Book Review: Sisters First

Sisters First: Stories From Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

First line: From the very beginning, before we could walk, before we could talk, Barbara and I were a pair.

Summary: Barbara and Jenna Bush are twin sisters. They are the children and grandchildren of Presidents. As the first daughters, they were in the media spotlight.  From being trailed by secret service to dodging the paparazzi they led hectic lives.  Through an alternating narrative, the sisters tell stories of their lives.  Plus a forward by former First Lady, Laura Bush.

Highlights: I listened to the audio version of this book and I loved it! Barbara and Jenna read it themselves. Hearing their stories from their own mouths was even more interesting. They discuss their most embarrassing moments and their highest triumphs.

The stories of their grandparents and parents were very endearing. I enjoyed hearing that these famous families are still just normal families. I laughed aloud listening to the struggles of Barbara trying to order a pizza. When you have the same name as former First Lady simple things can be a struggle.

My first election I was able to vote in was the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry.  When I first saw this book I knew it had to be one that I wanted to read.

Lowlights: The only lowlight I can think is that by listening to the audio book I cannot see any photos that are included in the book. I have Googled each sister in order to put faces to the stories.

FYI: Listen to the audio book on Libby by Overdrive!

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

First line: A sex tape.

Summary: Five students are in detention. All were put there because they were caught with a phone on them in class. However, when one of the students, Simon, dies during detention the others are all suspects. Simon is the school gossip. He posts all the rumors and secrets of his classmates on the internet making him one of the most hated kids in the school. Each of the “Bayview Four” know that they were being framed but by who?

Highlights: This has been compared to The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars and I think that is spot on. I love both and together they are great. I really enjoyed this debut novel. The mystery is good with little twists. The characters are great representations of teens and the problems that they deal with. Problems with family, friends, relationships, sports, and school. There was the jock, the brain, the popular girl and the burn out. It was a fun fast-paced novel. I will definitely keep a look out for the author’s next book.

Lowlights: Nearing the end I started to guess at the conclusion. It felt like all the likely scenarios were too easy so the better option was the not so obvious one.

FYI: Great for younger readers who want a good thriller.

Book Review: Renegades

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

First line: We were all villains in the beginning.

Summary: Nova is a villain. Adrian is a super hero. Nova was orphaned as a child when the group called the Renegades failed to save her parents from an assassin. Fueled by hate for the group of super heroes she joins a group called the Anarchists. When the plan to kill the leader of the Renegades fails Nova devises a plan to join the super hero force in order to bring them all down from the inside. But she did not intend to like the people she is meant to hate. Or even fall in love with the son of leaders of the Renegades.

Highlights: The cover is amazing. It is truly a cover for a super hero book. The bold colors and design are perfect for the story. This book falls in during the perfect time. Super hero movies and books are on the rise and this one great for readers of this genre. I liked that the characters. My favorite was a minor character, Winston (the Puppeteer). He is creepy and funny at the same time.

Lowlights: Most of the book is an introduction to the world and characters. The beginning is slower moving with most of the action happening at the end of the book.

FYI: This is the first of a duology. If you like this check out the author’s series, The Lunar Chronicles, a sci-fi fairy tale adventure.

I was lucky enough to attend an event at Watermark Books in Wichita when Marissa Meyer was promoting this book.  She was wonderful!  I loved listening to her talk about her ideas and plans for the book.  She has a great sense of humor and can tell a great story.  I laughed a lot while listening to her stories about writing.  I was really excited to get her to sign Cress, the third book in The Lunar Chronicles series.


Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

First line: A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.

Summary: Vasya has been cast out of her village as a witch. She does not want to spend her life behind a convent walls or trapped in a marriage. She wants freedom and adventure. With the help of the frost demon, Morozko, and her loyal horse, Solovey, she sets out on her own dressed as a boy. When she wanders into a burned village and discovers that bandits are raiding the countryside and stealing young girls she sets out to save the missing children. After her rescue mission, she gains the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow. With the help of her elder siblings, she keeps her gender hidden from the elite of Moscow. However, with the mysterious arrival of an unknown lord, Vasya starts to worry that the danger has worked its way into the courts of Grand Prince.

