Friday, November 10, 2017

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow
Author: Danya Kukafka
Read by: Kirby Heyborne, Jacques Roy, and Candace Thaxton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 9 hour and 13 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

High school “it” girl Lucinda is found with a broken neck next to the elementary school carousel in a small town in Colorado.  Who would have murdered Lucinda and why?  This story is told through the perspectives of three very different people.  But like all small towns, their story arcs are connected in more ways than they could have imagined.

Cameron Whitley is very socially awkward.  A quiet soul who loves art, he also loves to play “statue nights” and walk around the neighborhood hiding as a “statue” and watching families through their windows, in particular, he loves to watch the beautiful Lucinda. Was he Lucinda’s stalker or a misunderstood youth?  Cameron’s father was a cop who went bad and left town years ago, but the town has not forgotten.

Russ Fletcher is a cop and former partner of Cameron’s father.  He is investigating the death of Lucinda and finds himself entrenched in the story with his brother-in-law Ivan, the school night time janitor a suspect, as well as his former partner’s son, whom he promised to protect.  Will he be able to find the true killer as well as the truth about himself?

Jade Dixon-Burns was once Lucinda’s friend, but now considers herself her enemy.  Lucinda not only stole her baby sitting job, but also the boy she loved.  With backyards that abut, Jade has noticed happenings around Lucinda that play into the greater narrative.  Is Jade a killer or another misunderstood youth?

I liked the three interconnected narratives and different perspectives.  I really liked Jade’s sass and how she told things from the point of view of what she should have said and what really happened.  I loved that the audiobook had three different narrators to tell the three point of views. 

The story moved pretty slow for me and was more of a young adult novel than a true thriller.  I didn’t feel connected to Lucinda at all and didn’t care about her death as much as I should have.  There was some major plot turns later in the book that didn’t feel true with the narrative that lead up to that point.  SPOILER ALERT (Russ and Cameron’s dad and their pinky love.  What????) SPOILER END  I had listened to the audiobook of Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia earlier this year and it was a much superior book . . . I think part of my problem was I kept comparing that book to this with the similar subject, high school girl murdered in a small town.  I figured out the murderer in Girl in the Snow pretty early on in the game, although I did doubt myself a couple of times.


Overall, Girl in Snow is an interesting story of murder in a small town, with a very well written story of a teenage problems and angst.  I want Jade Dixon-Burns to have her own spin off.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sugarplum Way by Debbie Mason (TLC Book Tour)

Looking for a bit of romance as you head into the Christmas season?  Sugarplum Way may be the book for you.

Julia Landon lives in the small town of Harmony Harbor.  Besides running a bookstore, she is also secretly a romance novelist.  It just so happens that the hero of her novels seems to be a lot like the real life Aidan Gallagher.  He is a dark and brooding cop that has newly arrived back in Harmony Harbor.  Divorced and trying to figure out how to be a good dad, Aidan is also still secretly depressed about the death of his mother and young sister in a car accident years before.  Back in his home town, Aidan is also suspicious of Julia.  Why does she like Christmas so much and why is she always around his family trying to find them their happily ever after?  Julia does not want Aidan to find out her secret, but she can’t deny the attraction she has for him.

I enjoyed the story. I found Aidan to be mysterious and I did want to find out the truth behind Julia’s secret.  I had not read the previous three books in the series.  This mostly did not affect me, but maybe the secret was out in the other books?    For me it was an interesting build up to the revelation and fall out that then occurred.  I felt the book had just the right mix of humor, Christmas, and light romance.

I really liked the characters. I liked that there was an entire town involved and I loved Julia’s spunk and Christmas cheer.  Aidan was appropriately dark and brooding, with a sensitive side underneath.  I would have loved to learn more about Julia’s romance novel – I really wanted to read an excerpt!

This quote made me laugh out loud when I was reading this novel:

“A lie by any other name is still a lie.”  “How about an alternative fact??

Overall, Sugarplum Way is an enjoyable Christmas novel that will be sure to delight you with its charm this Christmas season! 


Book Source:  Review Copy for being a part of the TLC Book Tour. Thank-you!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Caroline by Sarah Miller

“Ma.”  A loving presence in her daughters’ lives, but also a pillar of strength, Ma typified the pioneer experience in the Little House books.  In Caroline, Ma or Caroline Quiner Ingalls, finally gets the story told from her point of view.

