Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: "A Proper Drink" by Robert Simonson

Image result for a proper drink
A Proper Drink tells the story of "the contemporary craft cocktail revival" in more than 300 dense pages. The story weaves through 36 chapters, many of which feature at least one cocktail recipe. The recipes go beyond the ingredients to include background information such as the year, place, and person involved in the creation.

The book also includes an extensive index, which I think is very useful. I think many readers may be more inclined to seek out a chapter on their favorites, rather than reading cover to cover.

Personally, I enjoyed reading about the Aviary in Chicago and the Trident cocktail. One of my friends told me of her visit to the Aviary and the incredible cocktails she saw served there. I never tried it myself, but still hope to someday. The Trident cocktail contains aquavit, which is an alcohol of particular interest for me and my husband after we learned about linet aquavit, the liquor that travels around the world before being sold.

However, I found much of the book dry and unengaging. I guess the expected audience (bartenders?) would be much more enthusiastic about the history and people. I was hoping for lighter snippets of stories combined with recipes. As is, the cocktails are on the complicated side as far as ingredients and require a well-stocked bar.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books, but was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"From This Day Forward" by Lauraine Snelling

From This Day Forward by Lauraine Snelling is the fourth book in the Song of Blessing series. I hadn't read any of the other books in the series, but that did not cause me any trouble. If you're familiar with the series though, you may already know some of the side characters.

Image result for from this day forward snelling
In this story, Deborah MacCallister is a lovesick nurse who can't get any attention from Toby, the man she spend the whole book (and most of her life since childhood) pining over. Toby is a construction foreman who spends all of his time trying to build a new school for deaf children. Between her own busy hospital shifts, Deborah tries a few desperate measures to win his affections. She takes him food, does his laundry, and even enlists the help of the women of the town to help push the two together. When a handsome new school teacher arrives in town, Toby is suddenly very concerned that he might lose Deborah, though he doesn't really act upon those fears until she goes away for a month-long hospital-training trip in Chicago.

Though the main point of contention in the novel is "who will Deborah choose?" between her childhood crush and the school teacher, the latter doesn't arrive until two-thirds into the book. Further, she doesn't really even seriously consider him as an option, which ends up leaving the main story of the book "when will Toby and Deborah get together."

The book also features several in-depth side stories, some of which seem to get as much if not more page space than Deborah and Toby. There's wild dogs that must be hunted, a spat between siblings, and a nonverbal mother raising her infant child with the help of other women of the community. Though all of these sub-plots add to the picture of Blessing as an idyllic Christian town, it also just takes up a lot of extra pages, obscuring the main point of the book. I really liked some of the characters and was invested in the Deborah-Toby-school teacher romance, but it took way to long to for anything to actually happen.

The book gives a nice overview of a Christ-focused community and includes several prayers and mentions of Bible passages. Perhaps those already familiar with the Blessing series will be much more entertained by the sweeping descriptions of everyone else's lives in the community. For me, I'd have to pass as there isn't enough of a story here.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra

Image result for Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra

Wee Alphas: 26 A to Z Postcards, from Angelfish to Zebra are a set of postcards that fold out of a book accordion style. Each card features an adorable, simple animal on a white background. The animal is in the shape of the letter its name begins with (F for fox, P for Panda, T for turtle, etc).

On the reverse side, there's a simple activity to fill out that features the letter. There are some that use six check-boxes to describe the person the post card is addressed to (You are: Incredible, Imaginative, Inventive, Intelligent, Interesting, Itchy). Some prompt you to draw a picture of your favorite thing that starts with a letter. Each has a PS that asks if you can find the hidden letter in each elephant. The third type of card is a few lines for a fun fact or a statement (Did you know? Just wanted to say...).

First of all, I absolutely love the idea of sharing this with a child. I've been sending the postcards to my three-year-old niece. I think she may be a little young to fully appreciate them, but she'll understand most of it. The illustrations are creative with the letter worked into the animal design, and the colors are simple and colorful but not overdone.  I do wish there was more variety in the activities outside of the three templates.

I received a free copy of this book, but was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Review: "A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue" by J.A. Myhre

When a reluctant Kiisa goes off to boarding school, her father surprises her with an unlikely gift - a talking bird, a fabled "messenger" that is able to talk to humans. Kiisa and her bird Njili are destined to save lives in a dangerous rescue mission brought about by African rebels. Along the way Kiisa learns about forgiveness, bravery, and evil's role in this world. Girls overcoming cultural barriers and prejudices is also a commonly addressed theme.

A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue is a 130-page juvenile fiction, magical realism book with a Christian underlay.
The Christian elements of the book are subtle, mostly represented through the animal messengers sharing knowledge about what evil is, and how it take many forms.

