Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alice's Review: After Friday Night Lights

Summary:  Nearly twenty-five years ago, H. G. (Buzz) Bissinger, then a young reporter for the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” moved to Odessa, Texas, family in tow, to follow the fortunes of the 1988 Permian High School football team. He hoped to write a celebratory treatment of a team and a town. The result: “Friday Night Lights,” a bestselling American classic that spawned the popular film as well as the series, considered by many one of the best on television.

The original book’s most compelling character was James “Boobie” Miles, and his experience in Odessa was, as Bissinger puts it in his daringly honest sequel “After Friday Night Lights,” “a symbol of everything that was wrong with high school football.” The complex friendship between subject and author has deepened over the years, and is, Bissinger writes, “the most lasting legacy of “Friday Night Lights,” or at least the legacy I care about most.”

Heading into the 1988 season, Miles looked like a star-in-the-making, a sure bet to ascend to college and the NFL. Abandoned by his mother, beaten by his dad, he had scraped through a rough upbringing, but it appeared that success on the field was soon to redeem his pain. Then, in a meaningless preseason scrimmage, Boobie blew out his knee. By midseason he was off the team, no longer needed by his coaches, who had found themselves a new running back.

“After Friday Night Lights”—an original 45-page story written to be read in a single sitting—follows Boobie through the dark years he suffered after his injury right up to a present that is imbued with a new kind of hope. It is the indelible portrait of the oddest of enduring friendships: that of a writer and his subject, a “neurotic Jew” and a West Texas oil-field worker, a white man raised in privilege and a black man brought up in poverty and violence, and a father and his “fourth son.” Their story encompasses the realities of race and class in America. And reveals with heartbreaking accuracy how men rise again after their dreams are broken.

Review:  Years ago, I fell head over heels in love with a little television show called Friday Night Lights. I didn't see the movie, I didn't know it was based on a book by the same name. I had no idea who H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger was. Texas was the state where the classic television show Dallas took place. Texas was where my cousin Carla lived with her family in a nice Houston suburb. Texas was where the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders (in their fabulous hot pants and white boots) performed. I didn't know a West Texas existed. I didn't know football there was such a big deal (and that’s putting it mildly). Man, I had a lot to learn.

Because of my love for TV show, I picked up the book Friday Night Lights. What I discovered was a town in West Texas called Odessa where racism still ran rabid and football was god. (I still haven't watched the movie. Truth be told, Billy Bob Thorton creeps me out.) Odessa is town similar to Dillon but more raw, more cunning and dangerous. After I finished reading the book, I realized that I would have done a disservice not only to Mr. Bissinger but to James “Boobie” Miles as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get with this short. I didn’t read the preview, I saw two things that made it a must read for me – the title and the author. I am delighted that Buzz decided to revisit Boobie's story. I loved how brutally honest Buzz was about their relationship. I am pleased he was able to admit his flaws in the first book, admit that his portrayal of certain people made them into heroes when they were anything but. Above all, I am happy that he has maintained his relationship with Boobie. He never gave up on him, helped him when he could and to steal a line from the book, all he got back was Boobie’s friendship. And that was enough for him.

If you are a fan of the show, movie, or book, After Friday Night Lights is an incredible read that will touch your heart, inspire change in thoughts and feelings. You will root for the underdog and those who defend them. Like Buzz, I am rooting for Boobie too. I hope that this is his turn around. Hopefully it's his time to shine in a way that has nothing to do with football and everything to do with the strong, giving man he is.

Final Take: 5/5

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jenn's Review: The Last Olympian

Summary:  All year the half-bloods have been preparing for battle against the Titans, knowing the odds of victory are grim. Kronos’s army is stronger than ever, and with every god and half-blood he recruits, the evil Titan’s power only grows.

While the Olympians struggle to contain the rampaging monster Typhon, Kronos begins his advance on New York City, where Mount Olympus stands virtually unguarded. Now it’s up to Percy Jackson and an army of young demigods to stop the Lord of Time. In this momentous final book in the New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, the long-awaited prophecy surrounding Percy’s sixteenth birthday unfolds. And as the battle for Western civilization rages on the streets of Manhattan, Percy faces a terrifying suspicion that he may be fighting against his own fate.