Caroline is basically a retelling of Little House on the Prairie from Ma’s point of view.  It encompasses all of the same events, with a few adjustments to adhere more to the historical record.

The story starts in February 1870 when Caroline, Charles, and their daughters, Laura and Mary set off “west” (really more south) to the frontier of Kansas.  Charles is intrigued by the idea of the bountiful prairie land, but Caroline is pregnant and unsettled to think about being so far away from family.  The novel goes through the hardships of the journey and the building of a new place in Kansas.  Caroline has to make do with what she can while she also longs for the safety and familiarity left behind in Wisconsin.  Luckily the Ingalls family makes new friends in Kansas.

It was interesting seeing Little House through adult eyes.  Most the major events play out the same, although Ma has more fears and reservations in her thoughts than Laura would have pointed out in her children’s point of view.  I like how items were updated such as Jack the dog getting purchased along with the horses (I just learned this fact this summer in South Dakota!), Ma having baby Carrie in Kansas instead of Carrie traveling with, and most importantly updating why the Ingalls family had to leave “their” land.  In Little House on the Prairie the government forces them off, in Caroline, it was because they had settled actually on Native American land that was not open for settlement.  In Caroline they leave as the person who bought their home in Wisconsin defaulted on the mortgage, which is what really happened.  Mr. Edwards has never been proven to be real (probably a combination of real people), but I was glad he was kept in Caroline.  He is one of my favorite characters, in particular when he saves Christmas.

Truthfully, I enjoyed the novel, but it took me a really long time to read it and get into it.  It moved really slowly to me.  I think it’s because it really just sticks to the story from Little House on the Prairie, which I had recently read with my daughter, but it’s missing the magic of the original children’s tale.  Caroline always seemed stressed out – but I guess who wouldn’t be living on the prairie?  I was hoping for more of an original tale – for example more of a story of Caroline’s youth or meeting of Pa.  There were glimpses in this novel.  There were also scenes of romance between Pa and Ma, which both disturbed me and also gave in to my curiosity.  I’ve always wondered about relations in a one room cabin.  Ha!!!  Caroline is still racist towards Native Americans in this book and there is really a good description of why.  I would have liked more of that as the racism always makes me cringe.

I’m a little sad as I highlighted my favorite quotes in the e-book, but my kindle is not showing them.  I apologize for not having them in this review.  The only quote showing up is this:

“’It’s too much,’ she told him, as she always did.  His face told her it wasn’t nearly enough, as it always did.”  - I loved the love between Caroline and Charles.  Charles is more the dreamer always looking on the bright side, while Caroline is the more practical spouse.

I really enjoyed the author’s note at the end discussing the real history and why she made the changes to the story that she did.

Overall, Caroline was an interesting take on the Little House on the Prairie story from Ma’s point of view.  I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t read Little House on the Prairie recently so that you have more of a surprise while reading it.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!!


Friday, October 27, 2017

Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert

Title: Midnight Confessions
Author: Stephen Colbert
Read by: Stephen Colbert
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 35 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

I am a long time Stephen Colbert fan and I am also Catholic – is this the perfect book for me? 

If you have never heard the midnight confessions bit on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he “confesses” to things that are not actually sins, but that he may regret.  They are quick and funny bits of humor.  Organ music plays in the background, which sets the mood perfectly.  Colbert has been plugging the book on this show in a humorous way and I was happy to be able to review it.

I’ll admit that on the show, I find the Midnight Confessions bit to be uneven.  There are some funny lines, but others fall flat.  Luckily in this audiobook, only the best lines are selected and it is a hilarious composite.  The lines are actually just bits from the show so if you are looking for something new, you will be disappointed.

Stephen Colbert narrates the book which includes a new forward that goes with the book and then selected confessions from the actual show.  I love Colbert’s voice and could listen to it all day.  It made the book for me.  The audiobook is very short – only 35 minutes!

Some of my favorite “confessions:”

“I have violent thoughts when people use the terms sci-fi and fantasy interchangeably.’Oh, I love science fiction. I just read Lord of the Rings.’ I will end you.”

“I have impure thoughts about the Land O'Lakes Butter Lady. But mostly about the butter.”

“I wouldn't hurt a fly. But when it comes to mosquitoes, I am one sick some of a bitch.”