It is set in Africa, representing a fictionalized version of real events and real places. Author J.A. Myhre uses her experience living in Africa to provide an accurate representation of a culture many young readers will encounter for the first time, including using words in the Luwendigo dialect such as kodi and milembre in greetings. These words and other words that may cause confusion for young American readers (football meaning american soccer, etc.) are all defined in a short glossary at the end. Key scenes were illustrated in full-page black and white sketches, which I thought added quite a bit of value, especially for young readers tying to imagine a different part of the world.

The plot was engaging and moved at a good pace. There were odd moments in the story where time seemed to be of the essence, but the protagonist was spending time bathing, cooking chicken, and sleeping, with no sense of immediacy. The rebel antagonist story line was quite dark, but not unrealistic or necessarily inappropriate. There were subtleties that younger audiences might not pick up on, such as the protagonist wondering why the rebels would kidnap a young girl - perhaps for a cook, perhaps something "more sinister" - and thinking that if it were her in that situation, "she would be dreading nightfall" (97-98).

A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue is the second book in the Rwendingo Tales series. The first followed Kiisa's brother and his messenger animal in A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest. I haven't read the first book yet, and I did not see any reason that you would need to read it first in order to appreciate this book, since though the family and setting are the same, the stories seem to be completely independent.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

TV Adaptation Announced: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

I just finished reading Ben H. Winter's World of Trouble, third book of The Last Policeman series, only to find out the series is being turned into a TV show! Briefly, the gist of the series is that despite the imminent threat of an asteroid heading toward Earth, detective Hank Palace is determined to retain his identity as a law enforcement official, continuing to solve cases that no one else can be bothered to think about with the end of the world so near. Here's a trailer from the book:

I haven't found any info about when to expect the pilot to air, but I'm looking forward to seeing it.

The Last Policeman: Existentialist Sci-Fi Comes to TV

NBC Nabs ‘The Last Policeman’ Sci-Fi Cop Drama From Ben H. Winters & Neal Moritz

In case you missed it, here are my reviews of the first two books of the series:

The Last Policeman
Countdown City

Friday, September 16, 2016

"Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal"

 He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
PSALM 91:4 

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal is a hardcover journal that opens flat to easily color and write on both sides without having to worry about pictures in the crease. Each two page spread has its own topic with related pictures to color, a journaling activity, and sometimes a prayer and Bible verse.

The prayers were well written and connected well to the Bible verses. Coloring each spread gave me time to reflect on the theme and think about what I might want to write in reflection. The amount of coloring on the pages varies quite a bit, so it's nice for when you want a quick devotion time or a more detailed coloring experience.

I wish that there was a table of contents listing the topics since each page is titled. It would help if you were looking for some specific comfort. Personally, I chose to jump around to pages that I wanted to color as a way to select what to do next. 

The overall message is positive and encouraging. I found doing the activities both relaxing and reinvigorating. It's a well put together book and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a new type of devotion to try out.

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: "Punderdome" Card Game

Punderdome is a creative card game for at least three pun-loving people. Players can compete as individuals or small teams, as long as there is always at least one person or team to be the "Prompter" while at least two other individuals or teams can compete in the round.

Each round begins with a warm up question, where the first team to answer with a pun that fits  receives an extra 30 seconds to come up with their pun that round.

A suggested answer is provided, but any answer that fits is accepted and encouraged.

The round itself is played with the Prompter revealing a white card and a green card with which the teams have 90 seconds to combine into a pun and write it down. The Prompter votes on the best, and the winner becomes Prompter for next round. First team to 10 round victories wins the game.

This one took me more like five minutes than 90 seconds, but I'm proud to finally say my response to this is: Kung-Fu-cianism (Confucianism). I found it quite challenging to come up with something, so I could see wanting to play in teams especially at first, though you would need at least 6 players to do even teams.

An example given in the rules is Exercising Furniture:

  • You can only run sofa until you need to take a break!
  • Come on in here, pull-up a chair!
  • I never go to the gym--I'm more of a La-Z-Boy.

Winning the game involves choosing one of two mystery envelopes that the Host of the game has filled secretly before the game with a slip of paper that names a prize. The game suggests that one could be a good prize ("I'll buy you a drink") while one could be a rotten prize (a used napkin). A carry-over from the live game show the card game is based on, I'm sure it could be very interesting if you have great ideas for the prizes. However, as someone who plays games often, I could see it as being a hassle, a deterrent from playing, and frankly just unnecessary. Games don't need prizes to make them fun to play! I could see skipping the prize envelope entirely and just letting winning 10 rounds be the end of the game. If you had specific plans to play Punderdome, planning ahead could make the prize envelope part more fun.

