Sunday, June 30, 2013

Children's Corner: The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

 My husband sought this book out at the library because it was illustrated by Lane Smith, whom we love.  We knew it would be good, but we had no idea it would be this good.  My daughter can't stop retelling the story!  Jon Scieszka is telling the story from the wolf's point of view... about how he was framed.  Kidlet is very into there being two sides to every story right now (her's and ours!) so this is just perfect.

Apparently, the real story is about a sneeze and a cup of sugar...  and it's hilarious.  Alexander T. Wolf does have a point, "if cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad too."  He almost had me believing his version too...  almost.

Jon Scieszka's story is a riot with beautiful illustrations by Lane Smith.  I have a feeling this will become another permanent addition to Kidlet's book shelves.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Julie's Reviews: The Edge of the Earth

Summary: In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably. Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart's Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but shes restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes shes found her escape from the banality of her preordained life. But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California — an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light stations only inhabitants — the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks. Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the dramatic geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths. Christina Schwarz, celebrated for her rich evocation of place and vivid, unpredictable characters, has spun another haunting and unforgettable tale. ~powells.com

Review: Years ago I read Drowning Ruth and truly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I didn't connect with The Edge of the Earth as I did with her previous novel. While it is evident that Ms. Schwarz has a gift for prose and the characters didn't connect with me. While I admired Trudy for making the most of her situation and embracing the solitary life she didn't impact me like I had hoped.

I knew from the beginning that Oskar was going to be trouble. What kind of trouble I wasn't sure. He turned out to be flighty and moody, which there are worse things but when you are isolated that really isn't the type of husband you want for company.

The setting is dark and desolate. It has an eeriness that is woven into the story. It really is no place to raise children. It is within the arms and minds of the children that Trudy finds herself. It is here that she makes her impact.

While this might have not appealed to me, if you are interested in the ocean and the creatures within it, you probably want to pick The Edge of the Earth up.

Final Take: 3/5

Thanks to Diana Franco for my copy of the novel.



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Friday, June 28, 2013

Jenn's Review: Out of Sight, Out of Time

Blurb:  The last thing Cammie Morgan remembers is leaving the Gallagher Academy to protect her friends and family from the Circle of Cavan–an ancient terrorist organization that has been hunting her for over a year. But when Cammie wakes up in an alpine convent and discovers months have passed, she must face the fact that her memory is now a black hole.  The only traces left of Cammie’s summer vacation are the bruises on her body and dirt under her nails, and all she wants is to go home.

Once she returns to school, however, Cammie realizes that even the Gallagher Academy now holds more questions than answers.  Cammie, her friends, and mysterious spy-guy Zach must face their most difficult challenge yet as they travel to the other side of the world, hoping to piece together the clues that Cammie left behind.   It’s a race against time.  The Circle is hot on their trail and willing stop at nothing to prevent Cammie from remembering what she did last summer.

Review:  I picked up the Gallagher Girls series a few years back after hearing Ally Carter tell an audience she was inspired by ALIAS.  That grabbed my attention, because we loved that show and it's why Girls Just Reading exists (the story of GJR).  Her premise, "what if there was a school for spies?"  While the series started out light and charming, it's gotten dark and twisty... and I love it.

I bring all this up because there is a very strong ALIAS theme to this book...  Julia Thorne (WAIT!  Don't freak out ALIAS fans.  This is Julia Thorne done right.  This is everything that storyline should have been...)  Cammie left to find answers and to keep her friends and family safe.  Unfortunately something or someone found her, because when she wakes up, it's October and she's can't remember the summer at all.

While everyone is glad Cammie is back safe and sound, they know they need answers.  What if she's a walking time bomb?  They want Cammie to take it easy though, some things are better not being remembered... but can a trained spy live with that?  Of course not.  Plus they need whatever is locked in Cammie's mind not only to solve her summer mystery but to unravel the larger mystery of the Circle of the Caravan.

What I love about this book is how much Cammie grows. Cammie the Chameleon is no longer invisible; she's the center of the investigation.  She has to learn that even though they live lives of danger, sometimes the best way to protect your friends and family is to let them help you.  I love that the girls aren't just over the moon about her being back (although some are still downright furious at her for leaving), they're cautious.  Cammie is damaged, how badly is yet to be determined, but they love her and they take care of her... and keep an eye out for her.  And then there's Zach. He loves her too... or does he?

The last book of the series, United We Spy (perfect title!) is out September 17, 2013 and I can't wait.  (Obviously, because I've added a count down timer to the side of the blog!)  I will be sad to see Gallagher Girls end, but there is still Heist Society (also awesome and movie optioned(!)) and Ally Carter has a new series project on the horizon.  What started out as a cute sometimes-read is now must-read.  I love the way this series has grown with the characters and it's audience. Ally Carter is one of those authors to whom I just keep coming back.

