Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

What do you do when, just days before Christmas, you're forced to walk out of the emergency room and leave your five-year-old daughter behind? Only she isn't really there anymore, only her body is.

How do you survive such impossible pain?

In his book, Pastor Levi Lusko shows with heartbreaking honesty how to face impossible pain and find incredible power. But Through the Eyes of a Lion is more than just a manual for dealing with grief. In Levi's words, it's "a manifesto for high-octane living." Those words couldn't be more true. I've never experienced the level of pain that Levi and his wife Jennie did the day their daughter Lenya left this earth. But I have struggled with fear, anxiety, and defeat, and I walked away from this book encouraged and empowered to change the way I view the challenges in my life.

Posing questions like "How do you live out an extraordinary calling while doing ordinary things and living in a world that is all screwed up?" Levi uses his real life experiences to teach you how to hurt with hope, look past what you can see, and let go of fear to become the you you were meant to be. And he does so with a mix of authenticity, brevity, gravity and humor that makes this not only a powerful read, but one you can easily engage with. From "cue the eagle" to "pain is a microphone" and "run toward the roar" the pages are full of tidbits of wisdom and key phrases that will stick with you long after you finish reading. Whether you're struggling under the weight of seemingly unbearable pain, or facing the everyday difficulties of life, this book offers renewed hope--for both your present and your future. 

"When you have hope, gale-force winds can blow and tsunami waves can smash into the hull of your life, but you are buoyed by the belief that the best is yet to come, that brighter days are ahead. Hope quietly tells your heart that all is not lost, even as storms rage."

Available today at a bookstore or online bookseller near you! Grab a copy for yourself and one (or two or three or four) for anyone in your life who needs to hear more about the power of hope.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield dreams of being a pirate. But there are a few minor problems standing in her way, such as The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates' refusal to allow girls to join their piratical ranks. Instead of heading out to sea, Hilary, along with her dearest friend, the gargoyle, finds herself being shipped off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. In an effort to escape a life of waltzing and crochet hooks, Hilary answers an ad for a pirate crew and is soon swept up in a seafaring adventure involving a rather secretive map, a magical treasure that may or may not exist, a rogue governess, and the most treacherous--and unexpected--villain on the High Seas.

Pirates, magic, a talking gargoyle...what's not to love? If you're looking for a story that is everything a children's book should be (fun story, fast pace, perfect voice, vibrant characters, AND it's hilarious!), The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is very definitely it. It's the type of book that insists you read a snippet out loud every five minutes to whoever happens to be in the room--the brilliance MUST BE SHARED. Best of all, in a book that could have been filled with cliches, I found a refreshing array of unexpected characters and plot turns. The perfect end to my 2014 list of books read, this one shoots right to the top of my favorites for the year. And if the grin on the face of my nine year old is any indication, she's enjoying it just as much as I did.

Verdict: If you're looking for a great start to your 2015 literary treasure hunt (for you or your kiddos), consider this the X that marks the spot.


Friday, July 18, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

From the inside flap (because I can't write a more perfect blurb, and because this description--and that cover--is part of what made me fall in love at first sight):

Eleven years old.
The beginning of everything!
For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she's one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo.* It's time for her to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing's impossible when you're future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola. Right?

*Not that she wants to get a tattoo. They're terrifying. But it's nice to know she's closer to getting one anyway.

I'm going to say it now (if you haven't figured it out already): The Meaning of Maggie is pure brilliance. So good, in fact, that I finished it, in its entirety, IN ONE DAY. It would have been in one afternoon, but as I approached the end, I knew there was a 110% chance that I was going to ugly cry, so I had to wait to finish it until after the kids were in bed.

The book opens with Maggie listening to the incessant beeping of a heart monitor from the atrociously uncomfortable confines of a hospital room chair. Why am I giving away the opener? Because this is what made me love this book so, SO much. I could immediately relate, having spent the majority of my eighth year in and out of hospital rooms while both my grandparents--my much beloved, one and only set of grandparents--battled cancer. As the story progressed, the connection only increased. Maggie's struggles were my own: trying to deal with normal life--and even have fun--in the midst of something BIG, the emotional ups and downs of being a kid surrounded by such grown-up happenings, the desire to know exactly what was going on, and the sick, sinking-stomach feeling that knowledge brought. In Maggie's mother I saw my own mom, working past the edge of exhaustion to take care of her parents while trying to shield me from all the stuff I saw anyway (because, like Maggie, I had a knack for observing and understanding things I wasn't supposed to). It felt like Maggie and I were soul sisters, despite the age difference. Though, technically speaking, she'd be my older soul sister, since I was only three in 1988.