“One of the wise men in my Nativity scene broke, and instead of buying a new one, I replaced him with Lego Batman.”

Overall, this is a quick and fun audiobook that will make you laugh on your daily commute.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Innocent Dead: A Witch Cozy Mystery by Jill Nojack (The Maid, Mother, and Crone Paranormal Mystery Series – Book 1)

Title: The Innocent Dead:  A Witch Cozy Mystery
Author: Jill Nojack
Read by: Brian Callanan
Publisher: Indieheart Press
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 8 minutes
Source: Review Copy from Author Jill Nojack – Thank-you!

Natalie loved William in their youth with all of her heart until he disappeared one day, accused of being a serial murderer.  His ghost has haunted her for fifty years since, but she can never prove his innocence, nor rid him of his ghostly ugly sweater.  In the small town of Giles, Massachusetts, there are many witches and warlocks still around trying to live normal lives.  When the murders start to happen again, can Natalie prove that William was innocent after all while also stopping the murderer?

I enjoyed this paranormal mystery and it was a perfect read leading up to Halloween.  I loved the setting of the spooky small town located close to Salem, Massachusetts.  I also loved the vividly written characters.  While I loved the main love story of Natalie and William, there are also newlyweds Cassie and Tom (who was once a cat), and partners Gillian and Robert to provide an interesting love story as well.  Natalie, Cassie, and Gillian are the Maid, Mother, and Crone of the series.  They work together to solve the mystery along with a great cast of interesting side characters in town.  The mystery was great – it kept me guessing all of the way until the end!

I really enjoyed narrator Brian Callanan.  He had fantastic and unique voices for each of the characters.  It kept me intrigued with the story and looking forward to my daily commute.  I love when a narrator adds to the story in such a way and really gets into it.

The only part I didn’t enjoy about this book is that it is the first in a series, but I felt a bit lost when I first got into it as there seemed to be a fair share of back story that I didn’t know anything about.  I found out at the end that there was a series about Tom and Cassie before this series . .  . I think I need to listen to that series now!


Overall, The Innocent Dead was very enjoyable cozy mystery audiobook with great characters and setting.  It’s the perfect audiobook for this time of year. I want to know how Natalie and William’s love story ends.  I need to listen to the next book in the series!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Are fairies real?  Two cousins in 1917 England took pictures of fairies that astounded the world.  In a world that has just seen the greatest war known to mankind, the story of these fairies gave the world hope and something positive to dream about.  The girls took the pictures for themselves, but when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle learns of them, he publishes the story and the pictures and makes the Cottingley Fairies and the girls, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, famous.  Were the fairies real?

In the present day, Olivia Kavanagh has suffered a devastating loss at the death of her Grandfather at the same time she has found out a shocking medical prognosis about herself.  Unable to face her fiancé, Olivia works at reviving her grandfather’s bookshop she has inherited in Ireland while also taking care of her grandmother who has dementia.  She stumbles across a family heirloom which is Frances Griffith’s personal story and is entranced.  Can Olivia face her own demons and start a new life for herself?

I loved how these two stories were entwined perfectly.  Each story was an escape for me during this busy time of year and I love reading about them.  Gaynor had them perfectly set in two picturesque villages in both the past and the present.  I felt like I wanted to visit them both as well as meet all of the unique and vividly portrayed characters.

I also LOVED the extras at the end of the novel which includes the fairy pictures.  I found myself constantly flipping to look at them through the story.  Gaynor wrote a great background on the Fairies and I loved the essay by Frances’s daughter as well.  I had heard of the Cottingley Fairies at some point in the past, but I didn’t know that much about them.  I really enjoyed reading this story and leaning so much more about them.

Favorite Quotes:

“Fairies will not be rushed.  I know this now; I know I must be patient.”

“But like the soft breath of wind that brushes against my skin, the things we feel cannot always be seen.”

“With my arms wrapped around Rosebud, I dreamed of heather-topped hills and sleepy valleys and a pretty woodland stream where dragonflies danced across the water as I sat down among the ferns and the meadowsweet, waiting for the summer to find me.”

“Books were Olivia’s salvation once upon a time.”

“St. Bridget’s nursing home smelled of old chrysanthemums and loss.”

“Sometimes its betters to talk about the difficult things.  Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, sure it doesn’t?”