Until we meet again, Gallagher Girls...

Final Take:  5/5


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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Alice's Review: All My Restless Life to Live

Summary:  All My Restless Life to Live Life is a soap opera, especially for Elle Miller, who writes for one. (Ellen dropped the "n" in her name in hopes of finding a better ending for herself.) When her laptop crashes, she borrows her recently deceased dad's computer and gets way more than she bargained for.  Elle unravels mysterious communications from his computer, while her mom decides to give Internet dating a try. As Elle tries to save her career at I'd Rather Be Loved with a storyline featuring a trip through Atlantis, she takes a trip to the Emmys, and finds herself in the middle of a romance between a real doctor and a hunk who just plays one on TV. Friends, family, and clues from "the other side" all help Elle figure out the difference between living the good life and living a good life. ~amazon.com  

Review:  One of the funniest authors I have ever read is Dee DeTarsio.  She has the uncanny ability to infuse her novels with such lightness and humor that even subjects as mourning the loss of a parent takes an amusing twist.  In All My Reckless Life to Live, Elle Miller is coping with the death of her father when through one mishap after another, he begins communicating with her through his old laptop.  Yes, you read that right.  Now, I’m not much for reading about the paranormal but I enjoyed this novel.  Besides humor, Ms. DeTarsio balances her characters out with heart and soul.  There was a real longing in Elle to accept her father is gone even though she was still holding onto every part of him that she could.


There is a good balance between the supporting characters and Elle.  I especially loved her mom and boss Liam.  Liam is disgustingly hilarious.  He’s the kind of person you want to punch in the nose all the while laughing hysterically on the inside.  The location is perfect too and upped San Diego on my list of places to go.  I also loved the shout out to my beloved Portugal by making Quez, one of Elle’s love interests, from the Azores (a Portuguese island). 

All My Reckless Life to Live is good, but I felt there were a few areas that could have been explored more or were a bit too farfetched.  Then again, one character in this novel is a possessed Mac laptop so there you go.  This novel is a fine summer read:  light and very funny.  

Final Take: 3/5


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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Group Review: The Shadow Tracer


Summary: Can a person ever really disappear for good by going off the grid? And what happens when vanishing is no longer an option? Sarah Keller is a single mother to five-year-old Zoe, living quietly in Oklahoma. She’s also a skip tracer, an expert in tracking people who’ve gone on the lam to avoid arrest, prosecution, or debt—pinpointing their locations to bring them to justice. When a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER, their quiet life explodes. Zoe’s medical tests reveal what Sarah has been hiding: Zoe is not her daughter. Zoe’s biological mother—Sarah’s sister, Beth—was murdered shortly after the child’s birth. And Zoe’s father is missing and presumed dead. With no way to prove her innocence, Sarah must abandon her carefully constructed life and go on the run. Chased by cops, federal agents, and the group responsible for Beth’s murder, Sarah embarks on a desperate journey. Can her knowledge as a skip tracer help her stay off the grid, remain one step ahead of her pursuers, and find a way to save her daughter? Meg Gardiner is acclaimed for her richly drawn characters, propulsive plotting, relentless suspense, and shocking twists. The Shadow Tracer delivers on those fronts and more. ~us.penguingroup.com


Jenn's Review:  I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of this book.  It's no secret that we love Meg Gardiner's books here on the blog.  Her writing just pulls you in and doesn't let go.  The Shadow Tracer is no different.

This one was hard for me to get into because, knowing the subject matter and knowing Meg Gardiner as an author, I knew what I was in for.  She makes you love her characters, but there is no guaranteed safety for anyone in her books.  There are very few authors who write thrillers that actually make me anxious, but Meg Gardiner is one of them. Once, she hooked me, though, I couldn't set it down.

In a way this book reminded me of the first Evan Delaney novel, China Lake, with it's crazy religious cults going after children.  But that's where the comparison ends.  Sarah Keller is much more raw and far more desperate than Evan.  This is something that Sarah has been preparing for since the moment she rescued Zoe.  I love that she is determined to do things on her own, but knows when she's over her head.  I loved Danisha and how she stuck by Sarah and I loved Theresa too, who took it upon herself to help Sarah even when she knew what she was getting into.

No one twists a story like Meg Gardiner and there are plenty of good twists.  The vigilante FBI agent was a destabilizing element that just kept rolling.  His lack of grip was both gut wrenching and horrifying all at the same time, like a walking time-bomb.  The climax of the novel is intense.  Then, as always, just when you think things are wrapped up neatly, Meg Gardiner unfolds a little more, to leave things a bit open ended.

The Shadow Tracer kept me riveted.  Meg Gardiner is a master of suspense and she pulls me in every time.  I look forward to each new novel and once again, I can't wait for the next.  If you love thrillers, give her a try.  You won't be disappointed.