Now lest you think it all sounds just a bit too melancholy, let me assure you, Megan Jean Sovern has created the perfect literary storm. While Maggie's story is full of emotional punch, her spunky personality and razor sharp wit bring constant humor to every page (I'm always a little jealous when eleven-year-olds are funnier than I am). Every character is fantastic, but Maggie quickly became one of my most favorite MCs ever. She navigates the waters of the unknown, annoying older sisters, and young love with the poise and optimism befitting a future president, with the perfect dash of endearing, giggle-inducing exuberance. The story is told in first person (my favorite!) so you get the full impact of Maggie's genius. And the usage of footnotes and emphatic ALL CAPS moments are the cherry on top of the proverbial word sundae (a passion for sweets is another trait Maggie and I share).

In conclusion, this debut novel has it all and delivers it in a most unputdownable fashion. Intelligent, charming, and poignant, it's the perfect summer read that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.

PS: A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society. It's a win-win.

PPS: This book also has one of the best book trailers ever.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

This last December, I had the honor of hosting best-selling author Erin Healy on my blog to promote her new book. I've been a long time fan of Erin's books, and I'm happy to say Stranger Things is yet another inspiring, thought provoking, and impactful novel.

Serena Diaz's life is suddenly torn apart after a troubled student accuses her of sexual misconduct. In an effort to escape the inevitable fallout, Serena retreats to the comfort of the woods, only to stumble into the middle of a criminal operation. And she almost pays for this discovery with her life, until a man she's never met steps in front of the bullet meant for her. Haunted by mysterious visions and the question of why a complete stranger would die for her, Serena's search for answers reveals an evil she never expected. Caught in a tangle of false accusations, Serena is forced to confront the darkness and step into a world of terrifying danger where she soon realizes her life isn't the only one at stake.

Among the fun stories and the easy reads, the classic novels and the favorite series, there are a handful of books on my bookshelf that have done more than just entertain me. They've impacted me in a big way and changed the way I look at the world around me. This is one of those books. In her latest novel, Erin not only weaves a captivating and suspenseful story, but she also tackles the very serious--and very real--topic of sex trafficking. In the midst of the beautiful writing and masterful storytelling I've come to love so much from Erin, the import of the truth behind the fiction began to haunt me. As I was caught up in the characters' stories--each with their own unique, powerful, and emotional layers--the realization that their stories are, in some places, closer to fact than fiction was heartbreaking. And then I came to the line that completely wrecked me:

"And then she thought she didn't really want to hear this story. She wanted the sordid tales that involved fourteen-year-old girls to stay at arm's length the way they did in the papers, or in her parents' safe house. She wanted them to remain trapped at a safe distance on digital screens, where she didn't have to look a victim in the eye and find she had no idea what to say."

Wow. Can we say "hard truth"? I saw myself in those lines, and the more I read, the more I wanted to do something to offer the hope woven into the pages of this story to the real-life women who so desperately need it. And that is what makes this book so amazingly wonderful--its power to defeat apathy and inspire change. If you're a fan of emotionally charged, well-written suspense, I hope you'll put this book at the top of your to-read list, then spread the message: We're in it to end it.

If, like me, stories like these--whether fiction or real life accounts of those exploited--have inspired you to take action, the End It website is a great place to start. There you'll find ways you can show your support and take a stand against modern-day slavery, and links to organizations that are leading the fight against human trafficking. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where nothing exciting ever happens. Until the day the Green Wind shows up at her window with his flying Leopard and whisks her away to Fairyland. There she encounters all manner of things she could never have imagined, both marvelous and dangerous. When she takes on the task of retrieving a witch's stolen wooden spoon, it falls to September, a book-loving dragon, and an almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish a tyrannical Marquess and restore order to Fairyland. But this adventure won't just threaten September's life. She might just lose her heart as well.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is quite possibly the most fun I've ever had telling people what book I'm reading. How so many words manage to roll off the tongue so beautifully, I'll never understand. How can I properly convey how wonderful this book is? There's so much to love! Just reading the cast of characters on the opening page is enough to tell you the story is going to be magical. (Witches, Wyverns, Spriggans, Numerous Velocipes...Do tell!) Reading this book is like being transported to a modern version of Alice's Wonderland. I found myself constantly amazed by the imagination of the author and the vast and varied cast she created inside the enchanting world of Fairyland. The narrator is perfection, stepping in at just the right moments with all the wit and poetic speech that is to be expected from the teller of such a tale. The writing is fantastic, the kind of stuff you'll find yourself constantly wishing you could fit into a tweet, in order to share the brilliance with the rest of the world.

"Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble."


"It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor."

See what I mean? 

Most of all, I love that the author isn't afraid to mix humor with seriousness, the light hearted with a darker edge. I love the way that September, dear, brave girl, grows throughout the story. I came to many passages that, as I was reading them, seemed as if they were trying to teach me a very important lesson in some wonderful, mysterious way. The whole book is like that, wonderful and mysterious and enchanting. Including the ending of the second to last chapter that, just when I thought I had it all figured out, snuck up behind me and surprised me one last time before it disappeared and left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

If you're at all interested in traveling to a fantastic world filled with fairies, lovable dragons, terrible Marquesses with very fine hats, and a bathhouse where you can wash your courage clean, I don't think you'll find a better book for the job.

Then again, I am a novelist and not to be trusted. Perhaps you'll just have to make your own judgements.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman + The Dark by Lemony Snicket

Today's book reviews come as a two-for-one post! I read Fortunately, The Milk earlier this week, and then my son reminded me of the awesomeness of The Dark by picking it for bedtime last night and I had to share. Both of these would make great gifts for the kids on your Christmas list!

When Mom is away and Dad is put in charge, the inevitable happens: He forgets to buy the ever important milk. Off he goes to save breakfast--but this will be no ordinary trip to the corner store. Hilarity ensues as Dad returns to explain just why fetching the milk took "ages and ages".

Neil Gaiman's latest children's book, Fortunately, The Milk, is an absolutely brilliant work of utter nonsense. I loved everything about it. It's a very quick read--it took me about an hour (and that includes the inevitable interruptions that happen when you're trying to read with children about). I'm not going to tell you anything more because I don't want to spoil the fantastic surprise of reading it and finding something marvelous around every page. Just go out, get it for your kids for Christmas, read, and then wrap.


Laslzo is afraid of the dark and all the places it lives in his house. But when his trusty nightlight suddenly goes out, he discovers that the dark might be friendlier than he thought.

Lemony Snicket's foray into the picture book world comes with wonderful results. The Dark is a charming story with equally charming illustrations and an encouraging message for little ones who aren't too fond of nighttime. While the dark is mysterious, I love that it's never portrayed as overly frightening, and by the end it feels like you could even be friends with the dark (or at least mutually respecting acquaintances). Overall there's something very calming about the book and its simple but beautiful text, which makes it a perfect bedtime story. From a mom who has read A LOT of picture books--this one is a keeper.

What books are you planning on buying for your kids this Christmas? I bought my daughter (who is very into fashion design) Different Like Coco, a picture book biography of Coco Chanel. And for my son, something that combines his two great loves: Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary. Share your holiday purchases in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

"There once was an old man and woman who loved each other very much and were content with their lot in life except for one great sadness - they had no children of their own."

As Mabel and Jack struggle to bring life to their new farm in the brutal Alaskan wilderness, one unrealized dream continues to haunt them. Mabel, crumbling under the weight of loneliness and despair, is ready to give up, until one night a brief moment of joy changes everything. As the first snow falls, she and Jack, filled with longing for what they have lost, construct a child from the snow. The next day, the child is gone, replaced by glimpses of a young girl running through the trees. Is it possible that this girl is their snow child, made with love and longing, and born of magic and mountain air? As their love for the little girl grows, so does the mystery that surrounds her. And the more they open their hearts, the more their lives are transformed.