This is the live game show the card game is based off.

All things considered, this could be a really fun game with the right group of creative individuals. Like any game, knowing your audience and their game preferences is important for knowing if this game would go over well. If you have a friend that is always inserting corny puns into everyday conversation like I do, you know this game would be a perfect fit.

A final note: as a game enthusiast/nerd, I have to express my appreciation that the box has dividers for keeping the two decks of cards separate. I love an organized game box.

I received a free copy of this game in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Can't Wait to Read: "This Is Not the End" by Jesse Jordan

"There's nothing I hate like arguments in the face of overwhelming logic. There are two reasons I know more than is possible about you. The first is simply that more is possible than you comprehend. The second is that we've been keeping track of you for a very long time, because you are a very special boy. I'm sorry--young man. A very special young man. You must excuse a certain amount of unintentional condescension from those of us who are very old. In any case, what I was beginning to say is that I've been watching you. And I've been waiting for this day, when I could finally meet you and begin." (44)

The biggest congratulations to Jesse Jordan on the release of his second novel:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review: "The Never-Open Desert Diner" by James Anderson

Working a delivery route on a remote stretch of Utah highway, Ben Jones is just an eccentric character as the residents that he serves. Ben's cash is running low from the route that isn't profitable enough to pay his bills. The first half of the book gives an interesting peek into the lives of those societal outcasts, such as Walt who owns a diner that hasn't been officially open since his wife died, a preacher who carries a cross through the desert everyday, and a mysterious woman squatting in an abandoned house in a never-developed subdivision.

The woman, Claire, is hiding out avoiding her husband, whom she is in the process of divorcing. Though she at first threatens Ben to stay away, he's drawn to the mystery of her after seeing her play the cello through the papered up windows of the abandoned house. When people start snooping around the desert, he suspects it is Claire they're after, but he can't give her up--he's falling in love with her.

I absolutely loved the first half of the book because of the detail and complexity of the residents of the desert. I enjoyed reading how each one had a particular way of interacting with Ben, and he respected and understood the residents in a way that no outsider ever could. When he met the preacher along the road, they'd pretend to smoke a cigarette together. Walt, the owner of the diner always could seem to sense Ben's presence and was never particularly nice, but Ben considered Walt his best friend.

As Ben learns more through his customers and a police interrogation, things start to get muddled for Ben as he tries to sort out the right course of action.The second half of the book definitely holds more surprises, but for all the shock value they provided, it was ultimately not as interesting to me as the first part. The mysteries are resolved through an information dump at the end to explain all of the loose connections, which was not engaging or rewarding, especially after my initial excitement with this novel.

It's a decent read for anyone who likes in-depth looks at unique characters, combined with some mystery and suspense, but some parts were a little too dark for me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review: "Wonderland: A Coloring Book Inspired by Alice's Adventures" by Amily Shen

Wonderland: A Coloring Book Inspired by Alice's Adventures is more than just pages to color: there's also activities and a story. The papers is nice and thick, so no need to worry about markers bleeding through the double sided pages.

The book is divided into 9 sections, each beginning with a "title page" and a few paragraphs of story. The following 4-6 pages are beautiful designs related to the story just presented. For this reason, this coloring book is unusual in that you may want to go through the coloring pages in order, to fully experience the story.

There are several activities spread throughout, such as a maze, hidden pictures, and suggesting that you add your own drawings to specific pages. You also get to solve the mystery of who ate the Queen of Hearts' cakes. I wasn't interested in the activity parts of the book, but they are not overdone or obtrusive if you're only interested in coloring.

Some of the illustrations are single pages, while others run both sides. While it's nice to have a large and complex scene to color, this book has a lot of designs that are in the fold, making it extremely difficult and testing for the perfectionist in me that doesn't want any white showing in the middle where the pencils can't reach!

Other features of note are a to/from dedication page and the removable dust jacket that you can color the inside of for an extra long coloring experience.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: "Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown" by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Solar-Powered Showdown is the the best in the series thus far. The sixth of the series, this book contains major developments from the overall story running through the entire series. That said, it also may be the last installment, as things were wrapped up nicely at the end. That would be a shame, because this series is fantastic for getting children interested in reading and in science.

Nick and Tesla are staying with their Uncle Newt while their parents are missing. Everyone in the family is particularly interested in inventions and science, and Nick and Tesla use their skills to try to find out what happened to their parents.

Filled with illustrations and instructions to build gadgets along with the kid sleuths in the book, this book is engaging for a child to read with an adult's help for some of the tools needed in the inventions. A solar-powered hot dog cooker, a ping-pong ball signal cannon, solar spy birdhouse, and a solar-powered long-range rover are among the projects that you can build along as you read this mystery. The components needed for these gadgets (including mini-solar panels) may be less readily available than the materials for previous books' projects.