Jenn's Final Take:  4.75/5


Julie's Review: Here's the thing about Meg Gardiner books, you won't want to put them down and they always have a strong and yet vulnerable women as the protagonist. In The Shadow Tracer, that female is Sarah Keller and she quickly has to try to outrun a religious cult family. As always, this one starts off quickly and never lets up. Not even the last line stops with the adrenaline.

Sarah Keller may be on the run but she's not without asking for help. Even if she didn't ask for it she was going to get it from her boss Danisha and the man who saved her life 5 years ago, Michael Lawless. (God, that's a clever name). She also takes command of her situation and wants to try to write her own outcome.

The setting is perfect for this novel. It brings the foreboding to a new level. There's something solemn about an airplane graveyard that makes you a little more on edge for the climax of the novel. Not only that but the villains are hideous individuals. They think they are doing the glory of God but really they are working for a crazed mad man who is behind bars. Not only that but you also have a loose cannon of an FBI agent working the case. He's got a vendetta and will use Sarah to exact his revenge.

The Shadow Tracer is a fast-paced thriller that will have you hanging on to the edge of whatever piece of furniture you read on. If you haven't read Meg Gardiner, what are you waiting for?

Julie's Final Take: 4.75/5


Thanks to Dutton Books for our copies!


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Children's Corner: Good Night Moon

Review: I'm sure Goodnight Moon is on every child's bookshelf and if it's not, it should be. I've read it to both of my kids and now my son is reading it to me. What is great about this book is that it has many lives. You first start off reading it to your child, then you have your child point out the items in the novel, and then at some point your child is ready to read it to you.

The illustrations are perfect for a young baby (primary colors!) to an older pre-k child who likes to search for the items in the book. We plucked this one off of the bookshelf the other night and I had my 5 year old read it to me for a change. I was so proud of him as he sounded out the bigger words all on his own. Typically this a is a book we end our evening of reading with and I thought having him read it was the best way to end the night.

It is hard to believe that this book was first published in 1947 and that it is still a mainstay for children's books. I don't think this one will ever get old and even though our copy has tape holding the binding together, this will be a book I pack away for my kids to read/give to theirs.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jenn's Review: Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman

 Blurb:  Maggie Lee is not your average hitwoman. For one thing, she's never killed anyone. For another, after hitting her head in the car accident that killed her sister, her new best friend is a talking lizard—a picky eater, obsessed with Wheel of Fortune, that only Maggie can hear.

Maggie, who can barely take care of herself, is desperate to help her injured and orphaned niece get the best medical care possible, so she reluctantly accepts a mobster's lucrative job offer: major cash to kill his monstrous son-in-law.

Paired with Patrick Mulligan, a charming murder mentor (who happens to moonlight as a police detective), Maggie stumbles down her new career path, contending with self-doubt, three meddling aunts, a semi-psychic friend predicting her doom, and a day job she hates. Oh, and let's not forget about Paul Kowalski, the sexy beat cop who could throw her ass in jail if he finds out what she's up to.

Training has never been so complicated! And, this time, Maggie has to get the job done. Because if she doesn't . . . she's the mob's next target.


Review:  I picked up J.B. Lynn's Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman for two reasons:  I just won copies of books three and four from Armchair BEA (and I hate starting in the middle of a series) and because it has been compared to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.

While I wouldn't say Lynn is as riotously funny as Evanovich, the comparison is a fair one.  There is crazy family, two love interests, and the heroine is a woman who is incompetent at her job(s).  But that's where the comparisons stops because Lynn has taken on the huge task of making contract killers likable... and she pulls it off.  Granted, I wouldn't say that I love Maggie, but I don't think that has anything to do with the fact that she's a would be assassin.  I like Maggie; I love her tenacity and her strength.  Maggie has had some horrible experiences in her life, some of which I can relate to, some of which I can't even imagine, but her naivete considering and her pervasive guilt complex are a little frustrating for me.  However throughout the novel we start to see Maggie grow, and that I can appreciate.

As for Patrick, I really want to like him, but I can't.  Once again it has nothing to do with being a hired hitman and everything to do with the life choices that got him there in the first place.  (But I will say I look forward to his continued attemptes to win me over.)  And then there's Paul.  I agree with the lizard on this one, I just don't trust him.  Which leads me to my favorite character by far, the lizard, Godzilla.
Yes, that's right, I love that little guy.  He's the smartest one of the bunch.

I'm one book in and I think this has the potential to be a fantastic series.  This is a perfect beach read, not too heavy but not so fluffy it blows away.  I can't wait to see where things go from here, learn more about Maggie and her family, and definitely hear more from her talking animals.