Review:   I couldn't stop thinking about Percy Jackson, so once again I was sucked back into the series... And now I'm sad that it's done. Luckily, I still have his other series to read, Heroes of Olympus and the Kane Chronicles.

The Last Olympian is the pinnacle of the series and it is fabulous. It's a final battle as I could never have imagined. Who is not what they seem? Everyone has an agenda, and it maynot align with Percy's attempt to save the world. What friendships will stay the course? Or will Percy himself make a decision that destroys it all? There was plenty of twisty goodness to the plot so that you never knew where things were headed next.

I love the way Percy finally took charge and became a leader. He took risks and made hard decisions. I love that Mr. Riordan took the time to tie up all the loose ends. It would have been easy to just resolve the major storylines and let everything else be left to the readers imagination, but Mr. Riordan makes sure he completes all aspects of the story.

It's wonderful to see how everyone has grown and how much they have learned, gods and demi-gods alike. I look forward to adding more Rick Riordan to my TBR pile. I know I won't be able to stay away too long.

Final Take: 5/5

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jenn's Review: Absolutely, Positively

Summary: “Exposed” by a Boston Herald reporter, Lucy is suddenly the talk of the town. Long back-story short: Even though the rest of her Valentine ancestors were blessed by Cupid with psychic abilities, Lucy’s only special power lies in her ability to find things. This skill has proven quite a blessing for those who come to her matchmaking agency in search of finding their long-lost loves. Now that Lucy’s secret is out, she has more new clients than she knows what to do with. But soon a certain man of mystery steals Lucy’s spotlight…

No, it’s not Sean Donahue, the sexy fireman-turned-private-eye who’s stolen Lucy’s heart. It’s a masked man in a cowboy hat, dubbed “The Lone Ranger,” who’s been throwing handfuls of cash across the Common. Now all of Beantown’s abuzz. Can Lucy unmask the mysterious money man, track down all her clients’ old flames, and turn up the heat on her love life? Absolutely, positively…

Review:   I have been holding on to this Lucy Valentine novel for almost a year in hopes that Heather Webber would be writing more in the series. I adore this series and I just didn't want it to end. Now, with Perfectly Matched available electronically, and soon to be available in print, I finally felt comfortable starting Absolutely, Positively.

It was wonderful to revisit Lucy Valentine, but man, did she frustrate me this time through. Granted, I'm not in her shoes, but she sets too much store in perfectly matched auras and curses. Yes, she has past precedent to back it up, but she really needs to have a little faith. She spends so much time worrying about the future and what may happen that she misses the here and now of what is happening. ...And here I am talking about Lucy as if she was a real person... But that's just why I love this series so; I get entirely wrapped up in the characters and their lives. So when I quote my daughter and say this was "not my favorite" Lucy Valentine novel, understand that it's like saying this is not my favorite Godiva chocolate.

For the first time ever, I saw many of them twists coming, perhaps because this story felt more character driven. The plot is usually well balanced with the character development but I felt like it took a bit of a back seat here. This didn't make it any less enjoyable, because I just adore Heather Webber's easy, witty style. It was the journey that made it worth the while.

I'm certainly glad that this wasn't the last book in the series; I can't wait to see where all of the characters go from here. Now that I know that the Lucy Valentine series will continue, I think I won't wait so long to pick up Perfectly Matched. In fact, you may see my review for it real soon.

Final Take:  4.25/5.0


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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Jenn's Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth

Summary:  Percy Jackson isn’t expecting freshman orientation to be any fun, but when a mysterious mortal acquaintance appears, pursued by demon cheerleaders, things quickly go from bad to worse.

Time is running out for Percy. War between the gods and the Titans is drawing near. Even Camp Half-Blood isn’t safe, as Kronos’ army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop them, Percy and his friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth — a sprawling underground world with surprises and danger at every turn.

