Kristen Recommends: Guardians of the Cross

Guardians of the Cross by Kristen VonBradshaw

“We need to keep them safe until the time is right.” said the woman.

Summary: Frank and Phoebe’s mom is missing and their father has been killed. Brad is nervous about protecting someone while in a wheelchair. Ella is whisked away from her family by a stranger. Jinx is a misfit that nobody wants. Together they will have to learn to work together as a team to save everyone they love.

Kristen’s Thoughts: It was a great book, the author was great at bringing the characters to life.Lots of adventure and comedy tying in with an exciting mystery. It’s a book I would read again and again and is great for all ages as my grandfather couldn’t put it down. The book comes to life with every turn of the page and leaves you wanting more. If you like giant robots, super powers and random socks you’ll love this book.

FYI: Contains mild violence.

Amelia’s Favorites: Monkey & Me

Monkey & Me by Emily Gravett

Summary: This book was especially fun. It’s about a little girl and her monkey saying “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, we went to see, we went to see…” and each time they see a different animal.

My Thoughts: This book was actually recommended to me by the Beanstack App. Which if you haven’t signed up for you really should. I use the app to log books for the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program for Amelia. Each week it sends me an email with book recommendations and this week’s was Monkey and Me.

Now, I don’t know if they intended it to be this way, but I made it into a song, and after a few times Amelia was singing along which I couldn’t even take. It was SO CUTE! After we read it a few times through, the rest of the day I would hear her sing it, which it turn made me sing it too, and became somewhat of a learning game. I would sing the phrase, then choose an animal and ask her what noise that animal makes. SO MUCH FUN!

Amelia’s Rating: I think she would give it a solid 5 stars, I foresee us checking this book out several times!

Best book lists rule this time of year, so here’s our list of lists!

Man, Thanksgiving hit, and all my book-related newsletters and websites have been filled with “Best of 2018” and other types of end-of-year book lists. My first response was “Can you not wait until the end of the year? What if the best book of the year gets released in December?!”

But alas, the lists have not slowed down and there are so many of them I don’t know where to start or how to decide which ones I should choose books from! In other words, all these lists have me a little paralyzed. Kind of. I mean, now that I’ve looked at so many lists of what are supposed to be the best books of the year, I have no idea how to manage my to-read list, because now I want to read everything.Image result for choose a book

So, to help you build a TBR (to be read) pile for 2019, here is a Top 10 of the lists we’ve found, from the traditional, to the not-so-traditional.

    1. Image result for new york times book reviewFrom The New York Times Book Review, here’s a list of the 10 best fiction and nonfiction titles chosen by the paper’s book editors.
  1. Here’s a list from Literary Hub billed as the “Ultimate Best Books of 2018 List.” The titles were culled from 52 best-of lists and the titles that appeared most often on those lists show up here.
  2. Here’s a list from Digg that used a similar tactic to review lots of lists  and come up with the Top 10 for 2018.
  3. This Washington Post Book World Top 10 list includes not just the 10 books that caught the editors’ attention, but lots more lists, including the 10 best graphic novels and the best children’s books.
  4. Is any Top 10 list complete without a list from a publishing publication? We think not, so here’s a list of Publisher Weekly‘s Top 10 from 2018.
  5. GQ chose its list of 9 favorites, then each of those authors also chose a favorite, for a list of 17 recommended books for 2018.Goodreads Choice Awards
  6. Goodreads (you are on Goodreads now, aren’t you?!) has its users vote for their favorite books in an end-of-year poll, for a crowd-sourced list.
  7. Another best-of list from Literary Hub is its list of the best-reviewed books from its companion site Book Marks.
  8. Book Riot has a list that is a little different take, and is guaranteed to have some titles that aren’t included on the lists above. It’s a list of 50 must-read books that you likely missed this past year.
  9. And the final list I want to share with you is one of my favorites, and it’s not technically a traditional list. NPR’s Book Concierge is a fun way to find new books that appeal to you, as you can sort using filters (and can combine filters). In addition, NPR makes its Book Concierges from 2008-2017 available as well!

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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!

Book Series like Downton Abbey for Kids

Secrets of the Manor Book One: Beth’s Story by Adele Whitby

Before Game of Thrones ignited our TVs with swords fights, dragons, and bloody battles, another television show was charming audiences across the globe. In 2010, Downton Abbey made everyone, including me, wish to be British. From sipping tea in the parlor to donning glamorous early 20th century dresses at parties to Maggie Smith’s snappy comebacks, the world of Downton inspired us with stories of lords and earls and the secret world of the servants below the stairs. When the show ended its sixth and final season in 2015, I definitely felt a Britain-sized hole in my daily life until I found the most wonderful book series that any BBC fanatic would enjoy.

We have all eight books available at the library!

The Secrets of the Manor series by Adele Whitby is best described as a Downton Abbey story told by the children of the era.  The series, written for 4th – 7th graders but great for any age, starts with the Chatswood family at Chatswood Manor. The series spans across England, the United States, and France with each book revealing hidden family secrets about love, betrayal, and power.

Beth’s Story, set in 1914,  is the first book in the series.

Beth’s Story, the first in the series, follows the great-granddaughter of the family matriarch as she prepares for her twelfth birthday and the gifting of the coveted family heirloom, the sapphire Elizabeth Necklace. When Beth’s lady’s maid is accused of a terrible crime, Beth embarks on a quest through both the manor and her own family history to clear her name. The series continues on to tell the story of Beth’s cousin, Kate, their great-grandmothers Elizabeth and Katherine, and Beth and Kate’s children.

This series will delight any historical fiction lover or even a reluctant reader in search of some adventure, travel, and friendship. The series would be an excellent read-aloud story for the whole family or a great choice for school projects. Of course, the series is also excellent for adult readers seeking a quick but engaging read.