New characters introduced in this book seem to be less developed and really don't have any specific traits, but they have minor roles as Nick, Tesla, their friends, and their uncle are the main characters.

The story refers back to things that happened in all of the other Nick and Tesla books (with footnotes from the authors reminding you which story it was in). Therefore, this book is best read after reading everything else to fully appreciate it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: "Remember to Forget" by Ashley Royer

Levi hasn't spoken since the sudden death of his girlfriend, Delia. After months of therapy, there was no improvement on his depression, or his refusal to speak. Out of ideas, his mother decides that he should move from Australia to go live with his father in Maine. Levi is rude, sarcastic, and even cruel to his father when he arrives and to everyone he meets. Neighbors Aiden and Delilah go out of their way to befriend him, despite his attitude. Even Deliliah's name is similar to his lost love, making it even harder for Levi to accept her offers of friendship. But when he realizes he may have feelings for the girl he once hated, he'll have to sort through his emotions and finally work toward healing and moving on.

Even though he is absolutely horrible to everyone around him, the chapters told from his perspective allow the reader to see why he acts the way he does and to know what he is thinking when he is not speaking. There's also chapters written from Delilah's perspective, but they really don't give a good reason as to why she wanted to be friends with Levi when he was downright hostile toward her. She apparently wants to solve the mystery that is Levi, but I don't buy it as a motivation because of the consistency with which he pushes her away, not giving her any hint that he could eventually become friendly. Delilah also just happens to work at Levi's new psychiatrist's office, going as far as to snoop in his records to find out more about him.

Though some parts were unrealistic and contrived, overall the story was interesting enough. The details surrounding Delia's death are revealed slowly through out the book, which added some mystery and depth. There's some great feel good moments to combat Levi's horrifying depression and self-doubt that is abundant in the first half of the novel. When I wasn't rolling my eyes at the cheesiness or unbelievable characters, I cried, I smiled, and I was decently satisfied with the read.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Review: "Nick and Tesla's Special Effects Spectacular" by "Science Bob" Pfugffelder and Steve Hockensmith

For any kids interested in movies and making their own homemade movies, Nick and Tesla's Special Effects Spectacular is the perfect easy-to-read novel.

Nick and Tesla are spending their summer living with their inventor uncle while their scientist parents are away on a mysterious work trip. To entertain themselves, the kids and their new friends begin filming their own action movie complete with homemade props for special effects. The kids even get a chance to visit the scene of a big-time superhero movie being filmed in town. However nothing seems to be going as planned, and the children believe someone is trying to sabotage the movie. Using inventions, cunning, and critical thinking, the four friends work together to solve the mystery and save the movie.

As in all books in the Nick and Tesla series, this story contains several inventions/experiments that you can do as you read along. All require an adult's help but are mostly able to be completed by the child. Learn how to build a device to keep a smart phone steady while filming, a robotic grabbing arm, a stunt dummy, a grappling hook (with wrist launcher!), and zombie makeup. The instructions are all clearly written and a list of materials needed is provided. The inventions are described right after they are mentioned in the text so that you can use them along with the characters.

The mystery was decent, even though it was predictable. The best part is always reading about which things Nick and Tesla notice and how that ends up helping them solve the mystery.

As a part of the series, this book spent very little time "at home" with eccentric inventor uncle Newt, and only briefly mentioned the larger mystery of what was going on with Nick and Tesla's parents. There is, however, new information at the end, setting up for the next exciting installment in the Nick and Tesla series.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: "The Atonement" by Beverly Lewis

When her father brings home an Englisher, a person not of the Amish church, and begins teaching him the ways of a simpler lifestyle, Lucy is uncomfortably reminded of her past history dating outside the church and all of the hurt it brought her and those around her. Convinced she will never allow herself to love again, she spends every moment she can volunteering. Through grief counseling, family, scripture, and the wise words of friends, Lucy works toward forgiving herself and accepting the church back into her heart. With a young Amish man begging for her attention and her father's young Englisher acquaintance getting friendly with her, as soon as Lucy heals her relationship with God, she'll have another relationship to figure out.

Not a whole lot actually happens in The Atonement, but the main characters are very likable and there's enough interest in the day-to-day of the Amish life (at least for someone who has not read much about it in the past). From helping a young homeless mother and her child find employment and a home to sharing life stories with an old couple as the wife is in hospice care to helping a family in an overturned carriage, Lucy's kind heart makes this book a pleasure to read.

