experience of Unity," and "Communicate as a Team." The prayers are personalizable, frequently using blanks for you to fill in your husband's name and sometimes require more in depth thought to fill in the blanks with personal examples and experiences. At the end of each small paragraph of prayer, the Bible verses that inspired it are cited so that you can look at them further.

Overall, I thought it was a well-compiled discussion of God's role in marriage and how to go into marriage sure-footed. I would recommend doing no more than one chapter a day to get the most out of it -- the book even suggests if doing it as a devotional with a group that five chapters a week for eight weeks is a good way to tackle it. There's not many personal examples in the book, so it can be hard to take in a bunch of chapters all at once and still take something away from them.

Though I'm sure every woman would take something different away from this book, I'll share a few points that stood out to me. In the "Sacrifice Your Expectations" chapters  the prayer invites you to bring your expectations of marriage before God including all the outside influences from media and couples in your life. The prayer describes these expectations as "limiting," which was a refreshing way to look it. In the "Covering His Priorities, Time, and Energy" chapter, the prayer included thanking God for creating your husband with his specific passions, personality, and talents as well as talking about how God knows the rhythm of time your husband needs to divide his time between work, marriage, serving God, and rest. As a last note, the chapter on "Fear Less: Your Privilege as a Wife" quotes 2 Timothy 1:7 "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control," where the whole chapter focuses on surrendering your fears to God.

While I thought most of this book was well done, there were some parts that I didn't agree 100% with the author, her discussion, or the Bible verses she used to support her ideas, but some disagreement is to be expected and it didn't interfere with the parts I did find helpful.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Review: "The Curse of Crow Hollow" by Bill Coffey

Small town friends Scarlett, Cordelia, Hays, and Naomi ditch their own party to have a private camping trip up by the town's old mines -- an area that has been fenced off mad locked up since before they were born. Superstition, rumor, and small town gossip were enough to keep most people away from the mines and from Alvaretta, whom most in the town called a witch and swore there were demons up in the mines to boot.
The narrator is a friendly southern voice, a resident of Crow Hollow, detailing the madness that took over the town to an out-of-towner. The tale begins with this teenage camping trip that ends up leading the friends to the witch's house where she promptly curses them and they barely escape alive after glimpsing some living thing that Alvaretta is desperately trying to keep hidden. 

The friends return to town, hurry to church, and desperately try to act as though nothing has happened.  Part way through the service though, the three girls are seized by fits and each develop alarming symptoms. Scarlett loses her ability to speak, Naomi has constant uncontrollable spasms, and Cordelia's face droops and is unresponsive to any muscle movement. 

With doctors stumped, the friends have no choice but to come clean about the witch's curse. Soon after, all of the other young girls in the town develop symptoms mimicking those of the original three. The town begins to fall apart as blame, rumor, and suspicion threaten to destroy the small town community. Long-held secrets come to light and questions of faith and demons, innocence and guilt, ravage the town. 

It is a dark and gripping tale that starts off at full rush with the friends getting cursed, but then slows down a lot as reader is introduced to the members of the town, setting up for the interconnected role they all play in the town's impending downfall. The final chapters speed back up to breakneck pace, packed with action and answers to the many puzzles introduced.

There's a lot of characters to keep straight and I had a little trouble remembering which kid went with which parents at first. All in all it was definitely worth reading if you're looking for something scary and mysterious, but at over 400 pages with so much build up in the middle, it could've been a little shorter. The book also includes discussion questions at the end, which would be fitting for a YA book club.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: "Bradstreet Gate" by Robin Kirman

When a Harvard student Julie Patel is murdered, one of her professors, Storrow, falls to blame. The fact that he was dating a student, Georgia, was revealed through the investigation as well as through Georgia's jealous friend Alice's expose that she wrote following the murder. Beyond that, even students who had limited interaction with Storrow came forward with stories of interactions that seemed normal enough at the time, but odd in retrospect.