Along the way Percy will confront powerful enemies, find out the truth about the lost god Pan, and face the Titan lord Kronos’ most terrible secret. The final war begins . . . with The Battle of the Labyrinth.

Review:  This is, by far, my favorite Percy Jackson novel.  I love all the action in these books, but what I love most of all is character development and The Battle of the Labyrinth is brimming with it.


Percy is going to be a freshman in high school next year, that is if he doesn't get kicked out before he even starts. But this is Percy we're talking about; trouble follows him.  And to top it all off, Annabeth is mad at him and he doesn't know why (oblivious boy!). So begins another quest and another run in with a god who may or maynot have the quest parties best interests in mind. 


In my reviews thus far, I've never mentioned the prophesies from the oracle that are made prior to each quest, but they're fascinating little mind twisters and I love that they never mean what they appear to mean at first interpretation.  And once the meaning of the prophecy becomes clear, it totally changes the way the reader views certain events that occurred. It's an amazing double weaving of storyline that sets this series apart from so many middle grade reads.  

All the members of the quest are having internal emotional battles in addition to the physical and psychological battles with the Labyrinth.  They learn who they can trust, and who is worth trusting, even if they aren't quite ready to extend an olive branch yet.

I look forward to finishing up the series soon with The Last Olympian and reading much more from Rick Riordan as I dive into his other books.

Final Take:  4.5/5

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jenn's Review: The Titan's Curse

Summary:  When the goddess Artemis goes missing, she is believed to have been kidnapped. And now it's up to Percy and his friends to find out what happened. Who is powerful enough to kidnap a goddess? They must find Artemis before the winter solstice, when her influence on the Olympian Council could swing an important vote on the war with the titans. Not only that, but first Percy will have to solve the mystery of a rare monster that Artemis was hunting when she disappeared—a monster rumored to be so powerful it could destroy Olympus forever.  ~product summary

Review:  I have held off of reading The Titan's Curse because Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series always sucks me in for more than one adventure. The danger of course, is holding off too long and forgetting where you are in all the Greek myths. Luckily, Percy isn't as well versed as he should be in his myths, so the other characters constantly have to explain things for all of us.

Titan's Curse is action packed and hard to put down. It starts with a simple recon and retrieval mission that goes terribly wrong. Percy has some tough decisions to make, and for the most part, he does well and keeps a cool head. He's grown as a demi-god so much in such a short time. But decisions are getting complicated as the lines between right and wrong become blurry, as they often do just prior to an all out war. And on top of it all, Percy needs to sort out his normal teenage feelings for Annabeth... even if those feelings are forbidden.

This one was cover to cover action... it rarely let up.  Between that and the situation, it felt like it was missing a little of the relationship dynamics, but really, that's the only fault I have with it.  The new (and new-old) character's introduced were fascinating and well developed.  I wanted to spend more time getting to know all of them.  There were some bits that were laugh out loud funny, and lots of Rick Riordan's trademark witticism in the dialogue.  Whereas this series gets a lot of play for being a great boy's series, and it is, I think it's also fair to point out that there are many strong women and girls in the series making it equally accessible to girls who crave action and adventure.

Once again, Rick Riordan has done it again, throwing in a classic grabbing twist at the end that is all too compelling. I must read the next book in the series, The Battle of the Labyrinth, because I can't wait to find out where Percy and the rest of the Half-Bloods go from here.

Final Take:  4/5

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jenn's Review: The Winds of War

Summary:  A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction-The Great Novel of America's "Greatest Generation" Herman Wouk's sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with The Winds of War and continues in War and Remembrance, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America's most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk's spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events-and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II-as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war's maelstrom.


Review:  When I think historical fiction, this is the standard to which I compare it.  This is one of my favorite mini-series of all time, so it's no wonder I adore the novel.  