After reading this novel, I wasn't surprised to learn it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The Snow Child is a beautiful story of lost hope and second chances. It captures your heart from the very first page and holds it through trial, pain, hope, joy and every other emotion stirred by Ivey's graceful prose. While it seems the fantasy of a snow child might clash with the factual ruggedness of the 1920 Alaskan wilderness, the story is woven so brilliantly that it seems natural to believe in the impossible. I found myself gripped by the characters' emotions, empathizing with them, rooting for them, celebrating each victory in their journey. It's such a magical story, but at the heart of it is a realness, a rawness that paints a bigger picture of what it means to hold on to hope and to those you love, through even the most difficult of circumstances. And that is what makes The Snow Child a truly exceptional read.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

A young job seeker, an eccentric old man, and a bookstore with middle-of-the-night customers who don't pay for their books...this only scratches the surface of the genius work of fiction that is Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

When Clay Jannon takes takes a job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, he soon realizes there's more to be curious about than the store's odd hours. For example: the repeat customers who "check out" obscure volumes from the dark corners of the high shelves - volumes which Clay is not supposed to read. But curiosity is a strong force and soon Clay finds himself analyzing the customers - and even the store itself - dragging a handful of close friends along in an effort to discover if he has, in fact, stumbled upon some sort of cult, or at the very least an elaborate front for...something. But when Clay and his friends bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, he reveals a decades-old story with a mystery that will take them on an enthralling quest far outside the walls of the tiny bookstore.

It's always a happy day when I discover a book that genuinely thrills me with a fresh, can't-put-it-down story that makes me want to go right back to chapter one when I've finished. The perfect mix of brains and beauty in book form, Penumbra quickly skyrocketed into my top-ten list of favorites with its unique take on the conflict between tradition and technology in the world of books. Each chapter brought a new bit of awesomeness and my inner nerd gave many a fist pump at Sloan's inclusion of things like Industrial Light and Magic, Google, and the art of typography. The mystery of a secret literary society is wonderfully crafted and intricately woven alongside technical details of super cool things like code writing, super computers, and cardboard book scanners (which are all described in a perfectly fascinating, non-boring way, in case you were wondering). The story, characters and environment are so well written, that it's easy to imagine every word is real and true and possible (and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that much of it is). I gushed about this book to my husband, who read it as soon as I finished. His words when he closed the book on the final page: "That was amazing." I couldn't agree more. I loved everything about this book. And whether you're a proud e-book reader, or an avid defender of the paperback, I think you'll find a lot to love, too.

P.S. Once you've read the book, be sure to visit robinsloan.com to read the short story (and tweet) that started it all!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Typically I write my own little synopsis for my book reviews, but this time, the back-of-the-book blurb is just too good not to share:

Mo's summer is looking good.
But that's before the murder, 
the kidnapping, the car crash, 
and the hurricane.
Now she and her best friend 
are setting out to solve 
the mystery of their lives.

Good thing Mo's always been lucky.

Moses LoBeau is a rising sixth grader with a very interesting past and an even more interesting present. As a baby, she washed ashore in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, during a hurricane. Now she spends her time working at the cafe owned by her self-appointed adoptive parents, hanging out with her best friend Dave, and plotting against her sworn enemy, Anna Celeste--all while continuing her message-in-a-bottle search for her Upstream Mother. When the cafe's crankiest customer turns up dead and a city detective rolls into town, Mo's summer takes a turn for the exciting. Soon she and Dave are out to solve a mystery of epic proportions as the case suddenly puts everyone they love in danger.

A short and sweet summary of this book: Utterly delightful. I loved all of it...the colorful setting, the humorous dialogue, the intriguing murder-mystery...everything about it was just SO good. I positively gushed over it at my last writers group meeting--and I was only a few pages in. Eclectic and charming, devious and dastardly, the characters in this book are a cast like no other. This type of writing is exactly what I aspire to as an author. I giggled my way through the first chapter and continued to laugh out loud until the very last, heartwarming page. Cover to cover, Three Times Lucky is an incredibly fun read which has landed high on my list of favorite middle-grade novels.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Afloat by Erin Healy

All it takes is one look at my bookshelf to see I'm a big Erin Healy fan. And Erin's new novel, Afloat, is yet another wonderful example of why I love her books.

Vance Nolan and Danielle Clement are both obligated to Tony Dean for different reasons with the same root: Tony's wealth. With Tony's investment, Vance has created an architectural wonder--floating apartments which line the cove of a peaceful river. But when the peace is shattered by a sudden disaster during construction, Vance, Danielle, and Tony, along with a handful of builders, investors, and residents, are forced together in a struggle to survive. As a single mother, Danielle's first priority is protecting her son, and she soon finds herself conflicted between the opposing plans of Tony and Vance. When Danielle's son Simeon sees glowing blue lights shimmering beneath the surface of the water, the lights become their one link to hope as a powerful storm rages, the world goes black, and a murder occurs in their midst.