Highlights: Atmospheric. I can feel the cold of a Russian winter while reading the adventures of Vasya. Vasya is a wonderful heroine. She is not beautiful. She wants more out of life than the traditional trappings of her gender. I love the frost demon, Morozko. He is complicated and intriguing. I am glad that we got to see more of his relationship with Vasya. The writing is poetic and beautiful. I love that the author provides a glossary at the end to help the reader understand the terminology and characters. This one was filled with action and danger. I loved the first book and the second did not disappoint.

Lowlights: Nothing.

FYI: The second book in The Winternight Trilogy.

Book review: The Shape of Ideas

The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider

This review will not look like one of our normal reviews, because this graphic novel isn’t a story with a first line, or story, but a fun collection of ideas.

I love the subtitle of this book—”An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity” because I feel that’s the essence of this book. I’ve read a couple reviews that indicate that this book isn’t great at motivating or being a self-help book. However, I’m not sure that’s what it’s meant to be.

If you’ve ever consciously engaged in the creative process in any way (art, writing, creating in any form including sewing, fiber arts, paper crafts, anything!) you’ll find some familiar feels in this book. From variations on a blank page to a walk in the park, I love the thoughts and experiences shared in this fun book.

The pictures are so detailed and fun to examine. And it seemed like on every page I found words or a picture that just spoke to me and my own creative experiences.

Book Review – The Last Namsara

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

The First Line: Asha lured the dragon with a story.

Summary: In a land where stories are poisonous and lure fire-breathing dragons, Asha, the daughter of the dragon king, is the most feared dragon hunter in Firgaard. As a child, Asha was addicted to telling the ancient stories of her people despite their power to call the dragons. When Asha’s storytelling brings a dragon to her village, killing hundreds and permanently scaring her, Asha is deemed the Isakari, the epitome of a cursed and corrupted god. But when Asha is charged to hunt and kill the greatest dragon of all, she unlocks buried secrets about her past. Joined by her dagger-throwing cousin, a mysterious slave, and the stories of the gods, Asha’s quest for freedom and redemption challenge everything she knows about her world and herself.

Highlights: This book is epic! From the amazing, axe-wielding main character to the unique world view and social structure of Firgaard to the intense fight scenes with giant, fearsome dragons, this book has everything you could want in a fantasy story. Storytelling is vital to this world, and the author makes that prevalent by including ancient stories in between the chapters of the book. These stories read like myths or fables and are just as intriguing as the present-day tale. What also sets The Last Namsara apart from a traditional fantasy narrative is Asha’s journey from resistance to acceptance. Firgaard upholds a rigid slave order with a sect of people who are collared and treated as less than human. Through Asha’s story, she finds herself connecting with a particular slave and sympathizing with his struggles. The villains in this story are so enticing. Asha is engaged to Jarek, the commandant of the Firgaard army, and his harshness and possessiveness are delightfully terrible. Of course, what also makes this story so epic are the dragons with their great, powerful wings, poisonous fire-breath, and an affinity for storytelling!

Lowlights: While I absolutely adored this book, some might find it a little confusing in the first fifty pages or so because of the unique terminology of the class system. Specific groups of people, such as the slaves, are called skrals, and the soldiers are called soldats which both took some getting used to. I had also wished there was a map of the world in the book to be used as a reference when the author describes other lands or areas within Firgaard. In the beginning, Asha was incredibly cold toward a slave and while she does eventually warms up to him, some readers might find that she takes a little too long. Readers also may find it difficult to keep the old stories and legends straight, particularly about the gods Namsara and Iskari. However, within one hundred pages, I found that all of these things were quickly rectified, and the story flowed incredibly well.

FYI: This book will be a part of a companion trilogy with the next two books having different main characters. Asha and her company will be featured as side characters. The next book is set to release in 2018.