The story covers the period from 1939 right through the bombing of Pearl Harbor with incredible attention to historical details.  It follows the struggles of the Henry family, a naval family, across continents and through life in a constant state of upheaval.  I love the relationships in the novel and all the characters, though on occasionally I would forget a name or two, it never took me long to get up to speed.  Herman Wouk was a screen writer before he became a published author, so, as so rarely happens, he wrote his own script for the miniseries...  it may be the most literal translation of book to screen I have ever seen, and that makes me love it all the more.


 There are several rather heavy passages that discuss the world events as they occur, and I won't pretend I didn't skim them a little when I started to get tired.  I think they come off better in the mini-series where they were able to cut actual clips into the re-enacted moments.  However, I still marvel at the detail and research in this novel.  Following this families story really makes the history come a live, and frankly, if more history was taught this way, no one would ever loose interest.  


This story is perfect for the WWII buff and those who enjoy realistic familial stories.  I look forward to having the time to jump into War and Remembrance, for though it is the most difficult part of the story emotionally, and historically, it is also the most rewarding. 

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Julie's Review: The Land of Decoration

Summary: A mesmerizing debut about a young girl whose steadfast belief and imagination bring everything she once held dear into treacherous balance. In Grace McCleen's harrowing, powerful debut, she introduces an unforgettable heroine in ten-year-old Judith McPherson, a young believer who sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith. Persecuted at school for her beliefs and struggling with her distant, devout father at home, young Judith finds solace and connection in a model in miniature of the Promised Land that she has constructed in her room from collected discarded scraps—the Land of Decoration. Where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility and divinity in even the strangest traces left behind. As ominous forces disrupt the peace in her and Father's modest lives—a strike threatens her father's factory job, and the taunting at school slips into dangerous territory—Judith makes a miracle in the Land of Decoration that solidifies her blossoming convictions. She is God's chosen instrument. But the heady consequences of her new found power are difficult to control and may threaten the very foundations of her world. With its intensely taut storytelling and crystalline prose, The Land of Decoration is a gripping, psychologically complex story of good and evil, belonging and isolation, which casts new and startling light on how far we'll go to protect the things we love most. ~amazon.com

Review: I really don't know what to make or think of The Land of Decoration. I found Judith to be a little eccentric for 10 years old and perhaps too wise for her own good. She carries around tremendous guilt. Guilt that her mother died, guilt that it was her fault, guilt over her father's sadness. Judith is picked on by a boy, Neil, who tells her that on Monday she better know how to hold her breath because her head will be in a toilet.

That weekend she meets a man at her church meeting and he tells her about the power of miracles. Judith begins to pray for and then make snow. It snows so much that she doesn't have to go to school. Therefore, avoiding getting her head swirled in a toilet. You know the saying "Be Careful what you wish for?", well someone should have informed Judith of this and change wish to pray. By making small miracles, Judith changes the lay of the land and she alters the future. At 10, she doesn't quite grasp the concept that small things lead to bigger things and it gets out of control.

Throughout the novel I had to wonder if Judith was just having a dream, a hallucination or if all of this was really happening. It was that kind of writing that kept me wondering until the very end of the novel. I was also left wondering for most of the novel where and what time period this story takes place in. I enjoyed the fact that I couldn't figure it out, which for me meant that the story spanned time. Perhaps that's because of the way the book is written. You get so wrapped up in Judith's world that you don't need to know the place. Ms. McCleen transports you to a world in which the belief in God and the Armageddon is so strong that it outweighs living in the present. Which led me to think, how can that be healthy for a 10 year old girl? How can that be healthy for anyone?

I'm not sure how the very last chapter fit into the book but could only think that it had to be related to her mother and father's relationship and the story Judith told in the course of the novel. Things are slowly revealed about her parents and about her relationship with her father. There are some great little nuggets of wisdom in this book:

"I think people don't believe in things because they are afraid. Believing something means you could be wrong, and if you're wrong you can get hurt." - page 46

"Evidence isn't all there is to believing, and neither is being able to explain it. Even if people can't explain something - like seeing a ghost or being healed - once they have experienced it, they believe it,----though they might have spend their whole life saying it was nonsense. Which means that people who say something is impossible have probably just never experienced it." - page 48

In the end, I'm sending this to Alice because I think it's more up her alley than it is up mine. Plus I want to have someone to discuss it with eventually. Even if I have to refresh my memory of it.