Final Take:  3.75/5

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Julie's Review: The Engagements

Summary: Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years--forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine knows both sides of love--the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it's over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife's family thinks she could have done better. Kate, partnered with Dan for ten years, has seen every kind of wedding--from the Nantucket beach wedding to the Irish castle wedding--and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. And Mary Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter, knows exactly what marriage is: it's a diamond ring on a girl's finger--and it's her job to make sure everyone believes that. Weaving these lives together, Sullivan gives us a sharply observed, witty, irresistible portrait of the thorny, joyful, and complicated union that is marriage. ~powells.com

Review: The Engagements is a wonderfully executed novel where stories that seem non-related end up being tied together in the end. It was a brilliant way to end a superb novel. I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this novel, was it the novel of one diamond/one ring that was passed on through generations? Or was it something else completely? Turns out it is the 2nd one. Each of these stories are intertwined but how isn't known until the middle of the book and then the end.

Ms. Sullivan knows how to hold your attention throughout the novel. It is divided into 4 parts, with each of the 4 stories continuing in the parts. There were stories I enjoyed much more than others but like any book there are characters you like or don't like. There are people you identify with and those you want to place a boot in their butt. It is a story of business that turns into a story of traditions.

Ms. Sullivan piques your curiosity with introducing us first to Frances Gerety, the woman behind the copy writing of diamond ads for De Beers. I found this fascinating. There was a lot I didn't know about the history of the diamond engagement ring (DER, for short). I won't ruin it if you don't know, just read the book. I found Frances' story to be the most intriguing of them all. I loved how she approached her job and her life. I loved that she didn't have any apologies.

Kate was a diabolical character for me. I appreciate people who are passionate about what they believe in but it annoys me when they try to push those beliefs on others. Kate was a cynic. Instead of looking at what is good in the world, she looks at everything that is bad/wrong. Even though she loved her partner Dan and their daughter, Ava, I thought she had no true joy in her life. She wanted everyone to believe what she believed. I thought she had no respect for how others lived their lives but wanted everyone to respect how she lived hers.

I loved the story of Evie and her husband Gerald. I loved how she dealt with his crazy sweepstakes obsession and how he always made her laugh. Even when Evie didn't think there was anything to laugh about.

Ms. Sullivan has a gem of a book on her hands here and it is the perfect summer read. I plan on reading her other novels as well since a lot of people rave about them.

Final Take: 4.5/5


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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Group Review: The World's Strongest Librarian

Summary: An inspiring story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette’s found salvation in books and weight-lifting. Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels. Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training. Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting — and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s. The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living. ~powells.com

Alice's Review:  Thanks to Julie for suggesting we read this memoir together, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  By the time I was done, my copy was dog-eared and highlighted.  I love when that happens.


There are so many things I really appreciated reading The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.  The first is how comfortable I instantly felt with Josh Hanagarne.  Within the first few pages, he drew me into his life and we became fast friends.  The second is that is some weird way, Josh reminded me of the character of Alan in Adi Alsaid’s Somewhere Over the Sun.  (Maybe it’s the ease in which both told stories.)  The third is how much I learned about Tourette Syndrome and Mormonism.  I could fit my knowledge of both in a teacup.  To be honest the only thing I knew about Mormons was that there are a lot of them in Utah and there was a Mormon girl named Julie on the Real World: New Orleans who left her family for a life of sin on MTV and was pretty much an embarrassment to her faith.   Yes, I will admit I was highly misinformed.   I knew even less about Tourette’s.  Josh showed me I had a lot to learn. 

I have so much respect for writers who are strong enough to share a part of themselves that has caused them pain or misery.  I am in awe of the strength that comes from allowing everyone to peek into their lives knowing that we will pass judgment on their experiences instead of their aptitude with words.  I am amazed the human spirit is so resilient.  And that is what Josh is, resilient, and funny, and so much more.  I loved his family, especially his karate-chopping mom.  The more I learned about his life, the more admiration I felt for his parents and their child rearing ways. 

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family is the kind of memoir I know I will pick up again and again and know that each time I read it, I will gather something else from it.  This time, my focus was on my struggle with faith and the knowledge that my answers will come to me.  In the meantime, I will be a good person, learn as much as I can and continue to read good books like this one.

Alice's Final Take: 5/5

Julie's Review: If you read this blog with any regularity you know that I read memoirs few and far between. They just aren't up my alley. Having said that there are on occasion one or two that catch my attention. The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family is one of them. It seemed unique to me. As I read it, I realized that Josh is a unique voice and he's also honest and funny.

I can't imagine living with the affliction that Josh has and he does. Through is all he persevered but not before going through significant struggles. I found it inspiring that he tries different ways of overcoming his Tourette Syndrome including Botox injections into his vocal chords!