Erin has once again crafted an intricate tale of mystery, suspense, and the supernatural that captured my attention from the very start and held it through many a late night when I simply couldn't put it down. She skillfully lays the foundation, giving you just enough to keep you wondering how it will all tie together. But it isn't until the last piece is in place that you realize just how beautiful and complex the completed puzzle is. And she's outdone herself creating a unique, spine-tingling environment worthy of the big screen. Her characters possess real-life flaws and struggles and will quickly capture your heart (which for me means alternating moments of smiles and tears). Ultimately, it's the hope and redemption which is at the core of each of Erin's novels that leads to a truly fulfilling conclusion. I highly recommend Afloat to anyone looking for their next great read. It is a stunning work of fiction that will hold you captivated until the very last page.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Liberator by Richard Harland

NOTE: Liberator is the sequel to YA Steampunk novel, Worldshaker. If you haven't read Worldshaker this review may contain spoilers. I suggest you get a copy, read it, then come back.

From pampered future leader to revolution co-conspirator, Col Porpentine's life has drastically changed in just a few short months. Now the peace and equality he and Riff fought so hard for stands in jeopardy. An anti-Filthy saboteur has created violent tension between the Filthies and the Swanks. Add to that a battle for power in The Council and the juggernaut's dwindling coal supply, and the Liberator soon stands on the verge of a crisis. Col and Riff face their biggest challenge yet as they struggle against danger--from within and without--that threatens not only their hopes for a new society, but their hopes for a new life together.

Action. Adventure. Suspence. Romance. You'll find it all here. With each turn of the page comes a new danger. On the heels of each small victory comes an even bigger obstacle. And there was more than one surprise I never saw coming. Harland has created some amazing characters, each with their own strong and unique personality (loveable, hateable, and everything in between). It's this brilliant cast that makes Liberator (and previous novel Worldshaker) really shine in my opinion. Throw all these characters into an enthralling story where the action never stops, and you'd better be prepared to once more get caught up in the world of the Filthies and the Swanks, because I guarantee you're not going to want to put this book down.

Friday, May 17, 2013

START by Jon Acuff

I've been following Jon Acuff's blog Stuff Christians Like for a while now, and if there's one person I can count on to bring humor to my Twitter and Instagram feed, it's him. In his NYT Bestseller START Jon brings his wit and wisdom together to create a phenomenal book about leaving average behind and traversing the path to awesome. 

One look at the cover, and you know this book is going to be great. Punch fear in the face? Do work that matters? Flip the awesome switch? Let's do this.

Jon begins with his signature humor before launching into a detailed road map of the 5 stages every successful life goes through: Learning, Editing, Mastering, Harvesting, and Guiding. He tells us what to expect in each stage, how to find victory and avoid pitfalls, and gives light bulb worthy advice on determining what finish line we hope to reach. He encourages and instructs, all while constantly nailing home the truth that age/experience level/money doesn't matter--you just have to start.

What Love Does did for my heart, START did for my dream. I closed this book inspired to continue to chase my dream and empowered with the tools I needed to do just that. Jon's writing has a way of drawing you in, making you feel like you're having a one-on-one conversation in his living room. He holds nothing back, opening himself up and sharing his great--and not so great--moments, all of which he uses to illustrate what he's learned in his own journey toward awesome. And there's a whole lot of awesome in these pages. Want to know how to silence the schizophrenic voices of fear? How to make time for your passions, ignore the critics, master your craft, and live life with an exclamation point instead of a question mark? Want to learn all that without being bored to death by a dry self-help manual? Read this book.

Whether your dreams seem too far gone to be realized, or you've already started down the road to awesome and are actively pursuing your passion, there's a vast amount of wisdom, motivation, and encouragement to be found here. Pick up this book and give yourself the chance you deserve. START will not only light a fire under your dream, it will give you the fuel to keep it burning.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Nicholas Benedict is back (though far younger than when I last saw him) in The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict--the prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society books.