The novel is broken up into three parts: Harvard years, after Harvard, and ten years following the murder. The first section was excellent - full of suspense, mystery, and interesting characters. I was completely captivated and would've given the first section a five star rating. However, once I started the second section, things quickly went down hill. I kept expecting it to get better, but the characters' coincidental encounters just did not hold my interest. The book was screaming that the students had no reason to stay in touch after school, yet they kept going back to each other. By the third section, I couldn't wait for it to be over, since it was obvious nothing else would happen in the book.

If you're looking for a mystery that leaves you thinking "what just happened?" this might be it. I don't know how to interpret the ending, and it did not fulfil anything I was hoping to get from the conclusion of a mystery novel. If the first section hadn't been so good, the last two might not have seemed so bad, but at such a close comparison, I finished feeling very disappointed.

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Review: "The Day is Waiting" by Don Freeman and Linda Zuckerman

The Day is Waiting is a collection of illustrations by the late Don Freeman, author and illustrator of Corduroy books I enjoyed as a child. This book is full of images that published posthumously with text written by a close friend and colleague of Freeman's.

The illustrations are just as beautiful as I remember and it is a very nice collection covering a wide variety of subjects. My favorite is a goat standing on top of a hut. There's also a mouse in a suit of armour, a squirrel wearing a scarf, a bear riding a unicycle, and more than one page of penguins.

The story itself poses three questions: What do you see when you look outside? Where can you go on a fine, free day? and What can you do with the long, lazy hours? Each is answered by a few pages of short rhyming list of things.

There's not a lot of cohesiveness, which I was wondering about when I heard about this book. However, since the book is about finding joy and peace in the world around you and treasuring your home (the concluding sentence), the random pictures of things you could see, places you could go, and things you could do works out pretty well.

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: "Princess Charity Sticker & Activity Book" inspired by Jeanna Young & Jacqueline Johnson, pictures by Omar Aranda

Princess Charity is part of a five-book sticker and activity book series titled The Princess Parables. Each 16-page book focuses on one of five sisters and Princess Charity is the youngest.

The activities are similar to the other Princess Parable books, but some types are unique to this book as well. Activities include: coloring, filling in stickers, word search, connect the dots, color by number, maze, find things that don't belong, spot the differences, drawing yourself as a princess, and drawing a kingdom. It's a handy little book of entertainment that would be perfect for vacations or waiting rooms.

The only problem with these books is that the 50 sticker insert is in the middle of the book, which is always a two-page spread photo. The stickers sheets would have to be pulled out of the book's staples so that the child doing the activity could see both sides at once.

The story line for Princess Charity leaves a bit to desire...There are short descriptions of what Princess Charity is doing and directions for activity. Most of them are very generic, about the princess, her sisters, and their father, but all of a sudden one page there's a Prince Jack without any introduction and then later he leaves the kingdom. It just seems weird in the limited story that it would focus on him leaving instead of arriving, since there was no prior mention of him. Maybe that was explained in Hope and Faith's books, since I haven't read those yet.

The story isn't terribly important though, especially with all of the great activities and stickers for children to play with. I would still heartily recommend this book.

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

Celebrating My 100th Blog Post with a Puppy Picture

In honor of my 100th blog post yesterday, here's my adorable dog with a pile of books that've been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for ages! 

The woes of being a many books, so little time!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: "I Take You" by Eliza Kennedey

I Take You follows lawyer Lily Wilder in the week leading up to her wedding in Key West where she grew up. The only problem is, she can't decide whether or not she wants to get married. Her continued promiscuity with coworkers, men she meets at bars, and men from pretty much anywhere has her friends, family, and even herself a little concerned. The first third of the book is mostly about her partying, drinking, having sex, and doing drugs mostly as part of her bachelorette parties (she has three). She also seems unable to help her profane language, which comes out at the least opportune moments.

As if she didn't have enough going on trying to plan a wedding while thinking about whether or not she wanted to go through with it, her law firm also has her working on preparing a witness for a deposition. She quickly realizes she's out of her depth when she opens the file and sees some very incriminating emails that show her witness admitting to fraud.