One of my most enjoyable moments in the book were when he met and "trained" with Adam. I found it intriguing the way that Adam pushed Josh to think outside of the box when it came to treating himself. It ends up working for a little a while and helps him to think about his body and to get his body "re-trained" as well.

What I found interesting is as Josh tried to control his tics in one manner they got worse in another way. When he did the vocal chord procedure instead of yelling or having sounds, he had more physical tics. Even at his worst I never felt that he gave up. He always tried. Maybe that's what all readers of this book can take away from it, to never give up. Even if your problem seems insurmountable. I understand Josh's fear about his son having Tourette Syndrome but we all fear passing on our traits to our children. I know that Josh will teach his son how to overcome anything but shear determination.

While there isn't any cure, it's obvious that Josh won't stop trying to overcome his Tourette's.

If you are a memoir fan then you don't want to miss this. If you aren't, you still don't want to miss Josh's inspiring story.

Julie's Final Take: 4.25/5

Thanks to Farin at Gotham Books for our ARC for review!

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Children's Corner: Guji Guji

Guji Guji is a crocodile who was raised in a duck family. He is a happy croco-duck even though he doesn't look like the rest of his family.  But one day he meets a bunch of crocodiles who explain to him what he is and then ask him to betray his family by making them into crocodile dinner. Guji Guji decides he is not like the crocodiles and finds a way to save the day.


What I love about this book is it broaches a lot of hard subjects all at once and it does it well. Some times we don't look like our family, sometimes we have hard decisions to make, some times there is pressure from peers, but what really matters is who we are on the inside. This is a wonderful story about being true to yourself no matter what. I love the message and Kidlet loves to see Guji Guji succeed.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Julie's Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Summary: Named a most anticipated book for Summer 2013 by The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly. A lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls-school rituals, set in the 1930s South. It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family's citrus farm — a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country. Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea's expulsion from her family, but it isn't long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner — a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression — and the major debut of an important new writer. ~powells.com

Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a superb debut novel. It takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Thea is a complex, fully flushed out character. She is deeply flawed and yet young and naive. She often acts without thinking of the consequences. She is burning with desire. She is naive and sheltered. She is a young woman caught between childhood and womanhood. Ms. DiSclafani grasps all of these and adds nuances to them in a wonderful manner.

The camp/school itself adds to the coming of age story. The setting is remote. Thea moves from one sheltered situation into another one. They are just different experiences for her. She gets to see how others view her and the world. I loved the camp setting. I could picture it tucked back into the mountains with the cabins being hidden with in the woods.

Ms. DiSclafani keeps you guessing throughout the book. It's not so much what happened but how the story is told. You can pretty much ascertain what happened but it's the outcome of why Thea was the one to be sent away that is fascinating to me. The family dynamics of the Atwell's are certainly different than what I've experienced. The four of them live very sheltered lives only to visited by Thea's dad's brother, his wife and his son. How do children learn to interact with others? How do they learn what is social acceptable?

You knew the road that Thea was going to go down but you couldn't do anything about it. You are fascinated by her. You root for her. You want her to figure out that some of her choices have sent her down this path. I was anxious for her to make friends and fit in.

I loved Thea's friendship with Sissy. In the end it is that friendship that saves her. It is also her growing and realizing that actions have consequences. Sometimes those consequences last a lifetime but it doesn't mean you cannot obtain happiness. You have to make your own happiness.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a wonderful novel. It is perfect for the beach, pool, campfire, etc. You will want to know what the terrible thing Thea did was and won't be able to stop reading until you do.

Did you know that the camp really existed?! Neither did I but check it out! I kind of want to go there now. Girl trip anyone?!

Final Take: 5/5

Thank you to Riverhead Books for my ARC copy of the book.

Note: Join the discussion on Twitter by searching for #Yonahlossee.





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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Alice's Review: The Time of My Life

Summary:  Lucy Silchester keeps receiving this strange appointment card and sweeping its gold embossed envelope under the rug. Literally. She busies herself with a job she doesn't like, helping out friends, fixing her car, feeding her cat, and devoting her time to her familys dramas. But Lucy is about to find out that this is one appointment she cant miss, when Life shows up at her door, in the form of a sloppy but determined man.  Life follows her everywhere - from the office, to the bar, and to her bedroom - and Lucy learns that some of the choices she has made and the stories she has told arent what they seem. Now her half-truths are about to be revealed, unless Lucy tells the truth about what really matters to her. ~powells.com

Review:  I love Cecelia Ahern.  One of my greatest blog moments was a Q&A session I did with her two years ago after the release of her novel The Book of Tomorrow. (Read it here.)   As you can guess, I had high hopes and expectations for The Time of My Life.  I’m happy to say, Ms. Ahren delivered once again although it didn’t quite start out that way.