Final Take: 3.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC copy of the book.


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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Children's Corner: Pink Me Up

Ok, this one was taken out of the library, because, well, my four year old daughter 'pinks up' all the time.  Could this be too much pink?  (Kidlet would tell me there is no such thing.)  I must say, there is a lot of pink, but it's taken with a grain of salt and a sense of humor.

Violet is all excited to attend the Pink Girls Pink-nic with mama today.  She has both of their outfits picked out and ready to go, but when mama wakes up, she is covered in pink spots... not the kind of pink that you can take to any type of picnic.  Violet is distraught, but mama says Violet can still go with someone else... Daddy.  Violet very seriously tells Daddy. "Daddy, you're a boy, and it's a pink girl party.  Boys are NOT pink!"  But Daddy thinks boys can be pink, at least he's willing to try.  Thus begins an amusing process of pink-ifying Daddy.

This is a cute read and a great book for girls who love pink... and fathers who love their pink-loving little girls.  There is a lot of backlash out there about everything for girls being pink, and truly, I understand it.  I'm not much of a pink fan... but I love it on my little girl, and she loves to wear it, and I see nothing wrong with that.  Hopefully no creative pink-ification goes on without permission, though!
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

And the Winner Is...

Congratulations to Felecia for winning our copy of Charmfall by Chloe Neill!

You should have an email waiting for you.

As always GJR used Random.org to generate the winner.

Thanks to all for entering!

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Alice's Review: The Murderer's Daughters

Summary:  Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls’ self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.  Lulu had been warned to never to let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her five-year-old sister, and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself.  Lulu and Merry are effectively orphaned by their mother’s death and father’s imprisonment, but the girls’ relatives refuse to care for them and abandon them to a terrifying group home. Even as they plot to be taken in by a well-to-do family, they come to learn they’ll never really belong anywhere or to anyone—that all they have to hold onto is each other.  For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. One spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled, by fear, by duty, to keep him close. Both dread the day his attempts to win parole may meet success.  A beautifully written, compulsively readable debut, The Murderer's Daughters is a testament to the power of family and the ties that bind us together and tear us apart. ~amazon.com


Review:  I could probably sum up this review in five words or less:



Go buy it and read it immediately.  Seriously.  I remember when Julie told me about this novel (Julie's review), the plot intrigued me because it was about sisters and a subject matter I couldn’t fathom.  When she included it in our challenge, I looked forward to reading it.   

There are many great things in this novel.  Ms. Meyers gave us two strong female characters.  I liked each sister equally, appreciated what they went through and how they developed into the woman they become.  I loved how Ms. Meyers took us through their lives, from the traumatic incident through adulthood.  I was enthralled by the great detail she employed in describing the emotional journey the sisters took. 

I loved that The Murderer’s Daughters is written through both Lulu and Merry’s points of view.  It was fascinating hearing in their own words how their mother’s death affected them.  I especially enjoyed when they spoke to each other, knowing they were at times holding something back.  I loved that Ms. Meyers held true to the characters throughout the novel.  She didn’t alter their core to fit the story. They moved through the novel as we do through life, taking what is handed to us and making something of it.

One of the greatest surprises for me was how I felt about their father.  I flat out hated him in the beginning and I was surprised by how my view of him changed throughout the novel.  I’m far from cheering for him, but I did gain a reverence for him with the actions he took in his rehabilitation.

I will leave you with this.  This isn’t a brand new saying, I’m sure we have all heard it before in many different way.  However, this resonated deeply with me this time around and like The Murderer’s Daughters, it will stay with me for seasons to come. 

