Monday, December 23, 2013

Country Christmas Tree

Despite my complete inability to post with regularity this month, I did actually get some stuff done, like putting up Christmas decorations.  The layout of our house doesn't lend itself to putting a proper tree on the main floor.  Instead, we have our big tree in the basement by the fireplace.  So last year, I picked up a shabby tree from Farm King.  

**Let's take a minute to realize that I live in such a rural area that there is actually a store called "Farm King" in my town.  It is a great store-you can even take your dog in, so Lucy goes occasionally and gets treats from the cashiers, but this is all beside the point.

Shabby Christmas tree from Farm King.  I sat this little beauty on a milk crate, and covered it with an old curtain to further drive home the shabby point.  Then, I decorated it with most of my country ornaments.  Now for a closer look.

Doug bought me this cowgirl when we were dating.  He thinks of my as his little country girl.  And I am, although horses are entirely not my thing.  I still love it though.

This shows off a couple of ornaments, but mostly the Country Skyscraper that my friend Sara bought me years ago.  I love it!  And the hand-colored gingerbread man in the corner is a present from my nephew Anthony.  All three of his creations are on this tree.

Finally, this lovely nativity scene ornament from my mom.  It's not so country, but I have enough nativity ornaments that I can divide them between two trees.  And it's pretty.

The funniest thing about this tree is that it's in what has become Lucy's pouting spot.  It's right in the little nook between the wall and the buffet, and this fall, Lucy has started sitting there while Doug and I have dinner.  She just stares at us and begs for food.  With the tree there now, she's a little lost and she'll sit right under it.  I keep saying that if we just put a bow on her, she'd be the perfect little christmas present.  I'll have to try to snap a picture of that tonight.  

What about you?  One tree, two, more?  Any book themed trees out there?  I have to admit to owning quite a few Dr. Seuss ornaments, but they were all gifts from friends.  

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Also Known As Spy Team!!

Sorry I've been so MIA lately, but I've been running a covert mission in Paraguay for the Collective.  If I tell you anymore, black helicopters are likely to rain down on your house and your internet provider is likely to cut your connection, so let's just leave it at that.

Actually, that's not true at all.  But I have become a member of the Also Known As Spy Team, which is almost just as good! (Except that they're not giving me assignments in lovely warm climates, and I don't get to run around wearing a black jumpsuit while cracking safes.)  What I do get is exclusive access to the second book in the AKA series, Going Rogue, and a sneak peek at a bridge story.  It's good to be a children's book reviewer!  

But I didn't forget about you!  You get to read an excerpt of Going Rogue right now!  Plus an excerpt of Also Known As, in case you need to catch up.  

Let's chat for a second about Also Known As.  You may remember that I reviewed it here, and it's a great story for fans of Ally Carter's books and budding detectives everywhere.  Maggie is just an ordinary teenage spy that is an excellent safe cracker, but she gets an assignment at a New York prep school and suddenly she has to be something she's never had to be before:  normal.  Luckily she makes friends with prickly Roux who at least helps her somewhat navigate high school, and she has her parents and mysteriously dapper Angelo to guide her as well.  Maggie is adorably awkward and highly relatable so readers should have no problem picking up her next adventure.  

The best news is that this book comes out in just a month.  January 14 to be exact, so I'll have my review for you a couple of days early, then you can run out and get your copy that day.  It feels so great to get a sequel without the year long wait, don't you think?  

What are you waiting for?  Read those excerpts, finish Also Known As, and get ready for another adventure with Maggie!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Night of Cake and Puppets

Night of Cake and Puppets
Laini Taylor
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
Reviewed from e-book
Audience:  Ages 16 to 20
ISBN:  9780316369855
Publication Date:  November 26, 2013

Do you remember Karou mentioning in Daughter of Smoke and Bone that Zuzana lured Mik to her with a treasure map?  Well, this is that story.  Told from both Zuzana and Mik's perspective, the reader gets to tag along as these two crazy kids who are already in love with each other actually meet and talk for the first time.  Zuzan, the rabid fairy, is unusually shy when it comes to Mik, mostly because he is kissable, and she has never given that designation to anyone ever before.  Mik is equally nervous around Zuzana because he sees her as an adventuring girl that is completely out of his league.  The end result is perfect and the whole story will make readers long for the final part of the DSB trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, out in April 2014.  Until then, this makes a quick read that will keep readers satisfied.

Of course I pre-ordered this title the minute I found out it was being published, but it's still taken me two weeks to read it!  Life can be an evil strumpet sometimes.