Lily's fiance, Will, seems to be near perfect - an archaeologist who is absolutely head over heels for Lily, but also has a lot on his mind. They got engaged after only two weeks of knowing each other, and the wedding is just six months later. Do they know each other well enough to get married? That's the question that Will, Lily, and all of their family and friends wrestle with throughout the book.

It is a funny and captivating book in all of the crazy antics of Lily, her family, and everyone they encounter, though Lily is an endlessly frustrating narrator. She's outspoken, obnoxious, and continuously makes horrible life decisions that just make her terribly unlikable.  She is overly rude and often just plain mean. But she does learn from them and we do get to see character growth that leaves the novel with a satisfying conclusion and slightly minimizes the negative feelings toward the narrator.

It's definitely not for everyone, but I thought the story was interesting and I was very invested in seeing how it was resolved until the very last page.

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

Thursday, June 11, 2015

To Review: "I Take You" by Eliza Kennedy

Next up to review is I Take You

It's the first novel by author Eliza Kennedy, and I can't wait to read it!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: "Princess Grace Sticker & Activity Book" inspired by Jeanna Young & Jacqueline Johnson with Pictures by Omar Aranda

The Princess Grace Sticker & Activity Book is one of five in the series that follows a princess and her sisters. It is a 16-page activity book and includes 50 stickers. The main "story" of the Princess Grace book is following her mischievous kitten, Poppy.

Some of the activities were the same type as in the Princess Joy book, but others were new.  Activities include: picture with sticker placement marked, word search, coloring page, connect the dots, draw flowers in a vase, find missing items, spot the differences, follow the path (similar to a maze), secret code, counting, and drawing people you love.

It's a little odd that the stickers are placed in the middle of a spread that has a two-page picture with missing items to locate. It makes it so you would have to remove the sticker pages to see the whole picture (or keep flipping back and forth).

Other than that, it's a great activity book for a young princess fan! There is a good amount of variety in the activities, and the pictures and characters are all adorable. The publisher recommends this book for ages 4-8.

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: "What You Left Behind" by Samantha Hayes

What You Left Behind by Samantha Hayes is a chilling story of a cluster of teenage suicides in a small country town, Radcote. Though it happened before the novel began, a few new deaths re-open old community wounds (and investigations). Detective Lorraine Fisher visits her sister just as her nephew goes missing and together with neighbors and the local police force, they do everything they can to figure out what is going on in Radcote.

The novel was suspenseful and mysterious, doing a nice job of resolving itself, but not revisiting every
piece of the puzzle. It was dark, scary, and disturbing at times, as one might expect from the brief description above. 

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which adds a lot of insight and intrigue. It is especially impactful in the prologue/epilogue, but I don't want to spoil anything!

It was a fast paced book that held my attention the entire time and never slowed down. 

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: "Princess Joy Sticker & Activity Book" inspired by Jeanna Young & Jacqueline Johnson with Pictures by Omar Aranda

The Princess Joy Sticker & Activity Book is a short 16-page booklet, but packs a lot of different activities into its few pages. The book starts with a "Once upon a time..." two sentence story with a full color picture and clearly identified places to put six of the 50 stickers that come with the book. The other stickers can be used to decorate other pages, but are not specified for a specific use.

There isn't much of a story line, but there's enough to give the book a theme: Princess Joy's birthday. Each page has a few sentences explaining the activity and talking about the upcoming birthday party. The illustrations give the book a very Disney feel.

Activities include: word search, coloring pages, party invitation decoration, maze, spot the differences, secret code (fill in the letters for the corresponding provided numerical equivalent), counting, and hidden item search.

The suggested age range is 4-8 and the activities do seem to vary quite a bit in the difficulty level. I don't think any of the activities would be too difficult for a four year old with some adult help though.

I imagine this would be a great book for a special occasion, such as camping or a weekend vacation. It's a short and sweet book that kids will love, where the only downside is the limited story and lack of more directions for sticker use.

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

To Review: "What You Left Behind" by Samantha Hayes

Next up to review is a novel by Samantha Hayes, What You Left Behind

It is a detective story about a collection of suicides that happened in a small town. At first it's just an unusual new story, a mystery, but then things get a little too close to home for the detective and her family...