Most of the book is about the drama and lack of acceptance from the members of the church have about spending time with Englishers. Another source of conflict is that many families in the community are considering moving out west. The importance of family, repentance, and forgiveness are themes throughout.

The characters' speech was written in dialect and included some italicized Pennsylvania Dutch words throughout. It was usually pretty easy to figure out what the sentiment was, but not always what the exact translation was. I'm personally not a huge fan of reading written dialect because I find it distracting, but I can see how it adds to the authenticity.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: "The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

A novel about love, loss, and the power of books, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a beautifully poetic piece of writing.

Jean Perdu owns a bookstore barge where he relates to his customers in a unique way - by "prescribing" the books they need and even refusing to sell books that he doesn't believe are right for them. Though perhaps a little pretentious, it's also endearing the way he cares for each person that steps in to his floating bookstore. A new resident, Catherine, moves in to his building and discovers an unopened letter in the table Perdu has given her. Catherine  (kindly) coerces Perdu into a promise that he will read the letter from his lost love, unopened for more than 20 years.

After reading the letter, Perdu sets off on a journey of healing long overdue in his bookshop barge. He gains travel companions and forms friendships along the way, including writing to Catherine daily.

The novel is beautifully written and has a lovely way of describing coping, loving, and accepting. The first part of the novel was a very quick read getting introduced to the unique methods of the bookkeeper and then the rush of setting off on a trip. It did get a little long towards the end, but I guess healing happens in the day to day as well. It was important that the passing time was also shown as part of Perdu's journey. It was a little hard to get through, but worth the journey.

Love is messy in The Little Paris Bookshop, but it is honest and believable. It's not a fairy tale, but there's no doubt about how important the characters are to one another.

The book is packed with extra features at the end: recipes (food and the emotions associated with it is also an important theme), a literary pharmacy (recommendations for about 25 books and what they can help you with), reader's guide, author interview, and an excerpt for the author's next novel (out in 2017).

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, March 28, 2016

Review: "The Berenstain Bears: Bear Country Fun Sticker & Activity Book" by Jan & Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears Bear Country Fun Sticker & Activity Book is a thin, 32-page paperback perfect for entertaining that 4-8 year old in your life. There's a variety of activities, most of which can be enjoying without reading, though younger children may need help with the instructions.

Activities include mazes, counting, search and find hidden pictures and letters, coloring, line tracing, word search, placing stickers on a picture, spot the differences, color by number, crossword puzzle, circles items starting with "B" and tracing the letter, matching season names to activities, message/symbol decoding, connect the dots, pattern detecting and completing with stickers, and drawing.

Though there is a range of difficulty, there is sure to be something children of every age will enjoy. The only issue I found with the puzzles was that on the page that directs the child to complete a pattern using stickers, the blank spaces were not always large enough to fit another iteration of the pattern. The stickers are "reusable," meaning they come off the glossy paper, but I can picture my niece sticking and resticking on that puzzle trying to make them all fit within the provided space and being frustrated that it isn't possible.

Even with that little hiccup, I do think the activities that directly involve the stickers would be the most appealing, at least to my niece who loves stickers. Of the 50 stickers provided, I'd say about half have directed use within the book, and the other half can be placed anywhere.

Some of the pages are faith-based, such as talking about the family going to church and doing a word search to find the words they learn about in church. "Do to others what you would have them do to you" and "love your neighbor" are also messages shared through the activities. There's really not that many pages that directly mention God, but the overall message of the book is very positive, promoting a love of learning and outdoor/family 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.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: "The Fold" by Peter Clines

Peter Clines' The Fold is an exciting sci-fi thriller that will keep you fully immersed until the end. Mike Erikson is hired on by a friend in the government to check up on a highly classified scientific research project. All evidence points to the success of the researchers in building a machine that "fold" dimensions as a way of sort of teleporting people, by jumping across dimensions. Yet, with the extra-high levels of security, something just doesn't feel right.

That's why Mike's on the job, uniquely qualified because he doesn't forget anything ever. Every thing he's ever heard, read, or seen is immediately available for him to recall at any moment.

The mystery of what the research team may be hiding builds through the novel as Mike witnesses the machine in action, and some rather odd occurrences. Things get exponentially stranger as the novel progresses and the machine itself undergoes unexpected changes. As the team struggles to keep things under control, Mike stops reporting his findings and starts trying to save the world.

The fantastical side of the story goes from just the right level of incredible but not ridiculous to wildly "out-there" pretty quickly. I wasn't as much of a fan once mutant space bugs entered the scene. There was also quite a bit of unnecessary and repetitive profanity. It just didn't add anything to the story, and made the characters seem less interesting for not having something substantive to contribute to the situations.