Nicholas is being taken to a new orphanage...again. And right from the start, things take a dramatic turn--despite his best efforts to avoid attracting attention. But when you're the new kid who also happens to be an extremely observant genius with a photographic memory, you're bound to have trouble fitting in. All Nicholas wants is to spend his free time in the library and avoid a painful run-in with the Spiders. But when he discovers the journal the director possesses may hold the key to a long lost treasure, Nicholas begins a covert search for something he hopes will change his life, and the lives of his two unexpected (and only) friends. That is, if he can stay awake.

Nicholas Benedict is what most would call an odd child, and some (smarter) folks would call gifted. He has a photographic memory, can read an entire encyclopedia in mere minutes, and with his wits and quick thinking, can solve almost any problem and avoid almost any disaster. His new home at Rothchild's End is brimming with mystery and tales of a hidden treasure. Add to that a rather cold and desperate headmaster, a cast of strange staff, and a group of bullies known ominously as the Spiders, and you have a recipe for one exciting tale. Especially when Nicholas's narcolepsy tends to send him off to sleep at the most inopportune moments.

One of my favorite things about Stewart's books is his ability to create such unique and interesting characters. This cast includes a handyman whose specialty is silently fretting over the children, a nurse who doles out questionable remedies, a young girl with a kind but heavy heart, and a bad tempered mule named Rabbit. And who wouldn't love Nicholas? As a mother, my heart went out to him, and as a once shy and socially awkward kid, I could identify with him, too. The mystery is fun (though not as difficult to piece together as those in the rest of the series, it did have its own clever twists), and Nicholas's determination to solve it places him in one perilous situation after another. Throughout it all, there are plenty of great lessons on conflict, trust, friendship and sacrifice, which kids will find inspiring and parents will appreciate. All in all, fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will enjoy this glimpse into the past of the society's eccentric and loveable founder.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Love Does by Bob Goff


We've all answered the question on social media quizzes and during those awkward "icebreaker" conversations. You know the one: "If you could have dinner with any person in the world, past or present, who would you choose?"

My answer would be, without hesitation, Bob Goff. Move over Dos Equis man, there's a new most interesting man in the world.

Love Does is filled with incredible stories. Underdogs succeed, the guy gets the girl, dream adventures are turned into reality. Disneyland becomes a corner office, world leaders come over for a sleepover, and jail doors are ripped from their hinges. And the best part?

It's all true.

Bob regales us with one crazy real life tale after another, showing by example what it says on the cover: Love Does. Never have I felt someone's heart, joy, and passion come through so clearly on a written page. With each chapter I felt myself becoming more and more inspired (and downright pumped) to go out and live my life with the same zeal and positive attitude that Bob does. This isn't a book filled with 14 steps to a better you, or a list of bullet points to check off on your road to success. What Bob gives us is a book filled with his own experiences and observations on what it means to love, and how living hand-in-hand with love and whimsy can lead to a secretly incredible life.

At the beginning of each chapter, Bob shares these great little gems of wisdom. Things like:

"I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them."

And

"I used to think knowing God was like going on a business trip with Him, but now I know He's inviting me on an adventure instead." 

It's these personal lessons from Bob's life, and the paths he took to get there, that make this book so amazing.

There's a reason Love Does is a NYT Bestseller--it has the potential to be life changing if you'll let it. My review can be easily summed up in this recommendation: Put this on your must read list--your life will be better for having read it. I know mine is.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

You've heard the saying "never judge a book by its cover." Well in the case of Warm Bodies it's more like never judge a book by its movie trailer.

Don't get me wrong, I love the look of the film. Seeing the trailer was what got me interested in the story in the first place, and when I found out it was adapted from a novel, I knew I had to read it. But when I picked up the book, I was expecting something humorous; something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies--thoroughly enjoyable, but so over the top it becomes almost comical.

What I found was a heartwarming story of hope, love, and choosing life.

R is a zombie. He wishes he could put into words the eloquent thoughts in his head, wishes he could remember more of his name than just the first letter. He doesn't want to be dead, doesn't enjoy eating the living, but that's just the way it is.

Until the memories.

Not his memories, but those of Perry, the young man whose brain R has just consumed. And when R chooses to save the life of Perry's girlfriend Julie, he sets off a chain of events that shakes what's left of the worlds of both the Living and the Dead.