“Then I’d calm down and remind myself for everything there is a season.  This was my healing season.  Eventually the leaves would all fall and new leaves would grow back.”  ~Merry

Final Take: 5/5

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random Musings: A Wrinkle in Time

 I have been reading to my daughter at naptime for four years now, sharing with her some of my favorite works.  We've read through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Princess Bride, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter (at least twice) and some of my most cherished Diana Wynne Jones books just to name a few.  This naptime reading will soon be coming to an end so we're now on a mission to cover any of the big things we missed.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to start my childhood favorite, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time with Kidlet... that is until I started to read it.

I remember adoring this book as a child and ripping through the rest of the series.  I loved that it was so different from anything I'd ever read before.  It opened new genres to me.  I do remember feeling like things were really left to the imagination, but now I view it as lack of explanation.  It's missing the depth I crave...  children's books need whimsy, but, in my opinion, they need some weight too.  I also didn't remember all the religious overtones... and they sure are plentiful.

I shall alway be grateful that this book led me into the realms of fantasy and sci-fi, but, for me,  I don't think A Wrinkle in Time is quite on pedestal it used to be.  Now I must decide whether to spend my few remaining naptime reads on the rest of the series, or move on and let her revisit this on her own when she's ready.

Have you ever revisited something and found it wanting?

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Jenn's Review: Fallen

Summary:   There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her. ~product description


Review:  This has been on my TBR list for a while, so perhaps my anticipation ramped up my expectations, perhaps my recent reads have raised the bar, or maybe angels are just a sub-genre of paranormal that I don’t enjoy as much, but I was underwhelmed.  I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like it, it certainly held my attention, and at no point did I feel the need to put it down. 

I felt like I spent most of the book waiting for the reveal.  It’s not a secret that the book is about angels, but it takes three quarters of the book for Lucinda to be introduced to this knowledge.  Granted, lots of interesting other things happen in that amount of time, but most of the supernatural occurrences go unexplained.  There are some twists and turns when things come to climax, but most of them were predictable and I wasn’t engaged enough with the characters to be concerned, shocked, or upset at anything that happened to them.  That being said, I enjoyed Lauren Kate’s writing style and her ability to hold my interest.

I may be tempted to pick up the second book in the series the next time I’m looking for a light, quick read or when my TBR pile thins out a little, but I don’t think this will be a must read series for me.

Final Take:  3.5/5

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Children's Corner: Where the Wild Things Are

Review: My 4 year old son was in love with Where the Wild Things Are a couple months ago but it has recently gotten put to the bottom of the pile as we read other books. I've been meaning to do a children's corner about it since he picked it up and now that Mr. Sendak has left this earth it seemed appropriate to do it now.

This book would have scared the poop out of my daughter at this age but my son thinks it's great fun. As a parent I find it less than thrilling to read. Now, don't get me wrong I think for a kid it's a wonderful book. Learning to use your imagination and having it take you to far off places where you are king (or queen) definitely helps shape kid's ability to imagine. I just find that there aren't enough words and too many pages for them to just look at. I remember enjoying the book as a kid and maybe that's why it's a book for kids because they are just learning about their imagination.

I did buy my nephew a copy of the book too because my brother in law had never read it as a kid and I do think everyone needs to experience it in their lifetime.

I'm still curious as to how they made a feature length movie out of this one. I could see a 45 minute cartoon but a movie? It's not something I'm seeking out to watch at this point either.

I definitely think that Mr. Sendak was ahead of his time with this book, showing that not all children's books need to be sweet and full of bright colors. I will be seeking out his Little Bear books to share with both of my children. I'm also open for other suggestions on his books.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Julie's Review: Spider Bones