I really enjoyed getting to explore the technology through Mike's eyes and experience the incredible accomplishments of the researchers. The grating sense that something is off permeates every page and keeps the mystery alive. I was invested in the outcome and overall enjoyed the book. After reading this, I'd be interested to check out the author's other novels.

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, February 28, 2016

Review: "VeggieTales Bible: New International Reader's Version"

VeggieTales Bible is specifically designed to be engaging and accessible to a younger audience, while still being a full Bible. It is not simply a collection of VeggieTales Bible stories.

A few key features set this bible apart:

  • Spread throughout the Bible, there are 8 full-color VeggieTales comics that tell the Bible stories through the loveable VeggieTales characters. At the end of each, it includes the page of where to read the real story in the Bible, including a page number for easy reference. I could see this feature working well as a child grows with this Bible from reading the color comics to wanting to know more and reading the full story.
  • There are frequent sidebars highlighting key verses, explaining a concept, or teaching a lesson. These always feature a VeggieTales character paired with a consistent heading such as "Truly amazing!, "Listen to this!", "Isn't it zee truth!", or "This made me look twice!".
  • Each book begins with a page that gives the reader a heads up for whats to come with things to know, what it teaches, and interesting sections to check out. Also, of course this is all accompanied by a VeggieTales character.
  • Reference materials at the back include an index to Veggie Values (be a good friend, don't be afraid, be respectful, trust God, etc), a dictionary, and a section for notes.
  • Blue text and colored chapter numbers make it more visually appealing, but a little hard on the eyes for pages of full text.
This Bible would make a great gift for a child who had seen a few VeggieTales films. For someone unfamiliar with the films, I don't think this would have as big of an impact or be as relateable. It's written at a third grade reading level, but I could see starting with it earlier if an adult reads it to the child, especially the comics. It's definitely set up in a way to grow with the children and to help them understand things on their own.

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, February 11, 2016

Review: "The Newsmakers" by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

In The Newsmakers, serious reporter Erica Sparks lands a job at Global News Network, the fast growing news station in the country. Her determination and drive quickly set her apart as she lands the most improbable of interviews. When tragedy strikes, Erica's right place at the right time launches her career to superstardom overnight. But her instincts tell her something more is at play, and being a good journalist, she will pursue the story in a never-ending hunt for truth. When people she speaks to start to have mysterious accidents, Erica realizes her investigation has so much more at stake than her own career—possibly her life. 

Though there's not much mystery in the story, the suspense and thrill is all there, making it an exciting and enthralling page-turner. Erica is a charming protagonist, one you can really root for as she is so dedicated to her work, her co-workers that others take for granted, and the daughter she lost custody of in her recent divorce. There's also a romance brewing between Erica and her producer, Greg Underwood, but the scars of Erica's past and threats in the future make her unsure if perusing romance is the right course of action. Their relationship is very natural, and happens in the background of the plot, rather than focusing on it. 

As a book published by a Christian publisher, the main message is forgiveness. Erica has a past full of regret and she looks to God for comfort and healing. She also turns to prayer in moments of uncertainty. There is some swearing and suggestive comments, but it's not frequent or detracting. 

The story may be predictable, but it is still highly enjoyable. I definitely recommend this thriller and am interested in reading other books by author Lis Wiehl. The characters of The Newsmakers come to life and are all so unique in every way.  Sure the captivating plot was great, but these characters, from lively and devoted reporter Erica Sparks to the creepy obsessive owner of GNN Nylan Hastings, are what really sets this novel apart.

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 7, 2016

Review: "Cold Shot" by Dani Pettrey

When law enforcement seems less than keen on investigating a recent murder at Gettysburg, an unlikely band of friends take up the reigns to find truth and justice. Park ranger Griffin McCray discovers the body and calls in anthropologist (and love interest) Finley Scott. Griffin's grade school friends, FBI Declan Grey and crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell join in when the FBI tells Declan he's on his own for this investigation. They determine that the victim was killed by a skilled sniper and then a lab assistant is killed when someone attempts to steal the victims body. Then they realize how much danger they are in: at any moment, they could be in the killer's sights.

As a romance story, Cold Shot does a nice job of showing Griffin and Finley's growing attraction for one another. Their trust is apparent both in dangerous situations as well as in sharing their personal lives. Both Finley and Griffin are working through a difficult time in their past and I thought Pettrey did a great job of showing how they related to one another and could really help the other to put trust in God to help find peace.