“Oh, sweetheart.  Some wishes are just too big, even for fairies.”

Overall, The Cottingley Secret is an entrancing story of two fascinating heroines from two different time periods with intersecting stories.  It was a great escape read and I highly recommend it!


Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Little Prince Written and Illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupery

It seems like I see The Little Prince on the majority of lists of the best books that everyone should have read. I sadly never read this as a child.  I was looking through my bookcase of kids’ books this summer and saw that we this book as part of a great deal through the Scholastic Book Order for something like ten books for ten dollars.  I gave my son Daniel a few books to choose from for us to read together and after reading the first page, he picked The Little Prince.  We actually read this book last month, but I’ve been a bit behind on my blog with student advising and mid-terms so I’m just getting to the review now. 

What entranced nine year old Daniel about this book, was the story told by the narrator in the first few pages about how to draw a boa constrictor after reading True Stories from Nature.  The story was accompanied by drawings and Daniel and I both thought it was hilarious how he chose to draw the snake and how the adults didn’t understand.  I think this was a metaphor for the rest of the novel and about life – sometimes we miss the obvious beauty in the world around us.

The Little Prince lives on a planet all by himself with three volcanoes, two active and one extinct.  He also has one beautiful flower.  He loved the flower and she loved him, but one day he decides to leave on interplanetary travels where he discovers many things before traveling to earth.

Daniel thought the Little Prince was very interesting and he really liked the pictures that went with the story.  I thought the book had beautiful language and some excellent quotes, but I’ll admit that Daniel seemed to love it more and understand it more than I did.  I kept feeling like there was a deeper meaning to the story that I just wasn’t understanding just like with the start of the story with the adults not understanding the child and the boa constrictor. Was this the engineer in me trying to read too much into it or the engineer in me looking for the hard facts and missing the philosophy?

My favorite quotes:

“But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference.”

“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others.”

“But there is no shop anywhere where you can find friendship, and so men have no friends anymore.”

“It is only with the heart one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“But the eyes are blind.  One must look with the heart. ..”

Overall, The Little Prince was a beautiful and very unique book that my son and I enjoyed reading together and discussing . . . although I feel like I was missing something profound.

What are your thoughts?  Did you love the Little Prince?  What was your favorite thing about the story?  What am I missing?  Why do you think this book is a classic?


Book Source: Purchased from a Scholastic Book Order

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green by Dan Gutman

I really love Holiday books.  We have bins of books for different holidays that we bring up through the year to spice up the kids’ selection of books.  Sadly we have a lot of middle reader Halloween books that the boys picked out . . . but they won’t read them as they look “too scary.”  I think I may end up reading them on my own one of these days!!

Daniel (my 9-year old) was VERY happy to see It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green by Dan Gutman in our collection.  Daniel is a huge Dan Gutman fan.  He loves Gutman’s humor, especially in The Genius Files series.  He read the first one as part of our local library’s youth book club and we listened to the second book in The Genius Files this summer on our family trips and were very entertained.

It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green involves the shenanigans of AJ and his friends as they go trick-o-treating.  Tragedy strikes when there candy is stolen by a Halloween monster.  Who is the Halloween monster and how can they stop him?  This book is part of the My Weird School series and is a special book in the series – but it can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Daniel enjoyed the humor of the story, the pictures by Jim Paillot, and that it was an easy read for him.  He also loved the Halloween facts at the end of the book as well as the activities.  He really liked looking at the two pictures to find the differences between them.

Overall, It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green is a fun Halloween book for grade school readers who are looking for something humorous and not overtly scary.


Book Source:  This was purchased in the past from a Scholastic Book Order 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Title: The History of Bees
Author: Maja Lunde
Read by: Joy Osmanski, Steve West, Gibson Frazier
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 8 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

What would happen to a world without bees?  The History of Bees explores this dystopian future where the world has collapsed after all of the bees and other pollinators died. There is no longer enough food to supply the world.  Economies and countries collapsed as mass starvation sets in.  Is there hope for the future?  Three parallel tales set in the past, the near present and the future reflect on the problem.

In England in 1852, William is obsessed with the study of bees and of building the perfect hive.  He suffered a personal bout of depression, but after a remark from his son inspired his passion he worked with his brilliant daughter Charlotte on his bee studies.  Are his daughters really as worthless as he believes?  Can he find a way to prove to himself and his mentor that he is worthy?