Oh, Lucy.  What a character!  When I started the novel, I felt like I was trapped inside someone’s mind that had ADD and was highly delusional.  I had a difficult time warming up to her or generating enough interest in how Lucy would go about changing her life.  Frankly, I had a difficult time liking her.  She was a pathological liar and with each page, my distaste for her grew.  Then something interesting happened.  Lucy began to reveal herself, her true self to me and my opinion of her changed. When she was avoiding life, I couldn’t help but dislike her.  As she began to be honest with herself, I started cheering for her and finally understood what made her tick.

Some things were predictable and typical of Chick Lit.  Ms. Ahern follows the recipe of successful novels:  A dilemma, unrequited love, friends that stick with our heroine though thick and thin, and of course, blooming love.  However, she does it with her own twist.  This twist is Life in the form of a man with an office and secretary who helps Lucy put herself back together.  And it’s a pretty fun journey.

The Time of My Life should be at the top of your summer poolside reading list. It’s entertaining, funny, and uplifting.  You’ll fall in love with Life too.  This novel won’t change your life, but it will allow you to escape it for a little while as you spend some time with these truly interesting characters.

Final Take: 3/5
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Monday, June 10, 2013

Julie's Review: The Last Camellia


Summary: On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes. More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couples shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardeners notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate? ~powells.com

Review: Ms. Jio has quickly become one of my favorite authors in a short period of time. I can devour her novels in a couple of sittings. The Last Camellia is no exception. I tore through the book. The difference was this time I wanted to know more about the stories than the characters. For me, the characters were secondary ot the mystery of the Camellia. The characters were interchangeable for me.

I found the idea of flower thieves fascinating and it did help move the story along. Both Flora and Addison are interesting characters but not ones that will stay with you long after the story. Addison's story was the one I was most curious about throughout the novel.  I had part of the mystery figured out by the middle of the novel and still enjoyed the reveal when the characters figured it out as well. Ms. Jio always handles the split timeline extremely well and she does the same in The Last Camellia.

I also loved Livingston Manor and its majestic orchards. Ms. Jio made the house and setting jump off the pages.

I'm looking forward to her next book, Morning Glory, which comes out in the fall. For Sarah Jio fans, you will want to read The Last Camellia and for those of you who haven't discovered her yet, it's a good place to start.

Final Take: 4/5

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Children's Corner: Froggy Bakes a Cake

Review: My son has a classmate/friend who is obsessed with frogs, so for her goody bag at her birthday party she gave away Froggy Bakes a Cake. This one is usually in a weekly repertoire of books that I read him. He thinks its funny because Froggy makes a mess trying to make a cake for his mom's birthday. Plus the cake has so much baking powder in it, that it ends up exploding in the oven.

It's a good one for parents because it reminds us that we need to let kids try things on their own and fail so that they can learn that it's ok. Froggy's dad helps him but lets him make a mess.

The illustrations are colorful and bright. Froggy and his parents are delightful characters. I'm sure at some point we will be checking out more from the library.


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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Armchair BEA Giveaway Winners Announced!

Here they are!  The lucky winners:



Winner:  Dana at Little Lovely Books!




Winner:  Tiffany of Somersworth, NH!



Winner:  Tiffany of Lexington, KY!




Thank you to all who entered.


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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Alice's Review: Because My Name Is Mother

Summary:  With poignancy and humor, Deborah Batterman reminds us in these brief, linked essays that every mother is a daughter, too. The insights she brings to simple acts – looking at old photographs, recalling the smells and tastes of her mother’s cooking, making her daughter’s bed or shopping with her – are as beautifully rendered as they are profound. ~ blurb

Review:  "Because My Name is Mother" is a wonderful collection of essays by blogger and short story writer Deborah Batterman.  I think the best word to describe these essays is the word used twice throughout the essays.  That word is poignant.  Each essay is thought-provoking and emotional.  The common link is motherhood and I thoroughly enjoyed them.   I am not a mother and can’t even because to understand what being a mother means.  I do have a close relationship with my mom and am able to relate to each story on that level.  I found it interesting to read these novels from a daughter’s point of view.


This collection would make a great Mother’s Day gift or a birthday gift for a special Mother in your life.

Follow her personal blog here and on Facebook here.