As a mystery/thriller, I had mixed feelings. I was very wrapped up in the case and it was suspenseful and intriguing. However, in solving the mystery, I felt that the author had a unrealistically complicated answer. It reminded me of watching House MD where the doctors would try to say the patient had two super rare diseases, when instead the real answer was one thing that explained all symptoms. The sniper thing was a little over done too: at the end of chapters, there was often a few paragraphs that were an unknown sniper talking to someone else on the phone about watching the characters. Later when their identities were revealed, they were filled into these "mysterious" paragraphs. I really didn't care to see what the "bad guys" were thinking -- it didn't add anything to the story and was distracting. I didn't need to be constantly reminded that there was a sniper out there watching them.

As a Christian book, there were some Biblical references worked into the story and italicized internal prayers of several characters. I wasn't a huge fan of the way the prayers were used because it often felt repetitive to surrounding text and the different characters' prayers didn't seem to have a different voice at all. I think prayer is highly individual, so it seemed unrealistic that two practical strangers happened to pray in a very similar. However, when Christianity informed a character's decisions or thoughts, that seemed more natural and effective.

After reading Cold Shot (book one of the Chesapeake Valor series) and Silenced (book four of the Alaskan Courage series), I've been consistently interested in the content and mystery of the author's books, but the writing style doesn't seem to be working for me. It's disappointing because I did enjoy Silenced and thought I would really enjoy more if a few things were done differently, but Cold Shot rubbed me the wrong way for different reasons and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit less than Silenced. It's a decent read, but not something I would want to reread, and I don't think I would attempt any others in the series.

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.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: "Cats in Paris: A Magical Coloring Book" by Won-Sun Jang

Cats in Paris: A Magical Coloring Book is an eclectic collection of drawings. The first 12 pages are the Paris pages. Though they're my favorite coloring pages in the book, they are ruined for me by having a silly line of text on the page: "Let's take a rest by the Eiffel Tower." Just let the cat be next to the Eiffel Tower - it doesn't require commentary. The cat also visits Shakespeare & Company, Notre-Dame, and Monmarte. That is actually all that has to do with Paris in the book.

There's a lot of pages, like the one above, where the cats are layered with flowers or other designs. It is an interesting concept, but I thought there were too many uses of the technique. I didn't find it particularly enjoyable to have to think about what I wanted to be the "top" layer of color. Sometimes the cats are roughly drawn - the lines don't all connect to provide an enclosed place to color. That didn't bother me too much, but I preferred the cats that had completed lines.

The coloring pages are double-sided, but the paper is good quality and even heavy marker use didn't bleed through to the other side. The drawings often cover the entire spread for 2 full pages of coloring a particular pattern. However, especially in this full-spread designs, the images almost always run through the gutter, making the inside half-inch of the book un-colorable, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. It makes the drawings look unfinished.

The last 14 pages were very disappointing. There are 6 pages of cat postal stamps that really don't appeal to me at all. That's followed up with 4 pages of hipster cats wearing glasses and bowties - also just not good looking cats that you'd want to color. The second to last spread is just paw prints all over both pages. There was a similar pages earlier in the book that also included a cat, so this felt like an overly simplified repeat. I probably won't bother coloring any of those.

Overall, I'd say I'm interested in coloring about half of these cats. Do not get this book if you are really looking forward to coloring Paris, as that's not even an eighth of the content. If overlapping cats and flowers/designs seems appealing to you, you'd probably enjoy most of this book.

The cover of the book is beautiful, but horribly misleading. If all pages were of similar quality, this would be a fantastic coloring book.

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, January 25, 2016

Review: "Undaunted Hope" by Jody Hedlund

In Undaunted Hope, Tessa must face many challenges as a new teacher in Eagle Harbor, a mining town in northern Michigan, in 1871. Classified as historical fiction, there's a wonderful author's note at the end of the book speaking to what parts were historical. Tessa and the school house she works at are modeled off a school teacher's diary from the time period.

The antagonist, Percival Updegraff, is the chief mine clerk who takes advantage of his position of power to rule the town, limiting supplies, punishing protesters with longer work hours, and even raping the miners' wives. He is also unfortunately based off a real person.

Though most people in the town are afraid to speak against Updegraff, Tessa and the two lighthouse keepers are employed by the state, not the mine, and therefore find themselves locked in a constant battle trying to end Updegraff's tyrannical reign.

The lighthouse keepers, brothers Michael and Alex Bjorklund, have their own little battle going on as well, as they've both taken a fancy to Tessa. But with Updegraff's strict rules that married women can't teach, Tessa struggles with how to maintain a pure reputation and keep her distance from the two men.

Haunted by her past growing up in a lighthouse, Tessa's also convinced that she'll have nothing to do with one ever again - not after she saw the dangers firsthand.