Look for my review coming soon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Review: "Deception on Sable Hill" by Shelley Gray

Though Deception on Sable Hill is the second of the Chicago World's Fair mystery series, I did not feel lost having not read the first novel. However, this book was so enjoyable I may have to go back and read it out of order!

Eloise Carstairs is considered by many to be the most eligible bachelorette: she comes from a very wealthy family, is beautiful, and has a spotless reputation. What her high society acquaintances don't know is that she's hiding a horrible secret. At the beginning of the novel she's hasn't told anyone that she was sexually assaulted, and that haunts her through the story. 

When Eloise finally gets up the courage to start attending parties again, she stumbles into another horrible nightmare. There's a "Society Slasher" on the loose, attacking well-to-do ladies with a stiletto knife, marring their beautiful faces. 

Lieutenant Detective Sean Ryan is on the case and he takes a special interest in ensuring Eloise's safety. Despite being of a much lower class, the two develop an affection for one another. Through their relationship, they teach each other that class shouldn't matter so much and that beauty is as internal as it is external. 

Though the story takes place during the Chicago World's Fair, it is mentioned only briefly and only one scene takes place there. I enjoyed reading about society, the Chicago slums, and in general what Chicago was like in that time period, but I would've liked to see more of the fair as well. 

The characters are lovable and have diverse personalities that create interesting situations. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a good romance story with a bit of mystery and  crime. 

I received this book courtesy of BookLook in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

To Review: "Deception on Sable Hill" by Shelley Gray

I received Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray to review from BookLook. It's part of the Chicago World Fair mystery series.

I love the cover on this one, and as a resident of Chicago, I'm very excited to read a book that takes place here.

I can't wait to get started reading it!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: "Double Cross" by DiAnn Mills

Double Cross was a suspenseful and danger-filled novel. The FBI and Houston Police Department team up to solve a case where someone is selling fraudulent life insurance to elderly dementia patients. It gets personal when Officer Daniel Hilton's grandparents are affected and the stake's are raised when suddenly the purchasers of the scam life insurance policies start dying.

There is a lot of tension as the FBI teams up with a former criminal who has found Christ and with all the danger they are in, no one knows for sure who they can trust.

There are discussion questions at the end, which make me imagine this book being used by a church book club.

Though the protagonists, FBI agent Laurel and Officer Daniel Hilton, are both adults at least relatively well into their careers, their romantic interests in each other seems immature as they seem to rely on others to tell them that they are interested in one another. There was also a few other instances where I really didn't like the characters because they reminded me more of middle school children than professional law enforcement personnel: "When had he become such a wuss? He'd never been shot by a female until today" (217).

It was a little slow to get started, but the story was actually very enjoyable, with lots of twists and turns. It's a good, quick read and the pace really picks up toward the end, even to the point of seeming rushed. At nearly 400 pages, I think this novel should've been paced a little differently, but I would still recommend it to someone who was interested in FBI/police mysteries.

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

To Review: "Double Cross" by DiAnn Mills

Next up to for me to review is Double Cross, an FBI: Houston Novel, which came in the mail today courtesy of Tyndale Fiction!

The FBI and Houston Police Department team up to investigate a scam targeting the elderly.

Should be exciting!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Only God Can Make a Kitten by Rhonda Greene and Illustrated by Laura Bryant

Only God Can Make a Kitten is a delightful rhyming story book for ages 4-8, according to the back of the book.

The story features a young, inquisitive boy asking his mother questions about who made things, from the ocean, to trees, to snow. His questions are posed in a concise four-line stanza, which his mother answers in a similar rhyming stanza.

The illustrations are beautifully done and add a younger sister to the story. My favorite pictures were of the kitten, who really isn't in the story very much. That was my only complaint -- that I was hoping for more kitten in the story. The kitten is only mentioned on two pages and in three illustrations (excluding the front matter, which actually had quite a lot of kitten illustrations).

Its important to note then that is a story about a boy asking about who created things that happens to include a kitten. Accepting that this is not a book about kittens, I would fully recommend this book as I think the rhyming stanzas and colorful illustrations will capture the hearts of young readers.