Moving on.  What started out as a short story I'm sure, actually became quite long.  It might actually be qualified as a novella, since it's around 100 pages.  Zuzana's whole courting strategy does make complete sense.  She can't talk to the guy, but she makes herself the treasure in this treasure hunt.  The whole story is rife with the type of lyric writing that Taylor is known for and that I can never give justice to.  For instance, once Mik and Zuzana have found each other and they are frozen from the adventure, Mik says this:  "I want to warm my face against her neck and steam her up like a mirror and write my name on her with my fingertip."  How lovely is that?  Excuse me while I go open a window!

As much as I love Karou and Akiva (and I do), Mik and Zuzana were the comedy relief that was necessary in Days of Blood and Starlight.  And you can already see that he is favorable toward the type of magic and mystery that Zuzana drags him into by taking him to Marrakech.

It's all so lovely!  The falling snow on a bridge in Prague, the hot tea from Poison, the rich chocolate cake, the puppets, the legends, and of course the kiss.  Just wonderful.

It's becoming a growing trend that authors release short stories or bonus scenes between books in a series.  I've read a few for the Lunar Chronicles, and Divergent.  What do you think?  Do you enjoy that authors are giving readers bonus content?  I have to say that I enjoy it.  Especially when it involves a biting puppet and cake.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


By Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof
Audience:  Ages 16 to 19
ISBN:  9780316217491
Expected Publication:  December 24, 2013

It's the summer after high school graduation and New Jersey native Elizabeth is looking forward to moving out to California to attend school at Berkley.  Meanwhile, San Francisco native Lauren is looking forward to the independence of college and escaping her large family.  When Elizabeth finds out that Lauren will be her roommate, an exchange of emails leads to what could be a great relationship, or complete roommate failure.  Both girls have hesitations about college, friends, and boyfriends, and it seems like the only person they can talk to is thousands of miles away.  Roomies captures all the highs and lows of preparing for college in one touching story.

Let's work piece by piece.  Elizabeth wants to get away from her mother-now!  She has some high school friends that are becoming more distant and she is so ready to leave her boyfriend.  Then a landscaping job leads her to Mark, a fun, attractive guy that she really falls for.  Elizabeth is at some points spoiled and whiny, but at others very vulnerable and honest.  She wants to move away from everything she knows, but it's terrifying at the same time.  Very true to life.

Lauren, on the other hand, is not at all spoiled.  As the oldest of five kids, she is used to playing parent, and she is working her way through college.  She thinks that Elizabeth must be some rich little snob coming out to California for school, but she does learn otherwise.  Lauren has always hidden behind her family in a way, but once she gets to know Keyon a little better, she can't hide anymore and realizes that she likes him more than she knows.  Again, all Lauren wants is independence until she has it, then she misses her large family terribly.  Also, very true.

I really do understand being able to communicate more honestly with someone that you do not really know.  There is something to liberating about sharing a secret, even if you share it with someone in a different time zone.  Both of these girls have secrets to share and struggles to work out.  Plus, starting college is very difficult and they are both dealing with the way that changes relationships.

When I told my husband how this book ended, he asked if there would be a sequel.  I sincerely hope not.  The main point of Roomies isn't the relationship between Elizabeth and Lauren or the girls and their respective boyfriends, but about discovering who you are in the space between the relative safety of high school and the independence of college.  Any continuation of the story would feel bland in comparison.

Here's another question:  Could Roomies be considered New Adult?  I say yes.  This book is about having a new experience and growing up considerably because of it.  Granted, there is a distinct lack of explicit sexual detail, but Elizabeth does responsibly have sex, and that's quite natural.  Rather than give all the saucy details, just let readers know this is what happened, these were the consequences, and now we move on.

I loved Roomies.  I truly did.  I felt like it captured the transition from high school to college very well, with plenty of other action added to the mix.  Give this to a reader about to embark on a new adventure.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Cozy Classics: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Emma

Cozy Classics by Jack and Holman Wang presents Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, and Emma.
Published November 20, 2013
Reviewed from NetGalley

Oh Cozy Classics, how I love thee!  Twelve words, twelve pictures, two minutes to read and appreciate each.  It's like Cliff Notes on speed!

Oliver Twist manages to hit all the high points with the darling felted characters.  You understand the trouble that Oliver went through and the pictures tell quite a story.

I think something was lost in translation with Jane Eyre.  It didn't make much sense, despite the beautiful felted pictures.  Maybe Jan Eyre is too complex to boil down to 12 words. Maybe they should shoot for 16 words instead.

Now Emma was adorable!  She gives you that sly little wink twice in the book and the adult reader will know exactly what's going one.  Again, this volume does a nice job of hitting the high points and leaves plenty more to tell in the pictures, which are perfect as always.