In the United States in 2007 George works a family farm and has a contentious relationship with his son.  His son is off at college and instead of studying agricultural to come back and work on the farm, he has chosen English as his major.  After the bees on his farm suffer colony collapse, George tries to figure out how to move forward with his farm and also how to have a relationship with his son.

In China in 2098, Tao works as a hand pollinator in a monotonous job. While the rest of the world has suffered greatly, China has hung on with the resilience of its people.  After Tao’s son suffers a mysterious collapse. She explores dystopian China to try to find him.  Will she find her son and what happened to him?

The audiobook of the History of Bees was excellent.  I loved that there were three distinctly different narrators, one for each storyline.  I also loved how their voices also matched the personalities for the individuals from a haughty British gentleman, to an American farmer, to a resilient woman in the future.  It was an engaging story that kept me riveted on my daily commute.  It also did a great job of tying the three story lines up at the end and coming up with a great and believable conclusion.

We talk about bees and colony collapse in the environmental science class I teach.  I thought this was a thought provoking literary fiction novel on it. What will happen to the world if we continue to ignore this problem?  I thought it was interesting as well at the placement of the action from England when it was a super power to the US when it was a super power to a future China which may be one of the only countries left.  I was also saddened the US collapsed as the regular citizens wouldn’t do the field work to pollinate the crops . . . although I could see the happening.  I still believe there are enough hard workers though that faced with starvation we could get it done, or so I hope.

I also loved the relationships between the parents and their children.  What will a parent do when expectations are not met?  Is their love conditional?  How long will it take William to realize his son his worthless, but he has at least one excellent daughter?


Overall, The History of Bees was a through provoking and intriguing novel.  I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander (TLC Book Tours)

Alexandra Jamison lives in Nashville Tennessee with her parents. An independent woman, her parents try to force her to marry an unappealing older man.  One year earlier, her fiancé, David, was killed in a horrific train crash.  David had inspired her in the love of education and education for all people.  Alexandra makes a decision to teach at Fisk University, which is a school started to teach newly freed African American students.  Her parents are not amused and she is kicked out of the house.  Alexandra faces a brave new world on her own merits.

Sylas Rutledge is a self-made man who has come to Nashville from Colorado to not only try to make a business deal to build a new railroad to Belle Meade Plantation for General William Harding, but to also solve the mystery of the train crash one year previous.  His stepfather was the engineer on the line.  Along the way he meets Alexandra and is smitten.  She agrees to teach him etiquette that is needed to do business in the South.  Will romance bloom between these two?  Will Alexandra be able to make a living as a teacher at Fisk?  What really caused the train accident?

To Wager her Heart was a wonderful Christian romance.  There is great chemistry between Alexandra and Sylas.  I really loved the unique setting.  I don’t believe I’ve ever read a historical fiction novel set during Reconstruction in Tennessee.  I also have not read too many historical fiction or Christian novels that really delve into diversity and what it means like in To Wager Her Heart.  It was a very intriguing story on many levels.  I also greatly enjoyed the mystery of the train accident.  This novel is the third volume in a series, but I read it as a standalone novel and greatly enjoyed it.
I also really enjoyed learning about the Jubilee singers as Alexandra travels around with them on tour.  They were a group of amazing African American singers that toured America to raise funds for Fisk University. The most heart rending for me was one young man who kept searching for his mother that he had separated from when he was a boy and still a slave.

I also love that Tamera Alexander has a lot of background information on her website - http://tameraalexander.com.  She also has great book club bonus features including that she will skype with your book club - which would be very fun!

Favorite quotes:

“Every choice comes at a cost, and yours is no exception.”

“How different a man he was from what she’d first imagined at her first impression.”

“Life wasn’t all neat and tidy.  Along with joy and happiness, there were bitter disappointments and heart-rending loose ends.”


Overall, To Wager Her Heart was a beautiful novel.  I loved the setting, the characters, the unique story, and the romance.  I loved how author Tamera Alexander brought Christianity into the story and also how she talked about diversity.  I will definitely be checking out more of her books – I see she has a new Christmas book – A Carnton Christmas.  I also really wanted to visit the Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville now.  I think I have a new favorite author to add to my list!

Book Source:  I received a copy of this book to review as part of the TLC Book Tours.