The author, Kristen Ciccarelli, also filmed a beautiful video about her journey to writing The Last Namsara while sculpting a dragon mug from scratch! Check it out here on YouTube!

December new releases

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. And that means the gift-giving season is upon us as well! If you are having a hard time finding the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list, maybe a book is the answer. We’ve got several great new releases listed below, and most of them will be out  before Christmas—with the exception of the last two titles, which will be out Dec. 26, perfect for late gift-giving!

Do you have a favorite book that you love to give as a gift? If so, share it with us by leaving a comment.

Dec. 5: Year One (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts
On New Year’s Eve, a sickness suddenly spreads across the land. Within weeks technology begins to fail, governments have collapsed and half the world’s population is dead.  Survivors have to figure out how to work in this new world, a world where magic is beginning to rise up as science and technology have been destroyed. Some of the magic is good, and some is evil. In this new landscape, one is never sure if someone they meet is a savage or a savior.

Dec. 5: Enchantress of Numbers
by Jennifer Chiaverini
Ada is the only legitimate child of poet Lord Byron, and as such, destined for fame even before she was born. Her mother is estranged from Ada’s father in an attempt to save Ada from “her perilous Byron heritage” by immersing her in study of mathematics and the sciences. When Ada is introduced into society, she develops a relationship with inventor Charles Babbage and over time, comes to terms with her own imagination.

Dec. 5: The Girl in the Tower (The Bear and the Nightingale #2)
by Katherine Arden
Vasya returns as a young woman, and is compelled to choose between a forced marriage to a prince or life in a convent—both of which will leave her cut off from the world she longs to explore. Instead, she chooses to leave home disguised as a boy and sets off on an adventure. A battle brings her to the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow, from whom she must hide her secrets, even after she realizes that she is the only one who will be able to stop the mysterious forces that could destroy his kingdom.

Dec. 12: You’re Gonna Love Me by Robin Lee Heather
Samantha, an accountant, lives her life as safely as she knows she should. Then Nick comes into her life and she can’t help falling for him. However, when he plans a dangerous kayaking trip, Samantha ends their young relationship in anger. Fast forward two years, and Samantha’s grandmother has had an accident, so Samantha travels to Thunder Falls, Idaho, to be with her. Who does she find there, but Nick. With the encouragement of their family and friends, and a whole church congregation, can they try again?

Dec. 19: Bad Call by Stephen Wallenfells (young adult)
Four boys from a prep school make plans to go on a camping trip in Yosemite National Park. What could possibly go wrong? Before the group even gets out on the trip, one of them backs out. Then, a girl replaces him. Then, there’s a fire at their intended campsite. So they decide to take a treacherous trail to the top of Yosemite Valley and the bad decisions really begin to pile up. After more mishaps and issues, one of them doesn’t make it back to their tent and the rest of the group tries to figure out what happened while desperate to survive themselves.

Dec. 26: The Road to Bittersweet by Donna Everhart
Wallis Ann Stamper is 14, and lives in the Appalachians, which is not easy but she finds it satisfying. Her older sister is a mute and musical savant and is constantly watched over. Wallis, however, is rugged and and practical. When a flood forces her family from their home in the middle of the night, Wallis is exposed to a whole world beyond the banks of the creek that carries the family name. As the family makes its way to the hill country of South Carolina, the experiences Wallis has will take her across some rough terrain, not all of which is physical.

Dec. 26: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
The scholarship Nora Tufts received was a step toward becoming a medical specialist. Then she was hit by a car. Then she overheard her boyfriend hitting on another doctor and that was two huge steps backward. So Nora goes back to the tiny Maine community she was so eager to leave 15 years before. And they don’t necessarily want her back.

Book Review – Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down by Lousie Luna

First Line – Jamie Brandt was not a bad mother.

Summary – When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

Highlight – This is the kind of book that has you sitting on the edge of your seat, unable to put it down until you finish the last page.  Great original characters and so many twists and turns! I hope this spins off into a series.

Lowlight – I can’t really think of any.

FYI – Some graphic scenes involving children.