Of these three, Emma was by far my favorite.  But truly, these are board books that are going to be chewed up by little "readers".  This just gives parents something entertaining while they read and play with their children.  Reading Cozy Classics most likely won't result in your child being a Harvard grad, but it will give you a little something to chuckle about while your little is flinging the book across the room.  Maybe your kid just doesn't get Dickens.

Cozy Classics has already announced that they will do Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer next, so tiny literature fans will have more classics to look forward to.

See my reviews of Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, and War and Peace for more fun with Cozy Classics.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The House of Hades

The House of Hades
by Rick Riordan
Hyperion, 2013
Audience:  Grades 5 to 8
Checked out from the Public Library
ISBN:  9781423146728
Publication Date:  October 8, 2013

When we last left our heroes at the end of The Mark of Athena, the demigods have rescued the Athena Parthenos, but Percy and Annabeth fall into Tartarus.  The only way for them to make it out alive is the find the Doors of Death at the exact same time as the other demigods find the Doors on the mortal side. But the other demigods (Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, Leo, Nico, and Coach Hedge) have their own problems in the form of monsters, minor gods, and general nastiness.  Percy and Annabeth are being chased by every demon and monster they have ever killed and sent to Tartarus, but they are befriended by one mighty Titan that Percy defeated, Bob, who might just be the greatest character in this book.  For fans of the Percy Jackson series or the other Heroes of Olympus books, this is a must read.  Be warned, you cannot bat out of order, these books must be read in order or else you will be hopelessly lost, much like Percy and Annabeth in Tartarus, but with less monsters.

This is the first time that I felt like a Rick Riordan book was more character driven than plot driven.  Don't get me wrong, the plot is still intense and heavy, but the characters are really becoming the focal point.  Let's work on each one separately--and there will be spoilers.

Jason is starting to question his Roman roots and has decided to take the Greek path instead.  That is a huge decision that it weighs on him, and the team since he can't always get a handle on his powers because of his own internal conflict.  Jason just proves that you can be more than you were born into.

Piper becomes more than just a pretty face.  Sure, she still uses her Charmspeak, but she learns to be clever, and starts to search for her inner Annabeth to guide her.  She also learns sword fighting and really becomes her own person.

Frank might have undergone the biggest transformation.  He goes from being a timid, lumbering, lovable loser of sorts to an absolute general.  The physical transformation is what everyone notices, but his confidence in leadership is the real story.  Puberty is rough, and sometimes it feels like it happens just that quickly that a kid is a shy boy one day and commanding man the next.

Hazel changed little to me.  She comes in more control of her powers and she's more sure of her relationship with her father, Pluto, but there are few marquee moments with her.

Leo went from playful joker with no one to care for to man on a mission to save his love.  His time with Calypso really made him into a better character.  He grew up, found someone to live for, and now has the same type of determination as the others to protect someone beside himself.  And he got over Hazel and can cut Frank some slack.

Nico-wow.  Poor kid.  Hazel as the daughter of Pluto seems to fit in, but Nico seems to really push people away.  The horrors that he has been through are incredible and to know that he was harboring a secret crush on Percy does explain some things.  He is so complex that I can only hope that we get a little more back story and he starts to find some peace.

Percy and Annabeth were just trying to survive and after nine books, how much more can they develop anyway.  They are definitely better as a team and they are the couple that will survive.  They will have their love story, even if the others don't.

And Bob, formerly Ipateus the evil Titan.  After Percy wiped his memory and made him Bob, he was shuttled off to Hades to work as a janitor, but he is kind to Percy because of Nico's friendship.  Even when he starts remembering his former life as a Titan, he chooses to remain Bob, friendly, kind, and loyal.  And he sacrifices himself for Percy and Annabeth knowing that he is so close to seeing the mortal world again.  I'll miss Bob.

And now the wait for the final Heroes of Olympus book begins!  It will likely be another year, and another 600 page book.  Then what will Rick Riordan do?  We'll just have to wait and see.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

So I'm a Little Behind

If you've checked in during the past two weeks, you'll have noticed that not much has been going on around here.  Well, actually a lot has been going on, just not in the reading area.  I do have a life, you know.  And by "life" I mean a job, a husband who insists that cereal is not a dinner food, a whole house full of dust bunnies and Lucy hair, and assorted random happenings like Christmas shopping.  So, yes, I'm a little behind on my reading.  Case in point, I checked out The House of Hades two weeks ago and I'm still not finished!  Granted it's nearly 600 pages, but still.

So, I'm a little behind.  It happens.  Maybe this month I'll chat a little more about random stuff and a little less about books.  Or chat a little more about books and do a little less random stuff.  That's not likely since it's the holidays and random parties and excitement are what this time of year is all about.

Unless the random happening is a snow day in which you'll find me curled up with a book and the dog by the fire binge reading the day away.  Can I put that on my Christmas list?

Until then, happy reading!