My first clue that I was in for a surprise came in the first chapter. R is introducing himself, explaining what life is like when you're the walking dead. In an incredibly feeling inner dialogue, R mourns the loss of his and his fellow zombies' names because, "I'd like to love them but I don't know who they are." As the story progressed, I continued to be amazed by how touching and heartfelt it was. Even the love story seemed to fade in the midst of R's quest to give himself--and the rest of the world--a second chance at life.

As he and Julie struggle to fight the hierarchy and provoke change, you discover an eerie resemblance between the world of the Dead and the world of the Living. As R describes the zombie world with words like, "...the abandoning of quests, the surrendering of desires, the settling in and settling down that is the inevitable fate of the Dead" he could just as well be describing the living, who have made staying alive their number one priority while forgetting what it really means to live.

So much about this book is impressive. The pages are filled with R's deep, reflective thoughts on life and hope, which are downright inspiring. The characters are complex and authentic. Marion manages to create a zombie that you find yourself immediately rooting for, and more than that, a zombie that's not just a shuffling, possessed, broken figure of rotting flesh, but an altered human, with lingering emotions, thoughts and desires. In the end, I think readers like myself will find that while this book has all the elements of a great zombie story, it ultimately becomes much more than that--a beautiful tale of fighting for a second chance at life.

One last note for those of you who like to be forewarned: There's plenty of blood and gore and several uses of the "f" word, so despite the pg-13 movie rating, this is adult fiction.



Thursday, February 28, 2013

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

There are only a handful of authors/series whose books I will rush to buy immediately upon their release, and Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels are at the top of that list. The insatiable need to get my hands on these books means that I've been waiting over a year for the release of book #5, Speaking From Among the Bones.

It was worth the wait.

With a penchant for poisons and an ardent love of chemistry, Flavia de Luce is back with all her unabashed zeal for uncovering the secrets of the dead.  
As Bishop's Lacey prepares to open Saint Tancred's tomb on the 500th anniversary of the patron saint's death, who else but the eleven-year-old amateur detective would be on scene to discover not a centuries-old skeleton, but the freshly murdered remains of the missing church organist, Mr. Collicutt.
As she launches her own clever and covert investigation, Flavia uncovers an array of secrets, including some kept by her own mother, whose untimely death still shadows the de Luce family and their home estate, Buckshaw.

As both a writer and a reader I am constantly awed by Bradley's ability to set a scene with the most enchanting descriptions, not to mention the constant flow of witty dialogue and Flavia's audacious inner thoughts. There are enough twists and turns (and suspects) to keep you wondering if your guesses as to the culprit are correct, and I can pretty much guarantee, no matter how well you think you have it figured out the conclusion will surprise and delight you. As always, Flavia's methods and adventures will leave you laughing and amazed at her ingenuity. And don't forget those rare raw and feeling moments between Flavia and her family, which are even more emotionally charged as the fate of Buckshaw--and the entire de Luce family--appears more fragile than ever.

Fans of Flavia will love returning to the quaint village of 1950's Bishop's Lacey, England, and the mind of its most interesting young resident. Plus, we're treated to a deeper glimpse into the lives of some of our favorite and most endearing persons, and are given further insights into the life and character of Flavia's late mother, Harriet.

But be forewarned--the moment you read the last sentence you'll be launched into an agonizing wait for the sequel. According to flaviadeluce.com, book #6, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, is set for an early 2014 release.

New to the Flavia de Luce novels? Check out book #1 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.



Friday, February 15, 2013

The Return of Flavia de Luce


Flavia is back! I've been eagerly awaiting the release of this book for months. Before I dig into book #5 in the Flavia de Luce novels, I wanted to share how I stumbled upon this brilliant series and give you a bit of a prelude to my soon-to-come review of Speaking from Among the Bones.

Flashback to the summer of 2009...

I step into a quaint little bookshop on 1st Avenue in Seattle. There on the table in front of me, front and center just inside the door, is a little green hardback book. I'm intrigued by the image on the cover--a black crow, lying claws up, with a red postage stamp impaled on its beak. I'm even more intrigued by the title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I turn it over and read the back. A story about an 11-year-old aspiring chemist named Flavia de Luce who has a passion for poisons and finds a dead body in the garden of her 1950's English home?

I was hooked and I hadn't even turned a page.

Thus began my love affair with Alan Bradley's beautifully crafted series.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a book to read.