There are a few downsides to the series that I should point out. While each book could act as a stand-alone, it is best to read them in order. Many of the main characters traditionally have the same name, but use nicknames to distinguish them among each other. Despite the book including a family tree, the names of the characters and how they are related can get confusing. The series also ends abruptly at book 8 and the author Adele Whitby must be a pseudonym with no means of contacting her. I became so obsessed with the series that I actually tried contacting the publishers to ask if they’ll release more books, but I haven’t heard back from anyone. If I do, I’ll definitely let you know!

Despite these minor issues, the Secrets of the Manor series is a remarkable collection of stories set in an enchanting place and time. Laced with history, family drama, and warmth, the series is sure to delight you and make you crave a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

Book review: A Talent for Murder

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Cover of the book A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson
“A Talent for Murder” by Andrew Wilson imagines what might have happened to Agatha Christie during her 11-day disappearance in 1926.

This book actually gets 4.5 stars from me. Click on the title above the cover to get to the book in our catalog.

First Lines: Wherever I turned my head, I thought I saw her: a woman people described as striking, beautiful even. That would never have been my choice of words.

Summary: One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries has never been solved: her mysterious disappearance for 11 days in December 1926. She left her home on a Friday evening and one of the largest missing person hunts in history was launched. This novel imagines what might have happened during those days. It begins as she leaves her literary agent and is preparing to board a train in London. She feels a hand at her back that pushes her as an oncoming train is arriving, and pulls her back just before she falls in front of the train. Her rescuer, however, is no hero. Rather, he insists that she is going to commit a murder.

Highlights: I have loved Agatha Christie’s books since I first read What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw when I was in seventh grade. This book is gutsy in taking on telling a story of what may have happened to Dame Agatha during those days she was missing. The story is cleanly told, from varying points of view. Don’t gloss over the “Editor’s Note” before the first chapter, and then go back and read it again after you’ve finished the book. It will be that much more enlightening. This book has a truly vile villain, other interesting characters, and a plot line that completely works for me.

Lowlights: I had just a little difficulty getting into the first dozen pages or so. Honestly, that could have been me rather than the writing. I fully expected a Chrsitie-esque unraveling at the end of the book of how the whole story went down, but that doesn’t happen. However, that didn’t hurt the story at all for me. And there’s a little information that isn’t completely cleared up at the end, so if you like every little thing all tied up in a neat little bow, you won’t get that here.

Just a little more: This is a great imagining of what could have happened during Agatha Christie’s disappearance. I recommend it for anyone who loves a good mystery, and especially for fans of Dame Agatha. I received an advance e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: The End of Everything

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

First Line: She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye.

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Lizzie and Evie have always been best friends. They know everything about each other, no secrets . . . or at least they thought. Then one day Evie disappears, and Lizzie tries to find out what happened and along the way learns things about herself and her best friend’s “picture-perfect” family that makes her love and hate them even more.

Highlights/Lowlights: Seeing things from a 13-year-old’s perspective is both intriguing and frustrating.

FYI: Not for the faint of heart. It’s dark, raw, and graphic in some parts of the book. If you like Gillian Flynn, you will like this.

Book review: The Family Plot

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Cover of The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
“The Family Plot” by Cherie Priest is a great Gothic ghost story.

First line: “Yeah, send her on back. She has an appointment.”

Summary: Music City Salvage in Tennessee is on the cusp of going broke, and then Augusta Withrow comes in with an offer Chuck Dutton can’t refuse. Augusta just wants to be rid of her family’s more-than-a-century-old home and all the property. Chuck sees a goldmine in the house and property, so he sends a four-person crew headed by his daughter Dahlia on the project. Super creepy things start happening, and when the members of the crew start comparing notes, they know something is definitely up. Something angry still lives in the vacant house, and it seems bent on making one member of the crew its permanent company.

Highlights: This book has all the atmosphere, creepiness, and strangeness a really excellent Gothic ghost story needs to be interesting. It’s a page-turner and you probably don’t want to read it late at night when you are all alone in your house and start hearing strange noises. Oh, and that ending. DO NOT READ THE LAST PAGE FIRST! If you do, you will ruin the whole book!

Lowlights (or what could have been better): I felt like this book was just a little bit slow to get started, but I’m glad I stuck with it (and it really didn’t take that long) because it builds to a can’t-put-it-down-but-I-have-to-stop-reading-or-I’ll-have-scary-dreams pitch.

FYI: There is some cursing and references to violence, but nothing gory, gross or descriptive.

Book Review: The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

First Line: Sofia, the year 2008.

Summary: When Alexandra takes a summer job in Sofia, Bulgaria she thinks that it will be the perfect way to heal the loss of her brother who disappeared on a hiking trip.  But things do not turn out the way she had planned.  She meets a group of three people outside a hotel but when they go their separate ways she notices that she has kept one of their bags.  Inside are human ashes.  With the help of the friendly taxi driver, Bobby, she is determined to find the group and return the remains.  Everything is not as easy as she expected when threats and warnings start to appear as they dig deeper into whose ashes are in the urn.

Highlights: I love the pieces near the end when you get to look into the life of Stoyan Lazarov.  He details his time after the war and living in Communist controlled Bulgaria.  The strength that he possesses is astounding.  I have read a lot about prisoners during the Holocaust and it always scares me plus amazes me the will power and strength these people have.

Lowlights: The middle is slow moving as they are traveling around Bulgaria looking for the relatives of Stoyan.  It was a lot of detail gathering and talking that leads up till the ending but it got long.

FYI: Read her other book, The Historian! Amazing read.  But make sure you keep the lights on.