Summary: John Lowery was declared dead in 1968—the victim of a Huey crash in Vietnam, his body buried long ago in North Carolina. Four decades later, Temperance Brennan is called to the scene of a drowning in Hemmingford, Quebec. The victim appears to have died while in the midst of a bizarre sexual practice. The corpse is later identified as John Lowery. But how could Lowery have died twice, and how did an American soldier end up in Canada? Tempe sets off for the answer, exhuming Lowery’s grave in North Carolina and taking the remains to Hawaii for reanalysis—to the headquarters of JPAC, the U.S. military’s Joint POW/ MIA Accounting Command, which strives to recover Americans who have died in past conflicts. In Hawaii, Tempe is joined by her colleague and ex-lover Detective Andrew Ryan (how “ex” is he?) and by her daughter, who is recovering from her own tragic loss. Soon another set of remains is located, with Lowery’s dog tags tangled among them. Three bodies—all identified as Lowery. And then Tempe is contacted by Hadley Perry, Honolulu’s flamboyant medical examiner, who needs help identifying the remains of an adolescent boy found offshore. Was he the victim of a shark attack? Or something much more sinister? ~amazon.com

Review: I always order the new Kathy Reichs' novel when it comes out but then I end up getting behind again. So, I was thrilled when Spider Bones into the What's in a Name Challenge for 2012. I'm always sorry that I stay away from the books as soon as I pick one up. I love Tempe. I love how candid she is. She's not perfect, she's got her troubles but she's brilliant at her work.

Spider Bones is definitely jargon heavy, so if you don't like your "alphabet" when it comes to reading, then it's probably not going to be a pleasant read for you. I get so that I understand enough to keep track of what's going on but I don't feel the big need to keep a log of what it mean. Ms. Reichs does come back enough to it so you don't get lost.

While I didn't find this case itself as interesting as some others; what I found compelling was what our government does to try to find KIA/POW/MIAs from various wars. How even today we are still searching for men/women who served in World War I. What stunned me was how big these recovery teams are and how many people they do identify in a year!

Tempe travels from Montreal to North Carolina to Hawaii for the case. Her daughter Katy has received devastating news right before Tempe has to leave, so she encourages her to join her on the Hawaii leg of the trip. Eventually, Ryan and his daughter Lily join them as well since Ryan is assigned to the initial case out of Montreal.

What starts as a simple case of mistaken identity, escalates into something that spans decades, continents and years of scientific research. As with all of her books, Tempe gets herself into a situation which ends up with her life being in danger some how. I'm guessing this isn't really true to life in the realm of being a forensic anthropologist.

Things at the end of the novel still aren't resolved between her and Ryan. I can understand her trepidation about taking another chance on Ryan when she feels like he needs to focus on other things but I hope that it doesn't drag out for another 5 books.

I definitely have to catch up on her next novel Flash and Bones before yet another one comes out in August.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Jenn's Review

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Giveaway: Charmfall



We are thrilled to be able to giveaway a copy of the latest book in the Chloe Neill Dark Elite series, Charmfall. (Jenn's review)


To enter, fill out the form below by midnight EST, May 18, 2012. You must be over 18 and a resident of the US or Canada. One entry per person.


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Author Interview: Allison Winn Scotch

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Yesterday I reviewed Allison Winn Scotch's newest novel, The Song Remains the Same; which I loved!! Today, I'm thrilled that she took the time to answer our questions. This is her 2nd time doing a Q&A for us and we couldn't be happier.

GJR: Except for a few chapters, the novel is written from the point of view of Nell, how important was it for the readers to connect immediately with her?

Allison Winn Scotch (AWS): Given how little information Nell has about herself, and thus, how little information the readers really have about it, it’s critical that they connect with her on an emotional level right way. I have a few favorite sections of the book, but that initial opening chapter is definitely one of them: for me (and I know that I’m biased! Ha!), the blank slate of her situation is really moving and intriguing, so hopefully, if I did my job well, readers will agree.

GJR: Nell wants to be a new person before she even knew who she was before the accident, why was she so adamant about that?

AWS: Well, when she wakes up, she has all of these ideas about who she really should be. I think in the way that a lot of us would or could wake up in a new life or with no memory of our history and hope that we are completely fabulous. I mean, it’s doubtful that you’d wake up and think, “I hope I’m in a kind of crappy marriage or that I don’t like my job,” etc. And once she understands how middling her current life was, she can’t help but re-envision it for herself. That becomes what she holds onto as she sorts her way through the memory loss.

