April 2015 archive

Review: How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits

I’m not going to throw the Goodreads synopsis in here, because the title is pretty self-explanatory.  Basically these four fabulous French women got together over wine and cheese and wrote a how-to guide for the rest of us. 

Andrea’s thoughts:  I’m kinda obsessed with all things French right now- particularly when it comes to a minimalist wardrobe and effortless style at work. I’m even tooling around on Duolingo in my (admittedly rare) spare time, picking up bits and pieces of French since I didn’t take it in high school. So when someone handed down a Kindle and I saw this recommended on Amazon, I was on it like cream on pastry.

This was a quick, enjoyable read- nothing spectacular or earth-shattering, but extremely amusing and insightful at times. It did nothing to curb my intrigue- rather, I am kinda sorta halfway planning a trip to France as a reward for meeting some key financial goals in a few years. I gave it a solid 3 stars on GR- I’ll definitely revisit it again!

Review: Wolf in White Van

From Goodreads: Welcome to Trace Italian, a game of strategy and survival! You may now make your first move. Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of 17, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in Southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of Trace Italian – a text-based, roleplaying game played through the mail – Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America. Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tunneling toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.

Erin’s Thoughts: I came across this book on a list for adult books that young adults might enjoy and was intrigued.  The description makes it sound like the book is about a role-playing game invented by a shut-in.  And it is…but it is so much more than that.  The game and it’s players are certainly characters in this novel, but this book is Sean’s story.  It’s his life in the aftermath of a tragedy the reader spends the entire book trying to understand  This is one of those books that left me thinking about it every time I put it down.  I just wanted to know more.  To understand.  Sean is a complex, fascinating character whose tragedy intrigued me. His story is mysterious and almost dreamlike; told in reverse, making the end and the climax one in the same.

Dark, imaginative, sad, and beautifully written. It always feels weird to say I enjoyed reading a book like this, but it grabbed me and held on the whole way through.  An incredibly powerful character study that left me reeling for days after finishing it.

Earth Day Books for the Preschool and Toddlers in your Life!

Happy Earth Day! I have always enjoyed being outside and hiking and gardening and taking care of our planet, but that has only been amplified since having kids. We spend a LOT of time outside, which naturally leads to a lot of conversations about nature and conservation and these types of things. My boys are only two and four and they ask good questions about their environment and it has been such a joy to make those discoveries and find those answers together. If it is at all possible, get outside today!

I thought that in honor of Earth Day I’d compile a list of books for little ones that are about the Earth that we’ve enjoyed at our house. Feel free to add on in the comments if you think of any others!

The Lorax, Dr Seuss

This one is a classic! It’s a little long but my boys LOVE it. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” There is a series of Step 1 readers that feature The Lorax too. We’ve gotten them from the library and enjoyed them, but they don’t hold a candle to the original!

The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown

Liam is a little boy who lives in a dreary, green-less city, until one day he wonders up to some abandoned train tracks that have a few little green things growing. He’s completely inspired, learns to garden and helps the garden grow all the way down the tracks, which inspires more gardeners and soon the whole city is green. With gorgeous pictures, an adorable star and a wonderful message, this is an all time fave.



Backyard Birds, Peterson Field Guides for Young Naturalists

This is, admittedly, way over a toddler reading level, but it really doesn’t matter. You don’t read field guides cover to cover anyway. Flipping through and talking about different birds, identifying the ones that perch on your bird feeder and just becoming familiar with how field guides work are all huge benefits of having field guides around the house. We have tree field guides, a bug one and a great butterfly one too. Sibley makes these great laminated pamphlets that you can stick in your backpack before hikes and my kids love spreading them out an figuring out what we’re looking at. A great tool for them and you! I’ve learned so much through our field guides!

Curious George Plants a Tree, by Margret & HA Rey

I have a lot of thoughts about Curious George and have slowly mostly phased him out of our house (He NEVER LISTENS and never has even the most remote consequence- he usually ends up rewarded, even. Ugh. I hate it) but this one is still on rotation. It isn’t specifically about Earth Day, but they are celebrating “Green Day” (tee hee, Curious George at a Green Day concert 😉 ) and a tree is planted and good messages are communicated. Not my very fave, but a passable nature book.