Final Take: 5/5


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Monday, June 3, 2013

Alice's Review: He's Gone

Summary:  The Sunday morning starts like any other, aside from the slight hangover. Dani Keller wakes up on her Seattle houseboat, a headache building behind her eyes from the wine she drank at a party the night before. But on this particular Sunday morning, she’s surprised to see that her husband, Ian, is not home. As the hours pass, Dani fills her day with small things. But still, Ian does not return. Irritation shifts to worry, worry slides almost imperceptibly into panic. And then, like a relentless blackness, the terrible realization hits Dani: He’s gone.  As the police work methodically through all the logical explanations — he’s hurt, he’s run off, he’s been killed — Dani searches frantically for a clue as to whether Ian is in fact dead or alive. And, slowly, she unpacks their relationship, holding each moment up to the light: from its intense, adulterous beginning, to the grandeur of their new love, to the difficulties of forever. She examines all the sins she can — and cannot — remember. As the days pass, Dani will plumb the depths of her conscience, turning over and revealing the darkest of her secrets in order to discover the hard truth — about herself, her husband, and their lives together. ~ powells.com

Review:  Very rarely do I begin to write a book review when I am no further than halfway through.  He’s Gone is the kind of novel that makes its reader pause and think.  This novel is emotional and truthful, brave in ways I have a hard time comprehending.  And Dani is the epitome of that bravery.


I love when authors write from that place inside that is so honest and vulnerable; it almost hurts to read it because of the raw truth behind it.  It’s that place that makes you see your own weakness, the one you always hide because you are afraid of how others will see you.  I’m inclined to think that those writes do not have any fear in revealing these truths however I know that’s not true.  The truth is that they are incredibly brave to reveal these things in spite of their fears.  No one wants to admit how weak they are or that they made mistakes and wrong decisions.

Now that I have finished He’s Gone, I understand Dani, our protagonist.  Her story is one of amazing revelation and honesty.  I enjoyed every single second I was poking around in her head, dealing with her emotions and trying to grasp something that was always out of reach. 

He’s Gone is the story of the aftermath when Ian, Dani’s second husband, disappears.  She is left with little memory of that night and millions of questions.  Told in both the present and in reflection as to what brought her here, this novel is simply spectacular and a must read.  So do yourself a favor and run to the nearest bookstore and pick this on up. Be prepared to feel.  Ms. Caletti is a gifted writer and a natural storyteller. You can't but experience the anticipation and grief right along with Dani.  So, just go.  Seriously.  It's that good.

Final Take: 5/5

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Children's Corner: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

 Yes, I know.  We just featured Mo Willems last week, but he's super popular in both my and Julie's houses!  My daughter's favorite read this week is Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, which she loves reading to us.  Yes, she pretty much has it memorized at this point, but it's the experience of reading she's enjoying, and that's important too.  Learning to read is hard and if it is always a struggle, when do they learn to enjoy it?  So we've been enjoying Kidlet's reading experience with her this week.

What I particularly love about this book, is that the audience is included in the story.  I think that's what Kidlet likes too.  At the beginning the bus driver asks the reader to watch the bus and whatever you do, don't let the pigeon drive the bus.  There are no end to the giggles in our house as the pigeon gets more and more frustrated and finally frantic about the reader not allowing the pigeon to drive.  I think this will be an all time favorite read in our house for child and parents alike.

In my constant search for more Mo Willems  also discovered that there are a whole raft of products associated with him that totally distracted me from writing this post:  T-shirts, stuffed toys, online games  ( --I swear he doesn't pay us to promote him!  LOL)  But I'm going to be doing some serious investigating of his site!



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Armchair BEA: Wrapping It Up

Well, ArmchairBEA has reached a close. It's always sad to see this fantastic week of books and book blogging come to an end.  We've made new friends, found new blogs, discovered new books, and gotten new ideas. Personally, I love how it gets all of us writing and thinking about what we read.  I particularly enjoyed discussing the different genres this year ( ~which finally made me write that post about why I read YA!).  I think it worked well with the three of us as we all had thoughts to share and were able to contribute to different posts.

Here's a look back at our posts from this week:

Thank you to everyone who put so much time and effort into hosting this.  We appreciate being able to participate.  Thank you to everyone who participates, especially my fellow bloggers Julie and Alice.  Maybe one of these days we'll get to NYC to visit BEA, but we're pretty happy interacting with all of you. Thanks for visiting with us. Come back any time.  See you in the blogosphere.


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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Armchair BEA: Keeping it Real

What exactly does "keeping it real" mean? The meaning lays in keeping. How do you not only grow an audience, but how do you keep them coming back for more? If you have been around for years, how do you keep your material fresh? How do you continue to keep blogging fun?

Alice:
On of the best ways we "keep it real" is with four different reviewers.  Our readers get four different points of view. That diversity is magical.  I love how we don't always agree but we always respect each others opinions.  The mutual respect is born from years of friendship. It also helps that we each like different genres.  There is a lot of variety on our blog and I'm happy to contribute to that.

On a personal level, one of the best parts about the blog is that it pushes me to read outside my comfort zone.  I have read so many novels in the last three years that before the blog, I wouldn't have thought to pick them up. I hope we motivated our readers to do the same thing.

Julie:
I love how we'll mix it up from year to year. Last year we did our GJR Book Club where we each picked 3 books to read together and review together. It was a great experience even if we didn't bring it back. I also like how each of us reads different genres for the most part. Sure we overlap at times but really we do have vastly different tastes in books.