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: Tiny Bear's Bible

Tiny Bear's Bible is a fuzzy covered book that toddlers are sure to love. The bears ears can be wiggled on the cover, which I know my niece will enjoy.

Between the fuzzy covers are board book pages that tell twelve Bible stories through short one-to-two paragraph poems. After the poem, there is sometimes a direct address to little bear, such as, "Yes, Tiny Bear, God keeps his promises!" Stories include: Noah's Ark, Daniel in the Lions' Den, David and Goliath, and the birth of Jesus.

The illustrations are very well done. On the left page, the illustration is from the Bible story with the title and verses it is taken from. On the right is the poem telling the story, along with a picture of the little bear that relates to the story.

The publisher suggests that this book is appropriate for ages 2-5, which I think is appropriate given the board book and fuzzy cover format, along with Bible story poems that will grow with the child.  It's a great book to read aloud and a really fun way to introduce young ones to the Bible.

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: "God Watches Over Me"

God Watches Over Me is a collection of poems and Bible verses, illustrated with Precious Moments drawings. It is a board book with a foam board cover, making it ideal for children like my niece who haven't learned to be gentle with the pages yet!

Each page has a category of a place or time where God is watching over us, featuring at least one poem, Bible verse, and illustration. Some of my favorites were "God Watches Over My Friends and Me," "God Watches Over Me When I Travel," "God Watches Over Me When I Get Hurt," and "God Watches Over My Pets."

The illustrations are adorable and are the reason I was interested in this book. However, the poems themselves are just okay--mediocre rhyming paired with long poems that would be challenging to keep a toddler interested in. It's not a typical easy rhyme and low word count per page book.

I do think it's a book that could grow with a child though since it is durable. All in all, I would recommend only for the biggest Precious Moments fans, since the content isn't the best.

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: "Two Renegade Realms" by Donita K. Paul

Donita K. Paul's second installment in the Realm Walkers series, Two Renegade Realms lives up to the high expectations set by its quirky predecessor. One Realm Beyond introduced this great new fantasy world where realm walkers are individuals chosen by Primen (God) to protect the realms. The Realm Walkers Guild that manages and watches over the realm walkers had become corrupt, as our young realm walkers Cantor and Bixby found out.

Two Renegade Realms, which picks up three years after the last book, begins with a reunion of our protagonists Cantor and Bixby, as well as Cantor's dragon companion, Bridger. Bridger is hugely talented in that he can shapeshift into pretty much anything, whereas other dragons of the same breed can usually only shapeshift into two or three different set forms. However, he tends to be a little bumbly, but that only adds to his charm.

The young realm walkers are deep in research trying to find a lost library that will hold the keys to saving the realms from two realms that are on a trajectory to collide with other realms, which would allow for the species inhabiting those realms to invade and take over.

Cantor, Bixby, and Bridger keep very busy searching for a lost library; getting sidetracked by looking for the lost right-hand man of Primen, Chomountian; and trying to protect the realm from invasion. The Realm Walker Guilds' corruption continues to pop up in unexpected places. Kidnappings and rescue missions ensure that there's never a dull moment.

As in the previous book, the religious elements are very clear and even sometimes too overtly stated so that it felt like it was a little forced. I did think the messages were important and it's still a great way for YA readers to be able to make those connections to their lives so that they can learn to trust and honor God as the characters trust and honor Primen.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the main plot line of the imminent invasion was the least interesting part and actually only took a few pages after a 400 page book leading up to it. I would recommend this book only to someone who read and enjoyed One Realm Beyond, because the charms of this book come from the loveable characters and all of their side-missions as things never go exactly as planned. This is still a great new fantasy series and I can't wait to read another one.

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Review: "Two Renegade Realms" by Donita K. Paul

Ready to Review: Two Renegade Realms by Donita K. Paul, the highly anticipated follow up to One Realm Beyond of the Realm Walker series. 

What have the loveable realm walkers Cantor and Bixby been up to over the past three years since the first book left off?

See my review on the first book One Realm Beyond. And look for my new review coming soon!