DK Eyewitness Books, Endangered Animals

One of our friends who is an educator recently moved and passed down a whole collection of books that he wasn’t using in a classroom anymore- he probably gave us 20 of these DK Eyewitness books and they are AMAZING. There are a lot of ones about nature that we read a lot. Pictured above is Endangered Animals, but we also have Ponds & Rivers, Ocean, Jungle, Natural Disasters, Earth, Fossils and probably more that aren’t coming immediately to mind. Like the field guides, they are not aimed at younger toddlers and don’t lend themselves to bedtime reading, but they are great for flipping through and talking about what grabs your child’s attention. Such a great series.

Just a Gum Wrapper, by Gina and Mercer Mayer

We are ENORMOUS Little Critter fans. We have dozens of them and they get read almost every day. In this one, Little Critter learns ways, big and small, that he can help the Earth and challenges his family to come along side him in his new quest to save their planet. This is totally understandable by younger kids but would also be a great early reader book for kids who are a little bit older.


Review: Kalahari

Kalahari (Corpus #3) by Jessica Khoury

From Goodreads: Deep in the Kalahari Desert, a Corpus lab protects a dangerous secret…
But what happens when that secret takes on a life of its own?

When an educational safari goes wrong, five teens find themselves stranded in the Kalahari Desert without a guide. It’s up to Sarah, the daughter of zoologists, to keep them alive and lead them to safety, calling on survival know-how from years of growing up in remote and exotic locales. Battling dehydration, starvation and the pangs of first love, she does her best to hold it together, even as their circumstances grow increasingly desperate.

But soon a terrifying encounter makes Sarah question everything she’s ever known about the natural world. A silver lion, as though made of mercury, makes a vicious, unprovoked attack on the group. After a narrow escape, they uncover the chilling truth behind the lion’s silver sheen: a highly contagious and deadly virus that threatens to ravage the entire area—and eliminate life as they know it.

In this breathtaking new novel by the acclaimed author of Origin and Vitro, Sarah and the others must not only outrun the virus, but its creators, who will stop at nothing to wipe every trace of it.

Jennie’s Thoughts: I have wanted to travel to Africa for over a decade. I’ve ordered brochures and calculated flight costs more time than I should admit. It is my ultimate bucket list exploration. Higher than all of Europe even.

That said, I gasped out loud when I saw Jessica Khoury was writing about set in Africa. I quickly added it to my Goodreads To Read list and stalked my library until it was listed to put on hold. And I devoured this story once it was in my little hands.

It was so full of amazing action I wanted to simultaneously puke and squeal with terror and excitement. I raced through the pages like the silver lion was scampering behind me. It was beautiful in locale and culture and it was the perfect blend of disturbing and fascinating in the science aspects.

I highly recommend this to any science-fiction fan…it’s without a doubt my favorite Khoury novel to date!

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

From Goodreads: Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Jennie’s Thoughts: I’m newish to the high fantasy world (HP excluded, of course) but I feel pretty confident in saying that this book IS AMAZING. Seriously.

The multiple Londons is straight up creative and brilliant and I wanted to hop on a plane to our London just to stroll those streets and daydream that I could meet Kell somewhere. Although, he is usually involved in some sort of drama and heart-pounding action, so maybe not.

I was on the edge of my seat the entire book. From page one to the very end. And when I finished I cursed myself for reading it so soon after release day because now I have to wait like, FOREVER, for the second to come out. I want more Kell and Lila NOW!

Also, can we talk about how kick-ass Lila is? Because this girl is fabulous and takes no crap from anyone. Her attitude about living and adventure is something that struck me down to my core. I love her and her cross dressing style.

Has anyone else read this book yet? I’d LOVE to chat about it!

Review: The Julian Chapter

The Julian Chapter, by R.J. Palacio

From Goodreads: Over 1 million people have read Wonder and have fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Now readers will have a chance to hear from the book’s most controversial character—Julian.