I love blogging because I love to read. I love to share my thoughts on the books I read and hope that people like them. I also blog because it's easier for me to remember all the books I read. I have loved discovering other bloggers and getting recommendations from them. It's great to have our own community and to find others who's opinion your trust.  


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Armchair BEA: Children's & YA Literature

Jenn:
As the resident YA reader, I'm pretty sure this topic falls to me.  :)  For a while now I've been trying to write one of our Random Musings posts on what it is I love about YA... I'm still trying so here goes...

I fell in love with Diana Wynne Jones' novels somewhere around third grade and I have been hooked ever since. I love the self discovery, the thrill of first loves, the adventures of YA.   I love the story telling.   The world needs a little magic and this is where I retreat to tap into mine.  I've tried to get into adult fantasy and paranormal but the adult relationships always seem to take precedent over the story.  (I will continue to try and break into this genre so if you have any recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments.)

I love that the genre of YA has quadrupled since I was a... YA.  Granted, not every book is for everyone.  There are books out there on very serious topics of rape, abuse, etc. in both the YA (and adult sections) ...and I'm not reading any of them ...and that's okay.  Heck, I don't even like to read dystopian!  But I'm glad that they're out there.  Books that help children know that they aren't alone in their situation or help teens explore serious situations that are blasted all over the news are good ways to make sense of the world.  Reading how others learn to problem solve, interpret, and cope helps us learn how to do the same.  And personally, I'd much rather my daughter experience some of those things on the page rather than in person.   I'm not saying that a mature YA book is the right read for every 12 and 13 year old out there.  It may never be the right read.  But if my daughter comes to me and wants to explore these books that I don't want to read, I'm not going to stop her.  We read to understand the world around us, and last time I checked, it wasn't all unicorns, rainbows, and happy endings. [getting down off soapbox]

At the moment, my list of favorite authors are too many to mention... but if I had to pick something you should definitely read:

  1. Dianna Wynne Jones:  If nothing else, you must try Howl's Moving Castle. Over the years Ms. Jones wrote hundreds of fabulous novels some middle grade, some YA, and I encourage you to explore them all, like my personal favorite Fire & Hemlock, but if you need a starting point, I suggest Howl's Moving Castle.
  2. Cassandra Clare:  I know she doesn't need any help with publicity, but I really can't get enough of her Shadow Hunter series. Her intricate story weaving and complex characters make her books hard to put down and nearly impossible to wait for the next release. 
  3. C.C. Hunter:  I adore the Shadow Falls series, which she just concluded and I'm thrilled that she is starting a spinoff series.
  4.  Amanda Hocking:  I never thought I could love a troll book until I read her Trylle series.  She has several other series out and I really need to get back to reading her work.
  5. Wendy Raven McNair:  You may not have heard of her but she is a fantastic indie author that I can't recommend enough.
  6. Ally Carter:  Between her teen spy Gallagher Girls Books and her teen thieves and con artists, Heist Society, it pretty hard to decide...
  7. Rebecca Maizel:  Her Vampire Queen series made me fall in love with vampires all over again.
  8. Kathy Reichs:  Virals is like a contemporary Nancy Drew with some sci-fi thrown in for good measure.
Ok I could keep going, but it might be a very long post...  LOL


We actually have a Children's Corner here at Girls Just Reading and every Sunday Julie and I try to feature  something that has caught our children's attention... or our attention as parents.  Sometimes we hit the classics, but sometimes we find the really obscure too.  We always appreciate suggestions for our budding readers so go ahead and throw some out there!



Julie:

I don't read YA. I mean I went throught the angst and I don't need to relive it in adulthood. Plus a lot of it falls into the fantasy/speculative fiction area and I don't read adult fiction in those genres so why do it in YA? Having said that I will revisit the books I loved as a young adult. Also, I was told that I'm wrong about YA so I put together a challenge for this year. It's almost June and I've read one book on the list. Better get it in gear.

As my daughter will be in 3rd grade this upcoming year, I find myself pushing her towards Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and other favorites from my childhood. I can't wait until I feel she's old enough to read Harry Potter. I do enjoy watching what she brings home from the library. Sure sometimes she's in over her head bringing home 5 chapter books for a week, but I love that she tries.

My son will be starting Kindergarten in the fall and we've been working on his reading for this year. As you can tell from some of our posts he's doing that quite well. We try to pick books he can read to himself and out loud, so that means a lot of Dr. Seuss and really how can you go wrong there?! He also loves books about space so those have been taking up some of our reading time. Any book that has a sports theme is also a hit with him so we are always seeking those out. I know that a lot of the books his sister reads won't appeal to him in a couple years so I will be looking for books geared towards boys. These days, I think that's fairly easy.


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