GJR: As soon as Nell learns that her dad left them, this becomes the focus of her quest. Why did you have Nell latch on to her dad as the key to her past?

AWS: Good question. When you’re writing complicated characters, you have to give them reasons for their complications. Often times, this comes from their past, just as often times outside of fiction, this comes from the past. I had to come up with a tangible reason for why Nell would become the person she became – someone who was living a life that really wasn’t hers – and why she’d stay stuck for so long. I think parental abandonment can do this: it would leave a scar even when you wished that it hadn’t. And you probably really couldn’t erase that scar unless you did some really hard work on yourself.

GJR: How much research did you do about dissociative amnesia? What kind of research did you do?

AWS: My father is a neurosurgeon, so I grew up knowing a lot more about the brain than most kids: it’s what we talked about around the dinner table. (Really!) So with that as a starting point, I spoke with my dad, I read case studies and research online, that sort of thing. It sounds totally implausible, but it actually does happen!

GJR: As a reader I was suspicious and less trusting of the people in Nell’s life than she was. Do you think it’s in our nature to trust, like Nell, or to be distrustful until someone earns it?

AWS: Ooh, fantastic question. I can only speak to myself, but I’m a pretty trusting person, albeit with caveats. What I mean by that is that I think I can also read people pretty well, and if they pass the sniff test, I generally give them the benefit of the doubt. But you have to understand that Nell didn’t even know what her own sniff test was. We all have ours, but she didn’t. She only knew that these people were important to her in the past – her sister, her husband – why shouldn’t she trust them? I think if you consider it from that angle, it’s easy to see why she did. She knew she once trusted them, so why not now?

GJR: How did you decide on the songs that are featured as “The Best of Nell Slattery”? Did the songs drive the chapters or did you fit the songs in afterwards? Did you have to get special rights to use the lyrics?

AWS: Another great question. I fit the songs in afterward, but I did know which parts of the chapter they would come into play for. And at certain points in the editing process, I adjusted the chapters accordingly. Originally, I wanted each chapter to start off with a stanza from a song, but this proved insanely expensive. It turns out that if lyrics are embedded within a chapter (but not used as the opening) you can use a certain amount of words/lines from a song without having to buy the rights, so that’s what I did. And ironically, it ended up being much better for the book – it just blended everything together in a much more seamless way. As far as how I chose the songs? I was all over the place for a long time until I finally honed in on that they all needed to be from a very specific time in her childhood. From there, I spent weeks pouring over billboard charts and listening to music that I thought would evoke each specific moment.

GJR: Music is huge in The Song Remains the Same: what are the top 5 songs that would be the soundtrack for your life?

AWS: Oh my gosh! Impossible question: I am one of those people who have about five songs from each year, much less my life. But a few that come to mind are “Babe,” by Styx (high school), “Better Man,” by Pearl Jam (college), “Little Silver Ring” by The Samples (also college), “Wide Open Spaces” by The Dixie Chicks (post-college) and “Read My Mind” by The Killers (also post-college).

GJR: You’ve said that The Song Remains the Same is the best novel you’ve written. That’s a pretty bold statement. What makes you say that?

AWS: Ha! I just…I just think I was pushed to write a better, sharper, more literary novel this time around. Partially because I wanted to challenge myself and partially because my editor insisted on it. I took more chances, I dove deeper into the nitty-gritty of my characters and their dark places. I don’t know. It’s hard to quantify, but I do think that writers all have their favorites. Whether or not readers agree is probably a different discussion! But we all know (I think) when we’ve done our best work…and conversely, when we haven’t.

GJR: Are you working on another novel? Any little morsel of you can give us about the plot?

AWS: I’m actually not right now. I’ve taken some time this past year to learn how to write screenplays (it’s a very different skill than novels), and I have a few of those in the works. I just wanted to stretch myself and try something different. I have no doubt that I’ll get back to book soon though! I adore movies but there is nothing quite like reading (and writing) a great book.

Thanks to Allison for taking the time out of her busy day to answer our questions!

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