Undaunted Hope is, as the title suggests, a story of hope and personal growth. Tessa's character is determined to live a Godly life and be a blessing to those in her new community. She goes out of her way to hold after school spelling classes to prepare for a spelling bee, and even an evening class for adults, all without extra compensation. The story definitely has a dark side with death, rape, and hints of murder, but through it all the characters place their faith in God and trust in him. This novel is the third book in the Beacons of Hope series, but the first one I've read, which didn't hurt my enjoyment of the book.

It was a very fast and captivating read, and the historical detail was exceptionally well-done. As I said, the author's note at the end did a fabulous job of putting the entire story in perspective.

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.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review: "Whispers in the Reading Room" by Shelley Gray

"I would never stop you from reading whatever you like. I like that you are smart, Lydia. That is one of the things I admire about you."
"You are the first person who has told me anything of the sort." 

Another excellent installment in Shelley Gray's Chicago World's Fair Mysteries series, Whispers in the Reading Room delivers a fast-paced historical fiction/romance/mystery that succeeds on every level.

Lydia works at the library because she's passionate about books, but it also has the side benefit of the meager pay check that helps her support her mother and maintain a facade of wealth enough to find herself a suitor. She's prepared to marry a man she doesn't love, a man who isn't quite the man he appears, just to give her mother the comfortable lifestyle they shared when her father was alive.

She's resigned to her fate, but can't help but notice the handsome gentleman Sebastian Marks who frequents her library. Their shared love of reading, paired with a shared distaste for Lydia's fiance, Avondale, soon bring the two together in a way that neither was prepared for.

But Sebastian Marks has his secrets, too. Lydia has to come to terms with the face that he's a notorious club owner - a club full of illegal gambling. Absolutely no place for a lady, still she insists on visiting in an attempt to better know Mr. Marks. When a gentleman is murdered on the steps of the club, the recent violence streak in the area suddenly gets the police's attention. From Deception on Sable Hill, detectives Sean Ryan and Owen Howard are back - and this time Lydia and Sebastian are high on the list of suspects.

Lydia has an intense need to provide for her mother at any cost from the beginning, but as her character grows throughout the novel, she finally is making her own choices as an independent women. It's interesting to watch the women in this novel rebel against the standards of their time. They won't put up with a man trying to "own" them. Even Sebastian isn't everything a gentleman "should" be - he wants Lydia to experience the world, not shelter her.

The mystery is a good one, though it's not really at the forefront until much later in the book, though there are clips of newspaper articles throughout that let the reader know trouble is brewing. When the resolution finally comes, it feels too quick, but the journey there is full of suspense and intrigue. Definitely worth reading this one, as well as the second book in the series, Deception on Sable Hill. Now I need to go back and read the first one, since I haven't had the chance yet!

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, January 10, 2016

Review: "At Love's Bidding" by Regina Jennings

At Love's Bidding is the second in Regina Jennings' Ozark Mountains series. Though I've read one of her other books, Caught in the Middle, I hadn't read the first of this series, A Most Inconvenient Marriage. From what I can tell, there is little that you miss out on by starting with the second book. The main characters are different, though the setting remains the same and there is some character carry-over.

In At Love's Bidding, the Wimplegate family owns an auction house in Boston where an important painting is mistakenly sold. In order to appease the upset owner, Miranda Wimplegate and her grandfather promise to get it returned. Upon checking the records and seeing that the buyer had used a fake name, Miranda and her grandfather follow the only clue they have to Missouri, where the painting was to be shipped. Figuring that it must be headed to the only auction house in town, grandfather buys it sight-unseen. Unprepared, they discover when the arrive that what they have purchased is a livestock auction - nothing like the fine arts they were used to dealing in.

Dealing with her grandfathers progressing memory problems, searching for the missing painting, and learning to run a completely new type of auction, Miranda doesn't expect to become distracted by the livestock auction's manager. They're stubborn to admit their love because of the two very different worlds they come from.

When strangers appear in town, Miranda and her grandfather know their time is running short to recover the painting before someone else finds it. The future of their Boston auction house rests in the balance.

Fitting in to societal norms was a key theme, and familiar, as it was similar in that way to Caught in the Middle. Though slow-moving at times and a fanciful premise, overall it was an interesting and heartwarming story of love, compassion, and a little bit of mystery. Miranda has a lot of character growth from a timid girl who won't stand up for herself to a woman ready to take charge of her life. It happens at a reasonable pace and through specific situations where she is able to prove herself (scaring away a bully, standing up to her grandfather when he's being unreasonable, etc.).Other memorable characters, including young Betsy, who always speaks her mind and is always hanging around, add depth to the story. It's not just a romance, it's about all types of love and compassion, from Miranda teaching the street children in her spare time to helping her grandfather in his declining health instead of getting frustrated with him to of course her relationship with Wyatt and learning to follow her heart.

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.