From the very first day Auggie and Julian met in the pages of the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder, it was clear they were never going to be friends, with Julian treating Auggie like he had the plague. And while Wonder told Auggie’s story through six different viewpoints, Julian’s perspective was never shared. Readers could only guess what he was thinking.

Until now. The Julian Chapter will finally reveal the bully’s side of the story. Why is Julian so unkind to Auggie? And does he have a chance for redemption?

Jenny’s thoughts: First, let’s back up to what I thought about Wonder. I’ll wait while you read that.

Second, let’s go ahead and point out the obvious – this book is not a full-length novel. It’s more than a chapter, but it’s in no way a full novel. I know it’s been a while since I shared a review, and there’s a very good reason for that. Stress and reading simply don’t mix for me, and I have been dancing with stress lately. A lot. This book’s length and my attention span go well together, and I hope reading this will help help anchor something inside my brain and help me sit and relax long enough to read more – or at all – ASAP.


The Julian Chapter.

It’s OK. I gave this book a 4-star rating on Goodreads mostly because it really is a supplement to the original book. Without Wonder, The Julian Chapter would fall flat.

While Wonder has an amazing, life-like quality to it, The Julian Chapter comes across as a cautionary tale. Wonder tugged at my emotions in impressive ways, but The Julian Chapter fell flat. Like Julian says, his actions were done without much thought or conviction. The most I felt reading this book was directed at Julian’s mother, who is a secondary character at best.

The emotional, turning point of the story was great, but – and this could be because it’s being told second-hand by an 11-year-old narrator who, as he points out, doesn’t care for long stories told by his grandmother – but it just seemed too convenient.

How do I talk about this without spoiling it?

Let’s just say that Julian’s grandmother tells him a story from her own life that is similar to Julian’s, except it happened on a much bigger scale and had more dramatic results.

I feel like a butt for saying this, but it seemed awfully contrived. Especially the part with the names. If you read The Julian Chapter already, you know what I mean.

If Wonder is being read for the benefit of young readers, I think The Julian Chapter is a great supplement. If you’re reading as an adult and don’t want to take the time to add The Julian Chapter, I don’t think you’d miss anything important, but I don’t think it’s a waste of time, even if, like me, you read it a couple years ago. It does pull things together nicely, and it’s always fun to see the story from yet another side (because Wonder does that so well to begin with).

read it

Review: Ruins of War

Ruins of War by John A Connell

From Goodreads: A chilling novel of murder and madness in post-World War II Germany…

Winter 1945. Seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. Mason Collins—a former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner of war—is now a U.S. Army criminal investigator in the American Zone of Occupation. It’s his job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. And his job just became much more dangerous.

A killer is stalking the devastated city—one who has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random. Relying on his wits and instincts, Mason must venture places where his own life is put at risk: from interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market.

Andrea’s Review:  This book, a first in a series, grabbed me immediately.  I like WWII fiction, but have never really read anything about post-war Europe. Even though this was a completely fictional story, Connell really painted a strong picture about the troubled aftermath and general animosity between Americans and Germans in Munich after the war ended.

I liked Connell’s development of Mason Collins’s character. I felt like Connell was trying to portray this typical early 20th century detective in a 21st century way, but I liked the guy. Supporting characters were well developed and generally believable.

As far as the story went, I’ll be honest- it got a little gruesome once we got into the meat of the book- no pun intended. I like a thriller as much as the next person, but this isn’t a book I’d recommend to someone with a faint heart or stomach. With that being said- I couldn’t put this book down. I had to know if Collins caught the guy, and if so, if it was before or after The Next Gruesome Murder. So as far as entertainment goes- if you like a bit of blood & guts with your cranky, charismatic tough guy- this book has it all. I rated it with 4 stars on Goodreads, and I was conservative only because I can’t quite bring myself to give the big five yet. BUT…. I’ll definitely be reading more by John Connell, and specifically this series.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from my local indie bookstore, The Bookshelf in exchange for my honest review. Shop local, folks!!

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